Posts Tagged ‘grace’

We Stand Upon Christ and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Easter 7A, May 28, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.  For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” [John 17:6-8]

What is it that identifies the church as something different; something special that’s not of this world? I suppose another way to ask this is, what is it that brings so much comfort and peace to the lives of so many Christians that others in this world simply do not understand. Do we really have something special, or are we too, doomed to find truth in these words of William Shakespeare’s 5th Act of the play Macbeth. Listen: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and signifying nothing.”

Is Shakespeare right? Is life nothing but a shadow having no substance, no meaning? What is the meaning of life? This morning on this Lord’s Day, we speak the meaning of life in these words, “Christ has risen. Christ has risen indeed.” And because Jesus has been raised from the dead, so shall we, we redeemed sinners who simply trust in Christ alone, along with the Word He gives us through Holy Scripture alone, and the gifts that Word gives us… Grace alone and Faith alone. And that dear friends, is precisely that “something special” that we have, which not only brings us comfort and peace, but it also unites us as one around the promised hope of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. And all of this comes to us only through God’s Word, that is it comes through…

Scripture Alone.

In our first reading this morning (Acts 1:12-26), we join the eleven apostles and many disciples of Jesus as they are leaving the mount called Olivet, where for the last time, they physically saw their Savior, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God as He ascended into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. After they witnessed Jesus going up into heaven, they returned and stayed in Jerusalem, just as Jesus had commanded them. But it was the way that they were waiting, which has significance to our message this morning; they were waiting “with one accord, devoting themselves to prayer.” That is, they were devoted to worship and the study and declaration of God’s Word!

What was it that united them? Scripture alone, the Words of God that Jesus gives us as He declared in our gospel lesson this morning! It was through scripture that the work of the Holy Spirit moved Peter to make a motion to the assembled congregation, that the apostolic office once occupied by Judas should be filled. Judas Iscariot, the one who not only betrayed Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, but took his own life to boot!

Peter, filled with the Spirit of God, and moved by the Spirit, stands before the assembly and begins to apply scripture to their situation. How so? Well in this way, as the Spirit worked within Peter, he was reminded of two portions of Holy Scripture from the Psalms of David, which prophesied the betrayal of the Messiah, and the punishment and replacement of the betrayer. First, led by the Words spoken in Psalm 69, Peter proclaims, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it.” In other words, God is assuring His church, that the betrayer will be punished, and his betrayal of the faith will not be repeated again by the other apostles. The next Psalm that was brought before the heart of Peter was Psalm 109, when Peter declares, “Let another take his office.” That its let another apostle be called.

Now this is where we must pause for a moment and discuss just what the Word apostle means, and who the apostles were. The English word apostle, finds it’s origin in the Greek word apostolos, which means one who acts as an envoy, an ambassador, or messenger who is commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent. If we were simply to take this dictionary meaning of the word, we might be tempted to say that we are all apostles, with pastors being the head apostles of a church and the members being subordinate apostles. But language is living and it’s meaning is defined by the one who is speaking. In other words, context is everything!

If we continue reading our text, we will discover that in verses 21 and 22, Peter defines the type of candidate that can rightly be called an apostle. This person must be a male, for Peter says that he must come from “one of the men who have accompanied us” and he must have been with Jesus “during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us (that is he must have been present to see Jesus ascend into heaven).” But perhaps the most important qualification for an apostle sent out to preach, teach and confess the saving message of the gospel to a world that is dying of sin is laid out in these words, “One of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.” In other words, the one who is chosen to replace Judas must have been a witness to Christ’s resurrection, and he must be able to declare with confidence as a material fact, that “Christ is risen indeed!”

The motion having been made and seconded was accepted in one accord. And what do we hear next? Was there a call for the question, or a lengthy discussion as to who the candidates would be? Was there an election of the voters’ assembly? No, instead, being that there were only two candidates who had the qualifications to be considered for the office, they brought them before the assembly and prayed, saying: “You Lord (that is Christ alone), know the hearts of all (people), show (us) which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place. And they cast lots for (Justus and Matthias) and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven” that is, he became the twelfth apostle.

So what we learn from this is that it is Christ alone who chose His apostles. It is by the unmerited favor of God, that is by grace alone that any were chosen, and it is by faith alone that they will continue stead fast in this high call of God. Neither you or I, nor any other person who is living today can claim to be, under Peter’s definition, an apostle of Jesus Christ. But, what we can claim with certainty is that we are not just his disciples and servants, but his brothers, and a child of Almighty God the Father. We can claim this truth because in our baptism and the continued reception and use of God’s means of Grace, we are daily called by grace through faith into this relationship. And it is a faith that continues to come to us through God’s chief means of Grace, His Holy Word. You will need this Word every day, because like Judas we too can only be saved by…

Grace Alone.

And like Judas, we too are subject to fall from our call as Christians and betray our Lord, choosing the rewards of this sinful world over the grace of God. In fact, it has already begun in your life, hasn’t it? Wasn’t it your sins, like the sins of Judas that caused Jesus to obediently make that painful walk to the cross? Quickly, don’t deny it; simply say “Yes, Christ died for my sins.” Because if you cannot say that Jesus died for your sins, that it was your sins that led Him to the cross, then you cannot receive the forgiveness of sins that His death brings. That is, you cannot receive His grace, which is the undeserved gift of God’s forgiving love. This is a gift from God through Christ, which completely removes your sins, gives a new and eternal life that can never be earned. Yes, it is true that you do not deserve this gift but it is your’s through Christ none the less.

The story is told about a man from England who put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across to the continent to go on a holiday. While he was driving around Europe, something happened to the motor of his car. He phoned the Rolls-Royce people back in England and said, “I’m having trouble with my car; what do you suggest I do?” Well, the Rolls-Royce people flew a mechanic over! The mechanic repaired the car and flew back to England and left the man to continue his holiday. As you can imagine, the Englishman was wondering, “How much is this going to cost me?” So when he got back to England, he wrote a letter to the Rolls-Royce Corporation and asked how much he owed them. He received a letter from the office that read: “Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went wrong with a Rolls-Royce.”
That is an example of grace.

Did Christ finish His work upon the cross? Did His death pay for the sins of the world, and is it enough for you to find peace? Can you see how dangerous it is to include anything you do with the righteousness of Christ, in order to appear justified, that is saved in the eyes of God? Jesus Christ will not allow you to add your works upon His in regards to your salvation. He must be all, or nothing, in regards to our salvation. If He has finished the work, what need is there of our additions? Did Christ finish the work of or salvation, and do you think He would ever share His glory and praise with us? No, no; Christ is no half-Savior. It is a hard thing to bring proud hearts to rest upon Christ for righteousness. God humbles the proud by calling sinners completely out from their own righteousness and into Christ for their salvation.

Listen friends, I know that it can be a hard thing to bring our proud hearts to rest completely upon Christ, but it is the way of God; He insist that proud sinners such as us surrender everything to Him and trust in the work of Christ alone. And to enable us to do this very thing, God calls us to gather together in Christ’s church and receive the gifts He freely gives. And these gifts, which come to us through Scripture alone, by grace alone, save us by creating and sustaining faith alone.

Faith Alone is that very thing, which allows you to receive and believe through the eyewitness testimony of the twelve apostles, that not only has Christ died to save the World, but also He died to save you!

By faith alone, you are able to say along with the entire church, “He is risen, indeed,” but you can also say with the certainty of faith, “He has risen for me.” That is, through Holy Scripture, the ancient teaching of the apostles of Christ’s church, I can say for certain that because He lives I too shall live with Him forever. Because he died to save sinners, He died to save me, and in my baptism, He has given all of this to me. In the washing of the water and the Word of God, I shall stand with confidence upon the work of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the twelve apostles, which alone not only promises, but gives eternal life.

Martin Luther, in one of his conflicts with Satan, was asked by the devil if he felt his sins forgiven. “No,” said the great Luther, “I don’t feel that they are forgiven, but I know they are, because God says so in His Word.” Paul did not say, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall feel saved”; but, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”

You see, Luther knew what we must know also, faith is simply the empty hand of a beggar, which has nothing of its own, but simply waits to be filled by God Almighty.

Dear friends, the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the Son of God is not a cleverly devised myth perpetuated by the types of false teachers we see today, proclaiming to be “apostles” of Christ. But rather, it was testified by the official eyewitnesses of Jesus’s public ministry, by people such as Matthias. That is good news for you; it is a promise and guarantee that you too will inherit the eternal kingdom of God in a new body created by God, and brought home by God. And where you go when this promise of God is fulfilled, just may be the best news of all… you see, you are going to an eternal place prepared just for you by Jesus Himself. Christ is risen… indeed, and so shall we. AMEN!

It’s True!


Sunday, December 25th, 2016

Christmas Morning, December 25h, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

6a00d8341c3e3953ef0148c6ea2e05970c-400wiWe all know the Christmas Gospel, but some people think of it more as a story. The truth is, all people do not hear it in the same way. Some listen to it as though it were only a children’s story, with maybe a little bit of historical truth to it.

Let’s first make something clear to ourselves; the writers of the gospels relate all of the information to us because they are convinced that these things actually happened.

