Posts Tagged ‘Eternal Life’

More Than a Feeling!

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

25th Sunday in Pentecost B, November 4th, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“”And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. [Mark 12:34]

The song I chose as a mental hook, “More Than a Feeling” is meant to communicate an important message.  God’s Word, specifically  His Holy Law, is not supposed to make us feel good about ourselves.  It isn’t meant to congratulate us on how much we love our  Creator and our neighbor; in fact it should produce the opposite effect in us.  God’s Law should first terrify us, because it shows us how  little we love Him and how poorly we love our neighbor, and then it should move us to call out to God for a solution to our lack of love.

And yet, like the Scribe in our gospel reading (Mark 12:28-37), how easy it is for us too, to become comfortable with how we think we  are doing.  Oh how easy it can become for us to turn off our ears and blind our eyes to the truth; we fall far short.

So is this a message about feelings?  Yes and know.  You see, we all have feelings; God created us to have emotion, but our emotions are  defective; they lie.  No, our message this morning is first one of truth; God’s truth, and then God centered emotions, or feelings will  follow.

The young scribe in our gospel lesson, is someone we might call a seeker in today’s lingo.  He is genuine in his desire to live a God pleasing life.  He comes from a confusing culture, where the Law of God exists within the frame work of not just 10 commandments but 613 commandments.  Can you imagine that?!  There were 248 positive commandments, or commandments that told you what you should do, and then there were 365 negative commandments, or commandments that told you what you should not do.  With all of these commandments a person could get lost prioritizing them.  So the young scribe presents a valid question to Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

We need to remember that the young scribe, like many young people today, felt that he really did love God; to him, the proof of this was the truth that He wanted to please the Heavenly Father.  And second He had been listening to Jesus for some time now, and He really did respect Jesus and His teaching.  He probably found a great degree of wisdom in the Words of Jesus; he seemed to be comfortable around Him, listening to Him.  So when he asked Jesus, which commandment was the most important, he was really asking for Jesus’ guidance.

And Jesus seeing a desire for truth in the young man looked directly into His eyes and says, “Hear, O Israel”.  (Don’t just listen to the Word of God, but really hear it; let it enter your heart and mind, and let it change you; let it give you wisdom.)  “The Lord your God, the Lord is One.”  (He isn’t like the false god’s of your neighbors; He doesn’t inhabit certain regions or nations.  He is the ONLY real God, the Creator of everything.  He is all powerful, all present, and all knowing.  He can come to you in any way He desires, and His Word and His teaching are the only source of real truth.  So now hear that truth and let it enter you; let it penetrate you.)  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second (most important commandment) is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12:28-31]

The operative Word there in those two great commandments is Love.  Let’s look at that word.  This kind of love that God demands for Himself isn’t mere affection and it doesn’t mean passion either.  God isn’t telling you to have a warm fuzzy feeling about Him and your neighbor.  He isn’t saying that you should just be passionate about Him and your community either.  He is telling you that the kind of love that you are to have is based on something foreign to you; something that is completely outside the realm of possibility for you.  He is telling you that the kind of love you are to have is more than a feeling; it is more than a decision to be nice.  It is an intellectual assent to something higher and beyond your natural ability.  It is a God given love that will sacrifice everything in order to see this kind of love rule and reign over you and within you; when this God given love is present, it loves all things that God loves and it loves others just as it loves it self.

So we see now, these are tough words, meant to give wisdom.  Is that what the young scribe received?  Well almost; He almost understood.  Listen to His response: “You are right, Teacher.  You have truly said that (God) is one, and there is no other besides Him.  And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Well, that sounds pretty good.  He did a fine job of paraphrasing Jesus Words.  He even seemed to be paraphrasing another bit of wisdom that Jesus taught earlier concerning worship, “Go and learn what this means” He said, “‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  [Matthew 9:13]  And so Jesus looks Him in the eye once again and says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” [Mark 12:34]  You are almost there; you almost are wise unto eternal life.”  If only that young man would have asked Jesus to give him that heavenly love!

This morning Jesus is teaching an important lesson.  Knowing God and pleasing God are similar but separate.  Oh they’re close, but they aren’t so close as being the same.  There are two things that separate those who know God from those who please God.  And both of those things come only from God.

The first is the Word of God.  Hear O sinners.  Listen to the Word of God and let it penetrate you.  When you listen to the Word, when you really hear what it is saying you will know God’s truth and you will know His heart.  The truth of God is that you are trapped in your sins.  On your own you can never really love Him or your neighbor.  That kind of love can come only from your Creator.  And how does He give that love?  By allowing us to hear His Word.  And when we let God’s Word do what God intends for it to do, He gives us faith.  “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:17]

If our gospel lesson ended right there, we along with the young scribe could go home with a lot to think about; a lot to pray about.  But Jesus does not send us home just yet.  He continues teaching.  I would like to think that as He continued teaching, He winked at the young scribe, slapped him on the back and said “Listen to what I say next, young man.”

And this is what He said next: “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?  (I mean,) David himself, in the Holy Spirit declared, “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’  (You see there,) David himself calls Him Lord.  So how is He his Son?’

