Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Help For Our Unbelief!


Sunday, September 16th, 2018

Pentecost 17B
September 16, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Our text this morning is the 24th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:14-29]

The Christian life is “a land of hills and valleys” isn’t it?  In one day, we can move from what seems like the glory of heaven to the attacks of hell. In our gospel lesson this morning, we join our Lord returning from the Mt. of Transfiguration, where 3 of the apostles were allowed to see Jesus in His heavenly glory; a glory that would once again be His forever. But, Jesus knew that He must first begin His painful walk to the cross—a cross where He would once and for all, free us from sin, death, and the attacks of the devil.  Jesus knew that He would do all of this through His own death.  So down the mountain they went as Jesus had his face set towards the cross.

As Jesus and His the apostles came down off the mountain and joined the other nine, they found them enveloped in a problem: they were unable to deliver a boy from demonic control, and the scribes were debating with them and perhaps even taunting them because of their failure. And the demon… well it was doing its best to destroy the boy.  As always, it was Jesus who would step in to solve the problem. 

So what happened?  What went wrong?  Jesus had given all of His disciples authority to cast out demons [Mark 6:7, 13], and yet their ministry to the boy was a failure. Well, there was no time to dwell on their failure because the desperate father was now begging Jesus to help.  Wouldn’t you if that was your child?  But that poor father was not even sure that Jesus could succeed; after all His disciples had failed.  That’s why he said, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us.” [Mark 9:22] 

But something interesting is learned here and it is this, the father was honest enough to admit that he was having trouble believing in Jesus, and he asked the Lord to help him believe.  

The main lesson of this miracle is that faith in Jesus alone gives us the power to overcome worry and the fear of sin, death, and the devil. But then why had the nine disciples failed? Well they failed because they were afraid and worried.  And why was the father successful in seeing his son healed by Jesus?  Because he was afraid and worried.  You see, both are examples of how fear and worry can either have a negative effect or a positive effect on your faith.  

The nine apostles were worried because things weren’t working out the way they understood Jesus had said they would.  

Didn’t Jesus say that He had given them the authority to drive out demons? I can imagine them saying something like, “It worked before when He sent us out.  So why isn’t it working now?  Oh where is Jesus?  Why did he have to leave us alone like this?  What if He doesn’t come back soon?  Well if he doesn’t it won’t be our fault, after all, we’ve tried everything!”  Worry and panic began to take over.  But that wasn’t all; that demon was starting to get nasty with them, and to top it all off, those hypocrites called “the scribes” saw the whole thing and now they were ridiculing them.  OK, now their worry was giving way to fear. They must have been saying  “Oh where is Jesus?  Somebody do something…!”  And to this, the devil sneers and taunts and asks, “Where’s your faith?  Where’s your faith now?” 

Help was so close.  Jesus had taught them that with the faith the size of a mustard seed they could call out to God and if it was according to the Father’s will they could order a mountain to fall into the sea and it would! [Matt. 17:20]    Yet because of their fear and worry, they forgot that help was just a prayer away.  

Have you ever been there before?  So sure of yourself; so certain that you had everything under control and then– “BAMB!”… everything falls apart?  What the nine apostles forgot, and what we so very often forget, St. James gladly reminds us of in our epistle reading: “We all stumble in many ways.  And if anyone does not stumble in what he says (or in what he does), he is a perfect man…”  Oh how easily because of our pride, we forget that everything we have, our health, all of our talents, all of our gifts, and all of our finances are just a gift from God—every second of our lives are being guided by His loving hand.  And when things stop going the way we think they should go, when we’re done coasting downhill and seem to be stuck in the dark valley, we ask, “Where is God?  Why isn’t He here helping me?”

Friends, what do you do when you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis?  Well let me tell you what Jesus expects you to do.  Stop, remember God’s promise that He will never leave you, take a deep breath, relax, and then pray.  That’s what the disciples forgot to do, and so many times when tragedy strikes, that is also what we forget to do.  Why is that important?  Because prayer invites God into your dilemma and your small faith says, “Here Lord, take over.  I’m tired and ready to give up.  If you want this done please work through me and do it.”  The father of the boy told Jesus that His disciples didn’t have the strength to drive the demon out.  They did not have the strength because they didn’t ask for it.  So remember, stop and pray for God’s strength!

What the disciples forgot, the father of the demon possessed boy remembered.  

“Teacher, I’ve brought my son to you.”  Faith in Christ is compelled to bring its dilemmas and tragedies to Christ.  And when we bring these things to our Lord in faith, He asks us, “Do you believe I can help you?  Do you believe I will help you?  Remember, all things are possible for one who believes.”  It is at this point in our lives where little faith, small almost unobservable faith calls out in the same anguish as that father had for his only son, “I believe Lord; help my unbelief!  Teach me to believe….teach me to trust you.   You Lord Jesus Christ are my only source of hope!”

In these words friends, we hear pain; we hear worry and fear, but we also hear a confession.  “Forgive me for my unbelief O Lord, and help me to believe!”  Dear baptized friends, that is your confession—your confession when you know you should believe; you know you should believe, because of the many promises God has given you, you know you must believe, but for some reason your faith is very small, you are afraid, and you find it hard to believe.  Your privilege friend, as a baptized child of God, is that you can call out to Him and confess all of your sins, including the sin of doubt, and then know with a great certainty that He has heard your prayer.  

God wants you to know that not only does He forgive your doubt, but for the sake of your Savior Jesus Christ, He also gives you what you are asking for because He loves you and because what you are asking for is in keeping with His will.  Friends, the most important thing that God wants you to believe is that for Christ’s sake, you are forgiven of all your sins; forgiven unto eternal life!

But what if you pray and pray; what if you are always confessing your sins and you don’t feel peace—you just don’t feel comforted?  

What if you still feel fear and worry?  Does that mean that God isn’t listening to you?  No!!  Dear friends, faith—your faith is not based on how you feel, but on Jesus’ real presence in your life.  Just because one person feels peace and another still feels fear doesn’t mean that God is closer to one and farther from another.  God stands by all of His children…He stands by you!  

Listen friends, since faith is so important and vital to your spiritual well being don’t think for a moment that God wants you to remain captivated by your fear.  And don’t try to talk yourself out of your emotions, instead confess them to Him and then rest in His presence in your life.  You see, it’s the God of peace that will comfort you.  How?  By helping you to trust in His work in you!  Friends, through His Holy Spirit, God is moving your heart to turn away from your sin—to turn away from your lack of faith and turn to Him.  He wants you to look to Jesus Christ, the lamb who takes away the sin of the world—even the sin of doubt and fear, and then rest in Him by faith. That dear friends is big faith…very big faith!

So don’t be happy with only small faith, instead let the Lord grow your faith as you learn to rest in Christ’s love and then trust in His presence.  And you will need that big faith friends, because when you least expect it, the devil will attack your heart and try to take away that little faith.  When will this attack happen?  I can’t answer that for you, but I do know this, sooner or later we will all have our faith tested.  For sure, when it comes time for you to face your own death, or the death of a loved one, your faith will be tested!  And it’s at this time that you must already be trained to turn your eyes to God, because that is where we will all end our walk of faith.  This is the narrow gate, the straight path that our Lord taught us about. [Matt. 7:14]  God desires for all of us to joyfully walk down this path and then excitedly enter through that narrow gate into Paradise. 

How do you prepare for this journey?  By staying in God’s Word; by allowing the Holy Spirit to give you a hunger to read and hear it as often as possible.  You prepare for this journey by daily confessing your sins and knowing for certain that because of your baptism the sweet Words of absolution are really intended for you.  You prepare for this journey by feeding your hunger to know God’s love and forgiveness through the eating and drinking of His holy and true body and blood.  So receive all of these gifts of God, and then know by faith that He is truly giving you not just the forgiveness of your many sins, but a new life… an eternal life of joy and peace.

Dear friends, though our faith is weak, let us pray with great passion along with the apostles, “Lord increase our faith” and then let us pray along with the father of the demon possessed boy, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!”  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Saving Faith

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Pentecost 16B
September 9, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Our text this morning is the 14th verse of our Epistle lesson.  And it comes to us in the form of a question: “What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?”

Indeed, that is the question, “Can that faith save him?”  Can someone who is without works find comfort in God’s gospel proclamation, like the one found in our OT lesson?  Listen, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”  James answers this question with a resounding NO!  Instead, James would say that a person who claims faith without works should hear this message more as Law instead of the gospel; perhaps more like this: “But say to those who have no anxious heart; who have no fear or dread because of their sinful hearts, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid!  Because the day of the Lord’s judgment is  approaching.”

What is faith?  

“Easy” you say, faith knows God through Jesus Christ, right?  Well…yes and no.  You see, if you know who God is, that is only a general kind of faith.  “But wait” you counter, I believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, that He suffered under Pontius Pilot, He was crucified, died, and was buried, and descended into Hell.  And I also believe that on the third day He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.”  Well, James would tell you that the devils believe that too, and yet they tremble with fear because they know that God’s judgment is coming very soon. [James 2:19]  “But wait Pastor” you say, “I know scripture pretty well, and didn’t Paul say, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”” [Rom. 10:17]?  Ah yes, an excellent proof text for reminding all of us how important it is to be in God’s Word every day.  But, you can bet the devils know that verse by heart, and many others as well.  What good does that do them?

