Posts Tagged ‘Baptism’

Is Salvation a Work of God Or Not?

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

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

Click here for audio of this message

“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” [Ezekiel 18:2]

Another way of saying that is, “How dare you say that God is not a just God.” Have you ever found yourself questioning God; accusing Him of allowing things to happen that were not fair towards you or your family? That was the situation that surrounded Our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 18:1–4, 25–32), which is essentially a conversation between God and His children of faith, the nation Judah, through the prophet Ezekiel. They were the last remnant of Israel, and they were being led out to Babylon and into captivity. And as they were saying goodbye to their old lives, they were accusing God of punishing them for the sins of their Fathers; the national sins of the past. In essence, the people were accusing God of being unfair. Behind their complaint was the idea they were not as guilty as their fathers had been and didn’t deserve being exiled into Babylon. By quoting that proverb, they meant to say: “Our fathers sinned and the children have to suffer the consequences.”

So, in the words of Michael Turko (an investigative TV reporter in San Diego, CA), “It ain’t right!” But God will not let this accusation of being unjust or unfair, go unanswered. Listen…

“As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” [Vs. 3,4]

I think we tend to forget that the wages or payment for sin is death. But we like to measure or quantify sins don’t we? Don’t we like to think that a little sin is not as bad as a lot of sin? You know how we think: There’s big sins and then there’s my sins!

Don’t we like to think that our sins aren’t nearly as bad as say the sins of an extremist group like ISIS? Ok, that’s a little extreme so let me give you a somewhat easier example of how we play with this idea of grading sins, and how we affix blame to other people’s sins.

On December 11, 2008, Bernard Madoff was arrested by FBI agents and charged with one of the most devastating violations of Security Fraud ever committed against numerous financial agencies; it left thousands of investors broke, and it was the beginning of the great recession, which we are only now beginning to rise out of. In a kind of ripple effect, bad mortgage loans have been foreclosed and are still being foreclosed today and home loans are harder to come by, thus restricting access to the American middle class dream of home ownership. So, in a sense, our teeth are set at edged because of the sins of Bernie Madoff. We don’t have a problem with Bernie paying for his sin, but it doesn’t seem fair that nearly ten years later, we are still paying for his and other peoples greed.

Did God allow Bernie Madoff to commit that great crime? Yes. Did God cause Bernie Madoff or anyone else who commits a crime, to sin? No, but God does punish sin. That punishment will come in eternity and there is no reprieve once it has been instituted. But while sinners wait for that eternal penalty, or judgment of sin, we all suffer the temporary repercussions of that sin within the world that we live in. Scripture makes it clear that these temporary discomforts caused by our sin or other peoples sins are nothing in comparison to the eternal punishment that awaits all unrepentant sinners!

So what is the solution? Is there a way out of this mess we call sin, or are we bound to it and it’s inevitable conclusion, like the collision of a train plowing through a vehicle stuck on the tracks? Well, in verses 30 through 32, God gives us not only hope, but a solution to our sin problem. Listen…

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” [Vs. 30-32]

Now O Christians you stand before a righteous judge; the Judge who knows your every sin; nothing is hidden from Him. He has shown you that by your sin, through every sin, you are guilty of breaking the very first commandment. You love yourself more than you love God. You have made your own desires the master of your soul. And our Righteous God, our Creator judges you guilty and worthy of an eternal sentence of suffering and death. How do you plea? You must be honest if you hope for any leniency! If you plead guilty, then listen to your only hope. “Repent O Christian. God does not desire the death of anyone, let alone one who has been purchased by the lifeblood of His Only Begotten Son!”

You see friends, Christianity is not a movement, an organization, or an attitude. It is a relationship between God and an individual person, and it’s based on your faith in God’s only provision of mercy, Jesus Christ the Savior from sin. God is asking each of you to respond to what the Lord has given you in Christ, and then daily ask Him to help you live a life that reflects the righteousness that Jesus has given you. And so It becomes true, the righteous man “lives,” that is, he exists and will continue to do so under the blessings of God.

To attempt to base our relationships with God on ourselves without Jesus is to tell God that we think Christ’s work is neither necessary nor beneficial. Such a misguided life can take any track it wants, but it is always headed away from the Lord and his blessings and waiting for the inevitable collision with eternal judgment. But there is a solution to this sinful life style, and it is one of repentance and baptism.

How you live out this new baptismal life will depend on how you answer this next question. Is baptism a work of God or man? Is salvation a gift from God or is it something you earn?

This is in essence the question that was set before the Pharisees in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 21:23-32) and it is the question set before every Christian today.

How you answer this question will not only effect how you live your life today but even how you spend your eternity. Let me ask that question in another way, “Do you want to risk your eternity on your own efforts, trying to outweigh your sins with your own “good deeds”, like some kind of ponzie scheme, or do you want to take God’s promises by faith and rest in and trust them alone?

You see friends, Baptism isn’t simply a custom of the church, but rather its a divine ordinance, the only way that God has provided so that sinners can be saved from their sins, and it stands in force until the Last Day. It is for all people no matter how early or late in life they embrace this wonderful means of grace. It is equal to the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of God’s Word. Jesus made them equal in force and power with His command: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” [Matt. 28:19–20)

As God’s solution to sin and His means of allowing us to stand before Him and be pardoned and given a new life in Christ, He has protected this holy washing of water and His Word and ensured that Christ’s church would continue this sacrament, which Jesus instituted before He ascended into heaven. Since the day of Pentecost, we hear of this Holy Sacrament being offered to sinners who desired to be saved from their sins. Listen to Peter’s proclaimed solution to the people’s sin: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Dear Christian friends, above all else that you hear today, please remember this, Baptism is a means of grace.

It is God’s means of removing your old sinful identity and replacing it with the perfect identity of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. It creates faith in God who comes to you with His solution to your sin, which is the suffering and death of His Son upon the cross for the sins of the world. In other words, Baptism is God’s means of making you sinless and exempt from both the judgment and the punishment you deserve for your many sins. Or as the Apostle Peter declared “Baptism… now saves you also.” [1 Peter 3:2]

In your baptism, God put your sinful nature to death, by joining it in Baptism to Christ’s death. He buried that old nature in Christ’s tomb, the only place where He no longer looks. And then, miracle of miracles, He raises you up to new life as his child. Your old self is crucified in Baptism by God’s Word, and in this death that Christ shares with you, you die to sin every day as you continue to hear that same Word, and are set free from the punishment of your many sins. So, through your baptismal death and resurrection, you have been given new life. [Rom. 8:17]

So I ask you, is God fair? Do you prefer His means of grace, His way of dealing with the sins of the world, even your sins, or do you prefer that He punish all people according to their sins? If you prefer the way of His grace, then can you see baptism as His means of grace? Do you see it as a mystery or sacrament of His love for sinners or do you prefer to earn your forgiveness and work for your salvation? In essence, “Is Baptism a work of God or a work of man?” May God give you faith to see the answer clearly as you ponder the mystery and work of His Son Jesus Christ within His church and indeed, within your very life… AMEN!

What Are You Seeking?

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Epiphany 2A, January 15, 2017
Sanctity of Life Sunday
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

WMLTThis morning, Jesus turns to each of us and asks us, “What are you seeking?” [John1:38] I know that you are seeking something, because that is the fate of us all. We are born into this life seeking something greater and stronger than ourselves. And within this natural state of seeking, this world that surrounds us and desires to mold us gladly tells us what we should seek. And what is it that we are told to seek? Something, anything that makes us happy, fulfills us, and gives us a sense of self worth.

When we are born we simply seek food in our bellies and a dry diaper. As we become a little older we seek to learn and know as much a we can about our family, school, and neighborhood. And still we grow, and our desires, the things we seek grow as well. We desire to be popular; to fit in. We may discover things like academics, sports, music, alcohol, drugs, sex, and status fit the bill, and still we seek something more; always seeking and never really knowing what it is that will fulfill us. Why is that? Because…

We have a big problem that keeps getting in our way… sin! 

Because of our sin, we do not love as we should, and we do not fear God as we must.  You could say that as well intentioned as we may be, by nature we are sinful and unclean; we are disobedient to the core!  We seek things that please ourselves and not God or others. So what is the solution?

We must be overtaken by the true obedient servant of God; that is the Son of God must come to us, redeem us and teach us every day what it means to be redeemed, that is saved from our sins.

In our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 49:1-7), we are allowed to enter into a conversation between God the Father and the Son of God, who for us men and for our salvation, came to us as Jesus Christ, to be one of us in order to save us from our sins, and teach us what obedience to the will of God is.

So many people will willingly confess Jesus Christ as their Savior and God, but moments later, they’ll go about living their lives as they see fit, and not how God demands.  They will jump on board of whatever social idea is popular, just to avoid being singled out and being forced to defend their faith and the truth of God’s Word.

