Posts Tagged ‘Faithfulness of God’

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

Pentecost 6B
July 1, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” [Lamentations 3:25]

Waiting is always difficult.  We always want to find a way to eliminate it, or at least speed it up.  This is especially true when we’re waiting on God to act, speak, or intervene.  May I be so bold as to say that “we” all can become impatient with God?  Could it be true, that in the middle of our waiting we may even feel like God has abandoned us, and forced us to fend for ourselves?

The Apostle Paul knew that temptation to grumble about God’s perceived tardiness, which is why he wrote these Words to encourage the church in Corinth: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9).

People in general hate to wait, but in their waiting, God’s children find His love.

This was also God’s Word to His people of faith that were conquered and uprooted from their homeland.  They were stripped of every material possession they had.  They lost their homes, possessions, and for some even their families.  To these poor souls, it seemed that they couldn’t fall any lower.  They had nothing left but ruin.  The whole world had written them off.  But the unbelieving world did not know that they had one last and best resource left, and in truth it was their first and only true resource… they had the LORD!

Because of God’s great love for His children of faith, because of His great faithfulness, God’s people would survive; God would protect them and restore them.  His love for His children of faith always wins out.  Even when His children lose faith while they’re waiting, God is faithful and His love never fails!

God can’t help Himself; He always helps His children who He has loved with an everlasting love.  It was His love that moved His compassion to help his children back then, and it is His love that moves His compassion to help us and His church today.  And when we remember God’s love for us, our faith and resolve as individuals and as a congregation are strengthened.  

It is this remembering of His love and faithfulness that moves us to seek out Jesus and rest in His Word and promises.  

In or gospel reading both Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood would have quickly testified that they too felt hard pressed, crushed, and perplexed!  

They must have both been wondering, “Why is this happening to me?”  Why is God allowing my little daughter to die so young?  Why has God allowed me to have this bleeding disease for so long and even blinded the eyes of the doctors so that they can’t cure me?

Jairus must have felt that all of his waiting for his daughter to be healed was for nothing.  Maybe he even felt betrayed by God.  After all he was the faithful leader of God’s people who gathered at the synagogue to hear God’s Word.  Jairus loved God’s children of faith with the love that the Father gave him to love with, so why wasn’t God responding with help for his daughter?

The woman with the issue of blood also must have felt abandoned in her long wait for God’s cure.  Can you imagine, she waited twelve long years and went to doctor after doctor and no comfort or help was found in any of them?  She was now most likely at the point of poverty, and still no cure or even a Word of promise and hope from God! 

Maybe you know exactly how they were feeling.  Maybe you are going through that waiting period right now?  I know that we are as a congregation; we’ve been waiting for so many years for God to send help to we His children of faith who gather here at Trinity Lutheran Church in San Diego.  Like the leader Jairus, we too have been faithful in our ministry of God’s Word and Sacraments.  We have been around since 1894, faithfully dispensing God’s law and gospel, baptizing and feeding His saints.  Why we can even look back into the history of our congregation and see that at one time we were even directly responsible for planting several church’s here in San Diego.  We’ve been intentional in making our congregation multi-cultural and inclusive.  And here we sit; the pews seem empty, our finances are nearly exhausted, and our hope for a future sometimes seems lost.  It seems we’ve tried everything reasonable that should bring growth, but still we struggle.  What more can we do?

Well I’ll tell you what more we can do, both for our own lives and for the life of this congregation; we can find Jesus and go directly to Him!

Finding Jesus was  what both Jairus and the woman did in our gospel lesson.  

Jairus, a man of prestige, a leader of God’s people threw himself down in the dirt at Jesus feet, and simply worshiped Him and called out for help.  “Kyrie!  Lord have mercy!”  The woman with the issue of blood didn’t think she was even worthy of speaking to Jesus.  She felt that her bleeding made her an unclean sinner who shouldn’t even be out in public, yet she went out didn’t she?  She went out and found Jesus, and using the crowd of people to hide in, she got down on her hands and knees and simply reached out with her hand of faith to just touch the corner of Jesus garment.

And what was Jesus response to both of them.  “Do not fear, only believe. Your faith has made you well, made you whole.”  So what can we learn from all of this?  First, Jesus sees and knows all that is happening to you and to our congregation.  He hasn’t turned a blind eye to you or our problems.  Just as he knew how Jairus felt when they told him that his daughter was dead, He knows how we are feeling.  He knows our fears and our feelings of abandonment.  And so Jesus speaks the gospel, words of faith to Jairus and to us.  “Don’t be afraid.  Keep on believing.” 

And to the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus called her out of hiding and insisted that she reveal herself in public.  When He did this, He was also revealing Himself to her; Jesus said,  “Your faith has made you well.  You are no longer a despised unclean sinner.  You are forgiven.  Your faith in me is what has saved you.  You reached out that empty hand of faith and I filled it with even more gifts.  

