Posts Tagged ‘Election’

What Are You Seeking?

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

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

Click her for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen, God Is Calling!

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost-A, August 06, 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

“Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you and everlasting covenant.” [Isaiah 55:3a]

Listening, I mean really hearing what someone is saying is a lot harder than people think, especially today with so many other things vying for our attention. Here’s a little hearing test that will determine how well you listen (o.k. men, here’s your chance to prove your wives wrong)… 1. A bicycle can’t stand on its own because it is two-tired. 2. What’s the definition of a will? (It’s a dead giveaway). 3. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion. 4. A lot of money is tainted. It taint yours and it taint mine. 5. A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat. 6. When an actress saw her first strands of gray hair she thought she’d “dye.’ 7. Bakers trade bread recipes on a “knead” to know basis.

You won’t get these jokes unless you listen well and take time to digest the information. It’s not that we don’t listen, but rather we don’t listen well. In one ear and out the other or so the saying goes. It seems that there are just too many things competing for our ears, and in regards to God’s wonderful gospel message this is true as well. But to know God and to have an abundant life…to have eternal life, we MUST listen to his Word. Now this is important so please hear and listen: There are two different kinds of listeners when it comes to God’s Word, there are those that fight to listen and those that fight listening. Did you hear what I said? This is important, so I will repeat it. There are two different kinds of listeners when it comes to God’s Word, there are those that fight to listen and those that fight listening. This morning, we will talk about these two types of people, and we’ll talk about what God does to help both of them.

Those that fight to listen.

As I said earlier, listening in any format is difficult because of all of the alternative messages vying for our attention, but hearing God’s Word is perhaps the hardest thing to listen to! Why? Well because your enemy the devil has invested a vast amount of resources and time to ensure that you will not hear God’s message of mercy. He has to do this because the deck is stacked against him. God has made the message so enticing, so sweet and attractive that even the simplest fool and the grossest sinner can see the need for God’s love and forgiveness. And yet listening, really hearing what God has to say can be so difficult at times.

I remember the time I was sitting in church trying to listen to a sermon, I mean I was really fighting to hear it because it was a timely message, when for no reason at all, I noticed a man two pews in front of me with the most amazing bald spot developing. I could even see the freckles on his head. “Stop that” I thought to myself! “Pay attention and let God’s Word minister to you. You need to hear this!” And yet, I couldn’t take my eyes or my thoughts off of that man’s bald spot!

For some, the distraction may be that God’s Word is being proclaimed to you from a man who is just as much of a sinner as you are. Maybe you’re wondering if the message he is proclaiming is really from God. For others, perhaps your distraction is an argument that you had with a family member just before coming to church? All of these things and many more are tricks that the devil will use to prevent you from hearing God’s Word of forgiveness and love. But do we really need to hear this message today? Well yes, according to God as He spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “Come everyone who thirst (for God’s love and forgiveness), come to the waters (and drink)!” [v. 1a] To know that God is really there, and to know that He is for you and not against you is not only God’s will, but it is also the one desire common to all people whether they admit it or not, and it is the one need common to all people, because all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfection and glory! [Rom. 3:23]

Friends, God knows that the devil and your own sinfulness are fighting to prevent you from hearing, so he has brought you help. This morning, He says to you, “He who has no money, come, buy and eat!” This morning, God is telling us:” “If you have recognized that you do not deserve my love, that there is nothing in you that would cause Me to want to know you, then you are just the person I am looking for.” “But Lord”, we respond, “You said that I must buy and eat. To buy means that there is a price, and yet you said it is free! I’m confused.”
“Oh yes” He responds, “there is a price, and it is far too expensive for you to purchase, and that is why I have paid the price for this heavenly banquet my self.” Friends, there is a place set for everyone, young and old. All we must do is listen to the Lord’s invitation, sit at His table and allow Him to serve us!

Oh what a loving God we have! He has provided each of us exactly what we need at His banquet. If we are young in the faith, he serves us the rich milk of the Gospel, which says, “Jesus the Son of God, died for you! Your sins have been forgiven. Go in peace and serve the Lord with gladness!” And for those who are mature in their faith, He provides something stronger, he provides wine. The wine of God’s Word is His doctrine, the proper understanding and explanation of the same Gospel that the young in faith have received. But this Word must be served strong because with it we will be able to withstand the attacks of the devil, death, and sin. With it we will be able to fend of those who ridicule us because of our faith.

Dear friends, for those of us who admit that we thirst for God’s presence in our lives, we are called to drink and to be refreshed and filled by His Word. God’s Word comes to us this morning providing living water that refreshes our souls. And as we are fed, the Holy Spirit is with us and encouraging us to “Fight to hear! Fight to listen! Hear and listen so that you will live!”

Those that fight listening.

But why is it that some fight listening to the Word of God? Perhaps it is because of what they hear? In our reading from Isaiah, I trust that by listening to God’s Word, you have already realized that it is Jesus Christ Himself who has called you to His banquet table of mercy. You have come to the realization that in this Holy meal, He offers You His Word that will satisfy the thirst of your soul. You know this so you come to Him to be filled. You come because you know you need to come. But no one is forced to respond to His call. To some, His call to come will mean a drastic change in life. They know that if they turn to Jesus they must turn from their present life style. They know, just as you do that there is no room in God’s kingdom of grace for the evil person who refuses to turn from his sin. Or perhaps, such a simple plan of free forgiveness without any work seems far too ridiculous. Maybe they feel insulted by God’s offer to abundantly forgive their sins, with no payment on their part and no questions asked.

Dear friends may I say that those who are satisfied with the world and with their own self righteousness, will never in that condition be able to turn away from their sin and turn to Jesus Christ. They can’t turn to Jesus because they see no need too, or they won’t because God’s offer makes no sense to them. Then what about these poor lost souls who fight listening? Is there any hope for them? Yes friends there is hope, and that hope is Jesus Christ! Jesus is completely serious in his desire that everyone should come to him and find salvation “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” [Matt. 11:28] There’s no pre-qualification; He wants everyone to come to Him. He offers himself to all of us equally in His Word. He wants everyone to hear the Word and not to plug-up their ears. But still, few accept the Word and follow it. In fact, it appears that they have contempt for God and His banquet invitation. St. Paul saw this tragedy playing out in his own time as well. In our Epistle lesson (Romans 9:1-13) he is clearly grieving over the fact that much of Israel had rejected Christ and their salvation. In Paul’s own words we can hear his pain: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” [Vs. 2-3] Even though Paul knew such a bargain with God was impossible, his emotions were intensely real. Why? Because He loved his fellow countrymen and longed for their salvation.

Those of us who have loved ones who are lost know Paul’s pain. We really enjoy spending time with them, laughing with them, even playing with them, but there is always deep pain underneath it all. Martin Luther put it this way: “Love is not only pure joy, and delight, but also great and deep heaviness of heart and sorrow.” Our hearts carry the grief of love for family and friends who seem to be fighting not to listen. While this sorrow is painful it is also good, because it proves that God is not only living within us but working within us as well! He is working and moving us to keep our family and friends in prayer. He is working within us to speak to them about God’s love for them. Friends, if the lost have any hope at all it can only come from Christ’s church, which is you and I!

We must continue to pray for those who have left the church or never joined one, and ask God to touch their hearts! We must pray not just for our family and friends, but for our entire community. We must pray that God’s Word will change their hearts so that they will hear! We must also continue to speak God’s Word, because it is only through the Word that faith will come, because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Rom. 10:17] And this is precisely the help that God has sent to strengthen us so that we may speak for him to those who fight not to listen.

The only way to listen is through faith!

Friends, by faith, we are to proclaim to others what we have learned our selves, and as we do faith is given freely to those that will listen. It is impossible for a heart to believe that God would allow us to buy without money, if we are without faith. It is impossible to believe that God’s love and mercy are a free gift without cost if a person does not have faith. It is impossible without faith to understand that all other teachings apart from the Word of God are ultimately useless for bringing true peace to a troubled soul.
You can’t listen to God’s Law beat upon you and long for His Word of forgiveness if you have not first been given faith! It is only through faith that a person is brought to salvation in Jesus Christ and it is only by faith that we are strengthened to continue believing this truth! As a matter of fact, it is faith alone through the work of God’s Word that saved you in your baptism, and it is faith alone that will complete the work that Christ began there in that holy font of salvation. Through faith, God has lovingly protected you and he has separated you from the world of sin. Dear friends, through faith God’s Word constantly warns us and reminds us that we must fight to listen and hear His Word and then through the work of the Holy Spirit, we not only begin to listen but we understand as well. Through faith, we are given the wisdom to teach and confess that God desires everyone to be saved and He takes no pleasure in the death of any sinner and yet simultaneously believe and confess the Words of our Savior: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” And finally, through faith we are given the ability to accept the mystery that is contained in the question: Why are some saved and others not?