Are you confused?  Well let me give an illustration on what kind of faith is not saving faith.  Let’s imagine that there is a policeman who is issued a bullet proof vest but he refuses to wear it because it is just too hot and bulky.  One day he is tragically shot in an area that the vest would have protected, and he dies.  Is the vest to blame for his death? No, of course not!  You see, the vest can offer no protection if it isn’t put on; if it doesn’t become part of his daily routine.  And that is the way it is with faith that can’t save you.  You can know the entire Bible and be an expert in Christian doctrine, but if you aren’t living in that faith and allowing it to lead you and change you, it can’t save you!  It’s what we call only a general faith.

But, if you know that Jesus suffered and died upon the cross for you—if you admit that He needed to suffer and die for you; that he descended into hell and rose from the dead for you; if you know that He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God to someday judge you not guilty of being a sinner, but holy, perfect and righteous because you trusted in Him, well then my friend… you have saving faith!  So you see friends, true saving faith grabs onto Jesus and what he provides and it makes Him its personal Savior.

Well the question we might ask next is this, “What does faith look like?  Can you see that faith in action?”  Yes, most definitely.  You can see both general faith and saving faith in action, and you can easily tell them apart.  In our Epistle lesson [James. 2:14-18], James gives us a good illustration of general faith.

General faith sees a Christian brother or sister in trouble…in need of food and clothing and says, “I hope you find food, and I’ll pray you stay warm” and then walks away feeling good about themselves.  James asks us this morning, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  “What kind?” we ask.  Well, the kind of faith that is never seen in practical service towards God and neighbor.  Friends, the answer is no!  Any faith that doesn’t result in a changed heart… in a life that’s changed and desiring to do good for others, James says is really an empty faith.  

So you see friends, while it’s true that it’s faith alone that justifies, it is also true that justifying faith can never be alone… it can never be without works of love.  But saving faith, looks at its brother or sister in need, and because that saving faith is still holding on to Jesus, it is compelled to act.  As Christians who are led by the love of Christ, because of our saving faith, we are also compelled to help meet the needs of our neighbors as God provides.  St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians taught about this when he said, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all people, especially the needs of those who are of the household of faith.” [Gal. 6:10]  

Friends, when we serve our brothers and sisters in need, we can clearly hear Jesus reminding us with a smile, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it unto Me.” [Matt. 25:40] Friends, saving faith hears these words of Jesus, and it wants to always be working and serving others.  But saving faith doesn’t work because it thinks it will earn a reward, instead saving faith works because it is powered by the love of God through Christ Jesus and wants to please God.

Dear friends, we love Jesus because He first loved us and gave His life up for us.  Because He sacrificed Himself for us we find that we are also compelled by our saving faith to sacrifice ourselves for our neighbor as well.  When a Christian mother and father loves their child and teaches them about God’s love, and ensures that they are baptized, present at Sunday school, and latter confirmed, that is the love of saving faith being expressed in those Christian parents.  In fact, no matter what calling we find ourselves in whether it is parent, child, civil servant, employee, employer, student or teacher, if we serve our neighbor as Christ serves us, then my friends, that is saving faith in action.  

Well how do we know if we have saving faith?  

Friends, for the answer to this question let’s look at our gospel lesson this morning.  In the gospel we encounter Jesus healing a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  Listen: “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ef-fa-tha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” [Mark 7:33-35]   What a wonderful miracle!  Everyone who witnessed it agreed that it was most certainly a work of God.  The witnesses proclaimed, “He has done all things well.”  They concluded that Jesus could at any time give anyone who’s deaf the ability to hear and anyone who is speechless the ability to speak.  Did the crowd have saving faith? I don’t know.  They certainly were amazed, but yet, it wasn’t their ears that were given hearing and it wasn’t their mouth that was given speech.  But the man who was deaf and speechless, now that’s a different story.  How could He not have love for Jesus, the loving man that spoke ever so gently to him in a sign language that he could understand?  How could he not have been moved to trust Jesus in whatever He asked or told him?  Certainly he had to be moved to use his new voice to praise Jesus as the Savior, as his personal savior!

Dear friends, in your baptism, Jesus has done an even greater thing than this for you.  Through the water and the Word, He has opened your heart!  Through His Word, He has privately and in a very personal way taken you out of a sinful and dying world and secured you in His love.  Through the gift of faith, He has opened your ears so that you can hear His Word even the Word being preached right now and be changed!  Listen friends, your heart has been recreated so that it no longer fears God’s judgment, but instead it’s resting in His love.  By faith you are now able to live your life knowing that you have a God who through His Son Jesus, has forgiven all of your sins.  By faith friends, you now have a mouth that desires to share with others just how wonderfully God has demonstrated His love for you!  And by saving faith, you now have hands that are being moved to serve God out of love; not because they must serve but because they want to serve.  Your heart through saving faith wants to serve your neighbor here in this church, and there out in the community where there are thousands of people dying without knowing the life giving and life changing touch of the Savior of the world Jesus Christ.   

Dear friends, our faith, our saving faith, is a divine work that God does within us; it’s a work that changes us by killing the old self centered person and then daily replaces it with a personality of faith in action!  Your saving faith is a living, busy, and active faith that is mighty in the power of God.  Your saving faith doesn’t ask if there are any good works that must be done to be saved, but is already desiring to do the good out of love!  I pray that every day you fight to let this living and saving faith control you and lead you as you daily praise the Lord, in thought, word, and deed!  In Jesus name….AMEN!

Things Are Not Always What They Appear

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

Pentecost 3B, June 10, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Things are not always what they appear to be, are they?  I am thankful for the advisory in the side mirror on my vehicle that states: “Warning, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear to be.”  I tend to forget that, I need that reminder.

I also need to be reminded that the Kingdom of God in eternity is not what it appears to be in our time; that is, it is not what the world supposes it to be.  They see the Kingdom of God as a bunch of superstitious people gathered around and antiquated Bible, a little water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.  And as they scoff, we gather together and find forgiveness, peace, and the promise of eternal happiness and joy within those very things.  Why are these two views so very different?

Faith. Faith is the one thing needful.  

Lack of faith is what causes a mighty cedar, full of life and vigor to decay from within, dry up, and die.  That was the cause of the nation of Israel’s demise, it was the cause of the death of all of the empires that have ever existed, and it will be the demise of our country if its citizens continuously reject faith.  

It was the demise of the way of worship for the Jews, which we can call the old church.

Where is their temple worship?  It is gone!  Where is their temple? Destroyed!  Jesus said as much when He said, “The time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” [Luke 21:6]  WHY?  Again they had lost their faith in the promise of God and the mercy and forgiveness He promised to bring to all, through the Savior who was to come.  And when He did come, they rejected the very means of Salvation that God had promised since the fall of creation.

But you have not lost that faith, have you?  You are still here, so out of love, out of charity I will gladly assume that you still trust God to make all things new; to make all things right.  I trust that you have faith in the Savior who has now come and will come again.  You have faith in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God Who is with you right now! You see…

You have Faith in a Who, and a Promise!  

Unlike what the world thinks, things are not as they seem.  Your faith is not simply in some printed words found in a book, but in the living Word of God that both spoke and was empowered by His Spirit to preserve you and give you hope.  What kind of faith?  Faith to believe that simple water when combined with the promises of the Word of God would bring forgiveness, eternal life, and peace with God.  Faith to believe that a scrap of bread and a sip of wine are also, mysteriously the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken and shed, eaten and drank for the strengthening of faith and forgiveness for all of your sins.  

You are that sprig that God says in our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24) was removed from the loft top of the great cedar Israel; a cedar, which is now withered and abandoned.  You are a part of the church, the very mystical body of Christ that has been planted by God Himself upon the high and lofty mountain, which is the long awaited Paradise restored.  You are part of something inconceivably vast and powerful; you are even now part of the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom, which throughout the eons has not only promised but has given rest to the weary and joy to the broken hearted.  You are part of the Kingdom of God fulfilled.

The Kingdom of God is the Promise of God Fulfilled!  

Yes the promise fulfilled, but also the promise not yet seen.  To be sure, our loved ones who died in Christ and who are now absent from the body are present with the Lord; that is they see with their own eyes both the glory of the Lord and the beauty of their eternal home in paradise.  But we’re still here; we must still walk by faith and not by sight.  Faith assures us that the promise is fulfilled and there is a place reserved for us; tailor made for us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We are holy by faith, because He is holy.  We are holy simply because we are forgiven and loved, so we forgive and love as well.  We are holy because we are sustained by the power of God’s Spirit and the means of grace, which He gives that both creates and sustains our seeing by faith.

And we need that faith to live within a promise fulfilled, because things are not always as they seem.

Let’s talk about the tension of living by faith and not by sight.  

In our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 4:26-34), Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God can be compared to a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds known at the time in the middle east, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” And here is precisely where the tension is experienced; there are birds nesting in our branches that bring all kinds of strange and peculiar things with them; things like poverty and despair, sickness and disease, rude behavior and even domineering spirits.  Some times they don’t come simply to rest in our gospel tree, but they come to change and even take it over.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I mean is to change Jesus illustration of birds resting in the Mustard tree to insects called Phasmida, or as they are more commonly know as, the “Walking Stick.”  The walking stick insect looks just like a branch and blends in perfectly with the tree.  The camouflage is needed because other animals outside of the tree are flying around looking to eat the walking stick.  But when these Walking Sticks are within the canopy of the tree, they may rest safe and free from harm, because they look like they are part of the tree.  But they’re not, are they?  And while they rest within the safety of the tree, they begin to eat the leaves and find sustenance from the tree itself.