This morning Jesus is telling us to keep on believing and reaching out and I will keep on filling you!

This was Paul’s message to the church in Corinth as well.  

They too, like Trinity were struggling within their poverty.  Their offerings had all but dried up so that to some it may have appeared that the work of God through the proclaimed Word of God might be dying along with their unpaid bills and salaries.  But Paul wanted to remind them that their true debt was a spiritual one, and that debt had been paid in full by their Savior, the Son of God Jesus Christ.

Paul then directed their minds to a sister congregation in Macedonia.  They too had been stripped of most of their material wealth.  They too saw the tithes and offerings fall to almost useless proportions.  But still they gave.  They gave and gave to the point that Paul thought that it may be unhealthy for them to give anymore, so he asked them to stop.  But they begged Paul to let them keep giving.  Why?  Because they saw the truth in their giving; they were giving out of grace.  They were giving because it was the love of the Father, the gift of grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit that was working in them to give.  They knew by faith that they could not out give God, so in essence they were afraid that if they quit giving God would no longer shower them with blessings.  What blessings?  Well I’m sure they were reaping all kinds of physical blessings; how else could they keep on giving?  But the true blessing to them was first the blessing of being forgiven and then the blessing of being part of the believing body of Jesus Christ; the blessings of being Christ’s church, with Jesus as both their head and heart.  And so they gave out of their poverty so that others could be helped and the preaching of the gospel maintained.

And that dear friends was Paul’s solution to the Corinthians lack of charity.  It wasn’t a command to give more or to even give at all; Paul didn’t say give until it hurts so that God will love you more and bless you.  No, Paul simply showed the Corinthians what happens when one heart and many hearts remember and celebrate the faithfulness of God as demonstrated by the coming and giving of His Son.  

Turn your eyes to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.  Remember His suffering and death for you.  Please say it in your heart now, “Jesus gave His life for me, for me, for me.” … let those words echo in your ears.  He became poor so that you could become rich.  He became weak so that you could become strong; strong in faith and strong in service.

How do we celebrate God’s faithfulness?  By turning our eyes of faith to Jesus.  We celebrate by opening our hands and hearts like Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood.  We wait on the LORD quietly to give and take as He sees fit.  We remember that God cannot fill a closed fist, but He can fill hands that are open and lifted high in prayer, giving freely and waiting to receive the abundant blessings from above.

As I walk now to the altar of God to lead us in prayer, please bow your heads open your hands and heart and pray with me…

 

Jesus Comes to Us!

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 5C, June 23rd, 2013

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I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.  I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name. [Isaiah 65:1]


This, my friends is good news; it is good news because God is telling us that even when we weren’t looking for Him, He came to look for us!
While you were in a state of confusion, not even knowing that you  were lost in your sins, God knew and He came to you… to save you!

God comes to those who are helpless and alone. In our Gospel reading (8:26–39), Jesus shows us the extremes He is ready to go to in order to seek us out and bring us into His loving care. Think of this for  a moment… Jesus goes by boat across a lake, into unclean gentile territory, a place that Jews avoided at all times, immediately heads into a cluster of tombs, a territory that was unclean to the Jews because of the  dead, in the middle of a herd of pigs, an animal that was also unclean and to be avoided by God fearing Jews, just to finds a gentile sinner possessed by a legion of devils. How many are in a legion? At least a  thousand!

As Jesus approached this man the demons screeched out at Jesus in fear; they knew who He was. The devils spoke, but the man was silent. But while this man was silent he was aware. Do you think that he was  happy to see Jesus and to experience the truth that all of these demons that were possessing him were now terrified of this God-man who had come to him? I can’t help but wonder how long this man was silently  calling out to God for help and rescue. And now, there in front of him was his champion; not just a man, but the demons called Him the Son of the most High God!

Did you notice that Jesus did not speak a Word to the possessed man? He did not confront Him with his many sins, sins that probably opened the door for the demons to move in. No, I am sure that man had  been confessing those sins silently to God for some time, as he called out for help in prayer. Instead of lecturing the man, Jesus brought him immediate relief; he cast out the demons and freed the man from the  bondage of not just the devils, but even his own sin.

And this is precisely how Jesus comes to us. He comes to us just as we are! Jesus came to you just as you were and He saved you from your bondage; He saved you from your sins. In your baptism Jesus cast out  the devil and put a hedge of protection around you. And what is that barrier, that great wall that protects you from the devils? It is the indwelling of God’s own Spirit. Instead of being possessed by devils, the Spirit of Christ dwells richly within you. By faith, you are now a child of God.

