Posts Tagged ‘Call of God’

What Are You Seeking?

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 24th, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” [Isaiah 55:6]

The title of our message this morning is a question; it is a question from God! What is it that you are seeking? Why did you come here? Are you here for the one thing you really need… forgiveness, or are you here for other reasons?

One of the biggest hurdles to faith that I encounter as a pastor is a person’s lack of forgiveness; either they feel that God won’t forgive them or they can’t forgive someone else.

Really, the two issues are just different sides of the same coin, because they represent a heart that won’t let God change it. Let me give you a general conversation I’ve had with many people: “Why don’t you feel God loves you?” Well, I did something a long time ago that I never dealt with and now that I’m older, well… I think it’s just too late! “Why do you think that?” I don’t know really, I just feel that its true!

At this point, my job is simply to assure them with scripture that God’s call to come to Him, to seek His love and forgiveness is really for them and it’s a lifelong process. As long as we keep coming and seeking Him, He keeps forgiving. Listen to the words of King David as He confirms this same truth in a very personal and experiential way: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” [Psalm 32:3-5]

This morning we come to God, we come to His Church seeking His forgiveness within His Word and Sacraments, and miracle upon miracle, He keeps forgiving us! Our response to this is simply falling down at the foot of the cross in a spirit of worship. And as we worship we hear God’s still soft voice assure us that we are changed, but we are changed with a purpose. We are changed to serve Him and reflect His love and forgiveness to others.

Before we seek forgiveness we must first see a need to be forgiven, and the only way we can see this is if we come to God in His Word.

In His Word we hear first that we are sinful and unclean. That means that as we are, God won’t love us! When we see this truth and admit it, it does something terrible but wonderful in our hearts and minds… it destroys us! God’s Law takes away any hope we have in knowing happiness and peace and it assures us that no matter what we try to do to remove our feeling of guilt, it will never work! But then the call of the gospel comes to us and reminds us that God not only will forgive us but He has forgiven us; all God asks us to do is simply agree with His Word that we are sinners in both what we’ve done and what we have left undone. If we can admit this then He gives us ears of faith to hear the gospel…

You are forgiven! Let those words of God sink in; understand what they really mean. And then, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon!” [Isaiah 55:7] This is God’s call to each of us to turn to the only way He has opened in order to be right with Him… and that way is through the cross of Jesus! We must turn to Jesus alone for God’s assurance that all of our sins are paid for… forgiven… covered with the blood of God’s Lamb of Sacrifice, Jesus Christ.

In both the Law and Gospel of God we are taught that sin is real and it needs to be dealt with. Either God covers it or we cover it up! And there’s a big difference between the two. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Nothing is ever settled until it’s settled right.” When the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes our only source of peace and happiness, well a true joy comes over us, because we know when God covers our sin, it’s settled forever!

So what is the reason God wants us to come to His church? For His Divine Service! We come to receive God’s work of forgiveness. And when we receive this work, this gift of forgiveness, all we can do is simply fall down at the feet of Jesus and worship Him as our Savior and God! So are you here for the right reason? Have you dealt with your sin? If not, what is it that you’re waiting for?

The story is told about a farmer who hated the church and his Christian neighbors. When he died he left a will giving all that he had to the devil. The will was contested by his family and the court was forced to make a decision. After several months of deliberation it handed down the following verdict: “It is decided that the best way to carry out the wish of the deceased is to allow the farm to grow weeds, the soil to erode, and the house and barn to rot. In our opinion the best way to leave something to the devil is to do nothing.”

So there is the truth that some here face this morning. To put off allowing God’s Word to change your heart is like willing your soul to the devil! So God is saying that today is the day that you should settle any feelings of abandonment, anger, bitterness, and hate. Today is the day that you should seek His love, because “the Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; He also hears their cry and saves them. [Psalm 145:18, 19] So come to Jesus. Let your desire for forgiveness lead you to seek Jesus; demand Him as your only means of help. Strive after Him and run to His cross. Let God’s Word move your heart to stretch out your arms of faith toward Him and then embrace Him and cling to Him alone.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 20:1-16) Jesus tells us a story about what God’s Kingdom of Grace, His Kingdom of Forgiveness is like.

In the story He presents two groups of people. The first group of people are the last group to be called to work in God’s Kingdom of Grace. They are real Christians, with real sin that they know must be dealt with by God’s means. They entered the church with no conditions; they simply came for forgiveness and a right relationship with their God; then they gladly worked in His kingdom by sharing the very same thing with the people that were in their lives. The second group of people is the first group that was called to work in God’s Kingdom of Grace. They are phony Christians; lip service Christians who are members of a congregation for reasons other than dealing with their own sin. God’s vineyard simply represents the church, even our own little congregation here. The work that each of us is to perform is that of Kingdom Building, or allowing God to use us to expand His Kingdom throughout our community; it’s the very same work that brought each of us into His Kingdom; it is the work of forgiveness of sins through the Word of God which tells about the Savior of the World Jesus Christ!

The payment, or the denarius is first the privilege of living and working in the church, and second it is an eternity in heaven or hell! One group lives in God’s kingdom but doesn’t really do the work of God’s Kingdom; they are forgiven but they will not forgive as God has forgiven them. They are in the Kingdom simply to receive the recognition and praise that the Kingdom brings to them while they live here on this earth. Long ago they lost sight of their own sin and their need of forgiveness, so asking them to forgive as they have been forgiven is ridiculous. The other group, the true Christians, have been humbled by their sinfulness and the gospel truth, which declares that God not only loves them but forgives them for Christ’s sake; it is their belief in this truth that is forever changing them as it brings them new life and peace with God. And now because they’re changed; because they have peace with God, they share that same forgiveness with whoever God put’s in their path.

When the workers are called together on judgment day, one group is told to enter and receive all the riches of God’s Kingdom as joint heirs with Jesus, the Son of God. The other group, the lip service Christians are told that they’ve been paid in full! They had their entire lives as a gift resting in the church and receiving God’s means of grace. The Word was always speaking to them, but they would not listen; they would not turn to Jesus and God’s means of grace and new birth. So Jesus tells this group that on the judgment day they have received all that they will get. On that terrible Day of Judgment, they will be told to run along; run straight to hell, forever separated from God’s love and kindness.