Are you a part of the tree, or are you like the walking stick simply finding sustenance and safety.  Only you and God know the answer to that, not me.  But I will tell you what I do know; God does not want you to be a walking stick; He wants to graft you within the tree itself.  God wants you to simply quit hiding and surrender to His wonderful grace; his forgiving love and mercy.  And here is the wonderful news, you do not need to do a thing to become a true part of the tree, you only need surrender to the same means of grace and mercy that brought the rest of us into the body of Christ.

You may become a branch of this tree, by simply seeing that the safety and security that you have enjoyed for a time, can be yours for eternity by simply confessing that you indeed are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. You must only surrender to God and believe that He gives precisely what He promises through His powerful Word, a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine. And what He gives to you is complete forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the cross of His Son Jesus Christ.

What are you waiting for, or better yet, what are you hiding from?  He has already found you; you are here in the gospel tree, the church.  Why not truly belong and become that which the world thinks is both foolish and pathetic?  Why not belong and become what the cross of Jesus Christ has already provided and announced for all sinners throughout the world… you are forgiven and loved by God. [John 3:16]

Look around you; things are not what they appear to be.  It is natural for you to see first with eyes of flesh, and through these eyes, it is also natural for you to see a bunch of sinners in this place.  But now look with eyes of faith at those sinners who have gathered around God’s means of grace and promises, and you see instead saints by faith.  We are all sinners and saints at the same time. We are saints for eternity and sinners only for as long as we live in this tent; this temporary body of sin.  We all struggle with putting to death our sin that is within us, and during this struggle we groan in anticipation for the day that we will be free of that struggle and rest securely in our new resurrected bodies within our new home… Paradise.  [2 Corinthians 5:1–10] Yes dear friends, are not what you appear to be, but you are also a saint resting in God’s grace and soon enough you will be forever returned to His Paradise, your eternal home… AMEN!

The Right Kind of Name It and Claim It

Sunday, June 10th, 2018

Pentecost 3B, June 10, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message


“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak”. [2 Corinthians 4:13]

This morning, let me start by saying that the words in our text may not mean what some people think they mean.  Some may discover in today’s message that they too, have been duped by the devil.  They may be unknowingly walking straight into a devil’s trap; a trap designed to strip them of their faith in the eternal promises of God.

In our Old Testament reading, we are shown a tragic and stunning example of what happens to men and women of God when they forget that the devil and all of creation are liars if they contradict the promises of God found in His Word.  

Listen: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. [Genesis 3:1-7]

Do you see what the devil did to trick Eve?  With a little play on words, He took a command of God, twisted it, and turned it from Words of love that were meant to protect Adam and Eve, and he turned those Words upside down, and made them seem as if God was overbearing and cruel.  

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  Now think about this for a moment, God never said that they couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden, He only said that they couldn’t eat from one specific kind of tree. Also consider that Eve had no business even talking with this creature about God, unless it was to praise His name.  Remember, Adam and Eve have been given dominion over all creation.  She did not need to defend Him, because He is the Creator God; He even created the sinful mouth that was spewing forth those sinful words.  All that Eve needed to do was to call out to God and ask Him to rebuke this vile creature.  Or… she could have deferred to her husband, who was right there with her, but she didn’t do that, and Adam never said a mumbling word.  Why?  Because they had been entertaining desires that were unhealthy, and the devil knew this.  So Adam allows Eve to speak for both of them with these words: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Now it is Adam and Eve’s turn to twist the Word of God; to make it communicate a message it was never meant to declare.  Nowhere in scripture did God ever say that if Adam and Eve touched the fruit they would die.  He simply said that they could not eat it.  

So now the devil sees clearly what is in the heart of the first couple and he begins to use it as a shiny lure in order to trap them with the hook of full-blown sin.  “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  In other words, God is not the God of love you think that He is.  He has been holding out on you; there is another completely different level of knowledge and existence that you are missing out on.

And so the first sin is committed when Adam and Eve with one heart and mind reach out and take and eat.  And from that point on, their eyes were opened and they knew that they had disrupted, no destroyed their relationship of love and trust with their Creator God.  And when God approaches them as He always had done, He asks them specific questions that will lead them to confess their sin.  But instead of taking responsibility, what do they do?  They begin to play the blame game.  “The woman you put here made me do it.”  And, “the Serpent you created tricked me!”

So if we had to put a name on the very first sin, what would we call it?  Coveting?  Well sure, that sin is there, but before it can come, I submit that one must first set aside their devotion and love for the Creator God.  So this is really a first commandment issue.  “You shall have no other God before or beside me” says the Lord your God!  Do you see friends, all issues in life and all sins that are committed are directly related to the very first commandment.  In other words, there are two ways to look at all things in your life, from God’s perspective or from the worlds perspective.

“I believed, and so I spoke.”  

Are these powerful spiritual words that unlock worldly treasure and rewards or is there a deeper spiritual meaning to them?  You don’t have to go far to get your answer.  St. Paul was simply quoting King David in Psalm 116, verse 10, and through that quote he was pointing out that his faith in the promises of God find their origin and power through the same source of Spirit given faith that King David was given.  

In that quote of Paul, he is assuring us that what he is preaching and teaching boldly and willingly is exactly the same thing that David proclaimed.  

Both Paul and David were very familiar with hard times; they knew all to well the sorrows and threats of danger and harm that’s associated with just living in this world.  And both Paul and King David were sustained and motivated by the exact same faith.  Like Paul, King David was delivered for a purpose, so that he could walk before the Lord in the land of the living and proclaim the truth of God, which alone is able to defeat the lies of the devil and sinful men and women.

While the world may choose to preach, teach, and confess positive thinking and word of faith as true faith, we like St. Paul and King David must be realists.  We know that there is suffering, sickness, disease, poverty, racism, and violence through out this world.  Simply proclaiming some hidden power to be protected from this reality is just plain ridiculous, especially when nowhere in His Word does God say that if you have a strong faith you will be immune from these things.  Instead God calls us in the midst of trials and tribulations, to place our faith in what is not seen; in what He declares to be our eternal reality.

What does this kind of life, centered in the eternal promises of God look like?  Well, again, let’s look at St. Paul’s life for the answer.  In the middle of all kinds of danger, danger like folks trying to kill him in every town he goes to visit simply because he is proclaiming the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead, in the middle of these threats, St. Paul remains brave and steadfast; why?  Because He knew that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead would raise him and all believers in Christ as well.  This is the right kind of name it and claim it that we are called to proclaim and believe.  

True faith is always connected to Jesus and the promises that He gives to His church.  The true faith of a Christian never forgets that it is in the world but not of the world.  True faith remembers that the life that we are living is always following Jesus from the sorrow and death of the cross, to resurrection and glory.

Dear friends, we face the same things today that St. Paul dealt with.  Like Paul we too wait for Jesus to come again and end the destruction and sin that has overtaken all of creation, and we wait never knowing when He will come, but only knowing that His return is imminent.

To be sure, St. Paul and the early church preachers took great comfort in their baptismal guarantee of being resurrected, but their comfort in all of their trials and tribulations ran deeper than that.  You see they also took comfort in the promise of God that within their message of forgiveness, was the actual power of God’s Spirit, which saves the world from sin, death, and the devil, through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  What gave them even greater comfort and power was the promise of each believer’s resurrection; the fact that Jesus resurrection would also be the reality for all who receive and believe the promises of God that are given in Holy Baptism.  In other words, St. Paul was comforted by the expanding Kingdom of God one sinner at a time, which now includes you!

Dear friends, St. Paul and indeed the entire church after him believe and also confess and work with all of their hearts to bring others into this same faith, because only then will these others also be given the resurrected life of the blessed.  So within the heart of Paul and all Christians is the God given gift of faith that is paired equally with a great gift of love. Why? So that all who are willing to believe will be presented together before God as the body of Christ, and together with one voice sing out praises of thanks giving before their Creator God.

This is the work of God’s champion, the Strongest of men, the Son of Adam and Eve and the very Son of God, Jesus Christ, and it is this work alone that God calls us to put our faith in.  And through this faith we know that even when this temporary tent which is our human bodies is destroyed, whether through sickness, disease, famine, or violence, we have an eternal body, a mansion within Paradise restored that God has prepared for us through His Son Jesus Christ.

It is there in paradise, that we will finally know by sight and not by faith a life of true pleasure and glory with God and Christ.  It is there where we will dwell eternally in a permanent, glorious, infinitely blessed existence in heaven.  So believe and confess that this temporary existence is not your eternal reality, and endure patiently with the rest of the church militant, as we wait to join the the church triumphant which is already in eternity living with and glorifying our God with praises!   AMEN!

Can You Hear Him?


Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

Easter 4B, April 22, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Sorry, no audio for this message

In the early 1900’s a man was traveling by steam boat.  While standing on the deck of the ship he began to sing our sermon hymn, “Savior like a Shepherd Lead Us”.  When he had finished singing, a rough looking stranger approached him and asked, “Did you ever serve in the Union army during the civil war?  “Yes,” answered the singer.  “I joined in the spring of 1860.”  “Were you doing picket duty on a bright moonlit night in 1862?” asked the stranger.  “Yes” answered the singer.  “Well, so did I,” said the stranger, “but I was serving in the Confederate army.  When I saw you standing at your post I said to myself, “This guy is as good as dead.”  I raised my musket and took aim.  I was just about to pull the trigger, when you raised your eyes to heaven, and then you sang that very same song.  That song had a very great power over me, and I took my finger off the trigger.  “Let him sing this one song to the end, and then I can shoot him when he’s finished.”  But the song you sang then, just as now stirred up great emotions within me.  Back then, I heard the words plainly and perfectly in my mind and in my heart: “We are Yours in love befriend us, be the guardian of our way; keep your flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray.”  When you had finished your song it was impossible for me to take aim at you again.  I thought: “The Lord who is able to save that man from certain death must surely be great and mighty (and able to save me)” and my arm dropped limp at my side.”