Now if I stopped here, this would be a wonderful message of hope. And there are some here that may be “hoping” that I stop here, as they look at their watches and run through their minds the many things they have to do today. Or maybe, some of you were just beginning to nod off in your weekly ritual of catnapping during the sermon, only to be seemingly robbed of that opportunity by what appears to be a short sermon.

As I said, if I ended the message now, the gospel would have been declared, but some of you, perhaps all of us would be harmed if we did not hear about the dangers of living a life trusting in Jesus; waiting for Him to come to us again, and again!

The danger of living this life as one found by Jesus is this: We find it so easy to forget that being lost and separated from God, was not a one time thing, but in fact, it is our natural condition! And, we will easily find ourselves lost again if we waiver from God’s means of grace in even the smallest fashion.

Let me take you back to our Old Testament lesson and ask you to consider the rest of the verses (Isaiah 65:1-9). In the first verse, God is talking to the gentiles, people like you and me who are not Jews; people who did not have the law of God to direct their everyday lives. But in verses 2 through 9, God is talking to His own people, the Jews. He is talking to His peculiar people who were suppose to be relating to Him by faith; trusting that everything that He asks them to do is for their own good, but also for the good of the gentiles, who were to learn of Him through His special set apart people.

They were to be separated from the gentiles in how they lived and how they behaved. Their worship practices, their diets, and their clothing were different for God’s purpose. Their life styles were different so that through their lives God would draw the gentiles, people who did not know Him, to Himself so they would know Him. But that didn’t happen. Instead, these peculiar people of faith had become no different than the gentile people around them. They were abandoning the life style God had called and equipped them to live, and by abandoning their calling they were also abandoning the God who had called them. Their calling was to be salt and light in a gentile nation that was dark in sin and separated from the God who created them. They abandoned that calling and therefor could no longer be used as God’s special people; His tool to reach those lost in sin with His Word of mercy, so that they to could be saved from their sin.

And what was God’s solution? Well let’s turn to our Epistle reading (Galatians 3:23–4:7) and find out! “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we (gentiles) might receive adoption as sons.” [Galatians 4:4b]

Once again, Jesus our Savior comes to us! There was no reason that He should seek us out, other than because He Who made us also loves us. Through the life and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we too have become sons of the most High God!

And now, released from the bondage of sin, cleansed of the devils that control this very world, we are called to be God’s light in darkness. And how will you do this? Will you trust in your own resourcefulness; live a life of discipline and rules that promises meaning and success? If so, what benchmarks have you set up to measure your success? Is it what kind of employment you have or the amount of money you make and save? Is it the kind of people your children become and how successful they are? If those are the things that motivate you and guide you, I am afraid you have become no better off than the foolish people that God was chastising in our Old Testament lesson. You are trusting in everything that God has called you out of. And to you, God speaks this word of warning: “I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into (your) lap both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together, says the

Now, I trust God’s Word has your attention; I trust that He has shaken you out of your slumber of complacency? So what shall we do to please our God? What shall we do in order to be reassured once again that God is pleased with us?

You must go back to the beginning. You must return to that day when God intervened to save you; the day that Jesus came to you just as you were and freed you from the grip of sin, death, and the many devils that surrounded and even possessed you. You must go back to your baptism; the place where the fruit of the cross was wrapped around you as Christ’s own robe of righteousness. In your baptism, God released you from the elementary principles of this world and in its place, He has surrounded you with grace and mercy; He gave you His forgiving love simply because Jesus died for you! What shall you do to stay there? Grab onto Jesus Christ; in Jesus, turn to God’s mercy that comes through the cross and remember that through your baptism, all of God’s love is yours!

Like the demon-possessed man in our gospel reading, we must stay at the feet of Jesus; which is the church. We must stay at the foot of the cross, which is always where God’s Word takes us. We must stay centered in our baptism, the font of God’s grace, where we are daily given complete forgiveness for all of our sins. But then we must also hear and understand what Jesus means when He says we can not stay here in this place; we must return to our homes and back into our communities and “declare how much God has done for us.”

How do we declare this good news? We declare it by living it out. We do the very thing that God has always asked His people to do; live a life that reflects His presence within us and among us. God’s presence is with you by grace; in the forgiveness of sins. So go out and live that life. Let people see that as a Christian you are by nature, no different than them. You too sin; you sin daily. You too struggle with disappointments and fears. The only thing different; the only thing new, is now you know where to take these things; you know who it is that not only came to you long ago in your baptism, but Who comes to you every day, every hour, every minute, and every second. Jesus, we are yours, save us! AMEN

When It’s OK to Remember

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Lent 1C, February 17, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Here are two words that don’t seem to go together: “Happy Lent!”  Sounds a little strange don’t you think?  The reason it  sounds strange is because when most people think of the Lenten season, they think of repentance, and so we should.    And when we think of repentance, we might think of sack cloth and ashes, contrition and angst, struggle and sacrifice.    Now, while all of that is there in the season of Lent, there is also a very big element of Lent that should make us happy,  or at least give us a feeling of security and peace.  And do you know what that portion of Lent is?  It is Jesus Christ, and  all that He has done for us.

