Archive for the ‘Service’ Category

Not So With You!

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

The Fifth Sunday of Lent-B
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego, CA
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Mark 10: 43bBut it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

INRODUCTION: Have you ever tried to explain something to someone, and now matter how many different ways you said it, they still didn’t get it?  It can be a little frustrating, especially if the message you want to get across to them is important.  I can’t help but think that our Lord was getting a little frustrated with His disciples in the beginning of our gospel lesson this morning.  You see He was trying to tell them what was about to happen to Him as He made His way up to Jerusalem.  And this was now the third attempt to do it.

Jesus first tried to prepare them for the reason He came to walk this earth right after Peter’s confession to Him, when Peter said, “You are the Christ” [Mark 8:29] After that confession, Jesus proclaimed to them that “the Son of Man must suffer many things”.  Peter speaking for the rest of them took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him.” [Mark 8:32]  That didn’t go well for Peter because right after this Jesus looked at him and said, “Get behind Me, Satan!”[Mark 8:33]

Jesus next attempt to communicate this important message to His disciples did not have any better results.  He clearly said that, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him.  And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.” [Mark 9:31]  But you know what, not one of His inner circle reacted, because “they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him (the meaning).” [Mark 9:32]

[Mark 10:32-34] And so we arrive at His third attempt, as recorded in our gospel reading this morning.  “(Jesus and His disciples) were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.  (They were amazed and afraid, because they knew that the religious authorities who were out to stop Jesus from becoming the Savior of Israel were located in the very place they were headed, Jerusalem.  And the apostles knew that these authorities would use any means available stop Him!)  And taking the twelve (aside, He again) began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

Wow! Jesus has provided a lot more information this time. You can’t get any clearer than that, can you?!  Surely they had to get the purpose for Jesus birth, life, and ministry now, right?  Well let’s see, James and John approached Him privately; maybe they got it.

[Mark 10:35-37] “Excuse us Jesus can we have a moment with you?  We want you to do something for us, whatever we ask of you.”  And (Jesus) said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”  And they said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (In other words, let us be your number one and number two guys after you get into power!)”  Nope, they still don’t get it.  So Jesus tried to shed a little more light on His message.

[Mark 10:38-41] “You (really) don’t know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink (by cup, Jesus was using an Old Testament term that was clear to everyone; He meant the cup of God’s wrath that brought only suffering), (are you able) to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  (By baptism, Jesus meant His very death, which He had been trying to prepare everyone for).  “And they said to Him, “We are able.”  O.K., these two apostles still don’t get it, but how about the other 10?  Surely the rest of Jesus’ inner circle finally understands!  “And when the ten heard (what James and John had just asked Jesus) they began to be indignant at James and John (in other words they were becoming very angry with them).  Now scripture doesn’t tell us anymore than that, but by the context we can surmise that a possible reason for their anger against James and John was that they were jockeying for positions of authority at the expense of the other ten.  In other words, they were mad because these two beat them to the punch! 

Well, it was time for another teaching moment, and Jesus was about to teach them a basic truth about God’s kingdom; it would be a teaching that would only make sense after they experienced the very thing He was trying to prepare them for.  They must experience the terror and fear of His betrayal, beating, and execution, and then they must experience the joy of His resurrection and ascension before they would understand this great eternal truth, which He was about to give them.

[Mark 10:42-45] “And Jesus called them to Him,” (He made sure He had the attention of each of them) and (He) said to them, “You know that those who are considered the rulers (of this world) lord it over them.  (They love to use and many times abuse their authority).  (But not so with you!)  But whoever (wants to) be great (in God’s eyes, in my kingdom), must be (a servant among the rest), and whoever (wants to) be first among (the rest) must be (the) the slave of all.”  Just in case this sounded ridiculous and beneath them, Jesus closed the lesson with these words, “For even the Son of Man (even I, Jesus said) came not to be served but to serve, and to give (my) life as a ransom for many.”

Dear friends, do we truly understand the meaning of this lesson?  At first Jesus Words might sound an awful lot like Law.  Whoever wants to be great must be a servant to all others…whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all!  What?  How can we do this?  It is against everything that is natural to this world and my own personality.  We might be tempted to simply shake our heads and chalk this teaching up to another mystery found in God’s Word, but Jesus will not allow us that luxury.  You see he provides the answer to the mystery.  He provides the key that unlocks the teaching in order to change the way we think.  He provides the gospel… He provides Himself!  “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  To give his life as a ransom for many; friends this is the key that unlocks your captivity to a weary and futile sin sick life, and in place it gives you freedom… it gives you a new and abundant life!