I can also imagine Jesus returning to the young scribe privately and saying, “Did you wonder why I winked at you?  Or did you see and understand what I just taught?  You know all about your traditions that teach about God’s final and righteous rule right?  You know the time is promised by scripture to come when the Messiah will take power and reign don’t you?  So, you also know that when the kingdom of God comes it will be visible and apparent, and everyone will have to acknowledge who it is that really runs all of creation, right?  Well listen now… it is happening right now.  I am the Messiah.  I am God’s Anointed One, who has come to make it all visible to all who have faith; to all who believe.”

This morning, Jesus has given to each of you the wink so to speak; a wink that unlocks the wisdom of God; the truth of His Word.  This morning you are being shown Jesus in the Word; Jesus in your baptism, and Jesus at the table in the meal.  And in these means of grace, you are being given faith to believe you are forgiven and faith to speak forgiveness.

Through the writings of the apostles and the testimony of all of scripture, you can read all of God’s Word with Jesus as the central figure.  You can go from the commandments of the law to the fulfillment of the Law, which is the gospel, in the person of Jesus, the One true God; God in human flesh.  Because of the love of the Father and the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit, you can hear the Words of the Son of God, Jesus Christ and know that through Him, God alone made all things new and right, including you.  You know that the same love that led Jesus the Messiah to the cross to die for the sins of the world also leads you to love God with your whole being, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

What is impossible for you to do, becomes possible when God is the one working in you and through you.  By faith, you know that much more than all of the burnt offerings and whole sacrifices are necessary to please your creator.  True obedience is demanded.  But you also know that this obedience had to come from outside of you; it had to come from God.  In Jesus, you see God Himself coming to you to offer both sacrifice and obedience, and as a result, by faith you receive His forgiving mercy.  And now as our epistle lesson (Hebrews 9:11-22) states, you have “such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”  This one final act and the faith that comes from the very Word that teaches you about this work of God, is enough to draw you closer to the kingdom; so close that in fact you are now in that kingdom.  And now only two things remain.  You must rest in the kingdom of grace, forever enjoying the forgiving love of the Father, and you are asked invite others into it with you.

The pronouncement of God through Jesus Christ is, “You are forgiven!”  In the message of the gospel you have been given great power, the power of God unto salvation.  That message is for you but it is also for your neighbor.  Your neighbor may not feel obligated to love you, but God sure does, and He loves your mean spirited neighbor too.  The same God who in the beginning looked at His creation and called it good, wants to do the very same thing again with your neighbor who doesn’t know Jesus by faith.

That is the very reason you are still here living in this dark and dying world.  You are to bring light and life to it.  You are to bring the message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ to all who will hear.  When you see your neighbor and see how unlovable they are, God wants you to remember how much He loves you and how much you are to love Him.  He wants you to remember what real love is, not so you can feel guilt and shame, but so He can use you to speak words of faith and love to those who are faithless and unlovable, just as you once were.

In this holy house of worship, Jesus looks upon our neighbors just as He did the young scribe and says to their hard hearts, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  Come unto me and find rest!

Believe and Become!

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

21st Sunday in Pentecost B, October 21, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“”Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. [Hebrews 4:7]

The song I chose as a mental hook, “We Fall Down” is by Pastor Donnie McClurkin.  I want  to take some liberty with the words, and  change them just a little bit.  Listen:  “We fall down, Christ picks us up.  For a saint is just a sinner who fell down, and Christ picked up.   He picks us up again; get back up again; He picks us up again; get back up again.”  Or as they say in the Philippines, in their Tagalog  language, “Na mon, Na mon.”  Again and again.

Today, listen don’t worry about tomorrow or yesterday, but today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, but grab onto the  promises of His Word and get back up again and again!

Adam and Eve at first didn’t need the promise of forgiveness; they walked and talked with God in paradise.  But something happened;  sin happened and they lost access to both paradise and God.  But God wouldn’t let that separate Him from the people He created in His  image, so He did something to restore that image; He gave them mercy and grace, which in turn brought forgiveness and new life.  God  gave His promise that one day He would come to them and provide a Savior through the bloodline of the woman.  Adam and Eve fell in  sin, and God picked them up by giving them hope; He gave them the promise of a Savior, Jesus Christ, who would  pick them up!

Many years latter, the Hebrew people were in bondage and they cried out to God for help, and He heard them.  He reminded them of the promise He made concerning the coming Savior who would make all things new and right; He reminded them that they were a people of faith who should grab onto that promise.  So God sent them Moses, a type of savior, but not THE Savior.  Moses would lead them out of bondage and into a type of promise land, Canaan, but not THE Promised Land of Paradise.  But they began to grumble and complain.  They began to lose faith, and they sinned against God and their neighbors.  Their sin was serious; they would not repent of it and trust the promises of God.  So God punished them and they died in their sins.  But their children did  repent and believe, and God allowed them to enter Canaan.  They fell down, but the promises of God concerning their Savior lifted them back up.

Their faith in this promised Savior was the only way God would one day give them total rest… Sabbath rest!  And that one day came, and God kept His promise and came to them from their own bloodline.  Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God came to them in human flesh.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  And on the third day He rose from the dead and proclaimed Sabbath rest for all who believe.  Through His death and resurrection He gave complete forgiveness for all sins.  This good news was preached first to the Jews, and then to all who would listen and believe.  Many rejected and fell down, but some believed and Christ picked them up.

