Posts Tagged ‘Calling’

The Way Towards a Strong and Prosperous Life


Monday, February 20th, 2017

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Loving-Our-Enemies-600x600This morning we continue our message from within Jesus Sermon from the Mount, and we’ll let these words confront us and comfort us: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48] Here’s a question that I want you to wait until the end of our message to answer: Is this the Law or Gospel? It’s my prayer that by the end of our message you will be able to answer this question, and that the answer will lead you in the way you live out the rest of your life.

In that question we must remember that Jesus’ primary goal isn’t to speak the law and condemn us as sinners, which we are, but instead He is leading our hearts to understand the will of God and our new identity as saints; people He is sending out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. [Vs. 13-16] Jesus wants us to see our need for living our lives in complete dependence on God’s love and care, which will then compel us to demonstrate or reflect that same love to our neighbors where ever we me meet them. And all of this is done within the tender balance of living a life of repentance and faith, which Jesus provided for us in the Beatitudes [Vs. 3-12], where He assured us of a life strong with blessings. When the reality of these blessing begin to control our very lives, we will begin to have an effect upon our community as salt and light. But we must always remember that our quest for completeness has nothing to do with entering or staying in the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has already given that to us!

Now resting in this promise of blessing, hear the perfect Law of God:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (Or if someone punches you, punch them back.) But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.” Lord, are you saying don’t fight back against anyone? “(Yes”, he says,) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” But Jesus isn’t done yet, He now takes it a step further: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” In other words, if part of a settlement to a law suit is your jacket, let them have your shirt also! “And if anyone (say like the government or someone else with power over you) forces you to go one mile (say to carry something), go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” [Vs. 38-41]

“But Lord…. but Lord! Do you know what that will mean to me? That’s not only foolish it’s also impossible!” And dear friends, that is the point. Living the kind of life that Jesus is leading us to is the foolishness of the cross… the impossibility of fulfilling God’s perfect law. Your “but Lord” should be enough to turn you away from any foolish ideas you might have that keeping God’s law is doable! It should be enough to not only turn you to God’s mercy and forgiveness, but keep you there as you learn to follow Jesus!

You see friends, Jesus wants us to understand that it isn’t God’s law that brings about true justice for us but it’s His love and mercy that does that! Now our Lord knows that this is the complete opposite of what the world calls common sense; it goes directly against our natural inclination. You know what I am referring to don’t you? “A tit for a tat! I’m going to make sure I get justice!” That’s the natural way of this sinful world! They think that the law will give them wholeness and security; but we must always remember that the left hand kingdom or the kingdom of God’s law can never bring about any real change; it only demands it. Instead, it is God’s way to provide justice by inviting His children to trust in His plan for them and then turn to Him in prayer. And when we rest in God’s plan of justice, He then asks us to absorb the evil attacks of our neighbor and let it die there! He is asking us not to live a life of revenge, but instead live a life of sacrificially turning the other cheek and trusting that God will repay!

What we must remember is that this is ultimately not about you and me, but it is about Jesus Christ! He is the one who truly did turn the other cheek when He was struck by the Sanhedrin. He truly did let them take both His tunic and His cloak as they rolled dice deciding who would keep them. He truly did pick up His cross and walk more than a mile to the ominous poverty of Golgotha; with the sins we placed on Him.
But we must not ever say or even think that because Jesus lived this life perfectly for us, we no longer need to!
No friends, just the opposite is true; what Jesus did for us, demonstrates for us what it means to love! He demonstrates to us the highest form of love… God’s own love; a love of intellect and choice. As God has loved us, so we are to love our neighbor.

This kind of love means that we will stand against evil not by taking a physical and reactionary stand against it but by submitting to the one who is evil; by absorbing the evil and not matching it with our own form of pay back. Why would we do this? Because of God’s mercy and love that has been given to us through Jesus Christ!

Now I know, when we hear these words, we want to close our ears; we don’t want to do it! We desperately look for another way to explain this hard teaching of Jesus, but the truth is friends there is no other way to explain it and no other way to follow Jesus; He always leads us to the cross!

This isn’t a new teaching friends, nor is it without those who truly understood it and lived out its truth.

Martin Luther understood it along with those who went before Him and became martyrs. Mohandas Gandhi and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also saw and lived out the beauty of this teaching, and they absorbed so much hate and evil that it eventually took their lives. Martin Luther King Jr. not only walked the way of the cross but He taught others to do the same, and because of that obedience, God brought about great change. He changed the injustice of hate not with the sword but with mercy and forgiveness, and this change is still in motion today!

Through Jesus we find true power and truth in the cross. And that truth is that you don’t overcome evil by violently standing against it but by turning the other cheek. But don’t mistake this turning of the cheek with weakness or tolerance! Nowhere does Jesus say to turn the other cheek and refuse to speak up for what is right; nowhere does He say not to protect and take on the cause of those who are being overcome by evil! As salt and light, we are to speak the truth, God’s truth in love; a kind of love that moves us to take the evil action of another upon ourselves; the kind of love that moves under the burden of the cross another is bearing and help them shoulder the load. We are to take all of the evil action upon ourselves and let it die there, never bringing it up again!

Do you want to learn to be obedient? Do you want to become what God has already said that you are… holy? Then follow Jesus to the cross and agree with this teaching and pursue it! This is the way of the cross!

So are you looking for a “how to” part of this sermon?

Good, then I have only one step for you to follow: turn to Jesus and His cross! How? Well you’ve already been given the heart of Jesus, so follow that heart; follow that love of God that has been put within you. Love your enemy; pray for him. You will be surprised just how much change and rearrangement God will do when your heart first agrees that He’s right and you’re wrong. Once you learn to admit this, then praying for your enemy isn’t really that difficult.
But why must we do this? Well, Jesus answers this question as well. Listen: “(You will do this) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” [vs. 45] But that sounds like some kind of works righteousness! Is it? Is Jesus saying that I must work at loving my enemies here on earth so that my Heavenly Father can reward me by making me His son or daughter? No, not at all!
Jesus is saying that when we are loving our enemies we are showing them the love of the Father; we are showing them that we ARE sons and daughters of the Father! Through our acts of love that find their source in the heart of Jesus we are showing everyone, including our enemies that our God is also their God; a God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” We are showing them that not only are God and His love real, but also His Law that threatens anyone who refuses to follow that love through Jesus Christ! We are showing them that the same God who saved and changed us wants to do the very same work within them.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors (or open sinners) do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” [Vs. 46-47] You see friends, Jesus is telling us that we are not to think that our Christianity is something nice that we share with those who are part of our congregation; He’s not saying that your Christian love is reserved for anyone else who calls themselves Christian; He’s not even saying that our Christian love should be shared with those who do nice things for us! We are called not to love just those who love us, but to love those who hate us! This is the way of the cross; this is the path Jesus traveled and invites us to travel with Him.

Listen to Jesus final Words upon the cross and let them lead and guide you. As he was dying upon the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Who did He pray forgiveness for? Was it for those who placed Him on the cross? Yes, He prayed for all those present, He even prayed for you, and He prayed for your enemy, because it was all of our sins that placed Him there! And as He prepared to take His last breath He shouted: “IT IS FINISHED… it is perfect… it is complete!” What is? God’s plan to remove the sins of the world, even your sins!

Jesus closes our teaching this morning with these words:

“You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Vs. 48] Is that Law or Gospel? I say that it is both! You must be complete as your Heavenly Father is complete. You must be finished and you must be complete; this is the true meaning of perfect. And that is what you are because Jesus has blessed you with His completion! Through the beatitudes or God’s pronouncement of blessing at the beginning of Jesus Sermon, He gives you the very thing that He now tells you that you must have… completion! What wonderful news! Now take this blessing of completion and live a strong and prosperous life… prosper for the Kingdom of Heaven is upon you! AMEN!

Stay Salty Friends!


Monday, February 6th, 2017

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 5, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

gospelsaltHave you ever wondered why we start every Divine Service with our confession of sins?  It is so we can give God glory for what He has done for us, what He is doing for us, and what He will do for us.  What is that great thing?  Friends, He has saved us from ourselves; He is saving us from our sin, and He has and is saving us from eternal death and the devil!  In our confession of sins we are admitting to God our complete spiritual poverty.  We are agreeing with Him that we are so hopelessly lost in sin that only He can save us!  And then after our declaration of poverty and hopelessness God’s kingdom breaks through in a mighty way and gives us the gospel; He gives us pardon and forgiveness in the Words of the absolution.  Listen to these wonderful words of Good News: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins.  To those who believe on His name He gives power to become the children of God and has promised them His Holy Spirit.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved!”

So repent, the kingdom of God is upon you!

To repent simply means to turn to your saving God, Jesus Christ and become salt and light. Taste and see that the Lord is good, full of flavor and able to preserve you and all of the church until the last day. See the light shining into the darkness and calling you the sleeper, to arise for God’s light shines to bring you out of sin.

This was essentially our message from last week when we heard it declared that we are blessed.  It is the door that we must always walk through in order to correctly understand God’s Word and live by it.  It is the very means that God uses to help us differentiate His Law from His Gospel.  If we can admit that we are broken, empty and poor in spirit, then we will receive the help of Jesus Christ, who is our God in human flesh.  If we come to Jesus in confession, He promises that He will in no means cast us away from Him!  This is why we are blessed, because Jesus has come to us in His Word and Sacraments and saved us.  Jesus is coming to us in His means and is still saving us!  And Jesus will come to us on the last day, on our last day and He will save us!  If we understand this divine truth, then we will also understand that Jesus is with us, within us, and around us performing His mighty works of mercy so that God will be glorified.