Listen to how Peter attest to the truthfulness of the Gospel message: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” [2 Peter 1:16-21]

Luke especially calls upon eyewitnesses and states that he has carefully done research about everything from the beginning. So we can confidently say that the Scriptures are speaking of history, but they are also relating to us important facts about the birth of Jesus much like an artist paints a picture. In a few vivid flash-pictures the Scriptures give us the important facts. The background is stylized. All unimportant bits of information fade into the shadows or into forgetfulness. So the Scriptures aren’t necessarily precise records. This is why it’s always important to ask questions as we seek to know the things that Scripture chooses to reveal to us. But what the Scriptures do tell, in all the precise simplicity of the story, is better than what any stenographic record could have given to us.

Here is what we know…

Jesus was born in the beginning of the great census taking of Caesar Augustus. That is well known to historians. About the year 7 B.C. Quirinius was given the authority to govern the area. Jesus was most likely born in that year. Egyptian records show that each person had to travel to his home town at the time of this great census-taking. The Christmas Gospel states the same thing.

And since Joseph was of the lineage of David, he traveled to Bethlehem from the town of Nazareth, where he probably lived only on a temporary basis. Matthew and Luke give only slight suggestions of this, from which we can’t develop a complete picture. We are told that Joseph also went up to the city of David, since Bethlehem lies on the ridge of the Judean hills, nearly 2,400 feet above sea level. God’s guidance was in this journey to Bethlehem, because it was here where the prophet Micah in our Old Testament lesson [Micah 5:2-5] insist that the Christ was to be born.

In the height of biblical criticism today, the stories of the birth and childhood of Jesus are considered by many critics to be something that was added to the Gospels at a latter date. But this opinion is unsupported by the facts. These stories as they call them, were first told in the local Semitic language. They belong to the materials that were used in the earliest congregation of Christians in Jerusalem when they spoke of Jesus. And anyone who reads them today without a prejudiced mindset can’t fail to notice that Matthew told the story simply and faithfully the way that it was told to him, while Luke must have had his original record from people who had heard the story from the lips of Mary. We too need to read and hear the story fresh and new and let its timeless message find its way into our hearts and minds. 

So let me help us do just that…

What we learn from our Gospel lesson is that God comes to places and people that we least expect.

Since Joseph and Mary were not the only travelers who came to Bethlehem for the registration, there was no room for them in the village inn, and evidently no other home had a vacancy. And so they eventually found a place that they could rest and prepare for the birth of Jesus. Contrary to popular opinion, this place was not the village stable; it was most likely the home of a distant relative of Joseph, a small home that typically had only one or two rooms. But even these smaller homes had what we would call a storage or utility room attached to the home. This was the room where the animals were kept along with items not suited for storage in the home. It probably was un-kept and smelly. This was the place where Jesus was born!

Are there any small unseemly things in your life or heart that you’ve kept hidden away? These are the places Jesus wishes to be born into, brought into today!

And meanwhile, out in the fields—in the desert, at the very edge of Bethlehem—there were some shepherds, a few of the working class of Israel, men doing the roughest kind of work, and receiving very little pay. It was to these kind of people that God chose to appear to first, through His own angelic messengers, and then use them as messengers too.

These are always the kind of people that God is wanting to use to spread the truth and power of the Gospel; every day hard working folks. It’s a message that declares: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you has been born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. A baby who was born to die for the sins of the world… even your sins!”

Is there someone God has been leading you to share the gospel with, yet perhaps you have hesitated because you fear that bringing up such a subject might offend them or threaten your relationship with them? It may be as easy as inviting them to a church function or maybe even a worship service!

Though God comes through His Word and in all of His glory and power to sinners, the message that both the church and you are to declare as God’s messengers is very simple: Fear not! Don’t be afraid to hear God speak to you. He comes to replace your fear with joy and give you peace. He is not interested in how you have lived your life in the past but rather how you will live your life from here on out with Him. He comes in mercy, that is out of His love for you, He does not give you what you deserve, but instead, He gives you love; He desires to rescue you from the sin that so easily entangles all of us. Fear not!

Who is this Christ, this baby born to die upon a cross for the sins of the world? He is…

The One who is to be Ruler in Israel (and the world). This King was born from Judah, and yet Micah in our Old Testament lesson [Micah 5:2–5] prophesied that He was going to rule also over Israel, even though it was clear that the kingdom of Israel would never be brought back. It had been scattered throughout the entire world, and as we know, it never returned. From this we see, that the kingdom of Christ will be a spiritual kingdom. This is something that many people still do not understand today. Yet Micah is prophesying that this Ruler would reign over both Judah and Israel. Who then are Judah and Israel? They are you the baptized, who rest within Christ’s church today, even our little church here.

But Christ is also the one “Whose origin is from of old.” That Ruler came forth at the time when the days of the world began. He was at the same time with the beginning of all creatures. He does not come forth first from Bethlehem after the Babylonian captivity but He came forth a long time before that. This is the One Who John describes as eternal: “In the beginning was the Word.” [John 1:1] In his song, Moses sings: “From everlasting to everlasting Thou art God.” [Psalm 90:2] There Moses used the same expression that Micah uses here, that is: “You did not begin with the world, but, when the world began to be, You already were.” Christ also says about Himself: “Before Abraham was, I am.” [John 8:58] Christ, the Son of God, was brought forth with the beginning of the world. And from the beginning it had been determined that He would come to us so that every accomplishment that sinners call good would amount to nothing. He was given to sinful mankind purely out of mercy, and not because we had deserved this or had wished for it, but because this is the way God had decided to work from eternity.

This is the message that is so consistently spoken of throughout Scripture. It is reliable and true. It is a message that declares that “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” [Titus 3:4-7]

This then, is both the gift and the message from God the Father, regarding His Son, Jesus the Christ. This message is reliable because God the Holy Spirit has placed His stamp of verity upon it. It is a gift that is for the entire world, yet it is specifically tailor made for you, and has been applied to you within the waters of your own baptism where He saved you by the washing of regeneration and still does so every day, through the renewal of the Holy Spirit, Whom is poured out upon you richly through Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior. May you continually both desire and use this gift, now and forever more. In Jesus name… AMEN!

On Being Made Righteous


Monday, August 8th, 2016

Eleventh Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 7th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  [Luke 18:14]

This is the verdict in regards to the no good tax collector, who for the Jews was the epitome of a sinner; he was considered a traitor to his people, because he worked for the evil Roman Empire.  This tax collector had been in the temple along with the self-righteous and confident Pharisee, the ultimate church goer.  We should note that the Pharisees had the same view of people and morality as many hard-working, idealistic, and socially responsible people have today.  They believed that there is a moral law that people are expected to live up to.  They believe that if you’ve done the best you can, the best you know how, you won’t fail in pleasing God, or another way of saying that is you wont become a lost sinner.

But according to the Bible this is simply a way to deceive ourselves.  It is a way that makes God out to be a liar and reveals that “His Word is not in us.”  [1 John 1:8-10] When we really see what God expects of us we can never be satisfied with ourselves.  Even when we have the will to do good, there is something evil in our nature that makes us prone to jealousy, pride, and self-interest.  And even if anyone should keep the law in its entirety and yet fail in only one point he has become guilty of breaking all of it, namely of sinning against God Himself. [James 2:10]

So, armed with this information, let’s again look at Jesus parable this morning.  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” [Luke 18:10]

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” [Vs. 11, 12]

The Pharisee in Jesus story simply is a character that personifies all of the countless people who have ever passed before God and who ever will pass before Him, trusting in their own righteousness, that is in their own good works as a way to appease God; to make Him happy.

We know that pride certainly is an issue for this Pharisee, because he took his place in the temple, during the prayer service right up front and in the central part of the room where everyone could both see and hear him recite his personal prayers to heaven.  And why shouldn’t he; everyone seemed to admire him for his piety, or he certainly wouldn’t have made this his practice.

Next, he thanked God that he was not like other people, like most people.  He wasn’t an extortioner, one who manipulates and uses other people.  He’s thankful that he’s not an unjust man, in other words in his mind, he is completely justified as righteous before God.  He’s thankful that he’s not an adulterer, running around living the swinger life style.

But now as he looks around the sanctuary, he spots a very notorious member of the worship community… the tax collector.  And he thanks God that he’s not like that man, an enemy both of God and God’s people.  He’s probably even wondering how that man was even allowed into the temple area. “He should be locked up” he might have said under his breath! But in reality, he really had nothing to thank God for, because in God’s eyes, the life he had made for himself was worse than the life of an extortioner and even the tax collector. You see, he was measuring himself and others with a wrong human rule and not with the rule of God’s Word, and what’s more, he was doing it right in God’s Temple, which had been dedicated to God’s Word.

Of all those who, like the Pharisee, trust in their morality, it is still true as Jesus said: “They say one thing, but do another.” [Matthew 23:3] When the law speaks, our mouths are stopped, and the whole world stands guilty before God. [Romans 3:19] There is therefore none that are righteous accept Jesus Christ. [1 Peter 3:18]. And all that Jesus has done He has done for us.  In our place and for our sake He has fulfilled everything, even the smallest parts of the law in order that “by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:19]

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” [Vs. 13]

Here is Jesus’ example of the complete opposite to the Pharisee. He, too, stands before God in the Temple, but he is not in a special place of honor or attention, in fact, he stands as far away from these places of honor as possible. He felt that he was too unworthy to go any nearer. He didn’t even have the will to lift up his eyes to heaven, because he was completely ashamed to stand before God. He doesn’t even attempt to brag about what he has done for God and the church, but instead he simply pounds his chest as a way of showing great sorrow and pain for his sinful life.

