Archive for the ‘Word of God’ Category

THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD

Sunday, January 6th, 2019

Epiphany-C
January 6, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark, Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

“And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

By fortunate circumstance due to the recurring and predictable nature of the calendar, the Epiphany of Our Lord falls on a Sunday this year. That Sunday is today. And by even greater circumstance, but by no means a random one, you get to be in the house of our Lord, listening to the Lord’s Word, on the day we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord.

Whether you’re our congregation’s youngest believer, or whether you’re pushing your way into your ninth or tenth decade of faith, you are not here on account of your own goodness. You are here because by God’s grace and by His election, you have received your own “epiphany of our Lord and Savior” somewhere along your life’s path

But just what is “Epiphany”?  Many in the secular world think that Epiphany, which always occurs 12 days after Christmas, is the standard allotted time to take down your Christmas decorations.  In some cultures of the world, Epiphany is a grander, larger scale, celebration than Christmas itself. And just to the south of us in Mexico, Epiphany is commonly celebrated with such things as cutting the “King cake” and gifts left in shoes for the children.

The word ‘Epiphany’ comes from Greek and literally means ‘a manifestation’. In other words, it has to do with something being revealed that has previously been hidden, or at least obscured for some time. Certainly the people of the old world, even the people of Israel, didn’t have a full understanding of just who God really is and how He was going to bring about their eternal salvation prior to the birth of Jesus.

There were plenty of prophecies of how all this would happen. This morning, our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah, foretold what would happen when God revealed His glory to the world: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you…”All people will be drawn into that glory, and all people will be drawn into God’s family.  And, from our Gospel lesson, we heard the quotation from Micah that was used by Herod’s advisors to direct the wise men to Bethlehem: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”

 These clues gave the people of ancient times a bit of a puzzle to consider. Each little revelation, each answer to a prophecy, put more and more information at their disposal. And, using that information, some eager souls attempted to predict the when, the where, and the how of the coming of the Messiah.

It’s kind of like our own day and age, where people attempt to use the far fuller content of the Scriptures to predict the end of times, or the time, the place, and the circumstances of the Savior’s Second Coming. Of course, to do this, they have to set aside Jesus’ own words, they have to disregard what Jesus Himself told us, that no one can predict it, “… for no one knows these things… only the Father.” Too often, though, in ancient times and now, all the speculation on the when, and the where, and the how of the coming of the Messiah misses the what — and, more importantly, it misses the whyof the Messiah’s coming.

Speculation like this will always happen. It is part of our sinful human nature to want to calculate, to speculate, or just plain guess about things which God, in His wisdom, has chosen to keep hidden from us for the time being. The ironic flip-side of that is, of course, that too many times we ignore that which God has already revealed to us.

Consider, for example, what we already know and what we don’t know about the wise men, or the “magi,” who came to worship the one born King of the Jews. We know that they came from the east, but what we don’t know is how far from the east, or that it was necessarily due east from Bethlehem. We can speculate, as others have, that they might have learned the teachings about the Messiah of Israel from Jewish exiles who lived in Babylon or more likely Persia. Or, they could’ve been from Arabia, or even from as far away as modern day India or China; we just don’t know. And, we need to be humble enough before God and with one another to admit that.

My apologies to Christmas card writers and the hymn writers, but we don’t know if these wise men were the “Three Kings of Orient Are.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say they were kings, nor does it say that there were three. (Most people assume there were three wise men because of the three gifts presented, the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which are mentioned in the Bible.) Isaiah does prophesy that kings will come to the brightness of the Messiah’s rising, but we can’t, with any certainty, connect that verse directly to this particular visit.

And what about the legend that the three wise men were named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, or any names similar to that? There’s no biblical mention of names. They are probably something that cropped up in the Middle Ages in misguided attempts to answer people’s curious questions, instead of redirecting them to what really is important in this story.

Also of legend, rather than biblical accuracy, is the idea that the wise men rode in on camels. Again, Isaiah mentions that camels of Midian and Ephah and Sheba shall come. But Matthew’s account doesn’t document the wise men’s mode of transportation. There’s nothing wrong with picturing the wise men coming on camels, but there’s nothing to make it a point of certainty, either.

So, about now you’re probably thinking, “What’s your point Vicar? Are purposely trying to ruin our sentimental impressions of Christmas and the manger scene? Are you trying to upset our childhood memories? Or, confuse us with lots of details?”

No, not really. My hope in pointing out such details is that you’ll be encouraged to read the Scriptures, not just more often, but with a greater eye for what they contain and what they do not contain. And I would pray that you will know the difference when you hear people talk. Quite often we hear people say (or we might even say ourselves), “Well, I think the Bible says such-and-such…” But unless we know actually what it does say, offering our opinion can be dangerous, both to them and to us.

Now in these things I brought up here today, it’s really like what Pastor Brian would say, “It’s adiaphora!” It really doesn’t matter because it doesn’t change the important aspects of the Biblical account. It doesn’t change what really matters!

When we actually turn to the Scriptures, we may find that what God’s Word has revealed to us is significantly different, or sometimes even silent on the topic. And, it is sinful for us to quote God’s Word inaccurately for the purpose of convincing people of our own ideas, rather than what God’s Word tells us. We have likely all fallen victim to it at sometime or another.

Another hope I have in suggesting that you consider the content of Scripture more discerningly is that you’ll begin to see the connections God has put there for us much more clearly. Yes, the Bible is a difficult and mysterious book in many ways. But sometimes we make it much more difficult than it needs to be, because we want to carve it up into isolated snippets rather than trying to see the rich, broad minutiae of its tapestry. Sometimes the temptation is to use a particular verse, maybe out of context, to win ego-building arguments, rather than to convey the wholeness of God’s Law and Gospel message to a fallen, lost, and dying world. And in doing so the true message of God’s Word get’s lost.

Again, we should repent of our failings, for the power of God’s Word is not to be used for our own purposes, but for the His glory, and for the benefit of sharing His grace with others. We should pray for the motivation to more diligently and deeply read and study Scripture, pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance for better clarity and understanding of it, and finally, pray for the courage and opportunities to share that understanding with others, so that they might have their own “epiphanies” with the Lord.

If we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, to seek a greater understanding, God will not disappoint us. He will overcome that sinful desire to shape or twist His Word for our own purposes, so that He might accomplish His greater good. He will help us to see how Matthew’s account of the wise men’s visit truly does connect with Isaiah’s prophecy, with Micah’s prophecy, and with the entirety of all the other Bible books, as well. After all, the Bible itself is ultimately the inspired work of God, and not the work of the individual writers.

The wise men’s visit shows us several things. First, it illuminates how the message of God’s salvation through the Messiah had reached out into the world even before Christ’s coming in the flesh. The wise men were not just sitting around one night, observing the sky, and suddenly came to the conclusion on their own that this new star indicated the birth of a king to the Jews. This idea had to have been planted in their minds from some source with an understanding that the coming of the Messiah would be accompanied by great signs, including a great light from the heavens.

Among these revelations, recorded in book of Numbers, chapter 24 Balaam prophesied, “…a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” A special star or other astronomical events such as comets or meteors was taken to symbolize divine validation of a king’s right to rule.

Balaam went on, “Edom shall be dispossessed.” Now it’s no coincidence that Herod, the king who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth, was not an Israelite king at all, but an Edomite who had been installed by the Romans as their puppet ruler.

When the wise men appeared, telling Herod that a star had arisen in Israel to indicate the birth of a Jewish king, he had good reason to fear for his rule. The Scriptures said that Edom would be dispossessed. You see, Herod was not an Israelite king at all, but an Edomite who had been installed by the Romans as their puppet ruler. Herod knew enough of Israel’s history and of the Jewish religion to realize that God often worked on behalf of Israel through supernatural means. However, the deception and violence Herod used in response, were manifestations of the same evil inclinations that we exhibit whenever we seek to shape things to our own desires, apart from the revealed will of God.

The second important point of this lesson is that prophecies in the Scriptures are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Even though Herod used Micah’s prophecy about the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem for despicable purposes, that was to kill innocent children, it nevertheless shows that Jesus’ miraculous birth took place exactly where God had revealed it would, the way God had said it would. For nearly 700 years, since the time of Micah, that information might have seemed of little importance. But in the prophecy’s fulfillment, those few verses take on immeasurable significance.

Thirdly, when the star finally stopped where Jesus was, and the wise men reached the end of their journey, they were pleased beyond measure. The text says, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” They were beside themselves with joy! (similar to the joy we heard bout with Simeon last week.) They may not have realized just what sort of king they were about to encounter, and even though he was merely a child at this point, they knew that something great and miraculous had come into their lives.

If only we could experience such joy when we come into contact with our heavenly King who came from God the Father, was born as an infant to suffer and die on that old rugged cross for our sins! And our life of faith is more than just an emotional experience!

How often do we allow our faith to be lived out in cold drudgery or in a bland routine? The Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier of the world has revealed Himself to you! He has chosen you to be His own, to receive the full favor of His grace, to receive forgiveness and to give you eternal life with Him in heaven! You should not just be excited about that, you should be joyful, thrilled, energized, and motivated to seek and follow His will!

A final key point of this lesson is that God continued to reveal Himself to the wise men even after they had followed the star and met the miracle of God in the flesh. He used another miraculous means—a dream—to show them His will. And, He prevented them from going back to Jerusalem, and protected the Holy family and the young Baby Jesus, so that His plan and timetable of salvation would not be interrupted or short-circuited by Herod.

