Posts Tagged ‘Assurance’

What Is This Hidden Treasure?

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost-A, July 30, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

The central theme in all of our reading is found in Jesus’ statement in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 13:44-52), “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” So, this morning’s message will explore that statement by answering three questions, which I believe are central for living the life of a Christian in the kingdom of Heaven, here and now. But to answer these questions, you will need to be equipped and well trained by the Word of God. So without further discussion, here are the questions: 1. How should every Christian treat the Word of God? 2. How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day? 3. Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

Are we ready to get into God’s message for us this morning? Good, let’s go…

How should every Christian treat the Word of God?

This week, God’s Word is compared to the most valuable treasure you could find; it was compared to the most valuable pearl that a person could cultivate, so valuable that you would give up every thing to posses it. “Do you feel this way about your Bible and the Word of God?” And I think that if we average Christians were to answer that question truthfully, the answer is “No!” But why is that?

I believe that I can speak for not just myself, but also for many of you when I say that we truly do love Jesus and His Word. Ok, so then why don’t we also have that kind of excitement when we open His book? The answer is of course, because we do not understand just how extraordinary that Word truly is. Isn’t it true that most of you have at least two or three Bibles in your home? Isn’t it also true that most of you grew up in a home that had that many, if not more Bibles in your home? Didn’t most of you grow up going to church and Sunday School, and didn’t you spend your formative years handling that Word? So is it possible that both time and commonality have diminished your estimation of that Word?

This morning, Jesus tells us two stories or metaphors that are meant to correct our misconception of both God’s Word and His Kingdom; He speaks about a hidden treasure and a chance encounter with a “pearl of great price (or value).” When we hear these stories, we think about incidents where people have accidentally found large sums of money, and after waiting for the owner to come forward, they are told by the authorities that because no one came forward to claim the money, it is theirs to keep. Or maybe we think of those lucky ones who struck it big by winning millions of dollars after playing the lottery. But this story is different, isn’t it? The men in both stories had to spend everything they had just to get their hands on the treasure, and once they did, their lives were forever changed for the good. I don’t know of too many incidences where lottery winners were impacted for the good; usually their money created a whole bunch of problems they never had before. But Jesus’ story about the man who bought the field to get at the hidden treasure is different. Why? Well to answer that, we must understand the metaphor; the field represents one thing, and the treasure represents another.

In order to improve our estimation of God’s Word, let’s consider the field as a representation of our Bibles.

And within those Bibles, this field that most people take for granted is the greatest treasure you could ever receive, it is knowing intimately the very Son of God, Jesus Christ. You see your Bibles are not given to you by God as some instruction manual that helps you live your life, but instead every page of your Bibles shows you two things, your need for a Savior and who that Savior is.

God’s treasure, which is the message of His Son Jesus the Christ, is indeed hidden, but it is intended to be found by you dear Christians. Others hunt for this treasure everywhere, but you have found it; you found it with very little effort. You see, God didn’t hide His treasure in a far off place in some philosophical realm where no one could even come near it, but instead he hid it in a common, lowly place, where it could be found by anyone who did not feel that the location of the treasure was beneath them because of their personal wisdom, pride, or self-sufficient attitude.

Now, let’s talk about this wonderful treasure that’s hidden within the field; within our Bibles. The treasure is so great that the men in Jesus’ stories sold everything just to obtain it. But they did not just sell all that they have, they sold it joyfully! And when they finally obtain the treasure they rejoice, but not in their poverty but in their new found wealth!

The point of Jesus story is this: The Kingdom of Heaven has come to sinful men, and it comes in the Son of God who is also the son of man. If there is anything at all that is standing in the way of you being drawn deeper and closer to Jesus, then that thing must be done away with so that you will be sure to obtain this great treasure, which is Jesus Himself. If you truly understand this message, then Jesus says that you are like a “scribe (or a teacher of God’s Word), who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven, and you will bring out of (your) treasure (things that are) new and (things that are) old.” In other words, through your discovery of the hidden treasure in both the old and new testaments, which is Jesus Christ, you have gotten your heart filled with all kinds of spiritual knowledge from the kingdom and the King, and you will be equipped to use it when it is needed.

Now, let’s add another dimension to Jesus metaphor, by allowing our Old Testament lesson (Deuteronomy 7:6–9) to guide us into our next question.

How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day?

Well, let’s allow God to answer Himself, listen: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Friends, do you hear that? You did not choose God, He chose you! You did not find Jesus and the forgiveness of sins that is yours through Jesus on your own; no, Jesus found you!

Do you understand what this does to Jesus’s stories; to His metaphors? It completely turns it around. Let me show you what I mean. Since it is Jesus who finds you, then the field becomes the sinful world, and the man who sells all that He has, is none other than Jesus Christ. And you know what that makes you, don’t you? You are the treasure! Upon the cross, all of God gave great wealth to obtain you as His very own, but only the Son of God, Jesus Christ who is the son of Mary, gave all of His life to redeem you from sin, death, and the devil.

God the Father redeemed you through the life blood of His Son; He redeemed you from the curse of sin. But the reason He did this for you has nothing to do with anything that is unique or good about you, but instead it was because of His love and the blood of His Son Jesus, that you have been set free!

Listen friends, God is so serious about this truth, that He even swore it in an oath to our spiritual fathers long ago. He swore to Abraham to bless his seed and to bring blessing to the nations through his seed. [Genesis 22:16-18] But that oath includes blessings for us as well. It was kept, and still is being kept, through Christ’s work upon the cross. So, know this today, that it is those of (us by) faith who are the (true) sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you (that is in your faith), shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith, (that is those of us who have been found by Jesus and are resting and trusting in Him), are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” [Galatians 3:7]

Now, doesn’t that make you want to rest in God’s calling of faith? Doesn’t that allow you to realize that it is He who began the good work in you that will complete it? But you may ask, “How do I know that God has really began that good work of salvation within me? Where can I turn for assurance that I am really His great treasure, and He is mine? Well, why not turn to the very place that He began that good work in you… return to your baptism where He marked you and sealed you as His very own! And that takes us to our final question to be answered.

Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

Jesus answers that question in one last metaphor, when He says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matthew 13:47-50]

Friends, let me ask you a question, that if answered by faith, will also tell you whether you should be afraid of the final judgment. Are you a good fish or a bad one? Now before you answer, remember that you are Jesus’s own pearl of great price, and you are His valued hidden treasure. He bought you with His own life-blood. Do you believe that? If you say yes, then why in the world would He ever allow you to be called bad?

But don’t just stop acquiring the wealth of God’s Word there, let St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (Romans 8:28-39) give you a little more data to base your answer on, listen: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” [v.28] “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” [vs.31-34] Friends, that’s called a hypothetical question, and you are to enthusiastically answer it like this, “No one!” No one can accuse you of being damned and lost to judgment, because, “Christ died for you! But more than that, He also rose from the dead for you.” In His dying and rising, He shows you what is a done deal; a deal that was accomplished for you within the waters of your baptism. Your old sinful nature was put to death, and your new baptismal nature that will one day rise up with a new resurrected body is not only how God sees you but, it is also how you are to view yourself!

You are a good fish, who has been caught in the gospel net of the church. In all aspects of that net, you receive the hidden treasure of God, the message of Jesus Christ. And within that message, which comes to you in both Word and Sacrament, you have discovered that you are God’s valuable and hidden treasure. But, you are not hidden from God, you are waiting and resting within the gospel net, which is the church, along with many other fish; some are good and some are bad, but this morning Jesus says that is not your concern to worry over, you are simply to rest in the most blessed Word and will of God.

While it is tempting to worry about many things as we wait here for Christ’s return, we have been assured that God’s day of reckoning , that is the time of making all things right has not yet come. As we wait, we also trust and follow Jesus as His very own disciples. We wait both as people who have found a great treasure and, we wait for Jesus who will come to this world, and claim and acquire us has His own treasured possession. Even though our life in Jesus and His life with us remains hidden now within His Word and Sacraments, we can trust in the great and final work that Christ has done for us.

When we trust in this work, and in this Word, we are indeed like disciples who are able to not only draw out wisdom from a great treasure store, but we become wisdom in action. And that wisdom sees the wonderful faith, faith giving Word of God as great treasure indeed, and then it learns to trust and rest as part of that treasure. AMEN!

All Dressed Up and…

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

Easter 4-HL, April 17th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Would you agree with me, that it is never easy waiting for something you really desire?  Here’s a truth that we should really think about this morning: We all desire an end to sickness, disease, violence, hatred and prejudice.  And we all know that as long as we live in this sin-soaked world, these things will never end.  Further, we all know that the only way to be free of those things is to leave this world; we have to die.

By now some of you are saying, “No thanks, I’ll wait.”  But some of you are thinking, “Yes, that would be fine by me; the sooner the better.  I just want the Lord to take me home.”

A Christian may have many reasons for wanting to leave this world.

Scripture and our own life experiences seem to bear witness to this truth.  St. Paul perhaps put it best, when he said that he would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord Jesus.  [2 Corinthians 5:8]   But where would our understanding of God’s grace and the beautiful gift of faith be if God had taken Paul home too early?

Every day through our understanding brought through God’s Word, we are made more and more aware of a sinful reality that is at work in our bodies; a law that convicts us of the sin that lies within our flesh.  Isn’t it true that the more we understand our sinful tendency to do things we know are wrong, the more we wish to be free from this reality?  Do you understand that your baptized, born again nature is at war with the desires of your sinful flesh?  Isn’t it true that you have one nature that urges you to serve the Lord and another that urges you to serve your own wants and desires.  The truth is, we have the desire to do what is right, but when it comes to fulfilling that desire, we sometimes seem to be in a sort of holding pattern.

None of us is ever exempt from this daily struggle between the spirit and the flesh.  And it is not simply an internal struggle of weakness versus strength, or cowardice versus bravery, no, we are also dealing with this sinful world and all the spiritual powers and principalities that seek to destroy both our own souls and the work of God for us and among us; in other words, these forces are dead set on attacking us in such a way that even our faith and hope in God will be crushed and destroyed.

We are reminded in our Old Testament lesson (Lamentations 3:22-33) that all trials and tribulations are allowed to come to us in accordance with God’s will; in other words, their final purpose is meant to strengthen our faith in Him, and so we must bear them with patient submission.

We are to see all things that seek to separate us from the love of God through the lens of Christ’s own suffering upon the cross.  In other words, we are to see them as mere inconveniences, because nothing can diminish the saving power of Christ’s cross for you.

Even when those things or people seem to be an enemy much stronger than us, we must remember that our Lord has already defeated them through His life given upon the cross.  So, although our enemies, whether they be spiritual powers and principalities, or physical people who are simply being used as tools of the devil may seem more powerful that us, we must remember that God has allowed these attacks to come our way, and since they are ultimately under the control of Jesus and His cross, we must look at them as simply annoyances and futile, evil persecution that in the end will amount to nothing.

We are called by St. Peter in our Epistle lesson (1 Peter 2:11-20) to remember that we are simply sojourners and exiles in this world.  Our job then is not to win battles but we’re called to trust God and resist the enemy.  Our task then is to remain faithful to our Lord’s call of repentance and to daily receive His forgiveness of sins through His Son Jesus Christ, as citizens of His kingdom of grace.

