Posts Tagged ‘Call of Salvation’

On Becoming a Christian

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Third Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 12th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.” [Luke 15:1]

Here’s a question that I get asked a lot: “Hey Pastor, how can I really know that I’m a Christian?”  And to this I pose a couple of my own questions to them to lead them to the central idea of our message today: “Aren’t you really asking me how can you know that you are pleasing God?  Or maybe what you really mean is how can you know for sure you are saved?”

Well, in order to know you are saved you must first know that your lost; that is you must admit that you are lost in your sins, or simply put, you are a sinner.  So a sinner then, is someone who is lost in their sins with no ability of their own to be found or made right with God.  From this then, we can say to be a Christian is to be a sinner who has been found in the darkness of sin and then made right with God in Holy Baptism through the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  But what then?

Do you have to become a better person in order to be a Christian?

Of course you do!  Don’t we usually take that for granted?  Don’t we as a rule consider “Christian people” to be a people with a God-given moral standard; as people with certain customs and characteristics that are considered respectable?  But sadly, when we think of our own lives within those terms we usually are forced to admit that we haven’t  attained that standard of excellence; we fall far short.  And this is why many of us must sadly admit that if we are judged by our conduct and our thoughts, we fall far short of the mark, and all appears hopeless, and it seems that we will never truly become a Christian.

And that way of thinking, was exactly what had trapped the Pharisees and most Jews; it is what made turning to Jesus very difficult for them.  They were convicted by the Law of Moses (the 10 Commandments) that they were required to achieve holiness or righteousness with God through what they must do.  But Jesus taught something entirely different.  And this is what shocked the Jews.

You see, it wasn’t respectable and moral people that were flocking to Jesus in order to hear Him and become His disciples, it was sinners… public, open sinners! The God fearing folks of Jesus time were offended by the truth that Jesus felt at home and very comfortable hanging out with sinful, no good ragamuffins!  He was at ease with those who were considered by others to be less than worthy of a place in God’s kingdom.  He received sinners and ate with them, which in the Far-Eastern culture meant the same as counting them as close friends. So He was a friend of no good sinners, and what’s more, He readily admitted it!  When they criticized Jesus for this He simply said: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous (or perhaps it is clearer if we say the self righteous), but sinners.” [Matthew 9:12, 13]

You see, the truth is that we do not become disciples because we have so many good qualities that have convinced us that we have something to add to or improve Christ’s church, but rather, we become Jesus’ disciple because we have so many faults.  We do not come to Jesus because we are better than others, but because we are just as bad, or even worse than them.

When Jesus called people into God’s Kingdom, His invitation made it clear to them that in spite of all of their sinfulness, they could still become the children of God.  In another story, Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a king who asks an accounting of His servant.   And what does that accounting look like?  A man is brought forward who owes the equivalent of millions of dollars, and he has no hope of ever paying it back.  And how does the master respond to this hopeless condition?  He has mercy on him and forgives the whole amount.  Cool, huh?

But does Jesus really make no demands on us?

Well to begin with, He makes only one demand, and that is that we come to Him in order to receive what He has to give us.  He simply asks us to come to Him and then to follow Him; listen to and trust in what He has to say, and then place ourselves under His influence.  From this comes another requirement…

We are to respond to the work and presence of the Holy Spirit within us, Who is always creating repentance, faith, and the desire and ability to do good deeds.  So the fact that we’ve become different and better people—is something that naturally follows upon the first requirement that we simply come.

Rather than seeing the need to be a good person as a demand that God makes as a qualification to come to Jesus, it is instead a result of turning to Jesus.

Consider the thief on the cross who was crucified with Jesus.  He did not have time to become a better man.  He would never have an opportunity to live a better life or produce any good deeds to brag of.  And yet no one could ask for a more unconditional promise of salvation:  “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  He had done the one thing that is necessary—he had come to Jesus to get help.  He believed in Jesus.

In the presence of Christ we must never expect to find a gathering of morally perfect people.  Remember, it was the tax collectors and sinners that were all being drawn near to Him.  So in our churches today, we must also expect to see sinful people wanting to be with Jesus and His disciples.  That is, we should see rough, sinful people being drawn to our church, wanting to become Jesus’ disciple.

If today His mercy calls you and you find yourself in this category, you must do the same.  He who does not do this should not be surprised to find a mixed company in Christ’s church.  But when we respond we will find that our despair and worry over first our own sinfulness and then other people’s sinfulness has been replace with…

The joy of salvation!

As Christians we live by faith in what Jesus has done certainly, but that faith always leads to joy!  Joy in the salvation of ourselves and others is simply the great delight or happiness that is caused by Christ’s exceptionally good work for all sinners, but especially because that good work of Christ is the true pleasure of God!

St. Paul in our Epistle reading experienced this realization also, and it created within him an extreme sense of thankfulness, listen: “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.”  Perhaps a better way to say this is that Paul was thankful that Jesus made him faithful through the gift of grace (God’s undeserved kindness) and then He gave him the strength to continue believing in and following Jesus.

Was there something that God discovered in Paul that made him worthy of being called into God’s kingdom of salvation through Jesus Christ?  Well, let’s let Paul answer that himself: “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief”.

And we must be careful not to think that because God saved Paul, Paul became so thankful and indebted to Jesus that he decided to change his life, formulate a plan and implement the plan that would allow him to live a God pleasing life and win many to the kingdom of God.  No, Paul would never say anything like that, in fact he said the opposite, listen: “(It was) the grace of our Lord (that) overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

So, along with Paul, we can say that by faith and first hand experience, this saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom Paul and maybe you and me are the foremost.  So if God desires to save a sinner like Paul, just imagine how much he wants to save you, and not just you, but also the many people living here in our community who are dying without ever truly knowing Jesus and His kingdom of grace.

The church, even our little church here, like our Lord, does every thing we can think of to find the lost, and we keep looking for them until they’re found; that mandate is the very reason that the church still exists within this sinful world. Through the preaching of God’s Word, both the law and the gospel, as a church we go after the lost sinner both creating the desire to be found and the ability to assure them that they have been found too.  And within our vocations or our callings in life as individuals, our Christian witness to Jesus and His desire to both be with and save sinners goes out into our community like a lamp that brings saving light into the darkness of sin.  For many, that searching light may be at first nothing more than the truth that it is Christ’s passion to be with and save sinners.

And when a sinner is found and turns or returns to Jesus’ side, we the church and indeed all of heaven rejoice and say amen to Jesus declaration: “Thus, I tell you, there is joy!” Great joy not just here in Christ’s church but “Before the angels of God in heaven.”

Today His mercy calls you, and if you have responded by turning or returning to Jesus, be assured there is a great celebration of joy in heaven, “Over one sinner who has repented!”  To God alone be the glory… AMEN!

Listen, God is Calling!

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally the third response or excuse…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Baptism also implies an invitation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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