And now we hear his prayer, which is also his confession of sins.  He admits his sin of being an open and public sinner, but he prays that God would atone for, or take away his guilt.  It’s to bad that our contemporary translations choose to use the word merciful, because the actual word translated from the Greek is translated as “propitiated.”  So, his words should really be read like this: “God be propitiated to me a sinner.”  He had probably just provided his gift of something that had just been sacrificed by the Chief Priest at the altar of God; a gift that he hoped would atone for His sins.  So he is praying, “God please accept the sacrifice I offered and let it be enough to bring atonement for me and bring me peace with you.”

The main point lies in in the comparison of the two men.  The Pharisee thought of others as being sinners but fails to see the truth about himself; the tax collector thinks of himself alone as being the sinner and doesn’t even begin to think about others. Do you see, this is a mark of true humility; of true contrition and brokenness? This condition of the heart finds no comfort at all in the fact that there are many others who are even greater sinners; it sees only itself before God, only itself as “the”sinner who is unable to answer to God for his sins.

“I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” [vs 14]

So now Jesus tells us the very reason for the parable and the point of ultimate importance that we are to leave with.  Jesus wants to ensure that through His Word this morning, each of us will leave here justified, that is made right with God.

Jesus used the word justified intentionally.  It is the word that every sinner must use before God; both the tax collector and sinners such as our selves must confess before God that He is right and we are wrong; we must “acknowledged God as just” by remembering the need for Christ’s cross and the importance of our own baptism.  We must acknowledge that it is only through these means that God has chosen to both declare someone as righteous and recreate them in to someone who is righteous.

The irony here, of course, is that the one who goes back to his home “justified” is the confessed sinner and not the self-righteous sinner. So it all boils down to a simple matter of who we trust for our salvation: we either trust in ourselves, as does the Pharisee, who exalts himself as the means of his own redemption, or we trust in God and the atoning sacrifice he has provided (as did the tax collector).

So the tax collector and we this morning go home justified.  What difference should that make in our lives?

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” [Ephesians 2:10]

Do you understand?  Praise His name, God has propitiated us; through the Sacrifice of Christ upon the cross He saved us from our sins, but He has also equipped us to live out our redeemed and justified lives with a purpose. As we leave this house of worship right with God, we are called and equipped to live out this status by doing the very things He has prepared for us to do; prepared for us to share with others who do not yet know Him rightly unto eternal life.

It is by sharing this righteousness that we demonstrate to others that we are in fact justified before God.  John writes: “…if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (one).”  [1 John 2:1]  His righteousness frees us from the judgment and punishment of our sins.  His righteousness is our propitiation; it’s our salvation when we believe in Him.  We “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” [Romans 3:24] That means that our sins are covered over by the righteousness of Christ, by the blood He shed upon the cross, and by the waters of our baptism, which applied that atoning blood upon us personally.  It means that God no longer deals with us according to our sins, neither those which we have committed nor those which are still part of our fallen human nature.

And this is why it doesn’t help a person in the least if they simply embrace a high morality.  No matter how much a person protests that their moral goodness should count for something, God says it does not; He says that they still belong to the group of those who did not go and do that which the Father wanted to have done.  But both tax collectors and prostitutes who repent may enter the Kingdom of God, and so can no good sinners like you and me.  [Matthew 21:29-31]

Inevitably this truth will mean that each of us will go out justified and do the will of our Father and do that will better than we ever could have done if we were simply servants of this worlds standard of morality, the law, and pure idealism.

May God continue to equip and empower us to do these good works, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Beware of a Comfortable Faith

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

Tenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 31st, 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

“You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord: When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?  They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return.”  [Jeremiah 8:4-12]

Yes, I too must speak for the Lord.  Why do baptized Christians  not confess and then return to the LORD after they fall in sin?  Why don’t they repent?  Isn’t it simply part of the life of a Christian to turn or rather return to Jesus after a fall from grace?  This is such an important part of being a Christian that our Divine Service liturgy always starts with Confession and Absolution.  So, then why are there so many Christians who refuse to acknowledge the sin that is separating them from the forgiving love of Jesus?  I believe that it is because they have grown sinfully comfortable in the Christian faith.  I believe that they have grown comfortable within a Christianity that makes it easy to be a Christian by creed while ignoring the deed of repentance and confession.

Is there a danger in being born within a Christian family; within a Christian culture?  Yes, and here’s why…

A person whose been born and baptized into a Christian family and culture is a person who has been received into the church, which is the body of Christ within a sinful and fallen world.  They are in the same situation as a person who has physically been born into a wealthy family and assured of an inheritance that’s worth a great fortune.  And so they may begin to feel that they are entitled to their sinful behavior because they are covered by grace.

A person born and then baptized into the church is one of the many “heirs of God” with the right to an inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled; an inheritance that is reserved and just waiting for them in heaven.  This inheritance even includes the right to be a child of God, to be able to turn to Him in days of trouble, and to be assured that God will see to it that all things will work together for their good.

But there is an important difference between our heavenly inheritance and an earthly inheritance.

In regards to an earthly inheritance a person has legal rights no matter how badly they act.  But to be an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus is something no one can ever demand as their right, regardless of their actions.  “For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.”  [Hebrews 3:14]  You see, this heavenly and eternal legacy can only be taken out by repentance and faith.

So, the danger of being born and raised within a Christian family and community is that we will become use to our status under grace.  That is…

We may begin to take God’s grace and our status in Christ for granted.

Many times, when baptized Christians fall into this status of being lost within the church, it can almost always be traced back to an unhealthy familiarity with all things “Christian” or an unnatural comfortableness in their faith. They begin to feel that while going to church and being in the Word of God are important, these are things that are not urgent right now.  After all, the church has always been there and it always will be, so, when they are ready to come back to church, they think that they can pick up where they left off.  So they see no risk in living their lives without the blessing of God and the strength He gives within His Word and Sacraments.

It was the same way with the people of Jerusalem in our Gospel reading; people who didn’t realize that the Son of God, the very source of the peace and fulfillment they were seeking within their lives and community was in fact among them in the person of Jesus Christ.  They refused to hear Him calling out to them; seeking to gather them as a mother hen gathers her chicks.   They refused to hear the warning that very soon it would be to late to repent, that is, to late to turn to their Savior who alone can forgive their sins and make them right with God.

Just as the very temple would be destroyed and taken from them, so would their very lives as God’s stones of judgment and punishment fell upon them.  But if they would hear Jesus speak to them in that very moment it would not be to late to repent and be saved.  But they could not hear because they would not hear.  And those who refuse to repent cannot be forgiven.

While the call of Jesus for sinners to repent is still as fresh and new today as it was then, there is one difference.  Jesus no longer calls nations to repent but instead, He calls individuals, people within the nations to turn to Him and be saved.

The truth is, no nation has a most beloved status in the eyes of God, not even Israel. And no one can afford to procrastinate, or put off their repentance and right relationship with God until a time that they feel is right.

Not even we Christians have a valid reason to believe that we have a special privilege to sin against the grace of God.  The people of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus, took it for granted that He would perform the same mighty miracles for them that He did for other towns; they thought that way because Jesus was one of them.  They expected the miracles, but they would not give Jesus their faith.  Sadly Jesus compared them to Israel in the time of the prophets, who would not repent and believe, which then caused God to pass them by and instead give His help to a people who did not know God.

Such a spirit of procrastination, of putting off for tomorrow what God says should be addressed right this moment, usually has dire consequences.  The classic example in the Bible is the people of Israel who became the chosen people of God; they possessed all of God’s promises as they were being drawn by God out of captivity in Egypt, but they still perished in the desert because of their unrepentant hearts and unbelief.

The same tragedy was repeated in the time of Jesus in His home communities of: Nazareth, Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida.  Jesus said that it would be more tolerable for the evil port cities of Tyre and Sidon and the wicked city of Sodom in the day of Judgment, since they would have repented if they had been able to see the same acts of God that they were seeing.

Jerusalem suffered the fate that Jesus predicted.  Not one stone was left upon another.  And the proud and self-centered Jews who, thought they were children of Abraham, because of their unbelief were broken off as dry branches from the noble olive tree of God’s people.

The early Christian church of the first century was very much aware that the same fate could befall them, so they vigorously taught the baptized that any one of them could be cut off from Christ at any time if they did not hold firm in repentance to their faith in Christ and the mercy of God.

They knew that their lamp stand could be removed from them if they did not value and hold onto the light by repenting and turning to Christ.  They knew that it was possible to have the name of being alive and yet be dead, and that it was therefore high time to wake up and strengthen that which remained and which was near death.  And to awaken meant to be concerned about the Word of God.

Today we still have the same privilege that Jerusalem had in the day of her visitation, the day when we read that Jesus taught them every day in the sanctuary.   Oh that we would have that same hunger for the Word of God that the people had then.  Oh that we would see the joy to be found in God’s visitation in our hearts, homes, and church.  Oh that we would be cut to the very soul by the tears of Jesus who weeps for the lost, because they will not turn to His cross in repentance and receive the blessing of true joy that is theirs through the waters of their baptism.

