Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

On Obeying the Word of God

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Little Sins and Big Sins


Sunday, February 21st, 2016

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words of Comfort and Warning

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent-B, December 7, 2014

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

Click here for audio of this message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It IS Well With My Soul

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AN EXPOSITION OF SAINT MATTHEW 18:1-22

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 13A, September 7, 2014

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INTRODUCTION: This morning we will discuss a topic near and dear to me, and it is my prayer in Christ’s name that by the end of this message, it will be near and dear to you as well.  Specifically, we will be discussing the application of Matthew 18 in our lives and in the life of our parish.  Have any of you ever heard me speak of Matthew 18 in say the last 2 years?  Well now, with the leading of the Holy Spirit you will understand completely what I meant before and what Jesus desires you to learn today.  And it is also my prayer that these words will bring new life and love to this parish, which IS Christ’s church.

This morning, Jesus declares, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 18:3]

I. Why did Jesus say those words to His own apostles, the ones who were closest to Him, and by default, likely the most spiritually mature of all of the disciples?  Because in fact they were not spiritually mature.  They were trying to understand the coming of God’s kingdom in terms of how the world thinks as oppose to how God thinks.  They had a false idea of what it meant to be the greatest and the best.  To them, to be the greatest meant to be the most powerful, second to Jesus of course.  But that is not how God’s Kingdom operates; His way is the opposite of man’s way.  So Jesus addressing the twelve, calls a small toddler to come to Him, probably motioning to it with open arms, and then He most likely picks up the child who comes quickly and easily, and says… “If you want to be someone important in heaven, then REPENT, that is turn to me in love and trust just as this child did.”

Small children trust so easy and they forgive even easier.  This child most likely had never known Jesus before, but it was attracted by Christ’s love; by His soothing voice and the welcoming gesture.  So it came to Jesus quickly.  And once in Jesus’ embrace, it did not think, “I am such a wise child.  I must be great to be welcomed so easy by this gentle man.”  Little children do not think like that; they simply trust and obey, and the reward from Jesus is more love!

TRANSITION: So, do you want to be someone important in heaven; maybe you want to be a big shot around here?  Good then humble yourself in both the sight of the Lord and your church family here, and Jesus Himself will pick you up. [James 4:10]  But maybe you say that you have already tried that years ago and now you are already mature and in a position of leadership here in Christ’s church.  Ok, then welcome others who are still struggling with pride, fear, and doubts.  Welcome those who are still rough around the edges and difficult to get along with.  Repent, again and again, and hear these words of Christ fresh and new every day: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” [Vs. 5, 6]

I trust that our Lord has your attention now?  Good, then what He says next will definitely move your heart to cry out for His mercy.  Listen…

II. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!  And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

Now, I have preached and taught this portion of Matthew 18 many times and each time it is brought up, it causes some fear and confusion within your hearts.  I seem to have to repeat the teaching of this portion more than any other.  Now this morning I will say briefly and concisely that these words are meant to teach you that it is impossible for you to please God by being good!  You cannot earn a place in heaven by trying to be sinless.  If that was the case, then you should, by all means cut off your offending body parts, and keep cutting and cutting until there is NOTHING left of you, but perfection!  But that is not God’s way of grace.  Christ has the better way; He gives to us the way of the cross, which is the way of baptism.  Repent, turn to Jesus and become nothing so that He becomes everything.  Repent from your desire to be Mr. or Mrs. Big Shot, and become humble like a child, like your Savior.  In this way of the cross, repentance not only brings forgiveness of all sins, but it also brings to you a new ability to welcome, value, and protect those who are by nature and spiritual stature, weaker and less mature than you.

III. The way of the cross will also help prevent you from looking down on other folks.  Or rather, it will help you understand what Jesus means when He says: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?  And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” [Vs. 10-14]

Being humble, being as a child forever running into the arms of Jesus can be a wonderful life, if you will simply embrace it with the faith that God provides, but it can also be a trying and difficult life as well.  What do you do when one of the little immature ones is wandering away from the faith?  What do you do when they are behaving badly, and embracing the way of the world more than the way of the Kingdom of Heaven?  Well, you could look at all of the work involved in helping them come back to the Kingdom way of life and say, “Forget it!  Let someone else worry about So and So.” Or, you yourself, can become like a child, run to Jesus and then follow the real Good Shepherd as He leads you out to find and bring back your lost brother or sister.  You could do that if you truly desire to be humble and willing to be led yourself.

TRANSITION: But don’t some people deserve to be lost and punished for their sins.  Isn’t there a time when we just let some people go to the devil to be tormented and perhaps scared back into the fold?  Well remember now, we are talking about little ones, helpless children in the eyes of God.  If you saw a toddler separated from it’s mother wandering along a dangerous highway, would you say, “Let him go.  If he doesn’t get killed, maybe his fear of this danger will teach him to make better choices next time.”

By now, some of you are catching on to what Christ is teaching us, and some of you are having trouble letting go of your idea of justice.  And perhaps you are thinking, “But pastor, there are times when someone has committed a gross sin, and they simply will not repent.  Are you saying that Christ wants us to ignore that?”  Certainly not!  He wants you to be jared by it like a slap in the face, and then He wants you to do something about it.  He wants you to do everything within the power and abilities that He has given you, to bring that little sinning child back to a forgiven relationship with God; back to a state of grace within Christ’s church.  He does not want you to stop pursuing your brother or sister until they are safe once again within the heart of Christ, within the bosom of His church.  Listen to Christ’s way, the way of the cross…

IV. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” [Vs. 15-17]

A common theme of frustration, which I hear over and over again from dear saints who believe they are following this portion of Matthew 18 is this: “Pastor I have already tried that.  They will not listen to me.”  And my answer, which is also Christ’s answer is, “Try again.”  And the response I get is, “I didn’t read that in Matthew 18!”  And to that response I counter with, “Oh but when Peter asked in verse 21, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered him in verse 22, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  In other words there is not an assigned number of times where you simply give up on one of Christ’s little ones.