How does this teaching change us?  Well let’s look at the world today, people living their lives all around us.  Within this world, people in positions of authority tend to lord it over others, they become a legend in their own minds as they give order to do this and do that, go here and go there, but Jesus is saying He comes to do the opposite.  As God the Son, in human flesh, He came to Lord it under us.  He came to serve us with His perfect life so that we too might have an abundant life and He serves us with His death and resurrection so that we might find hope and an abundant life with meaning!  Because we know that Christ came to stand in our place under the Law of God, to suffer the punishment that we deserve, and to die the death that has fallen upon us we are not afraid of sin, death, and the devil!  Because we know that Christ came indeed to take our place, to be our substitute, to stand in for us, to come to terms with guilt and sin and death on our behalf, our focus is not on our actions but on what He has done for us!  He is the one who came to give his life as a ransom for many, as the Suffering Servant.  Because of His work for us and in us, we become new men, women, and children, who walk this earth with a purpose…and that purpose is to allow Him to work through us as we serve and love God and each other.

ILLUSTRATION: A parable is told of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church one Sunday to hear their duck preacher. After they waddled into the duck sanctuary, the service began and the duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. He pounded the pulpit with his beak and said, With these wings, there is nowhere we ducks cannot go! There is no God-given task we ducks cannot accomplish! With these wings we no longer need walk through life. We can soar high in the sky! Shouts of Amen!¨ were quacked throughout the duck congregation. The duck preacher concluded his message by exclaiming, With our wings we can fly through life! WE……CAN…..FLY!!!!¨ More ducks quacked out loud AMENS! in response. Every duck loved the service. In fact all the ducks that were present commented on what a wonderfully convicting message they had heard from their duck preacher…. and then they left the church and waddled all the way home. You know friends; too often we too waddle away from worship the same way we waddled in…. Unchanged.

But this is not why Jesus suffered and died for you! Jesus wants you to be transformed by His presence in your life.  He wants you to look at life the way He does.  Where there is loneliness and pain, with Jesus working within you, He wants to bring hope and joy.  Where there’s want and need in our community, Jesus wants to fill some of those needs.  Where some in our community see this church as a private meeting of likeminded Christians, with Jesus working within us, He sees us also as becoming a place of community and a house of hope for all of our neighbors who live in Jamacha and Encanto, Spring Valley and Lemon Grove.  But we must remember that it is Jesus within us and around us that makes us more than just another face in the crowd.

CONCLUSION: I would like to close with this last story.  The donkey that Jesus rode on Palm Sunday, awakened on Monday morning, with his mind still celebrating the most exciting day of his life. Never before had he felt such a rush of pleasure and pride. He got out of bed, walked into town and found a group of people by the well. “I’ll show myself to them,” he thought. But they didn’t notice him. They went on drawing their water and paid him no mind. “Throw your garments down,” he said crossly. “Don’t you know who I am?” They just looked at him in amazement. Someone slapped him across the tail and ordered him to move. “Miserable heathens!” he muttered to himself. “I’ll just go to the market where the good people are. They will remember me.” But the same thing happened. No one paid any attention to the donkey as he strutted down the main street in front of the market place. “The palm branches! Where are the palm branches!” he shouted. “Yesterday, you threw palm branches!” Hurt and confused, the donkey returned home to his mother. “Foolish child,” she said gently. “Don’t you realize that without Him, you are just an ordinary donkey?”

Friends, this world likes to be rewarded and respected for the service it renders.  It likes to have the center of attention placed of people who do important things, BUT NOT SO WITH YOU!  Because you know, that just like the donkey who carried Jesus into Jerusalem, you are most fulfilled when you are in the service of Jesus Christ. And without him, all your best efforts are like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and amount to nothing. When we lift up Christ, however, we are no longer ordinary people, but key players in God’s plan to redeem the word.  Where is God asking you to bring His Son?  Look around you in this church and within our community; the needs are many and if God was counting on only you it could be overwhelming, but dear friends, when each of us simply meets as they arise and as God provides, a funny thing happens we begin to feel fulfilled.  And something else happens, God is glorified and people who need Jesus’ extraordinary presence in their lives are drawn to Him because of your service to Him.  I pray that God bring this spirit of service and love into each of our hearts and into our congregation through the power of His Holy Spirit and because of the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord!  AMEN!