In His Word, God continually promises us, His children of faith, both forgiveness and new life.  He promises us that His same divine love that saved us from our sins will also keep us and protect us from the evil that surrounds us, even if that evil may be within our own flesh.  As members of God’s kingdom and joint heirs with the Son of God, we saints are called to simply and quietly wait for the Lord; to wait for Him to decide when our day will be when we will depart this place where we are foreigners and move to our new home where are true citizenship lies; a place where we will inherit the riches of Christ’s kingdom; riches that we’re told we already possess here in this place but are not yet utilizing in their fullest sense.  And so we do that very thing, but as we wait, we do so with a holy purpose.

So now, let’s talk about why it is not the right time for you “to go home and be with the Lord.”

You see, it is God who has determined that we should still be living here in this world.  He has a purpose for our being here.  Before us there are “good works which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” [Ephesians 2:10]  In other words, God knows something of your purpose in life that you do not.  God has already both equipped and prepared you to accomplish things that must take place in accordance with His will; things that perhaps He will use to help someone understand Christ’s passion upon the cross and the truth and implication of His resurrection for them.

As the Lord gives us life, we are helped to believe that He wants us here for His purpose.  Even when all of our physical powers fail us, we are still able to contribute in a God pleasing way; we’re able to pray for others, prayer that God both commands and blesses, so that others may be blessed and strengthened in response to our prayers.

So it isn’t a bad thing when a mother wishes to live long enough among her children so that she may help them to grow in their Christian faith.  And likewise, it isn’t wrong for a man to pray for longer life because he feels he still hasn’t fulfilled his life’s work that God has called him to perform.

You see, it is these very works, which God has both clothed and equipped you to do long ago within in the waters of your baptism.  In your baptism, God called you to be a witness of His grace and mercy to others so that they too might experience that same thing.  Even if others mistreat you and speak badly of you, your life and how you live it will be a testimony to them of God’s work and presence in their lives.  And when God moves them to see this truth, He will also move them to see the ultimate truth:  They are sinful and lost for eternity unless they seek the same God of mercy who has saved you!

We Christians are called to remain faithful and serve God and our neighbor at the very place where God has placed us.  As we serve, God is ever working to ensure that we are able to withstand all kinds of mistreatment and neglect from those who live among us, simply because we find our value and worth not in them but solely in the Word and promises of God.

When the day comes when God will finally call us home, we will go thankfully through the gates of eternal life and into the joy of the Lord that is waiting for us in paradise.  But until that time, God’s time, we know that we haven’t been  dressed up with out a purpose and with no where to go.  Our purpose is to serve our resurrected Savior Jesus Christ, and we go where ever He has determined.  And as we go, we also wait.  We wait for the Lord’s will and we live equipped by Him to carry out what ever His purpose is for us in this foreign land.

St. Paul writes: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.”  [Philippians 1:21-25]  May God move our hearts to live each moment of our lives with this very mindset as we testify to all who will receive our message, that “Christ has risen, indeed!”  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Behold, Your GOOD Shepherd!

Sunday, April 10th, 2016

Easter 3-HL, April 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message
NOTE: This is the recorder message as delivered at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

I am not your Good Shepherd, and neither are Pastors Shamburger nor Falemao Esera!  This may seem a lot like stating the obvious, but nevertheless, it must be stated, for you see, all we (including pastors) are like sheep who are prone to wander, but thanks be to God Who does not punish us for our tendency to wander off into the wilderness, but rather He has laid the iniquity of all of our sins upon this Supreme Shepherd, Jesus Christ!

The truth is, our little word “good” does not do justice to what Jesus refers to Himself as this morning in our gospel reading. In the Greek, that little word we call good in English, is actually to be taken more as the source of all goodness.  In other words, Christ is saying that He is the Supreme Shepherd.

Christ proves His supremacy as the Ultimate Good Shepherd through the Easter truth that we still celebrate and proclaim this morning, “Christ has risen!”  You see, it is Christ resurrection that declares that His goodness as the Shepherd of our souls, of our eternal lives, is above all other shepherds. Because God has “brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep,” He has become the Shepherd of us all.

God the Father has raised His Son and Servant from the dead, and He has sent Him to bless all of us who have been drawn by the Holy Spirit to relate to God by faith.  And now this Good Shepherd is everywhere, throughout our world, and He is seeking His lost sheep.  He has compassion upon the crowds in the streets, the people in the business world, the crowds that flock to some churches seeking entertainment and amusement instead of forgiveness; He is even with the broken hearted and discouraged who sit with us in the pews here at this church.

Why?  Because He cares for you; because He sees us as “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.”  He seeks to gather us all together that there may be one fold and only One Supreme Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd has given His life for the sheep, and therefore He is still our shepherd today, and He does this very thing “by the blood of the eternal covenant,” a covenant of redemption and forgiveness, which promises that all of us can be whole again.

Do all of us today who are being saved by God’s means and gifts of grace still need that work of the Good Shepherd?  Yes, absolutely, because “All we like sheep have gone and are still going astray,” but remember, like I stated earlier, God has laid the iniquity of us all upon the Supreme Good Shepherd.  He alone bore our sins upon the tree.  It is for this reason that we can confidently look to Him and trust in Him to be “the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls,” and this is true even for the most pitiful, ragged, and lost of us.

But how does all of this happen?  How can it even be possible?  For many people, all of the statements and promises of forgiveness and redemption found in Holy Scripture seem to good to be true.  Does this seem strange to you, that some refuse to believe, that they see no need for a Supreme Good Shepherd in their lives?  It shouldn’t.  You see, a lot of folks have experienced a lot of hurt and disappointment  at the hands of people who proclaim Christ as their Good Shepherd.  And because of this hurt, they keep themselves just out of reach of both “church people” and their Good Shepherd, simply because they don’t want to be hurt again.