But at some point, you will begin to become discouraged and even tired of the tension that your brother’s sinful state is causing both to you and others.  At this point, you should look for both strength and wisdom in the presence of others.  Proverbs 15:22 teaches us that “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”  When you share your burden for your lost brother or sister, you are admitting that you are small and incapable of finding a way of changing the lost ones heart, so you naturally reach out to others who are also aware of the lost one’s state, so that they may assist you in your rescue mission.  And the first thing that you must do as a group is pray to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and then allow the Holy Spirit to formulate a plan that will lead you towards recovering your erring brother or sister.  But I warn you, the others may tell you something you may not want to hear; they may tell you that you are making a much bigger deal out of the behavior of the one you have labeled lost; they may tell you truthfully that what you are experiencing is not sin, but a portion of the other person’s personality that is still immature, but open to growth and change.  In other words, they may tell you that you are making a mountain out of a mole hill.

But if, within the multitude of counselors, there is common agreement that your brother or sister has committed a gross sin against you or Christ’s heart, the church, then you will approach that little one, in love for the purpose of helping that person turn back to Christ and away from the sin that has trapped them.  Again, there is no assigned number of attempts; you simply keep trying until once again, you are exhausted.  When you reach that point, and only that point, are you free to make that lost brother or sister’s sin public, and you do that by telling it to the church.

The church is not the pastor, but he is part of the church.  The church is not the Board of Elders, but they are part of the church.  The church is not only the body of Christ, but it is the place where you find His very heart; it is His bosom of love, where each of us through baptism are brought to nestle safely within.  When you tell it to the church, the church does not respond as the judge, jury, and executioner, but instead they respond as the heart of Christ; they respond in love.

TRANSITION: The church gathered together listens to the perceived danger of the lost little one, and then, and then…

V. And then they pray!  “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” [VS. 18-20]

Binding and loosening is serious business; it has eternal consequences both here and in heaven.  We are talking about either granting forgiveness of sins or withholding it.  This is a matter of heaven or hell.  So the church must pray; we must intercede for our lost brother or sister, but then at the time appointed by God and displayed with the peace of the Holy Spirit’s presence, we must finally confront our lost brother or sister.  “Do you repent of this gross and public sin or do you not?  Do you desire to be part of Christ’s body, protected within His sacred heart or do you not.  Do you repent?”

When this question is asked let the entire church give into their trembling and weak legs and fall onto their faces before God, interceding before His thrown of grace, asking that He please move the heart of their lost brother or sister, so that they will see their sin and return to Christ and His church.  And if they will not repent…

CONCLUSION: Oh, my… how sad.  My heart is broken because resting in the heart of my Lord, I know that His heart is broken too.  If they will not repent, then we have lost our brother; we have lost our sister.  But perhaps there is still hope?  Doesn’t our Lord promise that “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”?  And so we never give up; even if our brother or sister has chosen to be like one apart from Christ, we still wait, hope, and pray that one day they too will return, repent like us; become like a humble child and rest safely and securely in Christ’s Kingdom of grace.

So I ask you now, have you really followed Matthew 18 in the past?  May each of us be moved to follow our Lord’s Words recorded here for the rest of our lives, by the power and love of Christ that compels us… AMEN!

Have You Been Found or Found Out?

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 17C, September 15th, 2013

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“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” [Ezekiel 34:11]

I would like to tell you a story about a little boy named Billy who became lost in a large department store.  His mother was frantically looking for him, because there had recently been several high profile child abductions that played over and over on the national media.  When the police arrived to help, the mother was livid, because she wanted the police to go out immediately and find her son right then, but of course, the police needed some critical information so that they and others could do just that.  About 10 minutes later, the store manager happened to see a little boy matching little Billy’s description playing with out a care in the world in the sporting goods department.  He asked him if his name was Billy and he said yes.  The manager told him that his mother and many others were looking for him and were worried for him.  Then he asked him if he would like to be taken to his mother and the boy’s answer surprised the store manager.  He said, “What for mister; I’m not lost.  I know right where I am!”

This brings up an interesting question.  “How do you find someone who doesn’t even know that they’re lost?”  Can you save someone who doesn’t know or won’t admit that they need saving?  This morning’s message asks us to consider this question about our selves:  Are we found or have we just been found out?

In our gospel reading this morning (Luke 15:1-10), Jesus uses two stories to drive this question home to a bunch of Pharisees and scribes who were the religious leaders of the day.  You see, they were a little upset that Jesus kept hanging around sinners; or what today some might qualify as losers and misfits.  Their type seemed to always gather around Jesus to hear Him speak, just as the Pharisees had.  The only thing different between the two groups was that the sinners and misfits knew they were lost and needed saving, but the religious leaders, like the little boy in my story either didn’t know they were lost in their sins or they didn’t care.  Both groups were drawn by God to hear the Words of eternal life; one group listened and the other refused to listen.

Today Jesus still speaks to us; He is speaking even now.  His Word declares the one thing needful to all human beings… forgiveness of sins.  But this message can get lost in today’s world where there are so many other competing messages.  Watch TV for just an hour and you will be bombarded with a host of products and causes that the talking heads want you to care about and be convinced that you just can’t live without.  Their only job is to get you to support that message with your hard earned cash.  But it isn’t just society that bombards us with a host of other supposed needful messages and causes.

Even in our churches we seem to be overpowered by messages of prosperity and well being.  Their are so many alternative messages being proclaimed from pulpits through out the church, and it’s one mandated message of forgiveness of sins seems to have been removed, or at least assigned an almost insignificant place amongst the many messages that are communicated.

On any given Sunday you will hear a message about healthy marriages, the secret to raising godly children, how to be God’s man or woman in the work place, and other assorted themes to the point where forgiveness of sins is mentioned as only an after thought: “Oh, and by the way, God loves you.  You are forgiven!  Now go out and make money build the kingdom through happy marriages and godly children.”

