Posts Tagged ‘Evangelism’

Stay Salty Friends!


Monday, February 6th, 2017

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

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

So repent, the kingdom of God is upon you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Blessed!


Monday, January 30th, 2017

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk In The Light!


Monday, January 23rd, 2017

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

http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witnessing Jesus

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Easter 7-HL, May 8th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Here’s a truth that each of us must understand this morning before a single word of gospel hope is declared: Living out our Christian faith, let alone witnessing to it, would be impossible unless God the Holy Spirit was powerfully working within us and among us through His chosen means of grace.  But once the Holy Spirit enters our lives and our hearts, living out our lives becomes a whole different experience.  With the Holy Spirit, the church armed with the Word of God and Christ’s Sacraments (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), is equipped as a body and as individuals who are part of that body are sent forth to witness to God’s presence in both our lives and indeed the entire world.

This last Wednesday the universal church celebrated the high and holy day of Christ’s Ascension. As we think about that day this Sunday, we also can’t help but put our selves in the shoes of the disciples.

In addition to awe and wonder as the they witnessed their Lord ascend into heaven from the Mt. of Olives, they also must have been dealing with a sense of fear and worry: “Now what are we suppose to do?”

When the disciples went back to the upper room, back to their normal lives, they perhaps knew more about Jesus than any other people in the whole world would ever know.  So it is fair to say that if Christianity had simply been a matter of knowing Jesus and His teachings and then living by that knowledge, then they could have started to preach and witness about His Kingdom of Grace immediately.  But instead, they were instructed by Jesus to wait patiently in an attitude of prayer and supplication until the gift of the Holy Spirit was given.

So what was it they were lacking?

The disciples lacked the very thing that Jesus promised to give them… the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s think about that for a moment; think about the work that God had prepared for them to accomplish.  They had been given the responsibility to witness about Jesus.  They’d been with Him from the beginning.  They had seen it all and had been taught by the Lord Himself.  Above all, they were witnesses to both His resurrection and His ascension.  But the truth they were to proclaim was also an insurmountable challenge for mere followers of Jesus.  You see…

The man they were to bear witness to had been executed as a blasphemer and a troublemaker.  And what’s more, they too, were promised by Jesus Himself that they could expect to be met with the same violent resistance.  Hadn’t Jesus told them many times that they would be persecuted; that the disciple was not above his teacher? Jesus even said that if they had called the master Beelzebub, what would they do to the servants?  But along with these truths of coming trial and tribulation, Jesus also implied that when the time of testing arrived they were to confidently stand their ground and not fear those who can destroy the body but not their souls.  By now, they must have been thinking, “Easier said than done!”

So now safe and secure in the upper room, their task must have seemed to be impossible.  They were to go out amongst the same people who crucified Jesus and preach and witness that the Man they killed was not only the Messiah but in fact, He was their only hope for eternal life.  And so we can see why the disciples must have felt alone and afraid; their task was to break through the wall of impenitence and hatred that even the Lord’s own words would not shatter.

But there’s still more they had to consider.  Through out all of their living out and proclaiming Christ, they were also called to preserve the purity of the message.  They had to preserve the unity of the church, stick together even when there was no Master among them, and they must preach the gospel even though there was no one with them physically to counsel with.  All of this demanded more than mere human powers could supply.  But Jesus had never expected them to fulfill their responsibilities alone.  God Himself would fulfill the task with them.  He would clothe them with power from on high.  He would open the way for the Word by convicting men of sin and of righteousness.  He would give His messengers a power and a wisdom, which would overcome their enemies.  He would lead them in all of God’s own truth.  He would preserve the vision of Christ living and untarnished.  He would Himself speak through their tongues and words.  And …

To accomplish this miraculous task, Christ would gather is little lambs into one body, His body the church, and He would do it all through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Through the church, God would gather His eternal and spiritual Israel, His faithful saints.  He would gather them from all the nations and ethnicities throughout the world and bring each of them into their own country the church, which would be for them a foretaste of their eternal Home in Paradise, a place that had been prepared for them by Jesus Himself.

Through the preaching of the Gospel of hope, the washing of Holy Baptism, and the sustenance of  spiritual food and drink received at the Lord’s Holy Table, Christ through the work and power of the Holy Spirit would create and sustain His dear saints.  That is by the grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes from God through the Word of God Jesus Christ, God the Father would created, gather and send out His children of faith through the power and direction of God the Holy Spirit to speak to and gather even more redeemed sinners into the Christian faith.