So what does it mean to say that Jesus is working through us; what will that look like?  That’s what we want to look at this morning.  Because Jesus is working through us we will see Him being salt and light in our congregation and in our personal lives.

This morning our Lord speaks to our congregation with these words: “Dear Trinity and Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, I blessed you long ago as a tiny mission congregation by giving you my Word and Sacraments and a faithful preacher. 

“I blessed you with the power to take My living Word out into the community of San Diego, California.  You admitted to me in your confession of sins that you were not able to serve me as you must; you admitted your sinfulness but you also joyfully heard my word of forgiveness, which brought to you my love and peace so that you could rest in My Father’s love.  And because you were faithful in trusting in my real presence, I called you to do spectacular work for my kingdom.  I gave you your calling as a congregation; a calling which came directly from my heart.  I called you to be salt and light in this sinful world.  You were called then and you are called now to be the salt of the earth, the salt in San Diego, CA.  And even now, because of my Word that you faithfully preach and teach, I am still the very thing that is preserving you and flavoring your community with my grace.  This is a marvelous thing.  So you must continue to speak My Word, both the Law and the Gospel to those who do not know Me or even refuse to know Me.  Teach My Word correctly and administer My Sacraments faithfully and I will continue to bless you.”

“Dear Trinity/Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, you are the light of the world.  Just as you must never cease being salt that flavors and preserves, you must also as long as you exist, never quit letting my light shine out from this little congregation.  In my eyes you are not little but great; you are a city set on a hill.  You are like the city of Zion high on the Lord’s mountain.  I have made you a sanctuary of peace for your neighbors.  Continue to allow my light to shine brightly from this place.  Continue to feed and clothe the poor, educate the youth, protect and care for the helpless and needy.

Your presence in this community and the power of my Word that you speak does bring light into darkness; so never stop speaking my truth. Never quit calling out sin and it’s cure… repentance!”

Listen friends, our Lord isn’t just talking to our church, but He is also talking to each of us as individuals. 

He is saying to you and to me that “You are the salt of the earth, but if (the salt that I have given to you) has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

Do you hear a threat, the thundering of God’s Law within these Words?  If you do then you aren’t listening with a new heart; a heart that has been made new.  If you hear threats and punishment, then you must go back to the door of invitation where Christ asked you to enter into His gospel peace of love, mercy and forgiveness.  You must go back to your baptism; you must go back to your confession of sin, and then hear again the absolution and Christ’s own proclamation which assures you that because you are forgiven He will by no means cast you out!  You must rest in the work that Jesus alone has done, is doing, and will do within you.  You must only look to Jesus and let His real presence change you.

This morning dear friends, Jesus says to each of us: “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

In these Words , Jesus reminds us that because we have been blessed with the gospel promise, we are not just blessed for ourselves but we have been blessed so that we are a blessing for others. 

Because He has blessed us He has now called us to bless our neighbors and even our entire community.  In whatever place we find ourselves we are to be a great light that demonstrates righteousness.  But as you have confessed you have no righteousness to demonstrate because you are spiritually poor.  Then what light are you to let shine?  Only the light of Jesus Christ; He alone is the light of the world; He is our sun and we are His moon.  His light is to shine and be reflected out of us in such a way that others will see that light and give glory to our Father in heaven.

To let our light shine before others means that we must let it shine in a spectacular way.  If you are a parent or grandparent, be an extraordinary one.  If you are a child, be an extraordinary child.  In whatever career or vocation you find yourself in, let your calling as a Christian, as salt and light be your central vision; let Christ be your purpose and your goal, and you will experience His light shining from within you.  But for what purpose are we to be the salt and light of this world?  Only for this, so that we may see Jesus ever expanding and building His Kingdom through us and among us!

How can we do all of this?  We can’t and we must admit this.  We must let go of all of our self-righteousness and then simply receive and be filled by Jesus’ own righteousness.  And friends, we can only do this by living in and living out the Word of God.  With Jesus leading us we can’t help but share the word of God with whomever He brings us to.  And what shall we say?  Friends, through us, He will speak the same word of peace that He speaks to us; the same word that saved us and brought us into His kingdom!  And as we speak this Word of peace we will also rest in it, and by resting in God’s Word we will also be empowered to demonstrate it in how we live.  Jesus Christ Himself, who is living and dwelling richly within us, will be the One doing all of the works of love through us!  And with Christ living within us and changing us, others will certainly see His presence and His works of love.  And when they ask why you do these things, simply explain to them that it is Christ alone who does them through you for them; simply share with them God’s love and His desire to give to them that same presence and peace.  Invite them into a relationship of friendship with you so you can continue to share the Word and love of God, and then invite them to our city on a hill; invite them to come to Trinity/Our Redeemer with you so that they too can be changed and blessed with a purpose; with a calling!  And what is that calling?  To be that same blessing to others!

Dear friends, I pray that as a congregation and as individuals we will let God’s light within us continue to break forth within our community like the dawn, so that God’s healing and life giving Word of the gospel will spread His righteousness.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

You Are Blessed!


Monday, January 30th, 2017

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), January 29, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

beatitudes“You are blessed!” That is both the title of our message and the truth that God’s Word proclaims to us this morning through this message. Last week we heard Jesus invitation to live a blessed life under the cross with these Words, “Repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand!” So right off the bat, we know that our blessed state is intricately connected to Jesus’ cross and even our own. We expect to hear a message that not only declares that Christ is present in hard times and suffering, but in fact He is always with us and promises to never leave us. But we also know that while the world laughs at this kind of message and calls it foolishness, God’s Word assures us that because we trust in Christ and His cross, we really are blessed with the only faith that gives both God’s peace and joy through the forgiveness of sins, that is through God’s power received only by grace and only through Christ. In fact this faith is the only way to receive eternal life.

This morning, let’s look into what this power of God’s grace gives to us; in short let’s discover why we are blessed!

Now again, let’s remember to the sinful world, all of this talk about being blessed under the cross, having joy and peace in the middle of tough times, is all just a bunch of nonsense! They can’t hear Words of blessing in Jesus message because they don’t think that good people, or those who follow the right religion should be suffering. They don’t think that they should suffer because they don’t see themselves as the type of sinners who need to turn to God for forgiveness; in fact many people think that God is right there with them in their sins approving of them!

What if we considered our gospel lesson this morning through the lens of this very political season. What if we were to consider Jesus Word’s this morning (the Beatitudes) as a kind of state of the union address, but in our case this morning, this would be a state of the church address? Well if that were the case, then His opponents should have equal time.

Maybe the response or rebuttal of Jesus political opponents might sound something like this: “Dear friends, our simple little preacher would have you think that you are blessed or happy if you rest in weakness and poverty. He sees the world as a place where we simply prepare to die in whatever state we find ourselves. But we of the prosperity party say no… this isn’t what you need to hear and it is not what you should expect from your leaders.”

“We say rather, happy are the aggressive people, those who know what they want and do anything to make that dream a reality. They will be the successful ones of this world. We say happy are those who are tough and hard-skinned, for they will never let this life hurt them or prevent them from knowing prosperity. Happy are they who complain unceasingly. We know that the squeaky wheel gets the oil and the ear-marks, so we will not be happy until we get our own way! Happy are they who give very little thought to a Creator-God, because they are happy in their own skin and never worry about such a small thing as what that ancient book, called the Bible, says about sin! Happy are the demanding and self-serving business owners and managers, because they know how to get results! Happy are the educated and knowledgeable men and women of this world because they can teach others how to be productive and serve the greater good, which we all know is seeing the rich get richer with a promise that some day the poor will join them! Happy are the troublemakers, because they really know how to make people take notice of them!”

And to this rebuttal, we the Church are called to speak yet another message; we say: “Our Lord’s opponents once more prove that they do not understand the Kingdom of God. They are talking about a material world that soon enough will vanish and no longer matter. They don’t understand that the reality that Jesus speaks about is an eternal reality; a reality where there is a different kind of world, one where heaven and earth are combined into something real and something perfect. They will not acknowledge this eternal reality because they will not repent of their sins. They will not repent because they do not believe that the Kingdom of God has come! But the time will come when they will believe in this reality because they will see it with their own eyes, but then it will be to late for them to enter. They will experience it outside of God’s grace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth! There in that place, there will be eternal mourning and persecution that will never be relieved. But we dear Christians are of another reality. We by faith know that you are blessed and protected by God!”

Do you hear how the word “blessed” is repeated over and over like the sound of steeple bells from heaven. Their ringing goes out to everyone in this sinful world inviting them to enter into peace with God through Jesus Christ. Its God’s invitation assuring everyone that they can know peace with God lright now, and soon enough never again experience sin, pain, suffering, or death!

This Word of blessedness is for everyone if they will just hear it and believe. For those of us who believe, we are assured that we already have this rich possession of Heaven right now, but we have an even greater promise that guarantees that riches far greater than these will soon be ours!

Jesus says to us who place our hope in this Kingdom of Heaven, “Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Well, it means that God’s Word has convinced you that on your own you’re lost in your own sins. It means that you know that unless you receive help from Him you can never know peace with God. It means that you know that without Jesus Christ and His cross you have no hope. It means that in your spiritual poverty you are moved to follow Jesus’ call to turn to Him. And when by faith you turn to Him you also learn to rest and trust in Him, because in Jesus you have found the Kingdom of heaven!