“And (Jesus said) I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)  This is our text this morning.  Jesus calls out to all of His sheep.  Can you hear Him?  Perhaps you hear Him even now, but at times you find it hard to follow?  This is understandable, because after all, you are just a little sheep and sheep are prone to wander.  This morning by looking deeper into our gospel reading we will allow our Good Shepherd to bring us back into the safety of His love which can only be enjoyed within His flock…the universal Church of Jesus Christ! To do this, Jesus gives us illustrations that if learned will ensure that we not only hear His voice, but listen and follow it as well.  

First let’s look at the Good Shepherd in contrast to the hired hand who is not a shepherd at all.  

In the verses preceding our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus said that anyone who enters the sheep pen by climbing the wall or fence isn’t a shepherd, but a thief.  He also said that the true shepherd is one who enters by the door.  OK, this sounds reasonable, but then He said something strange, He said that He was the door!  Now, if you follow this logic, then you must conclude that true shepherds or pastors are only those who have been called by the Holy Spirit to lead Christ’s church as Jesus leads or directs them.  In this sense, the pastor is an under-shepherd, who can only lead the flock of sheep as Jesus directs.

In Israel sheep weren’t herded with dogs or by men who walked behind them.  The shepherd led his sheep.  He had a name for each of them…he knew each one by name, and the sheep recognized his voice.  At night several different herds of sheep might sleep in the same pen.  As they slept, a shepherd would act as the door of the pen by sleeping in the opening in order to prevent a predator or thief from entering and doing harm.  In the morning, when the door was opened, each shepherd would call out to his own flock, and each member of that flock would be able to distinguish his shepherd’s voice from the others.  

Just as the sheep would not follow a stranger, so God’s people are able to recognize Jesus as the living Word of God.  In this way, God has allowed a sure and certain way for His Children to distinguish between a true pastor and a false teacher.  A true pastor will only proclaim what is in the Bible… Law and Gospel!

A traveling minister was walking along a road one day headed to a church that he heard no longer had a pastor.  He thought He might be able to offer his services as their new full time pastor.  As he approached the church, he saw a crowd of boys surrounding a dog.  “What are you doing with the dog?” asked the traveling minister.  “Well” said one of the boys, “Whoever tells the biggest lie, will win the dog as a prize.”  “Oh, that’s terrible,” exclaimed the minister, “when I was a little boy like you kids, I never told a lie.”  There was a moment’s silence. “Here,” said one of the little boys as he handed him the leash, “you win the dog.”

Today, just as in Jesus time, false teachers are everywhere.  They impose themselves on God’s people and have only their own benefit in mind.  God’s truth… His love and mercy is not what is leading them.  These false teachers, whom earlier Jesus called thieves, He now calls hired hands, or mercenaries. [vs. 12] They have no direct, specific call from God through a congregation to care for His little lambs.  They received and held onto their position through deception and their desire for self gain.  These type of men were then and are now in ministry for the money and the prestige.  When trouble comes they abandon their flock and look only after their own personal benefit.  And now…

Jesus shows us, by pitting Himself against the Wolf, why He alone is the Good Shepherd.

First, please understand that the word “good” in the Greek means something of excellence, something that sets the standard for everything else.  If we follow this meaning, then what Jesus is saying is that He alone is the “Supreme Shepherd”.  While there are other shepherds that perform their duties in a loving and careful way they are not the “Good Shepherd”.  Why?  Well Jesus answers that for us in verse 15, when He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Many years ago a young Canadian man, his wife, his two children and a young law-man were traveling in the wilderness in a horse drawn wagon when they were pursued by a very large pack of wolves. Just as the wolves were about to attack, the law-man shot some of the wolves. This stopped the pack for a short time, but soon they renewed their attack. Once again, just as the wolves were about to overtake them, the law-man acted quickly and cut the lead horse loose and the wolves devoured it, but soon they were right back on their blood thirsty attack. The travelers were trying to reach a government fort, a place of safety, and they were almost there.  But the wolves were relentless and it seemed impossible for them to out run them.  The young law-man said that their only hope would be for him to buy them some time by giving himself to the wolves.  After he said that, he immediately jumped from the wagon, right into the pack of wolves. Of course he was attacked immediately, but the family was able to enter the fort just before the pack caught up to them.  Once safely inside, they said “Our protector sacrificed himself for us. We are living because he is dead.”  

Now this sounds noble and good.  But anyone with a good heart and the love of Christ might be able to accomplish the very same thing.  Any shepherd that loves his sheep would most likely risk his life for the good of the sheep.  No, if this act can be accomplished by any true shepherd, this can’t be what makes a shepherd good.  This can’t be the work of the “Good Shepherd”.

In verses 17 and 18, Jesus gives us the mark of the only “Good Shepherd” when He says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. 

Jesus, like any true shepherd, faces the wolf and risks His life in defense of the sheep. But, that would not help the sheep once the wolf finished with the shepherd.  Obviously, after the shepherd is dead, the poor sheep would be completely at the mercy of the wolf without any other source of help. No, the only way the sheep could be eternally safe would be if the shepherd could kill or drive off the wolf, and keep his life for the benefit of the sheep. Friends, Jesus is the one and only shepherd, who can save the sheep by laying down and then taking up his life again.  Jesus died for the sheep, for you and me, but He took his life back again when He rose from the dead.   

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and the Wolf that He has overcome is sin, death, and the devil.  By Jesus sacrifice upon the cross and His resurrection, He came so that the sheep (you and I) may have life and may have it in abundance (v. 10).

Friends, in order for this truth to be of any benefit to you, Jesus says that you must hear His voice and believe that He is YOUR Savior…YOUR Good Shepherd.  

We must hear His Word and know that He is calling us!  Faith comes only by hearing His Word, which is the message of the gospel, the voice of Jesus Christ!  When we hear His voice and shut out all other messages we will find comfort.  When we hear and listen we will find obedience as God helps us follow our Good Shepherd where ever He leads.  And when we listen and follow, Jesus will show us other sheep who are also listening.  And here is the amazing part…He is asking you to help Him bring them into His flock—into His church, where they too can find comfort and safety from sin, death, and the great wolf, the devil.

Perhaps this morning you’ve been shown that you too have wandered from the flock?  Maybe you have been following the voice of someone other than your Good Shepherd.  He is calling you now.  Can you hear Him?  Are you listening?  He has opened the door, and He calls out to you… “Follow me!” 

Faith, The Key To Fellowship

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

Easter 2B, April 8, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus (God’s) Son cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7]

Unfortunately, too many people think that our Christian fellowship is not any different than other religions. They think that our faith is centered around a set of rules that simply tells the followers of Jesus how to live a better life.  And to these perceived rules of living they respond: “I don’t want your Jesus telling me what to do.  I don’t want your Jesus telling me how to talk and what to wear.  You Christians think that your better than us!”

Is that how we present our Christian faith; as simply a set of rules that are expected to be followed in order to fit into Jesus’ church?  Or do we believe and model something more; something much deeper?  In reality, that is what all people are  looking for… something deeper.  

Like Thomas in our Gospel reading (John 20:19–31), people today are looking for something that in their minds is real and life changing; something they can not only hear, but touch and be a part of.  This morning, our message will declare this as the very essence of what we preach, teach, and confess; but even more than that, it is something that we live out!

So why didn’t Thomas believe?  

May I suggest that He simply chose not to rely on the simple testimony of his friends.  He didn’t want to just believe, but he also wanted the experience of belief; he wanted to encounter the same source of faith that they had encountered.  What experience?  Well, this one: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [Jn. 20:19, 20]

In my mind, I can hear the excited testimony of the apostles and disciples who testified to Thomas.  “Thomas, we have seen the Lord.  There is no doubt it was Him, because He showed us the nail scars in his hands and the wound in His side!”  Thomas wanted to experience the same encounter.  He needed that same experience because the last few days of living had beat him down; demoralized him!  Remember, he was the same disciple who said to the others, “Let us go, that we may die with him”, after Jesus announced that it was time for Him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. [Jn. 11:16]

Now here is where we see the loving desire of our Savior. Jesus Christ the Son of God, knew that Thomas had been separated from Him by a lack of faith, and that just would not do.  You see Thomas had been set aside with the other apostles to not only believe in the Son of God Jesus Christ, but to also testify and proclaim the gospel which heralded the good news that Christ is risen!  So, if experience is what Thomas required in order to feel equal to the others, in order to have faith and believe, then that is precisely what Jesus would give to him.

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [Jn. 20:26-29]

Thomas’ faith was restored and he was returned to the fellowship of disciples who just eight days earlier also had faith, which seemed to be destroyed and lost.  All of them at first, seemed to have had lost their faith but not there fellowship.  What I mean is that they still gathered together in that upper room, but not in a fellowship of faith, but a fellowship of fear of the Jews and disappointment in their Savior.  They were beaten down by life and disappointed by what appeared to be failure, just as people still are today.

What is the thing lacking in most people, a thing which is preventing them from receiving Jesus as their Savior and then living out their new identity as a new person in Christ?  

