Archive for the ‘Word of God’ Category

“Away from us!” Cries Our Sinful Flesh!


Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

Pentecost 2-C
June 23, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” [Luke 8:37]

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

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

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

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

We don’t know how this poor man came to be possessed by a demon; in fact we don’t know much about him other than he was most likely from one of the two towns close by.  We don’t know what his life was like before he became possessed, but we do know one thing… he wasn’t alone!  In Matthew and Mark’s accounts of this same incident, we know that there was still one more man living in the tombs with him who was also possessed.  We know that they demonstrated both supernatural strength and a foul disposition.  We know that they were naked!  But we also know that Jesus had come to set them free!

Ok, you would expect these things from someone who isn’t in their right minds… someone who’s possessed by an unclean spirit, but why confront Jesus?  Wouldn’t you think that the minute they saw Jesus from a distance they’d run away and hide from Him?  Why are these demons drawn to Him like a magnet?  They actually run up to Him and scream, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you do not torment me.” [vs. 28]

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

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

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

“When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. [vs. 34-35]  

Dear friends, that is you sitting at the feet of Jesus!  You have been clothed in the robe of Jesus own righteousness, washed clean in the waters of your baptism, given a new mind and a right spirit; you’ve been placed at the feet of Jesus here in this Holy house to hear Him speak to you and teach you with His Living Word!  Each one of us have been freed from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  Each one of us can and should give an account of just what evil we have faced in our lives; what evil spirit has harassed us and for some even possessed us!  But Christ has set us free!  By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed.  And because of His resurrection and our own promised resurrection which He gives us within our baptism, He asks us to believe that He will never abandon us within the very pit where each and every demon and unclean spirit will inevitably be sent!  God does not want you in hell… that place was not meant for you!  Through Jesus, the very Son of God, He has freed you!

But some may say, “I know that Jesus loves me, and I know that He wants me to be free, but the demons that chase me are just too strong to resist!  I keep falling to the same temptations.  At some point He will just give up on me.  Maybe that point is now?!”  And to this, God answers, “No!”  I will never leave nor forsake you in that pit of hopelessness.  Whether the unclean spirit has moved you into addiction, lust, depression, anger or pride, God shall never abandon you because He has sealed you for eternity in the waters of your baptism as His very own!  All of us, with no exception, have been enslaved and driven mad by the attacks and accusations of the devil, and each of us have equally been set free by the Word of Jesus Christ!  He has drown and destroyed the old Adam within us and each day He brings out of that death a new creation, the new you that was born in the waters of Holy Baptism.  We are no longer living naked in our shame amongst the dead; instead we have been brought into the kingdom of God, the Lord’s house, fully clothed by Christ.  And all He asks us to do is to not give up; don’t lose hope! He asks us to daily put to death our old sinful nature and walk in his forgiveness and love.  He wants us to walk in His Gospel Word that ensures us that no matter how many times we sin, no matter how many times we fall, we are forgiven and He will always pick us up again!  But we are not just forgiven and lifted up again…

We are forgiven and lifted up with with a purpose!  

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” [vs. 38-39] 

Dear friends, when we come to church and hear the sweet words of the gospel and listen to the Holy Absolution, when we eat and drink the Lord’s body and blood at His table and taste forgiveness, we have a tendency to wish we could stay in this protective environment and be with Jesus.  We want to stay where we feel protected and loved.  But Jesus says, “Return to your home, and declare how much I have done for you.”  And to this command of Jesus we might respond, “But Lord, those are the same people that continually reject you and ask those of us who love you to shut up!” “Yes, that’s true.  But they only do that because they are afraid of Me.  That’s why I am sending you to them.  Through you, they will know about my love for them.  They will see Me in you, and they will hear your story, your witness about My love for you and then they will hunger for the same thing, and I will never turn away any of them who come to me.”  

Remember, just as your sinful flesh does not want to die, neither does your family and friends sinful identity!  Just as God works to kill the sin within you every day, He wants to do the same work within them.  So tell your story!  Proclaim it to anyone who will listen, and then watch Jesus give them freedom and a new life just as He gave it to you!  I pray that each of us will take on this calling and always declare how much God has done for us!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

The Triune God

Monday, June 17th, 2019

June 16, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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In last week’s Old Testament lesson we heard the account of the Tower of Babel. In that account God made the point that humanity basically uses our imagination to think of more evil things to do.  One example would be the wide variety of gods and religions that man has created to take the place of the One True God.

Some religions teach that everything is god and god is everything.  If you take everything in the universe – all the humans, planets, stars, galaxies, alien creatures, dirt clods, etc., throw it all together and what you get is god. This is called pantheism,the belief that everything is just one, big, all-encompassing god. Some examples of this are American-Indian tribal beliefs, Pagan and Wiccan beliefs.

Then there is the belief that there are many gods who rule over the universe. This is called polytheism. There is a god for love and a god for war. There are gods in charge of the rain, the sun, the moon, the stars, and everything you can think of. Since there are lots of gods, sometimes they don’t always get along that well, so there is an opportunity for conflict between the gods. That is the reason that the mythologies of ancient civilizations provide us with so many interesting stories. Some examples of polytheism are Greek, Roman, and Viking mythology beliefs.

Monotheismis the belief that there is one and only one god who is separate from the universe, but who created it and still maintains it.  The monotheistic religions that come from mankind’s imagination all teach that God is one in substance AND one in person.  Islam is an excellent example of such a monotheistic religion.

Atheism, on the other hand, teaches that there is no god. In reality, the atheist has a god.  The atheist’s god is his or her own self.  In order to assert that there is no god the atheist must believe that there is no fact hidden anywhere in the entire universe that would lead him or her to believe that there is a god.  The atheist stands in judgment over the entire universe and declares that he or she knows enough about everything to conclude that god does not exist.

This idea that ‘I am the center of the universe and the rest of the universe is here to serve me’ is centered in our sinful human nature. The basic foundation of our sinful nature is our firm belief that we are the most important being here and in any other universe.

The only true religion, Christianity, is a considered by most a monotheistic religion, but Christianity is different from all other religions in the fact that Christianity is the only religion that teaches that God is one in substance, but three in person.

The early church spent a lot of time talking about the nature of God.  The Bible clearly teaches that God is a community of three persons in one substance.  Although the Bible teaches this, it does not give simple, easy terms for teaching or talking about this God who is three persons in one substance. The Bible does not even give us the terms personor substance.  It took a long time for the early Christians to wrap their heads around just what it was that Christ had taught them concerning the One True God. Eventually, someone came up with the words “triune” and “trinity” to describe the mystery of one God in three persons.

I don’t know who came up with the word “trinity” and what the exact circumstances were that caused that person to use the word, but the word “trinity”gives a name to a teaching that is found in the Bible.  So although the words “trinity”and “triune”are notfound inthe Bible, the teaching that they describe is a very important teaching ofthe Bible.  So, we Christians can now refer to the One True God as the Triune God.  And as traditional Christians, we set aside a Sunday each year to celebrate and focus on the idea that the one true God is Triune … we call it Trinity Sunday.  It is the namesake of our beloved church.

The Bible readings chosen for today are full of good teachings.  We don’t have time to cover them all, but today, on Trinity Sunday, we will concentrate on what it means when we teach that God is one substance, but three persons … the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In order to understand today’s Gospel lesson more fully, we need to go back into the Old Testament and visit a bush – a burning bush to be more precise.

One of the events that we associate with Moses is his encounter with a burning bush, a bush that was on fire, but the fire did not consume it.  It turned out that God used this burning bush to call Moses to lead His people out of Egypt.  In the middle of this conversation, God told Moses His name.  It reads, Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am’ has sent me to you.’”(Exodus 3:13–14)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus was debating with the Jewish authorities.  Jesus said,“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”(John 8:58)  Jesus is not using bad grammar here.  Instead, He is saying, “I am the God who spoke to Moses through the burning bush.”  This is not the kind of thing you say in a crowd of devout Jewish men in first-century Israel; these are the kind of words that would get you killed.  The last verse of the Gospel lesson confirms this, “So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”(John 8:59)The Jewish authorities were going to stone Jesus because he claimed to be God.

Now Jesus claimed to be God, but which person of God is He?  Jesus gave an answer to that as well, just a few verses earlier.  He said, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’(John 8:54)

Here Jesus identifies Himself as God, the Son of God, the Father.  So all we’re missing is the third person of the Triune God. Where can we learn about Him?

There are plenty of places in the Gospel accounts where Jesus taught about God, the Holy Spirit, but if we stick to the readings chosen for today, the clearest mention of the Holy Spirit is in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost.  Toward the end of the sermon, Peter said, “32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32–33)Here we see the Father exalting the Son and the Son pouring out the Holy Spirit on His church.

From this, we learn that although no one person in the Trinity is before or after the others, they all have a role in our salvation.  The Father sends the Son into the world, the Son redeems the world, and the Holy Spirit gives that redemption to the world through the gift of faith.  The three persons of the One True God work together in perfect harmony to bring salvation to us.  The salvation that they provide is the other unique thing about the One True God.  Our salvation depends entirely on God, each and every person of the Triune God.