Friends this mystery of why you are saved and some are not saved is not for us to understand or solve because it belongs to God’s unsearchable judgments. Along with St. Paul we all can agree that His ways are far past our ability to find out, but we do know that God does not choose anyone to remain unsaved! You and I must instead concentrate on God’s work of salvation to the extent that it is revealed and given to us in His Word. It is His Word, which teaches us that Jesus as the true “Book of Life,” has opened His pages and revealed that our names are written there! We see and believe that our names are in His book of life when we hear these Words preached to us, “God will save no one apart from those who acknowledge his Son Christ and truly believe in him.” We find comfort in these words because we know that it is God Himself who continually gives us faith to believe unto salvation!

When we leave here today, let’s leave with a wonderful message to share with our family, friends, and neighbors who are living apart from God. Let’s pray that God will use our message of hope to open the eyes of their hearts by faith so that they may see their sinfulness, turn from it and turn to Jesus alone for salvation! Let our testimony then as Ambassadors of Christ be this: “Because I have been given faith, I believe that Christ’s glorious Gospel invitation to come unto Him and be saved is not only true, but it is for me! At the cross of Calvary, God guaranteed my everlasting salvation through the work of Christ alone, not because of any merit or goodness found within me but only because of the undeserved love and mercy that God has given to me and all people!”

“May Almighty God and the Father of our Lord Jesus grant the grace of His Holy Spirit that we all may be one in Him and constantly abide in this Christian unity, which is well-pleasing to Him! In Jesus name…Amen.”

Lambs Don’t Shove?

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Last Sunday of the Church Year-November 23, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

Yes, you are Jesus little lamb and further He gives you every reason to be glad at heart as He leads you through life as a gentle shepherd.  And as you follow, you are assured by faith that He knows your every need and that He provides for those needs in your life.  Since all of this is true, then why do you sometimes act as though it isn’t true?  Why do we as people seem to have this insatiable desire to be first and best, even at the expense of other little lambs around us?  Why is it that we never seem to have a shortage of good ideas in our minds on how to do things better, but we seldom are willing to offer our own efforts in order to accomplish those ideas?

I submit to you that the reason is very simple, and it looks back at us every day in the mirror.  While we may indeed be Jesus little lambs, we live our lives as if we are Jesus mighty and powerful rams, pushing and shoving trying to be the shot caller, trying to get the best seat, the best place in line, and the most important position available.  And while we congratulate ourselves for living as a strong sheep and not some helpless little lamb, Jesus warns us in our gospel lesson (Matthew 25:31-46) that we are acting more like a goat.

Now, we should be clear from the outset that this kind of sinful behavior is nothing new; God had to deal with this same issue years ago through the prophets, and this morning in our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 34:11-24) we hear him speak about this very issue through the prophet Ezekiel.  Listen: “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.  Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture, and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet.  And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” (Vs. 17-19)

This morning God is speaking to us just as He did the Jews who were in exile in Babylon.  He is speaking in a way that calls attention to the sinful practices that He observed in the lives of His people then, and in the lives of His children of faith today.  He sees Christians acting like the godless goats and beasts around them and not like sheep.  And he isn’t just talking about how we act in church, but how we act in our families and within our communities.  He is warning us that if we insist on being someone of importance, that is a leader and not a follower then He will hold us to a much higher degree of accountability.

This morning, you may find yourself thinking that you are more equipped to lead the church, your family, or community than others, and because your superior abilities have been underused or gone unappreciated, you find yourself pushing and shoving others so that you can be heard and recognized.  God sees, and He is not impressed.  And what He sees is that through your pushing and shoving, you are teaching through your actions an incorrect faith or false teaching; you are teaching that your way is better than God’s way; you are muddying the waters of true doctrine, and you will answer for what you are doing.  Every time you exert your personality over another sheep, in church, at home, or within our community, and you take away their ability to enjoy God’s provisions for joy and peace in their lives, you are going to pay; Jesus says you will be judged as a goat and not a sheep; you will be cast out into darkness, never more knowing the care of your good shepherd.  In other words, “If you want to act like a goat and not a sheep, then go for it.  You are a goat; so go to the place of goats!”

This morning, God promises to do two things: First He will personally remove the false shepherds who push, shove, and take advantage of the flock, and second, He will personally provide for the needs of His sheep.  He will seek out His sheep who are lost in the church, in the family, and in the community, and bring them back into the fold.  How will he do this?  By reminding us that…

We are His little lambs. We are not mighty rams or wild goats.  We are his little ones that so badly need His care; we need His Son, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, because without Him, we will become lost; lost in our communities, lost in our families, and even lost within our church.

Dear friends, this is a truth that each of us must hear, whether we are in leadership or simply part of the flock.  We are all being led by only one Good Shepherd, and the voice of another we must not listen to.

In a world in which it is increasingly difficult to find Christian leaders in any area of life, isn’t it comforting to know that the Lord has promised to become personally involved in caring for the needs of his people, even when those who should be providing leadership aren’t doing their jobs. When you think about it, that’s much better anyway, isn’t it?

Jesus is a faithful Shepherd. It is more comforting to put yourself in His care than in anybody else’s.  Jesus is the only Shepherd who has not only laid down His life for His sheep, but He took it back up again when He rose from the dead.  Jesus is your good shepherd who suffered as you suffer, but even more His sufferings were for you; not only for your eternal salvation, but also so that you might have joy and peace right now, even though you see people in positions of authority over you abusing their high callings of leadership.

Now to those of us who are in positions of authority or desire those positions, God has this Word for us: If we fail to be Christian shepherds in our families, in our community, in our congregation, we can expect those under our leadership, to start trampling the pasture, muddying the water, and shoving and taking advantage of the weak. Sinful human beings do such things if they are not constantly pointed to the Lord Jesus, our true Good Shepherd and his way.

So how do we correct our sinful tendency to push and shove others at the expense of cutting them off from the peace and joy that Jesus provides?  By remembering that we too are only Jesus little lambs.

When we remember that we are Jesus’ little lambs and not some big shot ram or wild goat, we will also remember that we follow our Good Shepherd.  “For He grew up… like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.”  He was born in the humblest of births, born in a manger.  Even though He was the eternal Son of God, He was known simply as the son of Mary, and the son of a blue-collar carpenter.  “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced (upon the cross) for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.”

“(And) All we like sheep have gone astray (like lost little lambs who think they are powerful rams or wild goats, we are lost in our families, our communities, and even within our church); we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on (Jesus) the iniquity (the sin) of us all.”

(And as they took your precious Jesus, the Good Shepherd away to the cross to die for your sins, He modeled the life of a little lamb; a trusting sheep who follows its shepherd.  “He was oppressed and He was afflicted (for you), yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” [Isaiah 53:2-7]  And neither did He push nor shove, but instead He simply trusted His God and Father.  And just before His final moment of life upon the cross, He experienced something so horrible that it troubled His soul and caused Him to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  But that was His human flesh crying out only; you see Jesus, the begotten and eternal Son of God knew why He must be forsaken at the ninth hour; He was forsaken so that His little lambs could trust that He would never forsake or leave them.  He suffered in their place so that each of us would know for certain that nothing and no one can ever pluck us from His hand nor the hand of His father.  For we rest as sheep in His pasture.

So how do we remain sheep within God’s flock?  How can we be protected from the ambitions of being a ram or the irresponsible living of a goat?  By remembering that not only are we sheep in God’s flock, but even smaller than sheep, we are simply little lambs who know nothing of the dangers ahead nor how to avoid them.  And as little lambs, we simply follow the voice of our Good Shepherd trusting in His guiding way.  He guides us with His rod and His staff, which are His Word and His sacraments.  His law warns us when we are wandering astray, and His gospel seeks us out, cleans us up, and nuzzles us back into the fold as one who was once lost but now is found, nestled safely in the love of Christ, back in the fold.  He has cleansed us in Holy Baptism, and He nourishes us through the sacrament of the Altar.  And together with the other sheep, we sing in peace and joy these true words: “Who so happy as I am, even now the Shepherd’s lamb?  And when my short life is ended, by His angel host attended, He shall fold me to His breast, there within His arms to rest.”  AMEN!