I submit that it is faith.  Without faith, there can be no real fellowship with God.  Faith is the only way to truly see and know Jesus; to know that He is the propitiation (or payment) for our sins, and not (just) for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.” [1 John 2:2]

When Thomas had earlier said “Let us go also so that we may die with (Jesus)”, I am sure he meant every word.  When he said it, he and all of the other disciples were confused and bewildered.  They could not have understood why the Messiah would willingly allow Himself to be humiliated and killed.  That simply was not how a champion behaved.  But they also did not understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was.  People still don’t understand.

People today just like the disciples before us can not receive faith in Jesus unless they perceive a need for Him.  In other words, they must first see a need for the kind of Savior Jesus IS.

Jesus IS the Son of God who comes to save us from our sins.  He comes to remove our sins; to pay for them with the only payment that can be made; a payment of blood and life.  Again, “If we (desire to be saved and) walk in the light, as (Jesus) is in the light, (then) we have fellowship with (the Father and the Son of God, and) one another, and the blood of Jesus (the Son of God) cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7]

And it is that little Word sin, which keeps getting in the way; it keeps blocking folks from receiving the very thing they long for… faith.  You see, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” [1 John 1:8-10]

So what is the answer to this dilemma?  How can we even begin to reach people outside of Christ, especially young people with the very gift of life that they seem to so militantly reject?  We must make it real to them, by allowing it to be real to us.  God wants us to allow the gift of Christ to change us so that the change is apparent to even the worst skeptics!

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [John 20:21-23]

You know, in this world people say a lot of things; things they don’t really mean.  Another way to say this is that their talk and their walk don’t match.  But Jesus, speaks truth.  When He says “Peace” the very Word gives it.  The word gives peace and the faith of the believer receives it.

If a blind doctor offered you a liquid that would save your life, and then he told you that all you needed to do was hold out your cup and then drink what he pours into it, would you think that it was such a bad thing?  And if you told the doctor “I’m ready, poor away; my cup is waiting”, but you had no cup and simply let the medicine pour out on the ground, would that be the doctor’s fault, or yours?  No, that would be foolish!  So, why not just tell the doctor you have no cup, and he will gladly give you one!

And that is precisely the way of faith.  God’s Word is the medicine that will save you from your sins.  And the great physician of your soul is Jesus Christ.  If you have no cup, it is because you have either neglected to ask Him or you have refused to admit that you have a need for the medicine.  The cup is your agreement with God that you are indeed dying from your sins, and it is your confession, which proclaims that only He can save you.  The medicine is His very Word, which gives both forgiveness and eternal life; it gives you peace with God and each other.

When we have peace with God through faith in both the work of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb, we live out that peace with the authority that Christ’s Word gives us.  We are not only forgiven, but we are sent out to both speak words of forgiveness and to model them.  We hold no grudges, and simply allow God to work within the lives of the people we meet through the power of the Word he tells us to speak.

“I forgive you” is perhaps the easiest set of words to speak and the hardest to live out.  It is hard to live out because it involves complete faith that God will do what He says He will do.  He will bring peace.  Peace; first to we who speak the words of peace, and then peace to those who will hear and receive those words.

Thomas was restored to the fellowship of believers the same way the rest of them including Peter were restored, through the person and work of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Jesus spoke and gave peace to them and their little fellowship of faith began to grow.  It grew so large that they began to attract the attention of the government of Rome, which eventually became terrified that they might represent a new threat against Cesar.  They tried to destroy the church by killing the Christians, but instead of wiping out Christianity, their attacks only served to cause the church to grow much faster.  Why?  Because “great grace was upon them all.  The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” [Acts 4:32] With great power, the testimony of the apostles, which is the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, spread and brought forgiveness of sins and peace with God to many people.

That same peace and power of God, which comes through the same Word and means of grace of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are still proclaimed and given freely today.  It is the Word declared and the power of the Word lived out that will save this generation today, if we will simply trust God and live out this faith with an invitation to all we meet to simply come and see.  Come and believe that in our Bibles, “these (things) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  [John 20:31] AMEN!

Let Me See Your Peace!

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Lent 2 B, February 25, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA 
On the occasion of the closure of the Interim Pastoral Ministry 
At
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, California

Click here for audio of this message

Romans 5:1-11

Reformational Scripture for Tim Botts 2017 Reformation Calendar

Do you have peace? If you do, may I see it? Show me your peace!

This is really the silent, yet always present demand of our unbelieving community that surrounds us everywhere we go. They will quickly tell you that they aren’t really interested in hearing about your Savior Jesus Christ, but if believing in Him works for you, well then, they’re happy for you. Now, while they may not care to hear about what you believe, let me assure you that they are watching you; watching to see if what you believe makes a difference in how you live! They want to see how you’ll stand up under the pressures of life as compared to them and their circle of friends. In other words, does what you believe make a difference in who you are? And in order to evaluate your belief system they want to see your peace.

Now, whether we want to admit it or not, we Christians are prone to demand this same thing from God whenever troubles and tragedies strike our faith-filled and grace centered lives. It’s really a little rude and inconsiderate when we consider all that God has done to provide us with His peace throughout our lives!

Did you notice that I said His peace and not yours? That’s the way that it should be. The objective is first and then the subjective. That is always God’s way. In other words, you can’t know real peace without first having God’s peace!

The world teaches that peace is first personal and then corporate.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me! The problem with this kind of peace is that it is very self-centered and dependent on however you feel at any given moment. This is a strange idea, because it assumes that you live for yourself. Not that this is anything new, William Shakespeare said long ago, “To thine own self be true!” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it leads to a personal peace at the cost of other peoples’ peace.

In the 1940’s Three Stooges skit called “I’ll Never Heil Again” the boys dressed up as Axis leaders. As they started their war council meeting they chanted, “Peace, peace, we want peace.” And to this Moe who was dressed up as Hitler stood up and said, “Yes we want a piece of this, and a piece of that.” And that, I am afraid is always the cost of our individual peace… it comes at the expense of others. Like money, we can never have enough peace. So, our natural tendency is to surround ourselves with as much of whatever we think will bring that peace, at the exclusion many times of other people’s peace.

Since I first came to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church I’ve had two rules that have guided me: First, like a physician, I desired to do no harm; Second, I wanted to create an atmosphere through the proper preaching and teaching of God’s Word, both Law and Gospel, which would flood your lives and this parish with God’s peace.

God’s peace is Christ’s own peace. Listen to the Son of God offer and describe this peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27] So what is this peace that Jesus says He has given to us? Well we know it ISN’T the kind of selfish, self serving peace that the world wants, and we also know that it IS the kind of peace that brings comfort and security in times of trouble, division, and fear.

In verse 1 of our epistle reading, Paul shares these words: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” So the kind of peace that Jesus gives, which Paul is telling us we already have, begins first and always with faith that justifies or makes us right with God. Now knowing this, there are a couple of questions we must ask to completely understand this peace that comes from God By faith. The first question is, “Faith in Who?” The Who is Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God who is the Savior of the world. The second question is “Faith in what?” The what, is the completed work of Jesus Christ; His birth, His life, His suffering, and His death, His resurrection and ascension. In these things, which are recorded for us in Holy Scripture we are shown God’s work for us; a work that has taken away our sins, atoned for our evil and made us right with God! Or as Paul says it, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

Through Jesus we have been reconciled; made right with God. Through this work, God addresses the one great obstacle that separates us from His love, and that is our sin. He alone does what we could not do, and He does it through the atoning death of His Son.

In Jesus, God put forward His love for you by putting Jesus in your place; by having Him suffer and die for you, because of your sins. In God’s self-sacrifice He points your divided, troubled and sinful hearts to His solution for your sins, and His Word tells you to be reconciled; that is to be made right with Him and each other! In Jesus God assures us that we are reconciled; we are at peace with Him!

This proclamation of peace with God through Jesus Christ is the gospel!

If you will receive this truth by faith, then you will see God’s justice performed on the cross for you, and you will know peace! This is the blessed assurance that saves the worst of sinners and then recreates them and gives them not just peace, but the ability to live out that peace, and even experience it.