Without the salvation that the Triune God brings to us, we would all be lost. Each one of us sins daily in thought, word, and deed.  Instead of loving God above all things, we love ourselves above all things.  Instead of honoring God’s name with our mouths, we bring shame to it.  Instead of eagerly and joyfully hungering for His word, we despise its teaching. Instead of honoring those in authority, we find ways around authority.  While we may not draw blood, our unkind words and our hateful thoughts have murdered, never the less.  As we confessed earlier in this service, we all deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment.

Fortunately, we are not without the salvation that the Triune God brings. God, the Father sent His only Son into the world to take on our mortal flesh.  God, the Son not only took our human flesh to Himself, but He also took all our sin upon Himself.  And the Son of God took our sin with Him to the cross, where He and the Father conducted a terrifying transaction.  In a way that we cannot ever understand, God, the Father turned away from our sins in disgust.  The result was so horrible that God, the Son cried out from the cross, “My God!  My God! Why have your forsaken Me?”(Matthew 27:46) What a terrible punishment that must have been that caused the Son to cry out that way.  How horrible it must have been for the Father to inflict that pain on His own beloved Son.

Thatis the punishment that our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, endured for us.  ByHimenduring that punishment for us, the Son of God made absolutely certain wewould never have to be punished in that way. God the Father gives us His grace for the sake of God the Son.  With Hissacrifice, God the Son earned salvation, forgiveness of sin, and eternal life for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived or ever will live.

That wonderful salvation, full of mercy and grace, does us absolutely no good if it is not delivered to us.  That is the role of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit brings God’s gifts to us.  The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to create and sustain faith in us. He does this as we read, hear, and study God’s Word.  He also does that when we experience that mercy and grace in the waters of our Baptism… and when we receive it with the true body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.

Even people who do not believe have forgiveness set aside, waiting for them. It’s like it’s on lay-away, waiting for the day when the Holy Spirit brings them to life and works faith in them. When that happens, they too will experience the love of the Triune God.  They too, will look forward to the day when they see God face-to-face in eternity.

But for those who reject that faith and forgiveness, and continue to reject it until the day they die, they will never experience the sweet salvation that the Triune God has for us.  That salvation will remain unused.  They will not receive the benefits of the great love that our God has for them. Instead, they will experience the full, dreadful terror that caused the Son of God to cry out on the cross.  They will spend eternity paying for their sins, not because God does not love them, but because they simply refused to accept God’s love.  They rejected the only gift that cantruly save them.

We poor sinners who have been blessed with the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit will receive this gift that only the One True God, the Triune God can give – the gift of salvation, the gift of forgiveness of sin, and the gift of eternal life

We receive those gifts by:
God, the Father’s mercy and grace for:
God, the Son’s sake through:
God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith.

Amen.

 

 

 

Pentecost

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

June 9, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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Have you ever noticed, no matter how often we read the Bible, or a specific passage within the Bible… no matter how familiar we are with the passage, there’s always something new for us to learn.

For the longest time I read Acts, chapter 2, believing it to be the story of the first Pentecost where the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles; how they received what Jesus had told them to wait for, and what Jesus had promised them to carry out their ministry.

What I didn’t know, and what most people don’t realize, is that although this day that we call Pentecost, was a very special day, it was not the first Pentecost.  The Lord instituted Pentecostabout the same time He instituted Passover back in the Old Testament. Pentecostwas originally called the Feast of Weeks.  Since the Feast of Weekscomes fifty days after Passover,people began calling it Pentecost based on the Greek word for the number fifty.Pentecostand the Feast of Weeksare the same festival, and the Jews have celebrated Pentecostsince the days of Moses.

Pentecost is also one of the three pilgrimage festivals that required all the men of Israel to gather together in Jerusalem. “Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place He will choose [referring to the Temple in Jerusalem], on the festivals of Pesach (also known as Passover or the Feast of Unleavened Bread), Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), and Sukkot (the Festival of Booths). They shall not appear before the Lord empty handed. Each must bring a gift, appropriate to the blessing which the Lord your God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17)

 

The Feast of Unleavened Breadis one week long and begins the day after Passover. TheFeast of Weeks or Pentecostoccurs fifty days after the Feast of the Firstfruits, which happens to be the first Sunday during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And, the Feast of Booths occurs about six months after theFeast of Unleavened Bread. 

Now, I know all this sounds confusing, but there is a method to my madness.

If we take these Jewish festivals and we look at them in relation to the life of Jesus, or more importantly, the death and resurrection of Jesus, we see that Jesus died on Passover, rose from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits. And the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus, manifested Himself in a very special way fifty days later on Pentecost,or duringtheFeast of Booths. And all these things occurred in Jerusalem.

What’s important about this is that this means that the Jewish faithful who presented themselves in Jerusalem according to the instructions given in the law of Moses were there and they were witnesses to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It’s important to see that the Holy Spirit gathered His Old Testament Church to witness the mighty works of Godjust like Luke wrote in the Book of Acts.

This brings up something else that hadn’t occurred to me as I grew up in church hearing about Pentecost.  I always enjoyed hearing about the Holy Spirit being poured out on the Apostles at Pentecost and the wonderful gifts God gave them that day. But I discovered another giving of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

It happened on the day Jesus rose from the dead; remember the Doubting Thomas passage?

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together with the doors locked [because they feared] the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  21Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23)

Did you hear that? Jesus said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

Sometimes when we hear the passage about this Pentecost, we get so distracted by the “Wow factor” of “a sound like a mighty rushing wind… and by divided tongues like fire… [and, by the Apostles as] they began to speak in other tongues” that we don’t see or realize is the real miracle or the real work of the Holy Spirit that day. The real story wasn’t about what happened to the Apostles but what happened to the other people that were gathered there that day.

First, like we talked about before, the Holy Spirit brought all these faithful men to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, then He brought them together where the Apostles were, when they heard the mighty works of God, and then the Holy Spirit caused them to respond to what they saw.

Acts, chapter 2 goes on to say:

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you [too] will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41So those who received [Peter’s message] were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:37–41)

This is the great miracle of Pentecost!  The Holy Spirit, working through the Apostles, added three thousand souls to His church that day. Pentecostis not about the work of the Apostles; Pentecostis about three thousand souls coming to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit.

In His explanation to the third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther wrote that [the Holy Spirit]calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  The Holy Spirit’s work on Pentecost is an example of that.  1500 years earlier, the Holy Spirit worked through His servant Moses to establish feasts that would bring these witnesses together from the Old Testament Church to Jerusalem so that Luke the Evangelist could write,“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.”(Acts 2:5) It was not an accident that these men were in Jerusalem that day.  The Holy Spirit had called together the Old Testament Church to tell them that the long-awaited Messiah had come in the person of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit was getting ready to convert the faithful of the Old Testament Church into the faithful of the New Testament Church.

That is the real reason for the great signs that were described in today’s reading.  The Holy Spirit was gathering His church together so that they could hear the call of the Gospel.  As the people of the Old Testament church drew near to the Apostles, they encountered people who told them who Jesus was and what He had done for their salvation. These people did not speak in the lofty language of the Hebrew of the temple, they didn’t speak in Aramaic (the street language of the day), they weren’t speaking the commercial language of Greek, or even the legal language of Latin, but each individual heard the story of Jesus’ saving grace in his own native language… the language he learned from his mother and father in the home of his childhood.  Each one heard in his own languagethe mighty works of God. (Acts 2:11)

All of these great works, these amazing things, were simply the means by which the Holy Spirit used to accomplish the goal of gathering together His Old Testament church and telling her that the wait for the Messiah was over… and the New Testament has begun.  Those faithful people that had traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, they were waiting and looking forward to the coming of the promised Messiah. They did their best to keep the ceremonial laws of circumcision, sacrifices, feast and festivals, and all the other customs as a reminder of God’s promise that one day the Messiah would come and fulfill the law and offer Himself up as a sacrifice, a sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  Now the Holy Spirit gathered the faithful together to tell them that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ.  On this particular Pentecostthe Holy Spirit called together the faithful of the Old Testament church and transformed them into the faithful of the New Testament church.

With all the amazing things that were going on that day, it’s easy for us to confuse God’s goal with the means He used to accomplish that goal.  After all, it’s easy to get distracted by [the] sound [of] a mighty rushing wind… the appearance of flames of fire… and the sudden ability to speak and understand a foreign language. It’s easy to get distracted and miss the Holy Spirit’s goal… the goal of creating faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ! That was the Holy Spirit’s goal on that day and that’s still the Holy Spirit’s goal today.

And amid all the signs and wonders of that day, there were still some who resisted. There were men in the crowd who mocked and yelled out, “[They’re drunk!] They are filled with new wine.”(Acts 2:13)There’s always a few in every crowd, and there’s always those who resist the call of the Gospel.