In our Epistle reading (1 Timothy 1:5–17), St. Paul instructs Timothy to warn these false preachers about preaching and teaching just these sorts of messages.  But before Timothy approaches these ill-prepared false preachers, Paul reminds Timothy the purpose of all preaching; he writes, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”  In other words, to those who will find out how badly they were lost in their sins, and how grave their situation was in their lost-ness, once they are found, or once they know that God has forgiven them through Jesus Christ, their response will most certainly be one of great love that comes from a heart and conscience that has been purified by the mercy of God and the work of Christ upon the cross.  But says Paul, (A) “Certain (group of) persons, by swerving from these (truths), have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” [1 Timothy 1:5-7]  In other words, preachers and teachers who haven’t been prepared by God to proclaim and teach His Word are using the law of God for illegitimate purposes, and it will not make their listeners right with God.

Like today, some were using the law to teach people how to live a better life; how to get a blessing from God, when the first and foremost purpose of the law is to show us our sin; to show us that we are hopelessly lost if we will not let God find us!  So the primary use of the law is like a mirror; it shows us our sins in all of their hideous glory!

When my daughter was younger, occasionally she would go to school dances.  She would spend a considerable amount of time preparing her self, until she felt that she looked “presentable”.  One afternoon, her preparation time seemed to be considerably longer than usual, so I walked down the hallway to the bathroom to enquire about the delay.  As she looked at me through the mirror, she said in a voice that was almost a sob, “I hate this mirror.  It shows to much stuff!”  Now, being a man, I really didn’t get what she meant, so I asked her to explain.  She said, “Dad can’t you see that big zit on the side of my nose.  No matter how much make-up I put on it, I can still see it, and so will every one else!  Why can’t we have a regular mirror like everyone else?!”

And that dear friends is the primary purpose of God’s law; it is designed to show us all of our sins, even the little ones that no one else but God will notice!  Even if we don’t like what it shows it still shows it!

Once God has our attention; once He has forced us to see our sin, then and only then will we know how badly we need saving.  Then and only then will we see the fork in the road; the two ways we can go.  One road is the way of endless hope, the gospel of Jesus Christ which assures us that through His work upon the cross and the Spirit’s work within the waters of baptism, He is daily renewing us with His Word and promises of grace and forgiveness.  But the other road, the one without Jesus, is a way which leads only to a hopeless end, where our sins forever cling to us and dam us to hell.

This morning God has spoken.  You have been shown your sin and shown your Savior, Jesus Christ.  This morning you have been found and found out.  Perhaps when you heard Paul’s lists of sins in our epistle lesson you may have felt secure.  Maybe you were saying to yourself, “OK, I don’t go around hitting my mother and father, I haven’t killed anyone, I don’t sleep around, I don’t engage in homosexual acts, I don’t have any slaves, and I don’t lie… well I only tell little lies, and any how, I’ve never testified in court, so I should be alright.  And to that… to that I would like you to think about how very little children play hide and seek.

Watch how little children between two and four years old hide when they are playing hide and seek.  Not only will they find a secluded corner to hide in but they will also lower their heads and cover their eyes.  When they are found, when the seeker calls out, “I see you hiding on the side of Daddy’s chair” they will not look up or agree that they’ve been found.  Instead the seeker who has found them often must touch them on the shoulder to assure them that they really were found.  It is as if they are saying, “If I can’t see you then you can’t see me!”

This morning in His Word of Law and Gospel, Jesus has found you.  He has tapped you on the shoulder and said, “I see you hiding your sins from my Father in Heaven.  You can’t deny that truth; you’re found out!  But the good news is I found you!  I didn’t find you to punish you or hall you in front of my Father to be ridiculed; no, I found you so that I could save you.  I found you so that I could remind you that I have already paid for your sins upon the cross; I’ve already saved you in the waters of your baptism.  I am the one that draws you to me every Sunday so that you can hear the same message over and over.  You are found!  You are forgiven.  You have been recreated and every day I will watch over you!”

What a wonderful message of love… forgiving love we hear in this holy place.  It is a message that will most certainly result in a great love for God and each other along with a pure heart, a good conscience, and a true faith.

This morning let’s close our message with these Words of Jesus: “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God (in heaven) over one sinner who repents.”  This morning we have all given the angels much to be joyful over as each of us turns to our Savior Jesus Christ and prays, “Save us Jesus we are Yours!”  AMEN!

It’s Already Forgiven!

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 16-C, September 8th, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

“Confident of your obedience, … I know that you will do even more than I say.” [Philemon 21]

Our Epistle lesson this morning (Philemon 1-21), is a little different from our usual epistles, and here’s how; all of the other Epistles in your Bible are general letters to all of the people in a local congregation, or they are intended for many congregations that make up the Church.  But this one, … this one is different.  It is a private letter from the Apostle Paul to a pastor and leader of a local church; a man named Philemon.

Philemon was not only a pastor he was also a wealthy one.  How do I know that?  Because he owned slaves!  Slaves?  Wait just a minute, why would a pastor own slaves?  Because that was an accepted practice within the Roman Empire, and specifically in the area that he lived, a town called Colossae.  The ranks of slaves were not only made up of those who were conquered in war, but also of persons who voluntarily sold themselves into slavery so that they would have a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a little money to spend.  Now within the roster of slaves working for Philemon, was one named Onesimus.  What he did for Philemon, and how he became a slave is unknown, we only know that he was a slave in the household of Philemon.

But what we also know is that Onesimus ran away and eventually found St. Paul in a Roman prison waiting for a trial that would eventually lead to his death.  Why did he run to find Paul?  Because St. Paul was the founder and Bishop of that church in Colossae and Onesimus knew it.   He must have known many things about Christianity while observing the worship services in Philemon’s home.  He also must have observed many qualities of the Christian faith that he admired but which also confused him, so it only made sense that when he ran he would seek out the only authority he knew of within the Christian church, the Apostle Paul.

So here are three truths we must realize so that this message will make sense.  1. This is not a message on the morality of slavery.  2. When Onesimus ran away, he committed theft; he was depriving his master Philemon of the income or service that he would have rendered had he stayed.  3. Onesimus was attracted by the Christian faith, from what he heard and witnessed, but he was not yet converted; that is, when he ran away, he was not a Christian.

