Posts Tagged ‘Change’

Is It Well With Your Soul?

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 17, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” [Genesis 50:19, 20]]

These words from our Old Testament reading are the words of a Kingdom builder; they’re the Words of the Lord of the Kingdom of God, which are simply being spoken by a subject of the King. They are Words of restoration and peace; they are Words of forgiveness. They are Words that make all things well with our souls! With all of this being true, then why do we find it so hard to speak them? Why is it such a battle to say, “I forgive you”?

Surely we have reasons, good reasons not to trust some people; not to forgive them. I would not put a convicted embezzler in charge of our church bank account, would you? Would you want a convicted child molester teaching your kids at Sunday school? Of course not, but does that also mean that we should withhold forgiveness, love, and restoration from them?

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we encounter Joseph, a man who had every reason to be bitter, hold a grudge and get revenge.

His own brothers threw him in a well in the middle of the desert and then sold him to slave dealers. But Joseph experienced something that changed him forever; he experienced God’s presence and God’s protection. In the home where he served as a slave, he eventually became the head slave and had complete freedom to run the entire home and its business. But trouble always seems to follow people who know they worship and are led by a merciful and loving God, and Joseph was no exception. Very soon he was falsely accused by the wife of the lord of the very home he was serving in. Bam! Joseph’s life was turned upside down again. Once again he was falsely imprisoned, but this time it wasn’t in a well but in a real prison! But Joseph knew that he wasn’t in that prison alone; he knew that the God of mercy was with Him and where ever God is, all is well with the soul of a child of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Once more God would prove to Joseph that He was a God who makes a way out of no way; He would prove that He was a God who never leaves or forsakes His little ones who serve in His Kingdom; Joseph was given the keys to the prison and allowed to run it! But that’s not all is it? No, eventually it became known to the Pharaoh that Joseph was a man of God who could interpret dreams. So as a result of one meeting with Joseph who spoke the Word of God truthfully, Joseph was made second in command in all of Egypt.

And now before him stands his brothers who did unthinkable evil against him; they were standing before the second most powerful person in the world. So this was Joseph’s chance to make things right; to right the wrongs that were done to him. And what does he do? He makes things right; right in the Kingdom of God! He offers forgiveness and restoration. But why… how? Because that is how the Kingdom of God operates! You see, the Kingdom of God makes a way out of no way. In a earthly kingdom where only death and punishment reign supreme, God’s Kingdom brings life and forgiveness. Out of fear and danger God assures His child that all is indeed well with his soul!

Do you think that Joseph had questions about the sincerity of his brother’s confession of sin? Sure, but having questions, having doubts isn’t what is important here, it’s where you take those questions and doubts. As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, Joseph immediately gave these things to God and He forgave all of them. It’s as if he was saying to them, “If God’s forgiven you, who am I to do anything differently? Don’t you see that what you meant for evil against me, God in His wonderful counsel has turned into something marvelous in our sight. He’s not only frustrated your evil plan, but He’s used it to bring abundant life and blessing for both me and you!” And that is always how things work in the Kingdom of God. You see, as citizens of God’s Kingdom of grace, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

So we see, in this way God causes good to result from evil, not that He wants us to do evil, but in His goodness He can take even our great wickedness and turn it into good. It’s God’s nature to forgive a fearful and sobbing sinner who is begging Him for mercy. And this is the very lesson that Jesus was trying to get Peter to understand; it’s the lesson He wants each of us to go home with this morning.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 18:21-35) Peter asked Jesus how many times he should keep forgiving someone for something they do against him over and over.

Now, the Jewish teachers said that three times is enough to satisfy the mercy of God, so that the justice of God could take over. So Peter took that number and multiplied it by 2 and threw in one more for good measure and answered his own question with a question: “Seven times?” Now don’t be too hard on Peter, because from a human standpoint, a flawed and sinful standpoint Peter did pretty well. Even our own society today would call that excessive and a bit naïve. You know the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me!”

So now learn the lesson about how things work in God’s Kingdom. “Jesus said to (Peter), “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Now that’s excessive! But the number isn’t the point of Jesus teaching, it’s the attitude or the spirit. Jesus is teaching us that the new nature of a baptized child of God is the type of nature that doesn’t keep count. Even if you did count how many times someone kept sinning against you, isn’t it true that you would lose count long before you got to 490?

So the nature of a citizen in God’s Kingdom simply does as Joseph did, He gives it to God and trusts that all things will work together for the good that God has determined.

Joseph learned to trust God and so did Peter.

They learned that even when it seems that things are at their worse, God is still present and in control! Each of us must learn this as well, and God has made sure that we can do this very thing. He did it by breaking into our existence, into our history through one event that has rendered everyone subject to One Judge… Jesus Christ Himself! The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has led not only the past, but it has shaped the present and it will determine the future. Joseph trusted in the coming Savior along with every other citizen of Heaven that came before and after Him. And when the Son of God took on our flesh and broke into our present and our future, the words of Joseph become the Words of Jesus: “As for you and your sinful ways, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Through my suffering and death your sins have been wiped clean. My death brought you life! Will you rest in this gift or reject it?)”

Today friends, we who are baptized into Christ Jesus can confidently say “I am a citizen of heaven. I was saved by Christ’s death on the cross, and through that work of the cross, forgiveness of sins was given to me in my baptism! I haven’t refused that forgiveness and I still pray for it every day. Daily through the power of God’s Word, I continue to see the sin that is still within me, but through that same Word I am given the promise of forgiveness and the ability to fight and destroy that sin, as I turn to Jesus and His cross for forgiveness! Every day I see the unthankful forgiven sinner within me holding grudges and planning revenge against my brother who sins against me, but I take this nature and I drown it in the waters of my baptism; I crucify it upon the cross of Jesus! Every day I fight to allow God to love my brothers and sisters through me even when they sin against me. I do this not because they deserve it but because God has done and always will do this very thing for me!” This dear friends is the life of a child who lives in the Kingdom of God.

Now I could end here and we would have a wonderful message about forgiving our brothers and sisters, but then you wouldn’t have God’s entire message. In order to complete our message, we must import one more bit of scripture. In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus has one more group of people that we must learn to love and forgive… our enemies! “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” [Matthew 5:43-45]

Now this can be a hard lesson for all of us to accept, especially on the heels of the sixteenth year anniversary of the September 11 attack against our nation by Muslim terrorists, and yet God is asking us to not only accept His will but to fulfill it! Here the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ gives us a command; we must love those who hate us and attack us. We must pray for the ability to forgive them and also pray that they would turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration. This kind of love can exist only in the Kingdom of God; indeed it is the very thing that separates it from all other kingdoms. Now don’t misunderstand, God isn’t asking you to put your arm around your enemy; He knows that we have reason not to trust them or like them. But He is asking you to be filled with the love of Jesus and let Him do this work within you! This is a higher form of love that can only come from God. It’s the kind of love that says “I know that I will never like a murderous terrorist, or a criminal who may have robbed me or threatened my life; I can’t like a false and lying, slanderous person who has attacked my character over and over again; but I can by the grace of Jesus Christ love them all; I can see what’s wrong with them and follow God’s Spirit within me and work to do them good. I can pray that God will free them from their vicious ways just as He has done and is doing for me!”