Can You Be Sure?

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

Pentecost 22A, November 9, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

“If you were to die tonight, are you sure you would go to heaven?  If so, why?  Can you be sure?”  Those were some of the introductory question behind a program called “The Evangelism Explosion” created by Dr. D James Kennedy in the 1960’s that became popular with many Lutheran congregations in the 1980’s and 90’s.  The questions in and of themselves are pertinent, but the conversations that they sparked, very rarely ended with a sense of security, in fact in my opinion, those questions left both the interviewer and the one being interviewed with a deep sense of hope (I hope I’m saved), and also a feeling of fear (what if I’m not saved?).  This is why the “Evangelism Explosion” kind of fizzled out within our denomination.

What many of us discovered was that faith is not something you can logically present to someone, rather it comes when a person encounters the crucified and resurrected Jesus through the Word of God within real life contexts.  But like I said, the questions in and of themselves are worth considering, so let me ask the question in a different way; “Can you be sure you are saved?

In our Old Testament lesson (Amos 5:18-24), God through the prophet Amos was talking to a bunch of people who just knew that they were saved.  After all, they were the children of Abraham, a chosen and unique people.  There was no need to ask them if they were saved, or if they were afraid of the day of judgment, because each of them would have answered quickly, “Of course I’m saved, and why would I be afraid, I’m a son of Abraham!”  But God did not send Amos to ask thought provoking questions; instead He sent Amos to deliver some very bad news, listen: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord?  It is darkness and not light”.  This is a blunt warning from God that their eternal security is not nearly secure as they thought it was.  Within these words, God was telling them that if they continue in their insincerity of faith, the Lord’s coming on the last day will mean trouble worse than any they have ever experienced or would experience on this earth.

Amos said that the Israelites were like a man who runs away from a roaring lion (which represented their current troubles), only to be met by a more dangerous bear (which symbolized the day of the Lord, or judgment day).  And if that analogy didn’t get their attention, He gave them another one: It will be like someone who reaches home safely (the day of judgment and rest in heaven), only to lean against the wall in your home and have a snake jump out of a whole near your hand and bite you.  That bite is God’s judgment and it would take the people by surprise.

But why wouldn’t they receive the promised salvation that they thought was theirs?  Because they broke their covenant with God.  So for them, the day of the Lord would be as dark as midnight on a country road.  So what happened?  How did those who were once so close to God’s love and mercy fall so far away?

Well God answered that question in the rest of our reading, listen: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offering and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offering of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them.  Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

What God was telling the people then and us today is that just going through the motions of worship without faith can’t save you; their hearts were not devoted to God, but instead they embraced the ways of the world around them.  They trusted in the things that life brought and not in the things that God gives.  They thought that being a faithful child of God meant following a set worship formula, which would please God and assure them of His favor and eternal peace.  In their opinion, going to God’s sanctuary for festivals and assemblies was a way of appeasing God and staying on His good side, even while they disobeyed His commandments and broke His covenantal laws during the week.

But what about we Christians today?  Is God pleased with our worship and our liturgies that we practice today?  And the answer is the same now as it was then: Only when our worship comes from penitent faith-filled hearts.  That is hearts that painfully agree with God that they are sinful and unclean and can only be changed and saved by God alone.

The danger for us today is the same danger that had consumed the people of Amos’ time.  We too, run the risk of losing our security if we think that our Sunday worship centered around liturgies, hymns, and offerings are a way to stay on God’s good side, and then when the worship is over, we live a life that cares nothing about God’s will for us as we live out our lives at home, at work, and at play.  In other words, if we are using Sunday worship to excuse our misconduct during the week, we are in for a very rude awakening.

So here we find that religion offers no guarantee that God will be pleased with us on the Day of Judgment.  So then, what about those who say they love God, claim Jesus as their Lord, try to live a decent life before God and their neighbor, but see no need for faithful church attendance?  Where do they stand?

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus in His story about the ten virgins, let’s the non-religious people know where they stand as well.  I think that the story is meant to answer a simple question that was hidden inside the heart of the sincere Jews who were listening to and following Jesus, and that question is this: “What shall we do while we are waiting for the day of the Lord to come?”  And what is Jesus answer?  “Make sure you have plenty of oil in your lamps!”  So what does the oil represent?

Martin Luther and many others felt that the oil represented faith.  I like that explanation, but like the questions used in the Evangelism Explosion, simply saying “have faith,” can be received more like the law than the gospel, depending on what you think faith is.

Some Christian scholars will tell you that the oil represents good works that are done because of faith.  But again, how is the individual Christian to define works of faith, and when has the individual done enough works so that God is pleased?  No, I am afraid if the oil has anything to do with what we do, then this is the law, and the law demands that all of our works must be done perfectly and unceasingly, which I’m sure you would agree is impossible for sinners such as us?

But let me steer your sinful hearts away from you and your abilities and point your eyes to another way to define the oil.  What if the oil is simply the source of our faith and the power within us that produces good works.  What if the oil is simply your relationship with God, who is the source and power behind all that is good in our lives and in this world?  If this is what the oil in our lamps represents, then we can also see who the two different classes of virgins are.  The five that had their lamps lit with an ample supply of oil are those who remained close to God and His gifts of grace.  And the five who ran out of oil would be those who had become distant to God and His gifts of mercy and forgiving love.

You see, each of us in our baptisms were cleansed of all sin.  We were as St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “presented (to the Lord) as a pure virgin.”  That is, through the work of God we were made pure and holy and acquired by Him to be His own children, and the bride of His Son, Jesus the Christ.  By remaining in this state; within this relationship, our virginity, or if you prefer our purity is protected.  But when we turn from this work of God and from His means of grace that keep us pure, or when we find fulfillment in other things above God’s gifts, well then what St. Paul says next to the Corinthians applies to us as well: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” [2 Corinthians 11:2-3]

So how can you know that you are truly save?  By knowing that you are known by God; by seeking out His presence and allowing Him to keep you there.

When the five foolish virgins returned and found the door shut, they called out, “Lord, Lord open to us (the door).  The response from within was chilling, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”  And to that, what can you say?  Wait I know, you could say, “But Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?”  But even to those proclamations of good works, Jesus declares, “I never knew you; go away from me you workers of lawlessness.” [Matthew 7:21-23]

So what we see then, is that being right with God is more than just doing the right thing.  It’s more than just saying, “I know Jesus.”  But what can be more important than knowing Jesus?  Well, being know by Jesus of course!

Does the Lord know you?  If you come to His church regularly to receive His Divine Service and His gifts with a heart that knows God’s Son is the only way for you to have peace about your eternal salvation, well then certainly you are known by Jesus.  If you end each night with a prayer of confession and seek God’s grace and forgiveness through Christ alone, I would say that you are know by Jesus.  If each Sunday as God’s Divine Service begins in our midst, you find yourself coming before God with a broken spirit as you confess your sins, and then as you hear the sweet words of absolution spoken you find your burdened removed, well then I would say that you are known by Jesus!

You see friends, to know God and to be known by Him through His Son is the only way you can be sure of your salvation.  When you know God and are know by Him through Christ, well then you are assured that His Word, which you listen to here in this house of worship is indeed good news for you.  In His Word, He reminds you everyday that on the day of your baptism, His righteousness along with His grace did in fact roll down upon you like an ever flowing-life giving and sustaining stream.  And in that same Word, when you approach His Holy altar to receive the Sacrament of the Altar, you are pulled even deeper into a relationship of faith and love with these Words, “Given and shed for you!”

How can you be sure?  Because God gave His Son unto death for you.  Upon the cross, Jesus took all of the darkness and gloom upon Himself.  There at the cross, the darkness of the day of judgment came upon Jesus so it would not come upon you. [Mark 16:33]

How can you be sure?  Because God’s Word promises that for you who trust in Christ alone, who hunger for God’s Divine Service and the gifts that He so freely dispenses to His church, even here in this place we call Trinity Lutheran Church, for you is given only the promise of eternal day.  The eternal day when you will in fact be welcomed into your mansion prepared for you by Jesus, within the city of Zion, the New Jerusalem.  “And (that) city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb (of God, Jesus Christ).  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.” [Revelation 21:23-25]

How can you be sure?  Only by faith alone, grace alone, and scripture alone, and all of this comes to you here in this place through Christ alone!  So come to His holy house, and come often and be filled with His perfect peace, which surpasses all understanding… AMEN!

