Posts Tagged ‘Christian Service’

Equal Footing

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

17th Sunday in Pentecost B, September 23, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. [Mark 9:35b]

These words are hard to receive because they are hard to understand; they are hard to understand because they frighten us by  demanding that we put the needs of others above our own needs.  We are afraid to do this because it requires us to die to ourselves and  live for Christ; they demand that we allow Christ to live within us and teach us.

These words are hard to receive because in them Jesus gives us wisdom from above; a wisdom that is completely opposite to the  wisdom of the world.  This morning Jesus is teaching us that the way to make it big, the way to be first is by receiving those who are  smaller than us.

How do we receive those who are little?  Well, in our gospel reading (Mark 9:30-37),what example did Jesus use to teach His disciples?  That’s right a little child.  He scooped up a small child and placed it smack dab in the middle of the room so that all eyes would be  focused on that little one.  And then, He simply said that “Whoever receives one (such as this child) in My name receives Me, and  whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.” [vs. 37]

So, look at the least and discover your way to be first.  To receive the most, take the smallest.

Why did Jesus use a child to illustrate His teaching?  Well, because children were not given much attention back then.  You know the saying, “Children are to be seen and not heard!”  So by elevating small children and their small understanding of the world around them, Jesus is making a point that we must always be ready to receive people who may indeed be below us in not just age but also maturity and status.  But this receiving business isn’t simply opening your arms and taking an infant so you can admire and coddle them.  No, it is more than just a receiving blanket; Jesus wants you to take responsibility for the nurturing and mentoring of that one who is beneath you.

Think of the young couple who has just received their infant.  The father says, “We just had a baby,” even though it was the mother who gave birth.  The father gladly receives the baby from the nurse and coddles him and beams with pride.  But soon he gives the baby back to the nurse so he can make the necessary phone calls and hand out the obligatory cigars.

When mother and child come home, the proud daddy learns the art of diapering and feeding and promises his wife that they are in this together.  But after a few days, maybe even after a few hours, as B.B. King sang, “The Thrill is Gone!”  When the baby cries at 2:00 a.m. the father lies in bed pretending to be asleep and waits for his wife to get up.  Or, When the diaper contains a surprise that is obvious by the smell, he yells “Dear can you…?”

What happened?  Why is it only the mother who must bear the burden?  Because only the mother has taken to heart the words that to receive the child, that is to care for the child no matter the cost, is to receive Jesus!

In our world today, there are many who do not know Jesus.  When God brings them to us as individuals or as a congregation, they come with all kinds of selfish and sinful habits and ambitions.  They will be demanding of your time to the point of bitter jealousy.  They will exhibit selfish ambition and all kinds of vile practices; in essence, they bring with them the wisdom of this world; a wisdom that says only the strong and the best will survive.  If this worldly wisdom is allowed to remain within them they will bring disorder both to your individual lives and to our congregation.  So what are we to do?  Are we to send them away packing?  Are we to chastise them and demand conformity?  Well what did Jesus say?  We are to receive them as you receive a child; you are to receive them as a parent receives their infant.  You are to nurture and teach them; you are to take responsibility and serve them.  By this type of receiving you are receiving Jesus Himself.  Receive others as you would have others do unto you.  This is what James calls the “meekness of wisdom” in our Epistle reading. [James 3:13-4:10]

We are afraid of this teaching because its wisdom is the very opposite of what we learn in this sinful world we live in.  Here, in God’s Word, we learn that trying to be the greatest, that is to be first through selfish ambition, is to live outside of Jesus name; it is to be an enemy of God’s truth and an opponent to God’s wisdom from above.  That dear friends is not only wrong and sinful, “but it is earthly, unspiritual, (and) demonic.”

But we are afraid to hear this teaching, to receive it for another reason; it demands that we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

This morning, Jesus teaches us that as we “receive one” (such as a child in His name, we can expect to be treated as Jesus was treated; we can expect to be “delivered up into the hands of men.”

