Archive for the ‘Romans 7:1-13’ Category

The Cross We Bear!

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, July 2, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message


“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” [Matt. 10:38-39]

You know throughout our Bible there is one message that God continually offers to His people who relate to Him by faith, and that is peace. In Hebrew, the word for peace is Shalom! What that word actually means is wholeness. If you are whole, that is if you are all that God originally created you to be, you will have peace. And that is the one thing that all people of every race, ethnicity, and religion have in common; we are all searching for wholeness; for peace! That was really the message that our great Declaration of Independence was declaring long ago in 1776. So then why did Jesus, the Prince of Peace say, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [Matt. 10:34] Why did he say that in order to find our life we must lose our life? Well, the answer of course can only be found in the cross; it can only be found in the death of Jesus Christ and the example of living to die that He gave to us.

The cross of Jesus Christ does bring wholeness and life, but it also brings conflict, turmoil and death; it brings independence from the condemnation of sin and dependence on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus brings these things first within us and then around us. So this morning we will be learning how to die and how to live. We will learn how death brings life to ourselves first and then we will learn how dying brings death and life to those around us!

In our Epistle lesson (Rom. 7:1-13) St. Paul confronts us with these words of life and death.

“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” [vs. 4-6]

What Paul is talking about is how we become whole, or how we are recreated to have peace within ourselves; God’s peace that not only gives us peace with Him, but peace with our neighbor. He wants us to first understand that we were set free from the Law; a law that demands that we do this or that to please God, but then offers us no way to actually do what it demands be done! He does this by pointing us to the death of Jesus upon the cross. When Christ died upon the cross He set us free to be people of God; free to know peace and wholeness. But in order to receive this peace we need to see the need to die alongside of Jesus Christ; only those of us who are connected with Jesus in His death, can experience the peace and wholeness that His resurrection brings. The death of Jesus Christ can only free those who are willing to put all of their hopes of peace and wholeness in that death of Jesus. There is no room for any other method or technique. Doing your best to please God and find happiness won’t work; there is simply nothing you can do but surrender to your complete helplessness and trust instead in what Jesus’ death provides for you. This is what dying to yourself means.

Paul illustrates this in a wonderful way by comparing us to a married woman. He says that “a married woman is bound by the law (that is the 6th commandment that calls adultery a sin, as long as that married woman’s husband still lives), but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage (and is free to marry again without fear of sin). (So), she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.” [vs. 1-3]

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been freed from our oppressive dependence on the law; we no longer need to try to be something we never could be. What is it that we were trying to be? We were trying to be whole; we were trying on our own to have peace with God through the Law we can never keep. So Jesus solves that dilemma for us by His death. He died the death that we should die to satisfy our inability to fulfill the law; this is a death that frees us from the law so that we may seek a new means to find wholeness and peace with God. His death frees us from our dependence on fulfilling the law perfectly so that we might belong to Him! In keeping with Paul’s illustration of marriage, Jesus frees us from the tyranny of our first marriage so that we can be remarried to Him; then and only then can we truly be whole and know peace. But our old sinful nature does not want to go away that easily. It fights to live; not only that, it fights to destroy our faith and satisfaction in the cross of Jesus, which is God’s means of wholeness and peace. When faith comes alive within our hearts through the means of God’s Word, our sinful nature continually seeks to find ways to defeat it and turn us back to the law, or our own ability to live a good life, as an alternative way of earning God’s love and wholeness. What is the solution? We must put to death, every day our old sinful nature. We must learn to die so that we can live! This is our internal cross that we must die upon every day. But if we’re left to do this on our own, we’ll be in no better condition than we were when we were under the law. On our own, we can never have faith to trust in Jesus and His cross. That is why God provides this faith for us. How does He do this? By living within us!

In our baptism we were sealed as God’s own possession through His means, the water and His Word. In our baptism, the Holy Spirit actually took up residence within us. Daily, we are asked to embrace God’s Spirit within us by turning to His leading presence and dying to our own sinful desires. So the Holy Spirit is our actual teacher, who teaches us to die every day, and God’s Word is the text book that He teaches through! But this is more than just a teaching; it’s a relationship of love, trust, wholeness, and peace with God that continues everyday of our lives until we leave this sinful world and our own sinful flesh behind. But this dying to self doesn’t just happen internally; you see we must also learn to die to the things and concerns that are around us.

In our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 28:5-9), we are introduced to the prophet Jeremiah.