You know, God does this for you, too, even today. He continues to reveal Himself to you in miraculous ways: The spoken word brings God’s power into your lives, each and every time you hear the declaration of absolution and the proclamation of the Gospel for the forgiveness of your sins. He doesn’t bring you gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but far more precious gifts of His own body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, satisfying your spiritual hunger and quenching your soul’s thirst, even as it burns away your sins with a power brighter and hotter than that of any star.

Maybe faith came to you as an infant or young child as you were baptized by loving, believing parents and given the Holy Spirit’s gifts by water and Word. Maybe, like others, you were reached later in life through the proclamation of that same Living Word, and the Spirit chose to enlighten your heart with the wisdom of the Gospel and then you received the gifts of the Holy Spirit through your baptism.

Either way is fine, really. God has chosen those means—Sacrament and Word, Word and Sacrament—to reveal Himself to us and to draw us near to Him. Through them, He grants us our own epiphanies. They may be personal ones, but they are by no means “little ones”, for the granting of faith is like a tectonic plate shifting in our lives and in our standing in God’s eyes. No longer are you aliens, strangers, and enemies to God. Instead, you are family, made His very own children—reborn, not as kings or queens of the Jews, but as princes and princess of heaven and earth – children of God, redeemed by Christ the Crucified, and royal citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Rejoice that the Lord’s Epiphany has come to you, revealing who He is and re-creating who you are, so that you may join the wise men in “rejoicing with exceedingly great joy” at His coming to the world for your salvation.

In the holy name of our God, who has been made flesh and was revealed to the nations, for all to see, and for all to believe, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Song of Simeon

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Christmas 1-C
December 30, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark, Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

…and when [Mary and Joseph] brought in the child Jesus [into the temple], to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, [Simeon] took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Are you ready to go?

What I mean is, are you ready to leave? No, I don’t mean right now, right at this very moment; it would be nice if you would stick around till the end of the service.

But, at the end of the service, will you be ready to leave? And by that, I mean, will you be ready to leave in peace — satisfied and content — ready for whatever comes next?

What makes us ready to leave — to leave any situation?

For example, this year is coming to a close. Are you ready to put 2018 behind you and move on to whatever 2019 may bring? (That sounds so weird…2019)

But what makes us ready to leave, even to the point of leaving this life? That day could happen any time, you know, any day, any hour. And if that were to happen, would you be ready? If the Lord were to decide to call you home today, are you ready to go? And if not, why not? And if you’re not sure, what would make the difference? What would change your mind?

Today in our Gospel reading, we meet a man who was ready to go. He was ready for whatever might happen next. And we find out in this text why he was ready, what made that difference. The man’s name was Simeon, and I think we can learn something from him today about what it means to “Depart in Peace.”

Let me set the scene for you. It’s eight days after the birth of Jesus. We’re in Jerusalem. We’re going to the temple. Why? Because eight days after the birth of a firstborn son, the father and mother were supposed to go to the temple and offer up a sacrifice to the Lord. It’s in the Law of Moses.

God commands the Israelites: The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me. (Exodus 22:29b-30)

 

Because, in the Passover, the firstborn sons of Israel were spared from death in Egypt, those boys were to be dedicated to the Lord and his service. Theoretically, they were supposed to serve in the temple. But the Lord God set apart the whole tribe of Levi to take the place of the boys from the other tribes.

Back to the temple. there are several families bringing young boys into the temple. Only, today, on this occasion, there is a firstborn son from the tribe of Judah, the tribe of kings, coming into the temple, this Son will also go on to be the Priest Supreme and the Lamb of God, making the ultimate sacrifice for all people. Can you picture it?

Over there. Mary and Joseph are carrying Jesus into the temple now. Do you see him? No? Again, there are many families bringing young boys into the temple today. How can we tell which couple carrying a baby into the temple is the one I’m talking about? There was nothing special, no special effects, no angels singing, no halos, and no beams of light to distinguish this Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus from all the other families there that day. That’s the point. And that’s how it would have appeared to Simeon, too, had the Lord not made it known to him through special revelation by the Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel lesson tells us, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And [that day] he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God.”

It says Simeon was waiting for “the consolation of Israel”. He was waiting for the comfort the Lord had promised to his people. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”the prophet Isaiah had spoken centuries before, and Simeon was waiting and wanting to see the fulfillment of thatpromise. Now, here it comes. The consolation, the comfort, the Christ child, is being carried in right before his very eyes.

The consolation comes in the person of this little baby. The Holy Spirit reveals to Simeon that he is seeing the Lord’s Christ. This is the Messiah — the Christ –the promised deliverer-king, who will bring God’s kingdom of comfort and consolation. God’s Promise fulfilled. The Lord had told Simeon he would not die before the arrival of the Messiah. Now the Christ has come. And Simeon thanks God for fulfilling this special promise to him, and so now Simeon –presumably an old man — now Simeon is ready to die, if that is what God has in store for him.

Simeon takes the baby Jesus in his arms and utters this beautiful song of praise:

“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Now here’s what it means to be ready to “Depart in Peace.” It’s to know and to experience the salvation that the Lord has prepared and promised — that same salvation that the Lord has prepared and promised for you and me in the waters of Holy Baptism.

That’s what Simeon experienced when he saw the baby Jesus with his own eyes and held Him in his own arms. Because of his hope in God’s promise, the hope of salvation come in the person of Baby Jesus, now Simeon knew that he was at peace and ready for whatever might come next, even his own death. Now he could “Depart in Peace.” Those same promises wee given to us in Baptism.

How would that consolation, that salvation, that peace, come about? That’s where our text goes next.

We read that Mary and Joseph marveled at what Simeon said about their baby. And Simeon blesses them and says to Mary his mother: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

 

This is the first time in the short life of the Baby Jesus that the Cross is referenced. The consolation will come through conflict. The salvation will come through suffering and sorrow. And peace will come through a Cross. And Simeon tells the mother, Mary that she will experience sorrow, like a sword piercing her soul, when one day she will see her son suffering shame and humiliation and death on a cross. But that is how the salvation will come. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the son of Mary, true God and true man, He will suffer and die for the sins of all men, winning our forgiveness for eternity.  And with His sacrificial death on the Cross comes the consolation, and the salvation, and the peace we all need so very much.

St Paul tells us in Romans, chapter 3: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like his [then] we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)

So how is it with you, dear brothers and sisters? Are you ready to depart in peace? Can you say with Simeon, “Yes, Lord, I’m ready to go, I’m ready for whatever comes next”?

Now you may not have laid your eyes on the Baby Jesus, being carried into the temple. You have not held that little baby in your arms. But here’s what you do have. You have the same Word of God given to Simeon. Your ears have heard the Word of the Lord. Your eyes have seen, with the eyes of faith, what God has laid before you: the consolation, the salvation, and the path of peace, leading all the way to heaven, through faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ. And you have received, and you will receive once again today, the very body and blood of your Savior in His Holy Sacrament. Dear Christian brothers and sisters, Simeon has nothing on you. You are just as blessed. You are just as comforted. And you are just as ready to go.

You know, that is why the church sings Simeon’s song right after receiving the Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament and right before the end of our service. It’s because we can identify with what Simeon experienced that day. We have received the same Comforter, the same Savior, and the same Lord as Simeon. And so we sing Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis. “Nunc Dimittis” is simply the Latin words for, “Now depart.”  We sing: “O Lord, now let Your servant depart in heavenly peace, for I have seen the glory of Your redeeming grace: A light to lead the Gentiles unto Your holy hill, the glory of Your people, Your chosen Israel.”

Yes, we too can sing out like Simeon! And we do! With joy and gladness we praise God for the salvation that comes to us, freely and fully, in the person of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now we can face whatever comes at us this week, or in this new year to come. Whether it means, health issues, financial issues, broken relationships, struggles with depression or loneliness — whatever comes our way, we are ready. And even death, if the Lord should decide it’s our time to go; we are ready. Not because of our merits or anything we have done. But because of the Lord’s Christ, our Jesus Christ, the infant Messiah, the man who died on the cross, and the God who rose as our Redeemer and Savior. This is the one who speaks to us His words of peace. This is the one who has the words of eternal life. And this is God’s promise to you, that you have forgiveness and peace –and with them, everlasting life — because of this Baby Jesus.

 

What great hope for the new year! What peace we have that surpasses all human understanding! What a joy it is to know this Savior! What a blessing it brings to you and your family and to this congregation! There is nothing else like it. Nothing else can fill the void and vacuum that we would have apart from Christ.But with Christ, we are ready to face whatever comes our way. For Christ has come into this temple, and the Holy Spirit has revealed Him to us here also. And we are ready to “Depart in Peace.”

And now may that same peace, the peace the surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

We Are Born to Serve With Who We Are and What We Have

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

If you were born into wealth and personally enjoy that wealth, don’t become a curse to others by bragging about your wealth. Don’t regard others as lower than yourself, deserving less respect because of your wealth as is happening around us so much today. You would do well to remember this, God did not give you your wealth to flaunt it over others, but only to be useful and beneficial to others. People “beneath” your standard of wealth cannot forbear forever your misusing of your gifts from God and neither can the Lord Who gives these gifts. This advice also applies to those who have gained their wealth through election. If you by virtue of your elected office feel easy and assured when you drain your constituents of money and hope, God clearly has warned of a reckoning. In all stations off life, people seem to be living for themselves and forgetting their neighbor in need and their One True God Who watches all and remembers.

But this is not the way God created it to be. This is not the reason God has let rich people rise in power or elected people to rise in wealth. God has created and given all good things, including wealth, to serve other people with these good gifts; to help and benefit their fellow citizens and the poor among them. They were to use their money for both a source of help and as an example to those they are helping. 