Is living in the Kingdom of God easy? No, of course not! It requires the same things that Joseph had and that Peter received. It requires faith and trust in a God who promises that all things will work together for the good for those who love Him and trust in His calling and purpose! Will you struggle with this command to forgive? Yes! Will you fail sometimes and fall back into a spirit and mindset of the world, probably so! You will also be tempted in times of tragedy to think that God has abandoned you, but you must remember, its God’s presence and mercy; it’s His forgiveness for you that will carry you through until the end and deliver you safely into His Kingdom!
Let me tell you the story of Horatio G. Spafford. He was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago with a lovely family — a wife, Anna, and five children. However, they were not strangers to tears and tragedy. Their young son died with pneumonia in 1871, and in that same year, much of their business was lost in the great Chicago fire. Yet, God in His mercy and kindness allowed the business to flourish once more.

On Nov. 21, 1873, the French ocean liner, Ville du Havre was crossing the Atlantic from the U.S. to Europe with 313 passengers on board. Among the passengers were Mrs. Spafford and their four daughters. Although Mr. Spafford had planned to go with his family, he found it necessary to stay in Chicago to help solve an unexpected business problem. He told his wife he would join her and their children in Europe a few days later. His plan was to take another ship.

About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic, the Ville du Harve collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Suddenly, all of those on board were in grave danger. Anna hurriedly brought her four children to the deck. She knelt there with Annie, Margaret Lee, Bessie and Tanetta and prayed that God would spare them if that could be His will, or to make them willing to endure whatever awaited them.

Within approximately 12 minutes, the ship slipped beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the passengers including the four Spafford children.
A sailor, rowing a small boat over the spot where the ship went down, spotted a woman floating on a piece of the wreckage. It was Anna, still alive. He pulled her into the boat and they were picked up by another large vessel which, nine days later, landed them in Cardiff, Wales. From there she wired her husband a message which began, “Saved alone, what shall I do?”

Mr. Spafford booked passage on the next available ship and left to join his grieving wife. With the ship about four days out, the captain called Spafford to his cabin and told him they were over the place where his children went down.

According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” while on this journey.

Life is full of tragedy and betrayal. It is easy to give up hope, thinking that God has abandoned you in those times, or we can choose to believe by faith the promise of Jesus, that He will never leave nor forsake us; that all things do indeed work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. Will we give up or will we let God’s grace, forgiveness and restoration change us?

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Chorus:
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul

Don’t Cross-out the Cross!

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 3, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]

One of my favorite shows on TV is the “Myth Busters”. So following that shows premiss that some things that we accept as true are simply false, We are going to debunk a couple of myths in Christianity. What is a myth? Well, it’s a little bit like an Old Wives’ Tale. A wives’ tale is s traditional belief or a societal myth that’s often founded in superstition. Here are a few to try on for size: If you swallow your gum it will sit in your stomach and turn into a hair ball! No not true. Gum passes out the digestive track like everything else! How about this one: If you eat water melon and drink milk you will get a poison in your system and it could kill you! Sorry, you might get a belly ache but it won’t kill you! Here’s one more myth that you mothers won’t like me debunking: If you go outside in the cold with a wet head, you will catch a terrible cold! Sorry Moms, that isn’t true either. No matter how much you protest, science has known for some time that colds are caused by germs that enter our bodies through our mouths!

This morning we are going to debunk a couple more myths about our Christian faith. These are myths that were created in a sinful world by sinful people. The first myth says that your Christian faith will protect you from harm, misfortune, poverty, and even sickness! Now this sounds good; we might even get in line to learn about this kind of Christianity, but if we did, we’d be falling into a trap!

Now the second myth about our faith says that what Christ did on the cross was a good start for us, but we have to reinforce that work of His with our own suffering and sacrifice; No pain, no gain! The folks that follow this myth really set aside Jesus suffering as perfect, and they believe they’ve got to add to it in order to please and angry God! But now Jesus takes this “no pain, no gain” mentality and He turns it on its head! Jesus says, without MY pain you can have no gain. Follow me to have eternal life, but as you follow me, you too will know pain!

So where did we receive our call to follow Jesus and live under His cross?

Well through His Word of course! It was His Word that spoke to many of our parents long ago, teaching them the need to bring us to the life giving waters of baptism. And it was that same Word that latter grabbed a hold of each of us and convicted us of our sin and our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is the Word of God that mysteriously and lovingly speaks to our hearts after we confess our sins and convinces us that we are forgiven. And it is the same Word that somehow creates the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood along with the bread and wine at our Lord’s Table, all so that we can know and experience forgiveness of sins!

It is this same Word that speaks to us now and says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24] Now why did Jesus speak this word about following Him and the need to pick up our cross? Because He knows that we like Peter want to follow the easy way; the myths of this world. But these myths were created first by the prince of this world the devil and they’re spread by the sinful people who have been trapped by his lies and myths.

In our gospel reading this morning Jesus began to teach his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die for each of them, even for you and me! And what was Peter’s reaction to this discovery? Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him with these words, “Far be it from you Lord!” That’s just not going to happen (and I’ll make sure of it)! And how did the Son of God, the Savior of the world respond? He rebuked Peter, or maybe a better way to put this is that He rebuked the sin in Peter and the cause of that sin; He rebuked the father of all lies, Satan Himself! [Matthew 16:21-23]

Jesus knew that voice and the temptations that it brings; He recognized the devil and his ministry of lies which promises glory without sacrifice! He encountered that same voice out in the wilderness on a forty day fast. That voice tempted Jesus with food, power, and glory! And how did Jesus defeat the devil? With the same Word he now speaks to Peter: “Get behind me Satan!” And after Jesus rebukes the devil, He speaks and teaches both Peter and us with these Words of life, He says: “You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Now what did Jesus mean by that? He meant that Peter wanted to follow the way of the devil and not the way of God!

Friends, the truth is that each of us are a lot more like Peter than we care to admit. Let me show you what I mean.

The word that Jesus used, which our Bible translates as hindrance is really the Greek word skandalon. It’s where we get our English word scandal. A skandalon is the little stick that holds the mouth of a trap open. Trappers will use some kind of bait that is irresistible to the prey they’re hunting and place it at the skandalon. And when the prey goes for the bait, they trip the skandalon and… SMACK! The trap springs shut trapping and killing the prey. So Jesus is telling Peter that his plan and idea to cross out the cross is actually that kind of trap! First it was a trap for Jesus; but Jesus is God, and far too wise to be tempted away from the cross. But it is also a trap for Peter and it is a trap for us.

Peter like us, wanted things the easy way. He wanted a life of ease and a cushy ministry. He wanted a Savior that would be a champion who would defeat the devil and create a Christian government here on earth! He wanted fame, fortune, and glory now, not later! How would he follow a dead Savior?