He was a man familiar with sorrows and woes. In fact, he is often called the “weeping” prophet, because so many of the messages that the Lord asked him to declare caused him to weep for his fellow Jews. He was hated by most of them, because many of his messages from God were unpopular. In fact, on several occasions he was thrown into prison and threatened with death if he returned. What was the message that Jeremiah brought from the Lord? Repent! Don’t trust in a worldly way of finding wholeness and peace with God, but instead turn to and trust in the Lord’s Means of wholeness. Turn away from a mindset that says happiness can be found in the comfort of wealth and the security of earthly friends, and instead trust in the Lord’s plan. That was the last message that the Jews wanted to hear; they wanted Jeremiah to sit down and shut up! So poor Jeremiah spent most of his time away from his people, and he only returned when he had another painful message from God. We might say that Jeremiah would be completely at home singing that old African American spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long, long ways from home.” What Jeremiah discovered is what we need to learn too: Each of us must take up our cross and follow Jesus.
For Jeremiah, the cross that he was to take up was simply to declare God’s Word and place all of his faith in that Word, and that is the cross that we must take up as well. Like Jeremiah, we too live in dangerous times. There is terror all around. In a time of extreme tolerance, where all life styles and philosophies are said to be equal, we Christians are the only ones being told to sit down and shut up! But like Jeremiah, God says we can’t do that! “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” [Mark 8:38]

No dear friends, you cannot ignore God’s Word! He makes it clear, that there is no other way to please Him accept through His Son, Christ Jesus! There is a way that seems right to a society but in the end it only leads to death. Thus says the Lord, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6] “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”” [Matt. 10:37]

The truth is friends, in a society that continuously teaches personal gain and material riches, we are to proclaim another message, “Jesus is the only way to wholeness!”

In a society that advances the message, “If it makes you feel good, just do it!” we proclaim instead, “Seek the Lord while He may be found!” Even in many churches today, a message of extreme tolerance and acceptance like in the day of Jeremiah has replaced the Law and Gospel message of God. Itchy ears long to hear that their walk with God will be an easy and happy road; they don’t want to hear about sacrifice and pain; they don’t want to hear that they must die to live. When things go wrong they blame God, and then quickly begin shopping for a new message that will satisfy their greedy hearts and bring them peace. But what kind of peace do they really want? Do they want worldly peace or heavenly peace? Concerning peace here, again Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” [Matt. 10:34-36]
Dear friends, these Words of Jesus are Words of peace. Jesus gives them to us so that we will have peace, but to hear them we must receive them by faith. We must by faith die to what we want and receive what God desires to give to us. And what is He giving? Peace! It’s a wholeness that is always centered in Christ’s faithfulness to provide for everything we need, therefore it is a spiritual peace. The peace He gives is completely opposite of the kind of peace the world wants from Him and you. Listen to His voice speaking to your heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27]

Friends let’s not walk in worry and fear. Let’s not worry about lost relationships if we don’t endorse someone’s behavior. Instead let’s declare our independence from the ways of this sinful world, and then declare our dependence on Jesus and His cross. Let’s simply follow our Lord wherever He leads. Sometimes the road will be easy and sometimes it will be hard, but always Jesus will be walking right beside us. And now, may that true peace of God, a wholeness which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and may that wholeness enable you to bear the cross joyfully, following Him where ever He leads you… In Jesus name… AMEN!

God Forgives Us Just as We Are!

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Third Sunday in Pentecost, July 3rd, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Rom. 7:24-25a] 

Wretched man and woman that you are!  You are trapped in a body of death; a body that produces nothing but death and sin, and you deserve death, and that is exactly what you will receive, unless… unless God intervenes!  And He has; He has come to you as your champion, as a humble carpenter, mounted upon a donkey, and not as a mighty warrior armed for earthly combat.  Because you see, this is a spiritual battle that was waged for your very soul!  The good news is that Jesus suffering and death upon the cross has assured you certain victory against your enemies who are sin, death, and the devil!  Your baptism freed you from being a slave to sin and it has transferred you instead under the rule of your kind and gentle King.  So rejoice!  Give thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

But there is some news that is not so good to our ears; you see we still find ourselves engaged in the battle against sin; our sin and the sin of our neighbors and community!  While the war is over, the battle rages on!  Where must we fight?  Unfortunately, the very first theater of combat is within our very hearts!  We must continue fighting the evil that is common to every man, woman and child who ever lived and ever will live on this sinful earth.

