Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

What Are You Seeking?

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

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

Click her for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is It Well With Your Soul?

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 17, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” [Genesis 50:19, 20]]

These words from our Old Testament reading are the words of a Kingdom builder; they’re the Words of the Lord of the Kingdom of God, which are simply being spoken by a subject of the King. They are Words of restoration and peace; they are Words of forgiveness. They are Words that make all things well with our souls! With all of this being true, then why do we find it so hard to speak them? Why is it such a battle to say, “I forgive you”?

Surely we have reasons, good reasons not to trust some people; not to forgive them. I would not put a convicted embezzler in charge of our church bank account, would you? Would you want a convicted child molester teaching your kids at Sunday school? Of course not, but does that also mean that we should withhold forgiveness, love, and restoration from them?

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we encounter Joseph, a man who had every reason to be bitter, hold a grudge and get revenge.

His own brothers threw him in a well in the middle of the desert and then sold him to slave dealers. But Joseph experienced something that changed him forever; he experienced God’s presence and God’s protection. In the home where he served as a slave, he eventually became the head slave and had complete freedom to run the entire home and its business. But trouble always seems to follow people who know they worship and are led by a merciful and loving God, and Joseph was no exception. Very soon he was falsely accused by the wife of the lord of the very home he was serving in. Bam! Joseph’s life was turned upside down again. Once again he was falsely imprisoned, but this time it wasn’t in a well but in a real prison! But Joseph knew that he wasn’t in that prison alone; he knew that the God of mercy was with Him and where ever God is, all is well with the soul of a child of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Once more God would prove to Joseph that He was a God who makes a way out of no way; He would prove that He was a God who never leaves or forsakes His little ones who serve in His Kingdom; Joseph was given the keys to the prison and allowed to run it! But that’s not all is it? No, eventually it became known to the Pharaoh that Joseph was a man of God who could interpret dreams. So as a result of one meeting with Joseph who spoke the Word of God truthfully, Joseph was made second in command in all of Egypt.

And now before him stands his brothers who did unthinkable evil against him; they were standing before the second most powerful person in the world. So this was Joseph’s chance to make things right; to right the wrongs that were done to him. And what does he do? He makes things right; right in the Kingdom of God! He offers forgiveness and restoration. But why… how? Because that is how the Kingdom of God operates! You see, the Kingdom of God makes a way out of no way. In a earthly kingdom where only death and punishment reign supreme, God’s Kingdom brings life and forgiveness. Out of fear and danger God assures His child that all is indeed well with his soul!

Do you think that Joseph had questions about the sincerity of his brother’s confession of sin? Sure, but having questions, having doubts isn’t what is important here, it’s where you take those questions and doubts. As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, Joseph immediately gave these things to God and He forgave all of them. It’s as if he was saying to them, “If God’s forgiven you, who am I to do anything differently? Don’t you see that what you meant for evil against me, God in His wonderful counsel has turned into something marvelous in our sight. He’s not only frustrated your evil plan, but He’s used it to bring abundant life and blessing for both me and you!” And that is always how things work in the Kingdom of God. You see, as citizens of God’s Kingdom of grace, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

So we see, in this way God causes good to result from evil, not that He wants us to do evil, but in His goodness He can take even our great wickedness and turn it into good. It’s God’s nature to forgive a fearful and sobbing sinner who is begging Him for mercy. And this is the very lesson that Jesus was trying to get Peter to understand; it’s the lesson He wants each of us to go home with this morning.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 18:21-35) Peter asked Jesus how many times he should keep forgiving someone for something they do against him over and over.

Now, the Jewish teachers said that three times is enough to satisfy the mercy of God, so that the justice of God could take over. So Peter took that number and multiplied it by 2 and threw in one more for good measure and answered his own question with a question: “Seven times?” Now don’t be too hard on Peter, because from a human standpoint, a flawed and sinful standpoint Peter did pretty well. Even our own society today would call that excessive and a bit naïve. You know the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me!”

So now learn the lesson about how things work in God’s Kingdom. “Jesus said to (Peter), “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Now that’s excessive! But the number isn’t the point of Jesus teaching, it’s the attitude or the spirit. Jesus is teaching us that the new nature of a baptized child of God is the type of nature that doesn’t keep count. Even if you did count how many times someone kept sinning against you, isn’t it true that you would lose count long before you got to 490?

So the nature of a citizen in God’s Kingdom simply does as Joseph did, He gives it to God and trusts that all things will work together for the good that God has determined.

Joseph learned to trust God and so did Peter.

They learned that even when it seems that things are at their worse, God is still present and in control! Each of us must learn this as well, and God has made sure that we can do this very thing. He did it by breaking into our existence, into our history through one event that has rendered everyone subject to One Judge… Jesus Christ Himself! The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has led not only the past, but it has shaped the present and it will determine the future. Joseph trusted in the coming Savior along with every other citizen of Heaven that came before and after Him. And when the Son of God took on our flesh and broke into our present and our future, the words of Joseph become the Words of Jesus: “As for you and your sinful ways, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Through my suffering and death your sins have been wiped clean. My death brought you life! Will you rest in this gift or reject it?)”

Today friends, we who are baptized into Christ Jesus can confidently say “I am a citizen of heaven. I was saved by Christ’s death on the cross, and through that work of the cross, forgiveness of sins was given to me in my baptism! I haven’t refused that forgiveness and I still pray for it every day. Daily through the power of God’s Word, I continue to see the sin that is still within me, but through that same Word I am given the promise of forgiveness and the ability to fight and destroy that sin, as I turn to Jesus and His cross for forgiveness! Every day I see the unthankful forgiven sinner within me holding grudges and planning revenge against my brother who sins against me, but I take this nature and I drown it in the waters of my baptism; I crucify it upon the cross of Jesus! Every day I fight to allow God to love my brothers and sisters through me even when they sin against me. I do this not because they deserve it but because God has done and always will do this very thing for me!” This dear friends is the life of a child who lives in the Kingdom of God.

Now I could end here and we would have a wonderful message about forgiving our brothers and sisters, but then you wouldn’t have God’s entire message. In order to complete our message, we must import one more bit of scripture. In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus has one more group of people that we must learn to love and forgive… our enemies! “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” [Matthew 5:43-45]

Now this can be a hard lesson for all of us to accept, especially on the heels of the sixteenth year anniversary of the September 11 attack against our nation by Muslim terrorists, and yet God is asking us to not only accept His will but to fulfill it! Here the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ gives us a command; we must love those who hate us and attack us. We must pray for the ability to forgive them and also pray that they would turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration. This kind of love can exist only in the Kingdom of God; indeed it is the very thing that separates it from all other kingdoms. Now don’t misunderstand, God isn’t asking you to put your arm around your enemy; He knows that we have reason not to trust them or like them. But He is asking you to be filled with the love of Jesus and let Him do this work within you! This is a higher form of love that can only come from God. It’s the kind of love that says “I know that I will never like a murderous terrorist, or a criminal who may have robbed me or threatened my life; I can’t like a false and lying, slanderous person who has attacked my character over and over again; but I can by the grace of Jesus Christ love them all; I can see what’s wrong with them and follow God’s Spirit within me and work to do them good. I can pray that God will free them from their vicious ways just as He has done and is doing for me!”

Is living in the Kingdom of God easy? No, of course not! It requires the same things that Joseph had and that Peter received. It requires faith and trust in a God who promises that all things will work together for the good for those who love Him and trust in His calling and purpose! Will you struggle with this command to forgive? Yes! Will you fail sometimes and fall back into a spirit and mindset of the world, probably so! You will also be tempted in times of tragedy to think that God has abandoned you, but you must remember, its God’s presence and mercy; it’s His forgiveness for you that will carry you through until the end and deliver you safely into His Kingdom!
Let me tell you the story of Horatio G. Spafford. He was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago with a lovely family — a wife, Anna, and five children. However, they were not strangers to tears and tragedy. Their young son died with pneumonia in 1871, and in that same year, much of their business was lost in the great Chicago fire. Yet, God in His mercy and kindness allowed the business to flourish once more.

On Nov. 21, 1873, the French ocean liner, Ville du Havre was crossing the Atlantic from the U.S. to Europe with 313 passengers on board. Among the passengers were Mrs. Spafford and their four daughters. Although Mr. Spafford had planned to go with his family, he found it necessary to stay in Chicago to help solve an unexpected business problem. He told his wife he would join her and their children in Europe a few days later. His plan was to take another ship.

About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic, the Ville du Harve collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Suddenly, all of those on board were in grave danger. Anna hurriedly brought her four children to the deck. She knelt there with Annie, Margaret Lee, Bessie and Tanetta and prayed that God would spare them if that could be His will, or to make them willing to endure whatever awaited them.