So which one of these groups do you belong to? Well didn’t we start God’s Divine Service with our confession of sins? Didn’t we hear His Word of forgiveness? Doesn’t He inviting us to His table of mercy; a table where we will eat and drink forgiveness? In these very things God not only gives you assurance that your sins are forgiven but He gives you assurance that you have nothing to fear. How can this be? Well to this question, God answers, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8, 9] Do you believe this? If you are struggling with faith to believe, then God says keep coming to my church; keep hearing my Word and seek me in the person and cross of Jesus Christ. And when you hear that you are forgiven, simply worship me with a thankful heart. And after worship, leave this place changed with a purpose and a mission… give that same Word of forgiveness to all that you meet. May this be the work that God does in each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost-A, August 28, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message


“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” [Isaiah 51:1]

Have you ever heard someone say something like this before? “I’m not going to sit idly by and watch this happen. Someone has to do something. Things can’t go on like this!” Maybe those words communicate your feelings about current events. Just consider this last month’s headlines, and how the effected you, and I think you will understand. Now, if none of the current headlines has raised your anxiety, how about something a little closer to home; something like: Why don’t your children go to church any more? How about your current health problems or the health problem of someone you love or are close to? I guess I could ask you to conjure up thoughts about any issue you’ve faced this month that seems to be sucking the very joy out of your Christian walk of faith?

To all of these concerns and many others like them, God has the solution. This morning He says, “Listen to Me and watch for me!” Listen and look with faith and hear and see what I have done yesterday in the past, what I am doing today in the present, and then you will know what I will do tomorrow in your future!

In our gospel reading (Matthew 16:13-20) Jesus asked his disciples then as He asks us today a very simple question: “Who do you say that I am.” He wants all people to seriously consider what we believe about Him. Is He truly Emmanuel, God with us in our lives or was He just another great teacher and healer. Now because you all have proclaimed by faith that Jesus is your Lord, I assume that each of you know and declare that Jesus is God. Peter knew it, and he confessed as much with these Words: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And (to Peter then and we today) Jesus answered, “Blessed are you! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, on this rock (that is upon your confession of faith in God your Rock), I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:17, 18]

This morning, I your pastor declare to you, that God, in the persons of Father, Son, and Spirit does not change; that is what he was yesterday, He still is today and will be forever. Who is God? He is Emmanuel; God with you and God for you. To understand this we look back at Who God was in the past. We follow our roots of faith backwards in time to understand who we are today, and who we will be tomorrow.

So let’s look at the great works of…

The God of Yesterday:

This morning, even though you have doubts, fears and worries, God calls you His children; He calls you, those “who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD.” Many times we don’t see triumph and victory in our walk of faith; we tend to focus on our troubles and apparent defeats, even when we truly are trying to please the Lord. The faithful Jews who were taken away in exile from their native land felt the very same; they too had no sense of glory or victory. Their homeland stood in ruins; they weren’t given any hope from their captors that they would ever return, but God spoke hope. Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke certain promises that if received by faith would give the people hope; they would one day return to their homeland.

You see the promise of hope God spoke through Isaiah, was based on the promise of hope that He spoke long before to Abraham and Sara, and before he spoke that promise to them, He declared it to Adam and Eve, in the beginning. Though they started out as two individuals, they would be united in faith and multiplied in number comparable to the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the beach. From them, God promised to build not just a physical nation, but also a spiritual one; one that had faith in their God, who was their Creator, Provider, Redeemer, and Friend.

Since the first gospel promise given to Adam and Eve about the coming Messiah/Savior who would take away their sins and bring them back to Paradise, God’s faithful children have struggled with feelings of discouragement and hopelessness, just as Father Abraham and Sarah did; just as those held captive in Babylon did. We like them have discovered that even though we are pursuing righteousness and trying to live a God pleasing life, we don’t see that many victories. At best, we seem to have only fleeting moments of happiness, but then we often fall prey to guilt, fear, and doubt. We are reminded that on our own, we truly are sinful and unclean; our sinful nature frustrates us to no end. We wish we could take it off like a change of dirty clothes, but we can’t! It is part of us and it continues to plague us every day.

Like the Jews held in captivity in Babylon, we too need a Word of comfort and reassurance, and that is why God next encourages us to look, listen, and live in what He is doing for us today! He wants us to know that He is…

The God of Today:

This morning, God calls out to you who pursue righteousness, and He says: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.” This morning, God’s Word of hope, His promise connected to the very first promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and Sarah comes to you and it declares that today for you, this promise is fulfilled. “Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the Light of the world. [John 8:12] And He is “the light (that) no darkness can overcome.” [John 1:5]

You have been chiseled out from Him and by Him, and the proof is your proclamation of faith. It is as true for you today as it was for Peter then. Jesus is our Rock and there is no other Rock but Him, because Jesus is God. We know this is fact because God’s law of righteousness, that is His work and Word of Salvation declares this truth to us. By faith in our Rock, His Word tells us to see beyond the past; beyond the prophets and the promises of yesterday and see the fulfillment of His promises in your life today. See the work of the cross of Jesus Christ, where His passion for all sinful mankind moved Him out of love to die for the sins of the world, and then allow your Rock to show you where you were first dug out.

In your baptism, Christ’s work for the world upon the cross, was made as atonement for you personally; there you died with Christ but you also rose with Him as a child of the Rock. There you took your place along with Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Peter and the Apostles, and the countless children of faith that have gone before you, and you have been given divine strength to wait and trust in what God is doing both for you and through you. What is that work?

Well, this morning He declares that His “righteousness draws near, (His) salvation has gone out, and (His) arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for (Him), and for His (mighty) arm (of salvation) they wait.” [Isaiah 51:5] For some, God’s judgment is something to fear, but for you who wait by faith it is something to be anticipated with joy. You are part of the Rock; you cling to Jesus Christ and trust in Him alone. But as you wait, you may become impatient and feel that the injustices that happen in this world must be dealt with. Again you may feel that God no longer cares about what is happening here. But that is far from the truth.

You see, “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but (instead, He) is patient toward (sinful men and women), not wishing that any should perish (in the coming judgment), but that all should reach repentance (and salvation).” [2 Peter 3:9] Remember, that His salvation has gone out, and it is for all people who will turn to and trust in their Rock, Jesus Christ. So…

Look to the God of Tomorrow.

“Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but (God’s) salvation will be forever, and (His) righteousness will never be dismayed.” [Isaiah 51:6] While we still struggle with a spirit of impatience in the midst of tribulation and suffering, these Words offer us God’s solution. Look up to your Rock in Heaven; by faith see Jesus Christ as your Champion and know that soon and very soon His work of judgment and salvation will be accomplished once and for all. The very heavens above and the earth you stand upon will vanish like smoke and all evil, both spirits and people on that day will be judged and punished. But you dear saints, you must never allow this tomorrow of judgment to discourage, distress or disappoint you, because God’s salvation, His law of righteousness has enveloped you and it protects you.

Who do we say that Jesus is? Alleluia, Jesus is our Rock! He brought us out of the miry clay, and He placed our feet on the Rock to stay.

Therefor with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify His glorious name, evermore praising Him and saying: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabbath adored; Heaven and earth with full acclaim shout the glory of Your name. We the church sing hosanna in the highest, we sing hosanna to our Rock… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and let the church say… AMEN!

Mind Your Calling

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Epiphany 2-B, January 18, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.TLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

Have you ever had to deliver some bad news to someone?  Take just a moment to think about that question; maybe you’ve been a supervisor and you had to let someone go, or perhaps you were in a relationship that you felt was not God pleasing and you knew you had to cut it off before it developed into something sinful.  Now let me pose another question; have you ever been the recipient of some bad news?  Maybe from a doctor or a policeman?  How did you feel?