So what are some of the scandalons in our lives? Well let’s be honest, each of us wants the same thing! We want a great high paying job, a beautiful or handsome spouse, obedient children, a nice home and car, lots of bling, and we want it now! We might even reason that because we are children of the Living God, called out of darkness into light, forgiven of all of our sins, we deserve a prosperous life, free of pain, suffering, sorrow and poverty! So when God’s Word talks about suffering, we might not say it out loud but we think it, “Far be it Lord!” So what are we tempted to do? We’re tempted to go off in search for a different message; a message about prosperity and glory! We look for a message with less cross and suffering and more prosperity and glory; a message that tells us that we can have heaven here on earth! But if we follow this way of thinking, we are following the way of the devil. If we follow this way of thinking we are crossing out the cross and Jesus saving work upon it; we are following the way of glory or the scandalon of the devil!

So what does Jesus want for us? Well, He wants the same things for us that we want, He just wants them in a different way; He wants them through the way of the cross! You see, Jesus was committed to the cross, because it was the only way that salvation could be won for Peter and for us. Jesus committed Himself to the cross because He knew the will of His Father; a Heavenly Father who sent Him to suffer and die as the Savior of the world. He knew the reason for His gruesome death… “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory;” a glory that was first with us in the beginning. He knew that the only way that this glory could be recovered for us was if He was willing to pay for our salvation with His very life. So, He came to do that very thing. He came to give His life as a ransom for us (Matthew 2:28) and as a sacrifice for our sins! He was wounded for our transgressions, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquities of us all. [Isaiah 53:5-6] This was and is God’s love for us in action!

Jesus didn’t cross out the cross and neither will we when we see our lost sinful condition and by faith turn to that cross for forgiveness!

As we follow Jesus we must take up our own cross!

Again Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me!” Now don’t confuse Jesus cross with our cross. The truth is that only Jesus’ cross, His suffering and death can and does save sinners like us. So then what is this cross that Jesus wants us to take up? Well, it is a pattern for our whole lives! Our cross is all of the suffering, trouble, and hardships that will come to us because we are His followers. Whoever would follow Jesus Christ must follow His example. They must live to please God and give all that they have to bring His kingdom to every sinner. Whoever follows Jesus must be willing to deny themselves and live to please God. To deny, simply means to turn away from someone or something. In this case, God wants us to turn away from our old sinful nature and turn to Him. Every day He wants us to refuse to be associated in anyway with our old sinful nature and desires that were drowned in our baptisms. He wants us to live a life that disowns our old sinful identity and lives to only please our Savior Jesus!

The cross meant suffering for Jesus and it means suffering for us, but it is suffering for a purpose; suffering for a hope! We lose our lives so that we can gain them. If we refuse to die to our old sinful desires and embrace the ways of glory we are turning away from our only source of help and hope, the cross of Jesus! But if we receive and live out our new nature of sacrifice for God and our neighbor we are gaining not just the promise of a new and glorious eternal life, but the ability, the faith to live out this temporary life of suffering.

Young people, if you are ridiculed and unpopular because of your Christian faith you have God’s promise that you are blessed in God’s heavenly kingdom. Older people, if your Christian convictions cost you money and promotion at work, your cross is to keep on following Jesus, keep on fighting until you get the victory… eternal rest and joy in God’s Heavenly Kingdom. Parents and grandparents, God knows your pain for a child that seems to have walked away from their faith in Jesus and His cross! Through His Word He gives you faith to hold on and know that a change is coming; He gives you faith to keep praying for them. Dear saints, if there is a certain sin that seems to keep tempting you and it is a sin that you keep falling to, do not give up your fight to defeat it under the cross of Jesus. Struggle to remember that even that sin has been forgiven at Jesus cross.

The truth is for all of us, whatever crosses we have, we have them only because we are followers of Jesus and His cross! And as we follow Jesus and live out our cross, we are also exalting His name with the sweet song of alleluia!

Dear friends, as we fight the temptation to cross-out the cross of Jesus, God is strengthening our faith. We fight the temptation to cross out the cross by looking to Jesus alone who suffered and died for us in order to show God’s deep love for us! As we follow Him He is always urging us to continue taking up our cross and follow Him until the day He calls us home to a place that He has prepared for us in heaven!

I would like to close our message with a story: There was once a monastery that raised monarch butterflies. One day a young monk watched a butterfly struggle for hours to free its self from its cocoon. Finally, the sympathetic monk could take no more. He began to help the butterfly be free by peeling away the cocoon. Once the butterfly was free, the monk expected it to spread its wings and fly away; instead it only clung to the stick that it was perched on and finally toppled over and died. An older monk watched with great interest, and approached the sad young monk and offered this wisdom. “Brother you tried to help the butterfly by removing its burden, but what you didn’t realize was that it is the struggle under the burden that brings strength and vitality to not just its wings, but to its entire existence. So by providing and easy way out you removed the very thing that would bring it life!”

Brothers and sisters, we have been given the gift of eternal life with God. It is ours now, but not yet. Until our time in this sinful world is through, God calls us to struggle in our faith. He asks us to follow the way of Jesus’ cross knowing that at the end of our earthly lives of struggle, there is an eternity of living in God’s glory waiting for us. He asks you to struggle, putting to death your sinful nature with the sure and certain hope that one day you will enter heaven! This is faith in action; it’s a faith that doesn’t cross out Jesus’s cross or our own. It’s a faith that comes along side of others who are struggling with their own cross and helps them shoulder the burden. It’s a faith that knows and declares that we are not alone in our struggle; we are in this struggle together, and Jesus is here with us promising that soon and very soon we will be going to see our King; our King who comes in glory to pour out the fullness of His gift of eternal life. It is a Kingdom that will richly compensate each of us for all of our own suffering and loss for His sake.

May God help each of us to continue having faith in this promise… in Jesus name… AMEN!

 

It IS Well With My Soul

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 14A, September 14, 2014
Click here for audio of this message

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” [Genesis 50:19, 20]

These words from our Old Testament reading are the words of a Kingdom builder; they’re the Words of Jesus, the Lord of the Kingdom of God, which are simply being spoken by a subject of the King.  They are Words of restoration and peace; they are Words of forgiveness.  They are Words that make all things well with our souls!  With all of this being true, then why do we find it so hard to speak them?  Why is it such a battle to say, “I forgive you”?

Surely we have reasons, good reasons not to trust some people.  I would not put a convicted embezzler in charge of our church bank account, would you?  Would you want a convicted child molester teaching Sunday school?  Of course not, but does that also mean that we should withhold forgiveness, love, and restoration from them?