I pray that each of us would truly know and receive the gifts that God is so richly lavishing upon us this morning in Jesus Christ.  I pray that each of us would understand the beauty that is found in agreeing with and returning to God, and then finding that His grace really is sufficient to turn us away from all things that are not resting in His will as expressed by His living Word, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

May God continue to open our eyes and hearts to see Christ’s passion that was first expressed in His tears, which were in fact expressions of His love for sinners who He desperately desired to save.  And it was that same passion that led Him to give up His life upon the cross in agony… for you!

Oh friends, beware of a comfortable faith that no longer is held captive by Christ’s passion.  I pray that you will allow the Holy Spirit to always lead you along the way of repentance and forgiveness.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!

It All Comes Down To This

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost B, May 28, 2015

Click here for audio of this message

It all comes down to this!  Down to what?  The coming, presence, and work of the Holy Spirit, of course!  Jesus said, “… I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Now, I know the presence of the Holy Spirit is nothing new; His Work was essential, “In the beginning.. (when) the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  And (He empowered the Word of God when) … God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” [Genesis 1:4]

The Spirit was there with Adam and Eve as they were repelled out of Paradise, and it was the Spirit Who constantly reminded them of the Promise of restoration through the coming Champion who would destroy sin, death, and the devil, and bring humanity back to Paradise.  The Holy Spirit was with Noah and the Animals as the Ark was built and the animals were compelled to enter the Ark in peace.  The Holy Spirit was with Moses as He parted the sea and led God’s people to dry land.  It was the Spirit who filled every one of the prophets of old and the Apostles of Jesus to speak Words of hope and new life, all once again centered around the Champion who has actually fulfilled the promise of Paradise restored.  And that champion is Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and ascended!

Now this is all “good news” but it is not the only news on this day of Pentecost.  The news of Pentecost is that not only has Christ risen, but also that He has risen for you.  And here’s the best part of that proclamation, it is empowered by the Holy Spirit to actually bring you a new life with God, and take you back to Paradise; back to a right relationship with God!

So, the Good News for each of you today, is that through the fulfilled Word of God, you have been given faith to believe in each and every promise God makes regarding your sin and Christ’s Work upon the cross to take away your sin.  You have been given faith to know this truth as a certainty.  Just as the Spirit at creation hovered over the waters to empower the Word of God to create everything out of nothing, so too He has empowered God’s promise of forgiveness and restoration and the waters of your baptism.

But here’s another truth…

Life without faith is desperate. In our Old Testament lesson, we are given a graphic demonstration of this desperation through the vision God gave to His prophet Ezekiel.  The valley of dry bones is the ultimate expression of life overstepping its limits, which is the abandonment of hope in the Creator God.

Ezekiel’s vision is the reality of our world today.  Certainly the Christian martyrs in the middle east must feel dry, desolate and alone as they die one by one through the demonic power of ISIS.  But we do not have to go that far to know the feeling of emptiness and abandonment; how must the people of Detroit feel as they think back to better days when the economy was booming and neighborhoods and business were flourishing, but now all that stands are the burn out shells of homes and businesses that once were.

The Mexican artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada created a large body of art showing persons engaged in a wide variety of daily activities, but each were depicted as skeletons.  In one drawing he depicted a soldier riding through a valley of bones full of human skulls.  What was he trying to tell us?  Was he trying to say that hope in the government above or in place of our hope in God only leads to death?

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Ezekiel’s vision is after the bones became skeletons, and after the skeletons were fleshed, what filled the immense valley floor? Bodies of real people who are simply dead because they lack the touch of the Holy Spirit; they lack the breath of life!  This dear saints is the ultimate tragedy… not that people die, but that they refuse to live.  The flesh without spirit, not the dry bones is the most haunting aspect of Ezekiel’s vision.  A world of zombies, the walking dead if you will who are in that state and don’t know it, or worse yet they know but they do not seem to mind.  But…

Life with faith in Christ overcomes the curse of the walking dead; it overcomes despair! Jesus declared to the world and to you personally on the day of your baptism, “I came that (you) may have life and have it abundantly.” [John 10:10]  He is the only One who can not only speak hope, but deliver it.  He not only promises a restored and renewed hope, but His Word actually gives it.

Every Word that Jesus spoke and taught was to prepare each of you for that one moment in your life when you realize that there is something great and profound missing in life, and then receive it!  When your moment of despair comes, and sometimes they come frequently like the waves on the ocean shore, when it comes it is God’s will that you recall His promises of forgiveness and restoration, which you have heard declared, read, or even sung, and then remember.  Remember what?

Remember that although through His Word you have discovered that your sin is great, deadly, and terrifying, you must also remember that all of Christ’s righteousness has been given to you completely through His Work upon the cross and the declaration of the empty tomb.

But the Easter cry of “He is risen” is like a iPhone without a battery, if you can not or will not reply, “Indeed, He has risen for me!”  And this is now getting at the power of the abundant life that Jesus has promised to the church, and through the church , to the world.  This is where we discover that…

Life with Christ finds empowerment through the Holy Spirit in the church for the work of witness and missions! So it all comes down to this… The day of Pentecost is a demonstration of both the love and power of God, which takes the good news of forgiveness of sins and ensures that it will be declared throughout the world.

As Peter and the disciples gathered in the upper room right after their Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, they must have felt alone and afraid.  But they knew somehow they were not abandoned; they knew that Jesus would make good on His promise to send a helper, a counselor, and protector.  And my, did he ever…

Some may say rightly that until that day when the Spirit showed up in power, Christians were just playing the part of church; they were playing around with the idea of Christ, not yet allowing the resurrected and ascended Christ to come alive in their midst.  Again, they were like an iPhone without a battery, or better yet they were like a bus without an engine.  But then something happened on the Day of Pentecost… Jesus made good on His promise; He sent the Holy Spirit.

The entire account given to us in our second reading (Acts 2:1-21) can not help but excite us and invite us into the story of the church. The imagery of the event comes alive as it glows with tongues of fire and the bewilderment of other languages. People seem to be staggering and stammering like drunken men. But when Peter speaks and the air clears, that which is testified to, is nothing other than the mighty works of God.

Dear friends, the mighty works of the Holy Spirit are still being performed today.  We witness the same power as the dreams of the old and the visions of the young people refuse to play church, but actually become and behave as church through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  And this mighty work is none other than the work of salvation; the translation of sinners into saints for “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!”

When ever the Word is proclaimed, whether through the work of the sermon, Bible Study, personal witness, or when it is carried overseas to far way places, it is fulfilling the mission of Christ found in Matthew 28:”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Vs. 19, 20) So Pentecost is really the birth of Missions or the empowerment of the church to fulfill Christ’s mission.

As you leave this place but not Christ’s presence, you leave reminded that you are on a mission to share the good news that sinners sins have been forgiven through the work of Christ alone. But you do not go alone; you have been empowered and you are protected by the Holy Spirit.  And as you share the good news, what will be the response that you will receive from friends, neighbors, and family?

Now we are at the very heart of sinful mankind’s response to the gospel.

Humanity’s situation without God is so desperate and their opportunities with Him are so big that almost any response seems inadequate and even a little ridiculous.  Do people fall to their knees and cry mercy or rise to their feet and cry glory; once they are converted by the Holy Spirit, do they spend a period of time in study and training or do they rise from the valley of dry bones in service to God and neighbor?

To dwell on questions like those can also be another way we play church and play with the mission of Christ.  Why not face the facts as we know them; anyone who has been struck by the Spirit of Pentecost has received the breath of life; they’ve been recreated through the waters of Holy Baptism.  In other words they have been reanimated.  And what they do next is the very same thing we do every day…

We repent! We believe and we become what God has already declared we are… Redeemed!  Repentance is the heart beat of the church.  It is the radical turning of the whole self from itself, to a right relationship with God through the cross of Jesus Christ.  To be baptized is to enter into the life and mission of the church.  To receive the Holy Spirit is to allow the Sprit to shape your life in obedient witness and service to Him who first loved us!  And yes, it may even mean making amends for past wrongs, selling or giving away what we don’t need and sharing the proceeds or other goods with the needy, sharing a common life with other Christians on days other than Sunday, worshiping daily and breaking bread in homes, the very transformation that marked the Christian community after the great day of Pentecost. [Acts 2:37-47]

SO IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS. The Holy Spirit is among us in great power, just as He was in the beginning, just as He was with Adam and Eve, just as He was with Noah, Moses, the prophets and apostles of old, and just as He was that first Pentecost Sunday.  In the past all who have made a difference within the building and growth of God’s Kingdom only did so because they were willingly being led by God’s Word and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  So it all comes down to this.  Are you willing?  I pray in Jesus name that you are… Amen!

These Things Are Written That…

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 7B, May 21, 2015

Click here for audio of this message

May the words of this message and the meditations of our hearts be both directed by you, and pleasing unto you O Lord.  In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit, AMEN!