Now let’s look at the letter.  In verse 4 Paul reminds Philemon of his true identity in Jesus Christ.  He is not just a wealthy business owner; he is not just a husband and father; he is not just an owner of slaves; and he is not just a leader of a local congregation… he is Christ’s own Ambassador in all of the vocations or positions of life that he lives.  Through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ he has been set free, pardoned of all of his sins.  In his baptism this pardon engulfed him and recreated him into the image of His Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words he was made one with God through a relationship of love and faith with the Son of God.  Now this is the truth that empowers St. Paul’s entire message contained within this letter.  The underlying question throughout this whole letter is this: Shouldn’t this relationship with God through Jesus Christ direct every thing we do in life and guide the way we live and behave with all people?

In verse 6, Paul talks about the fellowship of believers and how we relate to each other in the body of Christ and how we treat those outside of the church who hopefully will be attracted to the faith because of how we treat them.  Sometimes I mourn over the damage done to the image of the church because of our public persona.  The church may no longer be seen as a group of ordinary people who love in an extraordinary fashion, by celebrating joyfully with others over their great fortune, and weeping and mourning intensely with still others because of their misfortune and tragedies.  Instead, I am afraid we sometimes may be seen as a group of individuals who just want to get our praise on and avoid letting others into our tight circle because either we are jealous that their blessing isn’t our blessing, or because their sorrow is bringing us down and threatening to take the joy out of our own lives. Paul’s letter is encouraging us to go back to our relationship with God through Christ, and he is commanding us to be reconciled with God and with our brothers and sisters in true Christian love!

In verse 7, Paul asks us to consider a couple things.  Are we being a blessing and useful to others in the church by how we spend our time talent and resources and are we allowing others to bless and be useful to us with their time, talent, and treasure?  Or are we so caught up in the moment and with those in our little cliques that we have no time for others who may be different than ourselves?

In verses 8-15, Paul acknowledges that Onesimus sinned against Philemon, and he admits that this sin has separated the two.  But Paul points out that Onesimus not only acknowledges this before Philemon and Paul, but before God Himself.  You see, Onesimus has turned and received God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ; he was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and now being reconciled to God through Christ, He also wishes to be reconciled to Philemon.  In other words, Paul is once more turning Philemon’s eyes and heart to Christ and His cross.  He is showing Him that forgiveness has already been accomplished at Calvary, now all that is lacking is for Philemon to pronounce and live out that same forgiveness towards Onesimus, who once was only a slave, but now is so much more than that, he is Philemon’s brother!

In verse 18, we have perhaps the most beautiful part of the letter.  Here we see Paul, who points Philemon and us to the cross, and he takes up that same cross himself on behalf of Onesimus.  He says that what ever Onesismus owes you, what ever harm he has done that you feel demands restitution, charge it to me, Paul, personally!  “In other words,” says Paul, “as Christ paid my debt of sin and freed me from that burden, I too can not help but do the same for Onesimus.”  Now this is beautiful and it is important, because it sets up what comes next.

In verse 21, Paul says that he is confident that Philemon will take back Onesimus as his brother in Christ without penalty and with complete forgiveness, in fact he is confident that he will do something even better. Paul is certain that Philemon like himself, through the power of the Spirit of Christ, will also take up his cross, and absorb what every financial or social loss that Onesimus’ disobedience caused, just as Christ did for Philemon and Paul upon His cross, where His death brought life for all sinners, even sinners such as Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.

Dear friend, may I speak to you personally through the grace and forgiving love of Jesus Christ?  Do you know that I thank God for your salvation; I can’t help but celebrate that like me, He has snatched you too out of the grasp of the devil by paying for your sin Himself.  What a joy it is to know that He has also washed you and recreated you into His own image in your baptism, so that like me, you too need never fear the punishments of death.  The fact that you are listening to these words this morning is proof of your love for Christ, even as weak as it may be, it is present by the work of God, and for that I truly am joyful.  I know that it is this same love of Christ that has moved you to give freely and abundantly in your time, talent, and treasure to the church and in other places and ways.  Through your giving, you have truly refreshed the lives of so many.

Now because of this wonderful gift of grace that is active in your life, I must be bold to speak a command of God.  “You must be reconciled with your brother or sister.”  You are required to do this thing, not asked.  Yet you are forgiven through grace, so this command will not cause you any fear or worry, because it will actually be Christ within you forgiving, becoming reconciled to the one that has hurt you and deserves, in the worlds eyes, only punishment and retribution.  You know as well as I that any good works that God commands, which are done out of fear or obligation, do not count for a thing in His eyes.  Instead, we know that God loves a cheerful giver, one who gives of their time, talent, treasure, and even forgiveness, voluntarily out of a heart filled with love and abundant thankfulness for what Jesus has done!

So I, a simple pastor who at times can also be a sinner, ask you to forgive that person who has sinned against you.  Let it go and allow the cross of Jesus Christ to absorb it.  When you see them living their life as if they had never sinned against you, why not do the same.  Let all anger and animosity go and be reconciled to that person.  Sit down, speak truthfully with them; talk about sin, their sin and your own, and talk about grace, Christ’s grace that forgives each of you completely.  Think of how you were baptized and know that the very same waters also cleansed them.  Allow them back into your life after God’s own Word has restored both of you.  This is my prayer for each of you and it is the very thing that I celebrate even now, because I know that by the Spirit of Christ, you will do even more than I ask.

As we close our message, I thought that I would share one more bit of information with you about the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus.  Not only did Philemon forgive Onesimus and take him back, he took him back just as Paul asked, as a dear brother, fellow redeemed sinner through Christ Jesus.  Now to strengthen our faith, allow me to show you what God can do when brothers and sisters are willing to be reconciled with each other through Jesus Christ.

Some time latter after Onesimus’ return, Philemon released Onesimus and had him go back to Paul and serve as a missionary as Paul directed him (Colossians 4:7-9).  Church tradition teaches that later Onesimus went on to become a bishop of the Church in the city of Ephesus at the age of 70, and latter he probably died as a martyr in the Christian faith, refusing to recant his faith in God and his love for his Savior Jesus Christ.