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we encounter Joseph, a man who had every reason to be bitter, hold a grudge and get revenge.  His own brothers threw him in a well in the middle of the desert and then sold him  to slave dealers.  But Joseph experienced something that changed him forever; he experienced God’s presence and God’s protection.  In the home he was a slave, but he eventually became the head slave and had complete freedom to run the entire home and its business.  But trouble always seems to follow people who know they worship a merciful and loving God and Joseph was no exception.  Very soon he was falsely accused by the wife of the lord of the very home he was serving in.  Bam!  Joseph’s life was turned upside down.  Once again he was falsely imprisoned, but this time it wasn’t in a well but in a real prison!  But Joseph knew that like the well earlier, he wasn’t in that prison alone; he knew that the God of mercy was with Him and where ever God is, all is well with the soul of a child of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Once more God would prove to Joseph that He was a God who makes a way out of no way; He would prove that He was a God who never leaves or forsakes His little ones who serve in His Kingdom; Joseph was given the keys to the prison and allowed to run it!  But that’s not all is it?  No, eventually it became known to Pharro that Joseph was a man of God who could interpret dreams.  So as a result of one meeting with Joseph who spoke the Word of God truthfully, Joseph was made second in command of all of Egypt.

And now before him stands his brothers who did unthinkable evil against him; they were standing before the second most powerful person in the world.  So this was Joseph’s chance to make things right; to right the wrongs that were done to him.  And what does he do?  He makes things right; right in the Kingdom of God!  He offers forgiveness and restoration.  But why… how?  Because that is how the Kingdom of God operates!  You see, the Kingdom of God makes a way out of no way.  In an earthly kingdom where only death and punishment reign supreme, God’s Kingdom brings life and forgiveness. Out of fear and danger God assures His child that all is indeed well with his soul!

Do you think that Joseph had questions about the sincerity of his brother’s confession of sin?  Sure, but having questions, having doubts isn’t what is important here, it’s where you take those questions and doubts.  As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, Joseph immediately gave these things to God and He forgave all of them.  It’s as if he was saying to them, “If God’s forgiven you, who am I to do anything differently?  Don’t you see that what you meant for evil against me, God in His wonderful counsel has turned into something marvelous in our sight.  He’s not only frustrated your evil plan, but He’s used it to bring abundant life and blessing for both me and you!”  And that is always how things work in the Kingdom of God.  You see, as citizens of God’s Kingdom of grace, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

So we see, in this way God causes good to result from evil, not that He wants us to do evil, but in His goodness He can take even our great wickedness and turn it into good.  It’s God’s nature to forgive a fearful and sobbing sinner who is begging Him for mercy.  And this is the very lesson that Jesus was trying to get Peter to understand; it’s the lesson He wants each of us to go home with this morning.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 18:21-35) Peter asked Jesus how many times he should keep forgiving someone for something they do against him over and over.  Now, the Jewish teachers said that three times is enough to satisfy the mercy of God, so that the justice of God could take over.  So Peter took that number and multiplied it by 2 and threw in one more for good measure and answered his own question with a question: “Seven times?”  Now don’t be too hard on Peter, because from a human standpoint, a flawed and sinful standpoint Peter did pretty well.  Even our own society today would call that excessive and a bit naïve.  You know the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me!”

So now learn the lesson about how things work in God’s Kingdom.  “Jesus said to (Peter), “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”  Now that’s excessive!  But the number isn’t the point of Jesus teaching, it’s the attitude or the spirit.  Jesus is teaching us that the new nature of a baptized child of God is the type of nature that doesn’t keep count.  Even if you did count how many times someone kept sinning against you, isn’t it true that you would lose count long before you got to 490?  So the nature of a citizen in God’s Kingdom simply does as Joseph did, He gives it to God and trusts that all things will work together for the good that God has determined.

Joseph learned to trust God and so did Peter.  They learned that even when it seems that things are at their worse, God is still present and in control!  Each of us must learn this as well, and God has made sure that we can do this very thing.  He did it by breaking into our existence, into our history through one event that has rendered everyone subject to One Judge… Jesus Christ Himself!  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has led not only the past, but it shapes the present, just as it will shape the future.  Joseph trusted in the coming Savior along with every other citizen of Heaven that came before and after Him.  And when the Son of God took on our flesh and broke into our present and our future, the words of Joseph become the Words of Jesus: “As for you and your sinful ways, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Through my suffering and death your sins have been wiped clean.  My death brought you life!  Will you rest in this gift or reject it?)”

Today friends, we who are baptized into Christ Jesus can confidently say “I am a citizen of heaven.  I was saved by Christ’s death on the cross, and through that work of the cross, forgiveness of sins was given to me in my baptism! I haven’t refused that forgiveness and I pray for it every day.  Daily through the power of God’s Word, I continue to see the sin that is still within me, but through that same Word I am given the promise of forgiveness and the ability to fight and destroy that sin, as I turn to Jesus and His cross for forgiveness!  Every day I see the unthankful forgiven sinner within me holding grudges and planning revenge against my brother who sins against me, but I take this nature and I drown it in the waters of my baptism; I crucify it upon the cross of Jesus!  Every day I fight to allow God to love my brothers and sisters through me even when they sin against me.  I do this not because they deserve it but because God has done and always will do this very thing for me!”  This dear friends is the life of a child who lives in the Kingdom of God.

Now I could end here and we would have a wonderful message about forgiving our brothers and sisters, but then you wouldn’t have God’s entire message.  In order to complete our message, we must import one more bit of scripture.  In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus has one more group of people that we must learn to love and forgive… our enemies!  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” [Matthew 5:43-45]

Now this can be a hard lesson for all of us to accept, especially right after the thirteenth year anniversary of the September 11th attack against our nation by Muslim terrorists; right after Islamist warriors have decapitated three journalists, two of them Americans, and yet God is asking us to not only accept His will but to fulfill it!  Here the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ gives us a command; we must love those who hate us and attack us.  We must pray for the ability to forgive them and also pray that they would turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration.  This kind of love can exist only in the Kingdom of God; indeed it is the very thing that separates it from all other kingdoms.

Now don’t misunderstand, God isn’t asking you to put your arm around your enemy; He knows that we have reason not to trust them or like them.  But He is asking you to be filled with the love of Jesus and let Him do His work within you!  This is a higher form of love that can only come from God.  It’s the kind of love that says “I know that I will never like a murderous terrorist, or a criminal who may have robbed me or threatened my life; I can’t like a false and lying, slanderous person who has attacked my character over and over again; but I can by the grace of Jesus Christ love them all; I can see what’s wrong with them and follow God’s Spirit within me and work to do them good.  I can pray that God will free them from their vicious ways just as He has done and is doing for me!”

Is living in the Kingdom of God easy?  No, of course not!  It requires the same things that Joseph had and that Peter received.  It requires faith and trust in a God who promises that all things will work together for the good for those who love Him and trust in His calling and purpose!  Will you struggle with this command to forgive?  Yes!  Will you fail sometimes and fall back into a spirit and mindset of the world, probably so!  But remember, its God’s presence and mercy; it’s His forgiveness for you that will carry you through until the end and deliver you safely into His Kingdom!