Today is national Right to Life Sunday.  You have a wonderful hand-out that you can take home and read, and perhaps consider supporting with your time, talent, or treasure.  It is a cause that is Biblical and clear.  Life begins at conception.  But that is not what society says.  And what do they say?  Well, the truth is they can’t agree when life begins.  So instead of having a real discussion on the matter, a discussion that we Christians want to be part of, they simply cite a Supreme Court ruling (Roe v. Wade), and they claim that the unborn child is part of the pregnant woman’s body, just as her breasts are part of her body.  And just as we’ve see recently in the news, that there are women of high profile and great wealth who are having their breasts surgically removed because of a high propensity to acquire breast cancer, so we too, see women aborting their pregnancy because there is an even higher propensity that these children if born, will change their lives forever.  We all know the arguments for having an abortion, so there is no need to bring them up this morning.  No, what we need to hear is what God thinks about these unborn children.  So what does He say?

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, we see a couple of things right off the bat: God calls children from the womb and God knows them by name; they are His servants.

Now, some may be thinking, “Hold on just a minute there pastor; that Old Testament lesson is talking about Jesus, the Son of God.” 

And to that, I will say, “Congratulations, you are one step closer to seeing things God’s way.”  Yes, that scripture is about the Servant of God, the Son of God, but it is also about Jesus, the Son of Mary.  Born of a woman and suffered on this earth as all of us know suffering and pain.  Why is that important?  Remember that I told you that because of our sin, one of our biggest problems is disobedience?  Well, Jesus did not have that problem; He was obedient even at the expense of His life. And it is this same Jesus who asks you once again, “What is it you are seeking?”

Now to help us understand what we really are seeking, Jesus as the Obedient Servant in our Old Testament lesson says, “Listen” and the next Words He speaks are “pay attention.”  Who is the Son of God talking to?  He is talking to everyone who is far away from God.  He is talking to us because we have a sin problem!  Aside from the call He received within the womb of His mother, He tells you how His flesh was created; it was created to give witness to God through the words of His mouth.  Words that were like sharpened swords.  Have you ever heard the saying, “The truth hurts?”  God’s truth, which is the Law is suppose to hurt!  In fact, it is suppose to kill.  You are suppose to hear what God says about sin and agree that He is right and that you and society are wrong, and then God wants you to hear and receive His solution to your sin problem.

The solution of course is God’s obedient servant Jesus Christ, who exchanges His obedience for your disobedience.  To the world, this Servant of God was on a fool’s errand.  And as proof they will point you to the servants own words in verse 4: “I have labored in vain (that is for no purpose); I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity”.  That is what the world believes, and for a moment that is how Jesus felt as He hung upon the cross between to criminals and experienced for the first time in eternity His separation from the Father and the Spirit.  So painful was the separation that He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  But Jesus knew why He was forsaken; He was forsaken for you.  His cry should rightly be your cry, because of your great sins and your continued disobedience.  But shortly after His cry of fear and pain, we hear Him speak the gospel, the hope of sinners and gentiles.  “It is finished.” Their debt of sin has been paid in full. “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

Here, in this moment of death, Jesus the Christ, points your eyes of faith to God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and He shows you what you must seek.  And then He calls for you to look upon His agony and death and see Him as the Father’s only Son, your Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”  But why?

So that you would understand these next words from our Old Testament reading: “What is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.  And now the Lord says—He who formed me in the womb to be His servant to bring Jacob back to Him and gather Israel to Himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—He says, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant (and only) restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles (that is all disobedient sinners) that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

So Jesus “descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

Now, hear a Word that is simultaneously both Law and Gospel.  You will be judged!  If you find your peace and happiness in this willfully sinful world, which is outside of the Obedient Servant’s grace, you will know only eternal damnation, that is separation from God forever.  But because your eyes of faith are continually fixed upon the cross of Jesus, the Servant who alone is obedient, even unto death, you are saved.  You are judged one with Jesus.

Jesus is your light, your source of hope and peace with God because He alone has taken away your sins, and in your baptism He has washed you clean and made you right with God the Father, His Father and now yours.  Jesus is your Redeemer.  You who were once sold into sin as it’s slave are free.  You, who once knew only eternal misery because of your bondage, now know by faith that the sinless Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, has even taken away your sin.  Because of the Lamb of God, the Obedient Servant, you now have peace with God.  You lack nothing!

Just a Jesus invited the first apostles to follow Him with the Words, “Come and see,” so too, you have been called out of darkness into the wonderful gospel light of grace.  As God ensured that you would hear and keep on hearing the message of the Gospel, which alone is the light for all gentiles, He now asks you to throw in with that work.  He has called you to be a witness.  A witness is nothing more than one who reports what He has experienced.  He speaks the truth, even if the truth hurts, but He speaks the truth in love.

Yes, we are all witnesses, but we are also ambassadors.  We are to speak the message that God declares to the gentiles who are lost in sin.  What is that message?  Repent, that is turn to God and know His forgiving love.  Know that there is no sin so great that God can not nor will not forgive through His grace, which is yours through Jesus Christ, if you will not reject it.

This grace, this fullness of life is for all people, even the unborn; and mystery of mysteries, even for the unborn who have been aborted and their mothers who still grieve over that decision.  God knows each of us, even in our darkest moments, even in our mother’s womb.  He knows and He loves us all with an abundant love through Jesus Christ.  None of us deserve this love, and none of us will ever be able to live up to the standard of this love, but it does not mean we won’t try.  When we look at the birth, life, and death of Jesus, the Son of God, we can also see our lives knitted right into His.  We remember that the Lord looks beyond appearances, and He asks us to do the same.  As we listen to or read His Word, He tells us always about His Obedient Servant who was despised and abhorred by society.  And He tells us that His servant was also our Servant, and His service has become ours.  He reminds us that things are not what they seem to be.

Today Christ’s church faces frustration and what appears to be failure. 

Our membership declines and society is more hostile than ever to those who speak God’s truth.  All of our witnessing and effort seems to be done in vain.  We know that we are not innocent in regards to blame; things we have done and even the many things we have left undone have contributed greatly to the apparent failure of the church.  We have not been that city on a hill, that bright light unto the gentiles.  Yet, we are reminded that just as we are, we lack nothing in regards to God’s gifts of grace, which are ours through God’s Obedient Servant, because we are the body of Christ!
Together, we testify to God’s salvation as His wounded and scarred body, which is often rejected and scorned.  But we know that our labor, the giving of our time, talent, and treasure is not in vain.  We know that just as God the Father was faithful to His servant Jesus and raised Him from the dead, so too we live and bear witness to this gospel hope for us in Christ alone.

May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit keep us in this great epiphany hope, the mystery hidden for ages but now revealed through Christ Jesus our Lord… AMEN!

God’s Compassion Comes in the Water and the Word

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Baptism of Our Lord-A, January 8, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

baptism-holy-spiritWe just finished singing that we are “God’s own Child.” As sinful as we are and through no work of our own, God has declared and we have declared and sung right along with Him that through God’s Compassion and the waters of our baptism, we have been taken out of the reign of sin, death, and the devil, and translated or transferred into the Kingdom of God… Paradise. How did this happen? Well that is what we will discover in our message this morning.
God’s Compassion first comes in the form of a warning.

Picture if you will, thousands of people being moved and gathered at the banks of the Jordan river by the Word of God, through the preaching of John the Baptizer. Most of them have been cut to the very soul, because God has shown them their many sins, but He’s also promised that because of their repentance, that is because they have turned to God for salvation, He alone will wash them clean! Now I said most of them had been moved by the Word, but a notable few hadn’t! They were the Pharisees, the hypocritical teachers of the Law! They loved to point out other people’s sins while conveniently ignoring their own. To these few who are gathered at the banks of the Jordan, John shouts out, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath and judgment of God that’s coming? (Do you really want this baptism? Then) Bear fruit (true fruit that comes only through) repentance. [Matthew 3:7-8]

Wow! Right away we know that this baptism business is serious business, and why wouldn’t it be? You see, it is the business of God and any business of God’s is ALWAYS serious business! So why was Jesus there? What did He want with this baptism? This is a baptism of confession, repentance, and forgiveness of sins, and now Jesus has come to the same place, why? And a shocked John asks this exact thing when he says, “I (myself) need to be baptized by you, and (you are coming) to me?”

Do you hear the confession of the very one who is performing the blessed Sacrament? John had just proclaimed that while He was baptizing with water for repentance, there was one who was coming soon after Him Who is mightier than Him, Whose sandals He was not worthy to untie. He said that this one would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire! He warned that when this One would come, He would bring judgment and the punishment of Hell’s fire with Him. And now here He stands waiting His turn at the font of forgiveness? So John was saying in essence, “For some unknown reason, God has chosen a wretched sinner like me to give this gift of forgiveness to other sinners, which I don’t understand but am obediently doing; if you were here to perform this miraculous sacrament on me, I would understand, because You are the only one who could wash others of their sins and yet have no need to be washed Yourself. But now You ask me to wash what is already pure and holy, why? I don’t understand Lord!”