During the season of Lent, we remember; we remember our sins yes, but we also remember what Christ did to take those  sins away.  During this Lenten season we started off with Ash Wednesday and we heard those familiar words, “From  dust you came and to dust you shall return.”  We need to hear those words and we need to receive that ashen cross to  remind us that our salvation is not about what we have or haven’t done, but instead it rests solely on what Christ has  done for us!

The season of Lent is 40 days long, because Jesus journey of temptation in the wilderness was also 40 days.  So during  this Lenten season, we are walking with Jesus; suffering with Jesus, and at the end of that season during holy week, we  will dine with Jesus and die with Jesus.  But throughout it all, we will remember that IN THE FACE OF TEMPTATION,  CHRIST KEPT GOD’S LAW PERFECTLY FOR OUR SALVATION.

“Jesus . . . was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil” (vv 1–2).  In our Gospel reading this morning (Luke 4:1–13), we are only allowed to see the last three temptations of Jesus, but scripture tells us that He was attacked by the devil the entire 40 days.  And throughout it all, He remained strong and resolute; resolved to complete the mission that His Father had set before Him.

In the first temptation that we are shown, Jesus was invited to use his divine power for his own comfort.  It was the end of a 40 day fast, and He was tired and very hungry.  Now, isn’t it true that if we miss even one meal, we can become not just hungry, but irritable and weak?  Now, imagine missing food for a whole day, and then keep on imagining going without food for a week.  Now, multiply that by 6 and you will begin to understand why Jesus was more vulnerable to temptation on that last day than any other day, and He did not falter.

Now if you have ever tried to fast, you know that even without the devils attacks, your own flesh fights against you.  But not just during fasts, how about just going on a diet or giving up a habit or addiction?  I think that if you are honest with yourself, you have a lot more defeats to your credit than victories.  So many times, instead of fighting the good fight to gain a victory over sin, we just give in!

But not Jesus; Jesus trampled the devil’s temptation, and how did He do it?  With Scripture!  He spoke a Word of truth to the devil and the devil relented.  “Man should not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God!”  But Jesus was the mouth of God, so what harm would there have been if He would have turned just one of those stones into a loaf of bread and ended His fast there?  I will tell you what harm it would have caused; it would have disqualified Him from dying as a true man; a man that knew heartache and pain; hunger and fatigue.  If He could not face the agony of hunger, how would He have been qualified to face the agony of His passion and death upon the cross?  So Jesus did not give in because He could not; you see, your salvation hung in the balance!

Jesus was also tempted by the lure of worldly power and accepting a lie out of convenience so that good might come.  When the devil showed Jesus all of the kingdoms of the earth that ever were and ever would be in a moment, he then made a statement and a promise: “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  Now, while it was true that Satan was the ruler of all of these earthly kingdoms, it was a lie that they were given to him.  All things belong to our Creator God, even you and your own enemies and tempters.  Satan was not given a thing, but rather he usurped this world through the very first sin of Adam and Eve, when we are told all of creation fell in bondage to that sin!

And yet, Jesus came as our Savior; to take away from Satan that which belongs to God and then give them back to His stewards, man and woman, you and me.  So if Jesus would simply accept the small lie of the devil that they are His, the devil would have given them to Him, with no fuss or muss.  No suffering and death upon the cross.  Then in the devils estimate, all would have been well; mission accomplished right?!  Wrong!  Jesus silenced the devil’s lie one more time with the living Word of God: “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’ ”

Oh that we could be more like Jesus.  How many times has the lying serpent tempted us to sin by asking us to go along with a small diversion from God’s Word?  Peer pressure, worldly wisdom, and personal comfort have led so many to go along to get along.  “It isn’t really a person until it is born, so abortion isn’t all that bad.  And I know that God’s Word says that marriage is between a man and a woman, but if they’re happy, what’s the problem?  And yes, I know that scripture says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, but what gives us the right to believe and state that all other religions are wrong, and we alone are right?”  Oh how often we give in!

And finally, Jesus was tempted to impose his will against his Father’s will by a distortion of Scripture.  He could have immediately sent the devil away, and proved to the world that He really was the Son of God, if He would have jumped off of that pinnacle and simply hovered there a while.  What a sight that would have been.  Again, the devil wanted Jesus to see that this would have been an easier way to draw all men unto Himself, without the cross; without His passion.