We can learn from this as well. This serves as a great comfort to us when we confess our faith to the people we meet in our lives. Sometimes they’ll be interested and want to know more. Other times they’ll reject our confession. And, when that rejection happens, we can take comfort in knowing that even when there was [the] sound [of] a mighty rushing wind… the appearance of flames of fire… and the Apostles speaking a foreign language, that there were some people who resisted and rejected their message. It helps us to leave up to God and continue to confess our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Remember, on the next day, on the day after that Pentecost, there was no more sound of a mighty rushing wind, the tongues of fire had gone away, and people simply spoke in their own languages, but never the less, the Holy Spirit was still at work.  The story goes on. Luke tells us in Acts 2:47, “And the Lord added to their number day by day [with] those who were being saved.”  The church still had God’s Word and the Holy Spirit continued to work through that Word.

Today, the Holy Spirit still works through the Word of God. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The true sign of the Holy Spirit at work is the proclamation of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit gathers His people from all nations together into one holy and apostolic church. The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus, the Son of God, who was made man and saves us from all our sin with His suffering and death on the cross and promises us everlasting life through His resurrection. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word when we hear it with our ears… when we read it with our eyes… when we experience that Word in the waters of our Baptism… and when we receive it with the true body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  The Holy Spirit is at work when we confess our faith before each other and when we share our faith with those who do not know Jesus.

In today’s lesson, the Holy Spirit used light and sound to gather the church to hear the proclamation that the Messiah they had been waiting for had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  The Holy Spirit transformed the church from the Old Testament church to the New Testament church and the Holy Spirit continues to build His church to this very day.

The Holy Spirit still calls each of us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies us and keeps us in the true faith. And, just as He call us into the church, He also calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps her in one, true faith.

As Martin Luther tells us of the Holy Spirit:

In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.  On the Last Day, He will raise me, and all the dead, and He will give eternal life to me and all who believe in Christ Jesus. 

This is most certainly true.  Amen.

 

 

Such Joy!

Sunday, May 19th, 2019

Easter 5-C
May 19, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22)

This morning, God’s Word teaches us about sorrow and joy.  We all know the bitter tears of sorrow.  What is sorrow?  Is it the absence of joy?  Well maybe; or just maybe it’s the feeling of being helpless and alone; the feeling that it’s you against the world!  But what happens when someone steps in to help us shoulder the burden were under?  We begin to feel a sense of relief… a sense of joy!  That’s what Jesus wants you to experience when He says, “Come unto me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  If you’ve experienced true forgiveness of sins through God’s Word and His Sacraments, then you know both rest and joy.

Friends, God doesn’t want you to feel like it’s you against the world, and He doesn’t want you to feel like it’s just you and Him against the world.  That’s why He’s called you into fellowship with other saints who have been saved by grace, through faith because of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  God the Father has called  you to be a part of the body of His Son, so that the other saints in His body can help you carry your burden and sorrows, as you help them carry theirs. 

But God doesn’t want you to think that it’s us against the world either.  He wants you to remember that your real enemy is the devil, not sinful people.  And to make this truth clear to you, think about where He sends you after you’ve been given both rest and joy;  He sends you right back out into the same sinful world that looks down upon you and your Lord.  He asks you to love those who belittle and demean you, even harm you, and He asks you to pray for them; He wants you to invite them to become part of His kingdom. 

In our gospel reading for today (John 16:12-22), we are shown a picture of confusion, worry and fear.   It’s the perfect illustration of “us against the world”!  

The disciples are gathered together in the upper room, just hours before our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus has washed their feet and said they must be servants.  He has revealed once and for all that He is God.  He has taught that He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are together God.  Three persons, yet one God.    Then He began talking about the world’s hatred towards Him and by proxy, for them.  But now comes the crushing blow; one of them will betray Him unto death and another will disown Him.  “How can this be?” they wondered.  “What am I going to do now?”

And to these fears, Jesus says: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” [v.12]   ‘Many things?  Oh Lord, if there anything like these other things, I don’t really care to hear them.’  But He continues, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me.  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”   In a little while, the disciples indeed shall feel alone in their grief.  They will be drowning in their own tears.  Their beloved Lord and master will die the death of a criminal upon a cross!  But the world… well that’s another thing.  It will rejoice and be glad in it!  

The devil, has worked his murderous plan upon the Author of Life and the world celebrates with unholy glee!  This is the “little while of sorrow” that Jesus spoke of.  But He also says “again a little while, and you will see me.”  Your sorrow will become joy!  And what was the source of their joy?  It was the Easter morning Resurrection!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  But in just a few short weeks He would leave them again when He ascends into heaven.  That’s why He reminded them and us that the Holy Spirit of God remains with us as our counselor, advocate and friend.  He reminds us that He has not left us as orphans.  No, we must never think that we are alone, because Jesus assures us that He remains with us in His Word and Sacraments through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And, He is within us and He is all around us through this  fellowship we have with each other!  “Lo, I am with you always” He says!

Dear friends Christ promises us that in this world we will experience both sorrow and joy; but He also assures us that He is still with us!  He comforts us with His Holy Word which is empowered by the Holy Spirit who lives within us!  He has washed us clean in the waters of our baptism… we are born again!  And He feeds us His very body and blood, through the bread and wine so that we may be continuously reminded that we are forgiven.  But He wants us to remember that we aren’t in this alone!  You see he has called us into His body, the church!  And together we learn to submit to His will, suffer and bear more than all other people.  We learn to take anything and everything the devil and this world can throw at us, because Jesus is still with us!  Who of us could have ever guessed in our youth that we would have gone through what we have gone through and are going through, with our faith in-tack?  

Let’s be honest friends, there is simply no way we could have made it through the troubles we’ve seen unless the Holy Spirit was guiding us!  He is called “the Spirit of truth” because in spite of what your sorrow and fears tell you, His message is always the same: “You are not alone!”  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the promises of the gospel breaks through our fears and feelings of defeat and abandonment, and He assures us that He is within us and around us!  Jesus lives within you and you are his child, his friend, and his brother.  What a joy to know that we are not alone!  God is with us and we are with Him together as His Church.  Can you see what a great joy it is to be part of His body, the Church?  Isn’t it a blessing to call the person next to you brother or sister?

But we still have sorrow, fears, and worry to contend with.  

So what do we do when trouble and sorrows surround us?  Well our sinful tendency is to huddle together and protect what we have instead of sharing it!  

Were a little bit like porcupines.  You know, the colder it gets outside, and the more we feel threatened, the more we huddle together; but the problem with that is, the closer we get to each other, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills.  So the deeper our sorrows and fears become the more we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own in to the freezing cold.  If we aren’t mindful of this, we could freeze to death in our loneliness!  That’s how congregations eventually die out.  Why does this happen?  Because we forget to let the Living Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit lead us and change us!

Dear friends, when we develop this “us against the world” mentality we have forgotten that God’s Spirit is ever with us and sending us out into the world.  Instead of seeing ourselves as a missional outpost that raises up, equips, and sends out ambassadors to seek and save the lost, we can become more like a fortress; digging in and protecting what God says we must share.  If a congregation remains in this fortress mentality they will become unresponsive to the working of the Holy Spirit.  They become so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good!  It’s as if they’ve draw a line in the sand and said, “This is us and that’s them!”  But who is them?  Well, “them” becomes anyone who doesn’t think, act, talk, or worship like us!  In our first reading this morning [Acts 11:1-18] Peter along with all of us, have been warned by the Holy Spirit not to look upon as unclean what God has both declared and made clean.  

Like Peter, when we put up our walls of protection thinking that we are fulfilling God’s will, we may just find ourselves fighting against the work of the Holy Spirit.  Now don’t get me wrong, certainly like St. Peter, each of us are called to protect God’s Holy Word and Sacraments.  We must preach, teach, and confess both the Law and the Gospel in its proper form.  Our doctrine is pure, and we must fight to keep it that way.  Our Sacraments are precious and we must never let anyone rob us of God’s work that is given to us through them.  And our liturgical form of worship is a gift from God, which finds its origin in the very first days of worship that were centered on God’s Divine Service through His living Word.  Certainly there is no reason to abandon it now.  But what about those things that are not central to our faith?  

May God protect us from becoming so fixated on our historical Western heritage that we block out all other cultures and heritages.  God forbid we call unclean and unholy what the Holy Spirit has sanctified and called clean!

So what is the only way to ensure that we are working with the Holy Spirit and not against Him?  

By keeping our hearts centered on the gospel.  If we remember that God so loved the world, even you and me, that He gave His only Son that so that we all who believe might have eternal life, we will easily move from worry, fear, and sorrow into the joy of salvation and eternal life!

Dear friends, God wants each of us to leave here this morning knowing that there is the promise of joy even in the middle of sorrow, fear, worry and pain. And until our hour comes to leave this veil of tears, I pray that we will not only rejoice in the hope of salvation, but that we will also learn to rejoice in God Himself and each of us who comprise the body of Christ.  If we will simply rest in Christ, then through His Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit we will learn that Jesus’ love and presence are greater than any circumstance in our lives.  That he is fully adequate for every situation in our lives, and that just as He has promised, He is with us guiding us through all the adverse circumstances, all the crushing disappointments, and all the heartaches of life, giving us the very thing He is after, faith, forgiveness and joy in His gift of salvation and eternal life!