And now we read in our Epistle lesson (Hebrews 4:1-16), that some are again in danger of disbelief; of lack of faith in the promises of God.  Some of them then and some of us now were and are in danger, so Christ desires to pick us up; He wants us to grab onto the promise of forgiveness and get back up.

I know that some of you here may feel like it might be too late to get back up; you might think that God is growing tired of you.  Maybe you feel that you are no longer counted among the saints, and instead you’ve become an ain’t!  Well like the song said, a saint is just a sinner who fell down and Christ picked up.  So… get back up again.  Do you need help getting up?  Then let this message from God pick you up again.

What was bad news for the wandering wilderness generation turns out to be good news for us.  You see, we learn that all of those who died in the wilderness, an entire generation of Hebrews, didn’t have to die; they could have repented, and trusted in the promises of God.  God would have lifted them up again, but they would not let Him, so they died in their sins, and the next generation made it to the promise land of Canaan.  But Canaan wasn’t the place where God would give them true Sabbath.  Canaan was just a shadow of the spiritual place and goal that God set before them in the promise of His Word.

Dear friends, that promise is still ours to grab onto, just as it was theirs.  It remains in force as an offer of peace with God; all any have ever needed to do was rest in the offer and receive the Savior who is promised in the Word of God.

Since countless men and women that went before us refused to trust in the promise of the Savior and died in their sins, forever cut off from paradise, then let us approach God and His promises with fear and trembling.  Otherwise we too may fail to reach our goal of paradise and peace with God.

The promises of God are the good news; the gospel about Jesus Christ.  Just as the promise came to those before us, it comes to us now… today!  The message they heard didn’t help them in the least, because they lacked faith in it.  You see, faith is the glue that sticks you to God and the hope of His promises fulfilled for you.  Faith is what gives you Jesus when you fall; the same Jesus who gladly calls you not just friend but brother.  He is the same Jesus who picks you up again and again.

By faith, God promises and gives to you Jesus, your true Sabbath rest.  By faith, we who believe in Jesus enter that Sabbath rest immediately at baptism.  And by faith, we walk in that Sabbath rest until we enter forever into God’s peace in paradise.  Since we have that rest and will forever experience that rest, shouldn’t we do everything to stay in that rest?  Shouldn’t we put all of our attention on protecting our relationship with Jesus?

How?  How do we protect that relationship?  By staying in the Word of God.  A Word that is sharper than a double edged sword.  It is the Word of God and not our money, things, or prestige that offers peace and delivers it.  The Word of God alone looks intently into our souls and shows us the sin that we hide so well from others, and then it offers us forgiveness and new life.  All that God asks of us that we trust Him; He asks that we hear Him speak to our hearts in His Word and simply believe.

It is the Word of God alone that strips you naked and vulnerable before your creator, and then offers to take your shame and cover it with the glory of Jesus Christ; the same glory that our parents, Adam and Eve once had but lost; but then had again when they placed their faith and trust in the promise of a Savior who would make all things new again.

In our gospel lesson, you heard again about the difficulty of a rich man getting into heaven.  In fact it is about as possible for a rich man trusting in his riches to get into heaven as it is for a Camel to pass through the eye of a needle.  In the middle ages a story was told about a gate in Jerusalem called the eye of the needle.  It was so narrow that a man or woman had to enter on foot, without a camel, horse, or weapons.  This design was intentional so that the city would be protected from invading warriors.

Whether that story is true or not is immaterial, but the illustration is perfect.  God wants you to place everything you trust in at the foot of the cross.  He wants you to come empty and naked to the waters of your baptism, where He clothes you with the righteousness of His own Son, Jesus Christ.  He wants you to trust Him with your time, talent, and treasure, so that He can give you the wealth of His kingdom.  In essence, He wants you to enter heaven through the narrow way… Jesus Christ alone.  And to make sure we trust in Christ alone so that a sinner becomes a saint, He speaks these Words of assurance to you.

Today, not tomorrow but today, if you are hearing His voice do not harden your hearts but enter into rest.  Turn to Jesus, the Son of God, your Compassionate High Priest.  Grab onto Him and let Him pick you up again and again.  Hold fast to your confession of faith that in Jesus alone you have peace with God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and Earth.  Because, you don’t have a High Priest in Jesus Christ who is unable to sympathize with your weakness, but instead you have your Savior and God who was born of the Virgin Mary just as you were born.  He suffered, not just in His death but in this life.  He faced all of the same tragedies and heartaches that you face, but He faced them perfectly, without sin, for you!  For you, He suffered, died, and was buried, FOR YOU, FOR YOU.  Let those words ring in your ears; let them soak into your heart and mind.  Jesus fell down; He let them put Him down, but then by His own power, the power of God He got up!  He got up so that you would trust Him and allow Him to pick you up, again and again, until the final day when He takes you up to your promised rest in paradise.