God’s Gifts That Keep on Giving

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Christmas 2A, January 5th, 2013

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“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the  heavenly places, even as He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before  him.”  Those are the Words St. Paul used to begin his pastoral letter to the church at Ephesus so that they would have certainty  and peace with God, knowing that He had done all things necessary to assure them that God would not abandon them.  And  now, for the very same reason I your pastor, declare these same words of comfort and peace to you.

Four phrases jump out at us and demand our attention through out our epistle reading (Ephesians 1:3-14).  They demand to be  considered and applied to our lives, as the precious gifts that keep on giving.  Precious indeed, and they are these: In Christ God  chose us; In Christ God loved us; In Christ God saved us from our sins; In Christ God adopted us as His Sons, that is as His  children.  So the theme and the very source of comfort for us this morning can be summed up in this way, “In Christ, all of God has chosen, loved, forgiven and saved, and adopted us as His very own child!  All of this He has done for His glory and praise!”

This morning God is speaking to you.  Don’t worry about what He is saying to anyone else, because this message is for you; it is between you and God.  So get rid of any and all distractions that are clouding your mind and hear Him speak.  God has saved the world, but more importantly, He has saved you.  By His death upon the cross He paid the ransom price for the sins of the world.  But by the power of His Word, through the washing of the water and the Word, He has saved you by giving you pardon for your many sins.  In your baptism, God has placed the seal of the Holy Spirit upon you and claimed you as His own child.  All that is left for you is to live out and trust this truth.  But this is a spiritual and eternal reality, one that is hard for our sinful flesh to actually receive.  So let me use an analogy that will illustrate your relationship with God.

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, mankind, that is you and I and all who have gone before us and will come after us have been born in bondage, that is we are condemned prisoners, even worse, we are slaves.  We are slaves to our sinful nature; that is, sin is our cage.  Our true enemy the devil, has installed himself as our master, and our punishment for our sin is life without the possibility of parole, ending in a death sentence.  There is nothing we can do to secure our release; it is eternal.  Locked away hopelessly lost from God our Creator is our eternal reality.  We are constantly being reprogrammed to believe that there is no God or that Satan himself is our master.  We cannot get to God, but He being God, He can come to us.  And come to us He has.  In the fullness of time, that is at just the right moment, God’s own Son came to us as a child, and He was named Jesus the Christ.  He came to be our Savior, Emmanuel.  This child Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God the Father; that is, in His humanity as the boy Jesus, God the Son grew as all humans do.  He grew mentally in the same way and attained more and more strength of mind, understanding, and reason.

At just the right time, this child became a man and announced to the world, first to His own people, the physical children of Abraham, and then to the gentiles, that He had come for them, to set them free.  And then at just the right time, this God-man fulfilled the mission that His Father sent Him on; He allowed sinful men to crucify Him upon a cross, so that His death would be a ransom payment for the sins of the world.  This ransoming work for the world includes all people from all times and generations; it includes you and your sins.

Now, the door to your cage has been torn open.  You are free from the bondage of your sin.  Death no longer has a claim over you, and the devil’s lie has been revealed.  He is not your master; your Master is Jesus Christ, the very Son of God.  Now ever so softly, the voice of the Holy Spirit speaks to you and says, “My Child, you are free.  Come out and enter the Kingdom of grace, which the Father has prepared for you.”

Most of us, when we first begin to really consider the gospel, the message of forgiveness of sins, have two main thoughts going on in our heads. Is this really true, and can it really be for me?! And to those questions, the Holy Spirit takes your empty hand of faith and fills it with the promises of the Word of God, and then points you to the waters of your baptism.  There in the washing of the water and the Word of God, He assures you that Jesus has taken you by the hand, sealed you with the Holy Spirit, and claimed you as His own dear child and His brother and friend.

The door of your cage is open.  The invitation to leave your bondage is real.  Will you allow Him to take you by the hand and lead you out or will you pull away?  God’s Word this morning makes it clear that it is His desire that you do not pull away.  He desires that for your entire life here on earth, you will allow His gift of faith to lead you away from sin and the devil, and then finally discover that your death is simply a departure from one place (here ), to another, in paradise.

This morning, God the Father wants you to know that He has loved you with an everlasting love and chosen you from the beginning of time, before the world was ever created.  He chose you to love you and for you to love Him.  In the Father’s love, that is, through His Word, He points your eyes and heart to the cross of Jesus Christ; through that cross He made you holy and blameless even though, as we know all to well we are neither!  But you must keep reminding yourself that it is only through the work of Christ upon the cross that God makes it possible for you to become adopted as His child.

So we can say that God chose us at the beginning of time; He saved us at just the right time; and He adopted us throughout time with an eye not on time but on eternity.  Everything that you have heard this morning is meant to open your eyes of faith so that you will see that it is God who does everything to save you and claim you as His own.  He isn’t bound to time or space, to influence or laws; He is the creator of all things.  Even if there are things that we can’t understand or figure out in our minds, our gift of faith can simply learn to trust God in all things, and believe that He has come to us.  He is the One who sees all things at all times as one fluid thought; from the beginning to the end He sees and knows, and He sees you and your life and what goes on as you live it.  And what He sees shouldn’t alarm you, but bring you comfort.  He has saved you and is saving you, because He has chosen you.  But He has not chosen you because of something He found in you; no, He has chosen you through Christ Jesus, His own dear Son.

God the Son has come to you to be your champion to set you free; every day, He continues to come to you.  Everyday, He reminds you that it was and is His sacrifice that does the choosing, the loving, the saving, and the adopting that the Father desires.  Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, all of God has come to free us from our pain and suffering; to tree us from our struggles; to free us from all fear and worry, and to free us from our sins and death itself.  I say that in God the Son all of God comes to us because He is our triune God in human flesh.  Wherever the work of the Son is, there also is the sending heart of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Through Jesus Christ, God shows Himself to be our only provision and our only source of hope and security in a hopeless and insecure world.  Through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit has sealed us with His sign in the waters of our baptism, and marked us as God’s own by taking residence within us.  Now think about that for a moment… God lives within you.  You can’t get much more secure than that!  And as the Holy Spirit lives within us, He assures us that God will never leave nor forsake us; He comforts, guides, teaches, builds up, and equips us with gifts that give real strength and power.  But strength and power for what?  To trust the presence of God that comes to the door of your cage and says come out.  Allow me to take you by the hand of faith and lead you upon life’s way.

Dear friends, the door is open.  Your bondage to sin, death, and the devil is over.  As Jesus once called Lazarus who had been dead for four days to come out from the tomb with the Words, “Lazarus, come out,” He now calls you as well.  Would it not have been ridiculous if once made alive, Lazarus chose to remain in the tomb as a dead man?  Is it not as ridiculous for us to live as if we are still in bondage?  So let’s rise upon our feet together, as God continues to lead us and sing the first verse of LSB Hymn 722, “Lord, Take My Hand and Lead Me.”

“Lord take my hand and lead me upon life’s way.  Direct, protect, and feed me from day to day.  Without Your grace and favor I go astray.  So take my hand, O Savior, and lead the way.  AMEN!”

What Are You Seeking?

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost A, September 18, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” [Isaiah 55:6]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great is Our Faith!

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Ninth Sunday in Pentecost, August 14th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.””[Matthew 15:28a]

INTRODUCTION: Perhaps our gospel (Matthew 15:21-28) reading this morning may leave some of us a little unsettled; the reason is that we aren’t used to hearing Jesus say “No”!  And yet it seems that He’s doing that very thing!  Now He didn’t actually say no, but instead he was silent; He spoke to His disciples instead of answering the Canaanite woman?  Why did He do that?  Isn’t He the savior and God for all sinful men and women?  Doesn’t He care about everyone?  Well, yes He is, but we must remember His mission, the mission that was given to Him by His Father.  He was sent first to be the Messiah for the people of Israel, after all God promised this very thing to them.  