So hold on dear saints!  The day is coming soon when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. [Revelation 21:3-4]  Amen and Amen!

FOLLOW ME

Monday, May 13th, 2019

Easter 3-C
May 5, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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When I was younger, when my older brother Ted was in high school, he had somehow come into possession of my grandfather’s old 1956 Chevy truck. It had been sitting in a relative’s yard and needed a lot of work to get it up and running.  I remember for a good amount of time, my dad and my brother spent every bit of their spare time, especially on Sundays after church, over at my uncle’s house working on that old truck. They had stripped the engine down to the blocks and completely rebuilt it by hand. Then one day, they were finally able to crank over the engine and start her up.  I’ll never forget the smiles on their faces as they pulled out of the driveway to take a test drive around the block. My brother loved that truck.

You know, that’s not a bad analogy for what we see happening in our Gospel lesson today. This passage is one of the most dramatic lessons of the post-Resurrection narratives. It captures the powerful restoration of the disciples that were present that morning. At the heart of the story is St. Peter, the bold and brash fisherman, who learned the hard way what it really means to love Jesus. Peter made wild and wonderful promises, only to fall short when the moment of truth came. On the night our Lord was betrayed, Peter claimed that he would “lay down [his] life for [Jesus].”  A short time later, when the chips were down, Peter’s self-confessed love failed and he would deny that he even knew Jesus. And we get to see Jesus, restoring his disciples by showering them with love, and care, and attention — restoring them to their former glory, and loving them throughout the process.

This was the third time that Jesus had revealed Himself to his disciples since the resurrection. The first time was in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, in the upper room, when Thomas wasn’t there. (This was the same room where they celebrated Passover with Jesus on the night one of the disciples betrayed Him and He was arrested.) The second time Jesus appeared to them was in the same room, eight days later, when Thomas was there and Jesus invited him to touch his wounds and place his hand in his side. And here, Jesus again reveals himself to the disciples, this time by the Sea of Tiberius, which is also known as the Sea of Galilee.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, He was appearing to broken and vulnerable men who had possibly lost hope for the future. Disciples who, like us, were desperately in need of a fresh start with God, who were desperately in need of finding value, and worth, and a sense of identity, and they needed to know that they were still loved.

Our lesson begins with the scene of weary fishermen after an unsuccessful night of fishing. Suddenly, a stranger appears on the shore and He called out to them: “Children, do you have any fish?” 

Jesus called them “Children.” He didn’t call them ‘Men.’ or ‘Friends,’ or ‘Brothers,’ He called them ‘children’. What a beautiful and personal way to address His disciples.  He knows how weak and vulnerable they were feeling. He knows how confused they were. He knows how much they were hurting. And so He called them His children – an indication of the depth of love and sense of protection He has over them.

Jesus was restoring them.

Jesus told them to throw their nets off the right side of the boat. What he says does not make sense to them.  They sill don’t realize it’s Jesus. But for some reason they did it anyway.  And suddenly, their nets are full of fish; so full in fact that they couldn’t pull the net in.  And with this very act, Jesus showed them how much he loves them and wants to abundantly provide for them everything they would ever need. 

This story may remind you of another encounter, three years earlier, when Jesus is standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and He told a fisherman Simon, and his brother Andrew, to push out further into deeper water and let down the nets. Simon told Jesus that they had fished all night and had caught nothing. But they put down the nets anyway. And when they did, they caught so many fish their nets where beginning to break. They called for James and John to come help them. When all was said and done they had filled both boats so full of fish, they were on the brink of sinking. Simon was in such awe he bowed at Jesus’ feet. Simon said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid. Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And the Bible tells us they left their boats and everything they had and they followed Jesus. (Luke 5:1-10; Matthew 4:18-22)

Here is Jesus coming to the disciples, after all their failures since they celebrated Passover together, after they had run away, after they had denied knowing Him, after they had given up hope and went back to their old lives…

Here is Jesus greeting them the same way he greeted them on that first day, doing the same thing that introduced them to Him as their Lord in the beginning. And it’s as if Jesus was saying, “Do you remember how it was before all this mess happened? It will be like that again. Let’s start anew. I love you, I forgive you, and I am still calling you. You will always be my children.” This is such a beautiful act of grace and mercy.

Jesus was restoring them.

And it is at this point in time that John recognizes Jesus and proclaims, “It is the Lord!” 

Peter, ever the impetuous disciple, grabs his clothes and swims to shore, leaving the other disciples with the hard work of getting the boat and the net full of fish back to shore.

When they get back to land, they find Jesus and Peter sitting together near a charcoal fire. And yet again, another beautiful detail that shows the depth of Jesus’ love. The last time that Jesus and Peter had been together near a charcoal fire was in the courtyard of the High Priest, Caiaphas on the night that Jesus was being tried. 

That night, Peter sat by a fire in the courtyard while Jesus is being interrogated and when he was asked if he was with Jesus, Peter denied even knowing Jesus and immediately the rooster crowed, and at that very moment Jesus turned and locked eyes with Peter. The Bible tells us Peter remembered Jesus telling him that he would deny him, and Peter responded, “Not me Lord! I could never do that!” It must have been the worst feeling in the world for Peter because he ran away and he wept bitterly.

But here they are now, sitting together by a fire and Jesus, again, is looking straight at Peter. There is no judgment in His eyes; Jesus looks at Peter with nothing but mercy, compassion and loving kindness.

Jesus was restoring him. 

And as they sit down to eat breakfast together ‘Jesus gave them bread and fish’. How reminiscent that would have been for the disciples of the last time that Jesus gave them bread at the Last Supper, before the betrayals, before the cowardice, and before the denials all began. But here is Jesus sitting with them and sharing bread with them. Jesus was still offering them hospitality, Jesus was still serving them, and Jesus still loved them.

Jesus was restoring them.

But the critical moment is not the disciples’ breakfast on the beach with Jesus, but rather the dialogue between Jesus and Peter that followed.

Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” OK, Jesus just called Peter by his true, by his full name and title – Simon, son of John. In my experience, full names are used in one of two circumstances. The most common is when we are in trouble. Growing up, our sons knew when they were in trouble when either my wife or I would call out, ‘Corey Michael (or Adam Christopher) come here!” Usually our full names are used when we are in trouble. Maybe Peter thought he was in trouble when Jesus looked at him and called him, ‘Simon, son of John…’ 

But the other circumstance where we are called by our full name is when we are about to make a covenant type contract or vow… when an important relational commitment is about to be formed. When you sign a contract you sign with your full name. When you were baptized and when you were confirmed your full name was used.

But in this passage, by using his full name, ‘Simon, son of John’, Peter was not in trouble but Jesus was about to commission him for something special. 

Peter had nothing to fear, Jesus was restoring him.

It’s important to look at the details of these questions when Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” To understand what’s really happening here, we need to know that in English, we only have the one word for “love” but in Greek, there are different words for the different kinds of love. And, in this passage, in the original Greek, there are two different words used. One is “agape,” which is an unconditional love, like the love God has for us; it’s the deepest and most profound type of love there is. The second word used is “phileo,” which indicates a brotherly type of love found in a deep friendship.

The first question Jesus asked Peter was, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” And the word Jesus uses is “agape”: “Do you love me unconditionally, with a total and utter commitment? Do you love me more than these men? Do you love me more than these things? More than your boat and your nets?  Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” But the word Peter replied with was “phileo.”  Kind of like he was saying, “Jesus, I love you. But to be honest, the way I betrayed you, the way I ran away shows that I only love you like a brother – and not as I should.”  Jesus looked at Peter and said, “[That’s OK.] Feed my lambs.”

Jesus was restoring him.

Then again, Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Again, He asked using “agape” type of love. — “Aren’t you the one who promised you’d never leave me? Aren’t you the one who promised to live and die for me? Are you saying that you don’t have “agape” love for me?” Peter is again confronted by his own weaknesses and failures, and again, he answers Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” – again, “phileo” type love – brotherly type love. “I’m sorry, Lord. I tried and I failed. I do love you, I really do. But I can’t live up to those words. I know I bragged about my loyalty. I know I thought I was the greatest of the disciples, but at the end of the day, I can’t live up to that.”  Jesus said, “[That’s OK, do the best you can.] Tend my sheep.”

Jesus was restoring him.

The third time, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” But this time, Jesus used the word “phileo.” “Simon, you say you have brotherly love for me. But what kind of a man betrays his brother? What kind of a brother denies even knowing him? And what kind of a brother runs away to save his own skin? Peter, do you even have “phileo” brotherly love for me?” And it says that Peter was sad because he knew deep in his heart that he could not even claim to have brotherly love for Jesus, as such was the depth of his sin and his betrayal. Peter replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And it is “phileo” love, which Peter used here. And again, Jesus said, “[That’s OK.] Feed my sheep.”

Three times Peter had denied Jesus; three times Jesus forgave Peter; three times Jesus restored Peter.