What is assurance? Well here’s the concise theological definition: It is the firm persuasion of faith that you are in a state of grace. In other words, by faith you know that no matter what may happen around you, it is well with your soul, because God is with you and for you. It’s the God-given ability to move from the cross of Jesus to the waters of your baptism and say with all certainty that “Jesus died for me!” It’s hearing the promises of God to the world, and knowing that all of those promises were given to you personally when you were washed clean with the water and the Word in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In other words, as St. Paul says in the fifth verse of our epistle lesson, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Why has God’s love been poured into your heart? So that you would know and experience His peace! But aren’t we now talking about feelings? Isn’t our salvation independent of feelings? Yes, that is the objective work of God’s gift, a gift to the world. But in your baptism it became very personal, very subjective. You see, your salvation is something that is done and complete, but it’s also something you experience as you live it out! Every day, come what may, Jesus is with you! He is with you in trials, trouble, and tribulation. Every day God asks you to experience His presence and then learn to rest in His comfort, care, and love for you and for HIS Church.
Many years ago one of the astronauts who walked on the moon was interviewed and asked, “What did you think about as you stood on the moon and looked back at the earth?” The astronaut replied, “I remembered how the spacecraft (that I had to go back home in) was built by the lowest bidder.”
We as Christians can rejoice that the work of our salvation didn’t go to the “lowest bidder” but was provided by an eternal and infallible God. There will never be any problems with His gift of salvation. Your salvation is as sure as the Creator of that salvation, Almighty God! And because it is sure, we can learn to trust in Him and not our current experiences or feelings. We know by faith, that not only do we have peace with God, but we’re gonna keep on having that peace. This peace, which now becomes very personal, becomes an experience that God delights in giving to us. An experience that reminds us that no matter what may or may not be happening in our lives, ultimately it is well and it will be well with our souls!
What does this experience of peace mean to you and me?
Well, if you remember earlier, I mentioned the challenge from our unbelieving neighbors who want to see our peace, which now we know is really God’s peace in action. This peace of God, which surpasses all of our understanding, not only keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, but it also directs our hearts and minds outward to the people who live in our community; people who are dying without knowing the peace of God, which comes only through the cross of Jesus Christ. As they see us weather the same storms of life they go through, and still be both able and ready to rejoice and praise God in the middle of those storms, they will begin to notice that we are neither giving up our hope nor our peace. They will discover what you already know; your suffering produces endurance and endurance produces a Christian character of faith and peace in the presence and work of God on earth and hope in the promise of an eternity in heaven.
All that’s left, is for you to give an answer to anyone who asks for the reason you have this great hope and peace. The reason is of course God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, who takes your faith and hope, and then assures you that no matter what you may be going through, no matter what you may be feeling, in the end it will be well with your souls; you will never be put to shame! This is your blessed assurance of peace with God and peace with each other!
Dear saints of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, no matter what circumstances overtake you, and no matter what fleeting emotions and feelings may come and go within your lives, you can know for certain that God’s love, which He has poured out within this parish and within your hearts, will enable you to not only sing but live out the truth that says, whatever is your lot, it is well with your souls!
Indeed, it IS well with YOUR soul. In Jesus name… Amen!

Great is Our God!

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

5th Sunday in Epiphany B, February 4, 2017
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

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“Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”[Isaiah 40:1]

I don’t understand how people can say that they’re not sure there’s a God. I mean, where have they been all of their lives, living under a rock?! Just look around; are we to believe that all of this just happened by accident? And this is somewhat of a paraphrase of God’s question to unbelieving man through the prophet Isaiah. Listen again: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?”

The truth about God has always been available. But the human mind has been so darkened by sin that it can’t imagine God as He truly is. This morning, Isaiah pictures God as the Creator and Ruler of the world. God sits high above the created world as He stretches out the heavens as easily as someone might pitch a tent. God is not created but uncreated and eternal, without beginning and without end. He is separate and different from the world He created. He is holy, infinite, perfect, and changeless. To God, we are like a swarm of grasshoppers. Because of our sin, we are nothing like God. We are finite, temporal, imperfect, subject to change of every kind, and very mortal. What arrogance for finite creatures to fashion God in an image that they are comfortable with. If we want to know about God, we must humbly put our hands over our mouths and simply listen to what He tells us.

A law enforcement chaplain was invited one evening to give the invocation at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration for a bunch of crusty old cops at a local cop bar. After the invocation, he sat down to share an Irish beer with the boys, and one of the cops shouted so all who could hear, “Hey Chappy! I say that there is no God; so what do you have to say about that?!” The chaplain walked up to him, calmly laid his hand on his shoulder, and said, “Friend, what you just said is nothing new. In fact, the Bible said the same thing over 2,000 years ago.” The cop replied, “I never knew that the Bible made such a statement.” The chaplain replied, “Yep, Psalm 14, verse 1, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” But there’s a big difference between that fool and you. You see, the fool is modest enough to say it in the privacy of his own heart; he wasn’t so foolish as to go screaming it out in a tavern!”

Why is it so hard for people to see the existence of God?

I mean, it’s not like He’s hidden himself so that we wouldn’t know to look for Him! He’s revealed Himself from the beginning. He talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, and after they sinned, He continued to speak to them, and when He did, He promised that a Savior would come and destroy their sin and the devil who introduced it! He spoke to Noah before and after the destructive flood, and promised something similar. He used Moses to speak His holy and perfect Word to the people, so that they would know that not only was God with them, but He was protecting them. God made sure that Moses and all of the other writers of Holy Scripture recorded His Word, and not the sinful imaginings of their own minds. God inspired them, by giving them the words they were to write so that we could know Him and have faith in His love and care for us. The apostle Paul makes this very point when he writes, “We speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the (Holy) Spirit. [1 Cor. 2:13]

All that a person needs to do is look at everything that’s around them, and they can’t help but know that something, or someone had to create it.

Let me share another story with you that will illustrate the foolishness of a creator-less reality. An astrology professor constructed a small but elegant and precise model of the universe. As the students came into the classroom, one by one they commented on how beautiful and intricate it was. One student asked the professor who made it? The professor said, “No one, it just happened.” The students became confused and a little angry when time and time again the professor responded, “No one made this. It just happened, so quit asking.” Finally the professor replied “If you can leave this class and look at nature all around you, and still believe that it just happened, then why can’t you believe that this precise piece of work just happened without a creator?”

And that’s really what people want today; they want a creator-less society. They want all of the good things that creation has to offer, but they don’t want the creator behind them. For these opponents of God, it’s really pointless to try to convince them that there’s a God by using the Bible, because God’s Word is far above them. If they can’t see God in His creation, how do you expect them to see Him in His Word? So the prophet Isaiah starts at that very point. He is essentially saying, “How do you think all of this came to be?” The smarty pants atheists will say along with the popular sit-com, “It all started with the big bang!” Ok, then what created the energy that caused the big bang? At this simple question, all of their collective I.Q.’s stand silent. But we of course know the answer. God did, of course, but God didn’t just make our universe and our world and then leave us to contend for ourselves. He is still here taking care of our world; He’s taking care of you!

Now at this point, you might see an atheist become somewhat enlightened and become an agnostic, and they’ll admit to a creator but not to a Creator who actually cares about every thing that’s happening in creation. They’ll want to create God out of their own sinful imaginings; very often they’ll turn Him into some sort of absentee slum lord, who leaves us to fend for ourselves and maintain creation on our own. And to those who question God’s presence and care (by the way, we call that providence), to those people, God replies in His Word this morning: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Why do we say that God isn’t really active in my life; He’s just kind of left me here alone to grope in the dark and make sense of this messed up world.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” And, this is where God moves us from what we see to what we hear; He moves us from things that are created to His eternal Word.

Now it’s true that God’s Word tells us that everything we are going through is our own fault. It’s our fault because of our sin and other people’s sins. And that same Word teaches us that that’s precisely why we are always witnessing one crisis and tragedy after another. But God’s Word also promises us that we aren’t alone in the tragedies of life, and that one day in the twinkling of an eye, the promised Savior will right all wrongs. So without His Word, when the tragedies come, we will fail to see Him with us and we’ll most likely resort to finding comfort and protection on our own.

An artist asked a friend to come to his studio and see his latest painting. When he arrived, he was taken into a dark room and told to sit and wait. After 15 minutes, the artist finally arrived and brought his friend into the studio. Before the man left, the artist said laughingly, “I suppose you thought I was a little rude and strange by making you wait so long in the dark?” “Yes I did,” replied his friend. “Well,” said the artist, “I knew that if you came right into my studio with the glare of the street in your eyes, you wouldn’t be able to appreciate all of the fine coloring that was used in my painting; so I left you there until the glare had worn out of your eyes.”

Many times, when we are going through hard times, even tragic times, the glare of all of the pain in this sinful world can interfere with us sensing and seeing God’s presence, that is promised to never leave us. It may seem as though He’s not with us, or that He doesn’t care, but in reality, He’s just giving our hearts and minds time to transition from a physical reality to a spiritual one. This was true for every person in the Old Testament that God points out to us as models of faith. God cared for Jacob, He blessed him, and protected him. But in the middle of his tragedy and fears it appeared as though God had left him alone. But God had not left him! God appeared in the middle of his struggle, and then changed his name to Israel. God appeared to Noah and Moses in the middle of their struggles, and then He promised them that a Savior was coming who would make all things new and perfect.

The prophet Isaiah, who God used to write our Old Testament lesson, experienced something very similar. He was hated and despised by all of the important people of Israel, because he spoke a hard prophecy about God’s anger, but interspersed with these prophecies of punishment, God also had him repeat over and over that their Savior was coming and through His suffering and death, God’s Servant would bring His grace and peace to all of creation through the forgiveness of sins.

So do you not know? Have you not heard?

The Savior has come; He alone has made all things right and new between you and God, even if what you see in this sinful world says the opposite! His living Word has declared that you are saved! In His Word, He has revealed to you that He is “the Lord,” Jehovah God, the God of free and faithful grace. He is Emmanuel, the God who is always with you. He was with you in the waters of your baptism, He is with you even now in His Word, and He is with you at His holy table, where He asks you to hear, smell, touch, taste, eat, and drink His presence and His forgiveness of all of your sins.

And yet, even though, by faith we believe that all of this is true, we still want to cry out angrily at God sometimes and say, “But life is too hard and it isn’t fair!” When those feelings arise, and they will, God wants you to see them for what they are, a lack of faith in His presence and the salvation that He’s provided for you through His Son, Jesus Christ. And this is exactly why He wants you to come here every Sunday for Divine Service. It is here, where we gather around His Word and Sacraments that He gives you faith to follow Jesus along the narrow way, the way of the cross.

The way of the cross is a way that will sap all of your physical and emotional strength, just as it did Our Lord. It’s the way that is lined with atheists, doubters, scoffers, and devils. Every one of them will tell you to abandon your faith in Jesus. But remember, you aren’t alone. Jesus walked that same narrow way when He declared that He had come to set the captives free. He walked it from the temple to Golgotha, the hill of the cross, where they crucified Him. And as He walked to the cross, they beat Him, spit upon Him, and ridiculed Him with harsh words: “He helped others, let Him help Himself. If you’re really the Son of God, save us and save yourself.”