If  we will remember that we are “children of our Heavenly Father” not because of a decision but because we are reborn by grace through faith in the Son of God, we will not only be able to love and forgive our brothers and sisters, but even our enemies because that is how our Heavenly Father loves them.  As we struggle every day to remember this, we keep turning to Jesus; we keep running to His cross, and we can truly say, “It is well with my soul!”  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Is It Well With Your Soul?

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A), September 11, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA 
Click here for audio of this message

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” [Genesis 50:19, 20]

INTRODUCTION: These words from our Old Testament reading are the words of a Kingdom builder; they’re the Words of the Lord of the Kingdom of God, which are simply being spoken by a subject of the King.  They are Words of restoration and peace; they are Words of forgiveness.  They are Words that make all things well with our souls!  With all of this being true, then why do we find it so hard to speak them?  Why is it such a battle to say, “I forgive you”? 

 Surely we have reasons, good reasons not to trust some people.  I would not put a convicted embezzler in charge of our church bank account, would you?  Would you want a convicted child molester teaching Sunday school?  Of course not, but does that also mean that we should withhold forgiveness, love, and restoration from them?

I. In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we encounter Joseph, a man who had every reason to be bitter, hold a grudge and get revenge.  His own brothers threw him in a well in the middle of the desert and then sold him  to slave dealers.  But Joseph experienced something that changed him forever; he experienced God’s presence and God’s protection.  In the home he was a slave to, he eventually became the head slave and had complete freedom to run the entire home and its business.  But trouble always seems to follow people who know they worship a merciful and loving God and Joseph was no exception.  Very soon he was falsely accused by the wife of the lord of the very home he was serving in.  Bam!  Joseph’s life was turned upside down.  Once again he was falsely imprisoned, but this time it wasn’t in a well but in a real prison!  But Joseph knew that he wasn’t in that prison alone; he knew that the God of mercy was with Him and where ever God is, all is well with the soul of a child of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 Once more God would prove to Joseph that He was a God who makes a way out of no way; He would prove that He was a God who never leaves or forsakes His little ones who serve in His Kingdom; Joseph was given the keys to the prison and allowed to run it!  But that’s not all is it?  No, eventually it became known to the Pharos that Joseph was a man of God who could interpret dreams.  So as a result of one meeting with Joseph who spoke the Word of God truthfully, Joseph was made second in command of all of Egypt. 

And now before him stands his brothers who did unthinkable evil against him; they were standing before the second most powerful person in the world.  So this was Joseph’s chance to make things right; to right the wrongs that were done to him.  And what does he do?  He makes things right; right in the Kingdom of God!  He offers forgiveness and restoration.  But why… how?  Because that is how the Kingdom of God operates!  You see, the Kingdom of God makes a way out of no way.  In a earthly kingdom where only death and punishment reign supreme, God’s Kingdom brings life and forgiveness. Out of fear and danger God assures His child that all is indeed well with his soul! 

 Do you think that Joseph had questions about the sincerity of his brother’s confession of sin?  Sure, but having questions, having doubts isn’t what is important here, it’s where you take those questions and doubts.  As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, Joseph immediately gave these things to God and He forgave all of them.  It’s as if he was saying to them, “If God’s forgiven you, who am I to do anything differently?  Don’t you see that what you meant for evil against me, God in His wonderful counsel has turned into something marvelous in our sight.  He’s not only frustrated your evil plan, but He’s used it to bring abundant life and blessing for both me and you!”  And that is always how things work in the Kingdom of God.  You see, as citizens of God’s Kingdom of grace, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

So we see, in this way God causes good to result from evil, not that He wants us to do evil, but in His goodness He can take even our great wickedness and turn it into good.  It’s God’s nature to forgive a fearful and sobbing sinner who is begging Him for mercy.  And this is the very lesson that Jesus was trying to get Peter to understand; it’s the lesson He wants each of us to go home with this morning.

II. In our gospel lesson (Matthew 18:21-35) Peter asked Jesus how many times he should keep forgiving someone for something they do against him over and over.  Now, the Jewish teachers said that three times is enough to satisfy the mercy of God, so that the justice of God could take over.  So Peter took that number and multiplied it by 2 and threw in one more for good measure and answered his own question with a question: “Seven times?”  Now don’t be too hard on Peter, because from a human standpoint, a flawed and sinful standpoint Peter did pretty well.  Even our own society today would call that excessive and a bit naïve.  You know the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me!”

So now learn the lesson about how things work in God’s Kingdom.  “Jesus said to (Peter), “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”  Now that’s excessive!  But the number isn’t the point of Jesus teaching, it’s the attitude or the spirit.  Jesus is teaching us that the new nature of a baptized child of God is the type of nature that doesn’t keep count.  Even if you did count how many times someone kept sinning against you, isn’t it true that you would lose count long before you got to 490?  So the nature of a citizen in God’s Kingdom simply does as Joseph did, He gives it to God and trusts that all things will work together for the good that God has determined.

III. Joseph learned to trust God and so did Peter.  They learned that even when it seems that things are at their worse, God is still present and in control!  Each of us must learn this as well, and God has made sure that we can do this very thing.  He did it by breaking into our existence, into our history through one event that has rendered everyone subject to One Judge… Jesus Christ Himself!  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has led not only the past, but it has shaped the present and the future.  Joseph trusted in the coming Savior along with every other citizen of Heaven that came before and after Him.  And when the Son of God took on our flesh and broke into our present and our future, the words of Joseph become the Words of Jesus: “As for you and your sinful ways, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Through my suffering and death your sins have been wiped clean.  My death brought you life!  Will you rest in this gift or reject it?)”

Today friends, we who are baptized into Christ Jesus can confidently say “I am a citizen of heaven.  I was saved by Christ death on the cross, and through that work of the cross, forgiveness of sins was given to me in my baptism! I haven’t refused that forgiveness and I pray for it every day.  Daily through the power of God’s Word, I continue to see the sin that is still within me, but through that same Word I am given the promise of forgiveness and the ability to fight and destroy that sin, as I turn to Jesus and His cross for forgiveness!  Every day I see the unthankful forgiven sinner within me holding grudges and planning revenge against my brother who sins against me, but I take this nature and I drown it in the waters of my baptism; I crucify it upon the cross of Jesus!  Every day I fight to allow God to love my brothers and sisters through me even when they sin against me.  I do this not because they deserve it but because God has done and always will do this very thing for me!”  This dear friends is the life of a child who lives in the Kingdom of God.

 Now I could end here and we would have a wonderful message about forgiving our brothers and sisters, but then you wouldn’t have God’s entire message.  In order to complete our message, we must import one more bit of scripture.  In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus has one more group of people that we must learn to love and forgive… our enemies!  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” [Matthew 5:43-45]

Now this can be a hard lesson for all of us to accept, especially on this tenth year anniversary of the September 11 attack against our nation by Muslim terrorists, and yet God is asking us to not only accept His will but to fulfill it!  Here the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ gives us a command; we must love those who hate us and attack us.  We must pray for the ability to forgive them and also pray that they would turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration.  This kind of love can exist only in the Kingdom of God; indeed it is the very thing that separates it from all other kingdoms.  Now don’t misunderstand, God isn’t asking you to put your arm around your enemy; He knows that we have reason not to trust them or like them.  But He is asking you to be filled with the love of Jesus and let Him do this work within you!  This is a higher form of love that can only come from God.  It’s the kind of love that says “I know that I will never like a murderous terrorist, or a criminal who may have robed me or threatened my life; I can’t like a false and lying, slanderous person who has attacked my character over and over again; but I can by the grace of Jesus Christ love them all; I can see what’s wrong with them and follow God’s Spirit within me and work to do them good.  I can pray that God will free them from their vicious ways just as He has done and is doing for me!”