Each and every one of us, when we search our own hearts, we can empathize with Peter; we can put ourselves in his place. We can look at Jesus, and we can sense him looking at us, and we say, “Lord, I love you. I want to serve you. I really want to do what is right. My intentions are good… but I am weak and I am frail and I get it wrong so often. Lord, I let you down, I betray you, at times I run away from you. Sometimes I feel my best just isn’t good enough. But Lord, you know everything; you know that despite my behavior, I really do love you to the best of my ability. The love I have for you is not what you deserve, but sometimes it’s the best that I can offer.”

And Jesus looks back at us; He looks you in the eye and He looks me in the eye and He says to us: “That’s OK. Do your best, I can work with that. I love you. I forgive you. You are my children and you will always be my children.”

Jesus restores us.

And, as Jesus restores us, he asks only one thing of us: ‘Take care of my sheep’.

  • Take care of one another.
  • Forgive one another.
  • Have compassion on one another.
  • Show kindness and tolerance and patience towards one another.
  • More importantly, love one another.

That is all that Jesus asks of us.

After all our sin and betrayal. After all our denying him in our thoughts and with our words and with our actions, after all the apathy we have shown in our faith, after all our cowardice we have shown in our discipleship — after all that — Jesus continues to restore us and says, “It’s OK. I still love you. You will always be my children, just love one another as I have loved you.”

And so we come to the end of this incredible encounter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; an encounter through which Jesus restored the disciples, an encounter through which Jesus restored Peter, an encounter that give us the assurance that Jesus restores us. And the closing words are this: Then Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” 

Now, after all that has happened – the ups and downs, the highs, the lows, the crowds, the healings, the raising of people from the dead, the adventures of faith and missions, — the torture, the betrayal, the death, and the resurrection — after all this, Jesus was back on the same shore. He was looking at the same fisherman named Simon, now called Peter, and Jesus re-commissioned him with the same words, “Follow me.”

Jesus has restored him. All has been made right in this moment of reconciliation and restoration.

The same is true for us today. Jesus has reconciled Himself to us He has restored us. Jesus is with us every day. He continues to reconcile and restore us, every day.  All our failings and all our sins have been forgiven and forgotten. This is a new moment, a new beginning.

Jesus has restored us. Such is the grace, and mercy, the “agape” love and compassion of our God.

Everyday Jesus calls to each and every one of us, “Follow me.”

What Jesus Passion Means For You

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

Good Friday, April 19, 2019

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of

Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

The last petition of the Lord’s Prayer requests that God would “Deliver us from evil.”  Tonight that is exactly what we both remember and meditate on.  In Christ’s passion God has delivered us from evil.

“For if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” 

So goes the argument of St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians. [Galatians 2:21]  If we were somehow able to pay for our own sins, or if we could find the wherewithal to repent of them on our own without the leading of the Holy Spirit, then God may have been able to spare His own Son the agony of the cross, thereby removing His need to drink from the bitter cup of our salvation.  But since those things are in fact impossible for sinful men and women like us, God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, and we can be assured that there was no other way but through the cross to defeat not just our sin, but even death and the devil.

Holy Scripture clearly testifies again and again that Christ Jesus suffered a painful death for us ungodly people, so that God could make righteous people out of unrighteous sinners through faith in the work of His Son Jesus.  And now this evening, we gather as a peculiar people redeemed for God and by God through the death of His Son.  It was His Son’s passion, that is His divine love that turned Him to the cross to suffer and die for you.  It was His love for you that caused Him to be obedient unto death, even death upon a cross so that by His stripes you may be healed; by His atoning death, you may be forgiven.  

It was the death of Jesus Christ that disarmed the principalities and powers of sin, death, and the devil and opened wide the very gates of heaven for miserable sinners like us.

A principal teaching of the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins.  

And the scriptures add a very important addendum to this truth: “We have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.” [2 Corinthians 5:14]  Or as the prophet Isaiah said, “(Christ) died as our substitute.” [Isaiah 53:6]  It was our sins that He carried with Him upon the cross.  That is why you should care very deeply about this evening and our Lord’s passion.  He was wounded for your transgressions.  And with His stripes you have been healed, that is forgiven of all of your sins.  On that cursed, yet for us a blessed tree, Jesus chose to taste death, and for we sinners and our salvation, He experienced for the first time what it means to be forsaken of God and cast away from His presence.  As St. Paul said, “Christ became a curse for us.”  And by this, He redeemed us from the curse of the law.  In His kingdom there will never again be condemnation for sinners such as us; we who turn to Jesus, His passion, His death, and the gift of new life that He gives through the cross.

The absolute assurance that you have all of this work assuring your salvation is found in your baptism.  There you were baptized into the death of Christ and there you became a partaker of everything that He won through His passion and death.  In other words, baptism is your guarantee that while Christ suffered upon the cross, He had you on His mind and in His heart. Because you have been baptized into both Christ’s passion and death, baptism is not just confined to one act in your life, whether you were baptized as a child or an adult.  No, but rather it is the beginning of a life which is to be lived in fellowship with the crucified Christ and His passion to save sinners.  So, to live as a baptized child of God, that is as a Christian is to live “by faith in the Son of God, who loved (you) and gave Himself (up) for (you).” [Galatians 2:20]

Even though the death of Christ is the most world shaking event in history, it is also a constant source of assurance, joy, and thankfulness, because in His passion He has delivered you from sin, death, and the devil.  Because Christ Jesus died forsaken on the cross, any one who trusts in Him needs never be afraid that they will die forsaken and abandoned by God.  Because in His passion on Good Friday, Christ bore the sins of the whole world, we sinners can live our entire lives not as strangers to God, but as His own dear children by faith in Him who first loved us and died for us.  AMEN!

Hosanna! Great is the Lord!

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

Palm Sunday
April 14, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”” [Matt. 21:10,11]

This morning, as we begin Holy Week, God wants us to ask this question about Jesus: “who is this Jesus? Who is He to me?”  Prophet yes, but also so much more!  In His flesh a man, but not just a man; no, because you see He is also God… the living Word of God to be exact!  This is Jesus, our Prophet, our Priest and our King!  This is the One who has come and is coming again; He is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  He is the one who comes with all of God’s power and authority.  Why?  Because He is God!  He is the one who comes to us humbly, mounted upon a donkey.  He comes with compassion and mercy, but He also comes to judge and punish.  He is a God of contrasts, a God who comes to kill and make alive; to wound and to heal.  And when He acts, none can deliver out of His hand! [Deut. 32:39b]

In our Old Testament reading (Deuteronomy 32:36-39), Moses reminded the Jews about God’s anger for their past sins and He warned them about His coming anger for their future sins.  

But why was God angry?  What was this sin that angered Him so strongly that He would judge, punish, wound and kill? 

It was the sin of worshiping false Gods!  They did it in the past when they longed to return to Egypt as slaves, just so they could get their fill of the food they were accustomed to eating.  They did it when they tried to replace Moses as their leader, because they didn’t like the message.  And of course they did it when they created the golden calf to worship.  And now, God is telling His people that He will judge them.  He challenges them to turn to their false gods, their false means of hope for protection from His anger.  Listen to how God mocks their false gods: “Then (God) will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge”. [vs. 37] 

Through Moses, God reminded the Jews then and He reminds us today of our sinful tendency to set up false gods to worship and follow.  He reminds us in order to warn us.  “Return to the Lord your God, for He is faithful in steadfast love!”  What false gods do we set up in our lives?  Before you answer, remember that we are all by nature sinful and unclean. We are just like the Jews in Moses time, prone to wander.  One of the ways we wander from God is when we place our hope and trust in human authority and government.  When we listen to and trust the word of man more than the living Word of God.

Another false god in our lives can be found in our own self sufficiency.  Maybe you’ve experienced this sin as I have.  It happens when we trust ourselves and our own resourcefulness instead of having complete trust and confidence in God.

Another false god that we must consider is our family.  While it’s true that love for family is important, sometimes we can love them more than the God who gives us our family.  Sometimes our love for our children or other family members can lead us to do things that we know are wrong.

Finally, another false god can be the very comfort that God’s blessings bring to those of us who are part of Christ’s church.  We who are Christ’s body have been blessed with eternal life, washed clean in the waters of our baptism; forgiven of all our sins.  We enjoy a certain peace of mind and soul that no other person outside of grace can ever experience.  We are daily protected from the attacks of the devil and we have prospered.  We love our comfort and long for more of God’s blessings yet we ignore the leading of the very God who provides all of this for us.  How do we ignore Him?  By forgetting that we too need to cry out to Him like the crowds on the first Palm Sunday, Hosanna!  We need to live a life that demonstrates praise to our Savior God and to Him alone!

How do we do this?  By knowing God as He really is.  How do we know God?  

We know God by knowing Jesus!  

By knowing who Jesus is for us and who He is for our neighbor our lives will be transformed! God wants us to know that Jesus is more than just His Son; He wants us to know that He is also our brother.  He wants us to know that Jesus is at all times both God and man.  He is eternal; He is the Son of God, who together with the Father and the Holy Spirit are eternally worshiped and glorified, yet… Jesus was also born of the Virgin Mary.  What a mystery… God was born!  But even more mysterious, Jesus died… the God who is eternal and cannot die did in fact die—but not just any death… He died upon the cross.  He died the death of a slave, the death of a condemned criminal.  