Are you a parent? God did not call you to be a parent only for you to walk away from His gift or terminate it. God did not give you children only as your source of entertainment to do with them what ever you please, far less to incite them to anger and violence causing a spirit that is embittered to all authority through excessive punishments, neglect, and violence as they move towards adulthood. No but he created them and your status as parent so that you would help them to know the Love of God and bring them up in the admonition of the Lord. Just as God did not give power to presidents, governors, or any elected officials to have them misuse that power by presuming it as a tool to use taxes as a way to manipulate its citizens, so parents are not to use their power to use and mistreat their children. God wills that children under the power of Father and Mother if that is the current status, to allow them to live their young lives in a quiet environment of learning and love. As they learn about the Lord they must  also learn of His grace and love both through the Word and through the example of parents. 

The fact is that both the higher and more honorable a person’s life is, the more diligently that person should see to it that they seek to advise, assist, and encourage others. For whatever God gives us—whether it be spiritual or material gifts, wisdom, understanding, money or business, all of our power, riches, and understanding are simply gift’s from God that we are to use to help our neighbor. 

But the world to our shame does not do this. It misuses all of the good gifts from God. It is stingy, miserly; it shows off its good gifts from God with personal pride. No one cares to remember that there will one day soon be a judgment. On that day our Lord will demand and account from every one as to how they used every gift God gave to them. On that day God will say: I have gifted you before others with riches and leadership. I have given you the responsibility to teach your children to honor me and others above themselves. Did you use these gifts to honor me and for the betterment of others; to encourage them to both help and love their neighbor as their self? Then let not your conscience say, “No Lord I did not assist them in their need. I sought after my own interests instead. I truthfully treated other people as beneath me. Then God will say:Then depart from Me accursed one, into the abyss of hell, into the eternal fire.

Today God now speaks Words of Love, Mercy, and Grace to all who have been injured by this Word, listen: “But to all who did receive (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Turn to the cross of Jesus Christ and the waters of your own Baptism. Repent, confess that Jesus is Lord and you will be saved!  It really is that simple. A new life of forgiveness awaits. Will you receive it?

Faith, The Key To Fellowship

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

Easter 2B, April 8, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus (God’s) Son cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7]

Unfortunately, too many people think that our Christian fellowship is not any different than other religions. They think that our faith is centered around a set of rules that simply tells the followers of Jesus how to live a better life.  And to these perceived rules of living they respond: “I don’t want your Jesus telling me what to do.  I don’t want your Jesus telling me how to talk and what to wear.  You Christians think that your better than us!”

Is that how we present our Christian faith; as simply a set of rules that are expected to be followed in order to fit into Jesus’ church?  Or do we believe and model something more; something much deeper?  In reality, that is what all people are  looking for… something deeper.  

Like Thomas in our Gospel reading (John 20:19–31), people today are looking for something that in their minds is real and life changing; something they can not only hear, but touch and be a part of.  This morning, our message will declare this as the very essence of what we preach, teach, and confess; but even more than that, it is something that we live out!

So why didn’t Thomas believe?  

May I suggest that He simply chose not to rely on the simple testimony of his friends.  He didn’t want to just believe, but he also wanted the experience of belief; he wanted to encounter the same source of faith that they had encountered.  What experience?  Well, this one: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [Jn. 20:19, 20]

In my mind, I can hear the excited testimony of the apostles and disciples who testified to Thomas.  “Thomas, we have seen the Lord.  There is no doubt it was Him, because He showed us the nail scars in his hands and the wound in His side!”  Thomas wanted to experience the same encounter.  He needed that same experience because the last few days of living had beat him down; demoralized him!  Remember, he was the same disciple who said to the others, “Let us go, that we may die with him”, after Jesus announced that it was time for Him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. [Jn. 11:16]

Now here is where we see the loving desire of our Savior. Jesus Christ the Son of God, knew that Thomas had been separated from Him by a lack of faith, and that just would not do.  You see Thomas had been set aside with the other apostles to not only believe in the Son of God Jesus Christ, but to also testify and proclaim the gospel which heralded the good news that Christ is risen!  So, if experience is what Thomas required in order to feel equal to the others, in order to have faith and believe, then that is precisely what Jesus would give to him.

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [Jn. 20:26-29]

Thomas’ faith was restored and he was returned to the fellowship of disciples who just eight days earlier also had faith, which seemed to be destroyed and lost.  All of them at first, seemed to have had lost their faith but not there fellowship.  What I mean is that they still gathered together in that upper room, but not in a fellowship of faith, but a fellowship of fear of the Jews and disappointment in their Savior.  They were beaten down by life and disappointed by what appeared to be failure, just as people still are today.

What is the thing lacking in most people, a thing which is preventing them from receiving Jesus as their Savior and then living out their new identity as a new person in Christ?  

I submit that it is faith.  Without faith, there can be no real fellowship with God.  Faith is the only way to truly see and know Jesus; to know that He is the propitiation (or payment) for our sins, and not (just) for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.” [1 John 2:2]

When Thomas had earlier said “Let us go also so that we may die with (Jesus)”, I am sure he meant every word.  When he said it, he and all of the other disciples were confused and bewildered.  They could not have understood why the Messiah would willingly allow Himself to be humiliated and killed.  That simply was not how a champion behaved.  But they also did not understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was.  People still don’t understand.

People today just like the disciples before us can not receive faith in Jesus unless they perceive a need for Him.  In other words, they must first see a need for the kind of Savior Jesus IS.

Jesus IS the Son of God who comes to save us from our sins.  He comes to remove our sins; to pay for them with the only payment that can be made; a payment of blood and life.  Again, “If we (desire to be saved and) walk in the light, as (Jesus) is in the light, (then) we have fellowship with (the Father and the Son of God, and) one another, and the blood of Jesus (the Son of God) cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7]

And it is that little Word sin, which keeps getting in the way; it keeps blocking folks from receiving the very thing they long for… faith.  You see, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” [1 John 1:8-10]

So what is the answer to this dilemma?  How can we even begin to reach people outside of Christ, especially young people with the very gift of life that they seem to so militantly reject?  We must make it real to them, by allowing it to be real to us.  God wants us to allow the gift of Christ to change us so that the change is apparent to even the worst skeptics!

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [John 20:21-23]

You know, in this world people say a lot of things; things they don’t really mean.  Another way to say this is that their talk and their walk don’t match.  But Jesus, speaks truth.  When He says “Peace” the very Word gives it.  The word gives peace and the faith of the believer receives it.

If a blind doctor offered you a liquid that would save your life, and then he told you that all you needed to do was hold out your cup and then drink what he pours into it, would you think that it was such a bad thing?  And if you told the doctor “I’m ready, poor away; my cup is waiting”, but you had no cup and simply let the medicine pour out on the ground, would that be the doctor’s fault, or yours?  No, that would be foolish!  So, why not just tell the doctor you have no cup, and he will gladly give you one!

And that is precisely the way of faith.  God’s Word is the medicine that will save you from your sins.  And the great physician of your soul is Jesus Christ.  If you have no cup, it is because you have either neglected to ask Him or you have refused to admit that you have a need for the medicine.  The cup is your agreement with God that you are indeed dying from your sins, and it is your confession, which proclaims that only He can save you.  The medicine is His very Word, which gives both forgiveness and eternal life; it gives you peace with God and each other.

When we have peace with God through faith in both the work of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb, we live out that peace with the authority that Christ’s Word gives us.  We are not only forgiven, but we are sent out to both speak words of forgiveness and to model them.  We hold no grudges, and simply allow God to work within the lives of the people we meet through the power of the Word he tells us to speak.

“I forgive you” is perhaps the easiest set of words to speak and the hardest to live out.  It is hard to live out because it involves complete faith that God will do what He says He will do.  He will bring peace.  Peace; first to we who speak the words of peace, and then peace to those who will hear and receive those words.

Thomas was restored to the fellowship of believers the same way the rest of them including Peter were restored, through the person and work of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Jesus spoke and gave peace to them and their little fellowship of faith began to grow.  It grew so large that they began to attract the attention of the government of Rome, which eventually became terrified that they might represent a new threat against Cesar.  They tried to destroy the church by killing the Christians, but instead of wiping out Christianity, their attacks only served to cause the church to grow much faster.  Why?  Because “great grace was upon them all.  The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” [Acts 4:32] With great power, the testimony of the apostles, which is the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, spread and brought forgiveness of sins and peace with God to many people.

That same peace and power of God, which comes through the same Word and means of grace of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are still proclaimed and given freely today.  It is the Word declared and the power of the Word lived out that will save this generation today, if we will simply trust God and live out this faith with an invitation to all we meet to simply come and see.  Come and believe that in our Bibles, “these (things) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  [John 20:31] AMEN!

Arise!

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

24th Sunday After Pentecost-A, November 19, 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

Matthew 25:14-30

Does the day of the Lord frighten you? For many it can, because it can be looked at as a day of judgment rather than a day of reward. But if you are trusting in Christ and the gift you’ve been given in your Baptism, you have nothing to fear. So get up and don’t be someone who thinks and lives in darkness, but live as you have been called to live… live in the glorious light of Christ Jesus your Savior. It is your Savior who brings you into the Kingdom of His Heavenly Father, while the light of the Holy Spirit takes you by your hand and says “ARISE”!

Now this sounds good to everyone who has been baptized, and yet when we leave this place but not God’s presence, our sinful flesh will do everything in its power to convince us to lie back down and sleep a little longer.