Because of this hurt and disappointment, they can’t see how what they perceive to be an invisible Savior can help them.  They call Him invisible because they reject the means of grace that God has given to sinners to see with eyes of faith, and then they judge the “invisible” Shepherd by His very visible sheep, or even by His under shepherds.  They don’t understand that the sheep and the under shepherds are just like them, so very prone to wander off… lost and afraid, seeking direction and shelter from the evils without and within.

But Jesus’ Word is spoken today and always, so that we can all see Him as a very visible Shepherd who created each of us, even you, for Himself, to be a very visible church, a church with all of its issues that seem to define wandering sheep, yet together we are still called to be and to become His Church.  This church, this place you call “Trinity” is really Christ’s church, His voice, and His hands His feet that are used to seek out and save those who appear to us to not yet be part of His flock.  So, I hope that by now you can see that there is a very necessary relationship between the Great Shepherd, His under shepherds, and His sheep.

When Christ returned to heaven He had installed the apostles as His messengers and ambassadors. They were to continue His work, speak in His name, and forgive sins on His behalf.  And today, the Good Shepherd continues His work through the many shepherds; men whom He has called and commissioned, not only the apostles but also the countless number of men who have followed them as called and ordained pastors.

St. Paul speaks of how Christ has given us shepherds and teachers for the building up of His church, until we all attain the unity of the faith. [Ephesians 4:11]  He says to the “elders” or pastors at Ephesus, “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the church of the Lord which He obtained with His own blood.” [Acts 20:28]  Peter likewise admonishes the pastors to be shepherds for the flock of God which is under their care in such a manner that they may have their reward from the Chief Shepherd. [1 Peter 5:2]

So it is not a little thing if a called pastor seeks to get along through life as a Lone Ranger-sheep who does not need the help of his brother pastors.  And it is also not a small matter if the entire flock begins to wander from each other and the very means of grace that the Supreme Shepherd has put in place to hold them together as one, and protect them from the attacks of that wolf, the devil.

So it is also, a very important thing, that we constantly pray that the Supreme Shepherd would send us laborers into the harvest field, properly trained and called pastors, and that He would create in us both clean hearts and a desire to help our pastors go out into the mission field, seeking the very large abundance of wandering sheep, who are also frightened and lost.

These lost and wandering sheep are part of us too, whether they see that truth or not.  We know that our God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should repent and have eternal life.  It is not an easy mission that our Good Shepherd has asked us to join Him on.  You see, there are false teachers, hirelings popping up every where, and they are spreading their false teachings, teachings which simply confuse and scatter the wandering sheep even further; further from their Good Shepherd and His church.

So this morning, Christ is renewing His call to you the gathered sheep to be strengthened by His means of Grace, called and equipped in His Word, washed clean in the waters of Holy Baptism, and fed abundantly at His very table of mercy, to go out and gather.  Go out and invite any and all who are lost, found, or somewhere in between to come just as they are and be recreated, renewed, and restored.  We do this because Christ came for them too, and so shall we!

What We Believe About the Resurrection of the Dead

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

Easter 2-HL, April 3rd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

How are the dead raised?  And what kind of bodies do you think they’ll have when they’re resurrected up to eternal life? These are questions that are asked in the New Testament, and indeed they are questions that folks still ask today.  Listen to the answer that St. John gives in his first epistle: “Beloved, we are God’s children; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” [1 John 3:2]

“It does not yet appear.”

No one’s ever met a resurrected person, and you won’t until our earthly bodies that we currently live in are completely transformed at the resurrection of the dead.  The perishable must put on the imperishable and the mortal must put on the immortal.

There is only One who has done this.  At only one moment in history has this transformation been seen as a visible and tangible reality.  And this was the resurrection of Christ.  During the forty days after Easter the disciples met Him again and again in His resurrected form.

And “we know that we shall be like Him.”

Christ is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep,” the beginning of His church and His people.  Already we are members of His body.  We live by the bread which comes down from heaven, and one day we shall be partakers of His new, immortal life.

What kind of body did the Savior have after the resurrection?

Well, He wasn’t a spirit.  He had a real body that could be touched and seen.  Thomas was permitted to reach out his hand and touch the wounds that had been left by the nails.  He spoke with them as He had done before.  He ate in their presence.

But even though His presence was real, it was still not just an earthly body.  He could walk through closed doors.  He could vanish from their sight.  He could come to them when and how He wished.

The most important thing the Bible says about His resurrected body is this: “We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”  You see, He had clothed Himself with a body that belongs to the kingdom of God and to eternity.

There are “spiritual” bodies and “heavenly bodies,” just as real as ours, but they are free from our diseases, our pain, and our mortality.  Therefore that body is called a “glorified body.”  And to partake of Christ is to possess a “glorified body,” that is, to have His promise is to have a part in His life and to become like Him.  “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.”  Christ, “will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power which enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”

But how can we know that we are part of the lowly bodies that will be changed by Christ and subjected to His Kingdom of love?  Well what does our Epistle lesson say?

“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.”

Wasn’t it in your baptism where you were assured that you were born of God?  Weren’t you baptized into His name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  Was it not first there in those holy waters where the water, the blood, and God’s own Spirit testified to you that you were now His child through Christ with whom He was well pleased?

And what were you given there in those holy waters?  You were given two things; first you were given a new name and identity and second you were given the gift of faith; faith to believe that all that God speaks to you is true.  This faith is what overcomes the condemnation of the world.  Faith grabs hold of God’s own pronouncement of forgiveness of sins through Christ and it teaches you to see that this forgiveness even applies to your most grievous sins.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  It is you who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, crucified, resurrected, and ascended for you!