Well this morning’s message gives us not just examples of “bad news” but also good news.  We will use all three readings to look at God’s call to sinners such as us.  First in our Old Testament lesson (1 Samuel 3:1-20) we will see how God called and used a young boy named Samuel to give some bad news to his mentor and teacher Eli, and then in our Gospel lesson (John 1:43-51), we will see how Jesus’ call to Nathaniel used both the law and the gospel to bring faith, and finally we will look at our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), which will teach us how to apply all of God’s Word as we live out our lives within our calling as Christians within Christ’s church and our communities.

God equips those He calls. If you were the young boy Samuel, and you heard someone calling your name, do you think that you would immediately know that it was the Lord?  I don’t see how you could if you did not know what the Lord’s voice sounded like; if you didn’t know how to separate His voice from all of the other voices in this world.  That was Samuel’s challenge, and it is still ours today.

Samuel was called on three separate occasions during the night, and each time he went to the man that he loved and trusted, thinking that it was Eli who called him.  After the third incident, Eli who was Samuel’s teacher realized that Samuel was encountering the voice of God, and like any good teacher of the church, he instructed the boy to wait on the Lord to call again, and then simply respond to God with these words, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  And that is exactly what the boy did, and oh my, did the Lord ever speak.

It was a frightening message of God’s Law, which promised that the old priest Eli and his family would be punished because of Eli’s poor parenting and his son’s sins.  Now imagine if you were that young boy Samuel, would you want to tell the one you loved like a father that bit of bad news?  But Eli recognized that what God had told the boy was not pleasant, but he also knew that what ever God’s says is ultimately for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.  So Eli continues as the faithful teacher and says, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And (Eli) said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”

When Martin Luther was a student at the University of Erfurt, he found a copy of the Bible in the school library. As he paged through Scripture, he happened upon these very words.  When he came to the 10th verse, he began wishing that he could be like Samuel and hear the voice of God! But years latter after reading all of God’s Word, Luther discovered that on the pages of the Bible, God really does speak to all of us, just as he once spoke to Samuel.  Like Samuel, Luther, and countless others, when we read God’s Word, we too hear Him speak.  And when we hear, we are to simply say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  We are to listen and agree that God is right and we are wrong.

In Samuel’s and Luther’s day, “the word of the Lord was rare,” and so it is in ours as well.  People have little interest in hearing what God has to say. And because of that, “there are not many visions.”

No greater judgment can fall upon a nation of people than when God’s Word and voice become rare. When people do not appreciate the gospel, God often takes it from them. Do you understand that by your repeated neglect of God’s Word you can bring about a famine of God’s Word?  Will you hear Him speak even more today?  If so, then let us examine…

The Call of Nathaniel. In Nathaniel’s call wee see both God’s Law and the good news of the Gospel.  “Come and see!”  All who have tasted and seen that the Lord’s goodness is truly present and given through Jesus Christ, will agree that those are the sweet invitation of the gospel.  Andrew and Peter knew of that goodness because another great teacher of the church, John the Baptist informed them.  And Jesus desired that Nathaniel would know the sweetness of this invitation too.  So Andrew, overwhelmed with joy seeks out Nathaniel and says,  “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, (the Messiah) Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  And how does Nathaniel respond?  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Have you ever tried to share you faith with someone, only to have him or her ridicule you for it?  They throw up one barrier after another to avoid the real issue behind the invitation of faith.  Why?  Because if your witness is true, then there really is a God who knows all things, and if that is true then that means I’ve been found out; it means I will have to change the way I think and the way I live.

So how did Andrew respond to Nathaniel’s challenge to his witness of Jesus?  He simply said, “Come and see.”  And wonder of wonders Nathaniel did that very thing!

What we must remember is that our gospel invitation to others is really the Lord’s call through us.  It is a call to come and experience both God’s truth in the Law, which shows us our sins, and His truth of the gospel, which shows us that our sins have been pardoned; taken away as far as the east is from the west.

When Jesus saw Nathaniel and the others approaching He said to the men, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.”  Now I don’t know how you read this, but I kind of hear sarcasm in the voice of Jesus; sarcasm directed at Nathaniel’s earlier sarcastic question that asked, “Can any thing good come from Nazareth.”  I think that Nathaniel picked up on that sarcasm too, and that is why he asked, “How do you know me?”  And to that, Jesus answers: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Whoa!  Don’t you kind of wonder what it was that Nathaniel now knows by faith that Jesus saw him doing?  Was it something done in private that he would have been embarrassed to have been seen doing in public?  Maybe, we don’t know, but what ever it was it so rattled Nathaniel that he quickly replied, “Rabbi, you (really) are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

And just like that, another sinner is brought into the Kingdom of Grace by faith; faith which came by the hearing of the Word of God, the message from and about Jesus Christ.  Now if that was all we had in or message this morning, I suppose that would be enough, but that is not all of our message.  Jesus is still speaking to both Nathaniel and us, and He says, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  In other Word’s, “Because you heard my Word and it both smashed your prideful heart and then rebuilt it in hope, you think you have heard and seen enough, but the truth is brother you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Wait until you see me high and lifted up on the cross, suffering and dying for the sins of the world.  Wait until you discover that after three days dead, my tomb is empty and I have come back to life to teach you even more mysteries.  Wait until I give you the power and authority to do the very same thing when you speak my Word and apply it with simple elements like water, wine, and bread.  Wait until you realize that just as I died and was resurrected, so too will you and all others who hear my Word.” And this is what we call…

The work or the call of Christs church. But some may counter that the work or mission of the church is happening in a much different world than ever before.  They will say that there are challenges that face us today that the apostles or even Luther did not have to encounter.  And to that I will simply present our Epistle reading and say… really?

St. Paul wrote this letter in an attempt to correct both the thinking and the teaching of a church in Corinth that seemed bogged down in a philosophy of libertinism.  All things were permissible as long as you have Christ.  Many scholars believe that the good Christians of Corinth grabbed one of Paul’s teachings, which stated that Christians were free of the condemnation of the Law of God and ran with it; they ran to the obvious conclusion… any thing goes!

Does anything go?  Is your body simply an amusement park that you can use as you see fit?  Is flesh, human flesh really unimportant when compared to our eternal destiny?  Paul answers with a resounding, no!  What you do with your body matters to God, because the body, that is human life belongs to Him alone.

On this Sunday that we celebrate the sanctity of human life, we do so in the midst of these Words of Paul: The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?

Of course you know this, but the world outside of this sanctuary does not.  They do not see that a very young child like Samuel can be used in a very powerful way by God.  They do not understand that there is a God who sees everything we do, and yet he still loves us, forgives us, and calls us to faith in His Son who died that they might have life.