Your sinful flesh backed up by a chorus of devils will try to convince you that there’s no need for urgency. As you’ve heard me say before, in our sinful nature we’d rather worship at a place called St. Mattress than a place called St. Matthew!

Knowing we are but flesh and subject to falling back into our sinful nature, God’s Word calls out and says arise… wake up you sleeper and walk in the light!

What is that light? It is God’s Law and His Gospel. This morning we will use God’s law first as a Mirror, a mirror that will show us the darkness of sin that surrounds us, and then we will hear His Gospel; the good news that is God’s Word of love, love which dispels the darkness and surrounds us with His love!

Why is God’s Law a mirror?

Because if we aren’t trusting in God’s forgiving love, it clearly shows us that the day of the Lord is something that we should dread; it is a day of punishment for sin, our sin! That’s why so many people today don’t want to hear God’s law preached; they only want to hear a message of prosperity, health, and wealth; they don’t want to hear the truth. What is the truth? We are broken in sin; we are separated from God; we are sick and death is inevitable! This is what the law of God shows us!

You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, and with all of your soul! That is the demand of God. You heard me right it’s a demand, and it offers you no help in accomplishing it! It’s a demand that forces you to admit that you can’t do the law, you’ve never been able to do it, and on your own, you never will! That’s why it’s a mirror; it simply shows you the truth about who you are… you are a sinner who has only judgment to look forward to!

Truthfully, on are own, we are the wicked and lazy servant that God gave one talent to. Instead of using that talent we want to hide it away; we don’t really want to take care of it. For some, perhaps they spend their whole life hiding the talent, and they convince themselves that God loves them no matter what, and the proof is is the talent that He gave them, but they never use it! They can skip Divine Service and never think twice about it. They can come to the Lord’s Supper with bitterness and an unforgiving heart and then think that there will be no repercussions. They can give a small sum of money as their weekly offering and dismiss any feelings of inadequacy or sinfulness by simply repeating what they were taught in Sunday School: God loves a cheerful giver! You wicked and lazy servant, the day of the Lord will come upon you like a thief in the night; punishment is at hand! Now, don’t look away or close your ears, because we aren’t done looking in the mirror.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the demand of God’s Law. It’s a demand and not a suggestion.

Who is your neighbor? Your neighbor is your spouse. The very person that you promised God you would love and honor till death do you part. The very person you promised that you would be lover, supporter, and comforter to in good times and bad, sickness and health, in periods of wealth and poverty. And how do you show that love? With unfaithfulness! You give the best of your passion, your time, your comfort, and support to something or someone before your spouse. And maybe you justify your actions with the argument that times have changed and so have relationships! Now maybe you are dismissing this guilt by saying to yourself that you’ve never actually cheated or turned to the arms of someone else, but isn’t it true that marriage is oh so much more than the physical aspect?

Who is your neighbor? It is your children and grandchildren! Each time you hear God’s Word reminding you to spend more time with your family and demonstrate your love to them by teaching them the truths in God’s Word as found in your catechism, and each time you do the opposite, you are not loving your neighbor! Have you forgotten that your Master is coming and will expect a full account of how you used His talent that He gave to you?

Who is your neighbor? Your neighbors are those who can benefit from any of the many ministries we have here at our church, if you would only invite them and bring them. Now I know that many of you don’t like to do church things on a day other than Sunday, especially in the evening, but have you forgotten that it’s not about you, it’s about your neighbor, your neighbor who is dying without knowing God’s love through Jesus Christ. Your neighbor that hasn’t even been given a talent from the master yet!

Who is your neighbor? Your neighbor may be someone in this congregation that you have held a grudge against or harbored a bitter spirit against for some time. Instead of going to your brother or sister and explaining how they’ve sinned against you and allowing God’s grace and Spirit to bring reconciliation, you harbor resentment and anger. Oh we wicked and lazy servants, it is time for us to arise… to wake up from our deep dark sleep and let God’s Word rescue us.

But how… how will this happen? By turning to His face of love; by embracing his gift of love that He has given to us!

What is God’s face and gift of love?

It’s the cross of Jesus Christ. In His cross you see God’s love, and when you see His love, you fall in love with Him yourself. In His arms of grace you feel connected and never disconnected; you feel his forgiveness. In His cross you see His sacrifice, His death upon the cross as a gift for you. In His cross God shows you that Jesus death was your death. In the cross of Jesus, God provides a very great gift for all of us… He provides His talent.

What is this talent? It is first and foremost the gift of faith; faith that allows us to be free from the terrible threatening of God’s Law and then faith to see God’s forgiveness. But this gift of God’s love doesn’t just come with wishful thinking, but instead it comes through God’s means; it comes through His Word! In His Word, God the Father is always telling you to turn to His Son, to turn to His Son’s cross and confess that you have failed in satisfying the demands of His Law. In the cross of Jesus, God is always reminding us that it is He alone who rescues us from our sins, from the attacks of the devil, and from our own death and the day of judgment.

God’s Word about Jesus’ sacrifice for you is the breastplate of faith and love… it is the helmet of your salvation. Without the Word of God you can have neither faith nor love; you can have no talent from God. Without the Word of God, you can have no helmet of salvation that protects you from the sinful thoughts that so easily entangle you and lead you back into a world of darkness and slumber! Without the Word of God you cannot walk as a child of the light.

Oh you can pretend to be following Jesus, but without the Word of God leading you and changing you, you are just going through the motions.

So this morning God’s Word simply has one command and it is Arise!

That’s it. Get up and take up His holy Word. Stay in the Word and embrace the light that it gives to you. Oh, and because God has given you a talent, the gift of faith, He now assures you that you don’t need to be afraid of His Law anymore; you don’t need to avoid reading and meditating on that Law. He doesn’t want you to see His Law as something to be avoided, but see His Law as a Law of love; see it as His way of continually recreating you into His image; it is part of the talent or gift of faith that He’s given to you so that you’ll no longer see yourself as a wicked and lazy servant, but as a wise, appreciative and loving servant who will only hear Words of praise and reward on the day of the Lord! Under the council of God’s Holy Law He is teaching you how to multiply the talent that He has given you. In His Word He is not only teaching you how to love Him but also how to love and forgive your neighbor as He has loved and forgiven you!

As God’s Word continues to save you, it will also continue to change you and rearrange you; it will teach you how He has specifically gifted you with special talents, and then He will teach you how to use those talents to help bring others out of darkness and judgment and into the glorious gospel light of love and forgiveness.

I’d like to close our message this morning with this story: One day, Satan held a strategy session for defeating Christ’s work of salvation. “What shall we do?” asked Satan. A daring demon stood and shouted, “I have it! I know what we can do! We can tell people that there is no life after death, that they die like animals.” Satan’s face fell as he answered, “It will never work. Man is not stupid; even atheists will admit that they have times when they sense a tomorrow after death.” Another demon spoke, “Here’s the solution! Let’s say that the god who started life is dead—let’s say that while he started the universe, he’s long gone now.” Satan replied in dismay, “That won’t work either; most of them know there is a God, even though they don’t look for him.”

Other ideas were presented, but none brought hope to the devils. Finally, as they were about to give up, one demon jumped to his feet in joy, “I have it! This is sure to work!” The other demons crowded around to hear the plan. “Go tell them that God is real and the Bible is God’s Word.” A gasp came from the audience as the demon continued, “And tell them that Jesus really is God’s Son and that He died to free them from their sin.” The other demons were horror-stricken, thinking that their associate had lost his mind, until, with a smile, he added, “Then tell them that this is not the best time to turn their lives over to Jesus. Help them make excuses for living in a life of darkness. Tell them there is no hurry!” If we do this we will fulfill the warning in Proverbs, “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” [Proverbs 6:9-11] The demons danced in delight, realizing a workable plan had been discovered.

But those devils aren’t celebrating this morning at our Church; no, because this morning we have heard the gospel command to Arise! We’ve heard God’s Word, and because of that Word of God and the gift of faith it brings, we can truly say, “I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus!”

May God through His Word continue to turn our hearts and minds to Jesus and His cross, and may He continue to give all of us the faith, the talent and the strength to keep doing that very thing until the day of the Lord. In Jesus name… AMEN!

Give to Caesar What’s Caesar’s and…

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

20th Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 22nd, 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

Matthew 22:15-22

Our text for this morning is one that is very familiar with many of you. “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” [Matthew 22:21b] I’m sure that you’ll all agree with me that the one thing our modern day Caesar wants the most from us is our money! Oh they’re going to get it, you can be sure of that, after all their name is all over “your” money… even though it’s in your pocket right now, it isn’t really yours, it’s Caesar’s, and he’s just letting you use it!

In this political season there’s a lot of talk about the best way to take our money and then the best way to spend it. In our political system here in the U.S., we are assured that we have a say in how this decision will be made; we have elections and the person or the party with the best ideas in how to collect and spend our money will supposedly be the one elected. But in the end, no matter who is elected we are always reminded that it never really was our money. We are reminded that the golden rule of any form of government is, “He who makes and distributes the currency, makes up the rules.”

But if we would just remember that our money really belongs to someone else, life sure would have a lot more peace and contentment in it. Like the old folks use to say back home, “Money will buy ya a nice dog, but only love will make him wag his tail and be your friend!”

In our gospel lesson this morning we discover something else about money… it can be a trap, even when you use it to trap someone else!

We meet Jesus teaching in the temple and it is the week of His passion; in other words He is only days away from His suffering and death. He knows this; He knows what is waiting for Him, so this is His last attempt to bring faith to an evil self-serving nation. He is teaching in the temple for good reason; it is the very heart of their identity as a people called by God to relate to Him in love and trust and then reflect that relationship to other people… other nations. He has just finished condemning the religious leaders as phonies, imposters. The word I used last week was posers! And now they’re flaming hot with anger and thinking only of revenge; they want to trap Jesus with His own words so that they can arrest Him and turn Him over to Caesar for execution.