Within approximately 12 minutes, the ship slipped beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the passengers including the four Spafford children.
A sailor, rowing a small boat over the spot where the ship went down, spotted a woman floating on a piece of the wreckage. It was Anna, still alive. He pulled her into the boat and they were picked up by another large vessel which, nine days later, landed them in Cardiff, Wales. From there she wired her husband a message which began, “Saved alone, what shall I do?”

Mr. Spafford booked passage on the next available ship and left to join his grieving wife. With the ship about four days out, the captain called Spafford to his cabin and told him they were over the place where his children went down.

According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” while on this journey.

Life is full of tragedy and betrayal. It is easy to give up hope, thinking that God has abandoned you in those times, or we can choose to believe by faith the promise of Jesus, that He will never leave nor forsake us; that all things do indeed work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. Will we give up or will we let God’s grace, forgiveness and restoration change us?

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Chorus:
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul

On Independence and Dependence

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, July 9, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

We Americans don’t like the thought of being held captive by anyone, and the historical proof of this is that 241 years ago, the Declaration of Independence was issued, dissolving the colonies’ subjugation to King George III by proclaiming that all people are created equal with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Today, over 2 centuries after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we may be free from the tyranny of King George, but our nation has witnessed and is still dealing with many other kinds of tyranny and captivity. Terrorism, war, drug addiction, broken families, crime, and racism; these are all signs that tyranny is alive and well in this great nation of ours!

Today, it is my privilege to proclaim to you that because of what Jesus Christ has done for you, you’ve been freed, made independent from the GREATEST form of captivity and tyranny, SIN! And today, it is my duty to proclaim to you that there is nothing within you that God would look at and determine that you deserve this gift of His … NOTHING… but as our savior hung on the cross, as He was suspended between heaven and earth, He thought of you, and He willingly took on your sin and exchanged it with the perfection of God! And as He hung there, He cried out to the Father and unto all of creation, “IT IS FINISHED!” These three Words were both your declaration of independence from God’s Law that judges you deserving of death because of your many sins, and they are your declaration of dependence upon God’s mercy. It is God’s love that calls out to you in the midst of your many sins and says, “Come Unto Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

With all of this being true, why do we constantly seem to be overcome by sin? Why do our sins and the sin of others seem to rob us of the joy of Christ’s gift of salvation?

Listen to St. Paul’s words in our Epistle lesson and see if they ring true with you: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want to do is what I keep on doing” “I delight in the Law of God in my inner being, but I see another law waging war against my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans:19, 22-25)

We’re a peculiar bunch of people, we Christians! We hunger for God’s protection and perfection in our lives, yet it seems we constantly fall short of the mark! We seem to constantly fall into sinful habits that non-Christians enjoy so much yet when we engage in the same activity, not only are we unable to find satisfaction in these things, but they also become a trap, even a prison that takes away our joy. In short, …WE BECOME MISERABLE! Why? Because we are acting outside of Christ’s nature that was provided for us at the cross and then wrapped around us in our baptism!

The story is told of a lamb and its mother, who passed a pigpen each morning on the way to the pasture. Watching the pigs wallow in the mud seemed like fun to the lamb. On an especially hot day the lamb asked its mother, “May I jump the fence and wallow in the cool mud with the pigs?” The Mother replied, “No.” And the lamb asked, “Why not?” The mother simply stated, “Sheep do not wallow!” Well, this didn’t satisfy the lamb. He felt his mother had no reason to refuse. As soon as she was out of sight, the lamb ran to the pigpen and jumped the fence. He felt the cool mud on his feet, his legs, and his stomach, and oh did it feel good.
After a while he decided he had better go back to his mother, but he couldn’t do it. He was stuck! His thick wool was weighed down with heavy, sticky mud. His pleasure had become his prison. He was a hostage of the mud. He cried out and the kind farmer, his owner, rescued him. When he was cleaned and returned to the fold, his mother said firmly: “Remember, sheep do not wallow!”

Well sin is like the mud in that story. It looks so inviting, and appears easy to escape from whenever we wish. But, because of God’s Law at work in our hearts, which is like the wool, ultimately we don’t find pleasure, but only pain! What seemed like pleasure becomes our prison. Because we sin, because we are born in sin and because we sin daily, we are held captive under the Law. We are caught in what the prophet Zechariah in our Old Testament lesson called the waterless pit. (Zechariah. 9:11) This waterless pit was a dry well that was used in biblical times as a sort of jail cell. Once in, there was no way out accept if someone (your jail keeper) were to lower you down a ladder of some sort.
Friends, for us, our waterless pit is the Law of God that says, “Thou shalt… Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul. You must always put God and His will first in your life! Thou shalt love your neighbor as your love yourself. You must put the needs of your family, friends, neighbor, and even your enemy at a level that is equal to or above your own.”

Oh what wretched people we are! We try and try to do what the Law says we must but instead of victory we run into failure after failure. Who will deliver us from this prison of death? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

We hear Him now, at the mouth of the pit calling down to us…

“Come unto me, you who have been laboring to free yourself from your prison of sin and guilt, and I will give you rest.” He calls to us and says, “Here friend, here is the ladder of my grace that you will need in order to leave the prison of the Law. But before you climb up to me, set your burden down and leave it there in the pit.” “Now that’s odd” we think, “I wonder what burden He’s talking about?” Reading our minds, He replies, “I’m talking about the heavy burden on your back! Friend, at least take it off and look inside to see what you are carrying.”

Now this is where our Savior gets personal. We don’t want to look inside, because what’s in there is hidden for good reason—it’s embarrassing! We might even try to down play the weight of our burden by replying, “Oh that thing?! Well that’s nothing. I can manage climbing out of here and still carry the weight. Don’t worry about me.” But now Jesus is no longer at the top of your prison calling down to you, He’s right there with you. And He takes off your burden and opens it. Inside each burden, you will always find two very heavy things…

Pride and Discouragement.

If there is one word that adequately describes the average American it would be pride. We have many reasons to be proud. We are proud of our country, which is One nation under God. We are proud of our brave men and women who valiantly fight and sacrifice their lives for our freedoms. We are proud of our work ethic, which says along with the Ford Motor Co. that quality is job one. These are all great attributes that we can and should be proud of, but there is another kind of American pride that is not so admirable. It is the kind of pride that says, “I’ll be fine. I can do it myself.” Young people, your grandparents called this “lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps” and today we say that we “are an army of one.” Pride says, “I got myself into this mess; I don’t need any help getting myself out of it.” But to our pride Jesus says, “No friend. You must do this my way and then I will give you rest.”

There is another burden within our sack that we must surrender to the Lord, and that is discouragement. Discouragement is a burden because it is a sin; it is a sin because it’s a loss of faith in God’s mercy and love. Discouragement says, “Oh Lord, I’d like to put this burden down and climb out with you, but I’m so tired of my own failures. And you know Lord, I’ve tried to come out so many times before, but I just end up right back where I started. No, I think I’ll just rest here a while and maybe someday give this freedom thing another shot.”

Friends, discouragement and pride are the very things that Jesus is asking you to give to Him today. But He won’t take them from you, you must give them to Him. You must come to Him and surrender all of your burdens, and then He will give you rest. He’s made it easy for you to trust Him by providing the very means that creates this trust; we call this trust faith. He points you to His Word that gives you the faith to believe that each and every promise of rest and peace is for you and that it is true! He points you to the Baptismal font where He first saved you through the water and the Word, and He says, “I was there with you then and I am with you now. Believe that I will always be with you!” Why He even calls you to a Holy dinner where He invites you to feast on His very body and blood, where your faith is strengthened and He ensures you that all of your sins are forgiven!

So now that you are out of the pit and the captivity of sin, He has just one more thing to say to you…

“Now, take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vs. 29a)

Rest…Wonderful rest! We all need rest. In a world where sin, sickness, disappointment and death are all around us and even within us sapping our strength, rest is the one thing we know we can’t live without and at the same time it seems to be the hardest thing to find! Yet, when we first hear these Words, it might seem that Jesus is freeing us from one burden only to give us another? Could this be true? Well, yes! You see friends, the rest and the yoke are two pictures of the same blessing; Jesus is saying that when we take His yoke upon ourselves we will find true rest for our souls; in fact, we take this yoke when he gives us rest. We know that this is true because we have experienced its truth in our lives already!

We have already established that we no longer need to carry around with us things like guilt, shame, and discouragement. In our confession today, we gave him these burdens when we confessed our sins. And then, praise God, we heard and received the sweet words of absolution, “You are forgiven!” So, if you have faith in this truth, you already feel relieved; you’ve already “tasted and discovered that the Lord is good!” (Ps. 34:8; 1 Peter 2:3) If you have already discovered by experience that the Lord is faithful and good, that He is a loving God, then you’ve already received His yoke. While he is giving us His yoke he is teaching us through experience that He is right there beside us; a gentle, humble, and loving God shouldering any load we encounter, so that we will know that He is right there working with us.