All around us are people who live very promiscuous lives that seem to be centered around sex, drugs, and … well you get the point.  They do not realize that their bodies are not their own, but rather they are the Lord’s, bought with a dear price; with His very life blood.  In what ever station we find life it is the Lord’s.  Whether that life is unborn, very young, very old, healthy, or gravely ill, our bodies, each and everyone of them belong to the Lord!  Life is a gift of God, and it ceases to live and move and find it’s being in this world only when God calls it to the next eternal one.

The gift of sex between a man and a woman is given liberally and freely by God within the relationship of husband and wife, so that if it is God’s will, an even greater gift can be given, the gift of life!  This is God’s will and it is the teaching of His Holy Word.  The church is not to alter it nor remove it, but like all other messages of God we are to receive it even if it is unpopular; even if there is a part of us, that does not agree with it.  We are simply to admit that God is right and we are wrong.  But this is not as easy as some may think; it is not easy because our culture will not receive this message.  They will call us bigoted and unloving.  And when this is done, we demonstrate the exact opposite.  We accept them as they are and we love them enough to continue calling them to repentance and faith through the same Word of God that called out to Samuel, the people of Corinth, and Nathaniel and each of the apostles.

God’s Word is never easy to share; it is not easy because it confronts men and women in the midst of their sins.  But it becomes easy after sinful men allow God to work through His Word, and then agree with Him that they are dead and lost in their sinful choices; it becomes easy because it is then when the gospel can be spoken and heard, and new life through the forgiveness of sins can be given.

While it is true that God hates what today’s society calls recreational sex, because it is outside the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman who become one flesh, it is also true that He is slow to anger and quick to forgive when repentance and forgiveness is sought and given through Jesus Christ.  And when these sinful relationships create children out of wedlock, God does not declare the fruit unclean simply because the tree was.  God loves that child, and the proof is the very life it has been given.

And it is that gift of life that many times will create fear and worry in the hearts of the parents, and that fear can cause them to respond by compounding one sin with another, and so they choose abortion.  Abortion is the termination of life, and that is called killing, but killing another human is not the unforgivable sin; there is still room for grace.  And that dear Christians is both the call and the work of Christ’s church.  We are here to proclaim the gospel, the grace of God available to all sinners who will simply turn to Christ and trust in Him alone.  May we, each of us be busy about this work, inviting anyone who will respond to come and see; come and hear a message that will change them forever!  AMEN!

The Cross Is Love

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 12A, August 31, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

NOTE: The congregation has just listened to this little ditty from Hee-Haw: Gloom, Despair, and Agony On Me!  Click here to listen.

Many of you here this morning most likely immediately recognized the song we just heard as one of the many ditties made famous from the 1970’s Variety Show, Hee-Haw!  And in your minds eye, you probably saw 5 or 6 men sitting down together in bib over-halls, wearing straw hats, with moon shine jugs in their hands, complaining about how terrible their lives are.  Now as funny as that idea is to us, it also is steeped in historical truth in our own lives and the lives of faithful men and women who went before us.

In our Old Testament lesson [Jeremiah 15:15–21], we find the prophet Jeremiah caught in the middle of a funk; a pity party so to speak.  And if we are honest, if we allow God to teach us this morning, we can see both our individual lives within that conversation between Jeremiah and God, an indeed our congregation.  Let me show you what I mean by that.

“Oh LORD, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors.  In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach.” Yes, of course He knows you, but do you truly understand what that means?  He knows all about you, both the good and the bad.  And as long as we’re talking about good, didn’t our Lord teach us that there is no one good except God?  So isn’t it fair to say that what ever goodness is in you, it is God’s goodness?  Well, I think you know where I am leading you with that thought, so for now let’s just agree to say, “Let’s not go there” ok?  Good, so let’s move on.

You have asked God to remember you and visit you, right?  Well that is a statement that operates under the false assumption that God has left you, or forgotten you; He has not!  Doesn’t His own Word assure you that He will never leave nor forsake you? So, if you can’t find God’s presence in your life, then granted someone moved out, but I assure you that it was not God!

Now, it’s what you say next that amazes me; you asked God to not only return to you but to take vengeance for you, against those you have named as “your” enemies; do I have that right?  But right after that you ask for His “forbearance” or rather, you ask for mercy for yourself.  Now, do you understand the duplicity in that request?  You are asking God to give you grace, an unconditional pardon for your sin, but for those who stand against you, you want Him to wipe out!  And as long as we are being honest here, if you have truly been serving God and not your own interests, and if you are experiencing turmoil in your life simply because you are a “good” Christian, aren’t your supposed enemies really attacking God and His expressed will through His Word; a Word that you are only repeating and living out?  Well, let’s move on…

Next you rightly state that His Words were found by you, and you ate them, and that His Words became a joy for you, in fact, how did you put it, oh yes, you said that they were the delight of your heart. Something strikes me as odd here.  Why are you talking in the past tense?  Am I to assume that the scripture, which states clearly that faith comes by hearing the Word of God, no longer is true for you.  Am I to understand that not only do you find God’s Word ineffective in your life, but in fact you no longer need the gift of faith that comes through that Word?  Now I am only asking because right after that, you said with a degree of pride I might add, that you are called by God’s name.

You say you are a Christian, right?  Because if that is true, then I will go back to the truth that I pointed out a moment ago, you are talking in the past tense; as if eating, drinking, and living out God’s Word is what you use to do.  Now, if you have given up your reliance on God’s Word, to claim that you are still a Christian is quite frankly a lie.  You see, God did not call you into faith out of the thin air and neither does He sustain faith that way, but instead He uses the means, or actual methods that He chooses, which exist in this world that we live in.  And His Chief Means of Grace is His Word.  It is called the chief means of grace because the other two are totally dependent on His Word.  Baptism is also His means of grace, but without HIS Word, it is just a washing.  The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, but without His Word it is just a snack.

Let me sum everything up for you. You didn’t sit in the company of blatant and public sinners and join in with them, because God’s Word was protecting you from the final result that comes from living under those things.  You weren’t ever voted most popular by that group, because God’s Word led you to live a life separate from their blatant sinful life style. You see don’t you, that God was using you for a higher purpose, right?  Ok, if you can see that then what you say next, or rather what you ask next, simply baffles me.  How did you put it?  Oh yes, “Why is my pain unceasing (and) my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” Do you hear yourself?  My pain.  My wound.  So, is this all about you now?  What happened to your belief and allegiance to your favorite Bible verse, John 3:16?  “What does that have to do with it?” you ask.  Good question.  Well, if  you believe that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” is true, then maybe this pain you feel, this wound you perceive has very little to do with you, but it is in fact something bigger, something very much beyond you?  Now we’ll flesh out that idea in just a moment, but there is one last thing you said that must be addressed by God Himself.