This was John’s conundrum and it is also a stumbling block for many today. Here the Creator and judge of all sinful flesh comes as promised, but not as One who baptizes with the Spirit and fire of judgment, but as a passive recipient of John’s own baptism. Why?
Jesus quickly reassures John and us that all is going as God desires through His answer.

“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” [15a] Friends, do you want to know along with John why Jesus is at the banks of the chilly and cold Jordan? Do you want to know why He who has no sin or need of baptism steps into those life cleansing waters? He does it to fulfill all righteousness. But what does that mean?

Well, it means, that God through Jesus Christ has broken into our sinful reality to do what He said all along He would do, save us from our own sinfulness. John’s message of repentance was direct and true, God would come through Jesus Christ to judge and punish sinful man, but first He would come through Jesus Christ to save sinful man. Before Jesus comes with power and might, He must come in lowliness to be baptized by John. Here we begin to understand the true ministry and mission of Jesus first for the Jews and then for you and me. Jesus comes as was declared long ago; He comes as Emmanuel… God with us! Remember, John declared and asked, “I need to be baptized by You, and You YOURSELF are coming to me?” And to this Jesus answers, “Of course I am! I’m Emmanuel and that is my mission. I have come to you and I will stay with you, and if you’ll let me I will save you!

What John didn’t understand, many still don’t; Jesus who is the One who was promised to come and be judge and punisher for sins is also the One who comes as the descendant of David to bring comfort to God’s people. He comes with the Balm of Gilead to heal the sin sick hearts. He comes as the compassionate, humble sin-bearer. He comes to fulfill all righteousness.

What does it mean to fulfill or enact the scriptural plan of all righteousness? It means that God’s compassion and real presence have broken into our sinful reality. It means that God’s mighty act of creation has come to us for re-creation. Jesus who is the God-man will not only repeat John’s message of repentance, but He will also make it come true in the hearts of many by giving Himself in both power and might! Friends, when Jesus stepped into those waters God was beginning to act, and God’s promised righteousness among us had begun to be fulfilled once John baptized Jesus.

And what is God’s righteousness? It is His saving act that He performs on behalf of all the people on this earth. It is God accomplishing what we could not; in God’s righteousness He gives you an eternally clean heart! Jesus Himself will perform all righteousness, that is, He will begin God’s act of salvation for His people by literally standing with sinners, taking the place of sinners, and receiving from John what only sinners need to receive. Ultimately, by stepping into those waters, Jesus was committing Himself to all that Holy Scripture foretold about our Messiah. When He stepped into the waters, He was really laying down at the cross! When Jesus went into the waters of the Jordan He was the sinless One. When He left those waters, in a sense He left bearing all of our sins… all of your sins! And from those waters He methodically proceeded over the course of three years to the cross. And at the cross, the sinless One would offer up His own life as a ransom payment in your place.

John was obedient even though God’s plan was a great mystery to Him. And because of His obedience, God confirmed to Him and to us who read this gospel today, that everything is going according to God’s plan. And after “Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” [vs. 16]

This opening up of the heavens is hard for us to understand.

I like to think of it as something like our picture in a picture technology we have in our televisions. Somehow a window was opened and for a brief moment we were allowed to see what one day we will see eternally; heaven and earth become one! This opening of the heavens to Jesus signals to John and to us that John’s proclamation of the end times and judgment are coming, but only at God’s prescribed moment. And what of the dove descending upon Jesus? Well we know that through this open window into heaven that answer was clear; it was God the Holy Spirit who would forever be with the flesh of God the Son and within and among even our own flesh. And in our own baptism the very same Holy Spirit descends upon us and begins to live in us, and with His presence, He also brings to us God’s compassion; the heart of Jesus Christ!

It is Jesus Christ who comforts all those who are contrite and mourning because of their own sinfulness! Jesus who is God’s Son from eternity friends has come to you; He takes on your own flesh and even your sins, and now confirms that God has come to us. And He does this by declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” [vs. 17b]

But what does this mean for us? Well it means dear friends, that God has come to you personally in the waters of your own baptism! Through simple water, God’s promises of Salvation through His Word are applied to you in a miraculous way; in a way that gives you peace with God first and then peace with each other. And behind this peace is your new nature. A new nature recreated with the Compassion and heart of Jesus Himself.

When you consider that God, in Jesus, has been about the work of helping the helpless — and by God’s definition, that includes you and me, because we matter to Him — it makes perfect sense that God would have a heart for the literal poor in this world.
And as followers of Jesus, so should we.

Now, certainly there are all kinds of reasons I could come up with for not getting involved with caring for the poor, reasons like, you know, others have the appropriate experience and resources to do a better job. Or, there is so much poverty in this world, how in the world can I, as one person, ever hope to make any kind of significant difference? And, you know, there may be some truth, in fact, to the hesitancies that we have to reach out to the poor. But again, the bottom line, more than anything is that the heart of Christ lives in you, and that heart is a compassionate one! In other words, Jesus is always adjusting your heart so that it is more like God’s heart.

Jesus Word always seems to work towards filling us with Compassion, of giving grace to others as we have received that grace. Jesus said, “I came not to be served, but to serve.” So should you. “Love one another,” He said, “just as I have loved you.” “Whatever you do to the least of these, you in turn do it to Me.” In so doing, Jesus knew we would begin to develop a heart that reflects the image of God’s heart for all people.
We’re calling today’s service “Compassion Sunday” because we’ve created a connection with Compassion International. Compassion is an organization that works throughout the world. There are 17,000 children waiting to be sponsored. And that sponsorship means that they eat in a healthy way; they have education opportunities provided for them, they have faith opportunities provided for them, and health opportunities, and good health care. And that takes place in the context of an organization that is second to none in terms of getting the money that you give directly to the children. And so, this is a good organization, and it is a way to make a difference in the life of one person, a child. And that will impact their family and others as well, the whole community.

This morning we are giving you an opportunity to discover if that heart of Jesus is leading you towards compassionately supporting this ministry. The demonstration area is open right now in the lower parking lot. I would encourage you to simply take the tour and then let the heart of Christ lead you in your decision to get involved.

Dear friends, your baptism isn’t something that you can play with and attach your own meaning to, because it’s really Jesus baptism; a baptism that fulfills all righteousness. You can never say that it’s simply an ordinance of the church. Why is that? Because it comes with God’s own command and the promise of salvation. And with that promise comes the heart and compassion of Jesus. This is why we must always insist that what God declares as His own means of salvation can never be considered simply a formality. Instead, we must see our baptism, Jesus baptism that fulfills all righteousness as the most precious gift that God can give. Because within those waters of your baptism are the very life and blood of Jesus, poured out for the forgiveness of the entire world’s sins… even yours! The Waters of your baptism are really the waters of Jesus baptism poured into the cup of God’s own Word, so that by clinging to Jesus’ work for you and His promises of forgiveness you might know forever that you truly are a “child of paradise!” I pray that you will always cling to these truths and to the source of them, Jesus Christ your Savior, the Son of God. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Who Are You… Really?

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Christmas 1A, January 1, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,

http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was call Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” [Luke 2:21]

f4d3548fd632361774d6702500809ea9For you who have embraced the name of Jesus, there truly is something about the name of Jesus; it truly is the sweetest name you’ve ever known. Jesus was given this name on the day He was circumcised. Just like every other Jewish man-child, Jesus was circumcised a week after His birth. That is the reason we speak of the name of Jesus on New Year’s Day, which always comes exactly one week after Christmas Day. But there is likewise a deeper reason why we should begin the new year in the name of Jesus…

Jesus name tells us who we really are

Who are you?

I know who you were; before God gave you faith, you were someone who was held prisoner by the law. You needed to be held prisoner, because your sinful nature was leading you. And within your sinful nature was the potential to be a thief, sexual deviant, liar, and even a murderer. You were forever separated from God’s love and presence because of your sin. So it’s true, “Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” [Galatians 3:23]

But faith has come; the Living Word of God, the promise of God that He would come and be the Savior of the World has come to us, in our own flesh. He was born of the Virgin Mary, presented at the temple of God for circumcision and a name. The act of circumcision was done so that Christ would be held accountable to the law of God just as we are; the only difference is he kept the law perfectly. The name that was given to this baby God-man was Jesus.

What is in a name, well in the name Jesus, there’s a whole lot. You see the name Jesus means God saves! In this child is God’s answer to the sin of the world; even your sin that separates you from His love. In this child is the only One who is the begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. He is the one who has suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and died for your sins, and then He was buried. He did all of this for you. He alone is the one who not only gave His life for sinners separated from God, but He took it back up again by rising from the dead on the third day and He ascended into Heaven, where He forever sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From this place of power, He invites all sinners to take on His righteous work and follow Him.

