Posts Tagged ‘grace’

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!

The Key to Fellowship… FAITH!

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Easter 2B, April 12, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7]

The audio clip that you just heard is a snippet of the song “Break It Down” by Chris Warren.  Wrestling fans know it as the Degeneration X theme song.  I chose it as the audio and mental hook to hang our message upon, because the words pretty well describe the response of most doubters and deniers of what they perceive to be the Christian faith.  Listen to the opening lines: “You think you (can) tell us what to do?  You think you (can) tell us what to wear?  You think that your better?”

Is that how we present our Christian faith; as a simply a set of rules that are expected to be followed in order to fit into His church?  Or do we believe and model something more; something much deeper?  In reality, that is what this younger generation is looking for.  Like Thomas in our Gospel reading (John 20:19–31), young people today are looking for something that in their minds is real and life changing; something they can not only hear, but touch and be a part of.  This morning, our message will declare that as the very essence of what we preach, teach, and confess; but even more than that, it is something that we live out!

Why didn’t Thomas believe?  May I suggest that He simply chose not to rely on the simple testimony of his friends.  He didn’t want to just believe, but he also wanted the experience of belief; he wanted to encounter the same source of faith that they had encountered.  What experience?  Well, this one: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [Jn. 20:19, 20]

In my mind, I can hear the excited testimony of the apostles and disciples who testified to Thomas.  “Thomas, we have seen the Lord.  There is no doubt it was Him, because He showed us the nail scars in his hands and the wound in His side!”  Thomas wanted to experience the same encounter.  He needed that same experience because the last few days of living had beat him down; demoralized him!  Remember, he was the same disciple who said to the others, “Let us go, that we may die with him”, after Jesus announced that it was time for Him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. [Jn. 11:16]

Now here is where we see the loving desire of our Savior. Jesus Christ the Son of God, knew that Thomas had been separated from Him by lack of faith, and that just would not do.  You see Thomas had been set aside with the other apostles to not only believe in the Son of God Jesus Christ, but to also testify and proclaim the gospel which heralded the good news that Christ is risen!  So, if experience is what Thomas required in order to feel equal to the others, in order to have faith and believe, then that is precisely what Jesus would give to him.

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [Jn. 20:26-29]

Thomas’ faith was restored and he was returned to the fellowship of disciples who just eight days earlier also had faith, which seemed to be destroyed and lost.  All of them at first, seemed to have had lost their faith but not there fellowship.  What I mean by that, is that they still gathered together in that upper room, but not in a fellowship of faith, but a fellowship of fear of the Jews and disappointment in their Savior.  They were beaten down by life and disappointed by what appeared to be failure, just as people still are today.

What is the thing lacking in most people, which is preventing them from receiving Jesus as their Savior and then living out their new identity as a new person in Christ?  I submit that it is faith.  Without faith, there can be no real fellowship with God.  Faith is the only way to truly see and know Jesus; to know that He is the propitiation (or payment) for our sins, and not (just) for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.” [1 John 2:2]

When Thomas had earlier said “Let us go also so that we may die with (Jesus)”, I am sure he meant every word.  When he said it, he and all of the other disciples were confused and bewildered.  They could not have understood why the Messiah would willingly allow Himself to be humiliated and killed.  That simply was not how a champion behaved.  But they also did not understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was.  People still don’t understand.

People today just like the disciples before us can not receive faith in Jesus unless they perceive a need for Him.  In other words, they must first see a need for the kind of Savior Jesus is.

Jesus is the Son of God who comes to save us from our sins.  He comes to remove our sins; to pay for them with the only payment that can be made; a payment of blood and life.  Again, “If we (desire to be saved and) walk in the light, as (Jesus) is in the light, (then) we have fellowship with (the Father and the Son of God, and) one another, and the blood of Jesus (the Son of God) cleanses us from all sin.”

And it is that little Word sin, which keeps getting in the way; it keeps blocking folks from receiving the very thing they long for… faith.  You see, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

So what is the answer to this dilemma?  How can we even begin to reach people outside of Christ, especially young people with the very gift of life that they seem to so militantly reject?  We must make it real to them, by allowing it to be real to us.  We must allow the gift of Christ to change us so that the change is apparent to even the worst skeptics!

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

You know, in this world people say a lot of things; things they don’t really mean.  Another way to say this is that their talk and their walk don’t match.  But Jesus, speaks truth.  When He says “Peace” the very Word gives it.  The word gives peace and the faith of the believer receives it.