 On March 5, 2001 at 9:20 in the morning, something terrible happened; something that would forever mar the psyche of San Diegans.  A student at Santana High entered that school with a gun in his hand and hate in his heart and he gunned down 15 of his classmates.  When the smoke cleared, 2 students were dead and 13 were wounded.  Police found the person who personified evil that day hiding in a bathroom!

 On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a truck full of explosives near the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  He walked away and detonated the bomb killing 168 people.  To this incident, the Santana High School shooting and many others, people ask in anger and fear, “Why did they do this?  Were they insane?  Were they totally evil?”

In an attempt to answer these types of questions, psychiatrists by the dozens are sought out by T.V. reporters for some clarity.  There answers very, but the most consistent message is something you and I already know from God’s Word: “All of us have the capacity for horrific evil.  Within each of us are the roots of evil!”

In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells us this: “Out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, (and) slanders.” [Matt. 15:19]  But you dear Christians know this, don’t you?  You know it is true because you know the evil that lives in your own hearts.  But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  He has assured you of His constant presence within you, as His Holy Spirit is daily fighting the sin within you that so easily entangles and traps you!  Thank God through Jesus Christ that God forgives us just as we are and that He has assured us that He won’t leave us that way!  Thank God through Jesus Christ, that He also assures you that upon the cross, Jesus has defeated your enemies, and because of this victory He can assure you that one day you will be free of your body of death and you will receive a new glorified body that is free of sin!  But as I stated already, the challenging news is that we must remain in our bodies of death and fight the enemy within.

St. Paul declared this very message in verses 22 and 23 of our epistle lesson with these words: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”  These words sound like they come from a noble knight who lives and fights for an even nobler kingdom, under the leadership of the most noble king.  As a warrior of the noble king, Paul is looking out at the battlefield, which is his own body and he sees his entire body engaged in a battle.  His spirit and mind, which forever follow God’s perfect law, are engaged in a bloody battle against a different kind of law, a law that was put in place by an evil ruler; the law is sin and the ruler is the devil!  Paul’s mind knows that through Jesus Christ victory is certain and in fact already proclaimed, and yet he must still engage the enemy!  But make no mistake, this is no mere mopping up operation; you see Paul knows that if He fails to follow His King Jesus, His soul will be lost to the enemy that is within!

How do we and Paul stay close to Jesus?  Scripture makes that clear; we must continue to trust in God’s means of grace, the very things He gave to us, which assure us that Christ’s victory upon the cross is our victory!   St. Paul and all of the apostles knew that the only way to be assured of victory was through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!  We receive both of these things in God’s Word, our baptism, and the Lord’s Supper!

You see, when God through His miracle of baptism united you to Jesus, He also united you to His death.  You see, through His death on the cross, Jesus broke the back and proclaimed victory over sin, death, and the devil.  In your baptism, you were united with Jesus and you received those same blessings.  So Holy Baptism for you broke the back of all of your enemies!  But Paul wants you to remember that just because you are saved from your enemies, it doesn’t mean that you are exempt from joining in the fight!  You must remember that sin can still tempt you, but if you are resting in God’s Word and your baptism it can’t control you! 

I suppose another way we can think of this battle that is being waged within us is like a spiritual cancer!  The good news is that it is curable.  The cure was given to you in God’s Word and within your baptism, and it is already destroying the cancer of sin within you and eventually you will be completely free of its presence.  But in order to experience this cure you must die so that you can live the new and eternally happy life, which God has prepared for you.  But you must follow God’s treatments until He has determined that it is time for you to be free.  What treatments are those?  Faith and forgiveness!  How do we receive this medicine that brings eternal life?  By remaining in God’s Word and by receiving yet one more means of grace… His Holy Supper!

In our Lord’s Supper, He gives us the ability to not just believe that we are saved from our sins but the ability to continue following that belief.  In His Supper, our Lord pleads with us to come to His Holy Table with a holy appetite for forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith!  Martin Luther once wrote this to those who thought that receiving Holy Communion to often was inappropriate because they didn’t always feel a need for it.  He said, “For those in such a state of mind that they cannot feel (a need), I know no better advice than that they put their hands to their (hearts and feel their heart beat in order) to determine whether they are made of flesh and blood.  If you find that you are, then turn to (scripture) and hear what (the fruits of your flesh are): adultery, fornication, impurity, immorality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”  For this reason, if you cannot feel the need (to come to Holy Communion), at least believe the Scriptures.  They will not lie to you, since they know your flesh better than you yourself do.  Yes, and St. Paul concludes, “For I know that nothing good dwells within me that is, in my flesh.””  So why come to the Lord’s Supper often?  So that your faith may be strengthened and you may believe that Jesus removed the penalty of every sin, even your many sins!