All of this, He does for you. He does it so that you would be free from the bondage of God’s Law that always declares, “You are a sinner. You don’t deserve God’s love or His forgiveness. No matter how hard you try to be good, you will always fail; you will always fall short.”

So, who are you really?

God knows who you are, do you?

Well, let me tell you who God says you are! Through faith in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God! Through faith, because of faith, only by faith are you right with God. It has nothing to do with what you did or wanted to do, it’s by faith alone. Listen to me now, you are a son of God. Don’t change it to daughter, because this has nothing to do with your sex. It also has nothing to do with your race or economic status. You are a son of God exactly and precisely as everyone else who has received this gift of faith.

It’s a gift that you received in your baptism, and it’s a gift you’ve confirm every day that you still want. You see, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” You have put on His identity, His persona. And what is that identity? You are one who is holy, perfect, and righteous before God the Father. There is nothing that you need to do to have this new identity, it was given to you 100% in your baptism. All that you’re asked to do is live out this identity. And that dear friends is where the struggle comes in. In our baptism, we were given Christ’ identity, Jesus name once and for all. Our old sinful nature was drowned in the baptismal waters where we were washed by the water and the Word of God. But now, every day God directs us to live out this identity by daily drowning or putting to death our sinful nature.

In your walk of faith, God wants you to follow Him by trusting in and depending on Him. But this trust isn’t something that comes natural to us; we must be given the ability to trust Jesus by God as a gift. And this gift is called faith! By this gift of faith then, we can learn to depend on Jesus and the strength that God gives to us through the name of Jesus Who is the living Word of God!

Who are you? Are you someone who’s defined by your failures or someone who’s defined by Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil?

Every morning, when you get out of bed you have a choice; you can look backwards and embrace the chains that once bound you or you can live the life of freedom that Jesus provides. So will you be a victim or the victor? You can watch with anger, hurt, or disappointment as Jesus frees others from the sin that has bound them in the past, or you can follow Jesus and watch as His forgiving love remakes you too into His image. Who do you want to be, really?

God wants you to always remember that in your baptism, you were given a gift, the gift of faith. It’s the same gift He gives you every time you come to His table of mercy and receive His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. Faith is a gift from God. So is the air, but you have to breathe it. So is food, but you have to eat it. So is water, but you have to drink it.

To believe in Jesus can therefore be said to have faith in His name. The forgiveness of sins is preached in His name. He that believes on Him shall receive the forgiveness of sins through His name. To be a Christian then is to have life in His name. The Scriptures are to be taken literally when they say: “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be save.” “… at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

To pray in the name of Jesus, then, means to pray by faith in Jesus under the protection of Jesus, with all forgiven that would seem otherwise to keep us from being heard, and with Jesus as our helper and intercessor.

So who you are depends on whether you will receive and live out this gift. How do you receive it? I’ll tell you one thing; it doesn’t depend on how you feel, because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” [Romans 10:17] Faith isn’t something that you need to sit down and wait to experience, instead it comes when you take God at His Word, and that Word says that in your baptism, through the gift of faith you have been made a son of God! You have been made right with God! You can either take that truth and live it out and let it change you, or you walk away from it and go back into bondage.

I’d like to close with a story about a young boy who was doing chores in the yard with his Dad. He was doing his best to lift a rock that was too large for someone his size. He grunted and groaned as he tried to lift the rock. He tried all different methods to move it, but nothing seemed to work. His father finally walked over to his son and asked if he was having trouble. The boy answered, “Yes, I’ve tried everything, and I can’t move this rock.” The father knelt down to his son and asked, “Are you sure you’ve tried every possibility son?” The boy looked up with frustration at his Dad and grunted, “Yes!” With kindness, the father bent over and softly said, “No, son, you haven’t tried everything. You never asked me to help.”

How often are we like that little boy, struggling with our problems, unable to solve them, and forgetting that we are children of the Most High God. We forget that we have a new identity, a new nature, and a new name, and a Heavenly Father who loves us because we carry His Son’s name! Jesus, God Saves, His name is your name too, so trust that name and in prayer continue to ask the Father for His help and protection!

Dear Christians, God is asking each of us to live our lives in the name of Jesus. Whether we go to our daily meals or we go to lie down and rest in order to begin a new day or a new year, we must fight to remember that we take the name of Jesus with us, to stand under His forgiveness and His protection, and to know that He is with us always and everywhere, all our days, and in everything we do.

Who are you? You are a Christian now go and live out that identity. AMEN!

The King’s Royal Roots-Back to the Future

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

Advent 4-C, December 20, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” [Micah 5:2]

There’s something about going back to your roots; it can help you remember who you really are. Isn’t it true that sometimes we can lose our way in life, and isn’t it also true that becoming lost usually happens so slowly that we hardly realize that it’s happening.  I think that it’s kind of like getting lost in the woods, when suddenly you realize that you don’t recognize where you are or where you’re going. And what do you do then? You retrace your steps; you look for and go back to familiar landmarks, until you find your way home.

Well, like getting lost in the woods, we can get lost in life, too. We have plans, even strategies for achieving them. We have values and priorities. We have a sense of who we are, who we want to be, what we want to do. And then… and then life happens.

Now there always seems to be some people who appear to instinctively stay on track. They have a plan and strategy for their life, and they seldom deviate from it. But others, or maybe most people, somehow get off track, because, well, life happens, and things pull us in all different directions. And when that happens, we can find ourselves far off the course we had set for our lives.

This kind of thing can happen in our spiritual lives, too.

Many of us were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ when we were infants or children, and when it happened, we were totally dependent on God’s grace and his action in Christ, for us. But as we grew older, something happened; we became more independent and more sure of ourselves and our place in this world, and then we started to think that God needed our help with some things.  And so, we began to evaluate our spiritual life on what we had done or wanted to do, instead of what God has done and will do for us.

Perhaps when we were confirmed in our faith as young teenagers, we promised to remain faithful, even unto death. And then came high school, and college, our career, and, well, life happened. And then, maybe we found ourselves distant and disconnected from God, His Word, His will, and His way.

This can even happen to the church too. Frankly, it’s what happened at the time of Luther—the whole Reformation was really a course correction for a church that had, over time, drifted away from the basic truths that became the great themes of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, Christ alone!

It can even happen to an entire denomination. Sometimes churches can find themselves majoring in the minors, or emphasizing Christian living for its own sake and not for the sake of accompanying Christ on His mission. We can become so caught up in our priorities and strategies that we begin to lose our theological mooring, our identity as Lutheran Christians. Or conversely, we can focus so much on who we are that we forget what we are to be—and to be about—on mission with Christ.

Yes sometimes even we Christians can loose our way, and when we do, we have to recalibrate our spiritual GPS—in our lives, as a congregation, as the church, as the kingdom of God in grace on earth. This is really what had happened in the time of Micah, the prophet of our text. As we’ve heard the last few Sunday’s during our Advent journey, the people of God had lost their way. The kings of the house of David acted as though they were the real kings, not the servants of God for the kingdom of God. The people had become more interested in themselves, in their own success, than serving God and their neighbor.

And the prophets had some hard words, as we have heard before. Of the great citadel Jerusalem and its temple, Micah said, “Zion will be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins. Yet their message was not without hope. They spoke of a new king, another son of David. But there was also a sense that the new king was not just another David, as though maybe just one more generation was needed to get it all back on track. No, this was not just about going forward, this was a message of going back, remembering where they came from, and getting back on course.

For the king, this meant remembering David and his humble beginnings, back in his home town of Bethlehem. It wasn’t “David’s royal city” then. It was a small rural town, and Jesse and his sons were shepherds. Remember that Samuel looked for a son to anoint as king, and they paraded all of Jesse’s sons past him but David, he was the youngest and was out in the fields doing his work. He wasn’t even under consideration, but he was the one.

Of course, we know by a simple reading of scripture that when David became king, he quickly outgrew his humility and meekness. It didn’t take long for the house of David to get off course. And God would have to find them, having lost their way, and bring them back. Back to the beginning. Back to Bethlehem.  Back to a new birth of a new king.

Dear friends in Christ, we started our advent journey toward understanding God’s king and his kingdom by talking about “home,” the place, the city that is the king’s capital, which identifies his kingdom. We talked about the importance of a place to call home, with its safety and security. But we also noted that even a king who is serving in the kingdom of God could confuse his ideas about the kingdom with what God really wanted and intended it to be.