Dear friends, what can be lighter than a burden which removes burdens and a yoke which carries you? Christ’s burden doesn’t oppress us, but instead it carries itself. The yoke and Christ’s rest are just two sides of the same coin. When you take one you have the other. So we have taken on a new Master, and he lays on us a new load—but what a difference that new load makes!

By simply trusting in Jesus Words and following his gentle instruction we enjoy His grace, mercy, and peace because we are surrounded by His love. When we let go and let God lead and teach us, then we can truly know freedom from all forms of tyranny, even sin, death and the devil. Yes, it really is that simple…just let go and let God take over!
Let’s bow our heads in prayer. Heavenly Father, we thank you that you have revealed all of these things to us your little children because of your gracious will. Continue to show us how to give you all of the things that hold us back from trusting and walking with you and may Your Spirit, like a dove descend upon our lives and make us whole.
In Jesus name…AMEN!

How’s Your Heart?

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 12, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

IMG_0640This morning the Words of Jesus are a continuation of His Sermon that we have listened to the last two weeks. If you recall last week He informed us that we are both the salt and light of the world, and this week He demonstrates what that salt and light will look like. His Word comes to us like a scalpel in the hand of a renowned surgeon. Make no mistake, while these Words are spiritual in nature they are nonetheless real and they are God’s own truth. So the surgery that Jesus will perform on each of us will be spiritual in nature and the focus of that surgery will be our very hearts! But like any great surgeon, Jesus wants us to understand the nature of our disease; if left untreated it is eternally fatal. And to help us see the need for this surgery Jesus speaks some strong words to demonstrate to us that our physical hearts are diseased and in fact, already dead!

Our message this morning is still part of Jesus proclamation that in spite of our battle with Sin, through our faith in Him we are both forgiven and blessed.

So within our baptized reality of complete forgiveness, the procedure Jesus is performing this morning is simply corrective surgery because we’ve already been given a new heart and assured of our place in Jesus’ Heavenly Kingdom. But, if you haven’t yet entered the Kingdom of God through your confession of sin and hopelessness, you will find this whole procedure worrisome, frightful, and intimidating.

You have two choices, you can push away the hand that will skillfully wield the scalpel and cancel the surgery, or you can take a deep breath of the Word of God and allow God to have His way with you. What is this surgery? To be honest, it’s nothing less than a heart transplant. Jesus wants to remove your diseased heart of stone and replace it with a healthy heart… His own heart! Now you can refuse to allow our Great Physician to perform this procedure and choose death, or you can choose to simply let go of your own self-centered interest and allow Jesus to give you new and eternal life.

Now I know that for all of us, this will be an uncomfortable time in Jesus’ spiritual OR, but we must remember who it is that is caring for us. He promises that if we will simply trust Him, and let His Word work within us, we will be eternally changed and rearranged. Well, are we ready? Then let’s let the Master do His work!

Listen as Jesus picks up His scalpel, which is His Word.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” [Matt. 5:21-22] Now, what we need to keep in mind in this entire message is that there is a common thread that connects all of Jesus teaching.

If we stay with our analogy of heart disease, then we can see Jesus directing our attention to one of the proofs that we have a diseased heart. He does this by showing us how we incorrectly look at the 5th Commandment. Just like the people in Jesus time, we too have a very narrow interpretation of murder. Generally we think of it as raising our hand against our neighbor in a way that ends in violence and death. Images of Charlie Manson, Ted Bundy and John Gardner come to mind. But Jesus says, “No, that’s too narrow.” OK, so let’s include drive-by shootings, terrorism, and domestic violence in the mix. “No” says Jesus, “your still to narrow.” Ok, so we will include unjust actions by police officers that take a life, or an unjust war! And to this Jesus says, “No you still do not understand that this is a matter of the heart. What the heart feels and thinks is what gives birth to sin. If you are angry with your Christian brother or sister, or even your neighbor, and if you will not let go of that anger you are guilty of murder!”

“You see” says Jesus, “your anger at first is hidden away in your heart. You think that no one can see it, but I can. I know what will happen if you don’t get rid of it; if you don’t let me cut it out. It will turn to bitterness, which will overflow into hurtful words, that may then result in some type of action on your part. I see all of this, and I am warning you that if you don’t let me cut this disease out, you will die eternally and end up in Hell!”

Now each of us may be tempted to think that Jesus is speaking of a procedure that we can put off until later. Certainly He doesn’t have to perform this work right now?! And to this Jesus says: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” What does Jesus mean by this? Is He telling me that I should get up right now and confess my sin to my brother and sister? What if my brother or sister that I have sinned against is right now in this very sanctuary? Am I supposed to interrupt the sermon and approach them? Well maybe not, but by no means should you approach our Lord’s Holy Table and eat and drink forgiveness if you are unable to confess your sin to the one you have hurt or are unable to forgive the one that hurt you. By the work of the Holy Spirit, you must be willing to forgive as Jesus has forgiven you!

Now some of us may have heard the wisdom in these words, we may have seen the need for a new and changed heart, but we want to have time to consider the ramifications of just what such a radical procedure will mean. So, we will want to put it off until the right time. And to this procrastinating Jesus brings the spiritual urgency of His Words into our physical reality with more teaching: “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” [Vs. 25-26]

Here is where our spiritual and physical realities combine. Here Jesus is assuring us that if we damage our relationship with our neighbor and do not take steps to repair that damage, it will also have an eternal effect on our relationship with Him! “So” He says, “do everything that is within your power to live in peace with your neighbor, especially with fellow believers!”

OK, that part of the surgery is complete, so now let’s move onto the next procedure.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’”

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” [Vs. 27-30]

Wait, what? Who’s the surgeon here anyways? Why does Jesus want us to remove our eye and cut off our hand? Well haven’t you ever heard someone say, “I can’t help it, I just have a wondering eye.” Or when it comes to stealing they might say, “I just have sticky fingers.” So Jesus is saying, “Go ahead and pluck and cut, cut and pluck until there’s nothing left to remove! Or” He says, “you can just let me finish this surgery on your heart, which is the real cause of all of your problems!”

Friends, here Jesus is showing us once again that the root of all our sins can be found in the terminal condition of our hearts. If we want to be free of sin, even the sin of adultery, we must first admit that we have that disease within us. And to make this confession easier for us, Jesus has shown us that just thinking impure sexual thoughts is the same as carrying them out. Looking at impure material on the internet and fantasizing about it and looking at a person of the opposite sex and imagining any contact outside of neighborly love is the same thing as actually performing the sinful act! So who is guilty of such adultery? All of us! What is the cure for such a propensity to sin? A new heart! And that’s just what Jesus has done for us and is doing for us.

Well, we’ve reached the final portion of our surgery. And very soon we’ll be in the recovery room. But Jesus has just one more major procedure to perform. Listen:

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” [Vs. 31-32]

Now I know for a fact that this part of the surgery is perhaps the hardest and most difficult portion to sit through. Divorce has become so acceptable in our society that we no longer think of it as a sin. We can actually be tempted to tell our Great Physician that this is an antiquated procedure and it has no place in a modern society. We might be tempted to quote to Him all of the reasons why divorce is needed. We might be tempted to begin to rise off of the operating table and tell Him were done! And to this Jesus gently pushes us back down onto the table and says, “Remember, you are baptized, forgiven of all sin, but I say to you friend that unless your divorce was caused by unfaithfulness you have already committed adultery. So lay back down and let me finish! Hear what I will tell you now and confess that I am right and you are wrong. Divorce is sin. It shatters the lives of both parties as well as the innocent children and family members that are part of that relationship. From now on, do not divorce. Instead, be faithful to your marriage vows and love and serve one another as if you are loving and serving me.”

Now our Lord is finishing the surgery, and He closes the incision with these Words: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. [Vs. 37] And when you say you will do something simply do it!”

How do we feel now? Well like how we would feel after any major surgery, we are groggy and sore.

The strong medicine of God’s Law has done its work within us. But now it’s time for the healing Word of His Gospel to do its work. Now we are reminded that we have already been forgiven and saved from our sins; we have already been given a new heart. This procedure, while painful was necessary in order to continue the transformation that Jesus began within us after we were recreated and washed clean in the waters of our baptism. Then and now, Jesus is asking us to live a life in agreement with God’s Word.

And when we live this kind of life, we are truly being salt and light in this sinful world; we choose to live a life that agrees with God’s Word. And as we live this kind of life, we know that our Heavenly Father is always working to perfect us and protect us from our greatest threat, and that is our own sins within us that seek to destroy our new heart, Jesus’ heart that He has placed within us.

So now we have a picture of what salt and light looks like. It is a picture of how we live with each other. Will we sin and fall short of God’s demand of perfection? Yes, we certainly will! And confronted with this reality we take our sin and shortcomings to Jesus and His cross. We repent and confess our sins of thought and attitude, word and deed, to God, asking forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, as we also ask our neighbor for forgiveness just as we stand ready to forgive them. And throughout or lives we constantly asking God to grant us faith to receive the strength of His Spirit Who always turns our hearts and minds towards Jesus our Great Physician, and His cross. Because we do this, God assures us that we will be at peace with Him and each other, loving with a true love, and serving each other as Christ Jesus continues to love and forgive us!