So be bold and grab onto the promises of God that were first given to you within the waters of your baptism.  Be bold and approach His table of grace where you dine on His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Be bold, believe, and become the saint that Christ picks up.  Boldly believe and become all that God proclaims for you, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

20th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 14, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to Him, Then who can be saved?”  [Mark 10:17-27]

That’s the million dollar question, pardon the pun.  If that rich dude who did a pretty fair job at keeping the law had the same chance of getting into heaven as a camel walking through the eye of a needle, then who can be saved.

Now, I chose the song “So Close and Yet So Far” as our mental hook to put the message on.  I could have also chose the Johnny Mathis song with the same title as our message, “Too much, too little too late,” but I like the idea that the rich young ruler was so close to heaven and yet so far.  The proof of that is in his question and how he received Jesus answer.  “How do I get to heaven?”  And to that Jesus says, “Sell everything you’ve got, give the money to the poor, and then come on and follow me.”

There’s your answer young man; and if Jesus says it’s the way for you, well then, you can take that to the bank.  Oops, pardon the pun again!

A Sunday school teacher was examining her pupils after a series of lessons on God’s omnipotence.  She asked, “Is there anything God can’t do?”  There was an appropriate silence in the room.  Finally, one young boy raised his hand.  The teacher, disappointed that the young boy still did not learn the lesson’s point, asked somewhat in a disappointed tone, “Well, just what is it that God can’t do?”  “Well,” replied the boy, “He can’t please everybody.”

Maybe a better way of saying that, is that Jesus knows a way that should please everyone, but most folks think they know more than Him, so they strike off to please themselves in a way that seems right to them, but in the end… well it just leads to judgment and death.

Throughout our lives God is consistently calling out to us; He’s asking us to take a truthful look into our hearts and admit that our transgressions are many, and our sins are great. But we don’t want to see those things.  He wants us to see that we live in an evil time, and that there is evil all around us.  He’s telling us to seek good, and not evil so we will live; He’s telling us to hate evil, love good, and then spend our lives not just loving God’s goodness, but also working to spread it throughout our community. [Amos 5:6-15]

Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?  Yet, while we might agree with the plan, secretly, within our hearts, we can never accept that plan.  We can’t accept it, because it requires a complete surrender of everything that we have come to believe is important and necessary in this life.  The truth is, money, fame, prestige, and possessions are the things that society has taught us to seek and trust in.

Some years ago there appeared in the daily paper an account of two separate women.  One woman was a rich debutant who spent millions of dollars on clothes and possessions, including a bill for a $70,000 dress from Paris; the other woman, a modest Christian woman who once was rich, but now poor, admitted that she had given most of her millions to her church and various charities.  She was asked how she could so easily give away her estate and yet the other woman, could not do the same, and she replied, “Well, I guess it is a matter of taste—Paris gowns or heavenly crowns.”

Was giving her money away the key to pleasing God or was there something more that pleased her all powerful Creator.

Before the rich young ruler asked Jesus the million dollar question, he said something that caused Jesus to begin teaching with His own question.  The young man in complete sincerity ran up to Jesus, knelt down before Him and said, “Hello good teacher.”

Now I want you to understand what the young man means when he calls Jesus good.  It means that he respects Jesus; he admires Him, because He is wiser and better than him; or as my grandson Gabriel says, Jesus was “gooder” than him.  And because of this perception of his, He came to Jesus with a question that he’d been wrestling with for years: “What must I do to be saved?”

And what is Jesus response?  ‘Why are you calling me good?  You know that in our tradition, we never call anyone good but God, right?  So what is the reason you call me good?  You are struggling with a great concern; you want to go to heaven, but you don’t quiet know how to guarantee your place, right?  Now stop right there and remember, you called me good, on your own; that’s a description that you would usually only use for your Creator.  So, if I am truly good, then hear what I am about to say.’

‘You know the commandments that relate to your neighbor; those in your family and community, right?  Just do them.’  And the rich young ruler said to Him, “Teacher, all of those commandments I have kept from my youth.”  And what did Jesus do next?  Did He give Him a theological teaching on the inherit sinfulness of the human heart?  No, instead He looked at the young man and loved him.  He knew that this person was sincere in his belief that he was living a God pleasing life.  The problem wasn’t in His sincerity but in the reality.  While everyone looking at this young man on the outside would agree that he was living an exemplary life, Jesus who is God and looks into the heart, looked and saw judgment and pain.  Jesus knew that this young man had been duped by the world into thinking that doing your best is what pleases God instead of trusting your best with God.

So Jesus helps the young man see who his real God is; the one he really trusts in.  Jesus says, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”

What Jesus was trying to get the young man to see, was that the one thing needful that he lacked was a real relationship with His Creator.  He lacked an intimacy with God that can only come through trust; through God’s undeserved love and kindness, which is always a gift on God’s terms.  It’s always a free gift and never earned.

When I was a young man, my grandfather corrected me on a hymn I was singing.  The hymn was “Trust and obey.”  I was singing it like this, “Trust and OK”.  But now that I am older, I still like those words much better.  If I can just keep learning to trust God’s care for me and His plan for my life, then everything will be OK.  There is no other way.  But that kind of trust in the true God is impossible if you are already trusting in something else.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  The truth is friends, the real reason that the rich young ruler, and you and I have such a hard time receiving Jesus Words this morning is because when He speaks He is messing with our value system.  I mean, let’s be honest here; we all like to believe that what we have is ours, because we earned it; we worked hard for it.  We all like to look at our stuff, as proof of our success, and indicators of God’s approval and blessing in our lives.  And now Jesus is telling us that our “stuff” may not be a blessing at all.