Let’s immediately address the title of our message this morning.  Can you finish it?  I hope that you can because we just sang those words in our Alleluia and Verse, before the reading of the Gospel lesson.  “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”  [John 20:31] The apostle who wrote those words is the same St. John who wrote these Words from our Epistle lesson (1 John 5:9-15), “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” [V.13]

Notice, that the Word says “that you know that you may have eternal life”,  and it does not say “that you can have eternal life.” God desires that all men, women, and children, know that eternal life is already there’s through His Son Jesus Christ; through His life, death, and resurrection, and then know that all of it was done for you.  He came so that you could have a new and forgiven life, without fear or doubt.  He came that you might have an abundant life once again with your Creator.
His coming to sinful men and women was promised in His Word since the first sin of Adam and Eve; a sin that seemed to forever bar all mankind from returning to Paradise.  But the promised solution, the hope for both them and all mankind was the “Seed of the woman,” who would latter be known as the Messiah; the One who would make all things new and right with our Heavenly Father.  This Seed we know by faith, as a gift from God, is the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  He is the Messiah who was promised, that would restore mankind’s lost relationship with God, and thus bring us back to Paradise lost.  It is God Who makes all things new, and it has absolutely nothing to do with you and your efforts or lack of them.  He does it entirely through His Son Jesus Christ alone and through…

Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone. It is scripture, grace, and faith alone that recreates our hearts and minds so that we will believe that Jesus is the Christ and then receive His saving name, which alone ensures our hearts that we have eternal life. Again Jesus the Christ saves us, but saves from what?  Well, from the condemnation of our sins of course!  But how do we know this is true?  Through…

Scripture Alone: In the message of the inspired writers of Holy Scripture comes the re-creative Word of God; the Logos, who in the beginning said, “Let there be…” and there was!

John admitted that he could have written much more about the physical life of the Logos who came to us, but what he did write was enough to bring us eternal life.  St. Paul put it this way: “You have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” [2 Tim. 3:15]  Scripture does this by introducing us to Christ Jesus. So, we can say that as God’s Word introduces us to Jesus, it is also bringing the power of God into the lives of we who believe. [Rom 1:16]  God’s Word, every bit of it, found within your Bibles is powerful, because it teaches you about Jesus Christ.

The word of the prophets, which promised the coming of the Messiah, can be compared to a fire, because it purges the hearts of sinners of anything that does not come from God’s Word.  And it can be compared to a hammer, because it shatters our hearts that can become hard as rock when we place our hope in anything accept Christ alone! [Jeremiah 23:29]  The words of Scripture rise from the pages of our Bible with only two purposes, to pierce our hearts in regards to sin, and to heal our hearts in regards to the work of our Savior. [Heb. 4:12] John’s words about the Word made Flesh were written to bring life to each of us who hear or read those Words.  “These things are written that you may believe  that Jesus is the Christ!”

Now with all of this being true, we must always remember that when we are reading God’s Word, it must be handled with both respect and a sense of awe.  We must never try to impose our own cultural ideas upon that Word, nor use it to justify our sinful actions.  Scripture interprets Scripture. The Word of the Lord alone can govern how his Word is to be understood. The one who listens to God’s Word is to be “trapped” within that Word. It remains an authoritative voice from outside of our control. Therefore, the words of Scripture must be understood within the context of God’s revelation of Himself within the biblical text, and not according to what contemporary society says is truth.  We as the readers or hearers of God’s Word stand under that Word and never over it.

In our first reading this morning (Acts 1:12-26), we join the eleven apostles and many disciples of Jesus as they are leaving the mount called Olivet, where for the last time, they physically saw Jesus as He ascended into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  After they witnessed Jesus going up into heaven, they returned and stayed in Jerusalem, just as Jesus had commanded them.  But it was the way that they were waiting, which has significance to our message this morning; they were waiting “with one accord, devoting themselves to prayer.”  That is, they were devoted to worship and the one correct understanding of God’s Word!

What was it that united them?  Scripture alone!  It was through scripture that the work of the Holy Spirit moved Peter to fill the place that Judas, by his death vacated.  Judas Iscariot, the one who scripture prophesied would not only betrayed Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, but take his own life to boot!

Peter, filled with the Spirit of God, and moved by the Spirit, stood before the congregation, and began to apply scripture to their situation.  As he spoke, the Holy Spirit reminded of the two portions of Scripture from the Psalms of David, which prophesied both the betrayal of the Messiah, and the punishment and replacement of the betrayer. First, he read Psalm 69, which proclaims, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it.”  In other words, the betrayer will be punished, and his betrayal of the faith will not be repeated again by those who replace him.  The next Psalm brought before the heart of Peter was Psalm 109, which declares, “Let another take his office.”  That its let another apostle be called.

So what we learn from this is that it is Christ alone who chooses, and it is Christ who still speaks to His Church through Holy Scripture and prayer.  It is by grace alone that any are chosen, and it is by faith alone that they will continue stead fast in this high call of God.  And we will need this faith that comes through the Word of God every day, because like Judas we too can only be saved by…

Grace Alone: And like Judas, we too are subject to fall from our call as Christians and betray our Lord, choosing the rewards of this sinful world over the grace of God.  In fact, it has already begun in your life, hasn’t it?  Wasn’t it your sins, like the sins of Judas that caused Jesus to set His heart on that painful walk to the cross?  Quickly, don’t deny it; simply say “Yes, Christ died for my sins.”  Because if you cannot say that Jesus died for your sins, that it was your sins that led Him to the cross, then you cannot receive the forgiveness of sins that His death brings.  That is, you cannot receive His grace, which is the undeserved gift of God’s forgiving love.

Dear saints, when you are in Christ’s church, when you are gathered around the Word and Sacraments, you are receiving Jesus gifts without merit, which come through Scripture alone, by grace alone, and which save you by both creating and sustaining faith alone.

Faith Alone-is that very thing, which allows us to receive and believe that not only has Christ died to save the World, but He also died to save you!  By faith alone, you are able to say along with the entire church, “He is risen, indeed, but more importantly, He has risen for me.”

Because he died to save sinners, He died to save you, and in your baptism, He has given all of this to you.  In the washing of the water and the Word of God, you may stand with confidence upon the work of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the twelve apostles, which alone not only promises, but also gives eternal life.

So faith is simply the empty hand of a beggar, which has nothing on its own, but simply waits to be filled with belief in Christ by God Almighty.

Now let’s look at a case study of a real man whom God says was a type of Judas; a type, which all of us may become if we do not cling to Jesus alone, through Scripture alone, by grace alone, and by faith alone. It is the story of Ahitophel, who was counselor of King David.  The Bible mentions this man only in three places, yet his life is intertwined with King David from the time that David became king in Hebron until the time of the death of David’s son, Absalom.  In 2 Samuel 16:23 we are told that the counsel of Ahitophel “was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahitophel both with David and with Absalom.”  So where did this man of God, Ahitophel come from?    Well, the Bible says he was from the town of Giloh, a town near Hebron (Joshua 15:51-55). Hebron was the area where young David, before he was king, sent his young men to a man called Nabal, asking for some thing in return for having protected Nabal’s shepherds and flocks from marauders in the area of Carmel.  David was ridiculed by Nabal, and it was Nabal’s wife Abigail who saved the lives of all of them from the wrath of David, by her quick thinking and action. After Nabal died, David married Abigail, and if you read 1 Samuel 25 you will see that she admits that the meaning of her husband’s name Nabal, is “Fool”. This is the only man in the Bible who has this name.

So what is the meaning of Ahitophel’s name?  It is “the brother of a fool.”  But unlike his brother Nabal, he was renowned for his wisdom and understanding. You’ll find him mentioned as King David’s counselor in 1 Chron. 27:33. And it appears, that he held this position up until the time of the rebellion of David’s son Absalom.

So why did Ahitophel commit suicide?  Well, Ahitophel had served David closely and obediently for years, yet out of no where he seems to have turned on his King, and joined the conspiracy of David’s son Absalom to over throw David, but when the advice he gave Absalom in regards to defeating David was not followed, out of shame and fear, he committed suicide by hanging himself.  But Why; why did he turn traitor, and why the permanent solution to what seems to be a temporary problem?  And herein lies an interesting tale.

You see, Ahitophel was the one person who was in the know when David committed adultery with Bathsheba. He was in the Palace, in the confidence of the King and he was Bathsheba’s Grandfather! Yes, you can look it up yourself in 2 Sam.11:3 and 2 Samuel 23:34. Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam whose father was Ahitophel. So here along with the death of his brother, is the seed of betrayal that years later became the motivation for Ahithophel to turn on David and join David’s son, Absalom.

Remember, Bathsheba had been happily married to Uriah, and it was Bathsheba whom David seduced and then had her husband Uriah killed in battle.  Ahitophel knew all of this, and carried that grudge for years.  In Psalm 41:9,  David laments, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” This is the very verse that Jesus quoted about Judas at the last supper, as the betrayer, who like Ahitophel turned against the one who entrusted him with responsibility.

When both Ahitophel and Judas saw that their advice to their kings was rejected, they both saw that there was no future for them, so they both chose the same end… betrayal and then suicide!

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, we must all consider Ahitophel and Judas when we are tempted to hold a grudge against someone who may have hurt us or let us down.  And then by faith, we must see how God has so lavishly blessed us with His grace, and then ask the Lord to take that root of bitterness out of our hearts, because if it remains, it will ruin us and rob us of the faith that is needed to be led by His Word.