On the evening of the resurrection of our Lord, the apostles and disciples were hiding behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders.  The fear was this, as Christ died so surely must the disciples follow in kind.  Wouldn’t you be afraid?  And to this fear, Jesus appeared in their midst out of no where.  And what did He say to them?  Did He say, “Oh you miserable cowards.  Why did you abandon me at the cross?  Why are you hiding from mere men?  Shouldn’t it be God the Son that you should be afraid of?” No, that is not what He said.  But what did He say?  He said, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus is the only one who can both speak peace and give it.  His peace is perfect and it surpasses all of our understanding.  As He speaks, so He acts, and act He did.  What He did next is what He still does today.  “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [John 20:21-23]

In your baptism, you were given both the desire and the ability to forgive others just as you have been forgiven.

Jesus has given all of His disciples what the church has historically called “the Power of the Keys.” While it is true that only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7), you can rest easy knowing that God hasn’t given away that authority to us His disciples who make up the church. It is still Jesus who dismisses and who holds sins, yet by this act of His, He empowered His disciples, He empowered you as His agents—He speaks and acts through us. So we are by this very commission bound to forgive or not forgive sins completely in accordance with the will of Jesus. We can forgive, even better, we must forgive the sins of any and all persons who repent and believe, even if we don’t want to.  And conversely, we must hold the forgiveness of sins of all those who will not confess their sinful thoughts, words, and deeds by faith in the forgiving name of Jesus Christ.

Why do you suppose Jesus gave us this authority?  Did He also give us the ability to look into a person’s heart with direct and infallible vision so we could expose all of the hypocrites?  No, remember, His is a Kingdom of love and mercy.  He gave us this commission, so that we would live a life worthy of our calling as redeemed and forgiven sinners in both our confession of faith through words and our confession of faith in action, that is how we live our lives. And He gave us this commission so that we could be empowered to live lives that declare as a witness to all…

Christ has risen!  And as He has risen so shall I, and as I shall be raised to eternal life so can you, if you see a need and desire to believe in such a Savior as Jesus Christ the Son of God.  Repent then and be baptized, believe and become, persist and be resurrected unto eternal life in paradise.  Christ is risen… AMEN!

Indeed!

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Easter Sunday, March 27h , 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Here is a truth that you will hear proclaimed over and over again for at least the next six weeks: “Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!”  Indeed, that is the whole point of not just the season of Easter, but also the reason why both the church and you and I are still here.   We exist today to both live out and proclaim the truth that Christ has risen.  Here’s another truth that you won’t hear many people proclaim: The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ came as a complete surprise to not only his disciples, but even to His most blessed apostles.  Even though He had told them in many different ways that it would happen, they were not only “not prepared” for it, they didn’t believe it or couldn’t believe it when it happened.

The gospels witness this truth of surprise and disbelief for us; even our reading this morning in Mark 16:1-7.

The disciples and the apostles were confronted with the truth of the resurrection, and they were left in total confusion.  In the gospels we are not shown a group of Christians who jubilantly rushed to the tomb to confirm and celebrate, but instead we see a group of disturbed people confused and bewildered by what they thought were only rumors and misleading testimonies.  It was anything and every thing except what it should have been… Good News!

The women came to the tomb at dawn and found the tomb empty.  Mary Magdalene rushed away in confusion and brought Peter and John.  Meanwhile, the others met angels and heard the heavenly report, and then in their state of surprise, they went back into the city so excited and disturbed that they scarcely dared to tell the unbelievable news.

John and Peter came to the tomb and found the grave clothes and an empty tomb.  Only John had the feeling that something significant had happened.  Mary stood outside the tomb weeping, wondering who took the body of her Lord.  And there she met the resurrected Lord Himself, and with the help of the Lord she finally recognized Him.

Soon after this Jesus showed Himself also to the women who were on their way into the city.  And at last the whole group of disciples had heard the truth that Jesus had predicted many times before His death had finally come to fruition.

But even as they heard the proclamation they did not believe because they would not believe, and so they dismissed the report as simply idle talk.

Throughout the day Jesus sought out one after the other of His doubting disciples.

First it was Peter, then Cleopas and his friend on the way to Emmaus, and at last in the evening He greeted the whole group of disciples who were nervously locked together behind closed doors.

Now together with Jesus, their doubts are overtaken with amazement and a thousand questions at least.  The incredible had become a reality and their sadness was turned to joy.  Jesus had made good on His promise.  The impossible would now become their eternal reality… and our reality… Jesus overcame sin, death, and the devil!

This is the way it always happens when a group of eyewitnesses tell about some amazing and unexpected occurrence.

It is exactly the discernible surprise, the amazement, the confusion, and the many unexplained connections among the various gospel accounts to the truth and reality of it all, that we would expect to be reported.  If the story was made up, we would never find all of these strange and even embarrassing accounts, but as the reality of a historic event, this is exactly what we find!

The resurrection witnesses knew what they had to share… the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because it wasn’t their truth you see, it was the truth of God.  They were prepared to endure the scorn and ridicule that would come from the accusation that they had made the whole thing up.  They knew that they would have to face persecution.  In fact, the persecution they faced would come quickly in the form of beatings, crucifixions, stonings, and other barbaric forms of death, all because they refused to recant.

And what was the reason for their refusal to recant their witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:20

We all know, truthfully, just how small and insignificant we are without Jesus; without the Easter truth. We know how faithless we can be without God’s work in our lives.

For those of us who are still being moved to walk with and trust in Jesus real presence in our lives, we can truly say that we find our strength and our meaning in Him and His Word.  It’s His Word that’s our shield and our strength.  It’s His Word that gives our lives purpose and meaning.  As we live our lives here among people who we love but who are dying without faith in Jesus, we can only wait and trust that God will do the same work within them that He is doing within us.  And as we wait, we remember that we are the Lord’s little lambs and His servants.