This was the second time that Jesus proclaimed to His disciples that He would soon suffer and die by the hands of sinful men so that He could save them.  While it was true that the disciples did not understand how that was a good thing, they also knew that it did not sound like the gospel.  They did not understand because they were still thinking with worldly wisdom and not with wisdom from above.   In their minds, suffering equals bad and comfort equals good!

We understand that also.  We seldom take risks for strangers because we all know that it can come back to bite us in the butt.  No good deed goes unpunished.  But in our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 11:18-20), Jeremiah understood this feeling.  He knew that by receiving and teaching sinful strangers he was opening himself up to a world of trouble.  The very ones that he was sent to save with the Word of God were the ones that would plot against him; they devised schemes saying “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” [vs. 20]

Jeremiah understood that it wasn’t really him who they were attacking but the Word of God.  It was the Word that they wanted silenced; a Word that pointed out their sin and their love of more sin.  Jeremiah understood, and if he could be here this morning, he would point you to one greater than he; one who is the true Suffering Servant that the sinners then and sinners today want to silence.

This morning, Jesus shows us that He is the greater Jeremiah, as He turns the prophets prayer of, “O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon (my enemies) for to you have I committed my cause [vs. 20], into “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And Jesus shows us how to be greatest by being least as He shows us how to trust God even in death with these Words, “Father, into Your hand I commend my spirit.”

Do you want to be great in the eyes of God even as the world thinks you are the least?  Then trust in and protect the truth of the gospel.  We trust in the truth of a gospel that points us to a Suffering Savior.  We trust in the truth which declares, that His suffering and death for our sins is the only way to please a righteous God.  We trust in the truth, which proclaims that His death upon the cross for a world of sinners was truly our own death when God’s forgiving love washed us and recreated us in the waters of our baptism.

And when we trust in this truth for us we are moved by the Spirit of God within us and our new baptismal nature to share that same message with others.  We share the message with others, because Jesus loves those little ones who are lost in sin.  He loves them however we find them; even if they are infants or elderly.  He loves them and calls all of them into the washing of the water and the Word.  He wants all of them to be washed clean and be received in the blanket of God’s forgiving love.

This is the message that calls each of us to die to sin and turn to Jesus for life.  It is a message of least and greatest.  It is a message that teaches each of us every day to die to ourselves and live for Christ.  It teaches that the way to be the greatest is to serve others so that Christ can be great among us.

This is the equal footing that we all stand upon.  We equally can’t understand this message of suffering and death, but we trust it and we let it come alive within us.  Each of us are equally afraid of this message, but we draw strength and courage from it as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments.  Together, we equally see ourselves in a lowly and humble way; as empty vessels that God wants to fill with His divine grace and forgiving love.  And when God fills us equally, something interesting happens as we stand upon the equal footing with both young and old, mature and immature Christians; each of us discovers that our equal footing is really our true and solid foundation… Jesus Christ!  In Christ, or on Christ each of us are elevated high above this sinful world and the punishment that awaits it.  May God continue to give each of you more grace as you oppose the devil and your own sinful flesh; may God give each of you more grace as you cleanse your hands and your hearts.  May God give you more grace as you humble yourselves before the Lord, and then may your mourning be turned to joy as He alone exalts you unto eternal life… in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Power of Christ’s Compassion

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, February 25, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION:  Several weeks ago, I was singing a praise song to myself, and when I started singing the verse I made a mistake—I never would have know that it was a mistake if I had not gotten out the music and words; I sang the chorus like this: “That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to every one, you’ve got to pass it on. What makes it incorrect is just one word, and that one word is “got”.  Of course the actual word is “want”.  “That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it—you spread His love to every one; you want to pass it on.”  There is a difference, one is natural and the other is forced.  Can’t you tell when someone is faking their affection for you—when they are trying to be nice?  But on the other hand, don’t you enjoy being with someone who just seems to naturally demonstrate care and concern for you—someone who goes out of their way to make you feel important? 