The Great Reversal

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Nineteenth Sunday in Pentecost, September 21, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: This morning Jesus turns our entire concept of justice on its head with these simple words from our Gospel lesson: “So the last will be first, and the first last.” (v. 16) To understand the meaning of these words, we have to first find the reason He spoke them.  Just before Jesus told this story, a rich young man, full of pride, approached Jesus with this timeless question: “How do I get to heaven?” Jesus answered him by saying Keep the commandments and you are well on your way!  The young man thought about this and said, “Done!”  Oh, really?  “Fine” Jesus says, then here’s what you do next, sell everything you have and follow me!”  Wow! Who would dare say that they can keep all of God’s commandments?  And to make that point, Jesus sends Him back to the very same commandments, the first commandment in fact, and says get rid of your false god (money) and follow the true God (Me)!  Well, that young rich man went away dejected.  Seeing this, Jesus followers began to ask, “If this is the case, then can anyone be saved?”  And to this, Jesus speaks the gospel:  “With man, this is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.” 

Now Peter who has been lectured time and time again about suffering for the Kingdom of God pipes in: “(Lord) See, we have left everything (behind) to follow you, what then will we get?”  And to this, Jesus hearing the pride in Peter’s words says, “Many who are (now) first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matt. 19:16-30)  This morning we will try to understand what this means by looking into three things: 1. God’s call.  2. Our response to His Call. (and) 3. The final result of His call-the great reversal.

I. God’s Call-“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” (Matthew 20:1) There are many of us here this morning who can confidently say that God first called us when we were just a baby or a small child, and that call came to us through Holy Baptism.  But there are also many others who either were not baptized until they were an adult, or they resisted the call of their baptism until very late in life.  Regardless of how we were called, the fact is-WE WERE CALLED!  In our Old Testament reading Isaiah relates this call to us this way: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;  let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7) And to this Jesus adds that we must seek and find the Lord on His terms, through His means and not our own-Now is the time to seek the Lord.  Look for Him while he can still be found, because the time will come when no matter how hard you look He will not be found. 

People have this intolerable idea that there will always be time to get serious about their faith, but God’s Word says otherwise; there is going to come a time when it will be too late to hear God’s Word!  Have you ever noticed that when the latest gadget comes out with a lot of media hype, people will stand in line for hours just to be the first on the block to have it or experience it?  Remember the long lines of people waiting for up to two days just to be the first to own the iPhone?  Oh dear friends, if we would only see God’s Word in this way.  How many of us have grieved his heart by ignoring His call with the thought of “Not now.  I’m just too busy.  Maybe latter.”  But praise His goodness He is still calling.  He is still out looking.  Jesus demonstrates this truth in His story, by making it clear the “master of the house” who is none other than God the Father is still going out early in the morning, calling to anyone who will listen.  He goes out continuously, even at the last hour!  All are called with the same call, “Come!”

II. What are some examples of our response to God’s call? “After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” (v. 2)  Like Peter, this first group that was hired even before the sun was out, asked “What’s in it for me?”  What will be my reward?  Did you notice that they were the only group of workers that insisted on a labor contract?  With their combined bargaining efforts, they were able to get the owner of the vineyard to agree to generous sum of 1 denarius.  I can hear them now: “Come on now.  Agree to our terms.  After all, this is hard work…picking grapes in the heat of the day.  We want 1denarius!”   “Done!” the owner of the vineyard says, “Now off you go to work in my vineyard.”  But there’s much to do, and this small workforce that he found will certainly not be sufficient, so he goes out again and again asking and re-asking anyone and everyone to respond to his offer of employment.  To all of these other groups he mentions only this about compensation, “Whatever is right I will give you.”(v. 5) “Sure!” they said, and off to work they go. 

Finally at the 11th hour, one hour before sundown, he brings in a final crew, but to this last bunch of workers he has a little more to say: “Why have you been standing  here idle all day?”  Now, they tried to justify their laziness by making it the owner of the vineyards fault saying, “Because no one has hired us.” Now instead of arguing with them, the owner of the vineyard simply returned their hearts and minds on the important task at hand, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ (vs. 5-7)

ILLUS: In January 1989, Serial killer Ted Bundy, related to Dr. James Dobson of the Focus On The Family Ministry, that just hours before their meeting, he confessed His sins to God, and then accepted the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  How does that make you feel?  Maybe it makes you feel a bit like those workers who were hired first-you know those who did most of the work?   Should Ted Bundy have been offered grace?  Well, I’m getting ahead of our gospel reading, so…Back to our story.  Now the workers hired first have taken their place at the front of the pay line, and they are anxiously awaiting their paycheck, when the foreman tells them to go to the end of the line and let the late comers go first.  “Well that’s not fair.” One man shouts out.  “Wait a minute” he says to the guy next him, “did you see how much those late comers got paid?  They made a whole denarius.  Boy this vineyard owner is generous.  If they made that much, imagine how much we’ll make!” But to their surprise, they are paid exactly what the late comers were paid!  “And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” (vs. 11-12)