What is it that really matters in life?  If it isn’t money and possessions; if it isn’t financial security, then what?  This morning, Jesus wants you to connect with the only One who is Good!  The rich young ruler was speaking to Him, and you do too!  Maybe like that rich young man, you also are asking God what the secret to eternal life is.  How can I know for sure that I am saved?  Well, like that young man, once you hear God speak and you listen, you have what God calls the beginning of wisdom unto salvation.

Then what about our doing good?  Doesn’t that count for something?  Well, the truth is that all of our own righteousness, our good deeds are simply like soiled rags before God, because we still have our sinful nature clinging to us.  And while we continue deceiving ourselves, thinking that we can please God by good behavior, Jesus looks at us and He loves us.  He loves us and dies for us upon the cross.  And from the cross He says follow me.  I have done all things good; all things good for you.  I am your treasure; your true wealth.

So who can be saved if there is nothing we can do to please God?  All can be saved.  All of us have been promised that salvation is ours for the taking, if we will just trust in God’s way; trust then ok.  All things are possible with God.  God alone is greater than our fears and our worries.  In His Word He gives us great treasures that make us rich.  In His Word He gives us Jesus and His righteousness.  By Jesus poverty we are made rich.

In God’s time, at just the right time Jesus died for the world.  He who emptied Himself and gave up His life on the cross, was also raised from the dead.  And in Jesus alone we have life, an abundant life and the promise of eternal peace and happiness.

This morning, Jesus is asking us to be vulnerable before God.  “Come and follow me,” He says.  Amos cries out to us this morning that we should “Seek the Lord and live,” but the truth is, we don’t have to seek Him this morning, because He’s already sought us and found us.  In the cross, God is revealed; more than that, the depth of God’s love is shown to us.  In the cross, God demonstrates the truth that He will never leave you or forsake you.

Jesus who loved the young man loves us as well.  He has declared us forgiven as He splashes water over us.  We are transformed as God’s Word of grace is spoken to us.  We eat the bread of life, we drink the cup of salvation and He tells us again that our sins are forgiven.  Through it all we experience God’s loving purpose for us revealed in the cross of Jesus.

I would like to think that eventually the rich young ruler understood that what he had to offer God on His own, was too much of too little.  I would like to think that he realized this before it was too late.  I trust that each of us has learned to place our own security on Christ, the solid rock.

So too, each of us who have been transformed, have come to discover that the giving of our time, talent, and treasure, isn’t something we must do to receive God’s forgiving love, instead it is something we will do because we already have his forgiving love.  We’ve discovered that “hating evil and loving the good”, as Amos says, is the result of our relationship with God.  Selling possessions and giving up all, even life itself, is possible only in the light of Jesus sacrifice for us upon the cross.

Through Jesus and His cross, through the waters of our own baptism, we discover that a camel really can go through the eye of a needle; we really can be saved, on Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

Eat to Live!

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

12th Sunday in Pentecost B, August 5, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:54]

Have you ever heard the saying “Eat to live, don’t live to eat”?  It’s a common catch phrase that the nutrition industry has come up with in an  effort to help us reexamine our diets, and there is good reason for doing that.  Did you know that about 36 % of Americans are classified as  obese?  And did you know that if the current trend holds, which experts believe it will, by the year 2030 a whopping 42% of Americans may end  up obese?  But wait, it gets worse, of that 42%, experts feel that 11% of them could be severely obese, which is about 100 or more pounds over a  healthy weight.

So yes, there is reason to examine just what it is we are eating and why we are eating it.  If we are living to eat, that is living for the enjoyment of  eating, the statistics are warning us that we could be in for big trouble.  And that is the message from God for us today.  It’s a message about  eating and drinking, but it isn’t talking about our physical diet so much as our spiritual diet!

Our first reading sets the table so to speak for the spiritual banquet that God has prepared for us this morning, listen: “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”  To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Leave your simple ways, and live and walk in the way of insight.”

The Bible seems to always be reminding us that there’s two different kinds of eating, physical and spiritual, and that the spiritual food is a lot more important than the physical food: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every Word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” [Deuteronomy 8:3]

This morning, wisdom is inviting us to feast on God’s Word; to continue developing the practice of going to church, attending Bible study, reading and sharing the Word of God at home and with friends and neighbors.  Wisdom of course is the presence and Word of God.  So really, the invitation to come to the banquet is an invitation to get to know God.  But before we will accept wisdom’s invitation, we have to first admit that we need it; we have to admit that we need God.  We have to admit that we are simple and lost sinners, lost in darkness and lacking judgment.  That is, on our own, we can only think of physical eating and drinking; we live to eat.  We must admit that there’s a greater kind of eating and drinking, a spiritual one that we can’t understand or see the need for unless God intervenes!