It’s within this eternal reality that Jesus also says…

“You are also blessed if you are mourning, because you shall be comforted!” Don’t we all mourn and don’t we all have a great need to be comforted? We mourn when a loved one dies or when we experience a great tragedy. But don’t we also mourn intensely over our own sins? Yes, when we sin, we feel deep pain and loss, we feel separated from God. But God’s Word comes to us in the absolution and assures us that even in these times of great mourning over our sins, we are forgiven; that Christ died even for those sins. We are assured because we turn to the cross of Jesus and cling to what He has done for us, and that He will never leave or forsake us! What greater comfort could you receive? Only this, one day you will see Him face to face and you will no longer need faith because you will live in His eternal presence and love. But doesn’t the sinful world mourn and receive comfort too? Yes friends, but their mourning shall never end and the little comfort they get here in this sinful world will soon end. All because they would not believe that the Kingdom of heaven had come to them through Jesus Christ!

But Jesus also says, “Blessed are you who are meek, for you shall inherit the earth.” Oops! We might have a problem. We aren’t always meek, in fact we can be outright aggressive and mean! And to this fear, Jesus says, “But I am meek. I was meek for you! I let them lead me to the cross like a lamb going to slaughter; I let them kill me for you. By my stripes, blood, and death, you’ve been healed. You’ve been forgiven. And because you believe that I did this for you, I have come and made my home within your heart. I am in you and you are in me. And because I am in you, I’m changing you… I’m making you meek! All that I ask of you is that you rest in this truth, cling to it and allow me to transform you. And because you rest in my truth I have declared you righteous!”

But now, our sinful minds remind us that we are not righteous and we never will be! We are reminded that we may look righteous and clean on the outside but inside we are like the Pharisees and Scribes, we are full of deceit. We are like freshly painted white tombs that on the outside are pleasing to the eye but on the inside we are full of dead men’s decay and bones!

And to this Jesus says, “Blessed are you because you see this; because you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be satisfied. You know that you can never be righteous on your own, but you also know that I was righteous for you. You know that I gave you this righteousness in your baptism, and you know that I continue to fill you with my righteous Word. So listen to and read my Word. Step up to my table and be nourished by my very body and blood that is yours in with and under the bread and wine! Eat and drink, and be satisfied knowing what I have given to you through my means!

Well, now that we are beginning to understand just what the mercy of God means and how it has saved us, Jesus asks us to go demonstrate this mercy to our neighbors. And He does it with these Words:

“Now blessed are you who are merciful to others as I have been merciful to you! I guarantee that you shall receive mercy! You shall receive mercy because in me, you see the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world… even your own sin! And because you see this in my Word, because you see my cross as a means of peace with your Heavenly Father, you are judged to be pure in heart. Blessed are you friend because of this pure heart, for you shall see God. You see Him even now in me. In my Word you see me, in your baptism you see and hear me through the Word of forgiveness, and in my Holy Supper you see, smell, touch, and even taste my very body and blood which gives you a pure heart.

Dear friends, the Kingdom of God, the reign of heaven in Jesus already belongs to those of us who are poor in spirit, even to those of us who are persecuted because of our faith in Him. But the promise of final comfort, our final inheritance, our final righteousness and experience of peace with God will not come until we receive the final vision of God on the Last Day. In the meantime, we who are the disciples of Jesus Christ must expect that our lives will be experienced through the lens of mourning, thirst, and hungering. But our eternal reality is that we are saved in hope… “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait eagerly for it through endurance.” [Rom. 8:24-25]

This present tension of blessing and joy, suffering and mourning until the Last Day of comfort is central to our lives as we live under the cross of Jesus, as we follow Jesus on this narrow path. But we follow Him as His peacemakers, as His ambassadors of the cross, and as we follow Him we know that as His peacemakers, we should expect some persecution because we speak His Word to our neighbors. In our witness, we bring the very peace of God and that peace is breaking violently into a sinful world that will have none of it! So Jesus leaves us with this last truth; a truth that will only become clear under the cross: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!”

I pray that this reward and joy of the Kingdom of heaven will become powerful and transforming in your lives as you learn to rest and live out the cross of Jesus Christ. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Walk In The Light!


Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (A),
January 22, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

repentThis morning, we’re allowed to briefly look into the heart of an apostle who is also a pastor. This pastor, the apostle Paul is troubled by some news he’s received. It seems there’s controversy brewing back in the parish over who is the best teacher, or preacher. Some say its Paul himself, others say that it is Paul’s assistant pastor, Pastor Apollos, and others say that it’s Peter. Then there’s another group who is trying to stay out of the whole argument, and they simply say, “I don’t know and I don’t care, I just follow Christ!” Paul now wants them to examine themselves and their faith and see the error, the darkness in what they have started. He wants them to be of one confession of faith, and he wants them to be of one heart and mind, the heart and mind of Jesus Christ; He wants them to walk in the light of the gospel!

Now before we begin to click our collective tongues at this whole mess, let’s see if we too have a need to repent and refocus our lives; let’s see if we to need to simply turn from darkness and walk in light.

If you call yourself a Democrat or Republican Christian, you may have to repent. If you call yourself a poor, middle class, or wealthy Christian you may need to repent! If you only call yourself a Christian around other Christians then friend, you really do need to repent! Now why do you think that any of this really matters? Friends, it matters because the world is watching us; your neighbor is watching you! They want to see if you’re the real thing; they want to know if you’re any better off than they are; they want to know if you really have the power of God unto salvation!

[1 Corinthians 1:10-18] Let’s look at our Epistle lesson a little more deeply to see where God is leading us.

Was Paul angry when he wrote this letter to the church at Corinth? No, I doubt it, but he was concerned. There have always been disagreements among people of faith and there always will be. Paul simply wanted to get everyone back to common ground… he wanted them to go back to the very foundation of their faith, Jesus Christ. If he could get each person’s heart back to what Jesus did equally for each of them, then these other matters, like who is the best preacher, or what political party you vote in become secondary, and may I even say unimportant?

Divisions weren’t anything new in Martin Luther’s day either. Listen to what he said regarding divisions that were created because of his preaching of the gospel: “For the operations of God are not childish or bourgeois or human, but divine and (they exceed) human (understanding).  But you do not seem to see that these tumults and divisions are marching through the world by the counsel and operation of God, and you are afraid lest the heavens should fall.  But I, by the grace of God, see this clearly, because I see other greater troubles in time to come, by comparison with which these present seem no more that the whisper of a breeze or the murmur of a gentle stream.”

What is Luther teaching? He’s teaching the same thing that Paul is teaching and it’s this: Each one of you is saying something different, and that is what will cause divisions. Instead of being different for your own purpose be different for God’s purpose. Instead of preaching opinion to your neighbor, and causing division, preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and let the divisions be between light and dark, good and evil! Speak of Christ crucified!

Now there’s a danger when we share our faith with our neighbor, and Paul wants to be sure that we don’t fall prey to this threat. What is that threat? Friends, it’s the temptation of proclaiming a bloodless gospel, or if you will a cross without the body of Jesus! Why would we do that? Because many people today don’t like to hear about a Savior who died a criminal’s death. They don’t want to hear about a savior who was beaten near death, and executed on a cross. So instead of simply sharing the gospel as it’s found in the pages of the Bible, the temptation is to explain these things with modern ideas, or to just share the moral ideals of our Christian faith.

Then there are those that we will encounter who don’t mind hearing the mysteries about a dying God, who came to us in our flesh and lived the perfect life on our behalf; they enjoy hearing how this God paid the penalty for our sins, but to just leave it there, doesn’t seem fair. This group of people insists that they need to add something to Jesus work upon the cross! So for these challenged individuals, some parts of the church has\ve, in error I will add, come up with little rules and regulations to help sell the message of the cross. These false teachings say things like, “Jesus starts us on the right path with His cross and with our own baptism by giving us His grace, but after that” they say “it’s our responsibility to finish what He started by loving and living a good life!” With this slight of hand, they turn God’s work into the work of sinful men and women!

To both of these groups, Paul is almost shouting at us in vs. 17 and saying, “No! Christ didn’t send me or you to proclaim a gospel that’s centered on eloquent wisdom, the work of sinful man, or in a way that will be more accepting to sinful people! If we do that then the cross that’s saved us will be emptied of its power!”

[Matthew 4:12-25] Now let’s look at our Gospel lesson.

Do you want God’s power in your life? Then look to the cross! What kind of power am I talking about? Well how about this… it’s a power greater than the power that God used to create the entire universe! It’s the power of God unto salvation and we call that power grace! Grace is the undeserved kindness of God; it’s God making you right with Him and not the other way around. Its new birth through the washing of the water and the Word! It’s the power of grace that gives you faith to believe in God’s Word and follow it where ever He leads! It’s the power of the Word which moves you to trust God even when you doubt Him.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus demonstrates that power for us when He calls Simon-Peter and his brother Andrew out into the mission field. If you remember in last week’s gospel reading, Jesus had already spoken the Word of eternal life to them. They were given God’s power of grace and faith unto everlasting life, and now Jesus calls them to learn to use that power to build the Kingdom of God. What was this Word that Jesus spoke to them that was so full of the power of God? It was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [Matt. 4:17-19]

Dear friends, in these Words of Jesus we see two things. First we hear that we must repent. “That seems easy enough” many think, “I must simply quit doing bad things and try my hardest to do good!” But friends, this is a grave and mistaken way of looking at repentance. This type of repentance becomes your work and not the work of Jesus! Do you want to see the work of Jesus? Look to the cross! That is His Work, His work for you! To repent does not mean simply turning away from your sinful life, but rather it means turning to the cross and seeing Jesus suffering and dying for you; to save you. It means clinging to a Savior, to a God who died in your place so that you can know for sure that you are saved!

Now some might say, “Oh that’s just semantics preacher. They both accomplish the same thing!” And to that I say, “NO!” Not at all; you see one way of repenting gives you glory for having the wisdom to know that you are a sinner. It gives you glory for taking the initiative to turn away from your sin. But the other way, the Biblical way to repent is to simply turn to God’s mercy and forgiving love and see Him dying in your place. To turn to Jesus is to know that only through Him can we find life, abundant life! And when we turn to Jesus we also hear Him say, “Follow me!”