 I.  The Lawyer—Have you ever noticed that sometimes, even when we seem to be doing all the right things, we still feel unfulfilled?  Why do you think that it is?  I think that we feel this way because we have turned Gospel into Law.  We have passed over what God has done for us and instead allowed our attention to be focused on what we must do.  This was the problem with the lawyer in our gospel reading tonight, when he asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  Scripture says that he asked this question in order to test Jesus.  He wanted to use Jesus own words against Him.  I am certain that he was familiar with Jesus teaching about God’s grace and mercy.  The young lawyer must have been thinking, if I can just get him to say something against God’s Holy Law, then we can charge him as a blasphemer.

The lawyer, like many of the other Jewish teachers, was operating under the faulty assumption that it was God’s Law that would save them; it was what they could “do” that would earn them a place in heaven.  He thought he could work for his salvation by following the Law.  Did he really think that he could fulfill the demands of the law?  In our reading tonight, Jesus asks just one question so that the lawyer would understand just how preposterous his trust in the Law for salvation was.  Jesus asked him, “What is written in the law?  What do you read there?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and (you must) love your neighbor as yourself.” (So Jesus) said to him, “(Good),You have given the right answer; (now just) do this, and you will have eternal life.”  The key word is “do”; you must “do” the Law perfectly without failure.  To effectively see what an impossible task this was that Jesus gives us, let’s look at just one command and see how we do with it.  Let’s look at the 5th commandment, “You shall not murder.”  At first glance we might say, o.k., I’ve never done that so I’m o.k. with God, right?  Wrong!  You see within each command we must not look at just the simple meaning of the words, but we must look at the intent, or what’s behind the commandment.  We must consider certain aspects of the Law, which I call “the must not do’s” and “the must do’s”. 

In regards to the 5th commandment, God’s Word teaches us that we must not do anything that harms anyone, either by thought, word, or actions.  How are you doing so far?  We still have the “must do’s” to contend with!  You see, the work of God’s law does not stop at the must not do’s, because it also demands specific action from us.  He says that we must take “every opportunity to do good to our neighbor and to prevent, protect, and save them from suffering bodily harm or injury.”  Now how are you standing up under the law?  If you’re like me, you’re not doing so well.  Are you feeling guilty?  That is the true function of the law.  Remember, that’s just one commandment.

The young lawyer must have been feeling guilty as well, because he tried to get himself off the hook by asking a question meant to cloud the issue of loving his neighbor: “And who is my neighbor!?” he asked.  And at that Jesus began his story of contrasts.  He gave two examples of what a bad neighbor looks like, followed by one example of what a true or good neighbor looks like. 

In Jesus story, it was a Samaritan stranger, a person who would have been hated by the Jews and in turn hated them right back, which helped the injured traveler.  This person was the good neighbor.  Would you have stopped and helped your enemy?  Would you have done all that the Samaritan did?  You can be sure the lawyer asked himself these questions.

II. The Challenge—Jesus story of the good Samaritan is an example of what God considers to be perfect love to a neighbor; the kind of love that fulfills the law’s demand.  Within this love we see 4 things Jesus demonstrates.

  1. As the Samaritan gave up the comfort of his own transportation to the injured traveler, we too must be ready to use the many conveniences that God has given us to help others.
  2. As the Samaritan tended to the injuries of the traveler, we too must be ready to help bring comfort and healing to those who are hurting physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
  3. Just as the Samaritan used his finances to provide for the travelers needs, we too must utilize the money we have been given by God to help our neighbors (2 Denarius was the equivalent of two months room and board).
  4. Finally, just as the Samaritan was willing to pay “ANY” extra costs in the care of the traveler, we also must be willing to give sacrificially (until it hurts) so that our neighbor will be cared for.