This morning, God is doing just that; He is intervening in a mysterious and powerful way.  This morning God wants you to see that everything you consume physically is dead.  Your meat is dead, your grain is dead, your fruits are dead, and your vegetables are dead.  Once you start munching them down they are dead.  We are simply dead people munching on dead things, unless… unless God intervenes.

In our gospel reading (John 6:51-69), God does just that.  This morning God comes to you by faith in the real presence of His Son Jesus Christ and says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” [Vs. 51]  Does that offend you?  Does it confuse you?  It may, if you simply hear those Words and stop listening.  You may be confused if you are thinking about living to eat and not eating to live!

Standing before our eyes of faith this morning is Jesus Christ, the son of Mary but also the true Son of God.  Like the people in last week’s gospel, we might be tempted to grumble to ourselves and even out loud that this is only Jesus who was born of a woman named Mary.  He was a man like us in every way, wasn’t He?  So how can He say He will give us anything that will make us live forever?  Well the answer is in the origin of Jesus.  As the Living Bread, He is the Living Bread that came down from Heaven.  In other words, Jesus is reminding us that while He was born into our human existence as one of us, His origin is not from among us; He has come from heaven.  Before His birth Jesus would tell you that He was with us, and after His death, He tells us that He always shall be.

Who is Jesus?  He is the voice of wisdom calling out to the simpletons and sinners; He is calling out to you and me.  He calls us to come, eat of His bread and drink of His wine; a banquet meal that He and He alone has prepared for you.  This morning Jesus tells us that we can’t settle for any other diet.  It must be His bread, His body given for us.

But Jesus, ever the gracious host, offers you more than just food, He offers you a refreshing and life giving drink as well.  ““Truly, truly, I say to you, 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.” [Vs. 54-55]

Now this is the point where the grumblers try to turn Jesus’ Words into something a bit more palatable (pun intended)!  They say, “Ok, surely He doesn’t mean we can eat His body and drink His blood.  That would be cannibalism.  So this must be one of those wise philosophical sayings that says one thing but means another.”  So the grumblers keep on listening and keep on looking for ways to twist His Words.  But Jesus isn’t done; not by a long shot!

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. [Vs. 56, 57]  Now the grumblers are really becoming uncomfortable.  Jesus is still insisting that we eat His flesh and drink His blood, but instead of giving us the meaning of this saying, He makes the assertion that if we want to live forever, we really need to feed on Him, because that’s what God sent Him for!

What is causing the confusion?  What is causing the offense?  Is it Jesus or those that listen to His Words?  It is those who are listening.  They are still living to eat and do not understand the need to eat to live.  So Jesus will give the grumbling munchers one more bit of wisdom in the form of a question.

“Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” [Vs. 61b]  Do you take offense at that?  Do you see only the meal that is spread before you and fail to see the host who offers it?  Jesus is the son of Mary, but He is also the Son of God.  His flesh and blood are not simply like any flesh and blood; they are divine.  They have now somehow in a mysterious way become God’s flesh and blood.  The host has become the meal!  He who is Spirit has taken on flesh, and now He has become a new kind of flesh and blood; it is the flesh and blood of the God man Jesus Christ that you are offered to feed upon today.

In His Word He offers you real food; He shows you your sins and if you will see them, if you will eat that bitter herb, He quickly offers you the sweet delicacies of the gospel; He offers you forgiveness and peace with God your creator.  In your baptism He assigned you a permanent seat at His banquet table.  It is your place that He prepared for you at the beginning of creation.  Only you may sit there… only you!  And at that seat He prepared you for, He also dresses you like a prince, because that is what He has made you to be!  And in His Word, at His heavenly banquet He says, read, listen, and receive my Word, my flesh and blood.  Take and eat, this is MY body, which is given for you.  Here is the cup of thanksgiving; take and drink of it all of you; this cup is the new testament in MY blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Do you hear the Words MY body, MY blood repeated over and over again.  It is truly His flesh and blood that He gives to us in His Word, in His Washing, and in His Holy Meal.  This morning Jesus wants you to see that by receiving His Holy Food, you are receiving Him. You receive His life and His death.

What the disciples who grumbled and complained could not see, and what many of those who live to eat today can’t see is that unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus the son of Mary and the Son of God, you can’t have life.  Instead of eating to live, you will be living to eat.  What many can’t see is that in the heavenly food that Jesus gives is true life that comes from true sacrifice.  Upon the cross, the Son of God allowed men to take His life from Him.  He who is eternal, who can’t die died; He died because He became one of us for us.  He died because He gave His body and shed His blood for the sins of the world.  He died for you!

When Jesus says take and eat, take and drink, He is giving to you real food and real drink.  He is giving to you Himself; His life and death for the forgiveness of sins… your sins!  Will you eat to live, or will you continue to live to eat?  Do you see your great need for this mysterious eating and drinking or will you simply turn away as another grumbling muncher?

As for me, I will answer with St. Peter, “Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the Words of eternal life”.  Alleluia, alleluia!

Violent Night, Holy Night!

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

1st Sunday after Christmas A, December 26, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Picture shows a woman holding her child hiding from Herod's soldiers.

