Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Traditions!

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

Pentecost 14B
August 26, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark-Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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The play, or movie, “Fiddler on the Roof” is a classic story about a Jewish-Russian family in the early 1900’s, just before the great revolution in Russia.

It’s one of those stories you don’t forget. One thing the story does is that it gives you a feeling for the Jewish love of tradition.  The Jews, especially the Orthodox Jews, have a very prideful sense of history.  They love their traditions. They love their festivals. They love their rituals.  Of all the people on earth, the Jews are some of the most tradition loving people that we know of.

The main characters are Tevye, the old, bumbling Jewish patriarch, and a poor farmer; his wife, Golda, the resilient Jewish mother; and their five lovely daughters, three of whom needed to be married.  The plot of the story is the marrying-off of these three daughters.  So Tevye and Golda employ a matchmaker to match their three daughters to prospective husbands.  The twist is the girls don’t want to use the matchmaker; they want to choose their own husbands based on love.  Those old traditions are beginning to crumble.  

Can you imagine? People actually wanting to choose their own mates and marrying for love, that’s unheard of for the times! Their traditions are changing!

 

In the opening scene, Tevye tries to explain their traditions, he says:

“…In our little village of Anatevka, you might say everyone of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. 

You may ask, ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word, TRADITION!”

Tevye goes on to explain, “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years… we have traditions for everything: how to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God.

You may ask: How did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you… I don’t know, but it’s a tradition! And, because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”

Oh really Tevye?  “Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do?”  

Is tradition really such a clear indicator of God’s will? Is tradition even a good thing?  You may not think so after listening to Jesus in our Gospel lesson today. Jesus seems pretty set against tradition. 

Listen again to what Jesus says. First, He calls the Pharisees “hypocrites” and then He rebukes them, saying, “You have let go of the commandment of God and you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” Then He said to them, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” He goes on to say, “You nullify the Word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”

It sounds like Jesus is thumbing His nose at tradition.

So, if that’s the case, if tradition is bad, then what should we do about this in the Church today? Some might say we need to get rid of our traditions. Many “new age” churches are doing just that. Some churches have rid their sanctuaries of any crucifixes or any crosses; they’re afraid it might turn people off.  They say let’s get rid of the liturgy. We don’t need our pastors to wear these hot robes. Let’s get rid of the organ and these old hymns we sing. Oh, and let’s stop making the sign of the cross.  Many would say these things are old and boring, and a lot of it is just way too Catholic.  Many of these people would point to today’s text in Mark, chapter 7, to support their case. 

But many of these things are something our good pastor would refer to as “adiaphora,” How many of you have heard him use that phrase?   Adiaphora are those things that are neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture. You’re not commanded to make the sign of the cross to remember your baptism. You’re not commanded to use the liturgy as laid out in the Lutheran Service Book. You don’t have to worship in this style. And, you don’t have to do any of these things to gain salvation.

But what was it that Jesus was really objecting to? Was Jesus attacking the tradition or was there something more to the story?

Let’s see what the Bible says and we’ll allow Scripture to speak for Scripture.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Himself kept many of the Hebrew traditions. 

  • Jesus went up to Jerusalem for annual pilgrimages and festivals 
  • Jesus regularly attended synagogue – the Gospels state “as it was His custom”
    • As did many of the apostles after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection
    • Custom is another word for tradition

So it appears Jesus was not completely against “traditions.”

The word “tradition” means “something that is handed down from one generation to the next.”  It could be a traditional teaching or it could be a traditional practice. But the teaching or the practice is neither good nor bad simply because it has been handed down as a tradition.  There are other factors that come into play.

St. Paul uses the word “tradition” many times in a positive sense. In his first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 11, Paul said, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” Here Paul is talking about good worship practices. A little later in this same chapter Paul says, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…” Paul said, ‘This is what I passed on to you.’ That’s tradition!

Likewise, in 1 Corinthians, in chapter 15, Paul writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved… [Paul says again] for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”

Does that sound familiar? They should. Paul’s words – the tradition that he passed on -found its way into the church’s creeds. Those creeds have now become tradition within the worship of the church.

Paul is speaking of passing on that which has been received. And this “tradition” reminds people they are saved and this “tradition” gives hope to those that want to be saved! Tradition does this when the teaching or the practice passed along is one that is centered in the Word of God, the teaching and work of Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. This is tradition in the good sense.

There are many passages throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament, commending tradition, and yet, Jesus speaks against it in our text today. Why? 

We’ve established it’s not tradition in itself that is bad, but the reason behind the tradition, what is being honored in the tradition, and why it’s being done that Jesus calls into question in today’s Gospel lesson.  Jesus wasn’t attacking tradition; He was attacking the Pharisees’ for the heart in which they did the traditions and for sticking to their traditions despite the obvious contradiction to God’s Word.