May you always live out this new heart and mind of Jesus. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…. AMEN!

What Are You Seeking?

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Epiphany 2A, January 15, 2017
Sanctity of Life Sunday
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

WMLTThis morning, Jesus turns to each of us and asks us, “What are you seeking?” [John1:38] I know that you are seeking something, because that is the fate of us all. We are born into this life seeking something greater and stronger than ourselves. And within this natural state of seeking, this world that surrounds us and desires to mold us gladly tells us what we should seek. And what is it that we are told to seek? Something, anything that makes us happy, fulfills us, and gives us a sense of self worth.

When we are born we simply seek food in our bellies and a dry diaper. As we become a little older we seek to learn and know as much a we can about our family, school, and neighborhood. And still we grow, and our desires, the things we seek grow as well. We desire to be popular; to fit in. We may discover things like academics, sports, music, alcohol, drugs, sex, and status fit the bill, and still we seek something more; always seeking and never really knowing what it is that will fulfill us. Why is that? Because…

We have a big problem that keeps getting in our way… sin! 

Because of our sin, we do not love as we should, and we do not fear God as we must.  You could say that as well intentioned as we may be, by nature we are sinful and unclean; we are disobedient to the core!  We seek things that please ourselves and not God or others. So what is the solution?

We must be overtaken by the true obedient servant of God; that is the Son of God must come to us, redeem us and teach us every day what it means to be redeemed, that is saved from our sins.

In our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 49:1-7), we are allowed to enter into a conversation between God the Father and the Son of God, who for us men and for our salvation, came to us as Jesus Christ, to be one of us in order to save us from our sins, and teach us what obedience to the will of God is.

So many people will willingly confess Jesus Christ as their Savior and God, but moments later, they’ll go about living their lives as they see fit, and not how God demands.  They will jump on board of whatever social idea is popular, just to avoid being singled out and being forced to defend their faith and the truth of God’s Word.

Today is national Right to Life Sunday.  You have a wonderful hand-out that you can take home and read, and perhaps consider supporting with your time, talent, or treasure.  It is a cause that is Biblical and clear.  Life begins at conception.  But that is not what society says.  And what do they say?  Well, the truth is they can’t agree when life begins.  So instead of having a real discussion on the matter, a discussion that we Christians want to be part of, they simply cite a Supreme Court ruling (Roe v. Wade), and they claim that the unborn child is part of the pregnant woman’s body, just as her breasts are part of her body.  And just as we’ve see recently in the news, that there are women of high profile and great wealth who are having their breasts surgically removed because of a high propensity to acquire breast cancer, so we too, see women aborting their pregnancy because there is an even higher propensity that these children if born, will change their lives forever.  We all know the arguments for having an abortion, so there is no need to bring them up this morning.  No, what we need to hear is what God thinks about these unborn children.  So what does He say?

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, we see a couple of things right off the bat: God calls children from the womb and God knows them by name; they are His servants.

Now, some may be thinking, “Hold on just a minute there pastor; that Old Testament lesson is talking about Jesus, the Son of God.” 

And to that, I will say, “Congratulations, you are one step closer to seeing things God’s way.”  Yes, that scripture is about the Servant of God, the Son of God, but it is also about Jesus, the Son of Mary.  Born of a woman and suffered on this earth as all of us know suffering and pain.  Why is that important?  Remember that I told you that because of our sin, one of our biggest problems is disobedience?  Well, Jesus did not have that problem; He was obedient even at the expense of His life. And it is this same Jesus who asks you once again, “What is it you are seeking?”

Now to help us understand what we really are seeking, Jesus as the Obedient Servant in our Old Testament lesson says, “Listen” and the next Words He speaks are “pay attention.”  Who is the Son of God talking to?  He is talking to everyone who is far away from God.  He is talking to us because we have a sin problem!  Aside from the call He received within the womb of His mother, He tells you how His flesh was created; it was created to give witness to God through the words of His mouth.  Words that were like sharpened swords.  Have you ever heard the saying, “The truth hurts?”  God’s truth, which is the Law is suppose to hurt!  In fact, it is suppose to kill.  You are suppose to hear what God says about sin and agree that He is right and that you and society are wrong, and then God wants you to hear and receive His solution to your sin problem.

The solution of course is God’s obedient servant Jesus Christ, who exchanges His obedience for your disobedience.  To the world, this Servant of God was on a fool’s errand.  And as proof they will point you to the servants own words in verse 4: “I have labored in vain (that is for no purpose); I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity”.  That is what the world believes, and for a moment that is how Jesus felt as He hung upon the cross between to criminals and experienced for the first time in eternity His separation from the Father and the Spirit.  So painful was the separation that He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  But Jesus knew why He was forsaken; He was forsaken for you.  His cry should rightly be your cry, because of your great sins and your continued disobedience.  But shortly after His cry of fear and pain, we hear Him speak the gospel, the hope of sinners and gentiles.  “It is finished.” Their debt of sin has been paid in full. “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

Here, in this moment of death, Jesus the Christ, points your eyes of faith to God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and He shows you what you must seek.  And then He calls for you to look upon His agony and death and see Him as the Father’s only Son, your Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”  But why?

So that you would understand these next words from our Old Testament reading: “What is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.  And now the Lord says—He who formed me in the womb to be His servant to bring Jacob back to Him and gather Israel to Himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—He says, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant (and only) restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles (that is all disobedient sinners) that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

So Jesus “descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

Now, hear a Word that is simultaneously both Law and Gospel.  You will be judged!  If you find your peace and happiness in this willfully sinful world, which is outside of the Obedient Servant’s grace, you will know only eternal damnation, that is separation from God forever.  But because your eyes of faith are continually fixed upon the cross of Jesus, the Servant who alone is obedient, even unto death, you are saved.  You are judged one with Jesus.

Jesus is your light, your source of hope and peace with God because He alone has taken away your sins, and in your baptism He has washed you clean and made you right with God the Father, His Father and now yours.  Jesus is your Redeemer.  You who were once sold into sin as it’s slave are free.  You, who once knew only eternal misery because of your bondage, now know by faith that the sinless Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, has even taken away your sin.  Because of the Lamb of God, the Obedient Servant, you now have peace with God.  You lack nothing!

Just a Jesus invited the first apostles to follow Him with the Words, “Come and see,” so too, you have been called out of darkness into the wonderful gospel light of grace.  As God ensured that you would hear and keep on hearing the message of the Gospel, which alone is the light for all gentiles, He now asks you to throw in with that work.  He has called you to be a witness.  A witness is nothing more than one who reports what He has experienced.  He speaks the truth, even if the truth hurts, but He speaks the truth in love.

Yes, we are all witnesses, but we are also ambassadors.  We are to speak the message that God declares to the gentiles who are lost in sin.  What is that message?  Repent, that is turn to God and know His forgiving love.  Know that there is no sin so great that God can not nor will not forgive through His grace, which is yours through Jesus Christ, if you will not reject it.

This grace, this fullness of life is for all people, even the unborn; and mystery of mysteries, even for the unborn who have been aborted and their mothers who still grieve over that decision.  God knows each of us, even in our darkest moments, even in our mother’s womb.  He knows and He loves us all with an abundant love through Jesus Christ.  None of us deserve this love, and none of us will ever be able to live up to the standard of this love, but it does not mean we won’t try.  When we look at the birth, life, and death of Jesus, the Son of God, we can also see our lives knitted right into His.  We remember that the Lord looks beyond appearances, and He asks us to do the same.  As we listen to or read His Word, He tells us always about His Obedient Servant who was despised and abhorred by society.  And He tells us that His servant was also our Servant, and His service has become ours.  He reminds us that things are not what they seem to be.

Today Christ’s church faces frustration and what appears to be failure. 

Our membership declines and society is more hostile than ever to those who speak God’s truth.  All of our witnessing and effort seems to be done in vain.  We know that we are not innocent in regards to blame; things we have done and even the many things we have left undone have contributed greatly to the apparent failure of the church.  We have not been that city on a hill, that bright light unto the gentiles.  Yet, we are reminded that just as we are, we lack nothing in regards to God’s gifts of grace, which are ours through God’s Obedient Servant, because we are the body of Christ!
Together, we testify to God’s salvation as His wounded and scarred body, which is often rejected and scorned.  But we know that our labor, the giving of our time, talent, and treasure is not in vain.  We know that just as God the Father was faithful to His servant Jesus and raised Him from the dead, so too we live and bear witness to this gospel hope for us in Christ alone.

May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit keep us in this great epiphany hope, the mystery hidden for ages but now revealed through Christ Jesus our Lord… AMEN!