After His death and resurrection, after He announced the completion of His mission with the Words, “It is finished’ , then and only then would His disciples would be sent, they would be propelled out into the entire world to announce God’s mercy and salvation; the forgiveness of sins to all who would receive Jesus Christ as “their” savior.  But that time hadn’t come yet.  Jesus was required to focus first on the Jewish people, the children of Abraham, so that He could fulfill the promise made to them by their faithful God.  Listen to that promise restated over and over again by God: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” [Genesis 17:4-4]  “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” [Exodus 2:24-25]  “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” [Exodus 19:5-6]  “For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.” [Deuteronomy 4:31]  “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” [Isaiah 42:6-7] “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” [Isaiah 60:3]  you see, it is within this context that Jesus encounters this poor Canaanite woman. 

I. “And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” [Matthew 15:21, 22] Why was Jesus going to a different district, which was essentially another country.  Well He was trying to find a place of safety, a place where the Jewish authorities couldn’t find Him.  But why did He need a safe place?  Was Jesus, who is God in human flesh hiding from the very people He had created?  Yes!  You see, the Jewish authorities were trying to trap, capture and kill Him.  So was Jesus, the Son of God afraid of men?  No, but Jesus’ time, the time appointed by His Father had not yet come.  Jesus would indeed give His life as a ransom for many, even for these stiff neck people, but it would be in His time and not theirs! 

So where did He go?  He went to the border of another nation; a nation that was once known as Canaan.  He was laying low, trying to avoid the public lime-light; if people knew where He was it would be blabbed throughout the region, and sooner or later the religious authorities would be hot on His trail again.  If this were happening today, it might be the Paparazzi that Jesus  would be running from! 

Well you can’t get much safer than the regions of Tyre and Sidon; that was  a place full of gentiles, a god-less people who cared a less about God’s covenant, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the forgiveness of sins.  Surely no one would care that Jesus there, right?  Wrong!  Behold… there was this one woman… a Canaanite woman… a gentile woman who had a divine appointment to keep!  She had to get to Jesus no matter what!  Now how did she know about Jesus?  How does she know anything about the Jewish Messiah?  Well, she found out about Him the same way you and I did, through the Word of God!  Somehow, through God’s design, this woman heard about Jesus, His mission and His divine power to not just heal but to drive out demons and forgive sins!  So when she discovered that He was in her area, she dropped everything she was doing so that she could get to Him!  Why?  Because she needed God’s touch!  You see, sin had invaded her life and the life of her daughter and she knew by faith that the only way to defeat that sin was to turn to Jesus! 

We aren’t so different today are we?  Jesus is here with us right now and you didn’t have to come here but you did.  There are probably a lot of other things you could be doing with your time, but you chose to come here.  Why?  Because you know, by faith that you need Jesus; you need the forgiveness of sins that only He can give.  You gather to hear even one word of hope; one word of peace.  Maybe like the Canaanite woman you keep trying to get God’s attention, but sometimes, maybe it seems like He isn’t listening.  Maybe you’ve had people try to influence you to quit going to church and encountering Jesus.  This may come as a surprise to you, but you’re not the only one to experience that.  Listen to what the Canaanite woman had to deal with: 

II. “But (Jesus) did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”  [Matthew 15:23] Has it ever seemed that the God who never sleeps and is always watching and working was silent in your life?  Have you ever had friends or family members try to discourage you from going to church “every” Sunday?  Maybe you’ve even had them ridicule you for your faith, a faith that they think is a waste of time?  And maybe, just maybe you’ve been close to agreeing with them.  Maybe, even now you’re considering taking a break from you regular attendance at divine service, because it seems that there are other things… better things you could be doing with your time?  Well if that’s the case, remember the Canaanite woman and the audacity of her faith! 

You see, she knew that Jesus had been sent for the Jews; a people she would never, could never be a part of.  She heard the words of the apostles, and she knew why they wanted to send her away!  She was born a gentile, but in her heart she knew that the God of the Jews was the true and only God.  She knew that if there was to be any help or hope for her and her daughter it could only come from this man, the Son of David; this man who was somehow also God’s own Son!  So putting all of the reasons why Jesus wouldn’t help her aside; tuning out all of the criticism about her misplaced faith she fell at Jesus feet and she simply worshiped Him and cried out: Lord have mercy on me; pity me, Son of David… Son of the Living and most high God! 

III. And now here comes the part we find difficult.  Jesus seems to be discouraging her.  “He answered, ““I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  [Matthew 15:24-27]

In her heart she knew that she had no right to expect God to hear her plea; after all she truly was a gentile sinner, or as the Jews called her a wild gentile dog.  But in Jesus own Words she heard the possibility of hope; and in His Words she had the audacity to have faith!  You see, Jesus didn’t call her a dirty gentile dog, instead He called her a little dog, the kind that you keep as a pet in your home!  So she wouldn’t try to discourage Jesus from fulfilling His mission to the Jews and she wouldn’t try to convince Him that she wasn’t a little dog.  Instead she would repeat back to Jesus the very Word He used to describe her.  Why?  Because she understood the mission that Jesus was on was essentially a mission to save sinners; by faith she knew that she was part of that mission, because she was a sinner.  She only wanted a bit of God’s mercy, a crumb of compassion! 

Here friends is faith in all of its glory!  Here is how mighty God’s Word and Spirit work within the heart of a sinner who has been given the audacity of faith!  Knowing full well that God could and should say no, she is moved by God Himself to ask any how!  Here friends is a picture of you and me; we are beggars at the thrown of God asking for mercy; asking for forgiveness.  When God’s Word calls us sinners, we repeat that Word back to Him; we agree with Him and we ask for forgiveness!  When others wouldn’t even bother, or when they might turn away discouraged, we are moved by the power of God through the Word of God to call out for mercy.  Why?  Because it is God’s will! 

Yes, it was Jesus intention to move quietly out of harm’s way.  Yes, He was on a mission to save the faithful people of Israel.  Yes, it was not time yet to send His church out into the world offering God’s forgiveness, comfort, and joy to the non-Jewish people, but there in that moment, in that one heart the Kingdom of God was breaking out in a mighty way.  So the God who seems to have been distant and silent, stops and receives the worship of one heart and the need of a mother and daughter and He speaks the Holy absolution; He speaks the gospel Word of forgiveness: “Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” [Matthew 15:28] 

CONCLUSION: Friends that is a picture of you and me.  We too were once separated from God because we were not His people.  We weren’t His people because of our many sins.  Yet somehow God’s Word entered our hearts and gave us great faith.  Somehow He came near to us and gave us forgiveness.  Somehow God’s kingdom broke into our lives and recreated us.  We who were once not a part of His people have been made His people!  Oh thank the Lord and sing His praise and tell everyone what Jesus has done for you!  God has made a way out of no way to save you.  He has called you out of darkness into light, and by faith you heard Him call and you responded.  Oh happy day!  Oh happy day when Jesus gave me great faith and in the waters of my baptism washed my sins away!  Friends, we are holy because God is Holy; through Jesus Christ He has made us holy!  But not only that, He has called us with a purpose; we are to share His love and grace with as many people as possible!  Why?  Because now as part of His people, His church, we are to take His Gospel Word with us and be His light in a dark sinful world. We are to explain to all who will hear that God loves the whole world, even them!  

Yes friends, you are here this morning because by faith you see all of this happening within you and around you, and it is marvelous in your sight.  It is so marvelous that you know that you must never lose this faith that God has given to you; so every week here in this little church, you throw yourself at Jesus feet and simply cry out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of the Living God!”  And Jesus hears your cry of faith each and every time, and He responds, “Great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire!”  And because He answers you this way, you are healed, you are forgiven instantly!  Thank you Jesus for your grace and faith, and may we always be bold to share these things with whoever you put in our path.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Christ’s Compassion is Our Compassion

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Seventh Sunday in Pentecost, July 31st, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA 
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“When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” [Matthew 14:14] 

INTRODUCTION: This morning, we see the heart of God going out in compassion to the great crowd that followed and gathered around Jesus.  In spite of all of their unbelief and disobedience, Jesus has a great feeling of love, compassion, and mercy for them.  Why?  Well St. Mark’s account of the same incident tells us that Jesus sees them as sheep without a shepherd. [Mark 6:34]  They were separated from God because of their sins, and they needed to learn that they had a God of mercy, compassion, and love! 

I read recently that flight attendants are having an ever growing problem getting passengers to listen to the emergency instructions.  So, some of the attendants have resorted to humor in an attempt to get the passengers to pay attention.  Listen to one of these attempts: Ladies and gentlemen, in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling.  Stop screaming, grab the mask, pull it over your face.  If you have a small child traveling with you, first secure your mask and then help them with theirs.  If you are traveling with more than one small child… well pick your favorite!” 