INRODUCTION:

I found our gospel lesson this morning a hard message to preach.  It’s hard to hear a message that included the slaughter of “innocent” babies; that’s not the message that most of us want to hear the first Sunday after Christmas message, right?  Haven’t we all been taught that Christmas is a time of happiness?  So why would I want to preach about violence and death?  Well, because it is in the Bible!  And God’s Word is always relevant and timely.  In this reading from Matthew, we are shown sin at its ugliest, but it is also shows us an important piece of prophecy that was fulfilled.  In our gospel lesson God wants us to learn about His special providence or care, which accomplishes His will, even when bad, violent and evil things happen.  In short, God wants us to know that even when bad things happen, He is still in control!

 As a way of introduction, please allow me a few words about the history behind how the church has dealt with this text.  Somewhere around the middle of the 4th century, the church observed this Sunday and this text as “The Feast of the Innocents.”  It was a big deal for the early church because they felt that it was the very first evidence of martyrdom for Christ.  During this time period, the church was soaked with the blood of Christians who died to proclaim the truth of the gospel, and they used this day to honor those who had given so much.  The liturgical setting was often the color purple, which was usually reserved for the season of Lent.  In the worship service it was a day to emphasize repentance and personal examination.  Let me share with you a sample prayer that I found that I feel best describes the over all mindset of the early church: “O God, whose praise the martyred innocents did this day proclaim, not by speaking but by dying: Destroy in us all the malice of sinfulness, that our lives may also proclaim thy faith, which our tongues profess.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Let me give you a few questions to consider before I address our text:  Did people die yesterday on Christmas?  Were there homeless people Christmas Eve?  Do you think that every Christian experienced a problem free Christmas?  Do you think that there might even be some of your brothers and sisters in the Lord here today that did not have a MERRY and WONDERFUL Christmas?  If you answered yes to anyone of these questions then you’ve discovered like me that God’s Word for us today is very timely and appropriate for us to consider, but in order for us to hear God speak, we must understand HOW He spoke in the past.  So let’s examine the world as it was in today’s Gospel.

I. From Joseph and Mary’s perspective the last 9 months had been hectic, confusing, joyful, exciting, and worrisome!  Angels, relatives, strangers, farm animals and innkeepers had all been a crazy part of God’s prophecy that they saw fulfilled right before their eyes.  But there still remained many unanswered questions about this miraculous baby boy that God had placed in their care.  To put it simply, Joseph and Mary were going full speed ahead into a mystery that somehow declared that this baby is God in human flesh, Immanuel!  What before seemed like a dream had now become very real as the angel instructed Joseph to “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until (God told them to leave, because) Herod (was) about to search for the child, to destroy him.” [Matt. 2:13] Talk about a stressful way to cap off the first Christmas!

 Now let’s look at the first Christmas from King Herod’s perspective.  From Herod’s point of view, God’s Word about the Messiah presented a direct challenge to his pride and to his precarious reign as the King of Palestine.  Throughout His reign as king he ruthlessly destroyed anyone he thought was a direct threat to his throne, including dozens of his blood relatives and even his own children.  History records that Herod, while on his death bed, even had his son Antipater decapitated as a final act of revenge. 

Now back to our Gospel lesson which is about one of Herod’s many diabolical plots that was carried through, well …sort of.  You see, when Herod learned that the Magi (The Wise Men) were somehow warned of his plot to kill the Messiah, and had refused to return to him and reveal the location of the baby that would be “King of the Jews,” true to form, he became furious, and ordered that all the baby boys two years old and younger must be slaughtered, thus ensuring that the Messiah would be killed as well.  What a pathetic person Herod was to think that He could thwart the will of God and prevent the prophecies from being fulfilled!  Think of the horrible sounds that came from Bethlehem that day when Herod’s soldiers carried out his hideous plan. I shudder to think of the painful screams of the infants and the horror-filled cries of their parents.  As a Father I cannot bear to think about this any further and neither could St. Matthew, so we will just leave it as he does.  But what is amazing is that Herod’s evil plan somehow became the fulfillment of prophecy, as St. Matthew tells us: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning.  Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Now, since we’re speaking about background, let me provide just a little more insight into this quote that actually comes from Jeremiah 31:15.  The prophet Jeremiah was speaking about the Exile of the Jews from Judah to Babylon after they were conquered.  Ramah was a staging point about 5 miles outside of Jerusalem, which the Babylonians used as a sort of Internment camp.  It was here where the strongest, fairest and brightest like Daniel the prophet, were singled out, marked, separated from their families and sent to Babylon.  Rachel who weeps for her children, was the sister of Leah and she was Jacob’s favorite wife.  She represents all of the Jewish mothers who wept for their children when they were deported to Babylon, but she also represents all those who would weep when the prophecy of the “slaughter of the innocents” is fulfilled.

 Do you find this depressing?  I did too, until I realized that this incident would cause yet another prophecy about Jesus to be fulfilled.  You see, when the angel warned Joseph in his dream to flee Herod’s evil plan and run to Egypt, one of God’s final prophecies about the God-child, Jesus the Messiah would be fulfilled.  It was an obscure Messianic prophecy that is found in the book of Hosea that speaks of the Messiah like this: “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Well, let’s close our background study and take this sacred recording of history and let God speak to us this morning. 