And to all of this truth, our sinful minds question, “But how can any of this be?”  But asking how is the wrong question friends.  It is wrong because God’s ways are not our ways; His ways are far above ours.  The right question to ask is why?  If we understand the why, then the how becomes unimportant.  Hosanna!  Hosanna to the Savior God!

When the Son of God took on our flesh to save us, He chose to make Himself nothing by becoming our servant, so that as our servant, He could suffer and die in our place.  The God-man Jesus Christ humbled Himself for us, by dying for us!  From the moment He was conceived by the Holy Spirit He chose to be born in order to die.  Now here is where God’s ways become very mysterious to us; at no time did Jesus cease being God.  Not in the womb and not upon the cross.  Out of love for you, Christ put aside His deity and chose to live out your humanity.  At any time He could have walked away from our flesh, but if He would have done that, then He could not have paid the penalty for your sins.  If He would have allowed His angels to save Him from your death, the death that you should die, then He could not have won salvation for you!  

Dear friends, by taking on your flesh and dying your death for your sins, Jesus became your Warrior King.  When He rode into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, He indeed rode in as a warrior king.  But not the type of warrior king the people expected.  Warrior kings ride in on strong stallions, suited with armor and with sword and shield in hand.  But Jesus rode in on a donkey armed with only our flesh, our mind, and covered with our sin.  

He who is Spirit and truth, and without sin took on our flesh and our sins so that He could fight and win for us!  

But these strange weapons were exactly what He needed to defeat sin, death, and the devil.  They were in keeping with the work that He came to do.  He didn’t come to conquer nations or empires; He came to conquer your sin.  This was God’s means of waging war against our enemies.  Jesus had to be our substitute, and He could only do this by being obedient to the Father’s will; by suffering and dying to pay for our sins.  And make no mistake friends; He could not have done this without His full deity.  He had to attach the full weight of His deity to His human flesh in order to be obedient unto death, even death upon the cross.  And as we will proudly proclaim and celebrate next week on Easter morning, He must have all of His deity in order to rise from the dead.  Even in death, Jesus was mighty God so that by His death and resurrection we could be assured of the very same thing happening for us..  Hosanna!  Hosanna to our Savior King!

Dear friends, by knowing and believing in this truth our hearts can’t help but cry out Hosanna!  We will naturally cry out Hosanna when we know who our true Savior King is and how and for whom He came to save.  He came to save you dear friends, but not just you… He came to save your neighbor.  You have a message to declare… you have a story to tell.  It’s a story that God wants you to share with as many people as possible.  But what shall you tell them?  Tell them that they have a God who comes to them as a Savior; a Savior who put Himself to death so that they could live.  Tell them that by putting Himself to death for them God was able to heal the sins of the entire world… even their sins.  He is our true God and all that He asks from us in return is that we would worship Him and Him alone.  He asks us to trust only in His love for us and then rest in His presence and protection.

Friends, it’s no wonder that the crowds came out on that first Palm Sunday shouting “Hosanna in the highest!”  I pray that each of us will be moved to praise Him as well and share that message with whoever God puts in our path.  Let’s try to remember each day that it is the Lord alone who delivers us from all of our enemies, even sin, death, and the devil.  Let’s try to thank Him each day that He has not only given us grace, but the faith to believe that Jesus died for each of us.     

May we always say hosanna to our Savior God, because it’s He alone who saves us; He saves us from all harm.  He has defeated all of our enemies.  His name is great, and His name is Jesus, the most beautiful name that has ever been spoken.  And 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

Our Prodigal God!

Sunday, March 31st, 2019

Lent 4-C
March 31, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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Imagine in your mind’s eye that you’ve been transported back in time to a high school football stadium.  You’re seated in the bleachers, and you are drawn to one particular man seated amongst the sea of people.  He has such a big smile on his face and you see tears welling up in his eyes.  The hot sun is mercilessly beating down on him and pulling sweat from his body and soaking his neatly pressed dress shirt, but he’s oblivious to it. His eyes are focused on one young man on the football field. “Who are you looking at?” You whisper. “I am waiting for my son” he says. “Soon he will cross the stage and get his diploma. Then it is off to college. I am so proud of him.”

Now fast forward to two years in the future and you are once again with the same man. You’re sitting outside the county jail house.  He’s alone and he’s crying.  Quietly you sit next to him.  Finally you ask him, “What’s up?” “I am waiting for my son,” he sniffs, trying to hold back the tears. “The Police picked him up for DUI and I am afraid he’s on drugs, too.  He’s been so distant lately… it’s like I don’t even know him!”

Now fast forward eight years in the future, and you are with the same man.  This time you’re seated in a beautiful little church. The man is standing by his son at the front looking up the aisle. You walk up to him and whisper, “What’s up?” he whispers back, “I am waiting for my son to get married. His beautiful, bride will be walking down the aisle toward us in just a minute. I am so proud of him. I have been waiting ten years, but finally the wait is over. Drugs, alcohol, and jail are all behind him. He’s back in church and he’s landed a good job. I am so excited.”

     This father, if he was here this morning would tell you that he can read our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 15) with a real and special understanding. He knows what it means to wait for a son who seems lost to him and God. 

This morning, God wants us to see that He’s still looking and waiting for lost sons and daughters to come home. He’s still leaving the flock to go out and find stray lambs. This morning He wants us to know that we have a heavenly Father who loves us enough to spend everything on us. His open arms are waiting for every lost sinner to come home.  The welcome home party can be started in an instant, whenever they decide to come home.  And after they come home and they’ve enjoyed themselves at the party, they can join the Father in His waiting, watching and urging more lost children to come home. And when they come home, they can sit beside their elder brothers and sisters, and show them just how much the Father has always loved them, even if they never got to have a party thrown for them. All this and much more is waiting for sinners if they will just repent.  If they will just turn away from their sinful life and their sinful thinking, and then turn to God’s forgiving love through Jesus Christ!

Our gospel reading this morning (Luke 15:1–3, 11–32) for many is a familiar one.  

It starts out by introducing us to the sinful younger brother, who committed a huge sin by walking away from his position as his father’s son. He wanted nothing more to do with his father, but he did want the blessing of his father’s money!  Once he received what he wanted and not what his father said he needed, off he went!

Did you notice that it was the younger son who was on the move?  He wanted to get as far away from his father’s house and his father’s rules as he could!  But did you also notice that the father never moved?  He was standing still; still and waiting to see his son return someday. He was a busy man, a man of great wealth and business.  There was an entire corporation to run and it all depended on his leadership, yet he left his work to watch and wait for his lost son to return. 

To return from where?  Far away… about as far from his father and his people that he could get!  He was living large and spending money like it would never run out. “Finally” He thinks, “no rules!  I can do what I want and when I want to do it!”  The son has turned his back on his father… he’s turned his back on his father’s love!  

What a sad story.  It’s a sad story because it is the story that applies to real people who have rejected God’s love and grace which is there’s through Jesus Christ.  They’ve left the church and the communion of saints.  They counted their baptism as nothing really, simply a childhood memory.  They’re living far from God and His blessings, with the intent of enjoying the pleasure and promise of the sinful world!  But soon the good times end, and the sinner discovers that all that glitters isn’t gold at all.  Like a moth drawn into an open flame the world has devoured them and their hope of happiness. Their illusion of satisfaction found in the things of the world without the Creator and the Savior of the world has come to an end! 

So there they sit, alone and broke.  Not only did they loose their wealth, but they also lost their spiritual support to fall back on.  In essence, they have burned their bridges of return!  When sinners reach this point in their lives, the devil is ready to pounce on and devour them—many are led to suicide, either by a quick death or the slow death of substance abuse. But all is not lost, because…

The Father is still waiting… He’s waiting and He’s watching.  

And because sinners know this, because they know the fathers love, they come to their senses and remember their Father’s mercy.  They remember their baptism, the day that the Father’s love was first given to them.  They remember that through Christ Jesus suffering and death upon the cross God made a way for them to come home.  “Can it really be true?  Is it really not too late for me to come home?” they wonder.  Now hungry, poor, and tired, they remember the Lord’s invitation, “Come unto me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”  And when they remember, they begin to hunger for the Lord’s forgiving love and the fellowship of their brothers and sisters.  Now, maybe for the first time, they begin to feel alone and empty; they feel shame and a need to confess their sin.  Will God take them back?  Will they be able to hear those sweet words once again? “You are forgiven!”  

But there is another son that’s lost. His story is entirely different from that of his younger brother.  Like his brother he too is lost, but not in some distant land.  No, he is lost in his own father’s house. How is that possible? Because of his self-righteousness. He is busy working hard within his father’s business.  Although he has been supported by his father’s wealth, he now considers himself critical for maintaining and protecting that wealth.  In fact, he’s convinced that since his younger brother abandoned the family business, his father would be out of business if it wasn’t for him!  The way he sees things, his father owes him big time!  It’s been a hard day of business and he’s beat, so he heads home. As he approaches the house he hears music and dancing.  “What’s this” he wonders, “A party?”