You said, and I quote, “Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” And to that God’s Word violently slaps you across the face and says… REPENT!  Turn away from your inward thinking, because it is not about you, and it never has been; it is about saving the world… every sinner that will turn to God’s only means of salvation.  If you turn to this one thing needful, then God will restore you; you will stand before HIM comforted and strengthened.  If you truly do consume His Word and allow it and only it to fill you, you will be able to speak precious promises of faith and not this kind of dribble, which in the end is worthless.  If you allow God to strengthen you, then all of these trials and tribulations that you have allowed to consume you and snatch your faith and joy away from you, will be of no threat to your relationship with the God who called you out of darkness into His light.  And that now takes us to the pain you feel and the wound that you say is incurable; it takes us to God’s only means of salvation for the world, and for you.  And that of course is…

The Cross of Jesus Christ. [Matthew 16:21–28]  God does indeed love this world of sinners very much, and that includes you.  He loves us all so much that He did the unthinkable, He sent His Son to live among us and die for us.  The Father gave His Son upon the cross; the cross of pain and unspeakable suffering.  Peter and the apostles didn’t understand, and I am afraid we still don’t understand the necessity of Christ’s death.  You see the incurable wound and unspeakable pain that we along with the prophet Jeremiah see as our own, are really those of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Through His Word you have been unexplainably intertwined with Him in a way, that His own identity becomes your identity.  By His stripes you have been healed.  Through His painful and atoning death upon the cross you have been saved.  By the washing of the water and His Word you have been cleansed through recreation.  Through His holy supper, at His table, you are refreshed and strengthened by His very body and blood.

From our perspective, looking back from today into yesterday, we can intellectually say a hardy amen to Christ passion and death upon the cross for us sinners.  Peter did not have our perspective.  He couldn’t see how a suffering Savior would help them in their time of need.  He wanted a Savior who would ride into Jerusalem as a conqueror and punish all the wrong doers right then and there. But that was not the mission that the Father Sent His Son to complete.  So when Peter had his heart set on a bloodless and “cross-less” way of salvation, Jesus responded to him in the same way He responded to Satan who tempted Him with the same offer in the desert, “Get behind me Satan.”  That is, “Get out of my presence with that talk of glory.”  Repent.

This morning, God’s Word calls each of us to turn to His cross, the place where He made atonement for the sins of the world.  It is there at the cross where we find not only Christ’s passion, suffering, and death, but we are also reminded in His Word, which recreated us within the waters of our baptism, that on the third day, He rose from the dead and ascended into His glory!  So…

If you wish to follow Christ into eternal life, He says to you this morning, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Do you hear the answer to your song of “gloom, despair, and agony?”  You must deny yourself completely; not just a part of yourself, some fault, some problem habit or desire, or some outward practice, but all of yourself.  You must die to your natural sinful tendency to protect your self-interests, which are things of this world and not the things of God.  A great illustration of this self-centered life style can be found in how Peter later disowned Jesus by saying, “I never knew the man (Jesus)!” But we are called to do the opposite; we are called by God to declare that we disown ourselves, completely. Now we aren’t talking about a self-denial in a self-righteous sense of the word but instead, a true conversion, a complete recreation of ourselves, the very thing that God declares was done for you in your baptism.

Your baptized new nature sees all the sin within you and all of the damnation and the death bound up in that sin and it instinctively turns away from it crying out to God for rescue and salvation through Jesus Christ alone. So, by a work of God alone through His Word, your sinful nature is cast out by you every day, and Christ has entered into your heart and stays as your eternal Lord and Savior.

So now, through the work of the cross and the washing of your own baptism, you live in this world, not for yourself, but for  Christ who died for you.  And the life you now live as one who has been crucified with Christ, is a resurrected life that daily dies to those old self-centered desires and rises up in new life to live to follow Christ where ever He leads, for His glory.

And as we follow Christ, everyday we are called to “take up our cross.”  And the cross that we bear, are those sufferings we experience because of our faithful connection to Christ. And what we find is that each of us as Christ’s disciples will have our share of suffering.

In our minds eye we see Christ, carrying his cross, leading the way with all of us disciples following behind Him, each bearing our own cross, like men and women being led away to be crucified.

But our journey does not end with suffering and death, just as that was not the end for Jesus Christ the Son of God.  Where He goes we follow; we follow through the suffering and like Him, our final destination ends in glory; it ends in God’s love for redeemed sinners.

Dear friends, even great men of faith like Jeremiah fall prey to doubt and despair. They are examples for us. If they fear, if they doubt, if they need encouragement, if they need admonition, if they need help, if they need the preaching of the law and the repeated assurance of the promises of God, how much more do we!

We may all expect to drink some of the same bitter cup as did the prophet Jeremiah. We all will need to be shocked out of our sinful stupor by God’s call to repentance. But with the Lord’s help we will find our way back to him, as did Jeremiah. From these experiences, both Jeremiah’s and ours, we are made more ready to be shining lights to others who also drift into the fog of gloom, despair, and agony. We have been there and have returned, so we may be able to help them return to God through Christ’s cross of love too.

The gospel promises of peace, comfort, and glory are not allusive nor is God’s Word a deceptive brook, as Jeremiah believed in the middle of fear and dark worry.  But rather, it is a glory that awaits each of you saints as you trod along following the footsteps of your Savior.  For sure there will be good times and bad times in this life.  But in the end, on the day we leave this veil of tears in a Christian death, we will discover the truth and certainty of Christ’s promise that was given to the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with Me in paradise!”  AMEN!

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  AMEN!

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 11A, August 24, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” [Isaiah 51:1]

Have you ever heard someone say something like this before?  “I’m not going to sit idly by and watch this happen.  Someone has to do something.  Things can’t go on like this!”  Maybe those words communicate your feelings about current events.  Let’s take a brief overview of just the last month’s headlines: The Ebola virus is killing thousands of people in west Africa; there seems to be no end to the violence in that small town of Ferguson, Illinois, due to a police shooting and racial inequalities; one of our brave Marines seems to be rotting away in a Mexican Prison for accidentally crossing the border with three personal and registered firearms; ISIS is killing Christians simply because of their faith… some are even being buried alive or hung on a cross like Jesus; and an American reporter in Syria was beheaded simply because he was an American.  Now, if none of these current issues have raised your anxiety, how about something more personal; something like: Why don’t your children go to church any more?  How about your current health problems or other personal problems that seem to be sucking the very joy out of your Christian walk of faith?

To all of these concerns and any others like them, God has the solution.  This morning He says, “Listen to Me and watch for me!”  Listen and look with faith and hear and see what I have done yesterday in the past, what I am doing today in the present, and then you will know what I will do tomorrow in your future!