The Pharisees went off away from the others and devised a way to trap Jesus. Jesus own words will be coaxed out of Him and they will be words of treason! Once that was done, with the members of the Herodian political party as witnesses, the governor will quickly arrest Jesus. So the Pharisees picked some of their youngest and brightest disciples and taught them what and how to ask Jesus. So while Jesus is teaching, this group of strangers approaches Him and begins to ape the words of admiration and praise that their teachers taught them: “Teacher, we know that you are (the real deal and that you) teach the way of God truthfully, and (we know that) you don’t care about anyone’s opinion (of you, because you’re) not (fooled) by appearances.”

Now stop and think about that for a moment. If they really believed that, would they have said what they just said? After all weren’t they just doing the very thing they said Jesus could see through? If only they had eyes of faith to see that they were actually talking to God! Well so much for that; the puppets had to ask the question that the puppet masters put into their mouths. So here it is: “Tell us, then… Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Now remember, because of their lack of faith they do not see God in Jesus. To them there is nothing divine about Him; he is just a man who’s causing troubles with the status quo; He’s rockin’ the boat and they want Him thrown out so that they will continue to have smooth sailing. But Jesus is God and He sees the evil intent in their hearts, so He says to them: “Why are you putting me to the test you hypocrites? (You who say one thing with your mouth but then you do the evil that is in your hearts. You don’t really want to hear God’s powerful Word and allow that Word to change you. You are in it for the money! You are here to just keep getting richer while God’s Kingdom suffers at your hands and His people pay for your greed!) Show me the coin for the tax.” And out of their own pockets comes the very thing they supposedly hate… Caesar’s money; money that undeniably belongs to Caesar, because it has his name and his face on it! So Jesus asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is (on) this?” And the answer they gave not only reveals their hypocrisy but Jesus divine wisdom. “And they (answered) “(It’s) Caesar’s.” (And Jesus) said to them, “(Then give back to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar), and to God the things that are God’s.” Scripture says that they were amazed at Jesus answer; they marveled at the wisdom in His Words, but they would not let that wisdom change them. Why? Because they were hypocritical impostors that didn’t care one bit about being rich in the Kingdom of God; they only cared about becoming rich in the kingdom of men!

The funny thing about money is that it will buy you a bed, but not sleep. It will buy you books, but not brains. It will give you a beautiful house, but not a home. It can afford medicine, but it can’t give you good health. It will bring you amusement, but not happiness. It can buy a beautifully hand carved crucifix, but not the Savior who hung upon it! No, to have the things that money can’t buy, we have to be resting in God’s mercy and forgiveness, and that rest can only come through Jesus Christ!

When the Pharisees presented a coin to Jesus, He pointed out the image of Caesar.

By doing this He’s presenting the reality that each of us lives simultaneously in two kingdoms: the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God. He was teaching them and us that just as the coin was created in the image of Caesar, we are created in the image of God. This means that every thing on earth and every part of our bodies, even the smallest of thoughts in our minds, belong to God!

Now there may be some here this morning that are like those disciples of the Pharisees; they’ve given God their mind but their heart is far away from Him. Some may have given Him their heart, but they’re unwilling to truly hear and learn from the Word, because they have their own way of thinking about how God’s Kingdom should be built. Some may be willing to give their muscles, but unwilling to bring their bodies consistently to worship and Bible study! Many give God 1 or 2 hours a week of their time, but God wants all 168 hours of every week! Some consistently give God about 2% of their income, thinking that someday they’ll reach the 10% goal, when in reality it all belongs to God, even if Caesar’s image is on it!

It becomes so easy for us to forget that God is actually with us in this sinful society when all around us evil greed and injustice seems to control everything. But just a few short days after the occurrence of our gospel reading, Jesus would be standing before Pontius Pilate, teaching him this very truth. There before Pilate, Jesus stands beaten and bloody, and Pilate asks Him if He realizes that he has the power to free Him or execute Him. And to this Jesus Words ring in our ears with the truth about the kingdom of men: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” [John 19:11] And here is the meat of Jesus teaching for us this morning: While the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God are two separate kingdoms, they both are ultimately controlled by God!

In God’s Kingdom of grace we are changed… we are recreated so that we can be in God’s presence even while living in the kingdom of man. God’s Word gives and teaches us and eternal righteousness of the heart so that through us and the sharing of the gospel, others may know of God’s mercy and love and be drawn into His Kingdom of Grace also. But God’s Kingdom does not destroy or take over the kingdom of men, instead it enters into individual families, communities, and governments it and changes them by changing the people who live in them.

What is the change that the gospel brings into these various groups that make up the kingdom of man? It brings a realization of God’s presence! As individuals, families, communities, and governments begin to realize that everything they do is not only seen by God, but ultimately judged by Him, God’s Kingdom is breaking in and His way of love, forgiveness, and mercy begins to be seen in how all of these groups serve each other. Individuals begin to give of their time, talent, and treasure in a way that honors God and helps build His Kingdom. Families begin to work, live, and worship together in a way that is pleasing to God! Communities begin to care for the weakest and poorest members in a way that reminds them that they aren’t alone! And governments remember that they are there to serve first the will of their Creator, and then address the needs of their constituents.

Now I know that all of this can seem a bit ideal, and that is because it is ideal!

It’s a picture of the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of men! It is what was happening that day in the temple when Jesus was teaching the people about God’s love as the Pharisees were demonstrating men’s greed! Jesus, God in human flesh came to His people that day to plead with them one last time to repent. He asked them to turn to Him and walk to the cross; a place where God’s own blood would be spilled for them as a payment for their sins. He asked them to follow Him by faith and see a better way; a way that trusts in God even when it seems that evil has won the day. He asks them and He asks us today to hear His Words of forgiveness spoken for those evil men that persecuted and crucified Him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” And He shouts so all can hear God’s proclamation of victory, even you and me today: “It is finished!” Your debt is paid in full! I your God have broken into your reality; I came to you myself and became your Savior, your Brother, and Friend!

So there you have Jesus teaching. It is not as simple as the simple minded hypocrites like to make it. Living in two Kingdoms at the same time never is easy. One kingdom says the rich should keep getting richer so that they can provide for the poor, and the other kingdom says you will always have the haves and have-nots, the question is what is it that they have or don’t have? Do you have Jesus? Is he the most important thing in life to you? Are you resting in the Kingdom of God knowing that Jesus is with you while you’re waiting and working in the kingdom of man, or is the Kingdom of God something that you will take seriously someday, just not this day?

I’ll close with this story. A businessman had an angel come to visit him, and the angel promised him that God would grant one wish. The man asked for a copy of the Wall Street Journal, with the stock market quotes for one year in the future. As he was studying the future prices on the stock exchanges, he became excited at the certainty of acquiring even more wealth, wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But then he glanced across the newspaper page, only to see his own picture in the obituary column. Suddenly, all of his current and future wealth meant nothing to him. He fell on his knees and confessed before God his sinfulness and his lack of faith and trust in Jesus gift of eternal life. How do you think that man spent his wealth from that point on?

And now dear friends, God grants the same blessing to you. He tells you now, that one day, perhaps soon you will die! Knowing that will you turn to Jesus? Will you rest in what God has done for you upon the cross and within your baptism? Will you allow the Kingdom of God to transform you and work within you, and then use the time, talents, and money that God has given to you to break into the kingdom of man? Will you be satisfied with what you have and use it to help those who don’t know Jesus have peace with God? I pray that God will enable each of us to do this very thing. And I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Dependable Strength

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

November, 2017

Pastor Brian Henderson

Psalm 23: 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

As I write this devotion, I can still see in my minds eye the smoke that filled the air due to the wild fires of 2007. That fire, like the ones raging in central and Northern California destroyed lots of homes, injured and killed many. Today like then, those reports of deaths seem to occupy many of my thoughts. Like many of you, I turn to God’s Word for comfort, and the 23rd Psalm is an excellent place to start.

A story, which I have no reason to doubt, is told about a seasoned martial arts instructor who happened to come across a deranged thief who was running away from law enforcement officers, inside the grounds of one of our crowded local Swap Meets. The man had a knife in his hand and was wildly slicing the air towards anyone who approached him. As the seasoned martial arts instructor observed this “mad man” approaching, he calmly reached out and flipped/tripped/disarmed the maniac, who was quickly arrested by the pursuing deputies. The deputies later commented that our seasoned martial arts instructor seemed to be a stable rock within all the confusion and fear. Our hero, the “karate man”, reacted to a violent situation completely different than the other people around him. While others were wisely running away from the maniac, our friend seemed to find a predictable order of movement in what others perceived as the utter chaos of a mad man. Our friend’s training and experience became a hidden resource of wisdom and strength. This same idea can be applied to the “Christian soldier” who is founded in the correct Christian faith.

There is no marvel on earth more wonderful than a mature Christian conducting themselves independent of life’s present outward circumstances. The wisdom, love, and guidance of God’s presence becomes their guide through the circumstances, because the inward light of God illuminates even the darkest corners of the unknown! There is a calm easy peace that can be ours, when we trust the providence of God completely. Even death itself, cannot silence the song in the heart of a child of God who walks by faith under the shadow of the cross, illuminated by the grace of Christ Jesus! The worst death and destruction can do is to remove the song of the heart from this temporary earth it brightens. But death cannot silence the song within the heart of a believer, because even if it is removed from this earth, it will instantly become part of God’s heavenly choir. The heart of a Christian can sing with joy, a chorus of, “O death where is your sting; where is your victory!?” The song of an earth-bound Christian is temporary; the song of a citizen of heaven is eternal.