And now, this morning, we hear God’s solution to our sinful tendency to get lost; a Messiah would be born, One who would be ruler in Israel. His origins, and his “goings forth” (that is to say, where he came from and where he was going) was all part of God’s everlasting plan to send a Savior who would save the world, save the church, and save you and me, from our irresistible tendency and temptation to get ourselves lost, to get off course, to wander from God’s plan and then even to wonder if we are still God’s people.

In our text today, on this last Sunday of Advent, now less than a week away from Christmas itself, God calls us to consider not just our home, as we did when we started this journey, but our roots—not where we live, or lived, but where we were born; where we started, where our family comes from.

We think immediately of our family home, but in our spiritual lives, God reminds us to consider where and when we were born into His family. For some of you, that may have been right here, at this baptismal font. For others, it may have been in other churches in other places, but the point is, it was within the same waters of holy baptism, all of which has the same power of God unto salvation wherever and whenever it comes to his people.

So, as we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth, we recall that little town of Bethlehem, not for the sentimental scenes we might find on Christmas cards but for the holy history that it conveys: this was the birthplace, if you will, of the kingdom of God with men.

And as we prepare for Christmas, we remember how God himself went back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to Bethlehem. And this time the son of David got it right. No losing his way. No selfish sinful acts. This son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom.

Yet He was the King, a true and greater King than any ruler of Israel or president of the greatest democracy on earth. An angel choir announced his birth – not to the people of power in high places but to shepherds, out in the fields, doing their jobs like David was doing back in the day, just outside of that little town of Bethlehem.

He was God’s true King: David’s son but also David’s Lord. He would come to His capital city in a royal procession and be crowned with a crown of thorns. He would take upon himself the sin and suffering for all, to bear our sin and be our Savior, securing God’s forgiveness for all of our own sin. And He would be raised again, ascended to his heavenly throne, where he lives and reigns to all eternity, for us and for our salvation.

Yes, there will be peace, even on earth, not just for the house of Israel, but to the very ends of the earth!

As our Advent season draws to a close, and we draw nearer to the manger itself, our preparation turns, too, back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to the font, back to the baptismal waters where it all started for you and for me. There we received our own new life. There the Christmas message became a lasting truth for our personal lives. There we became God’s people, forgiven, to live under him in his kingdom, and to serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness!

O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth— And praises sing to God, the King!—and peace to all the earth!  AMEN.

Who are You?

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Christmas 1B, December 28, 2014
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Galatians 3:23-29 and Luke 2:21-40

Click here for audio of this message

About 10 years ago, my two brothers and I made a startling discovery about our lineage; about our family history.  Our uncle informed us that our true family name wasn’t Henderson, but something else.  It seems that our great grandfather was making and running moonshine for Al Capone, and that got him into a lot of trouble with the Federal government.  He fled the Chicago area and hid out in a small village in Wisconsin and assumed the name Henderson.  And so it seems our family identity was forever changed, or was it?  Did our name define my brothers and I or is there something deeper and more substantial that defines us?  What defines you?

Who are you? I know who you were; before God gave you faith, you were someone who was held prisoner by the law.  You needed to be held prisoner, because your sinful nature was leading you.  And within your sinful nature was the potential to be a thief, sexual deviant, liar, and even a murderer.  You were forever separated from God’s love and presence because of your sin.  So it’s true, “Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” [Galatians 3:23]

But faith has come; the Living Word of God, the promise of God that He would come and be the Savior of the World has come to us, in our own flesh.  He was born of the Virgin Mary, presented at the temple of God for circumcision and a name.  The act of circumcision was done so that Christ would be held accountable to the law of God just as we are; the only difference is he kept the law perfectly.  The name that was given to this baby God-man was Jesus.

What is in a name, well in the name Jesus, there’s a whole lot.  You see Jesus or Joshua means God saves!  In this child is God’s answer to the sin of the world; even your sin that separates you from His love.  In this child is the only One who is the begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary.  He is the one who has suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  He alone is the one who not only gave His life for sinners separated from God, but He took it back up again by rising from the dead on the third day and He ascended into Heaven, where He forever sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

All of this, He did for you.  He did it so that you would be free from the bondage of God’s Law that always declares, “You are a sinner.  You don’t deserve God’s love or His forgiveness.  No matter how hard you try to be good, you will always fail; you will always fall short.”  So, who are you, really?

God knows who you are, do you? Well, let me tell you who God says you are!  Through faith in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God!  Through faith, because of faith, only by faith are you right with God.  It has nothing to do with what you did or wanted to do, it’s by faith alone.  Listen to me now, you are a son of God.  Don’t change it to daughter, because this has nothing to do with your sex.  It also has nothing to do with your race or economic status.  You are a son of God exactly and precisely as everyone else who has received this gift of faith.

It’s a gift that you received in your baptism, and it’s a gift you’ve confirmed you still want, within the rite of confirmation.  You see, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  You have put on His identity, His persona.  And what is that identity?  You are one who is holy, perfect, and righteous before God the Father.  There is nothing that you need to do to have this new identity, it was given to you 100% in your baptism.  All that you’re asked to do is live out this identity.  And that dear friends is where the struggle comes in.  In our baptism, we were given Christ’ identity, Jesus name once and for all.  Our old sinful nature was drowned in the baptismal waters where we were washed by the water and the Word of God.  But now, every day God directs us to live out this identity by daily drowning or putting to death our sinful nature.

Every day we are asked to turn away from our sins and turn to Jesus for forgiveness, faith, and strength to live for and with God.  It’s a little like learning to climb a telephone pole.  In order to climb, you have to have a belt that goes around the pole and you have to wear spike shoes.  The secret is to lean back and depend on the belt so that the spikes can dig into the pole.  Leaning back, I mean really leaning back and trusting in the belt is hard to do, because it’s in your nature to be afraid and doubt the effectiveness of the equipment.  All beginners go through this period of doubt.  The first few times they try it, they get partially up the pole, panic and slide down, getting splinters in their arms and other places.  Eventually, each beginner is faced with a decision, give up and look or another profession or lean back and trust the belt.

In your walk of faith, God wants you to follow Him by trusting in and depending on Him.  When we are hurt by splinters or falls and failures, He wants us to recognize that the successful climb has already been given to us, He just wants us to keep following Him and learn to depend on the faith and strength that He gave to us in His name, which is our name too!

Who are you? Are you someone who’s defined by your failures or someone who’s defined by Jesus victory over sin, death, and the devil?  Every morning, when you get out of bed you have a choice; you can live as a victim or as a victor.  You can follow Jesus and watch as His forgiving love remakes you into His image, or you can shrink away in anger, hurt, or disappointment.  Who are you, really?

God wants you to always remember that in your baptism, you were given a gift, the gift of faith.  It’s the same gift He gives you every time you come to His table of mercy and receive His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.  Faith is a gift from God.  So is the air, but you have to breathe it.  So is food, but you have to eat it.  So is water, but you have to drink it.

So who you are depends on whether you will receive and live out this gift.  How do you receive it?  I’ll tell you one thing; it doesn’t depend on how you feel, because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” [Romans 10:17]  Faith isn’t something that you need to sit down and wait to experience, instead it comes when you take God at His Word, and that Word says that in your baptism, through the gift of faith you have been made a son of God!  You have been made right with God!  You either take that truth and live it out and let it change you, or you walk away from it and go back into bondage.

I’d like to close with a story about a young boy who was doing chores in the yard with his Dad.  He was doing his best to lift a rock that was too large for someone his size.  He grunted and groaned as he tried to lift the rock.  He tried all different methods to move it, but nothing seemed to work.  His father finally walked over to his son and asked if he was having trouble.  The boy answered, “Yes, I’ve tried everything, and I can’t move this rock.”  The father knelt down to his son and asked, “Are you sure you’ve tried every possibility son?”  The boy looked up with frustration at his Dad and grunted, “Yes!”  With kindness, the father bent over and softly said, “No, son, you haven’t tried everything.  You never asked me to help.”

How often are we like that little boy, struggling with our problems, unable to solve them, and forgetting that we are children of the Most High God.  We forget that we have a new identity, a new nature, and a new name, and a Heavenly Father who loves us because we carry His Son’s name!  Jesus, God Saves, His name is your name too, so trust that name and in prayer continue to ask the Father for His help and protection!

Who are you?  You are a Christian now go and live out that identity.  AMEN!

Is Salvation a Work of God Or Not?

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A), September 28, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org


Click here for audio of this message

“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” [Ezekiel 18:2]

Another way of saying that is, “How dare you say that God is not a just God.”  Have you ever found yourself questioning God; accusing Him of allowing things to happen that were not fair towards you or your family?  That was the situation that surrounded Our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 18:1–4, 25–32), which is essentially a conversation between God and His children of faith, the nation Judah, through the prophet Ezekiel.  They were the last remnant of Israel, and they were being led out to Babylon and into captivity.  And as they were saying goodbye to their old lives, they were accusing God of punishing them for the sins of their Fathers; the national sins of the past.  In essence, the people were accusing God of being unfair. Behind their complaint was the idea they were not as guilty as their fathers had been and didn’t deserve being exiled into Babylon. By quoting that proverb, they meant to say: “Our fathers sinned and the children have to suffer the consequences.”