Yes, the way of the cross is a hard way; it’s hard because it doesn’t look for glory in this life, but the life to come. The way of the cross is a hard way, because we can become discouraged and want to fall away. And so, to make sure that we don’t become discouraged and walk away, Jesus says “My grace is sufficient for you.”. Hear my Word and be filled with Living Water that will bubble up within you, and take and eat and drink my body and blood, which are real food and drink.

This life of a Christian, your life of faith is called the way of the cross, and it can only be maintained through God’s means of grace. We can only receive His strength if we will look beyond creation, beyond what we can see, hear, and touch, and then see Him by faith walking through our tragedies with us. It is a relationship of experience that comes when we constantly handle the things of God as His assurance that He’s really with us; caring for us and protecting us! In His Word, God answers our prayers of fear and worry with the proclamation that all of our tragedies, the attacks of the devils and sinful people are nothing before Him. Neither life, nor death, nor demons can separate us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus!

You are on the way of the cross, because you are following Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior. He said that in this life you will have troubles, but that does not mean that you are alone in those troubles. He is with you. He tells you that by faith, His grace lifts you up out of the temporary attacks of sin, death, and the devil so that you can soar in His eternal embrace of love and fulfillment. Just as the eagles ride the air currents as they stretch out their wings and soar, God promises you that He will be the wind beneath your wings of faith. Will you stumble and fall? Yes, but Jesus is at your side, lifting you up and dusting you off and saying, “Don’t stop. My strength is enough for you. When you are weak, I am strong.” This is God’s promise for our entire lives; all of our walking, running, and even our falling will end in a soar as we are continually filled with God’s boundless and tireless strength! What wonderful comfort for all of us who remember how great is our God!

May God help us to remember this lesson, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Do You Know Who He Is?

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

4th Sunday in Epiphany B, January 28, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

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“The Lord Your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen”. [Deuteronomy 18:15]

Ask ten different people who Jesus is and you’ll most likely get ten different answers. Some will tell you that He’s their higher power. Some will say that He’s their source of peace. Some will answer, it’s not who He is but who He was as an historical figure that matters. I think one of the funniest answers became popular in the early 90’s on bumper stickers: “Jesus is my co-pilot.” And then several years later, another bumper sticker declared: “If Jesus is your co-pilot, move over.” And from that bumper sticker came the ever popular country song, “Jesus Take the Wheel”.

Do you know who He is… do you know who He really is? He is the one that God raised up, a prophet like Moses from among the Hebrews, and it is to Him we must listen! And what’s His message? Well, it’s a new message with authority and power; a message that’s clear, and concise; a message that drives out demons with a single Word.

Can you imagine being in that synagogue in Capernaum when Jesus taught his simple message of repentance and forgiveness.

While He was declaring that the kingdom of God was at hand it broke out right before them in power! Everyone was astonished at His teaching, because it was new and it had authority. It was new because it declared God’s forgiving love for repentant sinners. And it had authority because it had the power to drive out demons. “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit (a demon). And he cried out, “What have you do to with us, Jesus of Nazareth! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” And what did Jesus do? With authority and power, He commanded the demon to shut up and leave the poor man. And immediately the demon did exactly as Jesus commanded him!

I wonder how many people there that day knew who Jesus really was? They should have known, because what they went out and told others, were the very words that were prophesied long ago. They said that what they heard and witnessed was “a new teaching with authority!” But prophecy can be a tricky thing. As the Chinese wise man once said, “It’s very difficult to prophesy, especially about the future!”

In a sense, prophecy is a little like space travel. We’ve learned a lot about our past and gained insight about the future of our world by going into space and looking down on our earth. We’ve learned about weather patterns, location of past and present oil and other natural resources, and we’ve even learned a lot about how our climate is changing. In a sense, we’ve learned things we never could have until we were given the proper perspective. And in a similar way, prophecy takes us out of the limitations of our current perspective and allows us to take on the big picture. And that’s what God was doing through Moses when He promised that a new prophet was coming, a prophet that would speak a new Word from God!

Why did the people need a new message?

Well, because they just weren’t getting the old one. When God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses, He was speaking something about His own nature. He was speaking in Spirit and in truth. He was teaching them that He alone was holy, perfect, and righteous, and His people must become the same. How? By hearing God’s Word in spirit and in truth. They had to first be honest with God and then themselves; they had to confess that they couldn’t be as God commanded them to be without His divine help. Soon, God’s sinful people realized this very truth. In Exodus 19, they cried out to Moses: “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

And yet God must speak and they must listen, because it’s only through His Word that forgiveness and new life can come to sinful men and women. But why must God’s Word make us afraid of Him? Because our fear forces us to see and deal with our own sin. That is always the primary purpose of God’s law. But our sinful nature tries to twist the purpose of His law to fit our sinful desires.

So at first we might try to ignore our sins, which the law shows us, or maybe down-play them. We might incorrectly see the law as a self-help tool and say, “Finally, some teaching I can sink my teeth into.” But this kind of approach to God’s Word lacks spirit and truth; it stops us from realizing just how perfect God is and how sinful we are! So God’s law like a great spotlight keeps shinning His truth into our sinful lives until we realize that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will always fall short of the demands of His Law. After we fail over and over again to be perfectly good, it’s God’s will that we’ll finally arrive at this frightening conclusion: There is no hope for me unless God is the one who brings it to me.

Now the devils don’t want us to hear this new Word from God, so they work very hard to replace His new Word with a different message, a false gospel. This is where false prophets come in. Led by the devils and their own sinful pride, they teach that a happy life, a life that pleases God is possible if we just keep working at it. These false teachers have an assorted array of “easy steps” that we can follow which will ensure happiness and peace with God and our fellow man if we just keep working the plan. They will gladly share their new message with melodious voices and a big smile on their face. They claim to have all kinds of messages that are sure to give your life meaning and make you feel complete! They have a plan for a healthy marriage, a promising career, obedient children, and just about everything else you could ever want, it’s all yours if you will just follow their “easy steps.” The only problem with that teaching is that it never gets rid of the one obstacle that stands in our way… our own sin and our lack of spirit and truth!

I’m afraid that this teaching of techniques only gives us false hope from an eternal perspective. And these steps prophets are new prophets alright, but they are not the ones that Moses prophesied about long ago. These step prophets are false prophets because they bring false hope that always leads to suffering and eternal death. Why? Because their teachings aren’t centered in repentance and forgiveness of sins, but on the ingenuity of other fallen men and women. And if you aren’t careful, these false prophets will have you traveling with them to a new paradise of their own making, in a foreign land, gathered around cyanide-laced Kool Aid. “Drink of it, all of you,” they say, “and you will find a beautiful death” that is until you wake up in hell!”

So how are we to know the true message of God?

Well how did the people of Capernaum know it when they heard Jesus speaking? They knew it because not only was it different than the law centered message that Moses gave, but it came with power and authority. What power? The power to forgive sins and the promise to make everyone who received it right with God! What was the authority? Well, the type of authority that sets the captives free! Free from what?
Well, Jesus answered that when the demon was cast out. Coupled with the greater promise of forgiveness of sins, they knew, and we can know also that in Jesus, God was giving them not just a new message, but the only prophet who can provide complete victory over sin, death, and the devil!

So, while we must still hear what Moses and the Law of God have to say, we must then let the Spirit of God move us from a message of death to a message of life! It’s this new message alone that will be our only source of hope and power in this life and the life to come! This new message is of course the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the only message that God’s prophets are to speak unto eternal life. It isn’t a message of steps or strategies, but a message of forgiveness and hope. It is the Words of Jesus and His true prophets.

Listen to some of this hope and let it’s message breath new life into you: “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven”” (Luke 10:20) This is a message of certainty that those who hear Jesus Words and believe them are saved from their sins. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Cor. 6:11] And Peter declares this message to Christians scattered throughout the world: “You were like sheep going astray; but you are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [1 Pet. 2:25] Likewise, John speaks this Word of hope and peace to the church: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is.” [1 John 3:2] Nowhere in God’s Word do you find the prophets creating the perception that salvation can be found by following a series of strategies or steps. Instead, the consistent message is that this new prophet that Moses promised would come has come, and He alone makes us right with God through His Work and teaching of forgiveness of sins.

This new teaching, the good news about forgiveness of sins is a simple one. The Kingdom of God is here through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Fully God, yet born of a woman so that we can call Him brother, He was sent by the Father to save you from the evil presence of the devil; He was born to die upon the cross for you. He was born to suffer at the hands of sinful men so that by His stripes, His suffering and death you might be free forever from your fears concerning your own death and the sin that separates you from the love of God; so it’s stripes, not steps that bring you an eternal and abundant life!

What is the abundant and eternal life?

It is freedom from not just your sins and physical death, but also the devil! Jesus has come to set the captives free! By a Word of command He silenced the devil that day in Capernaum, and with that same power, He proclaims that in your baptism, your old sinful nature along with the Devil has been destroyed. Through your baptism, He casts out all things demonic and pronounces you clean.

This morning I proclaim to you that there is one stronger than the devil and your own sinful flesh that is with you this very moment. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living and faithful God, and where He is eternally, you shall one day join Him, because He has washed you clean; forgiven all of your sins. He has given you freedom from your old sinful nature, victory over the devils, and peace and joy with your Heavenly Father. That is who Jesus really is.