Friends, if you have a grudge against someone, allow God’s Word to have control over your lives.  By faith, go and make peace with the one you are at odds with, and then with the same grace you have been given, go and offer forgiveness to the one that has hurt you.  And remember, forgiveness is a verb, not a feeling. It is something you do through the help of God, and it’s not something you feel. Peace comes after you have gone and forgiven the one you were in conflict with. Whether they accept your forgiveness or not, once you have forgiven, you will by faith, through grace, experience the peace of God in your soul, because the Word of God promises that it is so.  AMEN!

From Lesser to Greater

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

Easter 6B, May 10, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Sorry, no audio for this message is available

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” [Acts 10:47]

This morning, I want to start out our message with a word of encouragement from me your pastor, to each of you who make up this congregation we call Trinity Lutheran Church.  You truly are a welcoming and loving bunch of saints, and your diversity proves that.  You are made up of Asian, African, African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Polynesian, wealthy, middle class, and poor.  You love each other equally and you are willing to offer up what you have to help each other when asked.  You seem to be following God’s example… you are not a respecter of persons.

All that being said, may I suggest that we take what our first reading (Acts 10:34-48) has to heart, and see if we might still have room to grow, both as individuals and as a congregation?  Good, let’s get started.

Another way to rephrase Peter’s question, would be like this: “Does anyone see what God is doing differently than me?  I see Him saying that He wants to save all people, regardless of who they are or what they are; regardless of what they’ve done or what they haven’t done?”

Did you notice that no one disagreed with Peter?  Now, don’t dismiss this fact because it is very relevant to what God is doing both in our reading and within our community today.  You see, prior to this day, God was seen as a national God, or a God of the Jews.  The Jews believed this, and it tended to steer them towards looking down on other folks; people who were not a part of their nation.  Peter was of this same mindset to an extent; he couldn’t help but be that way because he had been mistakenly taught this mindset from childhood.

But prior to our reading, in Acts 10:1-33, we discover that God had prepared Peter for a shift in his thinking through a vision.  In his vision from God, Peter was shown a great sheet that came out of heaven with all kinds of un-kosher creatures; you know creepy crawly things.  And in the vision, God said, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.  But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”

Now prior to Peter’s vision, a gentile Roman Centurion who feared God but did not yet know him also had a vision.  And in his vision he was told by an angel to go to the home where Peter was staying and invite him to his home to share the gospel.  And obedient to God’s command, Cornelius sent his men to find Peter and ask him to come and speak.  The next day when Peter arrived at the home, Cornelius welcomed Peter, and Peter proclaimed these wonderful words: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

And then Peter said a prayer, opened his moth and he began to preach this sermon: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

To those Jewish Christians who were accompanying Peter, and had not the privilege of the vision, this all must have seemed very odd, and out of order.  They must have been thinking, “These are Roman gentiles and not Jews; why is Peter preaching to them our gospel?”

Before they had time to object, and before Peter could even finish his sermon, the Holy Spirit acted in a way that would make God’s desire clear to everyone there and everyone who would hear about this day: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

No one that day attempted to prevent these people, who were foreign to God’s holy people from becoming part of Christ’s body; from becoming part of the church.  The gift of speaking in foreign languages was the same work of the Spirit that was done with the apostles and disciples earlier on that first Christian Pentecost.  In other words, God was telling Peter and all of the Jewish Christians that these gentiles, and all people of the earth are equal to the Jewish people; equal in their sins and equal in their need for a Savior.

The blood of Jesus was poured out for not just the sins of the Jews, but for the world, and the waters of Holy Baptism is for all sinners who have been crushed by God’s perfection as demonstrated through His Law and desire forgiveness of sins, and to be born anew, recreated through the washing of the water and the Word!

Would you look around this sanctuary please and tell me what is missing, or should I say who is missing? (Pause) Where are the young people?  Where are the children and young adults?  Oh, we have had plenty of the young people come to visit; we’ve even baptized at least a dozen of them in the last few years, but where have they gone to?  Do you know?  If you don’t know where they’ve gone to, do you know why they left?  Could it be that they left because they didn’t feel that there was a place for them here?  Could it be that we have been so impressed with our diversity in regards to race, ethnicity, and economic standard that we were beginning to feel like we have done all things well, and that there is no more room to grow?  Could it be that we have become a respecter of persons in regards to age?

The title of our message is, “From the lesser to the greater,” because that seems to always be how God works.  He takes the things that we may look down on and turns them into the very thing that brings His law to shame us with our sin of superiority and then shape us with the gospel, the forgiveness of that sin, with the challenge to go and sin no more.  In other words, God has taken that sin from us, so now we must identify it, mark it, and avoid it.

From the lesser to the greater for Peter meant, receiving a message from God about unclean food and then applying that message towards people he felt were unclean. For us today, from the lesser to the greater can be seen in our own lives and discovered within the lives of our neighbors, no matter their age.  We see this play out in our own salvation don’t we?  God moved each of us here this morning, at some time in our own lives from sinner to saint.  That is, within the waters of our own baptism He recreated us through the same word that created the universe, and He recreated us into His very own children.  But He didn’t stop there did He?  No, daily he moves us from repentance to forgiveness; from sin to salvation, and He does it through the same means that He uses to save others who are not yet a part of us; He does it through the proclamation of the gospel (the preached Word), Holy Baptism, and His Holy Communion where He feeds us His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.

All of these things, along with our own witness and conversation with our neighbors, points our hearts and minds back to the very same thing which equally saved us and continues to save us; we are taken back to the Word of God.

Did you notice a moment ago when I was listing God’s means of grace, or His means of giving us faith to believe and confess in the name of Jesus, I also included your own witness and conversation with our neighbors?  This is because we the church are to grab onto and utilize the Word of God in all of its forms.  In both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it is the Word of God along with the working of the Holy Spirit that brings faith to the one receiving these gifts.

There’s no magical power in any of these things that simply works by itself; it is all empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring faith to the one that is receiving.  The content of the Gospel contains and delivers God’s power for salvation as it creates faith and speaks to that faith.  Just as we struggle to avoid removing the speck from our neighbors eye while ignoring the log within our own, so too we often need a sermon, or a fellow believer to apply the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection to our own hurts and desires of comfort.

Young people today are hurting and aching for that gospel comfort, but they will unlikely find it by simply paging through their Bibles or listening to a 20-minute sermon.  They want to see that gospel hope in action; they want a guide or mentor who will teach them the personal truths of proclaiming and believing in the mystery of eternal life as it is revealed within the name of Jesus.

The voice of the gospel is a living voice, and it lives through each of us.  A sermon on Sunday is a great God ordained example of that Living voice of the Gospel, but if that is the only voice that young people are hearing, I am afraid that with what they face every day in this world darkened by sin, it may not be enough for them to over come the trials they are facing.  They need something more; they need you!

Young people need to be mentored; they need to be reminded by us that they are important to both God and the church.  Young people need mentors, surrogate Christian parents and Grandparents to come alongside them and remind them that what they know and believe of God matters.  They need to know that we older Christians are not that much different than them.  We too, have been moved from sinner to saint and we too struggle to live out the life of Christian while also fighting to put to death our old sinful natures.

While it is true that young people think, talk, and dress differently than we do, they have one thing that is the same: They desire to know God’s love and mercy.  They desire to know the mysteries of salvation that the church declares are theirs through faith in the name of Jesus Christ.  Will you please be that man or woman for the next young person that comes into our midst?

It is my prayer that we will all be aware through the help of God that He has called each of us to be conversing with others, even young people, and consoling them with God’s good news in Christ.  It is you God has chosen to teach these young people He brings into our midst about the abundant love He has lavished upon them through His means of grace that He so freely gives out right here at Trinity Lutheran Church.  I pray we will do this both as individuals and as a congregation for the glory of God and saving grace that calls us out of this lesser world of sin, into the greater glory of eternal life.  I ask this in Jesus name, Amen!

Our Vocation is Clear

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Easter 5B, May 3, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]

Some of you know that I love Cowboy movies, or as they are more properly called, Westerns.  I love the simplicity of the narrative and the development of the characters.  You have the good guys, the bad guys, and what I like to call the confused guys.  They are the ones, usually the town folks who don’t seem to be committed to anything other than survival, who show great potential, but they always seem inadequate for the task at hand.  And that task almost always in the best westerns is to standup to the bad guys; bad guys who today we might call bullies.

The bad guys in accordance with western genera, are inevitably made up of the rough and crude working class, but there always seems to be an upper class elite who is pulling the strings; intimidating the townsfolk into cowering and ignoring their criminal behavior, all so that the bad guys can have their way.  And within this tension enters the role of the good guy; the hero!

You know that the hero is ready to jump into action, when he says the magic words: “I can’t abide by that!”  What he is actually saying, is that to ignore the evil that is being done in front of him is contrary to his nature.  Or we might say that it is not in keeping with the good guy’s calling.  And what is that calling?  To abide in his nature… to be the good guy!

This morning, God’s Word reminds each of us what our calling or vocation is; we are called to abide in Jesus Christ, the true vine or source of life.  It reminds us that above all our other callings or stations in life, we are Christians; we are the good guys and gals of this world.  We are good, not because of anything that is unique to ourselves, but simply because we have been grafted as branches into the vine, the body of Christ.

Jesus says this in another way that perhaps we can understand: “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.” [Vs. 3]  You have been born again, created anew, cleansed and remade by the washing of the water and the Word.  These two cry out to you as the instruments of your salvation: The blood of Christ shed upon the cross for the sins of the world, and the water of your own baptism which made this gift truly yours personally in a way that ensures that you can and will abide within the body of Christ, His church.