But Jesus knew the devil; He knew the nature of His lies.  They were based on deception and not truth.  Sure He looks like a roaring lion, especially in the way He tempts us to sin, but Jesus knew that the devils’ time was very limited.  He knew that the Father’s mission through the cross would rip not just the teeth out of that evil lion’s mouth but every single claw!  In essence, the devil’s roar was much worse than His bite.  And how did Jesus trample the lion?  By revealing his distortion of scripture, with the truth of scripture.

The devil quoted this Word of scripture to Jesus, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, in all your ways.” [Matthew 4:6] Well, what is wrong with that; isn’t that scripture?  Yes, but it is scripture out of context.  Perhaps the best way to see the devil’s lie is to put ourselves in Jesus position and think through the devils temptation.  We might reply like this: “If the angels will guard Me in all My ways, why don’t you show Me one of these ways, like the times men will try to stone me or bear false witness against me; then we can see how they will guard Me? But you show Me a place of your choosing that my Father hasn’t chosen; a place where there is no way out for Me. So, since it is written that they will guard Me in all My ways, you are quoting this passage in an evil way in order to make God agree with your sin. So, from this passage you have no grounds to claim God’s angels will guard me, because your way is sin and evil, the very things God can not look upon.  So the promise of God stands in regards to following His will and ways, but never in order to follow your ways.  Since you like to quote the Word of God so much, hear this Word: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.””

During this season of Lent there is one lesson we must always remember and never forget: Even though we may fail in our own temptations, Jesus, by keeping God’s Law, has overcome every temptation on our behalf.  When we are weak He and His work upon the cross are forever strong and effective.

When we become frustrated because we seem to fall into temptation over and over again; when we begin to become lost in a feeling of defeat because of our sin, we must not give into the lie of the devil and think that God has abandoned us.  When we find ourselves not doing the good we want but the evil we do not want instead, we must not think that we have sinned beyond God’s ability to save.  We must remember who it is that saves us from this body of death… it is Jesus alone, who defeated not just Satan and all of the devils, but even our own sin and the penalty of that sin… death!

Jesus alone has gone in our place under God’s Law and fought real temptation for us; on our behalf.  He is our substitute, not just in his suffering and dying, but also in his perfect obedience to the will of His and our Heavenly Father.  We are saved in no other way but by the blood of Jesus, who is and always shall be innocent of all sin.  Because of Jesus obedience to His Father’s will, and because of His victory over sin upon the cross, God forgives us of all of our sins and He gladly credits Christ’s righteousness towards us.

So, when we are attacked and accused by the devil, the world, and our own conscience, we are called to simply turn to the Father’s forgiving heart, which is ours through Christ alone, who saved us by His perfect obedience, suffering, and death.  And when the devil tempts us to sin, we simply call out to God, trust in Christ and his Word of truth and fight the good fight of faith.  When the Law accuses us of sin, we trust in Christ and his perfect obedience, which alone perfectly fulfills the demands of that Law.  And finally, when death demands our life, we simply trust in Christ and proceed into our Father’s Kingdom with peace and assurance that “He who began the good work in us will complete it in the day of Jesus Christ,” the day when Christ shall restore our fallen creation and make all things new and good.

There is a time to remember.  It is ok to remember your sins if it leads you to sorrow and the desire to fight the next set of temptations the devil and your own sinful flesh will throw at you.  But it is even more important to remember that our Savior also knows what it is to be tempted. We must always remember that He willingly faced temptation by our enemy, the prowling lion, and he did it for our salvation. He won the battle, and his victory belongs to all who trust in him, even to you.  I pray that you will remember this truth, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Are You Someone Else’s Thorn?

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Sixth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 8, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Self-Pride can be a dangerous thing.  It’s an unhealthy focus on the self instead of on God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ.  It’s like a  man’s beard.  It just keeps growing and growing.  The solution of course is to shave it every day!

When we don’t keep our pride in check, we can become a thorn, a stumbling block to others.  Now, if it was just about you, I might be  tempted to leave you alone with the caution I just gave, but it is not just about you; you see you are a Christian, and others, especially  non-Christians are watching you and evaluating your faith and Christianity by your conduct.  So, to be a thorn to others because of  your pride can be a serious thing.  It can actually drive people away from Jesus instead of attracting them to Him.

But there is also a way, the way God works, that you can be a positive thorn in people’s lives.  What do I mean by that?  Glad you asked!    When people see you resting in conflict, disease, hurt, and disappointment; when they see you trusting in God no matter what’s going  on around you, they can get uncomfortable, because they know if they were in your place, they would be falling apart.  They’re  uncomfortable, because you trust in what appears to them to be an unseen, unknowable, and untrue God.  In essence your faith is a threat to their lack of faith.  So they are continually confronted with two choices: Investigate God’s way, a way that changes and empowers, or reject God’s way and follow their own prideful way!