All of this is taking place even today by God through you and me, by the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  You see…

Christianity is not simply knowing about Jesus and following Him.

Our Christian faith, and indeed our entire lives is something that can only be experienced where God is at work in the presence and person of the Holy Spirit.  For the disciples this was a daily experience.  That’s why they spoke of witnessing together with one heart and mind through the Holy Spirit; that’s why they could insist that they and the Holy Spirit acted together, as they walked in the Spirit and by the Spirit.

God the Holy Spirit promises us today just as He promised the disciples who witnessed Jesus ascension long ago, that as He has changed our hard and unbelieving hearts and sustains new life and faith within us, He desires to do the very same thing with those we come in contact with as we share with them the story of Jesus and His victory over sin, death, and the devil.  A victory that was accomplished through His passion and death upon the cross, the empty tomb of His resurrection, and His return to the right hand of the Father through His ascension.

Dear friends, Christ did not want you to be trapped by ignorance of the hard times that lay ahead for the church, His church.  He clearly described the resistance that we would face as together we witness to the “one thing needful” for salvation… faith in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  If we try to go about the calling of Jesus to seek and save the lost on our own with a different message, we will only discover failure and misery.  But if we go out living our lives within the various vocations we find ourselves in, we will find both success and joy in our calling to be witnesses to the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus.

Our task and calling today as both individuals and members of the universal body of Christ is to spread the knowledge of Jesus.  Not to declare a message that makes us comfortable or will make our neighbors comfortable, but the truth that Christ died for sinners of which you and I are the chiefs of, and so are they that we witness Christ to.  Not only does God want to be a part of our sometimes-mundane lives, but He wants to be a part of our neighbors’ lives too.  He wants to offer His gift of salvation to others through us.

No wonder we talk about joy in the Holy Spirit.  What a tremendous reason to be alive in this world today.  What a tremendous reason to look forward to what every tomorrow holds.  God wants to use you… He wants to work through you… He wants to show Himself to other people both here in this place of worship and in your life as you lead them only and always to Christ alone; as you declare the Easter message: “Christ has risen, indeed!  AMEN!”

Live Long and Prosper

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Out the Third Choice

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Blessed?

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Foolishness That Binds Us!

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salt and Light

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 6, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: Have you ever wondered why we start every Divine Service with our confession of sins?  It is so we can give God glory for what He has done for us, what He is doing for us, and what He will do for us.  What is that great thing?  Friends, He has saved us from ourselves; He is saving us from sin, and He will save us from death and the devil!  In our confession of sins we are admitting to God our complete spiritual poverty.  We are agreeing with Him that we are so hopelessly lost in sin that only He can save us!  And then after our declaration of poverty and hopelessness God’s kingdom breaks through in a mighty way and gives us the gospel; He gives us pardon and forgiveness in the Words of the absolution.  Listen to these wonderful words of Good News: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins.  To those who believe on His name He gives power to become the children of God and has promised them His Holy Spirit.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved!”

Dear friends, this essentially was our message last week.  It is the door that we must always walk through in order to correctly understand God’s Word and live by it.  It is the very means that God uses to help us differentiate His Law from His Gospel.  If we can admit that we are broken, empty and poor in spirit, then we will receive the help of Jesus Christ, who is our God in human flesh.  If we come to Jesus in confession, He promises that He will in no means cast us away from Him!  This is why we are blessed, because Jesus has come to us in His Word and Sacraments and saved us.  Jesus is coming to us in His means and is still saving us!  And Jesus will come to us on the last day, on our last day and He will save us!  If we understand this divine truth, then we will also understand that Jesus is with us, within us, and around us performing His mighty works of mercy so that God will be glorified.  So what does it mean to say that Jesus is working through us; what will that look like?  That’s what we want to look at this morning.  Because Jesus is working through us we will see Him being salt and light in our congregation and in our personal lives.