 Then what about doing good?  Aren’t each of us required to do good?  Well it isn’t so much a requirement as it is a reality.  In your baptism you were given a new nature, a perfect nature, and that nature can’t help but love God with all of its heart and soul and love its neighbor as itself.  You see doing good just comes natural to your new identity.  The struggle is living out this new nature.  This is what we call our cross.  Just as Jesus died upon the cross to save you, you too must die daily to your old sinful nature and embrace the goodness that lives within you.  And it is that goodness that loves God and serves its neighbor!  Just as Christ bore the cross for others, to deliver them from death, so too, we His people bear not just our own cross of defeating the sin within us, but we also bear our neighbor’s crosses.  We give them support as evil surrounds and attacks them.  Christ bore the cross to pay for the sins of His people, and His people bear crosses to relieve the sufferings of their fellow man.  In our homes and at our jobs, in our community and in our church, our calling to bear our cross and suffer with Jesus is a calling to fight the sin within us and around us!  Christ call us to stand next to those who are suffering and help them bear their own afflictions. 

So the next time you hear of horrible events such as the Santana High shooting or the Oklahoma City bombing, don’t just look at the sin within those people, look at your own sin and remember your own potential for horrific evil that exists within your own heart!  And then remind yourself that God forgives us just as we are, and he continues to not just forgive us but help us to destroy the sin that is within us!  And when you fall to sin, do not think that God has given up on you, but remember to say with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (who has given us the victory)!  AMEN!

The Cross We Bear!

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Second Sunday in Pentecost, June 26, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” [Matt. 10:38-39]

INTRODUCTION: You know throughout our Bible there is one message that God continually offers to His people who relate to Him by faith, and that is peace.  In Hebrew, the word for peace is Shalom!  What that word actually means is wholeness.  If you are whole, that is if you are all that God originally created you to be, you will have peace.  And that is the one thing that all people of every race, ethnicity, and religion have in common; we are all searching for wholeness; for peace!  So then why did the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the world say, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [Matt. 10:34]  Why did he say that in order to find our life we must lose our life?  The answer of course can only be found in the cross; it can only be found in the death of Jesus Christ and the example of living to die that He gave to us.

 The cross of Jesus Christ does bring wholeness and life, but it also brings conflict, turmoil and death; it brings these things first within us and then around us.  So this morning we will be learning how do die to live.  We will learn how death brings life to ourselves first and then we will learn how dying brings death and life to those around us!

In our Epistle lesson (Rom. 7:1-13) St. Paul confronts us with these words of life and death: “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.  For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.  But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” [vs. 4-6]

 What Paul is talking about is how we become whole, or how we are recreated to have peace within ourselves; God’s peace that not only gives us peace with Him, but peace with our neighbor.  He wants us to first understand that we were set free from the Law; a law that demands that we do this or that to please God, but then offers us no way to actually do what it demands be done!  He does this by pointing us to the death of Jesus upon the cross.  When Christ died upon the cross He set us free to be people of God; free to know peace and wholeness.  But in order to receive this peace we need to see the need to die alongside of Jesus Christ; only those of us who are connected with Jesus in His death, can experience the peace and wholeness that His resurrection brings.  The death of Jesus Christ can only free those are willing to put all of their hopes of peace and wholeness in that death of Jesus.  There is no room for any other method or technique.  Doing your best to please God and find happiness won’t work; there is simply nothing you can do but surrender to your complete helplessness and trust instead in what Jesus’ death provides for you.  This is what dying to yourself means.