We hear Him call out to us and we follow.  He faithfully leads us and feeds us with His Word as we repeat only what He speaks to us.  We hear His voice and we trust in none other.  And that voice faithfully gathers us to this place so that we can come to be faith-filled.  Thanks be to God!  Christ is risen, He is risen INDEED… Alleluia!!

Let Our Hosannas Ring!


Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Palm Sunday, March 20th , 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. ” [Zechariah 9:11, 12]

This morning, as we begin Holy Week, God wants us to ask this question about 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; 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 hands!” Deuteronomy 32:39]

Throughout the Old Testament, we seem to be reminded of one thing over and over again: God hates sins; big sins and little sins, all sin makes God angry with humankind. But why was God always so angry with His chosen people, the Israelites?

Again it was their sinfulness.  What was their 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 He declared.  And of course they did it when they created the golden calf to worship.  For these sins and many others, God seems to fill the pages of our Old Testament with warnings that He is going to judge His people.  In Deuteronomy 32, God challenges the Israelites 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]

Throughout the Old Testament, 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 Israelites in the Old Testament, 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 find ourselves trusting 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.  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!

All of these sins and many more are precisely what our text in Zechariah calls the waterless pit; a pit that holds us in bondage.  God has set you free from this pit of sins, and within our readings He tells you precisely how He has done this; He has allowed you to know Him in love and mercy.  And when you know Him this way, you become overtaken by His power, which transforms you from the inside out.

But how do we know God as He truly is?  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 cry out, “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 you, by dying for you!  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 on His way to the tomb.

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 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 God 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.

And so now, 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 also the faith to believe that Jesus died for each of us.

So it’s true, by the blood of a new and superior covenant, Christ has set each of you free.  By grace, which is yours only through His blood shed for you He shows you how your freedom was purchased.  By the washing of the water and His Word in your own baptism He shows you that you have been personally delivered from this bondage.

And to this good news, we can’t help but say hosanna to our Savior God because it is 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 every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  AMEN!

You Can Hear Him!

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 4C, April 20th, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [John 10:27]

As our nation gathers together to morn and sort out the events surrounding the terrorist attack against those gathered at the Boston Marathon, as our fellow country men, there and across this  great  nation gather for moments of silence and combined “all-faith” worship services, you have instead come here; to God’s house.  For most of you, this is not unusual, because you do the very  same thing most every Sunday.  For some who are visitors this morning at Trinity, or visitors to my website, you may be listening to or reading this sermon with the intent of trying to find some  comfort or perhaps find a higher purpose to all of the fear and suffering, let me repeat the Words of Jesus again: “My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Can you hear Jesus speaking to you in those Words?  If so, good!  Continue hearing; listen to His Words and you will find strength and comfort.  To those of you who may answer, “No” or  “I’m  not sure,” that is alright; you should continue to listen as well, because you see, it is only by listening to the Word of God that you will find faith and be able to hear the voice of Jesus’ speaking to  you.

A truth that is even sadder than the Boston carnage is the fact that there are many people in this world who will not not hear Jesus speaking to them.  They demand new proofs and evidence all  while dismissing the great proofs that have already been recorded for them.  It is as if they are calling out with unbelievers in our gospel lesson (John 10:22-30): “If you are the Christ, tell us  plainly.”  And as Jesus answered the unbelievers then, so He answers them today: “I (have) told you, and you do not believe.  The works I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” [John 10:25, 26]

Why don’t they believe?  Because they are not among Jesus sheep, so they don’t hear His voice.  But their lack of hearing; their lack of believing isn’t Jesus’ fault, it is their own.  Jesus speaks to them; He desires them to hear, but they will not.  They choose instead to hear many other voices that call out to us through out the world.  For instance…

They will hear the voice of Hedonism.  A voice that discourages higher learning and critical thinking, and instead encourages a generation of Reality T.V. to “Party on… eat, drink, and be merry!”  Or…

Then there is the voice of Materialism, which constantly pressures us to buy things.  “Buy, buy, buy” it says, “until you find contentment.  You deserve to be happy and experience the good life.”  And as we follow that voice, we become so caught up in acquiring more possessions, that those left in need, suffering in poverty go without, and finally die because we would not help.  And …

Then there is the voice of Narcissism—Self-centeredness that constantly encourages us to join in singing the hymn of all fallen and sinful creation: “It’s all about me; it’s all about I; it’s all about me oh my, oh my!”  Within this voice, are the various word of faith leaders and “possibility thinking” hucksters and philosophers who want us to “Tap into the great potential that is you!”  This voice really makes the voice of Christ unneeded, because if you believe their message, you can be your own savior!

And finally, there are the voices of the religious fanatics.  Their voice is perhaps the most dangerous, as they teach that change, their kind of change, must come from outside of a society, and it must come by force, fear, intimidation, and death if necessary.

So what voice are you really hearing?  Which voice has won your attention; has peeked your interest?  If it isn’t Jesus’ voice, then again I repeat, it is not Jesus’ fault.  He has spoken to you repeatedly, but you will not hear; you will not believe.  His works, His suffering and death upon the cross and His resurrection from the dead verify that He is the very Son of God.  The lives of Christians living in peace and seeking peace from others, with no fear of death is also proof that this Jesus is the risen Son of God.  He truly is the Good Shepherd who can provide mysterious gifts of comfort and security in times of turmoil.  The lives of Jesus’ little lambs proves that He really does care for His sheep.  All of this proves that…

His sheep really do hear His voice.  Jesus tells you this morning that: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” [Vs. 27]  Jesus sheep always hear Him speak.  While it is true that they don’t always listen, or follow, they do always hear.  And when they wander, for we sheep of Jesus are prone to wander, He leaves the secure and safe 99 sheep to bring His lost little lamb back into the fold, which is His church.  He brings us back in the same means that He first saved us, with His voice.  And within that voice, we sheep hear the content of that voice, we hear the gospel Word, you are forgiven; come home.