In our gospel reading (Matthew 16:13-20) Jesus asked his disciples then as He asks us today a very simple question: “Who do you say that I am.”  He wants all people to seriously consider what we believe about Him.  Is He truly Emmanuel, God with us or was He just a great teacher and healer.  Now because you all have proclaimed by faith that Jesus is your Lord, I assume that each of you know and declare that Jesus is God.  Peter knew it, and he confessed as much with these Words: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And (to Peter then and we today) Jesus answered, “Blessed are you! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, on this rock (that is upon your faith in God your Rock), I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:17, 18]

This morning, I your pastor declare to you, that God, in the persons of Father, Son, and Spirit does not change; that is what he was yesterday, He still is today and will be forever.  Who is God?  He is Emmanuel; God with you and God for you.  To understand this we look back at Who God was in the past.  We follow our roots of faith backwards in time to understand who we are today, and who we will be tomorrow.

The God of Yesterday: This morning, even though you have doubts, fears and worries, God calls you His children; He calls you, those “who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD.”  Many times we don’t see triumph and victory in our walk of faith; we tend to focus on our troubles and apparent defeats, even when we truly are trying to please the Lord.  The faithful Jews who were taken away in exile from their native land felt the very same; they too had no sense of glory or victory.  Their homeland stood in ruins; they weren’t given any hope from their captors that they would ever return, but God spoke hope.  Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke certain promises that if received by faith would give the people hope; they would one day return.

You see the promise of hope God spoke through Isaiah, was based on the promise of hope that He spoke long ago to Abraham and Sarah.  Though they started out as two individuals, they would be united in faith and multiplied in number comparable to the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the beach.  From them, God promised to build not just a physical nation, but also a spiritual one; one that had faith in their God, who was their Creator, Provider, Redeemer, and Friend.

Since the first gospel promise given to Adam and Eve about the coming Messiah/Savior who would take away their sins and bring them back to Paradise, God’s faithful children have struggled with feelings of discouragement and hopelessness, just as Father Abraham and Sarah did; just as those held captive in Babylon did.  We like them have discovered that even though we are pursuing righteousness and trying to live a God pleasing life, we don’t see that many victories.  At best, we seem to have only fleeting moments of happiness, but then we often fall prey to guilt, fear, and doubt.  We are reminded that on our own, we truly are sinful and unclean; our sinful nature frustrates us to no end.  We wish we could take it off like a change of dirty work clothes, but we can’t!  It is part of us and it continues to plague us every day.  Like the Jews held in captivity in Babylon, we too need a Word of comfort and reassurance, and that is why God next encourages us to look, listen, and live in what He is doing for us today!

The God of Today: This morning, God calls out to you who pursue righteousness, and He says: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.”  This morning, God’s Word of hope, His promise connected to the very first promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and Sarah comes to you and it declares that today for you, this promise is fulfilled.  “Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the Light of the world. [John 8:12]  And it is “the light (that) no darkness can overcome.” [John 1:5]

You have been hewn from Him and by Him, and the proof is your proclamation of faith.  It is as true for you today as it was for Peter then.  Jesus is our Rock and there is no other Rock but Him, because Jesus is God.  We know this is fact because God’s law of righteousness, that is His work and Word of Salvation declares this truth to us.  By faith in our Rock, His Word tells us to see beyond the past; beyond the prophets and the promises of yesterday and see the fulfillment of His promises in your life today.  See the work of the cross of Jesus Christ, where His passion for all sinful mankind moved Him out of love to die for the sins of the world, and then allow your Rock to show you where you were first dug out.

In your baptism, Christ’s work for the world upon the cross, was made as atonement for you personally; there you died with Christ but you also rose with Him as a child of the Rock.  There you took your place along with Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Peter and the Apostles, and the countless children of faith that have gone before you, and you have been given divine strength to wait and trust in what God is doing both for you and through you.  What is that work?

Well, this morning He declares that His “righteousness draws near, (His) salvation has gone out, and (His) arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for (Him), and for His (mighty) arm (of salvation) they wait.” [Isaiah 51:5]  For some, God’s judgment is something to fear, but for you who wait by faith it is something to be anticipated with joy.  You are part of the Rock; you cling to Jesus Christ and trust in Him alone.  But as you wait, you may become impatient and feel that the injustices that happen in this world must be dealt with.  Again you may feel that God no longer cares about what is happening here.  But that is far from the truth.  You see, “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but (instead, He) is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish (in the coming judgment), but that all should reach repentance (and salvation).” [2 Peter 3:9]  Remember, that His salvation has gone out, and it is for all people who will turn to and trust in their Rock, Jesus Christ.  So…

Look to the God of Tomorrow. “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but (God’s) salvation will be forever, and (His) righteousness will never be dismayed.” [Isaiah 51:6]  While we still struggle with a spirit of impatience in the midst of tribulation and suffering, these Words offer us God’s solution.  Look up to your Rock in Heaven; by faith see Jesus Christ as your Champion and know that soon and very soon His work of judgment and salvation will be accomplished once and for all.  The very heavens above and the earth you stand upon with vanish like smoke and all evil, both spirits and people on that day will be judged and punished.  But you dear saints, you must never allow this tomorrow of judgment to discourage, distress or disappoint you, because God’s salvation, His law of righteousness has  enveloped you and it protects you.

Who do we say that Jesus is?  Alleluia, Jesus is our Rock!  He brought us out of the miry clay, and He placed our feet on the Rock to stay.  Therefor with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify His glorious name, evermore praising Him and saying: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabbath adored; Heaven and earth with full acclaim shout the glory of Your name.  We the church sing hosanna in the highest, we sing hosanna to our Rock… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and let the church say… AMEN!

Color Me… Christian!

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 10A, August 17, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

Isn’t it true that we Christians hate discrimination of any kind?  Isn’t it true that all of us, at one time, have felt the pain of being singled out, left out, looked down on, or trodden upon?  Its no fun being excluded, not being invited to a party or special event, simply because your not part of the “in-crowd”.  Being left out can lead to depression and a real sense that no one cares or appreciates you for who you are.  

So then why do we Christians do that to members of our own family of faith?  Why do we create clicks that clearly demonstrate how our group is different than other groups?  Because it is in our nature… our sinful nature!

God’s message for us this morning in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 56:1, 6-8) assures us that God has a solution to our sin problem; to our tendency to group up at the expense of others feeling uninvited or not part of the family.  He shows us how we are all His chosen people who are never left out.  He does not discriminate or exclude anyone by race, former beliefs, or ethnic background.  God looks for and finds even foreigners and outcasts.  This morning’s message tells us that God’s Salvation through Jesus Christ is for everyone, and that everyone is the same color… and that color is Christian!

This is a message that has always been part of God’s plan, but over the years it became lost in the sinful hearts of His children of faith, the children of Israel.  It became lost through nationalistic pride and ethnic feelings of superiority, which replaced what was suppose to be pride in the One true God, who called them out of darkness and into light.