This morning we will be talking about God’s compassion for each of us!  The good news is that God does not have a favorite; He has chosen all of us!  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16]  “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live”. [Ezekiel 33:11] The bad news is that some will reject God’s offer to turn to His ultimate demonstration of compassion, which comes to us only through Jesus Christ, and unfortunately they will die!  Here are three truths that we will explore: Knowledge of God’s compassion comes to us only through His Word; God wants each of us, the whole world to experience His compassion; and God wants us to share His compassion. 

I. Knowledge of God’s compassion comes to us only through His Word.  Those of us who have children know that they can tend to be insecure about life around them, even about our love and God’s love for them.  That’s why repetition is so important for children.  We must speak words of love and affirmation to them all of the time.  Here are some phrases that I’ve found to be helpful with small children: “You know, I couldn’t love you anymore!”  “You will always be Daddy’s little princess!”  “I don’t like what you are doing, but I sure do love you!  Let me teach you how to do better!”  These are words of affirmation, love, and compassion.  I’m sure that you have your own catch phrases that communicate the same thing.   

Let’s listen to some of God’s: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, (His) sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” [Luke 1:78-79]  ““In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.” [Isaiah 54:8]  

Because God has compassion on us, He sends His powerful Word to us in such a way that we will have no doubts about his forgiving love.  There is no limit to His kindness and gentleness towards us; it is boundless and limitless.  On the other hand, if He were to take away His Word from us then there is no way to measure His anger.  But when He promises to be our Father and that we will always have His Word, He is revealing Himself in a way that those who don’t call Him Father can never understand!  In our Father, there is no bitterness, no terror, and everything in our lives is safe and peaceful.  And to prove to you that this is a fact, God sent His Son to make the message clear.  “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]  “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”. [Ephesians 2:4-5]  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” [1 John 4:10] 

Dear friends, God’s love and compassion, His goodwill and favor is free and it’s universal.  In other words it is for every sinner that lives on the face of this earth, without exception.  God came to us in our own flesh for the benefit of everyone; He came to us as the incarnate Jesus Christ; He died as the payment for our sins, everyone’s sins.  Through His death upon the cross, all sinful men have been pronounced righteous and through His resurrection all have been promised victory over man’s most ancient enemies; sin, death, and the devil!  This is God’s invitation for all sinners to turn to Him through the cross of Jesus Christ and find peace with God through the forgiveness of their many sins.  In this invitation, no one is excluded from God’s compassion and grace.  God wants you to read, hear, and receive His Word so that you’ll know for sure that this promise is for you!  There’s nothing you need to do, only rest in God’s promise.  But now here is the bad news, this grace… this compassion of God is resistible!  You can reject His love and the death of Jesus!  This is why God wants you to see your great need for His compassion and His gift of grace.  You see… 

II. God wants us to see a need for His grace and experience His compassion.  But why is that necessary? Well, just as you probably won’t go see your doctor unless you’re feeling sick, in the same way you probably won’t seek out God’s grace, His forgiving love and compassion that’s  offered in Christ, unless you’ve been shown your sinful and lost condition! Through His Law, God forces us to see our sickness and our unstoppable death, and then He urges us to seek His compassion and forgiveness through His grace in Christ. 

So you see, God wants all to be saved, He wants each of us to have the life-giving gospel proclaimed to us, but only if we will admit through the work of His Law that we are sick and in need of a cure.  He wants us to be rich in His grace, but only if we will admit that without it we are poor!  He wants His Word of freedom to be proclaimed, but only to those of us who want to be set free; He wants to set us free, but only if we will admit that we are held captive by sin; He wants to comfort all, but only if we are grieving.  So God really does want to give His grace to the world, but you can only receive it if confess a need for His mercy, compassion, and forgiving love! 

In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus pictured the grace of God in a wonderful way; He pictures God as the Father of a young son who left home in a cloud of sin and pride.  And in that story, Jesus showed us a God who is always ready to pardon the repentant sinner. He showed us a Father who is always watching our road of life, waiting for His sons and daughters lost in their sins to turn towards the cross of Jesus with the desire to go home to the compassion of our Heavenly Father.  And what happens when we return?  Our Heavenly Father’s sees this and His heart is filled with compassion!  And what does the Father do; what does our Heavenly Father do?  He runs, to us, falls upon our neck in a divine embrace and He covers our face with heavenly kisses!  What does all of this show us?  It shows us that God’s sinful children, you and me are already forgiven before we can say speak a single word.  Our all-knowing and always present God pardons each of us no good sinners, the moment we rest in God’s cure for our disease of sin and death!  

So before we go on with our message this morning, let’s make sure that we understand that repentance isn’t something we do once and then get on with our lives, it is something we do every day of our lives as we are surrounded and comforted by God’s compassion and forgiving love!  Every day, every moment of our lives, we need to turn and look at Christ’s cross and see how much the Father loves each of us, and then look to the baptismal font and remember that there in our baptism, all of His love and compassion was given to us!  And as we live this kind of life, we will also remember that… 

III. God wants us to share His compassion.  In God’s Word, we are taught that His goodness should be reflected in His children. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” [Luke 6:36]. In His Word we are taught to love one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9). We are shown that we must love, bless, help, and intercede even for our enemies, because they too are children of our heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:44–45] We are to be kind to one another, forgiving, tender-hearted, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us. [Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13]  Throughout God’s Word, His message to His children who relate to Him by faith is this: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” [Romans 12:1; 2 Corinthians 8:9] 

So in God’s Word, not only is His message consistent that we must turn to His compassion through Jesus Christ and live, but we must also reflect that same compassion of God to others so that they too will receive His Word, His message of grace and be saved and changed!  

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, let me make sure that you leave this place with God’s compassion; let me make sure you leave here with the Gospel!  Your Heavenly Father, like any good parent, wants to be sure that you are dressed properly. In your baptism, you have been baptized into Christ; in other words, you have been “dressed” in Christ. In those holy waters, your Heavenly Father removed your filthy rags of sin and in exchange He placed on you Christ’s robe of righteousness. He no longer looks at you and sees your sin or what you are or aren’t in this world.  In Christ, each of us have been baptized into Him and we are one in Him! [Galatians 3:26–29] 

 So you could say that God sees us through Christ-colored glasses. In our lives that are connected to God in Heaven, His Word has killed us as sinners; He’s stripped us of our torn and tattered garments of sin—and buried us in Christ’s tomb. And in that same Word He’s has brought us into a new existence with him and redressed us in Jesus’ own innocence and righteousness. Now because of God’s work alone, we stand in the Father’s presence, holy and righteous! We are his perfect children, but only because he has said so. His promise to us in our Baptisms gives us peace and a clean conscience.  But we are still living here in this sinful world, so we are still experiencing the attacks of the devil and sin, even our own sin.  We still experience temptation, and we can still fall to that temptation.  So our Baptism then initiates a lifelong process of repentance, confession, and forgiveness; its a life long process of dying to the habits of hell and rising to the habits of heaven in a daily struggle against the sin that destroys our humanity. 

As we daily recall God’s baptismal promise to be our God and to keep us safe as his children, may we always see His Compassion, the compassion of Jesus Christ, and may we always remember that Christ’s compassion is now our compassion.  We need that compassion in our struggle to put to death the sin that is always within us, and the people in our community need that compassion if they are to also one day receive God’s gift of eternal life and love. 

So, dressed up in our new nature, having shed our old nature through this baptismal death and resurrection, we will continue to experience God’s renewing compassion in our lives and we will share that compassion with everyone that God puts in our path.  May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enable us to do this very thing… in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Invitation

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

  Twenty Second Sunday in Pentecost, October 12, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
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 Our Gospel lesson this morning is another parable that comes to us in a string of parables Jesus used to teach about the kingdom of heaven.  In each story, his audience was forced to find themselves in one of the characters (usually the one that pridefully rejected God’s kingdom and His Messiah).  In our reading this morning Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who threw a wedding party and then told his servants to go out into the streets and invite anyone they could find so that they could celebrate with the king.  It’s a wonderful story that illustrates how badly God wants everyone to turn to Him, on His terms and enter into a relationship of love and trust.  It is a story that invites us all to be friends with God, children of God through Jesus Christ…but..there is tragedy in this story too! Sadly, Jesus story teaches us that many will reject God’s invitation.

There are three classes of persons who reject God’s Invitation.