To those this morning, who are not His sheep, either because they never have been or have chosen to wander away, Jesus speaks the gospel call this morning to become one of His little lambs.  This morning Jesus tells them who and what they really are without Him, “You are not my sheep.  You have not been saved from the coming judgment.”  But He also tells them who they will become if they listen; if they allow the Words and the voice to give them faith.  To those sheep who are caught up in the sound of another voice, Jesus promises that if they will hear Him speak forgiveness of sins and new life, “I (will) give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all (other teachings and voices), and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” [Vs. 28, 29]

“But how can this be true,” some may ask?  And to this Jesus speaks Words of mystery, but Word’s that also give faith: “I and the Father are one.” [Vs. 30]

Do you hear the mystery that is God?  God exist as One, yet in a very intimate and close relationship of persons—Father, Jesus the Son of God, and Spirit, and you have been or are invited to be brought into that relationship through baptism.  If you have wandered away, you are invited back into the church.

Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God you are guaranteed that not only does God the Father know you but He loves you; He becomes your Father.  You are recognized and you will always recognize Him because you will know the voice of your Good shepherd when He calls.  You need never be alone or afraid in this world, because God is with you.  And with the rod and staff of His Word, He leads and protects you.  With that same Word He gives you cool drink and green secure pasture.

In His Word He invites you to His banquet table, where you feast on His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, where he satisfies a hunger and thirst that can only be satiated at His table; it is a feast of complete forgiveness and strong faith in your God Who alone is your Good Shepherd.

Imagine that you are walking on a street within our community and there in the driveway of a home are three little children getting ready to climb inside the family’s mini-van.  The van is packed with luggage and coolers.  The father is just about to close the rear door for departure and the mother is locking the front door of the home.  Obviously, they are going on a trip.

You walk up to the little children and you ask: “Where are you going?”  Wide eyed they stare back at you, silent.  They don’t know.  “What highway will you take?”  Again, no answer.  Where are you going to have dinner tonight?”  No response.  Then you ask what in their minds is the only question that matters: “Who are you going with?”  Now there eyes light up, their faces break into smiles.  “With Mommy and Daddy!” they exclaim.

Dear friends, your life lies ahead of you.  There are many unknowns, even many dangers that are ahead of you.  For many of the questions you have in life, like the whys and how comes, you for now, will get no answers.  But you do have “The Answer” with you always.  Jesus is with you and He has already called out to you with the Words “Follow Me!”  He has promised to be by your side every step of the way.  And because of this truth, for you His little lambs, eternal life isn’t something you enter when you die; no, you are in it right now!  And His means of grace, His Word and Sacraments are what sustain you every day in this world of uncertainty.

The sign of the cross at the beginning of our service helped us recall our baptism, which is a “spring of living water” for us.  Therefore we “hunger and thirst no more.” [Revelation 7:16]  And at His Holy Supper you again will receive life giving food, which for us, is a foretaste of the feast to come.  Therefore, we join in with all of the company in heaven robed in white praising our God around His throne.

You are forgiven.  God has raised Jesus from the dead and your redemption is assured.  Now Christ calls you—His sheep and His witnesses—to follow Him.  You do hear Him!  Now, what shall you do?  AMEN!

Press on Towards the Goal!

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

December 31, 2009 (New Year’s Eve)

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message
 

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus..”[Philip. 3:13b-14]

 INTRODUCTION: I think that all of us this evening can hear these Words, and say a loud Amen!  But then again, we might hear them and say, “If only it was that easy.  If only I could forget the past and just be joyful about what lies ahead!”  Is it really that easy?  Can we really forget the pain, mistakes and sins of 2009 and realistically be optimistic about 2010?  St. Paul answers with a resounding yes, and this evening he’ll not only tell us why, but he’ll also tell us how!

 In our epistle lesson this evening, Paul is writing to the Church in Philippi; it’s a pastoral letter that he worte to thank them for their continuing Christian love, but he also wants to warn them about a two prong attack that is threatening their future; it was quickly moving from church to church, with the aim of ruining the faith of young Christians, a faith that rested in Christ alone.  This two prong attack was actually two different groups.  One group was openly against the Law of God and the other group was trying to convince the gentile Christians that they needed to embrace not just the Jewish culture but also the Levitical laws (specifically circumcision), if they really wanted to be saved. Today, these two groups still exist today, and they still are a threat to many congregations.

I. Against the Antinomians (Faith without works is dead)—In the preceding chapters of his letter, Paul attacked the doctrine of those who claimed that God’s Holy Law no longer applied to Christians.  To correct this lie, Paul provided some harsh truth.  His first counter-attack was intended to defend a Christian’s obligation to serve their neighbor and each other out of love.  Paul not only upheld God’s commandments, but he also adds these wonderful words, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” [Philippians 2:3 – 4] And, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” [Philippians 2:5-8]  But Paul doesn’t stop there, he also says in regards to our Christian service we should Do all things without grumbling or questioning,” [Philippians 2:14and he adds that this can only be done because it is God’s will in baptized Christians, to provide both the desire and the ability to do good works.  

What Paul is saying is this: True Christians will always do good works; they just can’t help it.  Those who say that they are a Christian, but have no proof or fruit of faith in their lives are in and of themselves proof that they aren’t what they claim to be; DON’T FOLLOW THEM.  DON’T BE A LIP SERVICE CHRISTIAN!  This is the consistent message throughout God’s Word.  A message that clearly declares that good works will always flow from a faith that trusts solely in God’s mercy as shown through the Messiah, His Son Jesus Christ.