All of this, because Philemon obediently followed the Spirit of Christ and was willingly reconciled to Onesimus.  I wonder whose lives we can influence and change by also being obedient to the Spirit of Christ?  May God bless each of us Onesimuses, and may we also be reconciled to those we have hurt and to those who have hurt us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Listen To Him!

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Transfiguration of Our Lord (Year C), February 10, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Our mesage begins with listening to this Christian song about God’s pure light.

“In The Light” by DC Talk

I keep trying to find a life on my own; apart from you I am the king of excuses.  I’ve got one for every selfish thing I do; what’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior.  This only serves to confirm my suspicions that I’m still a man in need of a savior.

(chorus)

I wanna be in the light

As you are in the light.  I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens.  Oh, lord be my light and be my salvation, cause all I want is to be in the light.  All I want is to be in the light.

The disease of self runs through my blood.  It’s a cancer fatal to my soul; every attempt on my behalf has failed to bring this sickness under control.  Tell me, what’s going on inside of me?  I despise my own behavior; this only serves to confirm my suspicions, that I’m still a man in need of a savior.

(repeat chorus)

Honesty becomes me [there’s nothing left to lose] The secrets that did run me [in your presence are defused] Pride has no position [and riches have no worth]The fame that once did cover me [has been sentenced to this earth] Has been sentenced to this earth.  Tell me, what’s going on inside of me?  I despise my own behavior this only serves to confirm my suspicions, that I’m still a man in need of a savior.

And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”” [Luke 9:35]

The song we just heard is called “In the Light” by a Christian group named DC Talk.  Maybe you’ve found yourself relating to the words?  Maybe you too keep trying to find a life on your own; a life that you feel will bring you joy, but no matter how hard you try to do it your way, happiness is always just out of reach.  Maybe like the song you are ready to admit that what is really going on inside of you, is your own selfish desire; a self-pleasing desire.

Maybe, you can see that your disease of self-worship is imbedded into your very DNA; it runs through your blood like a cancer, and it is fatal to your soul, which is your eternal life?  If so, you are in good company.  You are in the company of the likes of Moses, St. Peter and St. Paul.

St. Paul lamented, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” [Romans 7:15-20 ESV]

And then in our Old Testament lesson, we see Moses; poor Moses.  So close, and yet so far.  He was the one God had chosen to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt, and into a land flowing with milk and honey.  It was Moses that God gave great wisdom; perhaps short of Jesus, the greatest prophet who had ever spoken the Word of God, and the reason was that God spoke with Moses not in dreams, but face to face.  Moses was the only man who had seen God and did not die!  And now, after 40 years of wandering in the desert because of the sin of the very people he was leading, Moses himself in anger with those people, sinned against God.  There they were, just out side of the Promised Land, ready to enter, and God told Moses, “Not so fast.  You will not be going with them.  I will let you go up on the Mountain and look at the place, but you will not be leaving with them; you have a date with me.  You will die on this mountain and they will go on without you.”

Why?  Why would God do this to poor Moses?  Because, as I said, Moses sinned against God, and God can not tolerate sin.  Moses knew that His anger was displeasing to God, and yet he allowed it to get the better of him.  When God told Moses to draw water from the rock by striking it with his staff in order to silence the sinful and grumbling Hebrews, Moses did more than strike it; he beat that old rock with his staff out of anger.  It was anger that Moses would not confess and give to God that caused Him to sin!

What is it that is interfering with your relationship with God?  What are the secrets that you are hiding that are running and ruining your life?  Do you want to know what is going on inside of you and why you see very little change?  It is because you are not allowing the light of God to enter your heart and deal with what you think is a secret sin.  Here is a newsflash for you… it’s not a secret to God.  He already sees it; He’s known about it forever… He just wants you to acknowledge it and let Him remove it!

In our gospel reading (Luke 9:28–36) we see God demonstrating this spiritual truth to Peter, in a miraculous and mysterious way.  We see the hope of the Hebrews, of Moses, the hope of the Church, and even your hope displayed in a way that should give comfort, strength, and encouragement, so that we can keep on trusting in God’s forgiving presence and work in our lives.

What is it that we see on that mountaintop?  Yes, we see Jesus; we see Him praying.  And with Him are John, James, and Peter.  Now before we move onto the miraculous, let’s not lose sight of the ordinary; let’s look at Peter for just a moment, so that we might also see ourselves.  Who is Peter?  Is he someone extraordinary that God chose to be an even greater man for Jesus?  No; this is Peter the impetuous; Peter the hothead; Peter the self-centered sinner, who dared to tell Jesus that He must not go to Jerusalem if the people there were planing on killing Him on a cross.  And what did Jesus say to this worldly wisdom?  “He said get behind me Satan!”  Do you see, Jesus equivocated Peter’s self-centered sin as equal to the sin of Satan, who was forever cast out of heaven and eternally separated from the love of God!  Yes, this is Peter, the same man who would soon enough not only abandon Jesus but swear three times that He never even met Him!

And why was Peter there on that mountaintop?  For the same reason you are… to witness and to hear God’s redeeming work in a miraculous and mysterious way.  “And as (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.  And behold, two men were talking with (Jesus), Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” [Luke 9:29-31]  What departure?  Why His death upon the cross!  That was necessary, because it was the will of God that the Son of God must complete all of the work that was placed upon Him in His baptism, there in the waters of the Jordan river.  What work?  To fulfill all righteousness!

And before we can ask what it means to fulfill all righteousness, good old Peter opens His mouth again: “And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.””  There He goes again; speaking when He should be worshiping; thinking of himself when He should be hearing what God is speaking.  Listen to what happens and is said next, and see if you understand what I mean: “As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” [Luke 9:34-36]

If you can see Peter’s problem, perhaps you can also see your own.  Peter was speaking and thinking when He should have been watching and listening.  He was wanting to work when God wanted Him to worship.  Instead of having the spirit of a servant He had the spirit of an organizer.  Instead of saying “Speak oh Lord, for your servant is listening” he was saying, “Listen, Oh Lord, for I am speaking.”