The primary lesson for today raises the question of conflict between the will of God in the lives and performance of his people, and how those people actually interpret and follow God’s will. 

The Pharisees and scribes wanted to know why Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands in accordance with the traditions of the elders. They were serious about their question – for the Jews there is a huge distinction between the clean and the unclean – a sharp religious distinction that was established by God. There were “unclean” people – for example a woman after childbirth, a leper, or a Gentile (a non-believer). And Jewish people became unclean if they had any contact with any of these people. The type of contact was hard to avoid in a crowded marketplace like it explained in our lesson, so by deduction, everyone coming from the marketplace was considered indirectly “unclean” through mere contact with others. To compensate for this, the tradition of the elders spelled out the rules and procedures to restore oneself to a state religious cleanliness, such as the washing of one’s hands, body and clothing; this was not done for hygienic purity (to actually get clean), but more for the way the hands were washed which was purely for the sake of ceremonial purity. 

So for the Pharisees, these “man-made” traditions were seen as necessary. You had to wash your hands at certain times and in a certain way before you could eat. But this specific tradition was not something that was commanded by God. It was a tradition that was created by the elders. Jesus made the point that these traditions were not absolute as though they were coming from God.

Secondly, these traditions were seen as meritorious, that is, by doing these things you were somehow earning your salvation, or at least contributing toward it.  This was another thing wrong with these traditions; the idea that if you did these things, and followed the traditions you were taught, that somehow you were piling up points with God.  

Don’t we all devise our own reasons in an attempt to justify ourselves and our actions before God? Don’t we all use our traditions to appear more pious before others so that when we come across people that do things differently, the way we do them is always right. 

This is exactly what Jesus meant, this kind of attitude, Jesus describes as an effort to “honor God with our lips.” When we do our traditions in an effort to secure God’s confirmation, or at least our own confirmation, that we’re OK with our values and ideas and we refuse to open our hearts to His changing, invigorating Spirit. We want God to say “Amen” to us and our actions rather than speaking and living our “Amen” to His will.

The truth is, we are all broken people in a broken world and we as sinners cannot keep God’s commandments, let alone all the extra traditions men have added on.

So, when man-made tradition is taught as being absolutely necessary, when it is done in order to earn merit before God, or when it is used to take precedence over God’s clear Word and commandments, then that kind of tradition is definitely wrong. That is what Jesus condemns and that is what we should condemn as well.

But that is not the case with many of the good traditions that we have here in the church. Those traditions we would be wise to keep and pass on to the next generation. For example, included among those good traditions would be the Creeds. In the Creeds we have the teaching of the apostles, passed on for centuries in the church, and preserved for us in a concise, memorable form. The Creeds pass on the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, which we have received, and in which we stand, and by which we are saved. 

What tradition could be better than the Nicene Creed, for instance, which teaches us of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven . . . and was crucified also for us,” and who “rose again according to the Scriptures,” and so on?

You see, that is the Gospel itself, which is what the apostles preached, and which is what we believe, and which is what delivers to us all the saving benefits of Jesus Christ. Our works won’t gain us entry into heaven. Our hands, like the disciples, are defiled with sin, and all the hand washing, and all our self-chosen works cannot and will not get that stain out. Only the blood of Jesus, God’s own Son, will do that. And it does! Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all our sins. The washing God does in Holy Baptism applies the forgiveness that Christ won for us on the cross. This is the Gospel! And this Gospel has been passed on to us in Word and Sacrament; this Gospel delivers all the salvation that we need. This is the value of tradition in the good sense. This is what we should preserve and pass on the next generation.

And so our liturgy, the Lutheran Church’s historic liturgical form, handed down and shaped over many centuries – yes, the structure and texts of the Divine Service, which we have and use every Sunday, the hymns and the organ music – this is something worth preserving and passing on. The church’s liturgy has stood the test of time. The liturgy both expresses and teaches the beautiful Gospel of Jesus Christ better than anything else that some individual could come up with on his own from week to week. So there’s no need to throw out the liturgy. It’s better to learn and use it and to do it well. It’s a good tradition that we have received.  The liturgy is what makes us Lutheran, not what makes us Christian.  And lest we forget, we are Christians by faith and Lutherans by practice. It does good to remind us of who we are and Who’s we are!

Our friend Tevye would tell us, “Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” Well, not exactly. If our traditions get in the way of the Word of God, then no, the traditions of the elders are bad. But when tradition serves the Word of God, to help pass along the one and only saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we can say – and sing out without shame: “Tradition!”

May the Peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Do You Know Who He Is?

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did the people need a new message?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the abundant and eternal life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah.

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

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

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

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

So what is repentance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.