ILLUSTRATION: The United States Senate has a tradition of talking something to death.  It’s called a filibuster. Even when the talk is not officially a filibuster the spirit of the filibuster lives on in that place every day.   Talk, talk, talk, and all the while nothing but self-serving legislation seems to become law, and what is the result?  The people pay, while others play.  Sadly, sometimes congregations can be reduced to something like a filibuster. People talk and dream about what the church should do, but very few are willing to put the ideas into practice.  In the end, very little is done and needs remain unmet.

Our Lord speaks to those who profess faith without action in our gospel lesson this evening when He says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.[Luke 20:9-20]  There will always be some who talk a good game, but have nothing to show for their supposed faith.  In the end they will answer to Christ, who will say, “Depart from me.  I never knew you!”

Paul said that good works and love for God and neighbor will flow naturally from a Christian.  In fact, Paul taught that a person led by faith in Christ should be willing to die performing acts of love towards God and neighbor rather than abandoning them.  Listen to Paul’s own words concerning this very point: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.[Philippians 2:17 – 18]  Paul was of course referring to his own approaching death as a result of proclaiming and living out his faith in Christ. 

The truth is friends, Paul wasn’t ashamed of Jesus, because Jesus wasn’t ashamed to call him, and Jesus is not ashamed to call you and me as well.  Jesus bore on His body the punishment we deserve. His good work of saving the world from sin looked like foolishness to the world in Paul’s time, and it still looks the same to the world in our own time. Jesus said and did many things that the world considers offensive. He called a thing what it was.  If it was shallow lip-service faith, He said so! He showed the Pharisees, the Jewish rulers, and the Romans what true righteousness was; He exposed their phony faith that lacked the fruits of repentance and forgiveness. His “consistent” good works made Him public enemy number one. Even when He hung on the cross to pay for your sin He was ridiculed as a fool. Yet what looks foolish to the world is wisdom to the child of God. The words of the worthy prophets were proven true. God is near His people and not afar off. God is as near as the tree of the cross, the tree that bears good fruit.  And it’s that very tree that Paul stayed close to, even when he knew that it would cost him his life. 

II. Against the Judiaizers (Jesus Plus Nothing)—Well, let’s move on to the second threat to the church at Philippi—those who felt that Christ’s sacrifice, His grace wasn’t quite enough to ensure someone a place in heaven at Jesus side.  They said, “No brother, that’s not quite enough! You need to include with your faith in Christ the rite of circumcision and the fulfillment of some other Jewish rules.  Today, that spirit of legalism is still trying to lead the faithful astray—it rears its ugly head in any person or organization that presents a doctrine called Faith in Jesus PLUS!  It could be faith in Jesus plus tithing; faith in Jesus plus acts of contrition; or faith in Jesus plus faithful church and Sunday School attendance.  Paul called these kinds of people Judiaizers and mutilators.  They want to cut the skin but God desires that their hearts be cut.  He wants them to be cut to pieces over their sinfulness.  He wants them to see how lost they are and how badly they need a Savior, but these mutilators only like to impose pain on others, while ignoring their own hopeless condition.  St. Paul warns the church at Philippi about these people when he says, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. [Philippians 3:2] St. Paul is warning them, and he is warning us, ‘Look out for anyone who brings to you a gospel that is Jesus plus this or that.  Look out for anyone who brings you a gospel that includes anything but faith in Christ alone!

III. Living for the moment and for the future—Friends, the true gospel always reveals God’s love and mercy to those who deserve neither of them.  It’s foolishness to the world because it’s been provided by a man who is also God, Jesus the Christ.  Yes it’s foolishness to those who are dying—those who persist in ignoring God’s Holy Law and those who wish to add to Christ’s gift of grace, but to those who believe, it is amazing!

In our Epistle reading this evening Paul began with a fairly impressive biography about his early adult life.  He did this to silence the voice of the dogs that were prowling; waiting to attack the church at Philippi.  At first, it might seem that Paul was presenting himself as a super-human, one who far surpassed the phony credentials of the false teachers, but then he added something incredible, he said that all of his accomplishments were garbage, just trash when compared to the unfathomable wealth he had acquired once he knew Jesus Christ as his Lord, Savior, and God!  He said that he had gladly traded his own accomplishments for those of Jesus Christ, who was crucified on a tree.  Why?  Because of God’s gift of faith!  Paul said that through faith, he gladly suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of his own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ.  Why?  So that He might know him and the power of His resurrection!

When Paul wrote this epistle, he most likely got to a certain point and thought, ‘Will these good people in Philippi think that I am now finished running my race in life?  Will they believe that my walk of faith is finished and I can “glory” and rest in my accomplishments?’  That wasn’t the impression He wanted to make, and to be sure that this didn’t happen he wrote: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.  Brothers I do not consider that I have made it my own.”  Paul made it clear from his prison cell that he still had a lot to do and to teach concerning the Christian faith and his own Christian walk.  His message was and still is, that while it is God who works salvation for us, we must continue working out that reality; we all must become what God has already declared that we are—perfect,  holy, and righteous!  We must continue our walk of faith, which is also many times a walk of pain, shame, and testing, because it’s also a walk of joy!  Its joy, because we’ve been assured that our life of faith is really a walk through the same veil of tears that Jesus walked.  It’s all joy, because we know that the closer that we come to our goal the sooner we will receive the prize!

CONCLUSION:  Friends, listen to how St. Paul closed our epistle lesson this evening: “I press on toward the goal—for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Do you know what that upward call of God in Christ Jesus is?  It is the promise of victory over the grave, it’s the very promise God made to you in your Baptism; a promise that ensures you that you one day you will rise from the dead just as he had.  To those of us who are burdened with fear of sin, death, and the devil, these are the sweetest words we could ever hear.  What better New Year’s resolution could any of us make this year?  Let’s resolve to press on towards the goal—towards the prize of heaven that is ours through Christ Jesus! As we do this, Jesus assures us we WILL have a very blessed 2010!