Whew!  Could there ever have been or could there ever be such a person as good as this “Good Samaritan” in our Lord’s story?  How could anyone demonstrate such a perfect love for his neighbor, especially a stranger?  When Jesus told this story, He knew that he was presenting an impossible goal for this young lawyer and anyone else who was listening.  To make sure that the young lawyer came to that very conclusion, Jesus had one more point to make: “Which of the three do you think was a better neighbor?”  To this, the young lawyer could only say truthfully, “The one who showed mercy.”  Now Jesus is ready to deliver the final blow of the law, the law that the lawyer was so willing to put all of his hope in.  Like a thunder bolt Jesus closed with, “GO AND DO LIKEWISE!”

III. The Solution—Friends, the truth of the parable is this: Jesus is the Good Samaritan, and as our Lord He provides a model for our own acts of compassion.  There were no limits to Christ’s love for us.  But how can we copy such a mighty demonstration of God’s love?  As the lawyer discovered so we too must realize, on our own, we can not!  Then what are we to do?  Friends, we need a change of identification.  Like the lawyer, we too have been destroyed by the command of the Law, “GO AND DO LIKEWISE!”  Now we must stop identifying with the lawyer and start living our lives as the beaten and robbed traveler.  We must allow our Savior to be our Good Neighbor as He brings us back to new life and strength.  The truth is we can’t do a thing to help ourselves, instead we must trust our Good Neighbor, because we have been beaten down by sin so badly that without His help we will surely die in that condition.  But we can trust in His care for us, because He has set no limits on the amount of elaborate care He will give us, even undergoing death and damnation upon the cross for us.  Christ’s life, death, damnation, and resurrection not only give us eternal life, but He also nourishes and empowers us with His Holy Body, Blood, Water, and Word, so that along with mighty deeds of compassion, we are also enabled to “go and do likewise.”   

 ILLUSTRATION: On April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and began sinking.  By the time the lifeboats were deployed, it was clear that the ship would sink at any moment.  Passengers were loaded into lifeboats, and the lifeboats were lowered into the icy waters.  Of the twenty lifeboats lowered into the water, most had room for more people.  Despite the cries for help, those in the lifeboats were afraid to return to the drowning people lest the boats be swamped.  Resisting the cries for help, the people in the boats rowed away from hundreds of people floating in the water.  In lifeboat 14, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe thought differently and acted differently.  He transferred many of his passengers to other lifeboats and returned to pick up more survivors.  Though he could not save them all, he could save a precious few from death in the icy sea.

We are like 5th Officer Lowe—we are survivors of vicious attacks of the sin within us and around us.  We have been rescued and are now sent out to find and help save other victims.  But sometimes we can be more like the people in the other boats.  We don’t want to take a chance with our own comfort and safety, so we ignore the leading of Christ’s compassion within us, which is responding to the needs of those who need their own comfort and safety.  Sometimes, we forget who we are, kind of like some of my wife’s rose bushes.

ILLUSTRATION: My wife Malia, has a wonderful collection of flowers and plants throughout our yard, but the rose bushes are perhaps her pride and joy.  Many times I’ve commented to her that some of the bushes seem to be dead, in fact I have said this with my shovel in hand, wanting to dig it up so she can plant something else.  With out fail, every time she tells me, no wait, you’ll see next season it will come back with pretty blooms.  Almost every time her confidence in those rose bushes is rewarded with beautiful blooms; it’s as if the rose bush forgot what it was created for.  It just needed some extra care and attention to help it remember.  That’s how it is with us sometimes—we become so overwhelmed with life’s cares that we forget that we have been recreated into the image of Christ; we forget that the Holy Spirit lives within us enabling, empowering, and leading us to do good things for each other and our community.  Once we remember why Christ died for us we can’t help but be just like our Good Neighbor, our Savior Jesus Christ!  

CONCLUSION: Now when we hear the words of our hymn, “That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it—you spread His love to everyone”—we will no longer incorrectly finish that hymn by saying “you’ve got to pass it on”, instead we will say “We want to pass it on.”

May God continue to move you my brothers and sisters here at Trinity, to live as the hands of Christ.  May He continue to fan your spark of faith, love, and Christian service into a flaming lamp which will light up the communities of Encanto, Jamacha, and Spring Valley.  In Jesus name…. AMEN!