If a blind doctor offered you a liquid that would save your life, and then he told you that all you needed to do was hold out your cup and then drink what he pours into it, would you think that it was such a bad thing?  And if you told the doctor “I’m ready, poor away; my cup is waiting”, but you had no cup and simply let the medicine pour out on the ground, would that be the doctor’s fault, or yours?  Fool, why not just tell the doctor you have no cup, and he will gladly give you one!

And that is precisely the way of faith.  God’s Word is the medicine that will save you from your sins.  And the great physician of your soul is Jesus Christ.  If you have no cup, it is because you have either neglected to ask Him or you have refused to admit that you have a need for the medicine.  The cup is your agreement with God that you are indeed dying from your sins, and it is your confession, which proclaims that only He can save you.  The medicine is His very Word, which gives both forgiveness and eternal life; it gives you peace with God and each other.

When we have peace with God through faith in both the work of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb, we live out that peace with the authority that Christ’s Word gives us.  We are not only forgiven, but we are sent out to both speak words of forgiveness and to model them.  We hold no grudges, and simply allow God to work within the lives of the people we meet through the power of the Word he tells us to speak.

“I forgive you” is perhaps the easiest set of words to speak and the hardest to live out.  It is hard to live out because it involves complete faith that God will do what He says He will do.  He will bring peace.  Peace; first to we who speak the words of peace, and then peace to those who will hear and receive those words.

Thomas was restored to the fellowship of believers the same way the rest of them, including Peter were restored, through the person and work of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Jesus spoke and gave peace to them and their little fellowship of faith began to grow.  It grew so large that they began to attract the attention of the government of Rome, which eventually became terrified that they might represent a new threat against Cesar.  They tried to destroy the church by killing the Christians, but instead of wiping out Christianity, their attacks only served to cause the church to grow much faster.  Why?  Because “great grace was upon them all.  The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.”  With great power, the testimony of the apostles, which is the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, spread and brought forgiveness of sins and peace with God to many people.

That same peace of God, which comes through the same Word and means of grace of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are still proclaimed and given freely today.  It is the Word declared and the power of the Word lived out that will save this generation today, if we will simply trust God and live out this faith with an invitation to all we meet to simply come and see.  Come and believe that in our Bibles, “these (things) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  AMEN!

Arise, Be Faith-filled!

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

Easter Sunday B, April 5, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

Why are you here?  I mean really, what was your reason for coming?  That’s a fair question, and it really doesn’t have a right or wrong answer. For those of you who are here faithfully every week, I know why you have come.  You’ve come to hear God’s Word and experience the forgiving love of your resurrected Lord.  That’s why you come every week.  But others may have come for other reasons; valid and important reasons.  Here are some of those reasons I’ve heard over the years: I’ve come to be with family;  It is our tradition to go to church on the important days like Christmas and Easter; or, I’m here because I was invited to come.

While I don’t know your personal reason for being here, I do know why God wants you here; He wants you here to hear His Word and to receive His gift of faith… He wants you to believe in the Easter miracle.  God wants you to know that “Christ is Risen!”  And once you know this truth, then He wants you to keep coming back to His house of worship often and be filled with faith; in other words, He wants you to be faith-filled!

This morning, Christians around the world gather together to hear about a miracle that has saved the world.  We gather to receive the gift of  Easter hope.  We gather together around the very same proclaimed Word of God and the same Sacraments that the ancient Christian church has received since the very first Easter celebration.  These are Christ’s gifts to His church and to you, gifts which bring you free and complete salvation centered entirely upon Christ’s death and resurrection.

As part of Christ’s church, each of us have one thing in common, we are sinners; sinners gathered around a new covenant; a new promise of forgiveness from God, as were Mary and the other women who got out of bed early to attend to their acts of devotion and care for the body of Jesus.  And after their early Easter blessing, the apostles and all of the other disciples who were there with Jesus that first Easter morning were blessed as well.  Each of them, as well as us today were confronted with the good news.  The good news of course is that Christ not only suffered and died to pay for the sins of the world, but He also rose from the dead!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, and so shall you!

Let’s look again at the hymn we just sang, “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain” (LSB 487).  This hymn is a wonderful example of how our powerful Christian faith has been nourished since that first Easter Sunday.  It’s a Faith that comes to us through God’s Word about the risen Christ.  Let’s hear this good news proclaimed again in the 4th verse: “For today among His own Christ appeared, bestowing His deep peace, which ever-more passes human knowing.  Neither could the gates of death nor the tombs dark portal, nor the watchers, nor the seal hold Him as a mortal.”