Paul illustrates this in a wonderful way by comparing us to a married woman.  He says that “a married woman is bound by the law (that is the 6th commandment that calls adultery a sin, as long as that married woman’s husband still lives), but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage (and is free to marry again without fear of sin).  (So), she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive.  But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.” [vs. 1-3]

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been freed from our oppressive dependence on the law; we no longer need to try to be something we never could be.  What is it that we were trying to be?  We were trying to be whole; we were trying on our own to have peace with God.  But as long as we are counting on the efforts of our sinful flesh that could never happen.  So Jesus solves that dilemma for us by His death.  He died the death that we should die to satisfy our inability to fulfill the law; this is a death that frees us from the law so that we may seek a new means to find wholeness and peace with God.  His death frees us from our dependence on fulfilling the law perfectly so that we might belong to Him!  In keeping with Paul’s illustration of marriage, Jesus frees us from the tyranny of our first marriage so that we can be remarried to Him; then and only then can we truly be whole and know peace.  But our old sinful nature does not want to go away that easily.  It fights to live; not only that, it fights to destroy our faith and satisfaction in God’s means of wholeness and peace.  When faith comes alive within our hearts through the means of God’s Word, our sinful nature continually seeks to find ways to defeat it and turn us back to the law, or our own ability to live a good life, as an alternative way of earning God’s love and wholeness.  What is the solution?  We must put to death, every day our old sinful nature.  We must learn to die so that we can live!  This is our internal cross that we must die upon every day.  But if we’re left to do this on our own, we’ll be in no better condition than we were when we were under the law.  On our own, we can never have faith to trust in Jesus and His cross.  That is why God provides this faith for us.  How does He do this?  By living within us! 

In our baptism we were sealed as God’s own possession through His means, the water and His Word.  In our baptism, the Holy Spirit actually took up residence within us.  Daily, we are asked to embrace God’s Spirit within us by turning to His leading presence and dying to our own sinful desires.  So the Holy Spirit is our actual teacher, who teaches us to die every day, and God’s Word is the text book that He teaches through!  But this is more than just a teaching; it’s a relationship of love, trust, wholeness, and peace with God that continues everyday of our lives until we leave this sinful world and our own sinful flesh behind.  But this dying to self doesn’t just happen internally; you see we must also learn to die to the things and concerns that are around us.

In our Old Testament lesson, we are introduced to the prophet Jeremiah.  He was a man familiar with sorrows and woes.  In fact, he is often called the “weeping” prophet, because so many of the messages that the Lord asked him to declare caused him to weep for his fellow Jews.  He was hated by most of them, because many of his messages from God were unpopular.  In fact, on several occasions he was thrown into prison and threatened with death if he returned.  What was the message that Jeremiah brought from the Lord?  Repent!  Don’t trust in a worldly way of finding wholeness and peace with God, but trust in the Lord’s Means of wholeness.  Turn away from a mindset that says happiness can be found in the comfort of wealth and the security of earthly friends, and instead trust in the Lord’s plan.  That was the last message that the Jews wanted to hear; they wanted Jeremiah to sit down and shut up!  So poor Jeremiah spent most of his time away from his people, and he only returned when he had another painful message from God.  We might say that Jeremiah would be completely at home singing that old African American spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long, long ways from home.”  What Jeremiah discovered is what we need to learn too: Each of us must take up our cross and follow Jesus. 

For Jeremiah, the cross that he was to take up was simply to declare God’s Word and place all of his faith in that Word, and that is the cross that we must take up as well.  Like Jeremiah, we too live in dangerous times.  There is terror all around.  In a time of extreme tolerance, where all life styles and philosophies are said to be equal, we Christians are the only ones being told to sit down and shut up!  But like Jeremiah, God says we can’t do that!  “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  No dear friends, you cannot ignore God’s Word!  He makes it clear, that there is no other way to please God accept through Christ Jesus!  There is a way that seems right to a society but in the end it only leads to death.  Thus says the Lord, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”” [Matt. 10:37] 

The truth is friends, in a society that continuously teaches personal gain and material riches, we are to proclaim another message, “Jesus is the only way to wholeness!”  In a society that advances the message, “If it makes you feel good, just do it!” we proclaim instead, “Seek the Lord while He may be found!”  Even in many churches today, this message of extreme tolerance and acceptance like in the day of Jeremiah has replaced the Law and Gospel message of God.  Itchy ears long to hear that their walk with God will be an easy and happy road; they don’t want to hear about sacrifice and pain; they don’t want to hear that they must die to live.  When things go wrong they blame God, and then quickly begin shopping for a new message that will satisfy their greedy hearts and bring them peace.  But what kind of peace do they really want?  Do they want worldly peace or heavenly peace?  Concerning peace here, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” [Matt. 10:34-36] 