So, in the words of Michael Turko (an investigative TV reporter in San Diego, CA), “It ain’t right!”  But God will not let this accusation of being unjust or unfair, go unanswered.  Listen…

“As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” [Vs. 3,4]

I think we tend to forget that the wages or payment for sin is death.  But we like to measure and quantify sins don’t we?  Don’t we like to think that a little sin is not as bad as a lot of sin?  You know how we think: There’s big sins and then there’s my sins!  Don’t we like to think that our sins aren’t nearly as bad as say the sins of an extremist group like ISIS?  Ok, that’s a little extreme so let me give you a somewhat easier example of how we play with this idea of grading sins, and how we affix blame to other people’s sins.

On December 11, 2008, Bernard Madoff was arrested by FBI agents and charged with one of the most devastating violations of Security Fraud ever committed against numerous financial agencies; it left thousands of investors broke, and it was the beginning of the great recession, which we are still in today.  In a kind of ripple effect, bad mortgage loans have been foreclosed and are still being foreclosed today and home loans are harder to come by, thus restricting access to the American middle class dream of home ownership.  So, in a sense, our teeth are set at edged because of the sins of Bernie Madoff.  We don’t have a problem with Bernie paying for his sin, but it doesn’t seem fair that nearly ten years latter, we are still paying for his and other peoples greed.

Did God allow Bernie Madoff to commit that great crime?  Yes.  Did God cause Bernie Madoff or anyone else who commits a crime, to sin?  No, but God does punish sin.  That punishment will come in eternity and there is no reprieve once it has been instituted.  But while sinners wait for that eternal penalty, or judgment of sin, we all suffer the temporary repercussions of that sin within the world that we live in.  Scripture makes it clear that these temporary discomforts caused by our sin or other peoples sins are nothing in comparison to the eternal punishment that awaits all sinners!

So what is the solution?  Is there a way out of this mess we call sin, or are we bound to it and it’s inevitable conclusion, like the collision of a train plowing through a vehicle stuck on the tracks?  Well, in verses 30 through 32, God gives us not only hope, but a solution to our sin problem.  Listen…

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.  Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” [Vs. 30-32]

Now O Christians you stand before a righteous judge; the Judge who knows your every sin; nothing is hidden from Him.  He has shown you that by your sin, every sin you are guilty of breaking the very first commandment.  You love yourself more than you love God.  You have made your own desires master of your soul.  And our Righteous God, our Creator judges you guilty and worthy of an eternal sentence of suffering and death.  How do you plea?  You must be honest if you hope for any leniency!  If you plead guilty, then listen to your only hope.  “Repent O Christian.  God does not desire the death of anyone, let alone one who has been purchased by the lifeblood of His Only Begotten Son!”

You see friends, Christianity is not a movement, an organization, or an attitude. It is a relationship between God and an individual person, and it’s  based on your faith in God’s only provision of mercy, Jesus Christ the Savior from sin. God is asking each of you to respond to what the Lord has given you in Christ, and then daily ask the Lord to help you live a life that reflects the righteousness that Jesus has given you. And so It becomes true, the righteous man “lives,” that is, he exists and will continue to do so under the blessings of God.

To attempt to base our relationships with God on ourselves without Jesus is to tell God that we think Christ’s work is neither necessary nor beneficial. Such a misguided life can take about any track it wants, but it is always headed away from the Lord and his blessings and waiting for the inevitable collision with eternal judgment. But there is a solution to this sinful life style, and it is one of repentance and baptism.

How you live out this new baptismal life will depend on how you answer this next question.  Is baptism a work of God or man?  Is salvation a gift from God or is it something you earn?

This is in essence the question that was set before the Pharisees in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 21:23-32) and it is the question set before every Christian today.  How you answer this question will not only affect how you live your life today but even how you spend your eternity.  Let me ask that question in another way, “Do you want to risk your eternity on your own efforts, trying to outweigh your sins with your own “good deeds”, like some kind of ponzie scheme, or do you want to take God’s promises by faith and rest in and trust them alone?

You see friends, Baptism isn’t simply a custom of the church, but rather its a divine ordinance, the only way that God has provided so that sinners can be saved from their sins, and it is in force until the Last Day.  It is for all people no matter how early or late in life they embrace this wonderful means of grace. It is equal to the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of God’s Word. Jesus made them equal in force and power with His command: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” [Matt. 28:19–20)

As God’s solution to sin and His means of allowing us to stand before Him and be pardoned and given a new life in Christ, He has protected this holy washing of water and His Word and ensured that Christ’s church would continue this sacrament, which Jesus instituted before He ascended into heaven.  Since the day of Pentecost, we hear of this Holy Sacrament being offered to sinners who desired to be saved from their sins.  Listen to Peter’s proclaimed solution to the people’s sin: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Dear Christian friends, above all else that you hear today, please remember this, Baptism is a means of grace.  It is God’s means of removing your old sinful identity and replacing it with the perfect identity of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  It creates faith in God who comes to you with His solution to your sin, which is the suffering and death of His Son upon the cross for the sins of the world.  In other words, Baptism is God’s means of making you sinless and exempt from the punishment for your many sins.  Or as the Apostle Peter declared “Baptism… now saves you also.” [1 Peter 3:2]

In your baptism, God put your sinful nature to death, by joining it in Baptism to Christ’s death. He buried that old nature in Christ’s tomb, the only place where He no longer looks. And then, miracle of miracles, He raises you up to a new life as his child. Your old self is crucified in Baptism by God’s Word, and in this death that Christ shares with you, you die to sin every day as you continue to hear that same Word, and are set free from the punishment of your many sins. So, through your baptismal death and resurrection, you have been given new life. [Rom. 8:17]

So I ask you, is God fair?  Do you prefer His means of grace, His way of dealing with the sins of the world, even your sins, or do you prefer that He punish all people according to their sins?  If you prefer the way of His grace, then can you see baptism as His means of grace?  Do you see it as a mystery or sacrament of His love for sinners or do you prefer to earn your forgiveness and work for your salvation?  In essence, “Is Baptism a work of God or a work of man?”  May God give you faith to see the answer clearly as you ponder the mystery and work of His Son Jesus Christ within His church and indeed, within your very life… AMEN!

Not You, Jesus!

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Baptism of our Lord, /Epiphany 1A, January 12th, 2013

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“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” [Romans 6:4]

Our gospel reading this morning (Matthew 3:13–17) confronts us with a very real, a very human reaction to the arrival of Jesus.  It’s a perfect example of how the Son of God’s real presence breaks into our very real and normal experiences of life.  Think about this for a moment; if you were John, and God called you to preach repentance and offer baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and Jesus, whom you’ve known from childhood as the promised Messiah, approached you to receive a sinner’s baptism, wouldn’t you also have said, “No.  Not You Jesus”?

And yet, there is Jesus, coming alongside of sinners, throwing in with them, becoming one with them, and receiving something He had no need to receive.  Why do you suppose that is?

Because He IS one of us.  He came to be one of us in order to save us.  He came to remind us that we are not alone; God is with us; Jesus is Emmanuel!  He is with us in the waters of our baptism, because through His own baptism He has sanctified even blessed that water through His Word, through His real presence to make it a holy washing of water and Word.  But the banks of the Jordan were only the beginning of His mission to save mankind from sin, death, and the devil.  We must follow Him as He leaves the Jordan and hear the Father proclaim in a powerful voice: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  [Matthew 3:17]  We must see the Holy Spirit take physical form and descend on Jesus, confirming that He is and always has been the eternal Son of God, but now He is God among us; God in our own flesh, come to be our Champion and defeat our mortal enemies: sin, death, and the devil.

But we must not leave Jesus at the bank of the Jordan.  We must follow Him as He is led by that same Holy Spirit, into the wilderness to be attacked and tempted in the flesh, in our flesh by hoards of devils.  And not once did He succumb to temptation; not even once did He falter or fail.  He could not fail, because He must not fail.  And to understand this truth, we must continue following Him to Calvary, to the place of the skull where He will be crucified, put to death for our sins.  There at Golgotha, He presented His body as a holy sacrifice, without blemish, spot, or stain of sin, as the acceptable sacrifice for your sins, which He loaded upon His body that fateful day when He allowed the baptism of sinners to be applied to Him.