This is the message of Easter.  Christ our King, our brother and Savior came to us as our champion and through the cross and the empty tomb defeated sin, your sin.  But that’s not all, He also defeated death, and your greatest enemy of all, the devil.  He set you free from bondage just as He set the Hebrews free from their bondage of slavery in Egypt long ago.

Jesus’ death and resurrection has freed the entire world from sin and death.  Jesus death upon the cross and His resurrection gives hope to people, be they yellow, black, white, rich, poor, straight, gay, single, married, old, and young.  But in order for Jesus’ gift of eternal life to become your gift,  it must become personal; it must become your good news!  And God does this very thing through His Word and the waters of your baptism.

In your baptism, God draws you into the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic faith.  In your baptism, God allows you to glimpse by faith, the deliverance of your soul from bondage to sin and deliverance into a promised land of eternity where all of your sins are forgiven.  If you will simply agree with God that you have sinned against Him, and then turn to Him for forgiveness; if you will confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus alone is your Lord you will be saved from this bondage.

Through the miracle of God’s mighty Word attached to the water each of us by faith, can see our Old Testament lesson come alive in our own lives.  Through the triumphant victory won by Jesus our Lord we have been delivered from the oppression of our old masters, sin, death, and Satan.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our salvation is secure and our future is certain if we will just rest and trust in Jesus alone!

We heard in our Old Testament Reading (Isaiah 25:6-9), about our Easter reality; we heard about our promise land and the banquet that is waiting for us.  We heard how God on His part has defeated our mortal enemies sin, death, and the devil and all we must do is believe in this work and praise God for the great things He has done.

“It will be said on that great day (on the resurrection of all flesh), “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us.  This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”  Christ is risen!

Just as the Israelites long ago were rescued and still celebrate their deliverance from their bitter years of bondage in Egypt, so too, we the church have something to celebrate; we celebrate our release from the spiritual bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  So rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!

Together with all of God’s saints we proclaim our Easter faith as individuals and as part of a large whole, the church of Jesus Christ.  Listen to this truth as its proclaimed in the first and second verses of our sermon hymn: “Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness!  God has brought His Israel into joy from sadness.  Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters; led them with un-moistened foot through the Red Sea waters.  Tis the spring of souls today: Christ has burst His prison and from three days sleep in death as a sun has risen; All the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying from His light, to whom is given laud and praise undying.” [LSB 487:1-2]

This is the Easter hope, the very truth that God wants you to be filled with not just this Easter day, but every day for the rest of your lives.  He wants you to see that your salvation, your eternal life and happiness is all His work through the life and death of His Son Jesus Christ, and the power of His saving Word.

And yet when we leave this place, we’ll be tempted by a sinful society to see ourselves as more enlightened than those ancient people that made up the first church.  Our society will tell us that their science and technology is far superior to our antiquated Christian faith.  They will tell us that we are not in a position to judge anyone, but instead we must accept and empower all people and celebrate our great differences.

This morning, God wants you to see that there are only two differences that He cares about, and they are life and death!  There are only two kinds of people, forgiven and un-forgiven!  In our Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), St. Paul reminds us of the true gospel… salvation is entirely the work of God!  Listen to the truth of salvation, which comes by grace alone, faith alone, and is communicated only by scripture alone.  St. Paul says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”. [Vs. 3, 4]

How did Paul deliver this message?  Through the Word preached and taught, and the word applied within the waters of Holy Baptism and the Word served at the Lord’s Table, just as is still done today!  In your baptism, God separated you from the sin that will condemn the unbelieving world.  This morning He is telling each of us to continue living out that baptismal gift and turn away from that sin.  He is not asking you to judge others; that is His job and not ours.  Instead He is asking you to examine yourself; He’s warning each of us to quit boasting in the philosophy of enlightened minds and trust in His truth for us.

In your baptism you were made clean and sinless, so now he’s telling you to live that kind of life and quit embracing and celebrating sin; your own sin and other people’s sin.  He simply wants you to confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and then celebrate as one who is truly saved and loved by God!  This is the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth… Christ crucified and risen for you!

In our gospel lesson this morning, we encounter dear Mary and the other faithful women who were disciples, women who physically walked and talked with Jesus on a day to day basis.  They witnessed so many miracles performed by Jesus.  But even their “enlightened” status was not enough for them to see and believe in their risen Lord, in fact they were terrified of the angelic messenger who proclaimed “He has risen!”  You see, their own sinful natures prevented them from seeing that Jesus had in fact risen from the tomb.