II. Within our Gospel lesson, God’s Word provides us with three things: FAITH, OBEDIENCE, and the gift of ETERNAL LIFE.

Now, in regards to faith, God’s Word is always His chief means of Grace.  A means of grace is simply the way in which God chooses to give us saving faith, that is the ability to believe that He has forgiven all of our sin. Mary received this gift through God’s Word when the angel came and spoke to her regarding the child that she was to give birth to.  Listen: “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” [Luke 1]  And Joseph was visited too and given God’s Word of faith when the angel said to him, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” [Matt. 1]. 

Friends, that same Living Word of God that Joseph and Mary heard is Who speaks to us today.  It is the Word that assures you that, “(Jesus) The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost (even you).”  This little baby who was born to die for the sins of the world, surely died also for those little ones that Herod slaughtered.  We can rest knowing that God had preordained from the beginning that these little ones that died in Christ’s place, would foreshadow the mission of our baby Savior who would latter do an even greater thing by dying for them and us, and giving us eternal life.  Know this for certain, all little children are precious to our Savior.  Do you recall that  later as an adult, Jesus would gather the little children to Himself; He laid hands on them, and blessed them.  He told His apostles that unless they entered the kingdom of God as like a little child they could not get in!   

Even today, Jesus is still gathering little children to Himself in Holy Baptism.  It is through His Word which comes with water that the sins of our little ones are washed away.  Through His Word, faith is given and that faith clings to the promise of Christ; the promise which states that they are the redeemed possession of the Triune God.  That is why we bring our little ones to Baptism and faithfully teach them the mysteries and the truths of the holy Christian Faith.  It is faith that knows that Jesus shed his blood for the infant boys of Bethlehem just as He did it for you!

Through this faith God grants us strength to follow where he leads, and to endure all of the hardships that life brings.  We call this strength to follow God “obedience”.  Those little babies were privileged to never know the life- long pain or suffering and violence, disappointment, sickness or death.  But Joseph knew what it meant to sacrifice.   Joseph was obedient to the call of God to flee Bethlehem.  In the middle of the night, he obediently gathered Marry and child and fled to a foreign land.  But faith, given through the promises of God’s Word provided him with the strength to obediently follow where ever God would lead.  Mary also knew how to be obedient.  She also followed God’s will in raising her son, even though she knew that Jesus, her child was born to suffer and die for her sins and the sins of the world.  Joseph and Mary knew what hardship was and so did our dear Savior.  Scripture tells us that Jesus was a man acquainted with sorrow.  Jesus Himself spoke of this truth in the garden of Gethsemane, before His death, when He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  But faith provides obedience to follow where God leads and believe that all things will work together for good, no matter what the cost.  How can we remain obedient even in the middle of suffering and death?  Well if it were up to us we couldn’t, but through the on-going work of God’s Holy Spirit, we can look to His Word and follow Jesus journey along the road of life that led to the cross.  We can obediently come to this communion rail and receive the bread and wine and not question how it could possibly be His body and blood; it is simply enough that our Lord said that it is, and that through this eating and drinking He gives us forgiveness of sins and the strength to follow Him!  We can remember that as he suffered and died, so must we, but as He rose again from the dead so shall we also!   

Yes friends, life is a struggle, but scripture promises that those who finish their course, who run the race to its end will be rewarded with an eternal life that will never again know pain, fear, sickness or death again.  The short race of those babies in Bethlehem ended when God called them home and rewarded them with eternal life.  When the time comes for God to call us as well, we will say, along with all of the other saints who have gone before us “Where O death is your sting, where of grave is your victory.”   

 Dear friends, God had a plan for Joseph and Mary.  He had a plan for the innocents, and he has a plan for you too.  I can’t tell you exactly what His plan for you is, but I can tell you this much, where ever He leads you and where ever you go, even if in the past you have sinfully walked away from where He was leading you, “He will never leave or forsake you,” because He is Emmanuel, God with Us, even unto the very end.

 Well before we close our message this morning, there is one final prophecy that I need to remind you of that was also fulfilled.  Now, it’s a small one, but without it coming true, Jesus could not have been declared the Messiah.  What is that last prophecy?  It’s this:  “(The Messiah) will be called a Nazarene.”  How was it fulfilled?  Well, Joseph was also warned by God in another dream  “(That another evil ruler named) Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod,” so to protect God’s Son, Joseph was told to take up residence in “the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.” So the final piece of prophecy is fulfilled! 

CONCLUSION: Listen friends, isn’t it a comfort to know that God is always in control of things that are happening in our lives?  Isn’t it encouraging to know that the very same voice that spoke through the prophets is STILL calling out to you as well!  He is calling you to remember when your love for him was new and fresh; when you would gladly follow where ever He would lead.  Follow Him now; pick up His Word and learn from Him who is gentle and meek.  Remember His promises of old that were given to you at your Baptism.  Remember that what God’s Word declared was done for you at your Baptism can never be undone.  God has saved you for Christ sake.  I pray that you will continue to claim His promise of salvation and not doubt, but only believe that he who was faithful to begin a good work in you will complete it! [Philp. 1]  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!