There in front of Peter was the Son of God, in all of His heavenly glory.  Somehow, for just those few moments, Peter, James, and John were no longer on the mountaintop, but in a place where heaven and earth meet, and Peter missed it.  He missed the bright light of God’s glory, and He missed the truth that Moses and Elijah were there to hear Jesus speak to them.

Moses and Elijah; two ordinary men that did extraordinary things for God were not dead but there speaking with their Master.  Peter should have been willing to allow God to teach him; he should have called out for wisdom and asked Jesus to teach him what God was doing, but instead He wanted to tell God what He would do.

So what is the solution to Moses sin; to Peter’s sin, and to our own sin?  We must listen to Jesus.  We must hear the very Word of God and let it change us.  We must allow God’s glory to blind us in the perfection of His law; allow it to bring great fear into our hearts and then allow it to be replaced with only Jesus.

“This is my Son, my Chosen One; your Savior.  He is the one who was baptized into your sins; into the death that you should die.  He is the one who took your place upon the cross and died in your stead.  Listen to Him!  Hear Him and allow Him to bring forgiveness into your life and then allow Him to change you from the inside out.  Know that just as Moses did not see his reward in an earthly Zion, he did enter his eternal Zion, and so shall you. Know that just as Peter continually displayed a sinful self-centered way of looking at the world, eventually he understood the meaning of the mountaintop experience, and so shall you when you come into my glory forever!”

Dear friends, there is a time to speak and a time to listen.  In the church, during Divine Service we start with this very pattern.  In the beginning, at the very start of our worship, we begin by speaking to God; being honest with Him in our confession of sins.  But after this is done, it is time to listen; time to hear and receive wisdom from above.  That wisdom is the truth that through Christ, God has taken away not just your sin but the result of those sins.  This is the light of God’s glory; it is the light of His Son Jesus Christ.  It is why you are here; it is the very message that you must hear, so that it can change you.  You must not leave this mountaintop we call church until you see this light; until you see Jesus for who He really is.

But soon, you must leave this mountaintop we call Divine Service; you must allow the light and the glory to fade so that you will continue to hear the voice of God in His Word echo in your heart, “This is my Son.  Listen to Him.”  You must open your eyes and lift your head that is bowed in worship and see only Jesus.  See Him as He leads you out into a world of darkness; a world of sin.  And as He leads you, He alone will be your source of truth and your source of light.  He alone calls you to follow Him under the cross of disappointment and agony, and then speak His message of hope to others who are also lost within themselves.

It is a message that can only be received in the light of God’s Word.  You are forgiven and there is hope there at the mountaintop; there in Christ’s church, where His Word and Sacraments become your source of strength and your promise of entering the Promised Land, your heavenly Zion.

It is a message that walks down from the mountain top with Jesus, and then watches as He climbs another hill alone; the hill of Calvary… Golgotha, where he alone makes us right by taking away our sins through His mighty passion upon the cross.  This is how Jesus fulfills all righteousness; this is how He makes you right with God!

May God continue to help us to listen to, worship, and experience our Transfigured Lord this coming season of Lent and forever.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Who Is Welcome Here?

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

15th Sunday in Pentecost B, September 9, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“”Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”” [Isaiah 35:4]

Can you remember a time in your life when you had an anxious heart; when you were separated from God and you knew it?  What is it  that separated you from God’s love; wasn’t it your sin?  Didn’t that make you afraid of thinking about eternal things; about judgment?    And yet here you are this morning; listening to God’s Word and experiencing a new and abundant life!  True, it isn’t always and easy  life, but it is a lot better than the other option of living a life of fear and worry.

So how did you get here, living this life of faith?  How did you become a Christian?  Was it your decision to simply turn away from a life  of sin, or was there more to it?  What I mean is, if you simply decided to turn to faith and away from sin, then why are you still sinning;  why are you still struggling with living a life that is pleasing to God?

Ok, I know that is making you a little uncomfortable, so I’ll try another approach; perhaps you are here living this Christian life of faith  because someone invited you at just the right time to come to church, and your life has not been the same since?  Well then, if that’s  the truth, I would say that you owe that person who invited you to church your very life.  I would say that there is no limit to how much you can and should do to repay that person for the kindness they’ve shown you!

I know, I know… that reason doesn’t seem practical either, so let me try something else; something different and outside of you.  Perhaps, just maybe you are here because Jesus saw inside of you, knew the real you and still saw someone worth saving; worth touching and worth speaking to!  Maybe in a way that only God could touch or speak, He simply said, “Ephphatha!  Be opened” and it was at that point your ears were opened to hear the truth; God’s truth.”

In our gospel reading we see two examples of healing and both were done to people you and I would probably have over looked.  One, was a strange foreign woman and the other was a deaf and babbling foreigner who could only mumble and point.

The foreign woman was the insistent type; she insisted on having a one on one talk with Jesus!  She wouldn’t settle for His helpers or friends; it had to be with Jesus alone!  Now she was a strange one; she was different.  Today, you might call her needy and clingy; you might even say she was downright rude.  You know the type I’m talking about; the type that won’t take no for an answer.  Now the apostles I am sure tried to send her away, after all she was a dirty, no good gentile woman, but she refused to leave.  Finally, when Jesus came out of the home he was in, she pushed her way past the crowd and through the apostles, fell down at Jesus feet and worshiped Him.  She worshiped Him and called out for mercy; she called out for the one thing only Jesus could do… drive a demon out of her daughter.

Now, I am going to ask you a tricky question; the answer isn’t what you think it should be, so take your time before you answer.  Did Jesus heal her daughter right away?  Wait, don’t answer yet… really meditate on the question.  Here let me help you.  After Jesus received her worship and heard her speak out loud her question, he immediately responded with a statement of facts, He said,  “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  Now that is a strange thing for Jesus to say; why would he call that desperate woman a dog?  Does that sound like the Jesus you have come to know?  Did he really call her a dog… someone less than human?  No!  He called her something more than a dirty wild dog and something less than a Jew; He called her what she was, a gentile sinner, in need of a Savior.