First there are those who are too busy.  In Jesus day, people were much the same as our day.  There were businesses to run, farms to tend, jobs to report to, and families to raise, so many of his listeners would have identified with those who were just too busy to attend the kings banquet.  But this was not just any banquet; no this was a banquet that would honor the Son of the King and His bride.  Do they dare turn down the king’s invitation?  Yes, because there just wasn’t time.

Then there are those who are offended and angered by the invitation
because it represented their lack of authority; these people represented the religious establishment of Jesus day.  In the story, it made no sense for these people to get angry and abuse, even kill the servants that thought they were bringing “good news”.  But that is exactly what they did, and that is precisely what Jesus was telling the religious leaders that they were doing and would soon do by persecuting, punishing, and even killing his disciples. 
 
Finally, there are those who respond to the invitation in a self-serving manner. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.” [Matt. 22:11-12]  And he was speechless!  What a sad state of mind to be in when approached by the King!  He knew the rules, one simple rule actually… “In order to sit at my table, you must wear the attire that I provide.  Friend, you chose to come into my presence on your own terms, and because of that you have rejected my hospitality and a chance to enter into a friendship with me.”  The man couldn’t argue, because the king was right.  The king is always right, because you see the king in Jesus’ story represents God the Father.  And the son of the King is none other than Jesus Himself.  And the feast well, that’s a little different, because you see; it represents a couple of things. 

First, it represent the great feast that will be held on our Lord’s return, on the Last Day, but it is also speaking about the great feast of eternal life that God has lovingly provided for us right now, here in this church; a feast that we call the Divine Worship.  At this feast we gather as one body to hear the life-giving words of Jesus; we gather to be baptized and to remember our baptism; we gather to not just confess our sins to our Lord, but to hear His sweet words of forgiveness…the absolution…the obliteration of those sins; and finally, we gather to feast upon the sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood, which is served to us upon the banquet table of His altar.  But as the words of our liturgy say, this is a “foretaste of the feast to come.”  But this feast of God’s Word and Sacrament is a REAL heavenly feast nonetheless, for as John the Baptist and even our Epistle reading this morning states, “The (kingdom of the) Lord is at hand.” But what kind of feast is this Divine Worship?  What does our Lord say?  “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4) and again He says, “I am the bread of life; unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:35, 53-54).  Yes friends, the kingdom of heaven has come to us and it is continually coming to us through the real presence of Jesus Christ, through His Word and Sacraments.   

 Now what do we make of this special garment that Jesus spoke of in the story? 

Well, it had to be supplied by the king.  I’m sure that the man in the story chose to wear his finest suit of clothes.  He probably paid a lot of money for that suit.  It represented his hard work and probably his style.  What’s the sense of having good things if you can’t use them, right?  I’ll bet the king will be impressed!

Wrong, at least not in Jesus story, because you see the clothes that the man insisted of wearing represented his own way; it represented a works righteousness that God will always reject.  The prophet Zephaniah spoke of this strange garment, which was foreign to God in this way, “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests.  And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice- “I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire.””  Friends, there is only one attire that is not foreign to God and if we want to understand what this garment is, then we need look no farther than the baptismal font. 

It was at the font of life giving water where the command went out to all of God’s servants to seek out anyone they found and call them to the feast of victory, the feast of salvation for our God, Jesus Christ.   It was there at the baptismal font that your King plucked you out of your life of sin and death and washed you white as snow in the blood of the lamb, the blood of His Son, your Savior.  It was there at the font where the general invitation to anyone found became a special invitation of love for you.  It was there at the baptismal font that Your King gave you your own very special garment of salvation.  St. Paul puts it this way, “for as many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” [Gal. 3:27]  You have been clothed in Christ!  This is the same garment that Isaiah mentions when he says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

What happened to the man in Jesus story who wouldn’t wear the right garment?  Well, this man and all of the others did not fare well. Jesus Words are clear, “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [v. 13] Friends there can be no doubt that this man’s punishment was eternal separation from God!  Because when he chose to reject God’s robe of righteousness, he also chose to reject God’s invitation for salvation.  ILLUS: If you were told that you must enter an area that was contaminated with disease and sickness, but you would be in no danger if you wore a special biological suit and respirator, would you reject that personal protective equipment and go in as you choose, or would quickly put it on, wear it properly and be thankful that someone was looking out for you? 

Friends, we must learn to use our baptism in the same way!  In our baptism, God has clothed us with Christ’s holy, perfect nature; He has clothed us with Christ!  He has given us Christ’s protective suit if you will, to wear in our baptism.  If we will simply approach our own baptisms as a gift of love from God, and if we will just cling to it and allow it to save us, comfort us, and change us, we need never fear being thrown out of God’s presence where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!  But aren’t there times that we too have rejected God’s invitation by neglecting to wear our garment of faith in Christ?  Haven’t we allowed God to take second place, even third or fourth place in our lives?  Yes, we have, if we are honest with ourselves…but the invitation still stands for us to repent and return to God’s love and forgiveness, for remember this is but a foretaste of the feast to come.  The final feast will be when our Lord returns or when we go to him after our last day on this earth, and then it will be too late to put on Christ.  Until then, we gather at houses of worship, we gather here at Trinity, and we cry out to God, “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with Thy free spirit.” [Psalm 51]  Oh how sincerely those words pour out of a heart that realizes it has been living without being clothed in Christ!  How earnest, is the cry of a heart that knows it needs forgiveness because of sinful living!  Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation O, God.

Dear friends, this Wedding Feast we call the Divine Service has one purpose, and that is to re-clothe us in Christ and to restore our joy and confidence in the truth  that God still loves us and He has forgiven us! God has ordained worship so that it will strengthen your faith.  Dear friends, Jesus delights to answer the prayer of a repentant heart. He would never cast you out into the darkness. He hears your sorrowful cries and He answers you with mercy. He answers with His forgiveness and salvation. He answers us by clothing us in His righteousness.  Friends, when you leave here this morning, once again restored with joy, let this be your confidence that God will never leave or forsake you in a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, so long as you are wearing His heavenly attire; so long as you are living out your faith in Jesus Christ, because God is working in your life, and because of His work, you are righteous, innocent, and blessed forever because you are wearing His wedding garment.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit…AMEN!

Are You Listening?

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Twelfth Sunday in Pentecost, August 3rd, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message


“Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you and everlasting covenant.” [Isaiah 55:3a]

INTRODUCTION: Listening, I mean really hearing what someone is saying is a lot harder than people think,  especially today with so many other things vying for our attention.  Here’s a little hearing test that will determine how well you listen (o.k. men, here’s your chance to prove your wives wrong)… 1. A bicycle can’t stand on its own because it is two-tired. 2. What’s the definition of a will? (It’s a dead giveaway). 3. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion. 4. A lot of money is tainted. It taint yours and it taint mine. 5. A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat. 6. When an actress saw her first strands of gray hair she thought she’d dye. 7. Bakers trade bread recipes on a “knead” to know basis.

You won’t get theses jokes unless you listen well and take time to digest the information. It’s not that we don’t listen, but rather we don’t listen well. In one ear and out the other or so the saying goes. It seems that there are just too many things competing for our ears, and in regards to God’s wonderful gospel message this is true as well.  But to know God and to have an abundant life…to have eternal life, we MUST listen to his Word.  Now this is important so please hear and listen: There are two different kinds of listeners when it comes to God’s Word, there are those that fight to listen and those that fight listeningDid you hear what I said?   This is important, so I will repeat it.  There are two different kinds of listeners when it comes to God’s Word, there are those that fight to listen and those that fight listening.  This morning, we will talk about these two types of people, and we’ll talk about what God does to help both of them.

I. Those that fight to listen.  As I said earlier, listening in any format is difficult because of all of the alternative messages vying for our attention, but hearing God’s Word is perhaps the hardest thing to listen to!  Why?  Well because your enemy the devil has invested a vast amount of resources and time to ensure that you will not hear God’s message of mercy.  He has to do this because the deck is stacked against him.  God has made the message so enticing, so sweet and attractive that even the simplest fool and the grossest sinner can see the need for God’s love and forgiveness.  And yet listening, really hearing what God has to say can be so difficult at times.  I remember the time I was sitting in church trying to listen to a sermon, I mean I was really fighting to hear it because it was a timely message, when for no reason at all, I noticed a man two pews in front of me with the most amazing bald spot developing.  I could even see the freckles on his head.  “Stop that” I thought to myself!  “Pay attention and let God’s Word minister to you.  You need to hear this!”  And yet, I couldn’t take my eyes or my thoughts off of that man’s bald spot! 