Now, it’s true, that the law of God did command that some people were to be excluded from God’s people.  That was one of the functions of the law; to keep God’s people separate from the godless nations that surrounded them.  God didn’t want His people to be contaminated by the pagan religious practices of the nations around Israel.  They were called to avoid intimate contact with the Gentiles.  And for that reason, God’s chosen people had dietary restrictions; some foods were unclean simply because God said so.  God wanted the world to notice His people; He wanted a world trapped in sin to see that His children of faith were different.  They were circumcised as a sign of their covenant connection with Abraham and the promises God made to him.  Why?  So that the world caught in the darkness of sin would see this difference and God’s many blessings upon His people, and then desire to be included in this relationship.  But sadly, sin began to creep in, and God’s children of faith began to develop a spirit of superiority, and so their pride caused them to look down on other folks.

The Israelites disdainfully referred to the world outside as “uncircumcised.”  And they began to forget to ask some very important questions about these “outsiders,” questions like: “Does God want these people to also receive deliverance by hearing and believing in the coming of the Messiah of God?

That was the dilemma crying out in front of the apostles of our Lord in our gospel reading (Matthew 15:21–28).  Standing before Jesus and His Jewish disciples was a Canaanite woman from the foreign region of Tyre and Sidon.  She was a female, and one of those unclean foreigners that the Jews were taught to look down upon, and she did the unthinkable, she approached Jesus crying out “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”  Jesus seemingly ignored her and kept on walking by her, but she followed and continued to cry out for mercy.

After a while, the disciples couldn’t take it any more, so they asked Jesus to give her what she wanted, just  so she would go away.  But Jesus, ignoring the woman, answered the disciples request according to the law of God and said to them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel… It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  In other words, Jesus is saying that He wasn’t there to help the foreigners yet, but those who falsely claimed to be children of Abraham without faith like Abraham.  Why did they lack faith?  Because they had lost faith in God’s promise of the coming Messiah, the Suffering Servant who would come first to the Jews and then use them to draw all sinners to God’s mercy by faith in God.  You could say that when one is caught in the darkness, one must first have their own lamp lit before they can help others find their own lamps.

Now what the woman says next proves the next point of our message, which is that Salvation, is entirely a work of God.  The woman looks Jesus in the eyes and says, “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  This declaration moved Jesus to look at this woman with love and say, “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”

Did you hear that?  Jesus said that her faith was great, that is her lamp had been lit!  The very thing that the Jews were to have first before they could be effective in drawing foreigners into the inner circle of God’s family of faith, this woman had already received.  She knew who Jesus was; she desired to be part of what he brought, even if it meant enjoying it from the outside!  By being content with her outside status, Jesus drew Her in.

This brings us to our next point…

Salvation is entirely a work of God!  It is God alone who provides salvation, and it is He alone who brings it to people both on the inside and the outside who have been excluded due to sin.  It is what He does for sinners in His Word, the law first and then the gospel.  We see this displayed beautifully in the very first verse of our Old Testament lesson.  Listen: “Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.”  Do you hear the law?  Keep justice!  Do what’s right!  It demands much of us, but offers no help in doing!  But then as our terror propels us forward to try and do the law, to try and keep the command, God’s sweet and tender voice of mercy speaks, “It is going to be ok.  Soon my salvation, my Suffering Servant, your Messiah will come, and then the comfort and peace that you thirst for will be revealed and given to you for free!”

Friends, Salvation has come; it has come trough Jesus Christ, the light first given to the people of Israel and now as a light given to the world.  Where was this light given to all people?  Upon the cross!  Listen to these beautiful words of prophecy, fulfilled through Jesus suffering and death:  “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”  [Isaiah 53:5]

Jesus knows our every fear and weakness; He knows our struggle to find acceptance and belonging.  Like many of us, He too was an outcast, excluded by many of the people He first came to save; the ones who must first have the light before they could help the outsiders and outcasts find their portion of the light.  “He had no form or majesty that (others) should look at him, and no beauty that (they) should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and (even today) we esteemed him not.” [Isaiah 53:2, 3]  But He esteems us, He knows us, and now is the time of our salvation.  Now is the time that Jesus comes for all of sinful mankind!

This morning we gather as God’s children called by faith in His Word; called by faith in the Suffering Servant, the Son of God Jesus Christ!  This morning we know by this same Word and faith in that Word, that salvation is for all of mankind, first for the Jews and then for the world.  It is a work of God done for all sinners, regardless of skin color or the quality of their character, because Jesus calls sinners just as they are.  But when He calls them, He loves them to much to leave them in that condition.  For you see, the call also contains the power of God that transforms sinners into saints.

We are those who once were foreigners but now are sons of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.  People know that we are Christians by the marks that God imputes upon us and within us.  We love to serve our true and living God.  We love to speak His name… Jesus, and we find an unexplainable peace in living under that name.  We  are the ones who truly keep His Sabbath, because we alone find rest and peace in the proclamation and the hearing of His Word.  We alone, enabled by faith, trust in His new covenant promise of grace, and we do that by clinging to Christ alone and no other! We are the people who alone can say, “My color is Jesus and my race is Christian!”

Each of us, through no merit of our own has been drawn to God by His power alone.  Because of His Word, we hear and believe that it is God’s desire to bind all people to Himself through Jesus Christ, and that is exactly what He has done for us.  By faith, we see the very Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ, suffering and dying upon the cross as both God’s Suffering servant and our Messiah, and we know that like a lamb led to be slaughtered, He obediently died for the sins of the world.  But we also know by faith that within the waters of our baptism, salvation became very real and very personal.  In our baptism, we were both buried with Christ and made alive with Him!

Indeed, this morning as well as every Sunday we hear the proclamation that salvation is for all; none are excluded and all have been drawn into God’s inner circle as His children of faith who rest within the mystical body of Christ.  But sadly, there are some who are not yet resting as part of the “in crowd” within this position of peace and comfort.  There are many who still live in the darkness and continually reject God’s free gift of salvation through Christ, or perhaps they have separated themselves from the gift by judging others as not “like them” and unworthy of the same gift that once saved them.  They have bound themselves to darkness rather than to the light of Christ.

Is there hope for those who are perishing outside of Christ’s sacrifice and love?  Yes, and again I say yes, and that hope is spoken of in the last verse of our Old Testament lesson, listen: “The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to (the body of Christ) besides those already gathered.”  How does He gather?  Through the same means of grace that gathered you… through His Holy Word and Sacraments.  They are His means of grace, and we the church are His means of delivery.  As He binds Himself to us, we bind ourselves to Him to be His instrument of inclusion and Ambassadors of peace.  As we go out being His light in the darkness of sin, we remember that it is He alone who brings and works salvation by binding Himself to the waters of baptism and establishing new Christian identities in those who were once dying in sin, so that they too will serve Him and love the name that is above every name… Jesus Christ!  And in, with, and under that name let the church say… AMEN!

What Are You Seeking?

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost A, September 18, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message
 

 

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” [Isaiah 55:6]

 INTRODUCTION: The title of our message this morning is a question; it is a question from God!  What is it that you are seeking? Why did you come here?   Are you here for the one thing you really need… forgiveness, or are you here for other reasons? 