Why do we follow Jesus? Because we have heard Him call and invite us through the mighty power of His Word. Why do we follow Jesus? Because His Word has moved us to turn to Him and trust Him. Can you see by the light of God friends that it is God alone who has done this great work of repentance within you and it is God alone who should get the glory! Through the Word of God and His invitation to follow Him we begin to hate our sin, and we are given the power to live a new life—the life of holiness. Through the power of God unto salvation we are not only forgiven but we are changed.

Let’s close our message with a story that will bring all of this message together.

The story is told of a former cocaine addict who met up with a bunch of his former friends. They were shocked that he became a “goodie two shoes” Christian, so they began belittling him. “Man, you use to be so sensible! How can you believe in miracles like Jesus turning water into wine?” The man responded by showing the evidence of his own changed life: “Whether you believe that Jesus turned water into wine I’ll leave up to you, but I know that in my home He’s turned crack into furniture and food and clothes for my wife and kids!”

Yes, the Word of God often does seem like folly to our unsaved neighbors, family, and friends, but to us who have been saved by seeing Jesus’ cross as our only means of salvation, it is God’s mighty power! It is a mighty power that is always changing us and demonstrating His saving love and just how real He is! Through the Christian artist the world is shown that Jesus and His cross are the source of all beauty. Through the Christian musician they discover melodies that even the angels can’t sing. Through the Christian builder, the world is shown that Jesus is the sure foundation. In the service of the Christian baker, the world is shown that the church, which is Christ’s body is the one true loaf. Through the Christian doctor, the world learns that Jesus is the great physician. Because of the Christian geologist, the world learns that Jesus is the Rock of Ages. In the love and care of a Christian parent, Jesus is pointed to as the way for the world to know the true Father. And when each of us is living our calling through Jesus Christ, the sinner learns that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And for we who make up the Christian church, together we declare that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, our great savior who calls each of us to follow Him to His cross by living out our own cross of service and suffering for our neighbor and together building the Kingdom of God.

I pray that you will continue to follow this call to walk in the light of the Gospel and in that light, find your vocation as a way to be a fisher of men. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Live Long and Prosper

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 19, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Last week, God’s Word invited us to live out our third choice, His choice, Jesus Christ.  Today we continue that journey, that choice of living everyday with God’s mercy and forgiving love which is ours through Christ’s death and resurrection as our baptismal identity.

This morning in our Old Testament lesson, God spoke through Moses to the people of Israel an urgent message of repentance, but He is also speaking to us, listen: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” [Deuteronomy 30:15-18]

So this morning, like the people of Israel, God gives us two choices: 1. Choose life in Me and you will live long and prosper, or; 2. Choose life in the world and you will surely perish.

What Israel could not have known yet, because God had not yet warned them through the prophets, was the truth that even though they were on their way to the promised land, they would sin against God by choosing the way of the world and they would be taken back into bondage through exile to foreign lands, and then, they would be given an opportunity to repent and once again know God’s grace, that is His mercy and forgiving love.  Then and only then, would they be able to live a life surrounded by God’s blessings and the daily choice to remain obedient to the will of God and His commandments.  If they would choose God’s way they would have something greater than a long life, they would have an eternal life.  But failure to receive all of God’s Word would most certainly result in death; that is eternal separation from God.

So we see, what God was really saying to the people of Israel and to us today is “Choose Me and you will be choosing a long, eternal, and prosperous life!  If you choose to stay with Me, I will always be with you just as I went with my people in the desert as a pillar of light by night and pillar of cloud by day.  I did that so you would know that I would never leave you or forsake you.  But not only was I with you, but I provided all that you needed to survive.  I gave you both food and drink.”  What Israel was to remember was that God chose them, they did not choose Him.  So now, all that He was asking them to do was rest in that choice; sadly many did not.  They did not choose God because they preferred to choose the way of the world.

Whenever Israel chose the way of the world, they were choosing sin; in essence they were declaring their independence from the God who not only created them, but redeemed them.  They chose death, evil, and the curse that went with death and evil… eternal separation from their only source of salvation.  Here is a trust worthy saying: When ever God’s children choose sin over Him and His gift of faith, which He has given to them, they also loose the ability to be obedient to His will, and then very quickly they will unite with their new masters, sin, death, and the devil.  If you reject God who creates life, then it only makes sense that you embrace death.

So what we discover is that choice is not something we do to get something we want, but something God has done and then invites us to rest in; something that gives purpose and meaning to life… and that something is the life of Jesus Christ.  Jesus life, death, and resurrection reminds us that we did not choose God, He chose us.

This morning, Jesus, the Son of God says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. [John 15:16-17]

Dear friends, I pray that you understand how blessed you are to be living in the time that you are living.  God does not speak to your through a burning bush, nor is He present with you in a pillar of fire or cloud.  He is with you now through His Son, Jesus Christ.  In His Word He speaks life into you.  By the power of His Spirit, God’s Word becomes strong and living within you.  In that Word you hear how God came to a sinful world that would not repent, that is they would not come to Him and choose life.  They would not choose Him so He came to them.  He came to them through His Son Jesus, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God made all things new!  But God did not just choose to save the world; He chose to save you personally.

In your baptism, God took the power of Christ’s death, a gift for the world and He applied it to you personally.  In your baptism, you have been saved from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil, and you have been told that your time of exile is over; that is your separation from God is over.  Now all that is left for you to do dear Christian is to continue following Jesus and His way, the way of the cross.

The way of the cross is the way of the baptized.  Martin Luther throughout His life encouraged Christians to embark on this journey every morning by rising out of bed, making the sign of the cross, and then saying, “I am baptized into Christ.”  That is your old sinful nature has been buried with Christ, and your new baptized nature has been resurrected with Him.  In other words you are reaffirming every morning that you choose life; you choose to live out God’s choice of life for you and then demonstrate that life to others that you will encounter throughout the day.

Just as Israel long ago was commanded to choose life so too are we.  By choosing life God means for us to choose to rest in His source to save us, Jesus Christ.  He is the source of both our choice and the purpose for the lives we live under this choice.  In other words, Jesus gives our lives meaning; He gives us the ability to live lives of faith and obedience to the will of God.  As Israel was invited to choose life, so are we.  With Jesus as the source of our life, we discover that our life has a purpose here on this earth.  And that purpose is to witness to God’s mercy and forgiving love.  We can do this because everyday we are experiencing it through God’s grace, which has become His gift to us through our baptism.  We choose life because He who was crucified and resurrected has assured us of the true life we have in Him.

Dear friends, you will not choose death because Jesus has destroyed death through the cross and the empty tomb.  You are not your own; you have been bought with a price.  You no longer live to please yourself, but your Father in Heaven.  Your life in Christ is now about caring for God and for your neighbor.  You choose life for yourself when you choose the will of God over your own will.  Your life will not be consumed with satisfying your own sinful desires but instead, you will become conscience of the will of God and the needs of your neighbor, and their greatest need is to know Jesus unto eternal life.

Everyday, we who call ourselves Christians are confronted with all kinds of choices as we live out our lives here in a dying world.  All to often, our sinful flesh over powers our new nature and caves into the world’s definition of choice.  We find ourselves picking and choosing the things that will benefit ourselves at the expense of pleasing God and helping out our neighbors within our community.  But choice within God’s definition of choice is not a matter of picking and choosing; it is a covenant term or a promise from God to us.  We know that those who refuse to receive God’s promise of life through Jesus Christ will only know death.  But we who are baptized, that is those of us who are saved by God’s grace through faith, choose to live out that baptismal grace every day.  We choose to continue to live out our lives in Christ, and we are assured of His presence and strength through out our lives in this world of exile.  We cling to the promise of Jesus that says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you”.

I pray that as you continue living out God’s choice you would know that eternal life is yours.  I pray that you would live a life of peace with God and peace with your neighbor.  I pray that you would live long and prosper, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Living Out the Third Choice

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 12, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Our Gospel lesson declares a wonderful truth… “You are the salt of the earth… and “You are the light of the world.”  Who is?  You dear Christians, each and everyone of you who Christ has redeemed and washed clean in the waters of baptism.  How do you know that this is true?  Because you are living out God’s choice… the way He has chosen for you.

There are other choices you can live by, two of them to be exact, but they will not enable you to be salt and light for a decaying world darkened by sin.  Let’s look at those two choices first, and then we will look at God’s third choice.

On our own, when confronted with God’s demand of perfection we could, and many do as a matter of fact, minimize our sinfulness and say we’re doing our best.  But I’m afraid that our best, your best isn’t good enough.  “Oh yeah?  Who says?!”  Well, God says of course, within His Holy Law.  You see, the 10 Commandments aren’t the “10 Suggestions” or “10 Ideals;”  They are God’s commandments.  In other words, they are nonnegotiable; YOU MUST DO THEM TO LIVE!

Sinful, human tendency, our tendency when confronted by the harsh demands of God’s holy law is to negotiate with God; to point to the “good things” we’ve done in hopes that they will tip the balance of some divine scale in our favor.  This kind of choice is what Jesus called self-righteousness.  It’s the kind of false righteousness that the world celebrates but God deplores.  It’s the kind of righteousness that demands that God take notice of the good and religious things it does; its as if it is saying “Listen to me God!  Look at all I’ve done and take notice!” And to this, God hears and He has responded.  Listen to His answer in our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 58:3-9a): “Is not this the fast (the religion) that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness”. [Vs. 6-9]

So there is your answer from God.  He is saying, don’t tell me to notice you and the things you do, because that is exactly what I will do.  I have looked, I have taken notice and not only do I see the sinful things you do but I also see the things you have failed to do.