If you have ever watched the movie “The Passion of Christ” by Mel Gibson, you remember how graphically our Lord’s Passion was displayed on that Passover day, when Jesus also submitted to something that only sinners should have to go through; He allowed Himself to be beaten within an inch of His life, and then nailed upon the cross  to die a criminals death for our sins… FOR YOUR SINS!  I remember the first time I watched that movie how I was immediately sucked into the drama, which we call Good Friday.  I remember being shocked by how brutal and painful it was.  And suddenly, it was not just a movie; it was not a depiction of something that happened long ago, but it was real, and it was happening right then.  It was happening to Jesus because of my sins.  I remember weeping and saying out loud, “No, not You Jesus.  That should be me.  I deserve that and never you.”  And it was at that moment that I remembered the words of our Epistle reading (Romans 6:1-11), specifically these words: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Did you hear that?  YOU ARE DEAD!  Just as Christ died that bloody and painful death upon the cross, so too you, must count yourself dead along with Him.  You are dead to sin, that is your sin has no claim over you.   You are dead to the power of the devil; that is he can no longer accuse you of being like him and deserving punishment for your many sins.  And you are dead to death itself, because we know that “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” [Vs. 5-11]

You see dear friends, just as I asked you to follow Jesus from the waters of the Jordan to the deserted place of temptation, and then to Golgotha, the hill of death, I also ask you to follow His lifeless body to the tomb where they laid Him.  I ask you to wait the full three days and then after the rock that sealed the tomb is blown away, look inside to see that the tomb is empty.  Hear the angels ask you, “Why do you seek the living among the dead!”  He is risen indeed, and so shall you.

Your baptism is not just the seal of God’s Holy Spirit, which promises that one day you also will join Jesus in paradise, but it is also the proof that He is with you right now.  He is Emmanuel, all of God with you.  You see, the Holy Spirit took residence within you the very day you were baptized.  And wherever the Spirit of God is, there also is both the Father and the Son.  Because He lives so do you.  He lives to not just assure the pardon of sins for the world, but to ensure you of your pardon; that is the promise He gave to you on that great day of your Holy Baptism… all of your sins are forgiven!  You have a super-abounding supply of grace that forgives any and all sins that have attached themselves to you.  It gives super-abounding grace so that the fiery darts of accusation, which the devil hurls at you, can never stick or separate you from the love of God, which is yours through Christ Jesus.  You have super-abounding grace so that even death is not a threat to you.  It cannot end your gladness… you are baptized into Christ.  When you die here you will leave all sadness so that you will inherit paradise.  Now, opened eyed your grave is staring and waiting, but even there you’ll sleep secure.  While your flesh awaits it’s raising, still your soul continues praising.  Because you are baptized into Christ.

So all of this being true, and no matter how many your sins or how powerfully they work to trap you, you can rest assured that grace is even more super-abounding than your sins.  To that, someone might ask, “Doesn’t it make sense then to say that the more we sin then the greater we can demonstrate the power of grace over sin, death and the devil?”

And to that question St. Paul declares, “By no means!”  You are a child of paradise.  You are no longer your own person, but you have been bought with a price.  If you choose to stay in sin, then you are saying along with John the baptizer, “Not you, Jesus.”  And if not Jesus then who?  It must be you; someone has to fulfill all righteousness.  If not Jesus, then you must be the one to walk through the temptations of the devil alone.  It must be you who will bear the burden of your many sins alone.  And finally, it must be you alone, who will pay for your sins, all because you have rejected the very Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; even your sins.

(Isaiah 42:1-9) Dear friends, we are not alone.  Jesus has marked us as His own child in our baptism by sanctifying those waters long ago.  From the water to the cross, and then to the empty tomb, He has proven that He is the servant of God for you, the beloved Son of God, whom the Spirit of God descends upon first so that you will know that the same thing was done for you.

Jesus is the One who leaves the waters of baptism sanctified for the Father’s great mission to save sinners, and then He sets out on a mission to bless and restore those who have faith in Him and His work of salvation.  He is the one who is appointed to be a covenant for the people of faith and a light for the gentiles, that is those who currently live outside of faith.

I would like to close with a story about a man who lived his entire life as a devout atheist; an enemy of Christ and His church.  One morning he was found dead in his room.  But clenched in his hand was a note with these words, which showed that at the end of life he had met the Son of God in a real sense.  The note read: “I’ve tried in vain a thousand ways my fears to quell, my hopes to raise.  But what I need, the Bible says, “Is ever, only Jesus.”  My soul is night, my heart is steel—I cannot feel; for light, for light, I must appeal in simple faith to Jesus.”

All his life, this poor soul lived a life that rejected Jesus, the Son of God as His Savior.  He lived his life proclaiming “Not you, Jesus.”  But thanks be to God, Jesus is the kind of Savior who will not break a bruised reed or puff out a faintly burning wick.”  He will never grow tired or discouraged in seeking out the lost, until He once and for all establishes justice upon the earth.  Thanks be to God that He has found you in your baptism.  Now to the life of a Christian we live, fighting sin, finding forgiveness, and waiting for eternal life in paradise.  AMEN!

Turn Around; Let Me See Your Fruit!

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Advent 2A, December 8th, 2013

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“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” [Romans 15:4]

Does anyone here need encouragement?  If you do, then this is the message you’ve been waiting for; it’s a message that will change your life, and for some, it will even change your eternity.  Are you ready to hear that message?  Good, here it is: ‘REPENT!’

That’s right, you heard me correctly… repent… do a 180 degree turn.  Don’t turn away from joy turn into it.  Turn away from what ever thought, mood, idea, or circumstance that is consuming you, and instead turn to the one and only thing that will bring you peace; peace that can only come through endurance.  Endurance that can only come through the Word and work of God, a work that will continue to encourage you to repent!

When I was a boy, my Great Grandmother would tell me, “Brian, turn around.  Let me see your smiling face.”  This morning, God’s Word is inviting us to turn around also.  He’s asking us to turn away from a life that is centered on ourselves and instead turn towards the cross of His Son Jesus Christ, and live a life that is centered on His grace.

Each of us here this morning, at one time or another in our lives have had an endurance problem.  That is we want to give up on God’s work within and around us, and simply give into whatever issues seem to be competing for our attention.  I can understand that; never have there been so many distractions vying for our attention.  There is so much noise around us, especially during the Christmas season; so many voices competing for our attention.  If you want to be heard, you almost have to shout!

I’ve read that during a typical lunch hour at the University of California at Berkeley, spokesmen for a dozen different causes can be found on the plaza, trying to out shout one another. One day a lone figure sat down defiantly in the middle of the crowd and held up a sign that said, “SILENT PROTEST.” Someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “What are you protesting?” The defiant figure held up another sign, which said simply, “NOISE.”

Now this morning, in the middle of all of this noise, all of the madness there is one message being shouted that you really must listen to; it is the message of God… REPENT!

If you’ve fallen in sin, even the same sin many times, get back up and turn around.  Do a 180 and call out to the One who has come and shall come again.

I’ve had many folks talk to me about their faith.  They love to talk about the life, the Christian life they use to live as children, but for many reasons have abandoned.  They don’t go to church, they don’t go to Bible study, and they don’t even read their Bibles. “But” they love to tell me, “I still pray!”  And to that statement, I ask them, “Well how do you know God is listening?”  After a moment of silence, they usually will admit that because of their sin problem, they don’t know if God is listening.

Can I be honest with you?  Those people like each of us here today, don’t have a sin problem; they have a getting back up problem; an endurance problem.  They no longer seem to have the strength to get back up and call out to God.  They think that because they keep sinning, God no longer wants to hear them ask to be forgiven.  When folks like those come my way, I have a keen desire to help them see God the way they once did as a child.  I want to reconnect them to the faith of their youth and the source of their strength, which is the Word of God and His church, so that they will turn back and know the beauty of repentance.

But then there’s another group of people that I have to pray to have a heart for.  I as a pastor, have to repent and ask God to help me love them and share the same message with them.  Even if I don’t feel like sharing the message with them, God still speaks it, even shouts it out to them: REPENT!  Turn around; do a 180 and find your true Savior; your King and your Lord!

Who are these people? Well they aren’t that much different than the Pharisees and Sadducees that John singled out in our Gospel reading (Matthew 3:1-12).  They are the ones who think that their Christian religion, or their status in the church makes them superior to other folks.  They are the ones who make a show out of their worship so that they will be noticed, or the ones who sit quietly alone scowling at anyone who does not act like or talk like them.  The religion they practice is for the observation of others and not a cry out to God for mercy or thanks.  They too, like the other sinners have a problem.  Again, they don’t have a sin problem, they sure can sin, no problem.  No they have a getting back up and calling out to God in honesty problem.

We all have an endurance problem; our strength and self-reliance is not enough to complete the task that John the Baptizer has asked us to perform.  Repent.  Do you know what God is asking you to do when He calls you to repentance?  Well John told us; he said to “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.”  That is destroy all of the mountains and fill in all of the valleys.  But he isn’t talking about literal mountains and valleys; he is talking about our hearts.  All sin must be removed.  All evil selfish thoughts must be annihilated.  All of your pride and your lust must be disintegrated.  Those are the things that you have fallen into; those are the things that you now embrace as your daily reality.