Friends, if you are trouble by the tragedy of the firestorms or any thing else in this temporal world, you can have confidence in the Holy Spirit’s power to comfort and heal. If your trial is financial, do not be afraid, God can give you an abundance of His presence in your time of poverty that even the rich can not experience in their greatest time of wealth. Even our own imaginations cannot wonder what joys and blessings our Lord has waiting for us in His eternal kingdom. Maybe you are watching your body’s strength slip away because of illness. Possibly the fear of restless nights filled with pain are the thing which makes you afraid. Don’t worry; God can make your own sick bed or even your deathbed a royal throne of grace. Even in this trial, God can launch a powerful ministry through you! He maybe using this time as a period of refining, burning away the impurities of your life, which for so long have prevented you from developing your relationship with Him. Are your eyes and ears becoming weak through age? Let Jesus be your light and the song of your heart! Let whatever temporary circumstances you face today be transformed by the strength, wisdom, and love of the Father’s grace through Jesus Christ, so that tomorrow, when others observe you they will marvel at your God’s ability to strengthen His child!

In your Word, O Lord, we put our trust. What ever may come, we pray that we may be enable to find comfort in you alone. In Jesus name…. AMEN!

Don’t Cross-out the Cross!

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 3, 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 her for audio of this message

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]

One of my favorite shows on TV is the “Myth Busters”. So following that shows premiss that some things that we accept as true are simply false, We are going to debunk a couple of myths in Christianity. What is a myth? Well, it’s a little bit like an Old Wives’ Tale. A wives’ tale is s traditional belief or a societal myth that’s often founded in superstition. Here are a few to try on for size: If you swallow your gum it will sit in your stomach and turn into a hair ball! No not true. Gum passes out the digestive track like everything else! How about this one: If you eat water melon and drink milk you will get a poison in your system and it could kill you! Sorry, you might get a belly ache but it won’t kill you! Here’s one more myth that you mothers won’t like me debunking: If you go outside in the cold with a wet head, you will catch a terrible cold! Sorry Moms, that isn’t true either. No matter how much you protest, science has known for some time that colds are caused by germs that enter our bodies through our mouths!

This morning we are going to debunk a couple more myths about our Christian faith. These are myths that were created in a sinful world by sinful people. The first myth says that your Christian faith will protect you from harm, misfortune, poverty, and even sickness! Now this sounds good; we might even get in line to learn about this kind of Christianity, but if we did, we’d be falling into a trap!

Now the second myth about our faith says that what Christ did on the cross was a good start for us, but we have to reinforce that work of His with our own suffering and sacrifice; No pain, no gain! The folks that follow this myth really set aside Jesus suffering as perfect, and they believe they’ve got to add to it in order to please and angry God! But now Jesus takes this “no pain, no gain” mentality and He turns it on its head! Jesus says, without MY pain you can have no gain. Follow me to have eternal life, but as you follow me, you too will know pain!

So where did we receive our call to follow Jesus and live under His cross?

Well through His Word of course! It was His Word that spoke to many of our parents long ago, teaching them the need to bring us to the life giving waters of baptism. And it was that same Word that latter grabbed a hold of each of us and convicted us of our sin and our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is the Word of God that mysteriously and lovingly speaks to our hearts after we confess our sins and convinces us that we are forgiven. And it is the same Word that somehow creates the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood along with the bread and wine at our Lord’s Table, all so that we can know and experience forgiveness of sins!

It is this same Word that speaks to us now and says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24] Now why did Jesus speak this word about following Him and the need to pick up our cross? Because He knows that we like Peter want to follow the easy way; the myths of this world. But these myths were created first by the prince of this world the devil and they’re spread by the sinful people who have been trapped by his lies and myths.

In our gospel reading this morning Jesus began to teach his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die for each of them, even for you and me! And what was Peter’s reaction to this discovery? Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him with these words, “Far be it from you Lord!” That’s just not going to happen (and I’ll make sure of it)! And how did the Son of God, the Savior of the world respond? He rebuked Peter, or maybe a better way to put this is that He rebuked the sin in Peter and the cause of that sin; He rebuked the father of all lies, Satan Himself! [Matthew 16:21-23]

Jesus knew that voice and the temptations that it brings; He recognized the devil and his ministry of lies which promises glory without sacrifice! He encountered that same voice out in the wilderness on a forty day fast. That voice tempted Jesus with food, power, and glory! And how did Jesus defeat the devil? With the same Word he now speaks to Peter: “Get behind me Satan!” And after Jesus rebukes the devil, He speaks and teaches both Peter and us with these Words of life, He says: “You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Now what did Jesus mean by that? He meant that Peter wanted to follow the way of the devil and not the way of God!

Friends, the truth is that each of us are a lot more like Peter than we care to admit. Let me show you what I mean.

The word that Jesus used, which our Bible translates as hindrance is really the Greek word skandalon. It’s where we get our English word scandal. A skandalon is the little stick that holds the mouth of a trap open. Trappers will use some kind of bait that is irresistible to the prey they’re hunting and place it at the skandalon. And when the prey goes for the bait, they trip the skandalon and… SMACK! The trap springs shut trapping and killing the prey. So Jesus is telling Peter that his plan and idea to cross out the cross is actually that kind of trap! First it was a trap for Jesus; but Jesus is God, and far too wise to be tempted away from the cross. But it is also a trap for Peter and it is a trap for us.

Peter like us, wanted things the easy way. He wanted a life of ease and a cushy ministry. He wanted a Savior that would be a champion who would defeat the devil and create a Christian government here on earth! He wanted fame, fortune, and glory now, not later! How would he follow a dead Savior?

So what are some of the scandalons in our lives? Well let’s be honest, each of us wants the same thing! We want a great high paying job, a beautiful or handsome spouse, obedient children, a nice home and car, lots of bling, and we want it now! We might even reason that because we are children of the Living God, called out of darkness into light, forgiven of all of our sins, we deserve a prosperous life, free of pain, suffering, sorrow and poverty! So when God’s Word talks about suffering, we might not say it out loud but we think it, “Far be it Lord!” So what are we tempted to do? We’re tempted to go off in search for a different message; a message about prosperity and glory! We look for a message with less cross and suffering and more prosperity and glory; a message that tells us that we can have heaven here on earth! But if we follow this way of thinking, we are following the way of the devil. If we follow this way of thinking we are crossing out the cross and Jesus saving work upon it; we are following the way of glory or the scandalon of the devil!

So what does Jesus want for us? Well, He wants the same things for us that we want, He just wants them in a different way; He wants them through the way of the cross! You see, Jesus was committed to the cross, because it was the only way that salvation could be won for Peter and for us. Jesus committed Himself to the cross because He knew the will of His Father; a Heavenly Father who sent Him to suffer and die as the Savior of the world. He knew the reason for His gruesome death… “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory;” a glory that was first with us in the beginning. He knew that the only way that this glory could be recovered for us was if He was willing to pay for our salvation with His very life. So, He came to do that very thing. He came to give His life as a ransom for us (Matthew 2:28) and as a sacrifice for our sins! He was wounded for our transgressions, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquities of us all. [Isaiah 53:5-6] This was and is God’s love for us in action!

Jesus didn’t cross out the cross and neither will we when we see our lost sinful condition and by faith turn to that cross for forgiveness!

As we follow Jesus we must take up our own cross!

Again Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me!” Now don’t confuse Jesus cross with our cross. The truth is that only Jesus’ cross, His suffering and death can and does save sinners like us. So then what is this cross that Jesus wants us to take up? Well, it is a pattern for our whole lives! Our cross is all of the suffering, trouble, and hardships that will come to us because we are His followers. Whoever would follow Jesus Christ must follow His example. They must live to please God and give all that they have to bring His kingdom to every sinner. Whoever follows Jesus must be willing to deny themselves and live to please God. To deny, simply means to turn away from someone or something. In this case, God wants us to turn away from our old sinful nature and turn to Him. Every day He wants us to refuse to be associated in anyway with our old sinful nature and desires that were drowned in our baptisms. He wants us to live a life that disowns our old sinful identity and lives to only please our Savior Jesus!

The cross meant suffering for Jesus and it means suffering for us, but it is suffering for a purpose; suffering for a hope! We lose our lives so that we can gain them. If we refuse to die to our old sinful desires and embrace the ways of glory we are turning away from our only source of help and hope, the cross of Jesus! But if we receive and live out our new nature of sacrifice for God and our neighbor we are gaining not just the promise of a new and glorious eternal life, but the ability, the faith to live out this temporary life of suffering.

Young people, if you are ridiculed and unpopular because of your Christian faith you have God’s promise that you are blessed in God’s heavenly kingdom. Older people, if your Christian convictions cost you money and promotion at work, your cross is to keep on following Jesus, keep on fighting until you get the victory… eternal rest and joy in God’s Heavenly Kingdom. Parents and grandparents, God knows your pain for a child that seems to have walked away from their faith in Jesus and His cross! Through His Word He gives you faith to hold on and know that a change is coming; He gives you faith to keep praying for them. Dear saints, if there is a certain sin that seems to keep tempting you and it is a sin that you keep falling to, do not give up your fight to defeat it under the cross of Jesus. Struggle to remember that even that sin has been forgiven at Jesus cross.