Dear friends, these Words of Jesus are Words of peace.  Jesus gives them to us so that we will have peace, but to hear them we must receive them by faith.  We must by faith die to what we want and receive what God desires to give to us.  And what is He giving?  Peace!  It’s a wholeness that is always centered in Christ’s faithfulness to provide for everything we need, therefore it is a spiritual peace.  The peace He gives is completely opposite of the kind of peace the world wants from Him and you.  Listen to His voice speaking to your heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

CONCLUSION:  Friends let’s not walk in worry and fear.  Let’s not worry about lost relationships if we don’t endorse someone’s behavior.  Instead let’s simply follow our Lord wherever He leads.  Sometimes the road will be easy and sometimes it will be hard, but always Jesus will be walking right beside us.  And now, may that true peace of God, a wholeness which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and may that wholeness enable you to bear the cross joyfully, following Him where ever He leads you… In Jesus name… AMEN!

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus!

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Seventh Sunday in Pentecost, June 29, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” [Matthew 10:38]

INTRODUCTION: The prophet Jeremiah was a man familiar with sorrows and woes.  In fact, he is often called the “weeping” prophet, because so many of the messages that the Lord gave him to declare caused him to weep for his fellow Jews.  Because most of his messages from God were unpopular, he was not well liked by his own people.  In fact, on several occasions he was thrown into prison and threatened with death if he returned.  What was the message that Jeremiah brought from the Lord?  Repent!  Turn away from a worldly way of thinking and trust in the Lord.  Turn away from a mindset that says happiness can be found in the comfort of wealth and the security of earthly friends, and instead trust in the Lord’s plan.  What was God’s plan?  Simply this: Don’t resist the invasion of your enemies from Babylon; in fact open the city gates of Jerusalem wide, and let them come in and conquer you.  But fear not, the Lord will go with you into captivity and you will be saved, just trust in God that all things will work out for you good.  Oh this did not sound good to the leaders, prophets and priests of Judah; this wasn’t what they wanted to hear.  They wanted to Jeremiah to sit down and shut up!  So Jeremiah spent most of his time away from his people, and he only returned when he had another message from God.  We might say that Jeremiah would be completely at home singing that old African American spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long, long ways from home.”  What Jeremiah discovered is what we will learn this morning, we all must…

I. Take up our cross and follow Jesus.  In our Old Testament reading, we join Jeremiah who was told to go back into Jerusalem once again and declare the Lord’s will that Jerusalem would be conquered and if they resisted, they it would only make things worse.  But this time, God was sending him to the leaders of Judah as a living sermon.  God told Jeremiah to build a yoke (a harness for oxen), made out of wood and leather and walk into the city wearing it.  He was to go to the leaders and declare, “If any nation will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar and put his neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord”. [Jer. 27:8]  The people of Judah must have roared in disbelief, “What kind of a message is this?  All of the other prophets are declaring victory over Babylon.  In fact, they say that our land will not only be free of the oppressor, but we will even be prosperous beyond our dreams!”  Jeremiah’s message was so opposite of all of the false prophets, that one of them named Hananiah ran up to Jeremiah, snatched the yoke off of his neck and broke it into pieces and declared the words they all wanted to hear: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.”  And to this, Jeremiah, the true prophet of God responded, “Amen!  May the Lord do so.”  Once again, Jeremiah was run out of town, rejected by his own people; scorned for being faithful to God’s will; hated by the very people God sent him to save.  Now at this point, we might think that old Jeremiah would have learn the lesson of the world, “If through persistence you still fail and everyone else disagrees with you, you must be wrong!”  But, Jeremiah wasn’t like everyone else.  Jeremiah had faith in God’s Word, so he wouldn’t back down.  Sometime later, the Lord sent Jeremiah back to Jerusalem with another message: “You have broken the wooden (yoke), but you have made in (it’s) place (a yoke) of iron.  Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have (now) put upon the neck of all these nations in an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.”

Dear friends, for Jeremiah, the cross that he was to take up was simply to declare God’s Word and place all of his faith in that Word, and that is the cross that we must take up as well.  Like Jeremiah, we too live in dangerous times.  There is terror all around.  In a time of extreme tolerance, where all life styles and philosophies are said to be equal, we Christians are the only ones being told to sit down and shut up!  But like Jeremiah, God says we can’t do that!  “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  No dear friends, you cannot ignore God’s Word!  He makes it clear, that there is no other way to please God accept through Christ Jesus!  There is a way that seems right to a society but in the end it only leads to death.  Thus says the Lord, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”” [Matt. 10:37] 