CONCLUSION: Is living in the Kingdom of God easy?  No, of course not!  It requires the same things that Joseph had and that Peter received.  It requires faith and trust in a God who promises that all things will work together for the good for those who love Him and trust in His calling and purpose!  Will you struggle with this command to forgive?  Yes!  Will you fail sometimes and fall back into a spirit and mindset of the world, probably so!  But remember, its God’s presence and mercy; it’s His forgiveness for you that will carry you through until the end and deliver you safely into His Kingdom! 

ILLUSTRATION: I’d like to close our message this morning with this story about Eric (Little) Liddell, an Olympic Champion runner who became a missionary to China.  His life was made famous by the movie Chariots of Fire. In one scene in the movie, Liddell fell down just a few yards into a 440-yard race. The crowd groaned in disappointment. His hopes for a medal seemed destroyed. But to their amazement, Liddell got back on his feet, leaned his head back in characteristic fashion, ran even harder, and actually caught up with and defeated his opponents, with a 20 yard handicap! This became Liddell’s signature—not the way he began his races, but the way he finished them: head tilted back, mouth wide open, body in full stretch, and feet moving faster than those of any other man in the world! He is a classic portrait of the adage “It’s not how you begin the race but how you finish that is important.”

How true that is in the Christian life! None of us begins very well. We begin as sinners, desperately in need of God’s grace. But even when we are baptized, receive forgiveness, and try to live out His Word, we find that our life is often filled with falls and re-starts. Life doesn’t always proceed as smoothly as we wished it would. But we realize that, while the way we live our lives is important, what is most important is how we finish. Will we give up or will we let God’s grace, His forgiveness and restoration change us?  If we will keep on living our lives as children of the Kingdom of God we know that one day soon we will run into the arms of Jesus with our heads tilted back and our souls in full stretch.  If  we will remember that we are “children of our Father in Heaven not because of our decision but because we are reborn by grace through faith in the Son of God, we will not only be able to love and forgive our brothers and sisters, but even our enemies because that is how our Heavenly Father loves them.  As we struggle every day to remember this, we keep turning to Jesus; we keep running to His cross, and we can truly say, “It is well with my soul!”  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Don’t Cross-out the Cross!

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (A), (Worship in the Park) August 28, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Sorry no audio for this message

 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]

INTRODUCTION: One of my favorite shows on TV is the “Myth Busters”.  So following that shows premesis that some things that we accept as true are simply false, We are going to debunk a couple of myths is Christianity.  What is a myth?  Well, it’s a little bit like an Old Wives’ Tale.  A wives’ tale is s traditional belief or a societal myth that’s often founded in superstition.  Here are few to try on for size:  If you swallow your gum it will sit in your stomach and turn into a hair ball!  No not true.  Gum passes out the digestive track like everything else!   How about this one: If you eat water melon and drink milk you will get a poison in your system and it could kill you!  Sorry, you might get a belly ache but it won’t kill you!  Here’s one more myth that you mothers won’t like me debunking: If you go outside in the cold with a wet head, you will catch a terrible cold!  Sorry Moms, that isn’t true either.  No matter how much you protest, science has known for some time that colds are caused by germs that enter our bodies through our mouths!

This morning we are going to debunk a couple more myths about our Christian faith.  These are myths that were created in a sinful world by sinful people.  The first myth says that your Christian faith will protect you from harm, misfortune, poverty, and even sickness!  Now this sounds good; we might even get in line to learn about this kind of Christianity, but if we did, we’d be falling into a trap! 

Now the second myth about our faith says that what Christ did on the cross was a good start for us, but we have to reinforce that work of His with our own suffering and sacrifice; No pain, no gain!  The folks that follow this myth really set aside Jesus suffering as perfect, and they believe they’ve got to add to it in order to please and angry God!  But now Jesus takes this “no pain, no gain” mentality and He turns it on its head!  Jesus says, without my pain you can have no gain.  Follow me to have eternal life, but as you follow me, you too will know pain!

 I. So where did we receive our call to follow Jesus and live under His cross?  Well through His Word of course!  It was His Word that spoke to many of our parents long ago, teaching them the need to bring us to the life giving waters of baptism.  And it was that same Word that latter grabbed ahold of each of us and convicted us of our sin and our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ.  It is the Word of God that mysteriously and lovingly speaks to our hearts after we confess our sins and convinces us that we are forgiven.  And it is the same Word that somehow creates the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood along with the bread and wine at our Lord’s Table, all so that we can know and experience forgiveness of sins!

It is this same Word that speaks to us now and says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]  Now why did Jesus speak this word about following Him and the need to pick up our cross?  Because He knows that we like Peter want to follow the easy way; the myths of this world.  But these myths were created first by the prince of this world the devil and they’re spread by the sinful people who have been trapped by his lies and myths.

In our gospel reading this morning Jesus began to teach his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die for each of them, even for you and me!  And what was Peter’s reaction to this discovery?  Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him with these words, “Far be it from you Lord!”  That’s just not going to happen (and I’ll make sure of it)!  And how did the Son of God, the Savior of the world respond?  He rebuked Peter, or maybe a better way to put this is that He rebuked the sin in Peter and the cause of that sin; He rebuked the father of all lies, Satan Himself! [Matthew 16:21-23]

Jesus knew that voice and the temptations that it brings; He recognized the devil and his ministry of lies which promises glory without sacrifice!  He encountered that same voice out in the wilderness on a forty day fast.  That voice tempted Jesus with food, power, and glory!  And how did Jesus defeat the devil?  With the same Word he now speaks to Peter: “Get behind me Satan!”  And after Jesus rebukes the devil, He speaks and teaches both Peter and us with these Words of life, He says: “You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Now what did Jesus mean by that?  He meant that Peter wanted to follow the way of the devil and not the way of God!

II. Friends, the truth is that each of us are a lot more like Peter than we care to admit.  Let me show you what I mean.  The word that Jesus used, which our Bible translates as hindrance is really the Greek word skandalon.  It’s where we get our English word scandal.  A skandalon is the little stick that holds the mouth of a trap open.  Trappers will use some kind of bait that is irresistible to the prey they’re hunting and place it at the skandalon.  And when the prey goes for the bait, they trip the skandalon and… SMACK!  The trap springs shut trapping and killing the bait.  So Jesus is telling Peter that his plan and idea to cross out the cross is actually that kind of trap!  First it was a trap for Jesus; but Jesus is God, and far too wise to be tempted away from the cross.  But it is also a trap for Peter and it is a trap for us.