Freedom to Be…

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, September 18th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

To be free is not the same as to do as you please.  You are not made free by forgetting God.  Someone who acts contrary to the will of God is simply proving that they’re bound to the way of this world and serving the prince of the spirit which is now at work in the sons of disobedience. [Ephesians 2:2]  Everything we do, either finds its source in God or in His enemy.  The person that commits sin is a slave of sin—that is how Jesus puts it. [John 8:34]

The worst of it however, is that there is in our own inner nature something that is not free, and is held captive by a force that wants us to resist God.  Scripture speaks of this as “the flesh” and says that it is not subject to the law of God, nor can it be.  Simply put, with your flesh you serve the law of sin. [Romans 7]

Usually we do not recognize this bondage until we try seriously to change it; that is until we try to serve God and live an honest life that practices love for our neighbor.  It’s at this point, that we discover that “the evil we do not want to do is what we do” and that “we are flesh, sold under sin.”

The Pharisees who invited Jesus to their banquet in order to trap Him and discredit Him as the Messiah were in this condition. They invited Him there so that they could teach Him what a proper banquet looks like; in order to demonstrate that a truly religious person does not eat and drink with sinners.  Oh yes, they also invited Him so that they could catch Him in the act of healing on a Sabbath.

And so knowing all of this, Jesus decides to immediately address the issue of who He is.  One of the marks of the Messiah who was to come was that He will bring healing to the people.  The Pharisees had heard of the various healing miracles of Jesus, even that He had raised people from the dead.  But now Jesus would do this work of healing in their very presence, on a Sabbath!  And why shouldn’t He?  Jesus is their Messiah; as the Lord of the Sabbath He would heal a man with dropsy.  Dropsy is an abnormal retention of water, possibly due to congestive heart failure.  “And Jesus (looking them in the eye) responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took (the man with dropsy) and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.”  They could not reply because they were entangled in their sins; trapped in their pride.  It was their pride that prevented them from accepting Jesus the Messiah as their only hope of being freed from this bondage.  Instead, they continued to rely on a false hope centered in their false religion that minimized their own sin and maximized their own efforts to be free of that sin.

Even today, people in their desperate attempts to be free from this bondage to sin, often become more enslaved than ever before.  Like the Pharisees, they try to be more strict, more “religious” and scrupulous in order to win God’s favor.  They intensify their demands on themselves and others.  They become legalistic and quick to judge others, and they entangle their lives with morality, rules, and man-made teachings; they begin to concern themselves with what the Bible calls “human precepts and teachings, rigor of devotion, and severity of the body.” [Colossians 2:21-23]

There are still some major religious institutions around today that forbid their priest to marry, and some demand that their followers worship only on a certain day or abstain from certain foods that God has declared were created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  These are modern day examples of the same bondage that trapped the Pharisees who were always busy creating endless rules about tithing, about the Sabbath, and about things that were determined to be unclean.

But all of this was, and still is rooted in one great sin… pride!  It is a very difficult thing for a sinner to accept the freedom that Jesus brings without demanding that something be given or done by the one whom Jesus invites.  They always tip their hand when they respond to Jesus invitation to repent and rest with the words, “I think that…”  Listen God is not interested in your opinion or how you think things should be done.  He simply wants you to be humble.

Humility is a hard lesson for sinners such as us to receive; it’s hard because it completely nullifies a need for us to offer an opinion or give a contribution.

As Jesus observed the various Pharisees vying for the best seat at the banquet, he observed just how deadly their self serving pride was.  His heart ached for them as they pushed and shoved in order to get the better seat; He longed for them to be free of this sin and enter into His Father’s Kingdom so that they could have a seat at His Father’s eternal banquet table.  To illustrate this truth, Jesus offers a parable.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.”  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What was Jesus teaching the Pharisees with this parable?  What is He teaching us this morning?  Well, simply put, He is teaching us that there is only one way to be free, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” [John 8:36]

Jesus the Son of God releases us first from our guilt, and in doing that, He also frees us from our false pride and our despair over our past; He even sets us free from ourselves!  He releases you from the dominion of sin.  Now, you still must resist your sinful desires such as pride, but “sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under the law, but under grace.” [Romans 6:14]  And being under grace makes all the difference; at last as a new creation in Christ, God has truly set us free from both  the bondage of sin and the opinions of men that are created out of their own evil imaginations.

Christ has made us free indeed.  And because of this freedom we fight against any thing that would lead us astray and set up any other requirements for salvation other than the ones which really matter, namely baptism and faith in Christ Jesus.  And the good news is that Christ has equipped us to do this very thing when we simply rest in the unity of the Spirit of God, which is completely ours within Christ’s church.

Within the church, Jesus has brought us into His body, which alone brings freedom.

This one great body has only one Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  It has only one Lord, and He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  It has only one faith, that which is clearly defined in Holy Scripture.  And it has only one Great Father, who is both Father to the Son of God and our Father through faith in Jesus Christ.  And by proclamation of our Heavenly Father who is Father over all, there is only one baptism performed in and through the name of God that Jesus revealed, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” [Matthew 28:18-20] It is in this one very simple and eternal act of the church that Christ moves you from the objective truth of the cross, where He died for the world, and then makes it very subjective by making the work of His cross a work for you.  So on the day you were baptized, Jesus declared through the washing of the water and the Word that He died for you personally.  On that day, Jesus set you free from your bondage of sin.

But this freedom does not mean self-indulgence.  We must not use our freedom in such a way that we give any “opportunity to the flesh.”  It is only in Christ, as members of His body, that together we find freedom from sin, from guilt, from punishment, and from death.  So, our freedom in Christ can be described as being possessed by Christ.  We belong to Him with all that we own.  Such dependence is not a burden; it is not bondage.  This dependence on God is what gives back to us the freedom we were created to be; it frees us to be once again the good and happy children of God.  This true freedom is ours right now within God’s kingdom of grace, even as we live our lives under stress, and within the struggle to be good, humble, and victorious over temptation.  But in the kingdom of God’s power, one day we shall be completely free of this stress and in possession of “the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” [Romans 8:21]

So the table is set; you are an invited guest.  You are free to be a guest.  The example of how to behave at the table of the Lord has been given and taught by Jesus Himself.  You are free to be humble.  You have been freed from the bondage of sin such as pride.  You are free to live a life as one who has been redeemed.  Because you have been baptized you are already seated at the Lord’s Table within His kingdom of grace.  One day you will close your eyes for the last time here in the kingdom of grace and you will discover that your seat is still yours within God’s Kingdom of glory and power.  It is there, in that kingdom where you will be told, “Friend, move up higher” to the place that is yours.  AMEN.

On Obeying the Word of God

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Fourth Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 19th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

If you remember, last week we talked about becoming a Christian.  Today, I would like to talk about what it means to live out that Christian faith, specifically we will look at our new obedience to God’s Word and what effect that should have in our lives and what dangers we face when we are not properly living out our Christian faith.

When the Word of God first comes to us, it comes and floods our hearts with mercy and forgiveness, which then moves us to demonstrate those same things within our own lives.

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we see this demonstrated beautifully.  If ever there was a man who seemed to be given a reason to judge others and even hold onto a grudge, it was Joseph.  Bullied as a child, sold to slave traders as an adolescent, Joseph had many reasons to remember and to pay back his brothers for all of their evil.  But God was with Joseph.

Sold into slavery yes, but God provided in the midst of his servitude, and so Joseph became the head servant of a very rich household.  But then it all fell apart and Joseph was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.  Imprisoned yes, but then God made a way for Joseph to become the warden of the very prison he was confined to.  But then it seemed that all of that fell apart too, as Joseph was once again falsely accused and facing hard time.  But God made a way out of that tight spot, and Joseph was given the ear of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh eventually made Joseph second in command, answering only to Pharaoh.

And now standing before Joseph were the brothers that bullied and banished him.  Now was the time for judgment and pay back, or was it?  Standing before his brothers and in the stead of a merciful God, Joseph knew what God would have him do; it was the very thing God had done for Joseph; Joseph would show mercy.  “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

In these Words, Joseph was demonstrating a man controlled by the Spirit of God and so He was compelled to act for God.  In these Words, Joseph was pointing towards the coming Savior, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God who would take the evil intentions of men and their cross and turn it around as God’s way to “bring it about that many people should be kept alive,” and spared the death penalty for their sin.

This is then not only the effect that God’s Word had in Joseph, but it is also the effect that God wants to have in our lives now in this age, as Ambassadors for Christ.  But be forewarned, even as the Holy Spirit of God is providing us with a new spirit of obedience to the Word of God, we also face the danger of falling to a spirit of pride and judgment.  You see…

When people begin to take the Word of God seriously, they also learn to love their success in keeping the commandments of God.

As the saints of God, isn’t it true to say that we struggle to live out our new baptized natures; we struggle to live a life that is pleasing to God.  We want God to know that we take His call of faith seriously, and because of that, we want to be doers of His Word and not just hearers.