By now, I hope that you can see that you could never on your own free yourselves from these things.  They are a part of your sinful self.  But there is One Who has come and is coming again who not only can free you, but has freed you.  And all you need do is get up and turn to Him and call out to Him.  That is not just the point of our message this morning, but it is the very power that enables you to do it.

This morning I point you to the cross of Jesus Christ.  It was there that your hard stony mountainous hearts were pulverized and made low.  It was at the cross that every dark valley of your sinful soul was filled and made level.  And from the cross of Jesus Christ, I must now point you to your baptism where the preparations of the cross became your reality.  You have not just been baptized with simple water, but with the powerful Word of God; a Word that is Spirit and truth.  This washing of water and Word has been given to you as a gift of Spirit and truth.  Truth to look within your heart and see the decay and agony of sin yes, but also truth to look outside of your sinful flesh and see an eternal reality.  You have been bought with a price, a great price.  With His own blood, Christ redeemed you and made you His own.  He will never disown you.  He who began the good work of recreation within you, is the One who will complete it, in His time and through His power.

This is the kind of repentance that John the Baptizer was calling for.  It is a strength and power that can only come through the One who brings God’s Kingdom of Grace to sinners such as you and me.

Remember my childhood memory that I shared with you about my Great Grand Mother?  “She told me, “Brian, turn around, let me see your smile.”  She only said those words to me when I was being mean and naughty; when I was throwing a fit because things weren’t going my way.  I did not want to turn around and look at her, but I knew I had to.  I did not want to smile, because I was angry.  So I turned around, because I had to, but when I looked at her, I smiled because I could not help myself.  She loved me unconditionally and I loved her.  And when I smiled, something unexplainable happened; I was no longer angry, sad, or unhappy.  I was in love with my great grandmother’s love.

This morning, Jesus is calling to each of us; He’s calling to you to repent.  He is saying, “Child, turn around and show me your fruit.  Let me see the hope of repentance.  WONDERFUL… NOW GO LIVE OUT THAT FRUIT IN THE KINGDOM OF GRACE!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Jesus Comes to Us!

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 5C, June 23rd, 2013

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I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.  I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name. [Isaiah 65:1]


This, my friends is good news; it is good news because God is telling us that even when we weren’t looking for Him, He came to look for us!
While you were in a state of confusion, not even knowing that you  were lost in your sins, God knew and He came to you… to save you!

God comes to those who are helpless and alone. In our Gospel reading (8:26–39), Jesus shows us the extremes He is ready to go to in order to seek us out and bring us into His loving care. Think of this for  a moment… Jesus goes by boat across a lake, into unclean gentile territory, a place that Jews avoided at all times, immediately heads into a cluster of tombs, a territory that was unclean to the Jews because of the  dead, in the middle of a herd of pigs, an animal that was also unclean and to be avoided by God fearing Jews, just to finds a gentile sinner possessed by a legion of devils. How many are in a legion? At least a  thousand!

As Jesus approached this man the demons screeched out at Jesus in fear; they knew who He was. The devils spoke, but the man was silent. But while this man was silent he was aware. Do you think that he was  happy to see Jesus and to experience the truth that all of these demons that were possessing him were now terrified of this God-man who had come to him? I can’t help but wonder how long this man was silently  calling out to God for help and rescue. And now, there in front of him was his champion; not just a man, but the demons called Him the Son of the most High God!

Did you notice that Jesus did not speak a Word to the possessed man? He did not confront Him with his many sins, sins that probably opened the door for the demons to move in. No, I am sure that man had  been confessing those sins silently to God for some time, as he called out for help in prayer. Instead of lecturing the man, Jesus brought him immediate relief; he cast out the demons and freed the man from the  bondage of not just the devils, but even his own sin.

And this is precisely how Jesus comes to us. He comes to us just as we are! Jesus came to you just as you were and He saved you from your bondage; He saved you from your sins. In your baptism Jesus cast out  the devil and put a hedge of protection around you. And what is that barrier, that great wall that protects you from the devils? It is the indwelling of God’s own Spirit. Instead of being possessed by devils, the Spirit of Christ dwells richly within you. By faith, you are now a child of God.

Now if I stopped here, this would be a wonderful message of hope. And there are some here that may be “hoping” that I stop here, as they look at their watches and run through their minds the many things they have to do today. Or maybe, some of you were just beginning to nod off in your weekly ritual of catnapping during the sermon, only to be seemingly robbed of that opportunity by what appears to be a short sermon.

As I said, if I ended the message now, the gospel would have been declared, but some of you, perhaps all of us would be harmed if we did not hear about the dangers of living a life trusting in Jesus; waiting for Him to come to us again, and again!

The danger of living this life as one found by Jesus is this: We find it so easy to forget that being lost and separated from God, was not a one time thing, but in fact, it is our natural condition! And, we will easily find ourselves lost again if we waiver from God’s means of grace in even the smallest fashion.

Let me take you back to our Old Testament lesson and ask you to consider the rest of the verses (Isaiah 65:1-9). In the first verse, God is talking to the gentiles, people like you and me who are not Jews; people who did not have the law of God to direct their everyday lives. But in verses 2 through 9, God is talking to His own people, the Jews. He is talking to His peculiar people who were suppose to be relating to Him by faith; trusting that everything that He asks them to do is for their own good, but also for the good of the gentiles, who were to learn of Him through His special set apart people.

They were to be separated from the gentiles in how they lived and how they behaved. Their worship practices, their diets, and their clothing were different for God’s purpose. Their life styles were different so that through their lives God would draw the gentiles, people who did not know Him, to Himself so they would know Him. But that didn’t happen. Instead, these peculiar people of faith had become no different than the gentile people around them. They were abandoning the life style God had called and equipped them to live, and by abandoning their calling they were also abandoning the God who had called them. Their calling was to be salt and light in a gentile nation that was dark in sin and separated from the God who created them. They abandoned that calling and therefor could no longer be used as God’s special people; His tool to reach those lost in sin with His Word of mercy, so that they to could be saved from their sin.

And what was God’s solution? Well let’s turn to our Epistle reading (Galatians 3:23–4:7) and find out! “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we (gentiles) might receive adoption as sons.” [Galatians 4:4b]

Once again, Jesus our Savior comes to us! There was no reason that He should seek us out, other than because He Who made us also loves us. Through the life and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we too have become sons of the most High God!

And now, released from the bondage of sin, cleansed of the devils that control this very world, we are called to be God’s light in darkness. And how will you do this? Will you trust in your own resourcefulness; live a life of discipline and rules that promises meaning and success? If so, what benchmarks have you set up to measure your success? Is it what kind of employment you have or the amount of money you make and save? Is it the kind of people your children become and how successful they are? If those are the things that motivate you and guide you, I am afraid you have become no better off than the foolish people that God was chastising in our Old Testament lesson. You are trusting in everything that God has called you out of. And to you, God speaks this word of warning: “I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into (your) lap both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together, says the

Now, I trust God’s Word has your attention; I trust that He has shaken you out of your slumber of complacency? So what shall we do to please our God? What shall we do in order to be reassured once again that God is pleased with us?

You must go back to the beginning. You must return to that day when God intervened to save you; the day that Jesus came to you just as you were and freed you from the grip of sin, death, and the many devils that surrounded and even possessed you. You must go back to your baptism; the place where the fruit of the cross was wrapped around you as Christ’s own robe of righteousness. In your baptism, God released you from the elementary principles of this world and in its place, He has surrounded you with grace and mercy; He gave you His forgiving love simply because Jesus died for you! What shall you do to stay there? Grab onto Jesus Christ; in Jesus, turn to God’s mercy that comes through the cross and remember that through your baptism, all of God’s love is yours!

Like the demon-possessed man in our gospel reading, we must stay at the feet of Jesus; which is the church. We must stay at the foot of the cross, which is always where God’s Word takes us. We must stay centered in our baptism, the font of God’s grace, where we are daily given complete forgiveness for all of our sins. But then we must also hear and understand what Jesus means when He says we can not stay here in this place; we must return to our homes and back into our communities and “declare how much God has done for us.”

How do we declare this good news? We declare it by living it out. We do the very thing that God has always asked His people to do; live a life that reflects His presence within us and among us. God’s presence is with you by grace; in the forgiveness of sins. So go out and live that life. Let people see that as a Christian you are by nature, no different than them. You too sin; you sin daily. You too struggle with disappointments and fears. The only thing different; the only thing new, is now you know where to take these things; you know who it is that not only came to you long ago in your baptism, but Who comes to you every day, every hour, every minute, and every second. Jesus, we are yours, save us! AMEN