The truth is for all of us, whatever crosses we have, we have them only because we are followers of Jesus and His cross! And as we follow Jesus and live out our cross, we are also exalting His name with the sweet song of alleluia!

Dear friends, as we fight the temptation to cross-out the cross of Jesus, God is strengthening our faith. We fight the temptation to cross out the cross by looking to Jesus alone who suffered and died for us in order to show God’s deep love for us! As we follow Him He is always urging us to continue taking up our cross and follow Him until the day He calls us home to a place that He has prepared for us in heaven!

I would like to close our message with a story: There was once a monastery that raised monarch butterflies. One day a young monk watched a butterfly struggle for hours to free its self from its cocoon. Finally, the sympathetic monk could take no more. He began to help the butterfly be free by peeling away the cocoon. Once the butterfly was free, the monk expected it to spread its wings and fly away; instead it only clung to the stick that it was perched on and finally toppled over and died. An older monk watched with great interest, and approached the sad young monk and offered this wisdom. “Brother you tried to help the butterfly by removing its burden, but what you didn’t realize was that it is the struggle under the burden that brings strength and vitality to not just its wings, but to its entire existence. So by providing and easy way out you removed the very thing that would bring it life!”

Brothers and sisters, we have been given the gift of eternal life with God. It is ours now, but not yet. Until our time in this sinful world is through, God calls us to struggle in our faith. He asks us to follow the way of Jesus’ cross knowing that at the end of our earthly lives of struggle, there is an eternity of living in God’s glory waiting for us. He asks you to struggle, putting to death your sinful nature with the sure and certain hope that one day you will enter heaven! This is faith in action; it’s a faith that doesn’t cross out Jesus’s cross or our own. It’s a faith that comes along side of others who are struggling with their own cross and helps them shoulder the burden. It’s a faith that knows and declares that we are not alone in our struggle; we are in this struggle together, and Jesus is here with us promising that soon and very soon we will be going to see our King; our King who comes in glory to pour out the fullness of His gift of eternal life. It is a Kingdom that will richly compensate each of us for all of our own suffering and loss for His sake.

May God help each of us to continue having faith in this promise… in Jesus name… AMEN!

 

Do You Really Want to See Jesus?


Monday, April 10th, 2017

Palm Sunday, April 9 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

Text: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” [John 12:21]

This is the request that the Greeks presented to Phillip, and I think it is the request that many people still ask of God today. It’s as if they are really saying, “I want to believe in Jesus as Savior, as my Savior, if only He would prove that He’s a Savior to me.” Well, at any rate, that was the last we heard from the Greeks. I would like to think that after the request was made to Jesus, and after His almost strange response to that request as delivered in His Sermon to the people who were gathered in the temple that He eventually met with them. And the answer He must have given to them privately, probably was not much different than the content of His Sermon.

The Savior the Greeks sought and the Savior many still seek today is not the kind of Savior Jesus really is, because Jesus is a suffering Savior Who calls His disciples to follow in His foot steps.

Jesus makes it clear that the jubilant joy of the Hosannas that were still ringing in the people’s ears, was not the glory that He was riding into the city to receive. You see, Jesus had long ago set His face towards the cross; a cross of suffering and pain that awaited Him on Good Friday.

It was Good Friday that would be “the hour for the Son of man to be glorified.” It was in His passion where Jesus would accomplish something glorious. It was His passion that would bring on both His resurrection and His return to paradise. It was through His passion that believers throughout time would also finally be assured that there is a place for them in God’s restored paradise.

Jesus was glorified by the obedience he rendered to the Father even unto the death of the cross, and in His death, He also achieved redemption for the fallen world; He was glorified when the Father highly exalted him, giving him a name above every name and seating Him at his right hand; He was and is glorified in the work of the Holy Spirit as He leads thousands to the feet of the Savior. Jesus’ glory begins with His passion—Jesus sees how from his passion and his death a magnificent vista opens, reaching onward through the ages into all eternity, and it is one shining path of glory.

With solemn assurance Jesus depicts the truth of what this great “hour” brings.

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

If a grain of wheat is not put into the soil, it will, indeed, not die, but it will then “itself remain alone” and produce nothing. So will the Son of man remain alone if he does not stoop to death on the cross. But if the grain falls into the earth, dies, and is consumed, it brings much fruit. And this is exactly what the Son of man, God’s incarnate Son will accomplish through His death.

Jesus is like the grain of wheat which by dying produces much fruit, that is, it makes many thousands upon thousands of children of God. Now these true Christians are all like Jesus in that they do not selfishly love their own lives and this sinful world more than God and His Heaven.

Jesus is now teaching that the act of a Christian who by faith is willing to give up control of His life to God is a person who understands the passion of the Christ. But a person who is so attached to their life, with all of its happiness and its treasures, will ultimately see it all slip away and disappear.

To stress this truth, Jesus adds that conversely, a person “in this world” who hates his life of sin, and wants it defeated once and for all, is a person who’s ready to go against it and allow that old self to be denied, crucified and put to death. This is what it means to see Jesus and to follow Him.

But there is a great difference between the divine Grain of Wheat’s death which gives us life, and our own dying to self. We are the “much fruit,” that is produced in Jesus passion and our new life, which is always dying and forever germinated in Jesus’ Word and sacraments. It is only through Jesus’ suffering that sinners such as us can be saved, and through His death produce the church of believing children of God. All that we can do—and that only by his grace not of ourselves—is to use our earthly and natural life so as to gain for ourselves the life eternal. He alone is the Savior, we are nothing but the saved. He needed no salvation; we cannot save even our own selves.

So what the Greeks and all other sinners in search for a Savior must understand is that the salvation Jesus offers and the way He offers it is never what the world expects. If they and we will receive this truth, Jesus says, “Let (them) follow me.” Did the Greeks and the pilgrims on Palm Sunday understand what a high privilege Jesus offered and is still offering in the invitation to follow Him?

If you were in Jerusalem the day Jesus rode into town, humbly seated upon a donkey, do you think you would have gone after Him; made your way out to see him knowing what kind of Savior He is and the kind of salvation He was offering?

I think that you probably would have, aside from the truth that Jesus fame was spreading quickly due to the news that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, the very invitation to follow Jesus was powered by the same Holy Spirit that brought you into Christ’s church today. You are searching after the very same thing that some we’re seeking on that first Palm Sunday, salvation.

Hosanna literally means, “Save Us!” Do you need saving? Do you see Jesus as someone who can save you? Now, if you say you see Jesus as someone who could save you, the next question sets the stage for further investigation into who you think Jesus was and is. Are you ready? What would you want Jesus to save you from? I mean the choices are numerous. Should he save you from a bad marriage, addiction, unemployment, poverty, sickness, or a corrupt government? Or do you see Him as who He says that He is, very God in human flesh? Another way to ask this is, do you see Him as a kind of Messiah who will make all things right and good now, in this world, or is He your Messiah who makes all things well with you and your Creator for all of eternity?

Would you still be a sinner shouting Hosanna after discovering that Jesus is a suffering Savior who comes not to bring freedom from life’s woes and tragedies, but a Savior who comes to bring eternal life and peace with God. If you knew this in advance would you be more prone to shout Hosanna or “Crucify Him!”

Those were the words that a similar crowd shouted just a few days after Palm Sunday. Instead of saying “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel,” they said, “We have no king but Caesar!” They are the ones who complained that the whole world had gone after, and were following Jesus. They were the ones who were incensed that Jesus had turned over the market tables within the Lord’s Temple and called them a brood of vipers and accused them of turning the House of Prayer into a den of thieves!

They are the ones that continually came to Jesus for the miracles, but then walked away from Him when He demanded that they acknowledge Him as the Son of God. They are the ones that flocked to see the sight of the blind restored, the lepers cured, the multitude fed, and the dead raised, but when He offered forgiveness of sins, they rightly said that no one could forgive sins but God, and then, they picked up stones to kill Him for being a blasphemer.

To those people then and many today, Jesus was acceptable as a good man, a wise man, a wonderful teacher, but they were certain that He never should be called God and worshiped in a way that excluded all other ways of being a good in a religious sense. People then and today will gladly hear a message preached about the good Samaritan, and then agree with you that we should all demonstrate brotherly love through tolerance, but when you tell them that only Jesus can ever be the “Good Samaritan” and that outside of Jesus’ work for sinners, we can never know peace with God and our neighbor, they will call you an intolerant zealot.

Now let’s look at the people in the crowd that shouted Hosanna.

Do you think that they really wanted the kind of Savior that Jesus said He was? Did they even understand who Jesus really was? Maybe not, but they did know that before Jesus came into their lives, it seemed that if God was not dead, He was at least silent in their lives. The cruelty of the Roman government was getting more severe everyday; hunger and poverty were rampant to the point that there seemed to be only two groups of people, the very rich and the very poor. Sickness and death seemed to be the only reward for the average person, and then along comes Jesus. He was teaching with authority about a God who wasn’t angry with their sins as much as He was saddened by them. He was presenting a God Who wasn’t so much a punishing God as He was a forgiving God for those who turned to Him in repentance for mercy. He no longer was simply the God of their Fathers, but Emmanuel, a God who was with them right now, in what ever they were going through.

While Jesus taught in ways that caused the religious zealots to be angry, those who really listened to Him teach, felt shame over their sins, but then they experienced comfort and hope when Jesus proclaimed God’s forgiveness. In essence they were changed. They saw past the miracles and saw the man, who was much more than a man or a teacher. Could it be that what Jesus said is true? Is He really the God-man, the Son of God? While their faith was weak, and they were not quite sure what to make of Jesus, one thing was certain, they knew that He was sent by God; God was no longer silent in their lives, because in Jesus’ Words, God was right there with them.