For some, the distraction may be that God’s Word is being proclaimed to you from a man who is just as much of a sinner as you are.  Maybe you’re wondering if the message he is proclaiming is really from God.  For others, perhaps your distraction is an argument that you had with a family member just before coming to church?  All of these things and many more are tricks that the devil will use to prevent you from hearing God’s Word of forgiveness and love.  But do we really need to hear this message today?  Well yes, according to God as He spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “Come everyone who thirst (for God’s love and forgiveness), come to the waters (and drink)!” [v. 1a]  To know that God is really there, and to know that He is for you and not against you is not only God’s will, but it is also the one desire common to all people whether they admit it or not, and it is the one need common to all people, because all of us have sinned and fallen short of God perfection and glory! [Rom. 3:23]

Friends, God knows that the devil and your own sinfulness are fighting to prevent you from hearing, so he has brought you help.  This morning, He says to you, “He who has no money, come, buy and eat!”  This morning, God is telling us:” “If you have recognized that you do not deserve my love, that there is nothing in you that would cause Me to want to know you, then you are just the person I am looking for.”  “But Lord”, we respond, “You said that I must buy and eat.  To buy means that there is a price, and yet you said it is free!  I’m confused.” 

“Oh yes” He responds, “there is a price, and it is far too expensive for you to purchase, and that is why I have paid the price for this heavenly banquet my self.”  Friends, there is a place set for everyone, young and old.  All we must do is listen to the Lord’s invitation, sit at His table and allow Him to serve us!

Oh what a loving God we have!  He has provided each of us exactly what we need at His banquet.  If we are young in the faith, he serves us the rich milk of the Gospel, which says, “Jesus the Son of God, died for you!  Your sins have been forgiven.  Go in peace and serve the Lord with gladness!”  And for those who are mature in their faith, He provides something stronger, he provides wine.  The wine of God’s Word is His doctrine, the proper understanding and explanation of the same Gospel that the young in faith have received.  But this Word must be served strong because with it we will be able to withstand the attacks of the devil, death, and sin.  With it we will be able to fend of those who ridicule us because of our faith.

Dear friends, for those of us who admit that we thirst for God’s presence in our lives, we are called to drink and to be refreshed and filled by His Word.  God’s Word comes to us this morning providing living water that refreshes our souls.  And as we are fed, the Holy Spirit is with us and encouraging us to “Fight to hear!  Fight to listen!  Hear and listen so that you will live!”

II. Those that fight listening.  But why is it that some fight listening to the Word of God?  Perhaps it is because of what they hear?  In our reading from Isaiah, I trust that by listening to God’s Word, you have already realized that it is Jesus Christ Himself who has called you to His banquet table of mercy.  You have come to the realization that in this Holy meal, He offers You His Word that will satisfy the thirst of your soul.  You know this so you come to Him to be filled.  You come because you know you need to come.  But no one is forced to respond to His call.  To some, His call to come will mean a drastic change in life.  They know that if they turn to Jesus they must turn from their present life style.  They know, just as you do that there is no room in God’s kingdom of grace for the evil person who refuses to turn from his sin.  Or perhaps, such a simple plan of free forgiveness without any work seems far too ridiculous.  Maybe they feel insulted by God’s offer to abundantly forgive their sins, with no payment on their part and no questions asked.  Dear friends may I say that those who are satisfied with the world and with their own self righteousness, will never in that condition be able to turn away from their sin and turn to Jesus Christ.  They can’t turn to Jesus because they see no need too, or they won’t because God’s offer makes no sense to them.  Then what about these poor lost souls who fight listening?  Is there any hope for them?  Yes friends there is hope, and that hope is Jesus Christ!  Jesus is completely serious in his desire that everyone should come to him and find salvation  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” [Matt. 11:28]  There’s no prequalification; He wants everyone to come to Him.  He offers himself to all of us equally in His Word. He wants everyone to hear the Word and not to plug-up their ears.  But still, few accept the Word and follow it.  In fact, it appears that they have contempt for God and His banquet invitation.  St. Paul saw this tragedy playing out in his own time as well.  In our Epistle lesson (Romans 9:1-13) he is clearly grieving over the fact that much of Israel had rejected Christ and their salvation.  In Paul’s own words we can hear his pain: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” [Vs. 2-3] Even though Paul knew such a bargain with God was impossible, his emotions were intensely real. Why? Because He loved his fellow countrymen and longed for their salvation.

Those of us who have loved ones who are lost know Paul’s pain. We really enjoy spending time with them, laughing with them, even playing with them, but there is always deep pain underneath it all. Martin Luther put it this way: “Love is not only pure joy, and delight, but also great and deep heaviness of heart and sorrow.”  Our hearts carry the grief of love for family and friends who seem to be fighting not to listen.  While this sorrow is painful it is also good, because it proves that God is not only living within us but working within us as well!  He is working and moving us to keep our family and friends in prayer.  He is working within us to speak to them about God’s love for them.  Friends, if the lost have any hope at all it can only come from Christ’s church, which is you and I!  We must continue to pray for those who have left the church or never joined one, and ask God to touch their hearts!  We must pray not just for our family and friends, but for our entire community.  We must pray that God’s Word will change their hearts so that they will hear!  We must also continue to speak God’s Word, because it is only through the Word that faith will come, because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Rom. 10:17]  And this is precisely the help that God has sent to strengthen us so that we may speak for him to those who fight not to listen.

III. The only way to listen is through faith!  Friends, by faith, we are to proclaim to others what we have learned our selves, and as we do faith is given freely to those that will listen.  It is impossible for a heart to believe that God would allow us to buy without money, if we are without faith.  It is impossible to believe that God’s love and mercy are a free gift without cost if a person does not have faith.  It is impossible without faith to understand that all other teachings apart from the Word of God are ultimately useless for bringing true peace to a troubled soul. 
You can’t listen to God’s Law beat upon you and long for His Word of forgiveness if you have not first been given faith!  It is only through faith that a person is brought to salvation in Jesus Christ and it is only by faith that we are strengthened to continue believing this truth!  As a matter of fact, it is faith alone through the work of God’s Word that saved you in your baptism, and it is faith alone that will complete the work that Christ began.  Through faith, God has lovingly protected you and he has separated you from the world sin.  Dear friends, through faith God’s Word constantly warns us and reminds us that we must fight to listen and hear His Word and then through the work of the Holy Spirit, we not only begin to listen but we understand as well.  Through faith, we are given the wisdom to teach and confess that God desires everyone to be saved and He takes no pleasure in the death of any sinner and yet simultaneously believe and confess the Words of our Savior: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”   And finally, through faith we are given the ability to accept the mystery that is contained in the question: Why are some saved and others not?  

Friends this mystery of why you are saved and some are not saved is not for us to understand or solve because it belongs to God’s unsearchable judgments.  Along with St. Paul we all can agree that His ways are far past our ability to find out, but we do know that God does not choose anyone to remain unsaved!  You and I must instead concentrate on God’s work of salvation to the extent that it is revealed and given to us in His Word. It is His Word, which teaches us that Jesus as the true “Book of Life,” has opened His pages and revealed that our names are written there!  We see and believe that our names are in His book of life when we hear these Words preached to us, “God will save no one apart from those who acknowledge his Son Christ and truly believe in him.” We find comfort in these words because we know that it is God Himself who continually gives us faith to believe unto salvation!

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, when we leave here today, let’s leave with a wonderful message to share with our family, friends, and neighbors who are living apart from God.  Let’s pray that God will use our message of hope to open the eyes of their hearts by faith so that they may see their sinfulness, turn from it and turn to Jesus alone for salvation!  Let our testimony then as Ambassadors of Christ be this: “Because I have been given faith, I believe that Christ’s glorious Gospel invitation to come unto Him and be saved is not only true, but it is for me!  At the cross of Calvary, God guaranteed my everlasting salvation through the work of Christ alone, not because of any merit or goodness found within me but only because of the undeserved love and mercy that God has given to me and all people!”

“May Almighty God and the Father of our Lord Jesus grant the grace of His Holy Spirit that we all may be one in Him and constantly abide in this Christian unity, which is well-pleasing to Him! In Jesus name…Amen.”