So now we see that we can’t get away from our sinfulness; we can’t deflect the harsh demand of God’s law and think that we can please Him by our “good deeds.”  So what are we to do?  And this question leads us to our second choice, which is…

Despair.  Thefreedictionary.com online, defines despair this way: To loose all hope; to be overcome by a sense of futility or defeat; a complete loss of hope.  The church has always defined despair as a complete abandonment of all hope of saving one’s soul and of having the means required towards that salvation.  It isn’t a passive state of mind, but rather it involves a positive act of the will where a person deliberately gives up any hope of ever pleasing God or attaining eternal life with Him.

A famous poem made movie, and even cartoon is that work of Dante Alighieri’s 14th Century work now known as Dante’s Inferno.  The poem takes place on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week when Dante finds himself on a journey into hell itself.  As Dante and his guide were entering Hell, they see an inscription on the gate of Hell, which says, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”  What is despair?  That condition of a person’s soul, which is consumed with the reality that all hope of being at peace with God is gone!  So on our own, it seems we only have two choices: self-righteousness that God says always fall short of his perfection, or despair.

But God says that both of these choices are false choices; that is, they are not God’s choice for you.  God’s will for you is that when confronted with your sin, your self-righteousness and despair you would turn to Him for forgiveness of sins, and then allow Him to transform your heart into a new heart that is loving, humble, generous, and kind.  And that transformation can only come when the Spirit of God works within it and provides God’s grace.  God’s grace… that is His undeserved forgiving love and kindness, which comes only through God’s choice, our third choice, Jesus Christ!

In or gospel reading, Jesus says this about the holy and perfect law of God, which many wish did not exist because of its impossible demands: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  You see Jesus is our third choice, because only the perfect Son of God had the ability to fulfill all of God’s Word completely and perfectly.  But He did not fulfill them for Himself; He did it for you!  He fulfilled them so that you would have a new kind of righteousness to exchange with your sinful self-righteousness.  He gives to you His own righteousness.

In your baptism God gave you the fruits of Christ’s own cross.  One of those fruits is the righteousness of Christ.  But He also gave you another fruit, which is the promise that He would never leave nor forsake you.  He promised that no one could snatch you out of God’s hand of salvation.  In other words, you don’t have to worry about abandoning all hope; you do not need to despair.  Why?  Because as Jesus hung upon the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mark 15:34]  Jesus experienced complete abandonment from God for you so that you never would.  He experienced it so that you need not ever despair.

So now, this very morning God has given you this third choice.  So what does this mean?  It means that we should fear and love God so that we continue to allow His Word to expose our hypocrisy and our audacity to think that we could earn His forgiveness and blessing, and then turn to and cling to His only choice, our third choice Jesus Christ.  It means that we will turn to that third choice as our only choice and allow it to transform how we live our lives.  By faith we commit ourselves with the help of God to trust in Him alone to provide all of life’s blessings that will influence how we live.  In other words we will speak as God speaks and not as the world desires.  Our words will be salt to a dying world, even though the world would rather have us be honey.  We will not simply go along with the latest sinful trend simply to avoid discomfort in this life.  But we will also be light in a dark world.  How?  By allowing God to both capture our hearts and then motivate our minds to do the good things that God calls true religion.

In verses 6 and 7 of our Old Testament reading, we are given an impressive list of what God calls true religion.  On our own, this list can seem overwhelming and even impossible; after all we are just one little light!  But God tells us not to despair, that is don’t hide your light under a basket, but put it on a stand, and let it shine so that others will see your good works and give glory not to you, but to your Father in Heaven.  And remember, you are not a lone ranger Christian; you are not alone.  You are part of the church that is, the body of Christ Himself.  Or as Jesus said, “You are a city on a hill, (and you the church) can not be hidden.”

The church collectively can fight to loosen the bonds of the devil and free those trapped in sin.  The church can bring both physical bread and spiritual bread to the hungry and thirsty, especially those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We do this as we are being salt and light.

At a Bible study one day, some young people were discussing what it means to be “the salt of the earth.” One young person observed that “Salt creates flavor.” Another observed that “Salt preserves things from decay.” But then a young Chinese Christian exchange student spoke out of an experience none of the others had thought of. She said, “Salt creates thirst.” There was a sudden hush in the room, because all of those young people were thinking: “Have I ever made anyone thirsty for the Lord Jesus Christ?”

How do we help people thirst for God?  We can’t on our own, but God can if we continue to live lives of faith and repentance, the very thing we were baptized to do.  We can if we demonstrate a trust in His Word even when things seem hopeless.  And when our little bit of salt and our little bit of light draws the attention of others, we can invite them to that city on a hill, our own little church and allow God’s Word to invite them to live out along with us, God’s third choice… eternal life through Jesus Christ!   I pray this for each of you, and this city on a hill, and I ask this in Jesus name… Amen!

Are You Blessed?

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 5, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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These last few Sundays God’s Word has invited us to live a life under the cross of Jesus in these Words, “Repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand!  We discovered that while the world looks at this kind of life as foolishness God assures us that this is really the only way to experience His power of grace, which brings eternal life.

This morning, we’ll continue this teaching by looking at what this power of grace gives to us; namely it gives us the truth and experience of being blessed!  Now again, let me remind you that to the sinful world this is all just a bunch of nonsense, or as St. Paul says in our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 1:18-31), it’s folly!  They can’t hear Words of blessing in Jesus message because they don’t think that they are sinners who need to turn to God; in fact they think that God is right there with them in their sins!

What if we considered our gospel lesson this morning (Matthew 5:1-12) as Jesus state of the union message?  Well if that were the case, then His opponents should have equal time.  Maybe their response or rebuttal might sound something like this: “Dear friends, our simple little carpenter-preacher would have you think that you are blessed or happy if you rest in weakness and poverty.  He sees the world as a place where we simply prepare to die in whatever state we find ourselves.  But we of the prosperity party say no… this isn’t what you need to hear, and it is not what you should expect from your leaders.

We say rather, happy are the aggressive people, those who know what they want and do anything to make that dream a reality.  They will be the successful ones of this world.  We say happy are those who are tough and hard-skinned, for they will never let this life hurt them or prevent them from knowing prosperity.  Happy are those activists who complain unceasingly, because we all know, that it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil, so we will not be happy or quit causing trouble until we get our own way!

Yes, happy are they who don’t give to much thought to a God who judges their hearts and motivations, because they’ve learned to be content living in their own skin and they don’t worry to much about such a small thing like sin!  Happy are the demanding and self-serving business owners and managers, because they know how to get results!  Happy are the educated and knowledgeable men and women of this world because they can teach others how to be productive and serve the greater good, which we all know is seeing the rich get richer!  Happy are the troublemakers, because they really know how to make people take notice of them!”

And to this rebuttal, we hear the true preachers of the Church speak yet another message; we say: “Our Lord’s opponents once more prove that they do not understand the Kingdom of God.  They are talking about a material world, which soon enough will vanish and no longer matter.  They don’t understand that the reality that Jesus speaks about is an eternal reality; a reality where there is a different kind of world, one where heaven and earth are combined into something real and something perfect.  They will not acknowledge this eternal reality because they will not repent of their sins.  They will not repent because they do not believe that the Kingdom of God has come!  But the time will come when they will believe in this reality because they will see it with their own eyes, but then it will be to late for them to enter.  They will experience it outside of God’s grace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!  There in that place, there will be eternal mourning and persecution that will never be relieved.  But you dear Christians are of another reality.  You by faith know that you are blessed and protected by God!”

This word “blessed” is repeated over and over like the sound of steeple bells from heaven.  Their ringing goes out to everyone in this sinful world inviting them to enter into peace with God through Jesus Christ.  Its God’s invitation assuring everyone that they can know peace with Him right now, and soon enough never again experience sin, pain, suffering, or death!  This Word of blessedness is for everyone if they will just hear it and believe.  For those of us who believe, we are assured that we already have this rich possession of Heaven right now, but we have an even greater promise, which guarantees that riches far greater than these will soon be ours!

Jesus says to us who place our hope in this Kingdom of Heaven, “Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  Well, it means that God’s Word has convinced you that on your own you’re lost in your own sins.  It means that you know that unless you receive help from God, you can never know peace with Him.  It means that you know that without Jesus Christ and His cross you have no hope.  It means that in your spiritual poverty you are moved to follow Jesus’ call to turn to Him alone.  And when by faith you turn to Him you also learn to rest and trust in Him, because in Jesus you have found the Kingdom of heaven!

It’s within this eternal reality that Jesus also says, “You are also blessed if you are mourning, because you shall be comforted!”  Don’t we all mourn and don’t we all have a great need to be comforted?  We mourn when a loved one dies or when we experience a great tragedy.  But don’t we also mourn intensely over our own sins?  Yes, when we sin, we feel deep pain and loss, we feel separated from God.  But God’s Word comes to us in the absolution and assures us that even in these times of great mourning over our sins, we are forgiven; that Christ died even for those sins.  We are assured that because we turn to the cross of Jesus and cling to what He has done for us He will never leave or forsake us!  What greater comfort could you receive?  Only this, one day you will see Him face to face and you will no longer need faith because you will live in His eternal presence and love.  But doesn’t the sinful world mourn and receive comfort too?  Yes friends, but their mourning shall never end and the little comfort they get here in this sinful world will soon vanish, all because they would not believe that the Kingdom of heaven had come to them through Jesus Christ!