So where do you stand within these two groups? Isn’t it true that in each of us, God can find a mindset that on some days may yell both “Crucify Him” and “Hosanna” within the same day? Don’t we many times, say one thing and then do another? Don’t we enjoy God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of our neighbor and then quickly refuse forgiveness to another, or at least withhold it until they feel our pain? Haven’t each of us been guilty of ignoring our need to worship God at His Church, or perhaps the opposite, when we have put the practice of our religion ahead of the demonstration of our faith? Does it not become an easy thing for us to justify our own sins, but at the same time amplifying the sins of our neighbor?

So what shall we do? And to answer that question, we turn to the Words of St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (Philippians 2:5-11), who says…

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”.

What mind? Well, the mind of faith; a mind that is first led by faith and then rational thought. A mind that is part of a life that has been renewed in Holy Baptism and is sanctified every day by the Word of God. A mind that sees Jesus on the colt of a donkey and remembers that the prophet Zechariah spoke about this moment, long before it occurred through these Words: “(Fear not, that is) rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This is the Word of God that allows you to receive both the truth and the will of God. It is a mind of faith that is able to see God as both righteous and forgiving; a mind that sees Jesus as both fully God and fully man. This is the kind of mind that understands that when the Son of God came to us sinners, He came to provide for our salvation; that is, He knew that He was coming to die for us. Even as He rode in on Palm Sunday and one group chanted Hosanna, He knew that another group was plotting to kill Him, and very soon would shout, “Crucify Him!” But here is the wonderful mystery that is hard but essential for us to understand… Jesus came to die for both groups; He came to die for sinners and saints, and He came to die for you!

In our Psalm this morning, we heard that Jesus is the gate of the LORD, and that He is the answer to our prayers for salvation, that is forgiveness for our sins. But, He is also the capstone of that gate, which the self-righteous and self sufficient people rejected then and reject still today. But how do they reject Him? When they refuse to repent of their independent ways and refuse to see Jesus as who He is. And who is he? He is God and there is none other. Outside of Jesus, there is no salvation; He is the only way to eternal life. He is the one who by taking on our flesh, that is by humbling Himself, became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

These are the people who reject God; they reject Jesus as God who not only died for sinners, but he died for them. Here then, is the gospel message for this morning; a message for all people, saints and sinners, rich and poor alike: Jesus died for you! While He rode in on that donkey, He had both the cross and your salvation on His heart.

This week, we will gather on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to honor God and highly exalt our Savior, Jesus Christ. We will look deeply into His passion for sinners such as us, and we will allow both His Word and His real presence to transform our sinful minds. We will experience real truth, such as we have experience this morning. Real truth that exposes both our love for Him but also our sin that still clings to us. He alone will teach us His truth, and He alone will comfort our fears. And then on Easter morning, we will greet our Savior Jesus Christ, whom God has highly exalted, and we will proclaim the truth of that name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” AMEN

Listen, God is Calling!

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

Second Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 5th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ” [Luke 14:23, 24]

Listen.  Stop all that you are doing, rid your self of all those things that are vying for your attention right now, and just listen.  Listen, because God is calling out to you!  He’s been calling you for a long time, but we wont worry about those other times, let’s just concentrate on Jesus call right now.  Any time Jesus invites sinners to gather around Him and receive His gift of forgiveness, of salvation through His means of grace, God is calling out to you.

In our gospel reading, God was calling out to a bunch of Pharisees who were sinners; He was calling out for them to repent, that is turn to the guest of honor, Jesus the Christ, the very Son of God and be saved from their sins.

If they would only stop, turn their attention to His Word and listen to the call of grace, they would be saved.  Would they stop and listen?  Did they see a need to turn away from their hollow religion and find salvation in the One who was speaking to them; teaching them with Words of eternal life?

Jesus let them know that there were three major reasons why they may not stop, turn, and listen.  The reasons were simply excuses that were seeds of dissent, which were planted by the enemy, the devil.  Let’s look at those “reasons”:

“I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.”  Here, within this excuse, many young families of Jesus’ time, and perhaps even our time can be seen.  “I just bought a house, and I have to get settled in first.  I agree that being right with God, of knowing Him intimately and personally is important, but I have to get my personal life in order first and then there will be time, real quality time available for me to dedicate myself to God.”  And then there is this “reason”…

“I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them.”  Oh the demands of employment, who could not understand this reason?  “I just started a new job, and if I go insisting on having Sunday’s off for worship, I probably won’t keep my job very long, or I will at least be destroying any hopes I have for promotion and advancement in the future.”

What is interesting to note here is that in both of these reasons given, the person responding to God’s call is not saying that they don’t need to respond to God’s invitation, they are simply saying that now is not the right time.  In other words, “At this time I must respectfully decline your invitation, but please keep me in mind the next time the invitation goes out.”

And finally the third response or excuse…

“I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”  In other words, “No thank you.  I have a spouse who is not a religious person and has no desire to become one.  I will adopt their attitude towards religion.  Please take my name off of your list!”

And what happens to all three of these sample groups of people in Jesus story?  He tells the servant who is sending out the invitations to take them off of the list; to bar them from the privilege of attending the banquet.  There will be no further offers of salvation; they’re done.  But then He does something amazing; He orders that others be brought in to take their place.  And still there’s room after the new group is brought in.  So…

So bring in the low life; go out everywhere and anywhere and “compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”  Bring in the beggars who never would have thought that they would be invited and let them know that they are not only invited but they are valued by God.

And that dear friends is where you and I enter the story.  We are the beggars who never thought that God would call or even desire to call us, and yet… He has and He is!  Listen, God is calling.  Do you hear Him?

When someone asks you to respond to God’s call, they are really asking you to accept His invitation to live within His Kingdom.

The Gospel message or God’s invitation to be forgiven, is one that makes it clear to you, that He is inviting and welcoming you to come and rest within His kingdom of grace, which is a kingdom of forgiveness.  Jesus compares this to an invitation to attend a great feast or a royal wedding as a welcomed and honored guest.  But Jesus also reminds us that the strange and remarkable thing is that there are many who are invited who just don’t desire to respond at all.

So how is the invitation sent out?  Well, an invitation could come either by a messenger or by a letter.  And both of these methods are used with God’s gospel invitation; that is Christ’s invitation for you to come unto Him and rest in His kingdom of forgiveness.

Our Lord has sent out His apostles first and then His disciples, and He sends all of them out with an invitation, which comes to you within His Word.  The invitation to come into His kingdom comes when we both hear the Word preached and when we read it in the Bible.

But Baptism also implies an invitation.

It is through baptism that we have been received into the kingdom of God.  To a Christian, baptism is meant to be what the celebration of the Passover was to the Jews, Listen: “And it shall be to you a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth.” [Exodus 13:9]

It is God’s will that each and every Christian look back upon their baptism as God’s final word or judgment which makes it clear to the one baptized, that He accepts and receives you just as you were found by Him.  But we must also remember that He loves us far too much to leave us in that “first found” condition.  The point is however, that no one who is baptized should ever doubt whether God wants to have a long lasting relationship of love with them.  You see, it’s when people forget God that His holy Word convicts us of our sinfulness and invites us to renew our relationship of grace with Him, by returning to Christ’s invitation, that is He invites us to return to our baptismal grace, which is still ours if we will but return to it.

This fresh call of God comes to us through the Word of God.  Personal sorrows over our sins, a fresh encounter with other Christians, and an inner emptiness, or a vague unrest in the conscience are all circumstances God may use to prepare the soil of our hearts to receive a fresh gospel seed of forgiveness and renewal.  But the invitation itself always implies that God in some manner is saying to us again: “Listen.  Jesus is calling.  Come; for all is now ready.”

The time may come when you hear God’s Word in a new way, and you try to rationalize that hearing and that moment as simply a coincidence.  But that coincidental hearing of God’s Word, perhaps your hearing of that Word right now, is really a part of God’s plan.

This is His moment; that’s why we call this time Divine Service.  He has had it planned since the beginning of time.  The Bible describes God as One who is “seeking” His people, not like a shepherd who goes out searching for new sheep to shepherd, but as a shepherd searching for His sheep who are lost; sheep that He often finds caught in the bramble and thorny vines.  And when He reaches his hand to free the lost creature, and then reassures it that it has been found and is safe, that lost sheep, you and me, may be saved immediately, if that is what we desire.

Today, as with all invitations received in God’s Divine Service, we are experiencing a moment of destiny-filled seriousness.  For sinners like us there is always the possibility of wriggling loose from the grip of God.  But then there is also the possibility, which is even greater than before, of our coming home to God and staying there; staying in Christ’s church.  Listen.  God is calling.  So…“Today, when you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,” and “seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.” [Isaiah 55:6]

When God seeks us, when we hear God calling us, that is the time when we should seriously seek Him, it’s a time that we should seriously begin to seek Him through His means of grace that He has made readily available to us.  Through His Word always, but also in the waters of our baptism and at His altar where He offers to feed our baptized  spirits with real food and drink that both strengthens our faith and assures us of our forgiven state.  These means of grace are the very sacraments that God uses to both create in us a desire to hear Him speak and then also  ability to understand Him.  Through these things God invites us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but also to rest in that salvation with great faith and confidence in all that Jesus has done for us, “holding fast the word of life,” [Luke 11:28] and to be concerned with hearing, learning, understanding, and applying the Word of God in our lives.

When we do this, then God has promised to continue the good work in our hearts and to bring it to completion.

May God continue to do this very thing within each of you as you listen to God call out to you, in Jesus name… AMEN!