The demon in our gospel reading knew who Jesus was and he identified Him immediately as the Holy One of God. The people who saw and heard everything that day stood in amazement. They knew that they had heard and seen things that were new and powerful; they knew they had witnessed the authority and power of God in action.

It is my prayer that you will know these things also, and that you will, like the people in that Capernaum synagogue, leave here and at once spread the good news about who Jesus Christ really is, and what that means for the people in our community. I pray that you will tell them about a holy and perfect God who cannot tolerate sin, but made a way out of it, so that they could be free of not just sin, but also shame, addictions, and death. I pray that you will be enabled by God to declare to your neighbors that Jesus is the only way to God’s forgiving love. Tell them, and then invite them to come to church with you and see for themselves. I ask this in Jesus name, AMEN!

Sunday, January 21st, 2018
3rd Sunday in Epiphany B, January 21, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Mark 11:4-20

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“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” [Mark 1:15]

What does a traveling preacher with a divine call and one of the most sinful cities known to man have in common? Both were separated from God because of their sins, and both heard God’s invitation to turn to Him for forgiveness and faith, and they did; both are examples of repentance!

Many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah.

God ordered him to go to one of Israel’s arch enemies and announce the need to repent or be destroyed. Jonah threw a fit; he didn’t want them to repent, he wanted them to be destroyed, so he booked passage on the nearest freight ship intending to get as far away from Nineveh as possible. Why? Because he knew the LORD “is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” In other words, he knew that if his enemy repented God would even love and forgive them! Isn’t that something? At the expense of his own salvation, Jonah refused to play a part in bringing salvation to an entire city.

Well, eventually Jonah did repent, but it took the help of an angry boat crew who threw him overboard and the God directed presence of a big fish or whale, that swallowed him and safely spit him up at the shores of the very place he was trying to run from… Nineveh! Through God’s work in the circumstances of Jonah’s life, Jonah was put back on course for Nineveh and salvation; he returned to the call and will of God.

Now if you think that was miraculous, what about the entire city of Nineveh repenting? That’s huge! Christians throughout our nation have been praying for that to happen right here in the good old US of A, and well, it hasn’t happened yet! Abortion is still legal, even though God say’s it is an evil abomination. So if we as a nation haven’t repented yet, then what happened to save Nineveh? Well, it was the very same thing that caused Jonah to repent; the Word and work of God.

The people of Nineveh heard the Word of God, both the law and the gospel. The law was the Word of truth that the Living God was angry with their sin and about to destroy their entire city. The gospel was the truth that this same living God was giving them 40 days to repent, to turn and confess their sinfulness and receive mercy and forgiveness. Through both the law and the gospel, God created faith in a city full of faithless hearts. In the darkness of sin, He created a city of light! Could that happen in this country? Could we ever repent of the sin of abortion? Yes, but only through the work of God causing us to repent and turn to His forgiving love!

So what is repentance?

Really it’s a person’s pain over their sins and a turning of faith to a God who will show mercy and forgiveness. It’s realizing that everything that you’ve done apart from God and faith in Him, is nothing but evil and darkness. Everything?! Yes, everything! God’s Word confirms it, listen: “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one!” [Romans 3:10—12]

Do you understand what that means? It means that no matter how hard you try to change your life, to become a better person, you will never succeed in pleasing God! Why? Because God can see into your heart; he knows that whatever you do or try to do will be self-serving; that is you will only be trying to save your own skin! Just as it didn’t matter if the whole city of Nineveh voted and decided to take care of the poor with their vast amount of wealth, God was still going to destroy not just the city but everyone who lived in it! Even if they decided to never make war again, and even if they freed every one of the slaves from every country they ever conquered, God was going to destroy them, unless… unless they confessed that they deserved His punishment and acknowledged that the true and Living God was the only one who could save them.

But this work of repentance, this one work that was pleasing to God was impossible for them to do, unless… unless God desired it to happen. And here is the miracle, God did desire that very thing, so he created faith in the hearts of all of those sinful people through the preaching of Jonah; He created faith so they could see the truth about their sins and turn to the LORD who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. When they turned to God’s forgiving heart He relented from bringing down punishment for their many sins.

Now, there are some here this morning who are in the very same predicament as the people of Nineveh.

You’ve been living a lie; you’ve been telling yourself that if you try real hard to live a good life, God will see that and help you to be better. But like I said, that’s a lie. You have to see, like the people of Nineveh had to see that you can’t do better; you can never get rid of all of the evil that is in your heart. You can’t erase all of the sins you’ve committed and you can’t prevent the sins you’re going to commit. So what are you going to do? Nothing but the only good work that God counts as righteous; you must by faith turn to God and confess that He is right and you are wrong. You must call out to God for mercy and pardon and do what He tells you!

And that friends is the obstacle you can never overcome unless God wills it; unless He creates faith within your heart to see this narrow doorway into His kingdom of forgiveness and peace. It’s like the little boy who got His hand stuck in His mother’s expensive vase. His parents tried everything to free him; they tried soap, cooking oil, lard, even engine grease, but nothing worked. Reluctantly, the father went to the garage to get a hammer to break this expensive vase. It was then, when the boy asked one simple question that changed everything: “Dad, would it help if I let go of the quarter I dropped into the vase?”

And that is what some of you need to do this morning. You need to let go of your own efforts to please God and do the one and only thing that will please God… you must trust Him. You need to hear Him speaking to you this morning and let go of the ways of this sinful world and turn to His forgiving heart and be freed, changed, forgiven, and loved! You need to agree with God that you can’t change yourself, and that your only hope is for you to allow Him to change you!

In our gospel lesson this morning, God’s only means of salvation is made to stand right in front of us and speak the only Word’s that will make us right with God!

“The time is fulfilled” Jesus said, “and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” What time is he speaking of? The time when God will bring both judgment and salvation. The time that everyone, including the evil city of Nineveh was waiting for… the time of God’s final work; God’s solution to sin. It is the time to repent and believe. Believe in what? Well, the better question is: Believe in Who? You see the what and the who are the very same thing. Believe in the good news of God’s forgiving love; believe in the Living Word of God Who is telling you that through Him alone, God will forgive you and save you from your many sins! Believe in Jesus Christ!

As Jesus spoke to the people in Galilee, He not only proclaimed God’s forgiveness, He demonstrated it. Standing before them was God in human flesh; their only means of forgiveness and salvation. What must they do to be saved? The very same thing we must do; hear the Words of eternal life and receive them. Repent and believe. Even now, God is working within our hearts to provide faith, faith to receive this message and live. Jesus is inviting you to let go of your past and to receive your future.

Listen to this poem by Theodore Brennan and see if it doesn’t describe your life and your heart as well: “I looked upon a farm one day, that once I use to own; The barn had fallen to the ground, the fields were overgrown. The house in which my children grew, where we had lived for years—I turned to see it broken down, and brushed aside the tears. I looked upon my soul that day to find it too had grown, with thorns and nettles everywhere, the seed(s) neglect had sown. The years had passed while I had cared for things of lesser worth; the things of Heaven I let go while minding things of earth. To Christ I turned with bitter tears, and cried, “O Lord forgive! I haven’t much time left for Thee, not many years to live. The wasted years forever gone, the days I can’t recall; if I could live those days again, I’d make Him Lord of all!”

Friends, if that is how you feel, then God is working a mighty work in your heart right now. That pain you feel over your wasted life, your sinful life is called contrition. Now the only thing left for you to do is hear God’s gospel Word and receive His forgiveness. You are forgiven! Leave those feelings of regret behind and turn to Jesus Christ and live. You see, it’s not about what you feel, or even how you felt in the past, instead it’s about what God says to you now… you are forgiven through Jesus Christ!

You know, we’re all a lot like Jonah when you think about it. We have been forgiven and loved by God. We’ve been washed clean in the waters of our baptism, and yet we can get caught up in our own anger and disappointments to the point where we can no longer see Jesus upon the cross crucified for us. We can sometimes get to a place where we no longer see the miraculous life giving work God did for us in our baptism.

And now, here is Jesus standing before us in His Word, saying to even we life-long Christians, “Repent and believe.” Put to death that old angry and sinful nature that was drowned in your baptism and turn to God’s forgiving love; a love which can only be yours by turning to Jesus. That was the only work that the people of Nineveh could do that pleased God and it is the only work that we as Christians can do.

When you let go of how you feel, and grab onto Jesus and His Word and believe that He alone is your source of hope and salvation, something amazing begins to happen… you begin to change. The good things that you use to wish you could do but failed become the very things you can do. And as you do these good things, God begins to give you right feelings to replace your old feelings of guilt, anger, and disappointment. He gives you a feeling of peace and satisfaction, as you realize that it isn’t you doing these good things, but God doing them in you and through you! That’s the message that saved all of Nineveh from their sins, it’s the message that’s saving you, and it’s the message that can save even our great nation from the sins of abortion and many others. All it takes is turning to God in repentance and receiving His forgiving love as we forget the sins of the past and embrace God’s will.

So you see, it really isn’t about what you feel, but it’s about what you know. And what is it that you know? In God there is forgiveness; there is new life when you receive Jesus’ work upon the cross, His suffering, death, and resurrection, as your only source of hope and peace in this life and the life to come. I pray that you will hear Jesus message of repentance and not just believe it but share it with your neighbors. I pray that you will let this forgiveness of God cause you to be salt and light, as you continue to speak the things of God even to your elected officials, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!