But Jesus also says, “Blessed are you who are meek, for you shall inherit the earth.”  Oops!  We might have a problem.  We aren’t always meek are we?  In fact, we can be outright aggressive and mean!  And to this fear of falling short of God’s perfection, Jesus says, “But I am meek.  I was meek for you!  I let them lead me to the cross like a lamb going to slaughter; I let them kill me for you.  By my stripes, blood, and death, you’ve been healed.  You’ve been forgiven.  And because you believe that I did this for you, I have come and made my home within your heart.  I am in you and you are in me.  And because I am in you, I’m changing you… I’m making you meek!  All that I ask of you is that you rest in this truth, cling to it and allow me to transform you.  And because you rest in my truth I have declared you righteous!”

But now, our sinful minds remind us that we are not righteous and we never will be!  We are reminded that we may look righteous and clean on the outside but inside we are like the Pharisees and Scribes, we are full of deceit.  We are like freshly painted white tombs that on the outside are pleasing to the eye but on the inside we are full of dead men’s decay and bones!  And to this Jesus says, “Blessed are you because you see this; because you hunger and thirst for a righteousness that is beyond your ability, you will be satisfied.  You know that you can never be righteous on your own, but you also know that I was righteous for you.  You know that I gave you this righteousness in your baptism, and you know that I continue to fill you with My righteous Word.  So listen to and read My Word.  Step up to My table and be nourished by My very body and blood that is yours in, with, and under the bread and wine!  Eat and drink, and be satisfied knowing what I have given to you through my means!”

Well, now that we are beginning to understand just what the mercy of God means and how it has saved us, Jesus asks us to go demonstrate this mercy to our neighbors.  And He does it with these Words: “Now blessed are you who are merciful to others as I have been merciful to you!  I guarantee that you shall receive mercy!  You shall receive mercy because in me, you see the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world… even your own sin!  And because you see this in my Word, because you see my cross as a means of peace with your Heavenly Father, you are judged to be pure in heart.  Blessed are you friend because of this pure heart, for you shall see God.  You see Him even now in Me.  In My Word you see Me, in your baptism you remember the day I first touched and called you.  And now, you see and hear Me through the Word of forgiveness, and in My Holy Supper you see, smell, touch, and even taste My very body and blood which gives you a pure heart.

Dear friends, the Kingdom of God, the reign of heaven in Jesus already belongs to those of us who are poor in spirit, even to those of us who are persecuted because of our faith in Him.  But the promise of final comfort, our final inheritance, our final righteousness and experience of final peace with God will not come until we receive the final vision of God on the Last Day.  In the meantime, we who are the disciples of Jesus Christ must expect that our lives will be experienced through the lens of mourning, thirst, and hungering.  But our eternal reality is that we are saved in hope… “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait eagerly for it through endurance.” [Rom. 8:24-25]

This present tension of blessing and joy, suffering and mourning until the Last Day of comfort is central to our lives as we live under the cross of Jesus, as we follow Jesus on this narrow path.  But we follow Him as His peacemakers, as His ambassadors of the cross, and as we follow Him we know that as His peacemakers, we should expect some persecution because we live out and speak His Word to our brothers and sisters here, and to our neighbors outside of this congregation.  In our witness, we bring the very peace of God, and that peace is breaking violently into a sinful world that will have none of it!  So Jesus leaves us with this last truth; a truth that will only become clear under the cross: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!”

I pray that this reward and joy of the Kingdom of heaven will become powerful and transforming in your lives as you learn to rest and live out the cross of Jesus Christ.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Foolishness That Binds Us!

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (A), January 26, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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In our Epistle lesson this morning (1 Corinthians 1:10-18), we’re allowed to briefly look into the heart of an apostle who is also a pastor.  This pastor, the apostle Paul is troubled by some news he’s received.  It seems there’s controversy brewing back in the parish over who is the best teacher, or preacher.  Some say its Paul himself, others say that it is Paul’s assistant pastor, Pastor Apollos, and others say that it’s Peter.  Then there’s another group who is trying to stay out of the whole argument, and they simply say, “I don’t know and I don’t care, I just follow Christ!”  Paul now wants them to examine themselves and their faith and see the error in what they have started.  He wants them to be of one confession of faith, and he wants them to be of one heart and mind, the heart and mind of Jesus Christ!

Now before we begin to click our collective tongues at this whole mess, let’s see if we too have a need to repent and refocus our lives. If you call yourself a Democrat or Republican Christian, you may have to repent.  If you call yourself a poor, middle class, or wealthy Christian you may need to repent!  If you call yourself a Christian only around other Christians then friend, you really do need to repent!  Now why do you think that any of this really matters?  Friends, it matters because the world is watching us; your neighbor is watching you!  They want to see if you’re the real thing; they want to know if you’re any better off than they are; they want to know if you really have the power of God unto salvation!

Was Paul angry when he wrote this letter to the church at Corinth?  No, I doubt it, but he was concerned.  There have always been disagreements among people of faith and there always will be.  Paul simply wanted to get everyone back to common ground… he wanted them to go back to the very foundation of their faith, Jesus Christ.  If he could get each person’s heart back to what Jesus did equally for each of them, then these other matters, like who is the best preacher, or what political party you vote in become secondary, and may I even say unimportant?

Divisions weren’t anything new in Martin Luther’s day either.  Listen to what he said regarding divisions that were created because of his preaching of the gospel: “For the operations of God are not childish or bourgeois or human, but divine and (they exceed) human (understanding).  But you do not seem to see that these tumults and divisions are marching through the world by the counsel and operation of God, and you are afraid lest the heavens should fall.  But I, by the grace of God, see this clearly, because I see other greater troubles in time to come, by comparison with which these present seem no more that the whisper of a breeze or the murmur of a gentle stream.”  What is Luther teaching?  He’s teaching the same thing that Paul is teaching and it’s this: Each one of you is saying something different, and that is what will cause divisions.  Instead of being different for your own purpose be different for God’s purpose.  Instead of preaching opinion to your neighbor, and causing division, preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and let the divisions be between light and darkness, good and evil!  Speak of Christ crucified!

Now there’s a danger when we share our faith with our neighbor, and Paul wants to be sure that we don’t fall prey to this threat.  What is that threat?  Friends, it’s the temptation of proclaiming a bloodless gospel, or if you will a cross without the body of Jesus!  Why would we do that?  Because many people today don’t like to hear about a Savior who died a criminal’s death.  They don’t want to hear about a savior who was beaten near death, and executed on a cross.  So instead of simply sharing the gospel as it’s found in the pages of the Bible, the temptation is to explain these things away with modern ideas, or to just share the moral ideals of our Christian faith.

Then there are those that we will encounter who don’t mind hearing the mysteries about a dying God, who came to us in our flesh and lived the perfect life on our behalf; they enjoy hearing how this God paid the penalty for our sins,  but to just leave it there, doesn’t seem fair.  This group of people insists that they need to add something to Jesus work upon the cross!  So for these challenged individuals, the church has, in error I will add, come up with little rules and regulations to help sell the message of the cross.  These false teachings say things like, “Jesus starts us on the right path with His cross and with our own baptism by giving us His grace, but after that” they say “it’s our responsibility to finish what He started by living a good life!”  With this sleight of hand, they turn God’s work into the work of sinful men and women!

To both of these groups, Paul is almost shouting at us in vs. 17 and saying, “No!  Christ didn’t send me or you to proclaim a gospel that’s centered on eloquent wisdom, the work of sinful man, or in a way that will be more accepting to sinful people!  If we do that then the cross that’s saved us will be emptied of its power!”

[Matthew 4:12-25] Do you want God’s power in your life?  Then look to the cross!  What kind of power am I talking about?  Well how about this… it’s a power greater than the power that God used to create the entire universe!  It’s the power of God unto salvation and we call that power grace!  Grace is the undeserved kindness of God; it’s God making you right with Him and not the other way around.  Its new birth through the washing of the water and the Word!  It’s the power of grace that gives you faith to believe in God’s Word and follow it where ever He leads!  It’s the power of the Word which moves you to trust God even when you doubt Him.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus demonstrates that power for us when He calls Simon-Peter and his brother Andrew out into the mission field.  If you remember in last week’s gospel reading, Jesus had already spoken the Word of eternal life to them.  They were given God’s power of grace and faith unto everlasting life, and now Jesus calls them to learn to use that power to build the Kingdom of God.  What was this Word that Jesus spoke to them that was so full of the power of God?  It was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [Matt. 4:17-19]

Dear friends, in these Words of Jesus we see two things.  First we hear that we must repent.  “That seems easy enough” many think, “I must simply quit doing bad things and try my hardest to do good!”  But friends, this is a grave and mistaken way of looking at repentance.  That type of repentance becomes your work and not the work of Jesus!  Do you want to see the work of Jesus?  Look to the cross!  That is His Work, His work for you!  To repent does not mean simply turning away from your sin to be saved; it means turning to the cross and seeing Jesus suffering and dying for you.  It means clinging to a Savior, to a God who died in your place so that you will be saved!  Now some might say, “Oh that’s just semantics preacher.  They both accomplish the same thing!”  And to that I say, “NO!”  Not at all; you see one way of repenting gives you glory for having the wisdom to know that you are a sinner.  It gives you glory for taking the initiative to turn away from your sin.  But the other way, the Biblical way to repent is to simply turn to God’s mercy and forgiving love and see Him dying in your place.  To turn to Jesus is to know that only through Him can we find life, abundant life!  And when we turn to Jesus we also hear Him say, “Follow me!”

Why do we follow Jesus?  Because we have heard Him call and invite us through the mighty power of His Word.  Why do we follow Jesus?  Because His Word has moved us to turn to Him and trust Him.  Can you see friends that it is God alone who has done this great work of repentance within you and it is God alone who should get the glory!  Through the Word of God and His invitation to follow Him we begin to hate our sin, and we are given the power to live a new life—the life of holiness.  Through the power of God unto salvation we are not only forgiven but we are changed.