This isn’t a bad thing; it’s not a bad way to begin our walk with Jesus.  What was it that Jesus said to the rich young ruler who asked Him what he must do to gain eternal life, “Keep the commandments!”  And isn’t that precisely what we are trying to do as we live out our Christian faith?

But as so often happens, people who begin to walk by faith in the new life of baptism, begin to believe that they are becoming much better at being good, and then they think it is becoming easier for them to “live a good Christian life.”  Some people may even think as St. Paul formerly thought, that in “regards (to) righteousness under the law—(they are) blameless.”

So where did they go wrong; where do we go wrong?  Well the mistake we sinners inevitably seem to make is that we feel we have a license to compare ourselves to others.  Don’t we find ourselves being thankful that we are not like old “so and so.”  Maybe we’ve even caught our selves thinking that if “old sinner so and so” really wanted to change, then they could, just as we have.  But it is precisely because we judge others that we find ourselves being judged by God.

When we find ourselves judging others, we should also discover that we have not really been taking the law of God seriously, because we have arbitrarily chosen who we will judge and what we will use as our standard to judge.  And because we’ve done this, we have lost the most important standard of all… justice and mercy and faithfulness.  Therefore Jesus reminds us that he who judges others will himself be judged.  So…

If we really want to take the commandments of God seriously we will stop comparing ourselves with others.

This is because God’s law demands that instead of comparing ourselves to others, we must compare ourselves only with God, because only He is perfect.  In other words, we ought to be perfect as God is perfect, merciful as He is merciful, holy as He is holy.  You see, the law does not give us any possibility to be satisfied with ourselves; you can never say I’ve arrived.  This is because the knowledge of sin, our sin, comes to us through the law.

Our mouths are shut as every one of us stands guilty before God.  The rich young ruler who approached Jesus knew that something was missing in him, even though he did everything he could think of to be a good man.  And when the crowd brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus to be stoned, it was the elders in the group who dropped their stones first and slithered away out of shame, when Jesus said that he who was without sin among them should be the one to cast the first stone.

So now hear this good news and have faith in it.  It is God’s will that just as His Law has shown us that we can never live up to His holy standards, and that we have no right to judge other people’s salvation, it is also His desire that through the same Law, each of us would be forced to see our great need for a Savior who alone can make us right with God.  It is God’s will then that His law would point your guilty conscience towards the cross of Jesus where every sin, even our sinful desire to judge others was put to death.  If we will begin to listen to this message of the Gospel in a fresh new way, we will then begin to truly know a Savior who does not judge us in the midst of our sins here in this sinful world.  And remember this—Jesus refrains from judging us not because He can not judge, but because He has taken that judgment upon Himself as our brother and LORD; because He has died in the place of sinners; He has died for you.

And now that we have received this strong love of Jesus, what shall we do with it?

Shall we keep it to our selves?  No, but we are told to go and share what we have received from our Lord with other sinners. What this means for us today is that we are being compelled by the Holy Spirit to show both kindness and mercy towards others who appear to be trapped in sin; others who think or act differently than us – even those caught in adultery, cohabiting men and woman, or the homosexual couple. We are to care about their needs and also their eternity because Jesus cares for them.  We are to speak God’s mercy and love to them, and we do this when we speak God’s truth.

Listen, it is not our job to go around finding the specks in our neighbors eyes, because we are still working on the log that lies within our own eyes.  It is not the job of one blind man to lead another blind man upon a dangerous path.  But rather when asked for the reason of the hope we have in Christ, we are always prepared by God to speak God’s own truth, not in judgment but in love; we are always prepared to point them to the Great Physician Jesus Christ who also desires to heal them of spiritual blindness just as He heals us.

So we speak God’s truth … not in anger or spite, but in mercy and forgiveness. By speaking this way, we pray that God would do the same work of repentance and hope in them that He is doing in us.  So remember, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” [Luke 6:37, 38]. May this strong Word forever lead our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… AMEN.

On Little Sins and Big Sins


Sunday, February 21st, 2016

2nd Sunday in Lent-HL, February 21st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

People often find it easy to make a distinction between little sins and great sins.  I suppose that is to be expected because we all know that there are some sins that are pure scandal.  There’s always particularly bad people that all respectable people avoid and condemn.  It has always been this way; even in the time of Jesus.  Maybe you’ve heard this saying before, “There are little sins and big sins.  Your sins are big and mine are little.”  As humorous as that is, there is a degree of truth to that saying; truth that is, in how we like to judge our own sins.

Speaking of truth, here’s one, Jesus never classified sins.  Instead, He stressed that all sins were evil and enough to disqualify sinners from entering the Kingdom of God, and yet He showed His love for sinners by eating with tax collectors and prostitutes; by answering the prayer of a Canaanite woman, who in the eyes of the Jews, was the equivalent of a wild feral dog.

In our message this morning, we must remember three things: 1. People who seem to be living pure and decent lives may not be as pure in God’s eyes as you think. 2. There are no sins so great that they can’t be forgiven by grace and through faith in Christ. 3. There are no sins so little that they don’t need to be forgiven in the name of Jesus.

People who seem to be living pure and decent lives may not be as pure in God’s eyes as you think. That is to say, just because someone seems to be living a blameless life according to a moral code, doesn’t mean that they have that same standing before God.  You see, God looks within the heart of sinners.  Those things that seem perfectly fine in the sight of men can many times be offensive to God.

When we say that God looks within the hearts of sinners, what we mean is that He looks to see if a sinner is in agony, sorrowing over their sins, any and all sins.  To bring sorrow to sinners, God determined long ago to use that portion of His Word we call the Law of God, which demands that men and women live holy and perfect lives as God is holy and perfect.  When the Law shows us how we fail to do that, then the Law of God is empowered by the Holy Spirit to become as a mirror to sinners.  This mirror of God shows sinners how utterly hideous they are on account of their sins, and then it shows them how lost within the grasp of the devil they are.  At this point, the point of despair, the Word of God then becomes like a brutal hammer that deliberately crushes all of the self reliance out of sinners.  When this happens, it is God’s will that the sinner would cry out to Him for mercy.

This cry for mercy then, is the only prayer that God will hear from a sinner who is not one of Jesus little lambs; it is a prayer that catches the ear of God so to speak, and through this cry of mercy, the heart of the sinner is being prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the gospel, that is the sinful heart has become fertile soil to receive a gospel seed that will grow, bloom, and bear much fruit.  This is then a picture of a sinner who has been prepared to hear the good news of a Champion, the Savior of the world Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is willing to be their Savior as well.

So the truth is that there can be no acknowledgment of sin by a sinner out side of the convicting power of God’s Law, and there can be no forgiveness out side of the Gospel Word, which is the message about forgiveness of sins completely through Jesus Christ alone.  But here is another truth worth remembering…

There are no sins so great that they cannot be forgiven by faith in Jesus. The penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) is a classic example of this, and also the Canaanite woman in our gospel lesson. [Matthew 15:21–28]

Sins are a mysterious thing, even for Christian folks.  Sins have a tendency of clinging to us.  Even after we’ve heard the gospel, and received the sweet absolution of our Lord, many times those sins still seem to hound us.  Why do you suppose that is?  Could it be that we lack faith in God’s promise to forgive?  Or could it be that the devil or someone controlled by the devil has convinced us that some particular sin that we’ve committed just might be to big for grace to pardon; to terrible to be forgiven?  The truth is, even those great sins that seem to linger in our minds like the smell of death, they have to be released when this Gospel message is declared, “Believe in Jesus Christ, and all will be forgiven.”

All sinners, even baptized and redeemed sinners like you and me, we have this sinful tendency to want to do something, anything that will pay for our sins; like I said, that too is a sin.  It’s a sin because it sets aside the blood of Christ that was poured out to cover our sins, and treats it as if it’s nothing.  It sets aside the gift of God’s love that was poured out into our hearts in Holy Baptism, and calls that insufficient.

But God’s Word gives each of us the ability to put to death these sinful thoughts and desires, listen: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.  Through Christ Jesus we have access to the Father.” [Romans 5:1-2]  You see, God wants you to believe in the work of Jesus, that is He desires that you receive that work as a certainty that your sins, all of them are forgiven on account of Christ, the atoning sacrifice, “who God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement for YOU. [Romans 3:25]  And even more amazing, this promise of forgiveness from God becomes effective for you, when you place all of your faith in the mercy of God as poured out for you through Christ.  In other words, this atoning sacrifice for sin, was and is done for you by Christ who is your Great High Priest, simply so that you can approach God in prayer with great confidence.  Not confidence in your own works, but confidence in the work of Christ alone! [Hebrews 4:14-16]

In other words, God works to empty our hearts of all self righteousness, so that He can enlarge them and fill them with faith and love that can come only through the ministry and work of Christ alone.  So, I hope by now you can see that…

There are no sins so little that they do not need to be forgiven in the name of Jesus.