Dear friends, in a society that continuously teaches personal gain and material riches, we are to proclaim another message, “Jesus is the only way.  He is the only truth…He is true life!”  In a society that advances the message, “If it makes you feel good, just do it!” we proclaim instead, “Seek the Lord while He may be found!”  Even in many churches today, this message of extreme tolerance and acceptance like in the day of Jeremiah has replaced the Law and Gospel message of God.  Itchy ears long to hear that their walk with God will be an easy and happy road; they don’t want to hear about sacrifice and pain.  When things go wrong they blame God, and then quickly begin shopping for a new message that will satisfy their greedy hearts.  All around us, there is a limitless supply of glory preachers that will tell them just what they want to hear.  “God wants to bless you with riches”, they say!  “God wants you to be victorious in all your dealings in this world” they say.  “If you’re not happy then follow these Biblical steps and God will bless you with good health and wealth!”  But to this our Lord warns that the broad and easy way is a lie and it will not lead to the blessings you are seeking, but instead it leads to an iron yoke of pain and disappointment.  Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!'”

The narrow door that our Savior speaks of is the cross.  It is the way of faith; the kind of faith that clings to God’s Word and trust is his loving kindness, even if the circumstances in our lives are telling us to do the opposite.  The cross has always been an offense to men and women of this world, because it minimizes our own personal achievement and places faith in God’s grace through Jesus Christ above all other things.  Sadly, even some of our own family members and closest friends may be numbered among those who are seeking the broad and easy way of the world. Do you have a loved one who has left the faith of their youth?  Maybe you’ve tried everything you can think of to persuade them to return to the Lord?  Perhaps you’ve given up on them; when before you were always speaking about Jesus and His love, and now you don’t even bring it up because it only causes hurt feelings or even an argument.  Maybe they’ve even told you that if you don’t quit talking about the Church and Jesus they will no longer be a part of your life?  And so…you’ve quit.  Instead, you quietly listen to their get rich quick schemes, their plans of glory and pleasure and you just sort of nod.  And to this, Jesus quietly speaks to us this morning and says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  These are hard Words.  For some they may strike like a sword, swift and deep into your very heart.  And to this we may respond, “But Lord, I only want peace in my family.  Peace with my friends.”

II. What is peace?  What kind of peace are we seeking?  Are we seeking worldly peace or heavenly peace?  Concerning peace here, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” [Matt. 10:34-36]  “But Lord” we respond, “you are the prince of peace.  You promised your perfect peace that surpasses all understanding!”  And to this Jesus responds, yes but I also taught you to live by faith, and to trust in me.  Haven’t I taught you to pray to the Father like this, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  And “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  For “which one of you, if (your child) asks for bread, will give a stone (instead)? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  Dear children, even “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Dear friends, these Words are Words of peace.  Jesus gives them to us so that we will have peace, but to hear them we must receive them by faith.  We must believe that every one of God’s promises are true and sure, even when it seems the very opposite is true.  In regards to our children, we must learn to rest our hope and faith in the work God did for them in their baptism.  When worry and fear creeps in, we must surrender these things to our loving father who promises that “He who began the good work” (in our children) “will complete it in the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philipp. 1:6]  God desires that you go back to the confidence, which you once had many years ago, when you obediently by faith brought your child to the font to receive God’s gift of salvation through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  Cling to the promises that he made through the Water and the Word.  Don’t be afraid to remind your children, no matter how old they are, that each and every promise God has given them is still true!  Lay your fears there at the font and don’t be afraid to tell your children that you are still praying for them to come back to Jesus. 

Friends, Jesus does still give peace, but the peace He gives is always centered in His faithfulness, therefore it is a spiritual peace.  The peace He gives is completely opposite of the kind of peace the world wants from Him and you.  Listen to His voice speaking to your heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

CONCLUSION:  Friends let’s not walk in worry and fear.  Let’s not worry about lost relationships if we don’t endorse someone’s behavior.  Let’s not worry about carrying our cross and following Jesus.  Instead let’s simply   follow our Lord wherever He leads.  Sometimes the road will be easy and sometimes it will be hard, but always Jesus will be walking right beside us.  Instead, let’s learn to be a living version of the song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”: “Sometimes I’m up.  Sometimes I’m down.  Sometimes I’m level to the ground, but still I say glory hallelujah!” 

And now, may that true peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and may His peace enable you to bear the cross joyfully, following Him where ever He leads you… In Jesus name… AMEN!