The story is told of a former alcoholic who met up with a bunch of his former friends.  They were shocked that he became a “goodie two shoes” Christian, so they began belittling him. “Man, you use to be so sensible!  How can you believe in miracles like Jesus turning water into wine?”  The man responded by showing the evidence of his own changed life: “Whether you believe that Jesus turned water into wine I’ll leave up to you, but I know that in my home He’s turned whiskey into furniture and food and clothes for my wife and kids!”

Yes, the Word of God often does seem like foolishness to our unsaved neighbors, family, and friends, but to us who have been saved by seeing Jesus’ cross as our only means of salvation, it is God’s mighty power!  It is a mighty power that is always changing us and demonstrating His saving love and just how real He is!

Through the Christian artist the world is shown that Jesus and His cross are the source of all beauty.  Through the Christian musician they discover melodies that even the angels can’t sing.  Through the Christian builder, the world is shown that Jesus is the sure foundation.  In the service of the Christian baker, the world is shown that the church, which is Christ’s body is the one true loaf.  Through the Christian doctor, the world learns that Jesus is the great physician.  Because of the Christian geologist, the world learns that Jesus is the Rock of Ages.  In the love and care of a Christian parent, Jesus is pointed to as the way for the world to know the true Father.  And when each of us is living our calling through Jesus Christ, the sinner learns that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And for we who make up the Christian church, together we declare that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, our great savior who calls each of us to follow Him to His cross by living out our own cross of service and suffering for our neighbor and together building the Kingdom of God.  I pray that you will continue to follow this call and find your vocation as a means to be fishers of sinful men, women, and children.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Live Strong and Prosper!

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 20, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION:  This morning we continue our message from within Jesus Sermon from the Mount, and we’ll let these words confront us and comfort us: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48]  Here’s a question that I want you to wait until the end of our message to answer: Is this the Law or Gospel?  It’s my prayer that by the end of our message you will be able to answer this question, and that the answer will lead you in how you will live out the rest of your life.

In that question we must remember that  Jesus’ primary goal isn’t to speak the law and condemn us as sinners, which we are, but instead He is leading our hearts to understand the will of God and our new identity as saints; people He is sending out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. [Vs. 13-16]  Jesus wants us to see our need for living our lives in complete dependence on God’s love and care, which will then compel us to demonstrate or reflect that same love to our neighbors where ever we me meet them.  And all of this is done within the tender balance of living a life of repentance and faith, which Jesus provided for us in the Beatitudes [Vs. 3-12], where He assured us of a life strong blessings.  When the reality of these blessing begin to control our very lives, we will begin to have an effect upon our community as salt and light.  But we must always remember that our quest for completeness has nothing to do with entering or staying in the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has already given that to us!

I. Now resting in this promise of blessing, hear the perfect Law of God: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  (Or if someone punches you, punch them back.)  But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.”  Lord, are you saying don’t fight back against anyone?  “(Yes”, he says,) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  But Jesus isn’t done yet, He now takes it a step further: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”  In other words, if part of a settlement to a law suit is your jacket, let them have your shirt also!  “And if anyone (say like the government or someone else with power over you) forces you to go one mile (say to carry something), go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” [Vs. 38-41]

“But Lord…. But Lord!  Do you know what that will mean to me?  That’s not only foolish it’s also impossible!”  And dear friends, that is the point.  Living the kind of life that Jesus is leading us to is the foolishness of the cross… the impossibility of fulfilling God’s perfect law.  Your “but Lord” should be enough to turn you away from any foolish ideas you might have that doing God’s law is doable!  It should be enough to not only turn you to God’s mercy and forgiveness, but keep you there as you learn to follow Jesus! 

You see friends, Jesus wants us to understand that it isn’t God’s law that brings about true justice for us but it’s His love and mercy that does that!  Now our Lord knows that this is the complete opposite of what the world calls common sense; it goes directly against our natural inclination.  You know what I am referring to don’t you?  “A tit for a tat!   I’m going to make sure I get justice!”  That’s the natural way of this sinful world!  They think that the law will give them wholeness and security; but we must always remember that the left hand kingdom or the kingdom of God’s law can never bring about any real change; it only demands it.  Instead, it is God’s way to provide justice by inviting His children to trust in His plan for them and then turn to Him in prayer.  And when we rest in God’s plan of justice, He then asks us to absorb the evil attacks of our neighbor and let it die there!  He is asking us not to live a life of tit for tat, but instead live a life of sacrificially turning the other cheek and trusting that God will repay!

What we must remember is that this is ultimately not about you and me, but it is about Jesus Christ!  He is the one who truly did turn the other cheek when He was struck by the Sanhedrin.  He truly did let them take both His tunic and His cloak as they rolled dice deciding who would keep them.  He truly did pick up His cross and walk more than a mile to the ominous poverty of Golgotha; with the sins we placed on Him.  But we must not ever say or even think that because Jesus lived this life perfectly for us, we no longer need to!  No friends, just the opposite is true; what Jesus did for us, demonstrates for us what it means to love!  He demonstrates to us the highest form of love… God’s own love; a love of intellect and choice.  As God has loved us, so we are to love our neighbor.  This kind of love means that we will stand against evil not by taking a physical and reactionary stand against it but by submitting to the one who is evil; by absorbing the evil and not matching it with our own form of pay back.  Why would we do this?  Because of God’s mercy and love that has been given to us through Jesus Christ!

Now I know, when we hear these words, we want to close our ears; we don’t want to do it!  We desperately look for another way to explain this hard teaching of Jesus, but the truth is friends there is no other way to explain it and no other way to follow Jesus; He always leads us to the cross!

ILLUSTRATION: This isn’t a new teaching friends, nor is it without those who truly understood it and lived out its truth.  Martin Luther understood it along with those who went before Him and became martyrs.  Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. also saw and lived out the beauty of this teaching, and they absorbed so much hate and evil that it eventually took their lives.  Martin Luther King Jr. not only walked the way of the cross but He taught others to do the same, and because of that obedience, God brought about great change.  He changed the injustice of hate not with the sword but with mercy and forgiveness, and this change is still in motion today!

Through Jesus we find true power and truth in the cross.  And that truth is that you don’t overcome evil by violently standing against it but by turning the other cheek.  But don’t mistake this turning of the cheek with weakness or tolerance!  Nowhere does Jesus say to turn the other cheek and refuse to speak up for what is right; nowhere does He say not to take on the cause of those who are being overcome by evil!  As salt and light, we are to speak the truth, God’s truth in love; a kind of love that move us to take the evil action of another upon ourselves; the kind of love that moves under the burden of the cross another is bearing and help them shoulder the load.  We are to take all of the evil action upon ourselves and let it die there, never bringing it up again!

ILLUSTRATION: Do you remember the movie that came out 10 years ago called “Pay it Forward”?  The premise was this: An 11 year-old boy named Trevor McKinney was given a class assignment to devise and put into action a plan that would change the world for the better. Trevor’s plan was to create a charitable pyramid scheme, based on good deeds rather than profit. He called his plan “Pay it forward”, which means the recipient of a favor does a favor for a third party instead of paying the favor back.  Well it is Jesus desire that those He brings into the Kingdom of God with Him would do something similar but different.  Jesus is telling us not to pay evil forward but let it end with you!  This is the love He demonstrated upon the cross and it’s the kind of love that He wants us to live in and demonstrate to others.

Do you want to learn to be obedient?  Do you want to become what God has already said that you are… holy?  Then don’t pay it forward; follow Jesus to the cross and agree with this teaching and pursue it!  This is the way of the cross!  So are you looking for a “how to” part of this sermon?  Good, then I have only one step for you to follow: turn to Jesus and His cross!  How?  Well you’ve already been given the heart of Jesus, so follow that heart; follow that love of God that has been put within you.  Love your enemy; pray for him.  You will be surprised just how much change and rearrangement God will do when your heart first agrees that He’s right and you’re wrong.  Once you learn to admit this, then praying for your enemy isn’t really that difficult.

But why must we do this?  Well, Jesus answers this question as well.  Listen: “(You will do this) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” [vs. 45]  But that sounds like some kind of works righteousness!  Is it?  Is Jesus saying that I must work at loving my enemies here on earth so that my Heavenly Father can reward me by making me His son or daughter?  No, not at all!  Jesus is saying that when we are loving our enemies we are showing them the love of the Father; we are showing them that we ARE sons and daughters of the Father!  Through our acts of love that find their source in the heart of Jesus we are showing everyone, including our enemies that our God is also their God; a God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  We are showing them that not only are God and His love real, but also His Law that threatens anyone who refuses to follow that love through Jesus Christ!  We are showing them that the same God who saved and changed us wants to do the very same work within them.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors (or open sinners) do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” [Vs. 46-47]  You see friends, Jesus is telling us that we are not to think that our Christianity is something nice that we share with those who are part of our congregation; He’s not saying that your Christian love is reserved for anyone else who calls themselves Christian; He’s not even saying that our Christian love should be shared with those who do nice things for us!  We are called not to love just those who love us, but to love those who hate us!  This is the way of the cross; this is the path Jesus traveled and invites us to travel with Him.

CONCLUSION: Listen to Jesus final Words upon the cross and let them lead and guide you.  As he was dying upon the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”  Who did He pray forgiveness for?  Was it only for those who placed Him on the cross?  Yes, He prayed for all those present, He prayed for you, and He prayed for your enemy, because it was all of our sins that placed Him there!  And as He prepared to take His last breath He shouted: “IT IS FINISHED… it is perfect… it is complete!”  What is?  God’s plan to remove the sins of the world, even your sins!