The truth is, each idle word that we speak in anger, jealousy, or pride, is liable for God’s judgment, and it has to be accounted for.  [Matthew 5:22-28]  Our “little” stinging remarks, our lustful looks, our eagerness to be noticed when we do something good, our stubborn unwillingness to forgive—all these things are under the judgment of God until they are included in the forgiveness which we find in Jesus Christ, through faith in Him alone.  That forgiveness includes small and great sins, conscious and unconscious sins, those sins that have tortured us for years, and those that we have forgotten long ago.

Like Jacob in our Old Testament lesson, God wants us to be grieved by these sins, because they separate us from His love.  And then God wants those sins, all of them, to move our hearts to call out to Him in prayer, in Jesus name seeking the forgiveness and change that only He can bring.  Jacob was struggling with God in earnest prayer. This struggle involved a spiritual striving with God for his blessing, which is God’s gift of grace, but it also involved a physical struggle as well. Jacob’s opponent, referred to as “the man,” later identified himself as actually being God.

Jacob’s wrestling with God continued all night long, until with merely a touch, God threw Jacob’s hip socket out of joint. Now Jacob couldn’t continue the painful struggle any longer; so God was telling Jacob to cease striving and simply trust Him and surrendered to His will.  And what did Jacob do?  He threw his arms around God and held on to him. And when God said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak” He was delighted to hear Jacob’s answer, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” You see, God didn’t want Jacob (and he doesn’t want us either) to be timid with him. He wants to give us great victories, especially over things like sin.  Like Jacob, we are simply to be humble and call out to God in prayer.

Jacob clung in faith to God and to God’s promise, and he received the blessing he desired.  Listen: “What is your name?” the Lord asked him, not because he had forgotten but because he wanted to remind Jacob that his name meant “heal grabber” or cheater.  Jacob was known as a sinner who took unfair advantage of his rival. But that old name no longer fit this man, and so God gave him a new one. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

No longer would Jacob rely on his own cleverness to overcome anyone who opposed him. Instead, he would put his trust in God’s promises of blessing and forgiveness. He had learned to lean on God; to trust Him.

Each of us needs to learn and remember this as well.  We so often need to be reminded that in and of ourselves we have no strength, no power with God or man. Our only strength, like Jacob’s, lies in our holding firmly to what God has promised.  When we desire to live out that truth, God reminds us that in our baptism, like Jacob, we too were blessed with a new name; we were called Christian.

You know the truth is, sometimes it can feel like God’s angry with us; as if He were our opponent. Each of us has known times in our lives when we were unable to feel God’s mercy, as if He was only showing us His angry face. Jacob felt that way, but he held on to God even when God seemed like his enemy, and because of his tenacity, Jacob won a blessing. We will have that same experience too, when by faith we learn to say, “My Savior Jesus, I will not let you go unless you bless me and teach me to live out your sweet gift of forgiveness, which you won for me upon your cross and then gave to me in my baptism.”  And wonders upon wonders, He does that very thing as He daily reinforces our faith when we hear and study His Word, and receive His Holy meal at His altar.”

May God continue to forgive all of our sins, big and small, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Words of Comfort and Warning

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent-B, December 7, 2014

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

Click here for audio of this message.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” [Isaiah 40:1]

Comfort… the consolation and reassurance of those who are in distress, anxiety or need. This kind of comfort is an essential part of being human, of living within a community. Scripture declares and reassures us that God is continually comforting His people in times of distress.  And so He does through our message this morning.

Have you heard the story about an old farmer who had been in the habit of plowing his field with an ox and a mule together?  One morning, the ox said to the mule, “Let’s play sick today and rest a little while.” But the old mule said, “No, we need to get the work done, for the season is short.”  But the ox played sick, and the farmer brought him fresh hay and corn and made him comfortable. When the mule came in from plowing, the ox asked how he made out. “We didn’t get as much done, but we made it all right,” answered the mule. Then the ox asked, “What did the old man say about me?” “Nothing,” said the mule.  The next day the ox, thinking he had a good thing going, played sick again. When the mule came in again very tired, the ox asked, “How did it go?” The mule said, “All right, I guess, but we didn’t get much done.” Then the ox also asked, “What did the old man say about me?” “Nothing to me,” was the reply, “but he did stop and have a long talk with the butcher.” The moral of the story?  Be careful, or your idea of comfort may in fact be the beginning of your demise!

This morning God speaks to us real words of comfort, and they come directly from His heart. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” [Isaiah 40:1, 2]

Not just once, “Comfort”, but twice, “Comfort, comfort.” So the Lord begins with a single repeated command. The command flows from the heart of God, and God himself directs this message to be proclaimed  by His messengers, who will announce the good news of his undying love. God wants everyone to hear these words of comfort. He calls us, “my people.” After all of our unfaithfulness, all our rebellion, all our sins, we are still his people! God is still our God, and more than that, He is faithful and gracious, as he promised to be long ago: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” [Exodus 34:6, 7]

Here is a truth that many forget as they mistakenly proclaim their version of comfort: The church through the equipping and power of the Holy Spirit has been entrusted with a new and different kind of teaching, which is the proclamation of the Gospel.

But go to many churches today, and you will hear nothing but the Law; nothing but a confusing message of self-improvement. But that is not God’s heart; He desires that a new message be proclaimed.  He desires that we the church proclaim a sweet, comforting, and joyful message, the Gospel.

This morning God calls you His people. You dear saints are a people, which He will never forsake.  But we are not God’s people by natural birth, but like those born unnaturally.  We are a people who have been crushed and humbled, plagued by turmoil, and who call upon God in the day of trouble. There are other people who trust in their own way, works, and riches, but they are not the people of God. They don’t need comfort, because they have not gone through real sadness for their sins, tribulation over the fate of their sins, and turmoil over the solution to their sins.  They will not receive comfort because their cup is full and there isn’t any room for comfort and consolation.

But you dear Christians hear these words of comfort from your God and you long for it.  Your are not afraid, because you know God as a friend.  You call out to Him, “Dear Father make me holy and pleasing.”  And God speaks back to you, “I have and will continue to make you holy through Christ.  I have brought an end to your terror and fear; I have brought you a double portion of forgiveness for all of your sins.”

And This is how God makes you holy. “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” [Isaiah 40:3-9]

Seven hundred years after Isaiah wrote these words, John the Baptist appeared. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that he came preaching, and all three cite this passage, identifying John the Baptist as the voice who calls. But John the Baptist was not the only voice that fulfilled this prophecy. All preachers have a similar calling to announce the good news of God’s love for all the world. Finally, all believers respond to the Lord’s call when they give voice to the gospel and live out the freedom of the gospel as a witness to others.

The message of John the Baptist and every messenger of God remains, a message of repentance. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. The prophecy pictures the Lord coming to his people from the wilderness. In preparation for his coming, the people are to prepare his way by removing all obstacles to his coming. The mountains, rough ground, and rugged places represent the natural condition of the hearts of the people; by nature all human hearts are hard as rock. The call of the gospel empowers human hearts to believe. Repentance is a turning away from sin and a trusting in the forgiveness God offers. That was John’s message in the wilderness and the message of every believer who gives voice to the hope within. Through the words of the gospel, God knocks on the door of an impenitent, unbelieving heart and creates faith. The obstacles disappear when the Holy Spirit creates faith.

And now for a Word of warning. “A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. [Isaiah 40:6-10]

The voice of the church, of every faithful pastor and proclaimer of the gospel always cries out two messages.  The first is repent, that is turn to God’s mercy because your many sins that define you, are proof that you will die in those sins with no promise of real comfort without God’s solution.  And the second part of the message shows you God’s solution… they show you your Savior Jesus Christ and declare, “Behold your God!”

Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world… even your sins.”  But the sinful world will not receive a Savior born in a manger and put to death upon a cross.  This idea of God is ridiculous to them.  They can not admit that their existence without this Lamb is exactly like the grass and flowers; they can not admit that without faith in Jesus, they too will one day simply wither away and pass into the eternal judgment of this very same unattractive God!

And God’s solution to this is simply for the preacher to go up onto the high places, lift up their voices with strength and… and… proclaim the message again and again.  “The Lord has come and you are free.  The Lord will come again and you will either behold and receive His reward or you will receive your eternal punishment.”

And now for a Word of encouragement for you the church as we wait for Christ’s second advent. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” [Isaiah 40:11]

Dear saints, you have been prepared for the coming of your Lord Jesus.  You are prepared because by faith you see that He first came as a baby, the Son of God born in a manger, and that He left this world as a Conqueror and Savior when He defeated sin, death, and the devil upon the cross and through the truth of the empty tomb.  You have been prepared for that great day when Christ will come again and provide for each of you a resurrected body like His, to live forever within His eternal reign of the new heaven and earth.  But as you wait for His return, you do not wait alone.  Hasn’t He promised that He is with you always, even until the end of this present sinful age?  And because He is with you, you rest within His very heart as He leads you.  But leads you where?  Out, out, forever out into the darkness of this sinful world demonstrating His love to those who are lost, through the very lives that you live.  When you the baptized devote yourselves to the very lives He has equipped you to live, those in darkness who will not acknowledge the Lamb of God, take notice of you and how you live!  As you perform sacrificial acts of kindness such as offering forgiveness freely, caring for the poor, obeying the laws and authorities, helping strangers and neighbors alike in time of need, people notice; people who need a Savior.  And when they notice and they comment, you may simply point them to both the source of your comfort and the divine power that gives it.  You point them to Jesus Christ.