In our first reading (Acts 8:26-40), we encounter one of the best demonstrations on how God ensures that all who desire to abide in Him, will do that very thing.  We meet an unnamed Ethiopian eunuch who is returning from his trip to Jerusalem.  Even though he remains unnamed, God wants you to understand that He was an important man within the nation of Ethiopia, because he was the queen’s own minister of finance.  And because he worked so closely with the queen and her family, as was the tradition back then he also voluntarily became a eunuch; that is through surgery, he became sexless.  But this important man was also something so much more in God’s eyes; he was a person being called unto salvation.  Just as he was surgically altered to serve the queen, God desired to spiritually alter him so that he could abide within the very body of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

But there was a problem, the good folks who also were called by the same Prince of Peace and who were the authority within the temple of God, were still locked into the old covenant of Moses.  It was this covenant that attempted to bind a gentile into fear and punishment by denying him the very thing that the Jews refused themselves when they crucified Jesus Christ, a relationship of grace and mercy with the Creator.

Now, on his way back from worshiping the One true God as a 2nd class citizen, with an expensive scroll in his possession, this man of faith who is seeking to know the One true God, is introduced to Him in a miraculous way.  As he is reading his scroll, God sends Philipp by order of an angel to meet this Ethiopian seeker and answer all of his questions; questions that should have been answered within the temple but were not.

Through the explanation of the Word of God and the introduction of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, this Ethiopian seeker is moved to plead for the greatest gift he would ever receive: ““See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [Vs. 37]  And just like that, this eunuch who through the old covenant of Moses was barred from abiding in God’s love was translated immediately into that love by being brought as a branch into the vine, the holy Christian church where he will continue to receive nurturing and teaching through the Word and Sacraments of Christ’s church.  In fact, the history of this ancient nation of Ethiopia teaches us that it was this eunuch who brought the gospel to their great nation.  He first shared that gospel with the Candace or the Queen, who was also baptized and from that point on the church began to flourish and grow, all because one man was called by God to abide in the body of Christ.

It is here in Christ’s church where we are nurtured and strengthened and told to abide.  It is here that we are forever reminded that we too are called to be good guys.  We are called to be loved and to love each other in return.  We are called to hear the truth and to speak the truth.  And this is the truth, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God took on our real flesh, He became one of us in order to save us; in order to die for this sins of the world, but most importantly He died for your sins personally, you dear saints who have been baptized.

Like the Ethiopian eunuch, you too were called and saved solely through the miraculous work of God’s Spirit; you were saved through the washing of the water and the word.  And you too were called to abide and grow, to learn and then go.  You go out back into the world of darkness and sin, just as the Ethiopian did.  But you are not of this world; you are a child of light and you too confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh! [1 John 4:2]  You are part of the Vine, the Body of Christ, because you have been cleansed, but you must be careful because you are going out into a world and kingdom of darkness.

Like the Ethiopian eunuch and like the early Christians that St. John speaks to in our epistle lesson (1 John 4:1-11) you will most certainly encounter the spirit of the antichrist.  You can find his unholy spirit everywhere.  He is the one who insist that either your abiding faith in Jesus Christ is false or it is insufficient to give you a full life.  They will preach and teach to you a different message that denies you salvation in Christ alone.  Whether it is science alone or Jesus plus works, make no mistake the false teachers are everywhere.  And also do not be misled, whether they admit it or not they are all tools of Satan, that great lion, that ravenous wolf, who only desires to take away your faith and claim you as his own!

The answer to this threat is simple… we must come out of them and gather together with other branches that are abiding in the vine.  Within the vine, the body of Christ His church we find both the love of God and the love of each other.  St. John says it this way: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the (payment) for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Beloved, the world can not love you because it is not part of the vine; it does not have the nourishing sap of the Son of God sent out to the branches that abide, that rest in God’s love.  They have not because they can not abide by this God who comes to us and dies for us!

But you can and you will abide in Him.  And because you abide in Him, you cannot abide within the evil of this world.  You can not remain indifferent like the confused and fearful town folks in some Western story.  You must be the good guy because you abide in Him.  But take warning, from Jesus own words, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” [John 15:2]

Are you nervous about the sufficiency of your fruit?  Do you wonder if you will be taken away due to lack of fruit?  Then hear again the Word of Jesus the True Vine and abide and thrive: “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.”  So continue to abide in me and I will abide in you.

To abide in Christ is to be a fruit producer.  You cannot abide in Him and have no fruit, because His very life blood, the sap of the indwelling Holy Spirit resides in you.  And where the Holy Spirit is, is also His fruit.  What is this fruit?  Well God’s Word plainly tells us that “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” (Gal. 5:22, 23); “goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:9); These are “the peaceable fruit of righteousness,” (Heb. 12:11).

Dear saints as you abide here in God’s love, He alone is working through His Word and Sacraments to ensure that your love will abide in Jesus and grow more and more in the knowing that you are forgiven and protected from the judgment that awaits the world that will not abide in His Son.  It is here that you are taught and filled with the forgiving love of God through Christ Jesus so that you seek out and approve all things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and without offense to others until the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are already yours through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9–11).

Are you still worried that you do not have enough fruit?  Do not allow that worry to separate you from the nourishment found only in the vine, because it is there alone that fruit may come.  A branch may have only a small amount of fruit, but as long as it draws life from the vine, some of the fruit will be found, and God will bless it and multiply it.

Dear friends, you are one of the good guys, and because you abide within the True Vine you can not abide within the things of this world.  Even when the world overwhelms you, you must not allow your fears, worries, or doubts to sever you from Christ and His Church.  It is precisely at times such as these when you need the nourishment of the vine and the love of other branches the most.  AMEN!

Our Relentlessly Pursuing God

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

Easter 4B, April 26, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us”. [1 John 3:16a]

What a wonderful text for us to be blessed with this “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  It speaks of God’s love for each of us as demonstrated through the giving of His Son; a Son who willingly laid down His life for lost little sheep such as we.  But, that’s only half of the verse isn’t it?  The other half seems to set a different tone, and then it is followed up with two more verses that seem even more challenging, listen:  “and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” [1 John 3: 16b-18]

This morning, if we read these Words without remembering who our Good Shepherd is, we may look at Him in a different way; a way that will cause us to flee from Him, instead of running to Him.  This morning we will look at two pictures of God, or two ideas of Jesus and then with the help of the Holy Spirit we’ll allow God to adjust the vision of who He really is within our lives.

This morning you may be receiving Jesus’ Words in our gospel reading (John 10:11–18) like this: I am the relentless hound of God, and I will hunt you down until you lay down your life for your brothers; until you are willing to share all of your goods with a brother in need.  I will hound you and find you and force you to love with not just talk but with deeds!”

Do you sometimes struggle with the sins of your past and your many failures to measure up to what you feel God demands of you?  Do you sometimes feel that this Christian life we are asked to live out might just be too much for you to bear; that the risk of falling short of God’s expectations seems to be more of a certainty than a possibility?  If so, you are not alone in your feelings.

Around 1896, a celebrated English author by the name of Francis Thompson wrote what has been hailed as perhaps the greatest poem ever written in the English language; it was titled “The Hound of Heaven.”  It was revealed to be the story of the authors life; a life he spent running from God and pursuing the happiness of the world.  Thompson compared himself to a rabbit that had been flushed from its hiding place by a hunting dog, which caused him to embark on a life darting from one hiding place to another as the Hound of God relentlessly pursued him.

Listen to a bit of the poem and see if you can find yourself at times within his words: “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, down Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with un-hurrying chase, And unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat— and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet— “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

Can you feel the fear and the sense of despair within the author’s words?  Is that the picture of Jesus we have; as a pursuer, a great judge who will find us where ever we flee to either force us to “knuckle under” to his rule or be punished for our miserable failures in life?

Are we too, simply delaying the inevitable confrontation with our God and the coming to grips with our many failures to live up to the “Good Shepherd’s” standards?  Or do we have the picture skewed, and maybe we do not see Jesus rightly?

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  [John 10:14, 15]

After years of running, Francis Thompson finally met the real Jesus; he began to know Him as the Good Shepherd.  Listen to the words he puts in God’s mouth in the poem when God finally confronted him: “All which I took from thee I did but take, Not for thy harms, But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms. All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: “Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”

Dear friends, the point communicated in Thompson’s poem is also the message of all of Scripture:  If we choose to shut out God and His Good Shepherd, then we are shutting out our only true shelter and Provider. God is the source of all things safe and secure so whomever chooses to shut him out will be shut out of all good things; we won’t find the love we are seeking in the world because we have rejected it from God. God is saying to us this morning, “You choose to drive love away from thyself when you choose to separate thee from Me.”

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” [1 John 3: 19-22]

God is not the overbearing task master, who sends His Son out to hunt us down like runaway slaves, but instead God sees us as His little lambs who have wondered off into danger; He sends His Son out as our Good Shepherd, who has given His life upon the cross to defeat our true enemy the devil, who prowls like a hungry wolf seeking to devour us.  He drives off the hirelings, who are the false teachers, by feeding us here in this place of pasture and rest with the living water of His comforting Word of gospel truth, which is received, taught, and learned as the purest of doctrine.  (Psalm 23)

It is this truth, which reassures our hearts that God does not condemn us, but rather He came to us in His Son to live with us and then die for us.  But ultimately He wants us to see that He also rose for us from death so that we would not fear our own death.  And all that He asks of us is that we trust Him and walk with Him as He continues to teach us, protect us, and yes even seek us when we wonder off into trouble.