A Christian grandfather, a Boy Scout, and a college professor were the only passengers on a small plane. The pilot came back to the cabin and said that the plane was going down but there were only three parachutes and four people. The pilot added, “I should have one of the parachutes because I have a wife and three small children.” So he took one and jumped.  The college professor said, “I should have one of the parachutes because I am the smartest man in the world and everyone needs me.” So he took one and jumped.  The Christian grandfather turned to the Boy Scout and with a sad smile and said, “Young man, I have lived a rich life, so you take the remaining parachute, and I’ll go down with the plane.”  The Boy Scout said, “Relax, old man, we both get a parachute.  You see, the smartest man in the world just picked up my knapsack and jumped out!”

So ends the life of all who trust in their own “smarts” to survive.  One thing they never think about is the truth that no matter how they struggle and strive, they will never get out of this world alive!  They will have to stand before a righteous and holy God who will judge them guilty of pride and a host of other sins!

In our Epistle reading this morning (2 Corinthians 12:110), Paul knew this was true, but most importantly Jesus knew it was true.  That is why He allowed Paul to struggle with his thorn in the flesh.  He knew that Paul would need that challenge, whatever it was to keep him dependent on God’s grace; to keep him always turning to Jesus, crucified and risen above as his only hope of “getting out of this world alive!”

Did Paul have reason to be prideful?  Yes!  He was given knowledge that not many have ever been given this side of heaven.  He was able to actually go to heaven without dying and come back!  Oh the things he must have seen.  He surely did not want to return to this world of sin; but Jesus had plans for Paul.  He has plans for each of you here this morning; if He didn’t you wouldn’t still be here; you would be in heaven right now!

Paul knew that God’s will must be done, so He was resolved to wait on God’s call to come home.  He was resolved to serve God with all of his strength by teaching and living out the hope of the gospel.  But Paul had one huge challenge to this mission from God; he was living with a heavenly heart in a sinful body.  You see, Jesus knew that if Paul was not daily humbled with the reminder that on his own he was a wretched and sinful man bound for judgment, he would forget that it is only by God’s grace that he would one day return to paradise to be with His Jesus!  Jesus knew this and eventually so did Paul.

Three times Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away his thorn.  And on the third petition, Jesus’ answer was all that Paul needed to hear.  “Paul, my grace is enough for you.  By my love and only my love will you return to paradise, so simply rest in it; trust in it!

Many people have argued throughout the years as to just what Paul’s thorn was.  The truth is, no one knows.  And I think that’s good, because it allows us to concentrate on our own thorns.  We all have at least one; some have many.  Some are thorns of our own making; some are caused by others’ sinfulness, and still others have a thorn with the same source as Paul’s… it comes from the evil mind of the devil.  Here are some examples of mental thorns: Constant thoughts of lust, anger, blasphemy, and all kinds of mental illness.  Thorns that may exist outside of us, are things like unfair personal attacks, gossip, lack of employment or underemployment, unstable marriages, or disrespectful children.  And then there are the physical thorns that exist within us.  Assign to this class all kinds of illness, disease, and physical defects.

All of these things are a result of sin; our sin or the world’s sin.  They may or may not be sent directly from the devils, but they all have come to us because God has allowed them.  But why?  Why does God allow them?  So that we will discover the truth that there is strength in weakness.  So that we will experience the truth that Paul discovered: When we are weak Jesus’ grace, His power and love are strong within us!  They are sufficient to carry us through any challenge!

So what does this mean for us this morning?  What is God asking us to learn?  Simply this, He is asking us to trust His Son, Jesus Christ.  He is asking you to see things the way He says they are and not the way the world sees them.

In our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 6:113) we see Jesus rejected by His own people; His own relatives refused to see the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught it and presented it.  In Jesus, they saw simply human flesh and weakness; the illegitimate son of Mary who was the step-son of a carpenter… a common laborer!  No matter how many miracles Jesus had performed, not matter how true and clear His teaching about the Kingdom of God were, they could not get past His weakness.  He was not the model leader that the world always expects and demands.  He was not wealthy or highly educated.  He was not political or even connected to influential people.

They refused to believe that Jesus was both the son of Mary and the Son of God!  But Jesus is God, and pride-filled sinful opinions of men don’t change who Jesus IS in the very least; it did not affect Jesus’ mission then or now; Jesus has come to heal the broken hearted and set those imprisoned by sinful pride free!

People today, like people in Nazareth then, find Jesus, His miracles, and His teaching offensive.  He is a thorn to them, so they want to be a thorn to His people of faith.  But what they can never understand without eyes of faith is that Jesus truly is the Son of God.  To kick at Him and His church is like kicking a cactus; they are the only ones who will get hurt. If they continue to judge Him by the world’s standards they will be lost in judgment because of their many sins, but if they will simply allow the Word of Jesus to open their eyes of faith and see the reality that God sees in each of us they will be saved!