Dear friends, as you live your lives within God’s comfort may He bless your efforts to lead others to the source of that comfort, even to this little church we call Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

It IS Well With My Soul

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 14A, September 14, 2014
Click here for audio of this message

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” [Genesis 50:19, 20]

These words from our Old Testament reading are the words of a Kingdom builder; they’re the Words of Jesus, the Lord of the Kingdom of God, which are simply being spoken by a subject of the King.  They are Words of restoration and peace; they are Words of forgiveness.  They are Words that make all things well with our souls!  With all of this being true, then why do we find it so hard to speak them?  Why is it such a battle to say, “I forgive you”?

Surely we have reasons, good reasons not to trust some people.  I would not put a convicted embezzler in charge of our church bank account, would you?  Would you want a convicted child molester teaching Sunday school?  Of course not, but does that also mean that we should withhold forgiveness, love, and restoration from them?

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we encounter Joseph, a man who had every reason to be bitter, hold a grudge and get revenge.  His own brothers threw him in a well in the middle of the desert and then sold him  to slave dealers.  But Joseph experienced something that changed him forever; he experienced God’s presence and God’s protection.  In the home he was a slave, but he eventually became the head slave and had complete freedom to run the entire home and its business.  But trouble always seems to follow people who know they worship a merciful and loving God and Joseph was no exception.  Very soon he was falsely accused by the wife of the lord of the very home he was serving in.  Bam!  Joseph’s life was turned upside down.  Once again he was falsely imprisoned, but this time it wasn’t in a well but in a real prison!  But Joseph knew that like the well earlier, he wasn’t in that prison alone; he knew that the God of mercy was with Him and where ever God is, all is well with the soul of a child of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Once more God would prove to Joseph that He was a God who makes a way out of no way; He would prove that He was a God who never leaves or forsakes His little ones who serve in His Kingdom; Joseph was given the keys to the prison and allowed to run it!  But that’s not all is it?  No, eventually it became known to Pharro that Joseph was a man of God who could interpret dreams.  So as a result of one meeting with Joseph who spoke the Word of God truthfully, Joseph was made second in command of all of Egypt.

And now before him stands his brothers who did unthinkable evil against him; they were standing before the second most powerful person in the world.  So this was Joseph’s chance to make things right; to right the wrongs that were done to him.  And what does he do?  He makes things right; right in the Kingdom of God!  He offers forgiveness and restoration.  But why… how?  Because that is how the Kingdom of God operates!  You see, the Kingdom of God makes a way out of no way.  In an earthly kingdom where only death and punishment reign supreme, God’s Kingdom brings life and forgiveness. Out of fear and danger God assures His child that all is indeed well with his soul!

Do you think that Joseph had questions about the sincerity of his brother’s confession of sin?  Sure, but having questions, having doubts isn’t what is important here, it’s where you take those questions and doubts.  As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, Joseph immediately gave these things to God and He forgave all of them.  It’s as if he was saying to them, “If God’s forgiven you, who am I to do anything differently?  Don’t you see that what you meant for evil against me, God in His wonderful counsel has turned into something marvelous in our sight.  He’s not only frustrated your evil plan, but He’s used it to bring abundant life and blessing for both me and you!”  And that is always how things work in the Kingdom of God.  You see, as citizens of God’s Kingdom of grace, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

So we see, in this way God causes good to result from evil, not that He wants us to do evil, but in His goodness He can take even our great wickedness and turn it into good.  It’s God’s nature to forgive a fearful and sobbing sinner who is begging Him for mercy.  And this is the very lesson that Jesus was trying to get Peter to understand; it’s the lesson He wants each of us to go home with this morning.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 18:21-35) Peter asked Jesus how many times he should keep forgiving someone for something they do against him over and over.  Now, the Jewish teachers said that three times is enough to satisfy the mercy of God, so that the justice of God could take over.  So Peter took that number and multiplied it by 2 and threw in one more for good measure and answered his own question with a question: “Seven times?”  Now don’t be too hard on Peter, because from a human standpoint, a flawed and sinful standpoint Peter did pretty well.  Even our own society today would call that excessive and a bit naïve.  You know the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me!”

So now learn the lesson about how things work in God’s Kingdom.  “Jesus said to (Peter), “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”  Now that’s excessive!  But the number isn’t the point of Jesus teaching, it’s the attitude or the spirit.  Jesus is teaching us that the new nature of a baptized child of God is the type of nature that doesn’t keep count.  Even if you did count how many times someone kept sinning against you, isn’t it true that you would lose count long before you got to 490?  So the nature of a citizen in God’s Kingdom simply does as Joseph did, He gives it to God and trusts that all things will work together for the good that God has determined.

Joseph learned to trust God and so did Peter.  They learned that even when it seems that things are at their worse, God is still present and in control!  Each of us must learn this as well, and God has made sure that we can do this very thing.  He did it by breaking into our existence, into our history through one event that has rendered everyone subject to One Judge… Jesus Christ Himself!  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has led not only the past, but it shapes the present, just as it will shape the future.  Joseph trusted in the coming Savior along with every other citizen of Heaven that came before and after Him.  And when the Son of God took on our flesh and broke into our present and our future, the words of Joseph become the Words of Jesus: “As for you and your sinful ways, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Through my suffering and death your sins have been wiped clean.  My death brought you life!  Will you rest in this gift or reject it?)”

Today friends, we who are baptized into Christ Jesus can confidently say “I am a citizen of heaven.  I was saved by Christ’s death on the cross, and through that work of the cross, forgiveness of sins was given to me in my baptism! I haven’t refused that forgiveness and I pray for it every day.  Daily through the power of God’s Word, I continue to see the sin that is still within me, but through that same Word I am given the promise of forgiveness and the ability to fight and destroy that sin, as I turn to Jesus and His cross for forgiveness!  Every day I see the unthankful forgiven sinner within me holding grudges and planning revenge against my brother who sins against me, but I take this nature and I drown it in the waters of my baptism; I crucify it upon the cross of Jesus!  Every day I fight to allow God to love my brothers and sisters through me even when they sin against me.  I do this not because they deserve it but because God has done and always will do this very thing for me!”  This dear friends is the life of a child who lives in the Kingdom of God.

Now I could end here and we would have a wonderful message about forgiving our brothers and sisters, but then you wouldn’t have God’s entire message.  In order to complete our message, we must import one more bit of scripture.  In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus has one more group of people that we must learn to love and forgive… our enemies!  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” [Matthew 5:43-45]

Now this can be a hard lesson for all of us to accept, especially right after the thirteenth year anniversary of the September 11th attack against our nation by Muslim terrorists; right after Islamist warriors have decapitated three journalists, two of them Americans, and yet God is asking us to not only accept His will but to fulfill it!  Here the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ gives us a command; we must love those who hate us and attack us.  We must pray for the ability to forgive them and also pray that they would turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration.  This kind of love can exist only in the Kingdom of God; indeed it is the very thing that separates it from all other kingdoms.

Now don’t misunderstand, God isn’t asking you to put your arm around your enemy; He knows that we have reason not to trust them or like them.  But He is asking you to be filled with the love of Jesus and let Him do His work within you!  This is a higher form of love that can only come from God.  It’s the kind of love that says “I know that I will never like a murderous terrorist, or a criminal who may have robbed me or threatened my life; I can’t like a false and lying, slanderous person who has attacked my character over and over again; but I can by the grace of Jesus Christ love them all; I can see what’s wrong with them and follow God’s Spirit within me and work to do them good.  I can pray that God will free them from their vicious ways just as He has done and is doing for me!”

Is living in the Kingdom of God easy?  No, of course not!  It requires the same things that Joseph had and that Peter received.  It requires faith and trust in a God who promises that all things will work together for the good for those who love Him and trust in His calling and purpose!  Will you struggle with this command to forgive?  Yes!  Will you fail sometimes and fall back into a spirit and mindset of the world, probably so!  But remember, its God’s presence and mercy; it’s His forgiveness for you that will carry you through until the end and deliver you safely into His Kingdom!

If  we will remember that we are “children of our Heavenly Father” not because of a decision but because we are reborn by grace through faith in the Son of God, we will not only be able to love and forgive our brothers and sisters, but even our enemies because that is how our Heavenly Father loves them.  As we struggle every day to remember this, we keep turning to Jesus; we keep running to His cross, and we can truly say, “It is well with my soul!”  In Jesus name… AMEN!