I. This morning our Lord speaks to our congregation with these words: “Dear Trinity Lutheran Church, I blessed you long ago as a tiny mission congregation by giving you my Word and Sacraments and a faithful preacher.  I blessed you with the power to take My living Word out into the little sleepy coastal town of San Diego, California.  You admitted to me in your confession of sins that you were not able to serve me as you must; you admitted your sinfulness but you also joyfully heard my word of forgiveness, which brought to you my love and peace so that you could rest in My Father’s love.  And because you were faithful in trusting in my real presence, I called you to do spectacular work for my kingdom.  In 1896 I gave you your calling as a congregation; a calling which came directly from my heart.  I called you to be salt and light in this sinful world.  You were called then and you are called now to be the salt of the earth, the salt in San Diego, CA.  And even now, because of my Word that you faithfully preach and teach, I am still the very thing that is preserving you and flavoring your community with my grace.  This is a marvelous thing.  So you must continue to speak My Word, both the Law and the Gospel to those who do not know Me or even refuse to know Me.  Teach My Word correctly and administer My Sacraments faithfully and I will continue to bless you.”

“Dear Trinity Lutheran Church, you are the light of the world.  Just as you must never cease being salt that flavors and preserves, you must also never quit letting my light shine out from this little church.  In my eyes you are not little but great; you are a city set on a hill.  You are like the city of Zion high on the Lord’s mountain.  I have made you a sanctuary of peace for your neighbors.  Continue to allow my light to shine brightly from 7210 Lisbon Street.  Continue to feed and clothe the poor, educate the youth, protect and care for the helpless and needy.  I see your school that is slowly taking shape around My Word and Sacraments and I am well pleased.  I see your pantry feeding your neighbors and I celebrate with you.  I see your ministry to the seniors and I am empowering that work.  I see you becoming all things to all people so that you may share my Word of Law and Gospel with them and I bless you for that.  Dear Trinity, continue to let my light shine so that others will see your good works, your works of faith and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

II. This morning dear friends, our Lord isn’t just talking to our church, but He is also talking to each of us as individuals.  He is saying to you and to me that “You are the salt of the earth, but if (the salt that I have given to you) has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” 

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

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

In these Words friends, Jesus reminds us that because we have been blessed with the gospel promise, we are not just blessed for ourselves but we have been blessed so that we are a blessing for others.  Because He has blessed us He has now called us to bless our neighbors and even our entire community.  In whatever place we find ourselves we are to be a great light that demonstrates righteousness.  But as you have confessed you have no righteousness to demonstrate because you are spiritually poor.  Then what light are you to let shine?  Only the light of Jesus Christ; He alone is the light of the world; He is our sun and we are His moon.  His light is to shine and be reflected out of us in such a way that others will see that light and give glory to our Father in heaven.

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

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

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

How to Live Under the Cross!

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), January 30, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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These last few Sundays God’s Word has invited us to live a life under the cross of Jesus in these Words, “Repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand!  We discovered that while the world looks at this kind of life as foolishness God assures us that this is really the only way to experience His power of grace, which brings eternal life.

This morning, we’ll continue this teaching by looking at what this power of grace gives to us; namely it gives us the truth and experience of being blessed!  Now again, let me remind you that to the sinful world this is all just a bunch of nonsense!  They can’t hear Words of blessing in Jesus message because they don’t think that they are sinners who need to turn to God; in fact they think that God is right there with them in their sins!  What if we considered our gospel lesson this morning as Jesus state of the union message?  Well if that were the case, then His opponents should have equal time.  Maybe their response or rebuttal might sound something like this: “Dear friends, our simple little preacher would have you think that you are blessed or happy if you rest in weakness and poverty.  He sees the world as a place where we simply prepare to die in whatever state we find ourselves.  But we of the prosperity party say no… this isn’t what you need to hear and it is not what you should expect from your leaders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear friends, the Kingdom of God, the reign of heaven in Jesus already belongs to those of us who are poor in spirit, even to those of us who are persecuted because of our faith in Him.  But the promise of final comfort, our final inheritance, our final righteousness and experience of final peace with God will not come until we receive the final vision of God on the Last Day.  In the meantime, we who are the disciples of Jesus Christ must expect that our lives will be experienced through the lens of mourning, thirst, and hungering.  But our eternal reality is that we are saved in hope… “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait eagerly for it through endurance.” [Rom. 8:24-25]  This present tension of blessing and joy, suffering and mourning until the Last Day of comfort is central to our lives as we live under the cross of Jesus, as we follow Jesus on this narrow path.  But we follow Him as His peacemakers, as His ambassadors of the cross, and as we follow Him we know that as His peacemakers, we should expect some persecution because we speak His Word to our neighbors.  In our witness, we bring the very peace of God and that peace is breaking violently into a sinful world that will have none of it!  So Jesus leaves us with this last truth; a truth that will only become clear under the cross: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!” 

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