In our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 2:1–5), Ezekiel is called to stand on his feet before a righteous and holy God.  But on his own, He could do nothing but lay flat on his face.  But Ezekiel was not on His own, because the living Word of God, Jesus Christ was speaking, and in His Word is the very love of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit!  And as God spoke to Ezekiel, the Spirit entered him and put him on his feet!

This morning friends, the voice of God is speaking to us.  He is assuring us that just as Ezekiel and Paul were protected and strengthened by the Spirit of God, so are we.  You have been saved by a Savior who the world considers weak and pathetic.  You are saved by a God who is a joke to unbelievers.  In Jesus they see weakness and poverty; in the cross they see scandal and shame.  But by Jesus weakness and shame, by His suffering and death you have been saved!  Jesus died for you!  If the world wants to turn our faith into a scandal, then this is the scandal:  A holy and righteous God came to suffer and die for them… for you!  That is the message that changes us every day; it’s a message that would change them too, if they would just let God’s grace be sufficient for them in all things.  But they cannot surrender to God’s way because of their pride.  But you have submitted to God’s will and in that will you trust and rest.  Come what may, you have discovered that God’s grace is sufficient to help you in all things.  So you have rested and by God’s grace you will continue to rest in Jesus Christ.

And now, God has spoken and we have listened.  Like Paul, we don’t always like what we hear, but eventually we learn to simply rest in the promises of God.  But also like Paul we are reminded that we cannot enter paradise just yet.  We must remain in a dying world to speak and live the gospel.  Like Ezekiel, we are sent out into a sinful society that is stubborn, prideful, and unyielding, just as we are without Jesus.  We are to speak about God’s judgment of sin, even their sin, but we are also to speak about God’s forgiving love!  And as we speak in our weakness, some will see Jesus as only a thorn, a threat to their own happiness.  But others will see beyond the thorn and see the beauty in a Rose that is hidden and blooming within you; and they will come to know Jesus too!   I pray that through your witness to others God will do this very thing.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Celebrate His Faithfulness!

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Fifth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 1, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” [Lamentations 3:25]

Waiting is always difficult.  We always want to find a way to eliminate it, or at least speed it up.  This is especially true when we’re waiting on  God to act, speak, or intervene.  May I be so bold as to say that “we” all can become impatient with God?  Could it be true, that in the middle  of our waiting we may even feel like God has abandoned us, and forced us to fend for ourselves?

The Apostle Paul knew that temptation to grumble about God’s perceived tardiness, which is why he wrote these Words to encourage the  church in Corinth: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck  down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8,9).

This was also God’s Word in our Old Testament Lesson (Lamentations 3:22-33) to His people of faith that were conquered and uprooted from their homeland.  They were stripped of every  material possession they had.  They lost their homes, possessions, and for some even their families.  To these poor souls, it seemed that they  could fall no lower.  They had no visible resources, either from within or without.  The whole world had declared them a lost nation.  But the unbelieving world did not know that they had one hidden and best resource left, and in truth it was their first and only true resource… they had the LORD!

Because of God’s great love for His children of faith, because of His great faithfulness, God’s people would survive; God would protect them and restore them.  His love for His children of faith always wins out.  Even when His children lose faith while they’re waiting, God is faithful and His love never fails!

God can’t help Himself; He always helps His children who He has loved with an everlasting love.  It was His love that fired His compassion to help his children back then, and it is His love that fires His compassion to help us and His church today.  And when we remember God’s love for us, our faith and resolve as a congregation and as His individual children are strengthened.  It is this remembering of His love and faithfulness that moves us to seek out Jesus and rest in His Word and promises.  It is this remembering that moves us to celebrate God’s faithfulness even when we are hard pressed, crushed, and perplexed!

In or gospel reading (Mark 5:21-43)  both Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood would have quickly testified that they too were hard pressed, crushed, and perplexed!  They must have both been wondering, “Why is this happening to me?”  Why is God allowing my little daughter to die so young?  Why has good allowed me to have this bleeding disease for so long and even blinded the eyes of the doctors so that they can’t cure me?

Jairus must have felt that all of his waiting for his daughter to be healed was for nothing.  Maybe he even felt betrayed by God.  After all he was the faithful leader of God’s people who gathered at the synagogue to hear God’s Word.  Jairus loved God’s children of faith with the love that the Father gave him to love with, so why wasn’t God responding with help?

The woman with the issue of blood also must have felt abandoned in her long wait for God’s cure.  Can you imagine, she waited twelve long years and went to physician after physician and no comfort or help was found?  She was now at the point of poverty, maybe even homelessness in her waiting, and still no cure or even a Word of promise and hope from God!