You see, Jesus spoke correctly when He said that it wasn’t right to take the food out of the mouths of His children.  What parent here would feed anyone or anything before their children were fed?  No one would, and that is Jesus point.  You see, the Jews were the children of God by default, because they were the children of Abraham; descendants of that man of great faith.  It was to Abraham who God promised that one of His descendants would be the promised Messiah, who would come to save the Jews first and then the gentiles from their sins.  And now before the very eyes of this woman stands that Messiah; Jesus, the Son of God and the son of Mary.  And He is telling her that His first mission to the Jews is not yet complete; her time, the time of the gentiles has not yet come.  But that doesn’t explain why Jesus called her a dog.  Well, let’s see if we can shed a little light onto that one.

The Jews, who were supposed to be a light to the gentiles, a light that showed them the way to God’s forgiving love, instead mostly drove the gentiles away; they acted hatefully and superior.  They looked down on the gentiles and even called them dogs; the kind of dogs that were homeless and unclean; they called then “ka-leeb”.  Ka-leeb was the Hebrew word used to describe the dogs found in the junkyards or roaming the streets at night.  But Jesus did not use that word, instead he used a Greek word that referred to the woman and other gentiles as Kynariois, or family house doges.  That kind of canine was the beloved and cherished family pet.  But as much as you love your pets, you certainly would not feed them first and then feed your children.

Now the gentile woman picked up on that word that Jesus used to describe her, and she spoke it right back to Him; “Yes, Lord; yet even the kynariois (pet dogs) under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  And to this Jesus smiles and sends the woman home; home to a daughter who is already healed.  So the answer to the question is yes, Jesus did heal her daughter immediately, perhaps even before they spoke.  He healed her because the request that came from her mother was completely covered and surrounded in faith.

So my next question is this: Why did this woman have faith in Jesus?  Why did she trust Jesus?  She trusted Him because Jesus opened her heart to trust Him.  Like the man who had been deaf and unable to speak for such a long time, she was helpless to hear about and believe in Jesus unless God opened her ears and her heart to hear and believe.  Just as Jesus spoke the Word “Ephphatha” to the deaf mute, He spoke the same Word of opening and believing to the woman.  The Word of God speaks the will of God.  And what is God’s will?  That none should perish but have everlasting life!

Eternal life is a gift; it is never earned nor a birth right.  You are not a Christian because your parents were Christians; you are a Christian because God has spoken the Word Ephphatha to you.  He spoke it to you in your baptism and he speaks it to you when you gather around His Word and at His table to receive His Supper.  We believe because He has spoken, and when He speaks to us Ephphatha He speaks new life.  It is a Word that is spoken to dirty no good sinners and holy and righteous saints alike.  It is a Word full of power and it both kills and brings back to life.

Are you listening?  Do you hear Jesus speaking Words of death and life?  He is asking you to be open and listen; perhaps He is even asking you to speak Words of life to someone you would not usually speak to?  Maybe He is asking you to step outside of your comfort zone and associate with people who are not like you; people you would normally not give a second thought to.  If you are rich or at least well off, maybe He is asking you to share the gospel, or invite someone who is poor to church.  Or if you are poor, maybe He is asking you to speak openly and sincerely with someone who appears rich or above your economic status; you know rich people need Jesus too!  Or maybe He is asking you to speak to someone who is obviously living a life far removed from God and the church; maybe it is someone or a group of someones who intimidate you or even infuriates you?

Will you speak; do you dare go that far outside of your comfort zone?  Yes, and you will do it if you allow God to open your heart along with your ears.  You will do it because you know that God is no respecter of persons or status.  If He was, He never would have chosen you.  And yet, He did!  Jesus died for you.  On the cross He had you on His heart and His mind, and in your baptism He called you God’s own child!  You are God’s own child because the Word of the cross opened your heart and your ears.  You are God’s own child because the waters of your baptism washed you clean and recreated you.  You have been transformed from a sinner to a saint.  From a dog to a child of God, and now God asks you to watch Him do the same thing again and again through His Word that you carry in your heart.  “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

So sing for joy.  Tell everyone who will listen, because everyone really is welcome in God’s house.  Tell whoever God puts in your path, about what Jesus has done for you.  Invite them here to this place to hear the very words that save you… Ephphatha… be opened!

Do As I Say, Not As I Do!

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

13th Sunday in Pentecost B, August 26, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh  joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” [Isaiah 29:18, 19]

Today is the day, which this prophesy speaks of!  Today, you hear the Word of God, the Words of His book and you are called out of your gloom and  darkness so that your blind eyes may see!  You who were once weak are filled with the power of God, and your joy is fresh and new every morning.    And why do you hear and see?  Why is your joy in the Lord refreshed every morning?  So that you will praise your Holy God!

Now if I were to ask you how you will praise the Lord, you might say in song and words of acclamation.  That is how we usually think of praise; in fact  the Book of Psalms is full of examples of God’s people being directed to sing praises to their God.  But if all we are giving is lip service and not changed  lives, I’m afraid we are like a mighty tree in the forest that is overlooked and disregarded every year by the lumber jacks.  There is good reason that  the lumberjacks pass over the biggest and oldest trees; you see, many of them are hollow and dead on the inside.  They’re fit only to provide a home  for raccoons and owls.  While they appear to be strong on the outside, they are dead and rotten on the inside.

Maybe you prefer another example of what lip-service religion is like.  How about this… it’s like a father who complains about the amount of time his  family spends in front of the television. His children watch cartoons and neglect their school work. His wife prefers soap operas to housework. His  solution? He’s going to cancel their cable service… as soon as baseball season is over.  The truth is, we are all prone to live our lives as hypocrites.    We say one thing and do another.  “Do as I say” we may tell our children and grandchildren, “and not as I do!”

In both our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 29:11-19) and our Gospel lesson (Mark 7:1-13) this is the warning that God gave to both the people then and us today.  In essence, God is calling us out; out of darkness and into light… His light!