Now, we can see a bit of intrigue developing.  The entire work crew is now clearly being divided into two opposite groups: those who are satisfied, and those who are not. Those who were hired first were irritated to see the late comers get a denarius.  Now Jesus is allowing us a glimpse into the heart of God.  It is becoming very evident that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.  But if we pay attention we can begin to see a pattern in the mind of God.  Remember, the workers who were hired after the first group? They had no contract, why they didn’t even have a promise of any kind, they simply knew their employer was kind enough to offer them work. They were just glad to be working for this landowner.  But the first group took their money and began to complain.  And what was their complaint?  The owner wasn’t showing justice!  Wow!  Can you believe that these workers are charging the owner of the vineyard with blatant injustice simply because he’s kind?! And that is precisely the point that Jesus is making about the rich young man’s attitude and Peter’s desire for compensation.  But Jesus isn’t done…no, now it is time for God to respond to all self-righteous hearts…maybe even ours!

“But (the owner of the vineyard) replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. (Didn’t you) agree with me for a denarius?  (Now then)Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to (these) last worker(s) as I give to you.   (Aren’t I) allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'” (vs. 13-15)  When we hear these words they come to us like the crushing blows of a hammer. You see, if we agree that all good things come to us from the hand of the Lord Himself, then the true target of our anger and envy aren’t those who we feel did not earn their reward, but rather the giver of the reward Himself!  It is as if we are telling God that some people do not deserve his call to enter into His service, His church, or even into eternal life.  Dear friends, when a heart believes that grace is earned then all that it is proving is that it has no real understanding of grace.

III. So what is the result of God’s call?  Well, it really depends on the condition of the heart that’s being called.   A prideful heart that spurns grace and condemns it when it is exercised towards others excludes  itself from the call of grace, because that kind of heart can never receive it, and this is because it will not receive it. This then is “The Great Reversal”-“So the last will be first, and the first last.” (v. 16) But what about a heart that really appreciates the marvelous gift of God’s undeserved mercy and love?  Well, this is the kind of heart that gladly answer His call to work for Him without demand; this kind of heart simply trusts and follows Jesus.  Friends, by sending us out into His vineyard, out into our families, communities, jobs and schools, Jesus delivers us from a life of eternal insignificance. For you see, whatever we are doing we are doing it for the Lord!  When the Tartar tribes of Central Asia curse their enemies, they don’t tell them to “go to hell.” No, instead they say, “May you do nothing forever.” Jesus Christ in His goodness delivers us from that curse.

Dear friends, please do not interpret the denarius in Jesus’ story as representing our salvation; no that fee was paid for by our dear Savior when He died for us upon the cross. And don’t think that the denarius represent your reward or crown in heaven. What greater reward could there be than just being with Jesus forever in heaven? No, our denarius is simply the privilege and the joy of being allowed to work alongside of Jesus here while we further His kingdom.  We do this when we allow Him to love others through our service to them!  Isn’t it wonderful to know that when we are called by Jesus Christ, He doesn’t put us under a contract? Instead He puts us under His grace!  That’s how you became a Christian, and that is precisely the message that He wants you to share with others as you serve them!

CONLUSION:  Friends, the good news is there is still time for anyone who hears the call of the Lord to seek Him!  Peter finally understood this, and when he did he declared God’s message of grace boldly, even at the expense of his own life.  St. Paul understood it as well, and it was his prayer that the church in Philippi would understand God’s message as well and be transformed by that same grace.  Dear friends, when others question your service to the Kingdom of God, it is God’s desire that you pay no attention to their hurtful words; it is God’s will that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side with each other working together, not caring if one has worked longer or harder than another; not counting your own personal sacrifices as something special or superior to others.  Instead, God desires that all of us work together with one mind, and one heart advancing His Kingdom by furthering the faith of the gospel.  It is God’s will that we allow His precious gift of grace to lead us, so that through His presence in our lives we will be empowered to joyfully serve others and tell anyone the Lord puts in our life: “Seek the Lord while he may be found.  Call upon the name of Jesus while he is near!”

Now may the peace of God , which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…AMEN!