Maybe you know exactly how they were feeling.  Maybe you are going through that waiting period right now?  I know that we are as a congregation; we are waiting for God to send help to his children of faith who gather at Trinity Lutheran Church in San Diego.  Like the leader Jairus, we to have been faithful in our ministry of God’s Word and Sacrament.  We have been around since 1894, faithfully dispensing God’s law and gospel, baptizing and feeding His saints.  Why we can look back in the history of our congregation and see that at one time we were even directly responsible for planting several church’s here in San Diego.  We’ve been intentional in making our congregation multi-cultural and inclusive.  And here we sit; finances exhausted and our patience about at its end.  Why some of us are even talking about giving up and closing the doors!  I’ve heard it said several times, “Eventually we will just have to give everything to the Synod.  What else can we do?”

Well I’ll tell you what else we can do, both for our own lives and for the life of this congregation; we can find Jesus and go directly to Him!

That’s what both Jairus and the woman did in our gospel lesson.  Jairus, a man of prestige, a leader of God’s people threw himself down in the dirt at Jesus feet, and simply worshiped Him and called out for help.  “Kyrie!  Lord have mercy!”  The woman with the issue of blood did not even consider herself worthy of speaking to Jesus.  She felt that her bleeding made her an unclean sinner who shouldn’t even be out in public, yet she went out didn’t she?  She went out and found Jesus, and using the crowd of people to hide in, she got down on her hands and knees and simply reached out with her hand of faith to just touch the corner of Jesus garment.

And what was Jesus response to both of them.  “Do not fear, only believe. Your faith has made you well, made you whole.”  So what can we learn from all of this?  First, Jesus sees and knows all that is happening to you and to our congregation.  He hasn’t turned a blind eye to you or our problems.  Just as he knew how Jairus felt when they told him that his daughter was dead, He knows how we are feeling.  He knows our fears and our feelings of abandonment.  And so Jesus speaks the gospel, words of faith to Jairus and to us.  “Don’t be afraid.  Keep on believing.”

And to the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus called her out of hiding and insisted that she reveal herself in public.  When He did this, He was also revealing Himself to her; Jesus said,  “Your faith has made you well.  You are no longer a despised unclean sinner.  You are forgiven.  Your faith in me is what has saved you.  You reached out that empty hand of faith and I filled it with even more gifts.  Keep on believing and reaching out and I will keep on filling you!

This was Paul’s message to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).  They too, like Trinity were struggling within their poverty.  Their offerings had all but dried up so that to some it may appear that the work of God through the proclaimed Word of God might be dying along with their unpaid bills and salaries.  But Paul wanted to remind them that their true debt was a spiritual one.  And it had been paid in full by their Savior, the Son of God Jesus Christ.

Paul then directed their minds to a sister congregation in Macedonia.  They too had been stripped of most of their material wealth.  They too saw the tithes and offerings fall to almost useless proportions.  But still they gave.  They gave and gave to the point that Paul thought that it may be unhealthy for them to give anymore, so he asked them to stop.  But they begged Paul to let them continue giving.  Why?  Because they saw the truth in their giving; they were giving out of grace.  They were giving because it was the love of the Father, the gift of grace through faith in the Son Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit that was working in them to give.  They knew by faith that they could not out give God, so in essence they were afraid that if they quit giving God would no longer shower them with blessings.  What blessings?  Well I’m sure they were reaping all kinds of physical blessings; how else could they keep on giving?  But the true blessing to them was first the blessing of being forgiven and then the blessing of being part of the believing body of Jesus Christ; the blessings of being Christ’s church, with Jesus as both their head and heart.  And so they gave out of their poverty so that others could be helped and the preaching of the gospel maintained.

And that dear friends was Paul’s solution to the Corinthians lack of charity.  It wasn’t a command to give more or to even give at all; Paul didn’t say give until it hurts so that God will love you more and bless you.  No, Paul simply showed the Corinthians what happens when one heart and many hearts remember and celebrate the faithfulness of God as demonstrated by the coming and giving of His Son.

Turn your eyes to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.  Remember His suffering and death for you.  For you, for you, for you… let those words echo in your ears.  He became poor so that you could become rich.  He became weak so that you could become strong; strong in faith and strong in service.

How do we celebrate God’s faithfulness?  By turning our eyes of faith to Jesus.  We celebrate by opening our hands and hearts like Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood.  We wait on the LORD quietly to give and take as He sees fit.  We remember that God cannot fill a closed fist, but He can fill hands that are open and lifted high in prayer, giving freely and waiting to receive the abundant blessings from above.

May the Spirit of Christ move us to do this very thing… I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!