What is the commandment of God that can either bring fear or comfort to you who are Jesus’ little lambs? “This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

What do you believe in?  Does any thing outside of the name of Jesus even compare with the eternal love and mercy of God almighty?  Can anything within the world give you the assurance and then the continued reassurance that you are never abandoned or forgotten by your Creator like God’s Word and Sacraments can?  Has anyone in the world ever died for you?  Would you even want them to?  No, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]  He died for us to bring us back into God’s love, where we can daily experience safety, mercy, and peace.  And all we must do is rest, feed, and then follow Him, our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ as He teaches us to live a life of sacrifice and service to other lost little lambs who need to find their way back to their Savior.

I will close with a children’s bedtime story, I call “The Lamb Who Wanted to Be Lost.”

Once upon a time there was a little lamb who wanted to run away from home.  So, he said to his Good Shepherd who loved him very much, “I am running away.”  “If you run away,” said the Shepherd, “I will run after you.  For you are my little lamb.”  Then the little lamb told his shepherd that if he runs after him, he will become a fish and swim away from him.  And the Good Shepherd smiled and countered that he would simply become a fisherman and fish for him.  The little lamb then decided to become a rock on the top of a tall mountain, and so the Good Shepherd said that he would become a mountain climber.  After a rock, he decides to become a flower hidden in a large garden, and the Good Shepherd says that he will simply become a gardener.  Whatever the little lamb wanted to become to escape from his shepherd, he countered with a person or thing that would find him.  And so the story goes until the end, when the little lamb finds himself exhausted trying to come up with more ideas, and finally says, “Aw shucks, I might as well just stay where I am and be your little lamb.”

Well… AMEN!

Repentance and… Heaven!

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

Easter 3B, April 19, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them”. [Acts 3:11]

What should we make of that sick man in our First Reading (Acts 3:11-21) who clung to Peter and John?  Sure he was grateful to have his health back, but to cling to them; to follow them every where; to say good bye to your entire life prior to that moment of healing and be willing to start over clinging to these two men, doesn’t that seem a little extreme, almost cultish?  Well sure, if it was in fact Peter and John this man was devoted to, but it wasn’t, was it?  No!

Peter addresses the large crowd that thought that way, and he corrects them by saying, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?”  Then he says, it wasn’t us, it was Jesus, who you killed, that healed this man; Jesus the Author of Life, and the Forgiver of sins!

The healed man knew this and he believed it; he received it all in the name of Jesus and the witness that John and Peter gave to him about that name.  Sure he was healed, but where the real miracle took place wasn’t in his body, or even in the Temple, but instead, it was in an existence so far from their physical reality that normal folks would never believe it.  What was that miracle and what was that existence.  The miracle was repentance, forgiveness of sins, and the existence was eternal resurrected life in heaven!

Last week we heard that the key to Christian fellowship, that is fellowship and harmony with each other is in that little word faith.  This week, we will build on that and discover that the key to fellowship with God is also faith, but then something else is added, REPENTANCE!

What is repentance?  Some will say that it simply means turning around, or turning away from something, and I would agree with that, but there is something much deeper than that, something which makes repentance a part of your eternal life.  You see, what is important is Who you are turning around to.  You notice I did not say what you are turning to or what you are turning away from.

To be sure, those things are within repentance, but it all starts with Who you are turning to.  The sick man knew Whom he was turning to; he was turning to Jesus the Author of Life who alone can take away the sins of the world.  The Lamb of God who not only dies for the sins of the world, but comes back to life to prove that He has defeated sin, death, and the devil for you, so that you too will be assured of the eternal resurrected life in glory just as Jesus lives it out now.

Like the sick man, you too have been healed, forgiven of your many sins and promised a new and eternal-resurrected life, where you too will never again know sickness nor disease, nor temptation to sin.  And all you must do is cling to Jesus!  Turn to Him and receive forgiveness.  When you turn to Him, you turn to the cross and the empty tomb, and all that He has accomplished is yours.  When you turn to Him, you are also turning away from your sin and the ways of the devil and this fallen world; that is, your trust is no longer in sinful things and sinful ways, because Jesus in His Word has taught you a better way.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”  Those first words of our epistle lesson (1 John 3:1-7) state a reality to all who have turned to and cling to Jesus Christ; you are children of God!  No ifs, ands, or buts about it, it’s a done deal.  People without faith can never understand this because without faith they see no need to turn away from their sinful lives and sinful choices.  So, this whole repentance thing sounds strange and impossible to them.  It is as if they want to ask us, “So let me get this straight, you want me to turn to an invisible man who you say is also God, and then you want me to ask to be forgiven for life choices and a life style that society and I see no problem with.  In fact, isn’t it true that it is only you Christians who find my choices offensive?  No thanks, you can keep your Jesus!”

Why do people without Jesus find you and your clinging to Him so offensive?  Because they don’t know Him!  But you do, don’t you?

Now I can see the wheels turning in your heads and almost hear your thoughts right now.  You may be thinking, “I hope I do; I sure hope so.  I want to believe and I want to know Him, but sometimes I truly just don’t know.”

Repent!  Turn to Jesus and cling to Him.

You are doing that right now.  Just as the sick man seemed to be clinging to Peter and John, so you right this moment are here in church, but your not clinging to this place nor the pastor, you are clinging to Jesus.  This church, and I your pastor are simply the instrument that Jesus uses to speak faith into your hearts so that you will continue to turn away from doubt and keep clinging to Him.

You see you need faith to keep clinging to Jesus, to keep repenting because while it is true that “we ARE children of God now, (it is also true that) what we will be has not yet appeared (that is to this world of flesh that lacks faith); but we know that when Christ appears (that is when He returns in glory) we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”

And now a fruit of faith that reveals the result of repentance… “everyone who thus hopes (in Jesus; who clings to Him and His Word of forgiveness) purifies himself as (Jesus) is pure.

You see, “everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”

What does it mean to purify yourself?  Don’t be deceived, you can’t just simply say, “I am baptized!” and then do what ever you wish.  You can’t cling to the world and Jesus at the same time.  Another way to say you are purifying yourself is to say that you are repenting; you have learned to agree with God that He and His Word are right and this sinful society is wrong.  To purify your self is to cling to Jesus, to be filled with His presence within His Word and Sacraments, which are the very means that not only give you faith, but also the strength to fight the sin that is in you.  You see, while it is a truth to declare that I am saved by faith in the name of Jesus, and in that name and person of Jesus I cling, it is also a truth to declare that sin still clings to you; it is within your very flesh.  So what are we to do?

Return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!  Return to the promises of Jesus, which were first given to you in your baptism; promises that declare that He will never leave you nor forsake you; promises, which declare that “He who began the good work in you will complete it!”   Claim these promises as your very own and everyday put to death the sin that clings to your flesh.  Fight the good fight of faith and do not loose hope, because…

“Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as (Jesus) is righteous.”  We practice righteousness when by faith, we not only see things as God sees them, but we also fight to do that good thing.  And when we fail, when we fall to sin the answer is the same as before…

Repent! See Jesus correctly and cling to Him alone.  In our gospel reading (Luke 24:36-49), we are once again in the upper room on Easter evening, with the disciples, who are afraid and amazed.  I can almost hear their discussion now: “It must be true, too many people we trust have independently reported the same thing to us.  Jesus is not dead, but He is risen, indeed!”

They must have been filled with faith to know that their hope and dreams had not come to a violent end like the ocean waves which crash upon the rocky shore.  So, why were they afraid when Jesus appeared in their midst?

They were afraid because sinful flesh always demands to interpret circumstances according to the understanding of this sinful world.  “Eek!  It’s a ghost!”  And to that Jesus says.. ‘Knock it off, dummies!’  No not really, you see Jesus is the Author of life, the giver of faith, so He speaks in a way that will turn them away from their fears, doubts, and failures, and then back to the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  And by the way, “Do you have any thing to eat?”

Do you understand what Jesus had done for them?  It is the same thing He does for you.  He comes to you in the middle of your sins, in the midst of your sinful thinking and He says, “Peace to you!  (I know your struggle and your fears.  Do not be afraid, because I am always with you, even until the end of time when I will come again to take you home).”  See I am with you; I who was crucified upon the cross for you.  By faith see my pierced hands and feet; see the gash in my side.

All these things my Word assures you of.  See I have washed you clean; recreated you into my image before my Father and your Father, and now come to my banquet table.  I myself have something for you to eat and drink.  Take and eat, this is my body.  Take and drink, this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Repent dear saints, even as this world sees you as no better than them.  Turn to Jesus and cling to Him.  Turn to the place that gives to you His Living Word and His very body and blood, and cling to the gifts that this place so freely gives to you.  It is His will that you believe.  And it is His work alone that opens your minds and hearts so that you will not only believe but continuously turn to Him and receive the promise of eternal life and glory, within the heaven that He has gone to prepare for you.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN and Amen!