The first person he sees says, “Hurry!  Come inside.  Your father wants me to tell you that, well… your brother’s come home!”  “No!” he says.  “I will not celebrate the return of my sinful brother!”  Now, his father hears of the older brother’s anger, and he immediately leaves the celebration to go out to his oldest son.  But he’s not going out to order him to come in, but to plead with him to come in out of his love for his father.

And here is where the sinful heart of the older brother is revealed. “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 

Can you hear the pride and self-righteousness in the words of this son?  Can you hear yourself in these words?  Is it clear to you that our Heavenly Father has every right to punish this type of hard heart?  To be angry with their brother is one thing but to publicly defy and disrespect God is a completely different issue!  God has every right to strip these self-righteous people of everything.  These people must be humbled like the younger brother was!

Dear friends, both of these ungrateful sons deserved nothing but anger from their father.  Both had shown nothing but disrespect.  Yet both were loved and forgiven.  Can you see yourself in one of these sons?  Can you see God’s love in Jesus story about the Father?   Maybe you’ve known this story as the “Prodigal Son”?  But really it should be called the “Prodigal Father”.  Do you know what the word “prodigal” means?  It means extravagant!  Can you see the Fathers unending love and patience towards his two sons?  We could say that the father was extravagant in his patience and love for his sons.  

Dear friends, Jesus tells this story for two reasons.  First, He wants us to see ourselves within one of the two sons.  Second, He wants us to see our Heavenly Father within the character of the father.  Jesus wants us to know that God is extravagant—prodigal in His patience and love for us.  Just as the younger son was lovingly welcomed back home God has the very same heart for each of us.  Just as the youngest son was cleaned up and given a beautiful robe to wear, Jesus wants each of us to know that in our baptism, we too have been clothed in His own righteousness.  And the truth is, the oldest son had nothing to feel threatened over; he was still clothed in the very same righteousness.  

How does God treat lost sinners? He focuses his attention on them. 

He pours his love on them. He waits patiently for them to come to their senses, repent of their sins, and come back to him. God has centered his whole plan for creation on one expectation: Sinners will see the error of their ways and turn back to him so that through Jesus Christ he can complete what He began within the waters of their baptism.

Dear friends, when you leave here this morning God would like you to remember that His love and forgiveness are always yours through your baptism.  In fact through your baptism and your faith in Jesus Christ, all that the father has is yours!  You are part of the body of Christ.  You are part of his team.  He invites you to patiently wait with Him for the lost, maybe even someone you love to come home.  He is inviting you to go out with Him, to seek out the lost, and then along with all of heaven, He wants you to welcome them back home within the church.  He invites you to help them put back on Christ own righteousness.  It’s a robe that fits them perfectly.  Because God had it tailored just for them within the waters of their own baptism!

Let’s pray: Loving, compassionate God, our Father in heaven, thank you for waiting for us to come back from the far country. Thank you for teaching us how sinful we are and what we leave behind when we desert you in our willful sin. Thank you for giving us great joy when we hear your sweet words of forgiveness… thank you for waiting for us and bringing us back home!  Heavenly Father, show us where to go for you; show us where to seek the lost and give us boldness to invite them to come home to you and to the church.  May they come to know the joy that we have found in you through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Precious Lord… Forgive Me!

Sunday, March 24th, 2019

Lent 3-C
March 24, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:5

Perhaps the most painful question Christians and non-Christians a-like whisper and sometimes scream into the ear of God in the dark of the night is “Why?”  Why does He allow the massacre of Christians in places like Africa, the Middle East, and the Philippines over and over again?  In 1993, why didn’t God protect those two young boys Charlie Keever and Jonathan Sellers who were killed in the South Bay, and why as we’ve heard in the news lately, does it seem like the killer keeps avoiding the prescribed course of justice? 

Why is there evil in the world if God is good and almighty?  This really is the ultimate question that sinful man most wants answered! We encounter variations of this question throughout our daily lives and it most often comes to us like this: Why did my sister die so young?  Why does God allow cancer? Why did I lose my job just before my pension was vested?   Why can’t I find the right person to spend the rest of my life with?   

“What did I do to deserve this?” we cry out, as we keep noticing that people without an apparent faith in Christ seem to be living a happy life!   

Jesus’ disciples posed a similar question to him more than once. 

On one occasion, His disciples wanted to know whether the man who had been born blind had brought his condition upon himself or whether his parents were at fault because of their sin. To this question, Jesus assured them that God had a purpose in the man’s blindness.  What was that purpose?  To that question and to all of its variations, Jesus remained silent.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus takes the same approach, as He addresses two tragedies that seemed to swallow up a lot of people in an unfair way.  Some of His disciples had just reported that Pilate’s police had murdered some Galileans while they were worshiping God and offering their sacrifices.  Jesus used this incident to meet the obvious question: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were guiltier than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Jesus refused to answer the question. Instead, he used these incidents to call for something much more important… Jesus called for repentance. He rejected the assumption that great evil falls only upon evil people. “No,” Jesus said. They were not the worst of the worst; those Galileans had not sinned more than their fellow Galileans. That kind of question misses the point. The only point that Jesus wanted them to see in the midst of those tragedies was each person’s need for personal repentance.  (Luke 13:1–5). He wanted each person then and each of us today, to turn away from our sins and turn to God’s mercy and say “Precious Lord… forgive me!”

Did they get it?  Probably not, and that is why Jesus began to tell the parable about the fig tree within the vineyard.  In this story, Jesus was making the analogy that the city of Jerusalem was like the fig tree… fruitless and close to being “chopped down” so that something else… something that would bear fruit could be planted.  After the parable, do you think they said, “Ah… yes I see, I am the fig tree!  I better confess my sin and then turn to God’s mercy.  Let me confess my sinfulness and seek His forgiving love!”  No, they did not!  In fact the proof that they did not or would not understand lies in the truth that they crucified their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  And because of this, they have been chopped down, and a new tree, one that will bear fruit has been planted in its place… that new tree is of course the Church.  It is you and me!

So now, these words of Jesus are being spoken to us.  Are you different than the Jewish nation?  Will you listen?  Will you repent and bear fruit?  That is the question God wants you to concentrate on this morning and each morning that he allows you to live.  He wants you to know that through Jesus Christ, He has given you His grace, His undeserved kindness.  And because of Jesus, God is continually caring for you just as He did in the parable of the fig tree.  He is tilling the soil of your heart and applying good fertilizer through His Word and Sacraments.  Do you recognize that you have been placed in the most favored position… you have been adopted as sons and daughters of the most high God!  Will you be fruitful or will you prevent His grace from changing you?  Will you bring to nothing, everything that Jesus has provided for you?  Will you turn your back on His passion for you… on His suffering and death for you?!  

Can you really do that?  Yes, He will allow you to reject His gift of love, but by doing that, you are sealing your own doom!  Will you really do that or will you repent?

In this world, even in the life of Christians, we are surrounded by countless sins, sins that God expects us to acknowledge and deplore with true and sincere repentance.  

He wants us to hear His cry within the gospel, “Repent and trust in Christ alone!”  He delivers these Words of both His Law and His Gospel to us so that we will be delivered from eternal destruction. 

This isn’t a new message, in fact it was the first sermon preached in paradise, when God cursed Adam and Eve after their fall from grace.  But after their fall, He immediately gave them complete forgiveness of their sin, and the promise of a future Savior, the son of Adam who is also the very Son of God! 

Repent and believe!  This has always been God’s Word to sinful men and women!  This is the sum of all of God’s Word and it is the message that He wants us to receive as long as we are alive in this world!  God wants each of us to read His Word, the entire Bible and hear this message come alive on each page.  He wants us to read all of the testimonies concerning His anger against sin, concerning personal and public tragedies, concerning all of the warnings about eternal punishments, and  He wants us to hear these Words and repent; He wants us to turn away from our sin and our certain punishment of death, and then turn to the death of Jesus. Why?  Why must we turn from our sin and see Jesus death upon the cross?  Because dear friends, Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross is the clearest possible proof concerning God’s anger and hatred against sin! 

God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to hang upon the cross in the most violent manner so that you would know just how serious your sin is!  The death of Jesus isn’t just something for you to read about and consider like some book or movie … God wants it to scare the hunger for sin and Hell right out of you!  He wants you to see how serious His wrath against sin is.  He wants you to know beyond any doubt how serious, enormous, and indescribable your sin is.  He wants you to know that the only way you can be rescued from your sin is if the Son of God intercedes for you and is made a victim for you!  If you can see all of this and if you can agree with God that your sin is a huge problem, then repent!

Dear friends, God wants each of us to see ourselves in the words of our Epistle lesson this morning.  He wants us to see our own sinful lust as being identical to the Hebrews who rejected God’s law regarding sexual relations between a man and woman, within the structure of marriage.  He wants us to see ourselves within the story of those who continually tested Him by questioning His actions and His will!  He wants us to see that we are similar to those who murmured and complained about Him instead of trusting in Him and receiving from Him.  He wants us to see all of this within our own hearts and then confess these sins and turn away from them.

But still there is wickedness and suffering all around, isn’t there?  And maybe this is causing you to still struggle with the “why” of evil!  