 One of the biggest hurdles to faith that I encounter as a pastor is a person’s lack of forgiveness; either they feel that God won’t forgive them or they can’t forgive someone else.  Really, the two issues are just different sides of the same coin, because they represent a heart that won’t let God change it.  Let me give you a general conversation I’ve had with many people: “Why don’t you feel God loves you?”  Well, I did something a long time ago that I never dealt with and now that I’m older, well… I think it’s just too late!  “Why do you think that?”  I don’t know really, I just feel that its true! 

 At this point, my job is simply to assure them with scripture that God’s call to come to Him, to seek His love and forgiveness is really for them and it’s a lifelong process.  As long as we keep coming and seeking Him, He keeps forgiving.  Listen to the words of King David as He confirms this same truth in a very personal and experiential way: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” [Psalm 32:3-5]

This morning we come to God, we come to His Church seeking His forgiveness within His Word and Sacraments, and miracle upon miracle, He keeps forgiving us!  Our response to this is simply falling down at the foot of the cross in a spirit of worship.  And as we worship we hear God’s still soft voice assure us that we are changed, but we are changed with a purpose.  We are changed to serve Him and reflect His love and forgiveness to others.

I. Before we seek forgiveness we must first see a need to be forgiven, and the only way we can see this is if we come to God in His Word.  In His Word we hear first that we are sinful and unclean.  That means that as we are, God won’t love us!  When we see this truth and admit it, it does something terrible but wonderful in our hearts and minds… it destroys us!  God’s Law takes away any hope we have in knowing happiness and peace and it assures us that no matter what we try to do to remove our feeling of guilt, it will never work!  But then the call of the gospel comes to us and reminds us that God not only will forgive us but He has forgiven us; all God asks us to do is simply agree with His Word that we are sinners in both what we’ve done and what we have left undone.  If we can admit this then He gives us ears of faith to hear the gospel.

You are forgiven!  “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon!” [Isaiah 55:7]  This is God’s call to each of us to turn to the only way He has opened in order to be right with Him… and that way is through the cross of Jesus! We must turn to Jesus alone for God’s assurance that all of our sins are paid for… forgiven… covered with the blood of God’s Lamb of Sacrifice, Jesus Christ. 

 In both the Law and Gospel of God we are taught that sin is real and it needs to be dealt with.  Either God covers it or we cover it up!  And there’s a big difference between the two.  As Rudyard Kipling said, “Nothing is ever settled until it’s settled right.”  When the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes our only source of peace and happiness, well a true joy comes over us, because we know when God covers our sin, it’s settled forever!

 So what is the reason God wants us to come to His church?  For His Divine Service! We come to receive God’s work of forgiveness.  And when we receive this work, this gift of forgiveness, all we can do is simply fall down at the feet of Jesus and worship Him as our Savior and God!  So are you here for the right reason?  Have you dealt with your sin?  If not, what is it that you’re waiting for?

 The story is told about a farmer who hated the church and his Christian neighbors.  When he died he left a will giving all that he had to the devil.  The will was contested by his family and the court was forced to make a decision.  After several months of deliberation it handed down the following verdict:  “It is decided that the best way to carry out the wish of the deceased is to allow the farm to grow weeds, the soil to erode, and the house and barn to rot.  In our opinion the best way to leave something to the devil is to do nothing.”

 So there is the truth that some here face this morning.  To put off allowing God’s Word to change your heart is like willing your soul to the devil!  So God is saying that today is the day that you should settle any feelings of anger, bitterness, and hate.  Today is the day that you should seek His love, because “the Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.  He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; He also hears their cry and saves them. [Psalm 145:18, 19]  So come to Jesus.  Let your desire for forgiveness lead you to seek Jesus; demand Him as your only means of help.  Strive after Him and run to His cross.  Let God’s Word move your heart to stretch out your arms of faith toward Him and then embrace Him and cling to Him alone.

II. In our gospel lesson (Matthew 20:1-16) Jesus tells us a story about what God’s Kingdom of Grace, His Kingdom of Forgiveness is like.  In the story He presents two groups of people.  The first group of people are the last group to be called to work in God’s Kingdom of Grace.  They are real Christians, with real sin that they know must be dealt with by God’s means.  They entered the church with no conditions; they simply came for forgiveness and a right relationship with their God; then they gladly worked in His kingdom by sharing the very same thing with the people that were in their lives.  The second group of people is the first group that was called to work in God’s Kingdom of Grace.  They are phony Christians; lip service Christians who are members of a congregation for reasons other than dealing with their own sin.  God’s vineyard simply represents the church, even our own little congregation here at Trinity.  The work that each of us is to perform is that of Kingdom Building, or allowing God to use us to expand His Kingdom throughout our community; it’s the very same work that brought each of us into His Kingdom; it is the work of forgiveness of sins through the Word of God which tells about the Savior of the World Jesus Christ!

The payment, or the denarius is first the privilege of living and working in the church, and second it is an eternity in heaven or hell!  One group lives in God’s kingdom but doesn’t really do the work of God’s Kingdom; they are forgiven but they will not forgive as God has forgiven them.  They are in the Kingdom simply to receive the recognition and praise that the Kingdom brings to them while they live here on this earth.  Long ago they lost sight of their own sin and their need of forgiveness, so asking them to forgive as they have been forgiven is ridiculous.  The other group, the true Christians, have been humbled by their sinfulness and the gospel truth, which declares that God not only loves them but forgives them for Christ’s sake; it is their belief in this truth that is forever changing them that brings them new life and peace with God.  And now because they’re changed; because they have peace with God, they share that same forgiveness with whoever God put’s in their path.

When the workers are called together on judgment day, one group is told to enter and receive all the riches of God’s Kingdom as joint heirs with Jesus, the Son of God.  The other group, the lip service Christians are told that they’ve been paid in full!  They had their entire lives as a gift resting in the church and receiving God’s means of grace.  The Word was always speaking to them, but they would not listen; they would not turn to Jesus and God’s means of grace and new birth.  So Jesus tells this group that on the judgment day they have received all that they will get.  On that terrible Day of Judgment, they will be told to run along; run straight to hell, forever separated from God’s love and kindness.

 CONCLUSION: So which one of these groups do you belong to?  Well didn’t we start God’s Divine Service with our confession of sins?  Didn’t we hear His Word of forgiveness?  Isn’t He inviting us next to His table of mercy; a table where we will eat and drink forgiveness?  In these very things God not only gives you assurance that your sins are forgiven but He gives you assurance that you have nothing to fear.  How can this be? Well to this question, God answers, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8, 9]  Do you believe this?  If you are struggling with faith to believe, then God says keep coming to my church; keep hearing my Word and seek me in the person and cross of Jesus Christ.  And when you hear that you are forgiven, simply worship me with a thankful heart.  And after worship, leave this place changed with a purpose and a mission… give that same Word of forgiveness to all that you meet.  May this be the work that God does in each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!