Peter like us, wanted things the easy way.  He wanted a life of ease and a cushy ministry.  He wanted a Savior that would be a champion who would defeat the devil and create a Christian government here on earth!  He wanted fame, fortune, and glory now, not latter!  How would he follow a dead Savior?

So what are some of the scandalons in our lives?  Well let’s be honest, each of us wants the same thing!  We want a great high paying job, a beautiful or handsome spouse, obedient children, a nice home and car, lots of bling, and we want it now!  We might even reason that because we are children of the Living God, called out of darkness into light, forgiven of all of our sins, we should have a prosperous life, free of pain, suffering, sorrow and poverty!  So when God’s Word talks about suffering, we might not say it out loud but we think it, “Far be it Lord!”  So what are we tempted to do?  We’re tempted to go off in search for a different message; a message about prosperity and glory!  We look for a message with less cross and suffering and more prosperity and glory; a message that tells us that we can have heaven here on earth!  But if we follow this way of thinking, we are following the way of the devil.  If we follow this way of thinking we are crossing out the cross and Jesus saving work upon it; we are following the way of glory or the scandalon of the devil!

So what does Jesus want for us?  Well, He wants the same things for us that we want, He just wants them in a different way; He wants them through the way of the cross!  You see, Jesus was committed to the cross, because it was the only way that salvation could be won for Peter and for us.  Jesus committed Himself to the cross because He knew the will of His Father; a Heavenly Father who sent Him to suffer and die as the Savior of the world.  He knew the reason for His gruesome death… “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory;” a glory that was first with us in the beginning.  He knew that the only way that this glory could be recovered for us was if He was willing to pay for our salvation with His very life.  So, He came to do that very thing.  He came to give His live as a ransom for us (Matthew 2:28) and as a sacrifice for our sins!  He was wounded for our transgressions, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquities of us all. [Isaiah 53:5-6]  This was and is God’s love for us in action!  Jesus didn’t cross out the cross and neither will we when we see our lost sinful condition and by faith turn to that cross for forgiveness!

 II. As we follow Jesus we must take up our own cross!  Again Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me!”  Now don’t confuse Jesus cross with our cross.  The truth is that only Jesus’ cross, His suffering and death can and does save sinners like us.  So then what is this cross that Jesus wants us to take up?  Well, it is a pattern for our whole lives!  Our cross is all of the suffering, trouble, and hardships that will come to us because we are His followers.  Whoever would follow Jesus Christ must follow His example.  They must live to please God and give all that they have to bring His kingdom to every sinner.  Whoever follows Jesus must be willing to deny themselves and live to please God.  To deny, simply means to turn away from someone or something.  In this case, God wants us to turn away from our old sinful nature and turn to Him.  Every day He wants us to refuse to be associated in anyway with our old sinful nature that was drowned in our baptisms.  He wants us to live a life that disowns our old sinful desires and live to only please our Savior Jesus! 

The cross meant suffering for Jesus and it means suffering for us, but it is suffering for a purpose; suffering for a hope!  We lose our lives so that we can gain them.  If we refuse to die to our old sinful desires and embrace the ways of glory we are turning away from our only source of help and hope, the cross of Jesus!  But if we receive and live out our new nature of sacrifice for God and our neighbor we are gaining not just the promise of a new and glorious eternal life, but the ability, the faith to live out this temporary life of suffering. 

Young people, if you are ridiculed and unpopular because of your Christian faith you have God’s promise that you are blessed in God’s heavenly kingdom.  Older people, if your Christian convictions cost you money and promotion at work, your cross is to keep on following Jesus, keep on fighting until you get the victory… eternal rest and joy in God’s Heavenly Kingdom.  Parents and grandparents, God knows your pain for a child that seems to have walked away from their faith in Jesus and His cross!  Through His Word He gives you faith to hold on and know that a change is coming; He gives you faith to keep praying for them.  The truth is for all of us, whatever crosses we have, we have them only because we are followers of Jesus and His cross!  And as we follow Jesus and live out our cross, we are also exalting His name with the sweet song of alleluia!  

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, as we fight the temptation to cross-out the cross of Jesus, God is strengthening our faith.  We fight the temptation to cross out the cross by looking to Jesus alone who suffered and died for us in order to show God’s deep love for us!  As we follow Him He is always urging us to continue taking up our cross and follow Him until the day He calls us home to a place that He has prepared for us in heaven! 

I would like to close our message with a story: There was once a monastery that raised monarch butterflies. One day a young monk watched a butterfly struggle for hours to free its self from its cocoon.  Finally, the sympathetic monk could take no more.  He began to help the butterfly be free by peeling away the cocoon.  Once the butterfly was free, the monk expected it to spread its wings and fly away; instead it only clung to the stick that it was perched on and finally toppled over and died.  An older monk watched with great interest, and approached the sad young monk and offered this wisdom.  “Brother you tried to help the butterfly by removing its burden, but what you didn’t realize was that it is the struggle under the burden that brings strength and vitality to not just its wings, but to its entire existence.  So by providing and easy way out you removed the very thing that would bring it life!”

Brothers and sisters, we have been given the gift of eternal life with God.  It is ours now, but not yet.  Until our time in this sinful world is through, God calls us to struggle in our faith.  He asks us to follow the way of Jesus’ cross.  Not to save us but to strengthen us for an eternity of living in God’s glory.  He asks you to struggle, putting to death your sinful nature with the sure and certain hope that one day you will enter heaven! This is faith in action; it’s a faith that doesn’t cross out Jesus’s cross or our own.  It’s a faith that comes along side of others who are struggling with their own cross and helps them shoulder the burden.  It’s a faith that knows and declares that we are not alone in our struggle; we are in this struggle together, and Jesus is here with us promising that soon and very soon we will be going to see our King; our King who comes in glory to pour out the fullness of His gift of eternal life.  It is a Kingdom that will richly compensate each of us for all of our own suffering and loss for His sake.  May God help each of us to continue having faith in this promise… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Not of This World!

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (A), August 21, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Sorry, no auido is available for this message. 
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” [Matthew 16:2a]

 INTRODUCTION: The story’s told about a neurologist who performed an amazing surgical procedure on a 50 year old man named Virgil, who was born blind.  As a result of the surgery the man was given the gift of sight.  But very soon it became apparent to the doctor and the patient that having the physical capacity to see isn’t the same thing as seeing. 

Virgil’s first experiences with sight were very confusing.  He could make out colors and motion, but putting them in some logical pattern proved difficult and frustrating.  Over time, with the help of his doctor he learned to identify different things, but his habits—his behaviors—were still those of a blind man.  The doctor, in an attempt to help Virgil adjust made this profound statement to him: “Virgil, you must die as a blind person (in order) to be born again as a seeing person.”  And that is the work God’s Word will be doing in our hearts this morning! 