People in darkness think that they are hidden from God; they think that God doesn’t see them.  They believe that they can hide their true intentions and actions from an all-knowing God.  That’s what Adam and Eve thought after their sin, when they tried to hide both their location and their nakedness from God.  The truth is, their sin and our sin is a darkness that doesn’t hide us from God, it hides God from us!  In essence, sin makes our hearts hollow and foolish.

If God was a master potter and you were His clay, wouldn’t it be foolish if after He made you into a beautiful pot or vase, you told Him that He made a mistake when He made you, because you were suppose to be a bowl.  Or worse yet, wouldn’t it be foolish if you denied the existence and workmanship of the Potter?  And when we live our lives as if God does not see or know what we do, that is precisely what we are doing.  The clay, you and I are nothing without the Potter who created us.  How foolish we are to deny the presences and attention of our Creator!  And yet we do precisely that!

What is sin if not an individual’s claim to be superior to the Lord of heaven?  When God tells us “Don’t” the heart of a sinner says, “I am free do to whatever I want, as long as it isn’t illegal.” When God in His Word tells us over and over again that “By grace you are saved through faith,” the heart of a sinner says, “I earn my way.  I will make a life and a future for myself!”

You see, sin turns everything, and I mean everything upside down.  The heart of a sinner doesn’t want God sticking His nose into its business.  It doesn’t want free and faith-filled grace; it doesn’t want a God that sends Jesus to be our Savior.  Instead, it fights that grace and demands a god who didn’t die on a cross and then invite us to die with Him!  Instead of a graceful and loving God of mercy, it wants a god that accepts good intentions and overlooks failures, foolishness, and perversions.

It isn’t hard to imagine Jesus, in our gospel reading, just throwing His arms up in the air and saying to the Pharisees, saying to the hypocrites, “You just don’t get it!”  They didn’t get and many times, neither do we.  We forget that our lives aren’t about what we say or about what we do, instead they’re centered on who we are, or who we are solely because of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ!

We too, many times don’t get it.  What we do get is paying our own way.  We understand that earning the right to speak is expected and accepted.  We understand if someone tells us that we need to clean up our act before we ever think of coming to God.  And to that God says, “You just don’t get it!”

But we do understand that our outward show of religion is expected if we are to be accepted by those who are considered religious.  We are willing to offer everything to God as Corban (Mark 7:9-13), while leaving nothing to care for the needs of our parents.  We will gladly put them away in nursing homes and let the government take care of them.

It’s true, many times we don’t get it, and that’s why we don’t like to look inside ourselves where only hollowness and rotting death can be found.  Those things like selfishness, envy, pride, slander, and foolishness are too painful to look at, because they remind us that on our own we are very, very far from God!  They remind us that we have nothing to offer God accept our sin.  Do you get it now?  Outside of God’s grace, we are nothing and we have nothing that can give us hope.  And this condition of hopelessness is exactly where God wants us this morning so that He can speak hope into us; so that He can open our ears to hear and our eyes to see.

In our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 5:22-33), God’s Word shows us Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.  Like the potter and clay illustration in our Old Testament lesson, Paul gives us another illustration; he shows us that we are the bride, and Jesus the Son of God is our groom; He is our head and heart.  He shows us that in our baptisms, in the washing of the water and Word we have been recreated and cleansed so that He might present each of us to His Father as a part of His body, holy and without blemish. [Vs. 26]  In this new baptismal nature of ours, God is showing us who we are because of Jesus, but He is also asking us to look honestly within ourselves and see the things that don’t belong to our new nature, and allow God to remove them.  St. Paul illustrates this beautifully for us within the context of a marriage.

You dear baptized friends are not under judgment, you are under grace. Your marriage or future marriage has now been compared to Christ and His church. Jesus sacrificed Himself so that His bride, the church could live, and now He asks us to do the same!

What wife would not happily honor and submit to a husband who loves her more than himself?  What wife would not honor her man as he is living out his baptism, and struggling every day to put to death his old sinful nature?  If a man will do that to please the Lord, he will certainly sacrifice himself and his own selfish needs for his wife’s happiness!

And what husband would not want a woman who willingly allows her husband to be the spiritual leader, provider, and protector of his family? Any Christian husband would love to have a wife who humbly worships her God and puts the needs of her husband above her own.

And yet who of us can honestly say that we are that kind of man or that kind of woman?  If we are honest, we will admit that we all fall short.  And because of our struggle to put to death our sinful flesh, the world may see this an call us hypocrites.  But we are not hypocrites like the Pharisees or those who have no faith.  No, we know that our hope is found only in Jesus and His sacrifice upon the cross for us.  His victory has become ours, and because of this wonderful truth we submit and we sacrifice for each other just as our Lord has done for us!  Through Jesus Christ, we are assured that one day we will have complete victory over our sin, because God’s Spirit is within us; fighting for us.

In our baptism, we have been given a new identity; we are the Lord’s beloved.  On the day of our baptism we were washed clean and set apart as holy!  And now, each day we are reminded that Jesus and His cross, the source of God’s forgiving love are always with us; we are reminded that not only will God always love us, but He is continually reshaping us into a new image; a holy vessel. Each day, we are reminded that He indeed is the Potter and we are His clay!

Dear friends, because of God’s continued work in our lives, we are taught every day to die to our selfish and sinful desires. We are being taught to die to selfish needs and live to serve God and our neighbor. We do this as we remember our baptism. We do this by remembering that Jesus loved us and the whole church, and He proved it by giving Himself up for us upon the cross, so that He might sanctify us through the cleansing of the waters of our baptisms. Through simple water and God’s Word he saved us, so that He might present us to Himself as holy and perfect, without a single blemish. Jesus did this for us… He did this for you. He suffered and died so that you would know the forgiveness of God, and then be able to rest in that forgiveness and reflect it to others!

Are we hypocrites?  We are if we deny God’s continued work of recreation and forgiveness; we are if we pretend that God either doesn’t see or doesn’t care.  But because we confess our sin to Him, He is always faithful to forgive it and continue His work of recreation.  May He who began this good work within you complete it in the day of Jesus Christ!  AMEN.