Jesus closes our teaching this morning with these words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Vs. 48]  You must be complete as your Heavenly Father is complete.  You must be finished and you must be complete; this is the true meaning of perfect.  And that is what you are because Jesus has blessed you with His completion!  Through the beatitudes or God’s pronouncement of blessing at the beginning of Jesus Sermon, He gives you the very thing that He now tells you that you must have… completion!  What wonderful news!  Now take this blessing and live strong and prosper… prosper for the Kingdom of Heaven is upon you!  AMEN!

Have You Had Your Heart Checked Lately?

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 13, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION:  Maybe you are feeling a little like me this morning, tired of all the commercialism around Valentine’s Day. For the last few weeks we have been bombarded with images and messages that say love is measured  by how much we spend on those we love.  But this has never been God’s idea of love.  God’s Word clearly teaches us that the quality of love isn’t measured by our pocket book, but instead by our hearts.

This morning the Words of Jesus come to us like a scalpel in the hand of a renowned surgeon.  Make no mistake, while these Words are spiritual in nature they are nonetheless real and they are God’s own truth.  So the surgery that Jesus will perform on each of us will be spiritual in nature and the focus of that surgery will be our very hearts!  But like any great surgeon, Jesus wants us to understand the nature of our disease; the disease that requires corrective surgery.  And to help us see the need for this surgery Jesus speaks some strong words to demonstrate to us that our physical hearts are diseased and in fact already dead! 

I. We must remember the context in which these Words come to us.  Our message this morning is still part of a large sermon we call “The Sermon on the Mount”.  Hopefully, we are still resting in our confession that we are spiritually empty and dead inside.  And if we are, then God’s Word assures us that we have found forgiveness and peace with Him.  So the procedure Jesus is performing this morning is simply corrective surgery because we’ve already been given a new heart and assured of our place in Jesus’ Heavenly Kingdom.   

But, if you haven’t yet entered the Kingdom of God through your confession of sin and hopelessness, you will find this whole procedure worrisome, frightful, and intimidating.  You have two choices, you can push away the hand that will skillfully wield the scalpel or you can take a deep breath of the Word of God and fall helplessly to its work and let that same Word perform a major spiritual surgery on you.  What is that surgery?  To be honest, it’s nothing less than a heart transplant.  Jesus wants to remove your diseased heart of stone and replace it with a healthy heart… His own heart!  Now you can refuse to let our Great Physician perform this procedure, but you must be warned that the result will be eternal death; eternal separation from God.  But if you will simply let go of your own self-centered interest and turn to Jesus and His love for you, you will never be the same.

Now I know that for all of us, this will be an uncomfortable time in Jesus’ spiritual OR, but we must remember who it is that is caring for us.  He promises that if we will simply trust Him, and let His Word work within us, we will be eternally changed and rearranged.  Well, are we ready?  Then let’s let the Master do His work!

II. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” [Matt. 5:21-22]  Now, what we need to keep in mind in this entire message is that there is a common thread that connects all of Jesus teaching.  If we stay with our analogy of heart disease, then we can see Jesus directing our attention to one of the proofs that we have a diseased heart.  He does this by showing us how we incorrectly look at the 5th Commandment.  Just like the people in Jesus time, we too have a very narrow interpretation of murder.  Generally we think of it as raising our hand against our neighbor in a way that ends in violence and death.  Images of Charlie Manson, Ted Bundy and John Gardner come to mind.  But Jesus says, “No, that’s too narrow.”  OK, so let’s include drive-by shootings, domestic violence and DWI’s in the mix.  “No” says Jesus, “your still to narrow.”  Ok, so we will include unjust actions by our police officers that take a life, or an unjust war!  And to this Jesus says, “No you still do not understand that this is a matter of the heart.  What the heart feels and thinks is what gives birth to the sin.  If you are angry with your Christian brother or sister, or even your neighbor, and if you will not let go of that anger you are guilty of murder!”

“You see” says Jesus, “your anger at first is hidden away in your heart.  You think that no one can see it, but I can.  I know what will happen if you don’t get rid of it; if you don’t let me cut it out.  It will turn to bitterness which will overflow into hurtful words, which may then result in some type of action on your part.  I see all of this, and I am warning you that if you don’t let me cut this disease out, you will die eternally and end up in Hell!”

Now each of us may be tempted to think that Jesus is speaking of a procedure that we can put off until later.  Certainly He doesn’t have to perform this work right now?! And to this Jesus says: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  What does Jesus mean by this?  Is He telling me that I should get up right now and confess my sin to my brother and sister?  What if my brother or sister that I have sinned against is right now in this very sanctuary?  Am I supposed to interrupt the sermon and approach them?  Well yes, if you feel that is what God is asking you to do!  By no means should you approach our Lord’s Holy Table and eat and drink forgiveness if you are unable to confess your sin to the one you have hurt.  And by no means are you to approach our Lord’s Supper unless you are willing to forgive as Jesus has forgiven you!  Now some of us may have heard the wisdom in these words, we may have seen the need for a new and changed heart, but we want to have time to consider the ramifications of just what such a radical procedure will mean.  So, we will want to put it off until the right time.  And to this procrastinating Jesus brings the spiritual urgency of His Words into our physical reality with these words: “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” [Vs. 25-26]

Here is where our spiritual and physical realities combine.  Here Jesus is assuring us that if we damage our relationship with our neighbor and do not take steps to repair that damage, it will also have an eternal effect on our relationship with Him!  “So” He says, “do everything that is within your power to live in peace with your neighbor, especially with fellow believers!”

OK, that part of the surgery is complete, so now let’s move onto the next procedure.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” [Vs. 27-30]  What?  Who’s the surgeon here anyways?  Why does Jesus want us to remove our eye and cut off our hand?  Well haven’t you ever heard someone say, “I can’t help it, I just have a wondering eye.” Or when it comes to stealing they might say, “I just have sticky fingers.”  So Jesus is saying, “Go ahead and pluck and cut, cut and pluck until there’s nothing left to remove!  Or” He says, “you can just let me finish this surgery on your heart, which is the real cause of all of your problems!” 

Friends, here Jesus is showing us once again that the root of all of our sins can be found in the terminal condition of our hearts.  If we want to be free of sin, even the sin of adultery, we must first admit that we have that disease within us.  And to make this confession easier for us, Jesus has shown us that just thinking impure sexual thoughts is the same as carrying them out.  Looking at impure material on the internet and fantasizing about it and looking at a person of the opposite sex and imagining any contact outside of neighborly love is actually the same thing as actually performing the sinful act!  So who is guilty of such adultery?  All of us!  What is the cure for such a propensity to sin?  A new heart!  And that’s just what Jesus has done for us and is doing for us.  

Well, we’ve reached the final portion of our surgery.  And very soon we’ll be in the recovery room.  But Jesus has just one more major procedure to perform.  Listen: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” [Vs. 31-32]

Now I know for a fact that this part of the surgery is perhaps the hardest and most difficult portion to sit through.  Divorce has become so acceptable in our society that we no longer think of it as a sin.  We can actually be tempted to tell our Great Physician that this is an antiquated procedure and has no place in a modern society.  We might be tempted to quote to Him all of the reasons why divorce is needed.  We might be tempted to begin to rise off of the operating table and tell Him were done!  And to this Jesus gently pushes us back down onto the table and says, “I say to you friend that unless your divorce was caused by unfaithfulness you have already committed adultery.  So lay back down and let me finish!  Hear what I will tell you now and confess that I am right and you are wrong.  Divorce is sin.  It shatters the lives of both parties as well as the innocent children and family members that are part of that relationship.  Do not divorce.  Instead, be faithful to your marriage vows and love and serve one another as if you are loving and serving me.” 

Now our Lord is finishing the surgery, and He closes the incision with these Words: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.  [Vs. 37] And when you say you will do something simply do it!” 

III. How do we feel now?  Well like how we would feel after any major surgery, we are groggy and sore.  The strong medicine of God’s Law has done its work within us. But now it’s time for the healing Word of His Gospel to do its work.  Now we are reminded that we have already been forgiven and saved from our sins; we have already been given a new heart.  This procedure, while painful was necessary in order to continue the transformation that Jesus began within us after we were recreated and washed clean in the waters of our baptism.  Then and now, Jesus is asking us to live a life in agreement with God’s Word.  First we agree that all of our sins, past, present and future have been forgiven.  Second we agree that as salt and light in this sinful world we need to always turn to Jesus and allow His heart within us to teach us how to live a life that agrees with God’s Word.  We know that while it’s true that we live among people who want to do us harm, people we have every right to see as our enemies, we must learn to trust in God’s protection; His work around us and within us.  We know that even if we suffer great violence and loss, our Heavenly Father is always working to protect us from our greatest threat, and that is our own sins within us that seek to destroy our new heart, Jesus’ heart that He has placed within us.

CONCLUSION: So here is a picture of what salt and light looks like within us, our congregation, and even within our community.  It is a picture of how we live with each other.  Will we sin and fall short of God’s demand of perfection?  Yes, we certainly will!  And confronted with this reality we take our sin and shortcomings to Jesus and His cross.  We repent and confess our sins of thought and attitude, word and deed, to God, asking forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, and we ask for the strength of God’s Spirit to always turn us to Jesus our Great Physician.  And friends, God’s Word assures us that when we turn to Jesus and hunger to let His heart beat within us, we are also turning away from our old sinful diseased heart.  And because we do this, God assures us that we will be at peace with Him and each other, loving with a true love, and serving each other as Christ Jesus continues to love and forgive us!  May you always live out this new heart and mind of Jesus.  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…. AMEN!