Why does God allow such evil to flourish in this world?  And to this God answers, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”  And we ask, “Precious Lord, why won’t you answer my question?  Why won’t you tell me why there is evil?  And to this God says to each of us, “Because I care most about your love for me… I want you to trust me… trust that I am caring for you always!  You are who I suffered and died for!  You are the fig tree that I have planted within my vineyard, and you are the one that will give me fruit.  Turn back, repent from your own evil ways and love and obey me!  

Dear friends, the Father has planted you within His church.  He is nourishing you and tilling the soil of your heart so that you will bear much fruit.  What is that fruit?  It is the fruit of repentance; fruit that is called righteousness.  Fruit that trusts in Christ alone… fruit that does not lust after the riches and power of this world, but instead remains focused on what Christ has done for you.  Jesus is your fruit, and you can only find this fruit upon the tree of woe.  It is the sweet fruit of Golgotha…it is the fruit of righteousness unto eternal life!  “Take and eat” Jesus says, “This is my body!  Take and drink… this is my blood.”  Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your many sins and then rest in the truth that God forgives you; He still loves you and He still loves the world!

“But Lord” you cry out, “I am afraid that because of all this evil only a few will be saved?  I am afraid for my loved ones who will not repent!”  And Christ answers us by saying, “Friend, let me worry about that.  As for you, strive to enter through the narrow door.  Worry first about your relationship with Me and my gospel, only then will you be able to recognize and fight your own sin.”  

Dear friends, let God worry about the whys in life; you have enough to do just loving Him!  If you occupy yourself with this work, then when tragedy and suffering strike, you will be comforted and strengthened by Christ’s presence within you.  Only then will you begin to understand that true wisdom and comfort are not found in answering the why(s) but the HOW!

I pray that each of us will continue to grow in faith and be comforted by God’s love through Christ Jesus.  AMEN

Christ Alone

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019

Transfiguration Sunday
March 3, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” (Luke 9:36a)

When I was a boy, I use to think that Lent was, well… depressing!  I dreaded going to Wednesday evening services.  Advent on the other hand was exciting… Christmas and all of the presents were just around the corner.  I wanted the high points of Advent and Christmas worship, the mountaintop experience, not the valleys of Lent!  Boy I had it wrong!  Do you ever find yourself looking only for the “highs” and avoiding the “lows”? But the truth is friends; we can’t avoid the “lows” because they are part of life.  In our Gospel reading this morning, the Apostles were probably feeling a little confused and depressed because Jesus had recently told them about his impending suffering and death upon the cross.  His disciples were afraid, and they were confused!  Perhaps Jesus saw that Peter, James and John needed a glimpse of heaven in order to make it through everything that was about to happen. And ever since, His church has also closed the season of Epiphany (or kicked off Lent) on the mountaintop of the Transfiguration.

So why are we here this morning? 

Are we here to close off the season of Epiphany with a big bang, just as we started it at Jesus’ Baptism? Do we need a big high in order to carry us through the dark valley until we finally arrive at Easter? If you think about it, we could ask the same question about every Sunday. Do we go to church in order to get away from the real world? Or do we go to God’s Divine Service so that through us, God can make something good happen when we return to the “real” world on Monday?

Now that sounds a little “other worldly” doesn’t it?  It makes our time on Sunday’s sound sort of “not of this world”? And that is the point of the Transfiguration story. It’s a real life account about a “not of this world” event. It was the kind of event that left two apostles speechless and another one speaking nonsense. It was so much “not of this world” that it’s recorded in all three of the Gospel accounts.  And each one of them ended with the need to leave the mountaintop experience with Jesus and re-enter “real life” with Him as well.

This morning, we learn that the world of mountaintop experiences is not enough to carry us through. Jesus and His disciples had to live in the real world, and so do we!  But Jesus knew that the experience was necessary for His innermost circle of apostles and because it is recorded for us in scripture, He is telling us that it is important for us as well!  Peter, James, and John needed to see His glory, and so do we!

What does it mean to see Jesus’ glory?  

Well I think our gospel lesson this morning gives us a pretty good picture of that.  Out of thin air, or maybe better put, out of the fog of prayer, appeared Moses and Elijah.  Our text says that they were talking to Jesus about His departure.  What departure?  Well His death upon the cross… his departure from this sinful world!  Why was that important?  Because it signified the fulfillment of all the promises that God had ever made about forgiveness and eternal life!  Those promises began way back in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15) when God first promised Adam and Eve that their descendant, the Messiah, would smash the head of the serpent (Satan), and rip away his ability to separate men and women from God’s love due to their sin!  But why Moses and Elijah?  Because they represented at the time all of God’s recorded Word, a Word which promised that their Savior was coming; a Savior Who would utterly destroy the power of sin, death, and the devil !  

Moses represented God’s Law which was given to Moses and the church to demonstrate that no one can find God’s love and presence outside of His mercy and forgiveness!  Through the Law, all of mankind  was to see that on their own, they are condemned to eternal death unless God intervenes!  And Elijah represents all of the prophets of God who continually warned God’s people that they were not keeping God’s Law, and frankly they didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping it!  But each of the prophets also promised something special, they promised that God’s means of rescue was coming to save them.  A messiah who was first promised to Adam and Eve would come and destroy Satan’s authority and release sinners from the captivity of sin and death if they would but wait in faith for the fulfillment of that promise, and trust in God’s forgiveness and love!

Peter, James, and John needed to see these two Old Testament Saints surrounded by Jesus’ glory because it meant that the promise was about to be fulfilled.  It meant that He didn’t come to simply rescue them from the temporary tyranny of a Caesar, but from the eternal tormenting of sin, death, and the devil!  The cavalry had arrived, and the counter attack was about to begin; not against an invading and occupying government of men, but against the spiritual and eternal occupation and captivity of evil!

Jesus knew that they must see His glory so that they could tell others about that glory… so that those who heard would have faith and know that God who is faithful had not left them alone to struggle against their enemies!  Jesus knew that they must see His glory so that when they saw Him suffering in great agony upon the cross, they would not lose hope; so that when He lay in the belly of the earth for three days they would not be afraid; and so that when He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven they would know that they were not alone!  He was still with them in His glory!

Jesus wanted them to understand once and for all that His glory has always been His and always shall be.  Yes He walked and talked with them, as one of them, but He never stopped being God… He never stopped being their Redeemer.  It was His glory; it was His to reveal or not to reveal as He desired.  They must have asked themselves as He hung upon the cross in agony and humiliation: “Why don’t you reveal your glory?  What are you doing?  You don’t have to do this!”  And to these thoughts, Jesus quietly reassures their fears and ours… “It is my glory.  Have faith.  Trust me and know that I will reveal my glory according to my own will and in my own means.  Accept my means of grace, and you will see my glory; the promise fulfilled… the promise of your salvation!”  

This is why they must see His glory, but none of this would make sense until He conquered sin and death once and for all.  None of it would make sense until they witnessed His resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven!

We too, must see His glory.  

Just like the apostles, we also need to learn to let go of our own sinful thoughts that get in the way of God’s work of salvation within our own hearts.  We need to admit that there is nothing we can do to please God or make things right with Him.  So to see Jesus’ glory is to first see our own sin… to see how hopeless we are without His rescue. To see His glory is to admit that we too are being held in bondage by the very same enemies that conquered and destroyed all men and women since the fall of Adam and Eve!  And second, if we are to see Jesus’ glory, we must see Him for who He really is for us personally… He is our only means of salvation… our only means of eternal life.  He is God our Savior!

And how does He save us?  How does He show us His glory?  This friends is the best part of all, He does it in an “out of this world” way… He does it according to His means and according to His will!  He does it with Words, His Holy Word’s, and He does it with simple elements; a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.  The same God that spoke the world into existence speaks new life into you with the sweet words of the gospel… “You are forgiven!”  And with that same simple Word He takes even simpler things like water, bread, and wine, and He not only gives you forgiveness but the ability to believe in that forgiveness as well!  Dear friends, hear this good news and hear it well… You are forgiven!  You are loved by God!  Do you receive this message?  Will you let it change you?  

So now, let all God’s people say AMEN!  Can I get a witness?!?   Peter had it right; the mountain top is good!  

Hey, let’s stay with this feeling as long as we can!  Peter wanted to do just that… he wanted to pitch a few tents so that the experience would last, so that his little glimpse into heaven would continue. But then He heard the voice of God speak, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!”  And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone…. alone with Peter, James, and John, just as He will be alone with you when you leave this sanctuary.  And just as He led the three down the mountaintop into the “real” world where real life is happening, He is leading you out into that same world.  A world that is still being held captive by sin, death, and the devil.  A broken world that is still living in fear and stressed out with the worries of this life!  

On Monday morning, you will find yourself in enemy territory… behind enemy lines, but have no fear Jesus is with you.  His glory remains upon you, even within you because you have been forgiven and saved by His Holy Word, washed clean by His Holy baptismal waters, and nourished by His very body and blood within His supper, and all of this was done for a purpose.  So that you may bring others into His presence, into His glory here in this very sanctuary so that they too may say by faith, “Master, it is good that we are here!” Amen.