To truly see Jesus and understand God’s grace in His Word means more than just hearing and agreeing with the message in our Bibles; you see, we must learn to die to our old way of thinking, agree with God’s Word and allow it to change our identity!  This morning in our gospel Jesus asks each of us an important question: “Who do you say that I am?”  In this question, Jesus is asking for a confession of faith from each of us.  It is a question that can only be truthfully answered by our hearts.  Now you can mouth words similar to Peter’s and say something like, “Oh, you’re my Savior.  You’re the Son of God!” but unless you mean that Jesus is your Savior, that He is the Son of God who died for you and your sins, your confession of faith is simply something you say when you’re in church.  Unless it is more than that, unless it is a statement of faith that radically changes and guides your whole life, change, real change is impossible.  In other words, each of us must learn to die to your old sinful nature so that we can be transformed!  This kind of transformation  happens among us in two different ways:  First it is personal and second it is corporate, that is, it will change the way our congregation lives and breathes within our community! 

I. In our Epistle lesson (Romans 11:33-12:8), St. Paul addresses us with words that talk about change; real change.  Listen: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” [Romans 12:1-3]  What St. Paul is talking about is first and foremost a real spiritual transformation?  He is talking about a change in the very core of who we are!  Now it’s true that this transformation first took place in our baptism, but if we let it just stop there, I’m afraid that we’re simply frustrating the miraculous work that God began in us.  You see, while it’s true that all of the work of our salvation is entirely God’s work, it’s also true that it is an on-going process! 

Maybe a better way to translate Paul’s words is that we should be transformed by the “renewing” of our minds.  How are our minds being renewed?  Through the work of God and His gift of faith!  How do we receive this gift?  Through the Word of God!  Our Old Testament cries out to us with this same message in these words: “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” [Isaiah 51:1]  Where did your new nature, your citizenship in heaven come from?  Through the Word of God, specifically that Gospel Word that is about Jesus Christ! 

So this morning, like St. Paul, as your pastor, I am appealing to you as one who looks to the same rock as you, faith in Jesus Christ; I appeal as one who was hewn from the same quarry and called through the same Word of God and placed into the kingdom of God as you were placed, do not turn back to the ways of this world, but stay connected to God through His Word and Sacraments, and let Him continue to change you; let Him continue to reshape you into His image!  I appeal to you to live your life as one who is already dead to this world; one who is already offered to God as a living sacrifice.  

As each of us are daily resting in God’s Word and praying for His power to not just save us but sustain us in our new identity, something interesting is happening… we are being transformed!  Every day you care less about what you want and more about God’s plan for you and how He will use you here in this world.  This is your reasonable service, your spiritual service to God.  

Now, as this transformation continues in our lives, we begin to look less like our neighbors and more like our Savior.  This is when we begin to understand that our true citizenship is in heaven and not of this earth.  And as God continues to change us, we’ll begin to see that everything that we have and everything that we are is by God’s design, so that we can glorify and please Him!  This then is what we might call kingdom thinking; it’s a way of life that no longer thinks, understands or judges as those who are still of this world, but instead it is being led by the heart and mind of Jesus!  But there is something else that each of us must always remember, we are not in this alone! 

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” [Romans 12:3]  Yes, while it is true that you have been called out of the dark sin of this world and into God’s wonderful Kingdom of Light, you have not been called alone or without a purpose!  You are not alone because we are with you!  We are many but we are one.  Each of us has been called out as individuals, but we have been put together in one spiritual body, and our heart and mind is Jesus Christ!  Now as individuals who make up the body of Jesus, we are to realize that each of us is simply a lost sheep who’s been gathered together by the same Good Shepherd.  We must never to lose sight of this truth or we will begin to see ourselves as less than or greater than others.  The truth is,  I need you and you need me, and together we each need Jesus!  Each one of us has a purpose in the Kingdom of God.  Each one of us has the gift of faith that activates special talents that help the body, our church live, grow, and function! 

II. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” [Romans 12:4-8]  You see, as individuals our calling out of darkness into God’s Kingdom of light makes each of us fellow members of Christ’s church and citizens in His Kingdom.  As such a member, I belong to you and you all belong to me, and together we each belong to Jesus Christ! 

Did you notice that the very first calling or ministry that Paul mentions is prophecy?  This is no accident friends; you see it is the proclamation of the Word of God that feeds and strengthens all of the other ministries.  As your pastor, I have been called into this office as my ministry so that God can feed and clothe you with the very things that will strengthen your own ministry; He feeds and clothes you with the forgiveness of sins!  And because you receive this gift through His Word and Sacraments, He now equips and sends you out into your own ministry.  So in each calling or ministry, when you are serving others, it’s really Christ within you who is the one serving them!  If you are busy in one of the many ministries of love we have here at Trinity, then I’m sure you already realize that it’s Jesus who is loving and serving others through you, and this truth moves you to continue serving with excitement and joy!  Each of us do these things not because we have to, but because we want to; we do them because we have been changed, and we know that the reason we’re changed is because we are forgiven! 

III. In our gospel lesson Jesus gives us the very key that unlocks this truth; He pulls the curtain aside and shows us why we are who we are; and it is entirely because of Jesus authority to forgive sins!  But that’s not all, He’s actually given us His authority to do the very same thing!  Listen to what He says after Peter’s confession of faith: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 16:18,19]  

What is the rock that Jesus builds His church on?  It’s the confession of Peter which is our confession!  What is that confession?  That Jesus is our rock; that Jesus is our Christ, the Son of the Living God!  Because we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord (our Lord), we are saved!  [Romans 10:9] We are no longer of this World!  Our sins have been forgiven, and we have become citizens of heaven!  But what we must never forget is that we are forgiven with a purpose! 

And what is that purpose?  To tell others about Jesus!  We tell them with the same Word of God that saved us and then we tell them by the life we are living!  We tell them about Jesus when we tell them about God’s desire to forgive even their sins if they will simply agree with God’s Word and admit that they need Jesus forgiveness!  If they do this, then it is our privilege to tell them that they are forgiven! 

But what if they will not believe?  What if they will not turn to Jesus?  Well then, I’m afraid they won’t be forgive; but that doesn’t meant that God has given up on them and neither should we.  We can still invite them to come to church with us, because we know that “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God which is the message about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins!” [Romans 10:17]  That is how God saved you and is saving you, and that is how He will save each unbeliever in our community!  And the most amazing part of all of this is that He chooses to use you to help build His kingdom, one forgiven sinner at a time!  

CONCLUSION: I’d like to close with a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He decided one day to turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and he chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, a neighbor asked, “How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?”  The man answered, “I just chipped away everything that didn’t look like an elephant!” 

If you have anything in your life right now that’s interfering with God’s work of transformation and renewal, then let God chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn’t look like compassion or mercy then let God chip it away! If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, then for God’s sake and the sake of His Kingdom let Him get rid of it for you! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn’t belong in His kingdom and you will see two wonderful things happen: you will see His kingdom grow within you and you will see it  grow around you!  We will do this because we remember that we are not of this world!  In Jesus name… AMEN!