It was only later, when their risen Lord spoke to them and called them by name that their doubts and fears would be replaced with faith and joy!

Remember this hymn from your youth?  “I am Jesus little lamb, ever glad at heart I am.  For my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my need and well provides me.  Loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name.” (LSB 740)  Later dear Mary’s faith would be rekindled when she heard the voice of her Lord.  She became faith-filled and excited about the resurrection of Jesus.  Mary was made alive again by the Word of her Savior God.

You too were made alive in your baptism.  It was there in those waters that Jesus called your name.  You are being made alive also this morning, because your resurrected Lord is still calling you by name; He’s calling you out from a society enlightened by sin and He is asking you to once again take your Christian faith seriously.  He calls you out of a faithless existence and He calls you back into His grace; His forgiving love.  And as His children called by faith, we gather together as one body and partake of the Easter feast of victory in His Holy Supper.

Just as it takes many individual kernels of wheat to be crushed into flour to make one loaf of bread, so we too this morning gather as one loaf in our proclamation of faith and our need of forgiveness.  We need to receive Christ body for the forgiveness of our sins.  And in this eating of His body, He gives us faith to see that He is mysteriously and really present in the bread.  And just as it took many grapes to lose their individual importance and become one drink of wine, so too are we all gathered this morning to receive the precious blood of our Lord and Savior in, with, and under the wine.

“Here (is) our true Paschal Lamb we see, whom God so freely gave us.  He died on the accursed tree—so strong His love—to save us.  See, His blood now marks our door; faith points to it; death passes o’er and Satan cannot harm us.  Alleluia!  Then let us feast this Easter day on Christ, the bread of heaven.  The Word of grace has purged away the old and evil leaven.  Christ alone our souls will feed; He is our meat and drink indeed.  Faith lives upon no other!  Alleluia!” [LSB 458 vs. 3, 5]

We all know, truthfully how small and insignificant we are without Jesus; without the Easter truth. We know how faithless we can be without God’s work in our lives.

For those of us who are still being moved to walk with and trust in Jesus real presence in our lives, we can truly say that we find our strength and our meaning in Him and His Word.  It’s His Word that’s our shield and our strength.  It’s His Word that gives our lives purpose and meaning.  As we live our lives here among people who we love but who are dying without faith in Jesus, we can only wait and trust that God will do the same work within them that He is doing within us.  And as we wait, we remember that we are the Lord’s little lambs and His servants.

We hear Him call out to us and we follow.  He faithfully leads us and feeds us with His Word as we repeat only what He speaks to us.  We hear His voice and we trust in none other.  And that voice faithfully gathers us to this place so that we can come to be faith-filled.  Thanks be to God!  Christ is risen, He is risen indeed… Alleluia!!

High and Lifted Up

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

Lent 4 B, March 15, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church,
San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Numbers 21:4–9

Click here for audio of this message

The song that you just heard played by the 70’s Rock group Fleetwood Mac, is titled “Go Your Own Way” and it will be the mental and audio hook that we can hang this message on.  And it’s fairly appropriate for our message today, because after all, isn’t that the very thing that brings trouble and problems into our lives; when we leave God’s way and insist on doing things our way?

When I grew up in the small town of Pewaukee, Wisconsin we had a single “A” baseball team that competed in the Land O Lakes league.  We followed that team as closely as we did the Milwaukee Braves and latter the Brewers.  I remember that in times when our star pitcher was in a slump and was consistently allowing too many hits, it was said he was “snake-bitten.”  When the team lost too many games in a matter of a few weeks, they too were said to be snake-bitten.  What we meant by that was it was as if a bad luck snake had jumped up and bit them, thus causing a winning pitcher or a winning team to become losers, and smash all of our hopes and dreams for that season.  But it was during this snake bitten portion of the season, that we discovered who the real fans were.  While others complained and checked out, we the faithful attended every game and never gave up hope.  Even when the season ended in the bitterness of defeat, we reminded each other that there was always next year!

I’ll bet that if you could have been there with the Israelites as they wandered the last 40 years in the desert, on a trip that should have lasted only 40 days, if you were to ask them what happened; they would have told you that they too were snake-bitten!  They would have told you that although, in the past, when it appeared that their luck ran out, each time they were able to persevere.  But now, it was certain that not only did Moses let them down, so did God!

It was God and Moses who led their grandparents out of Egypt with the promise that they were going to the “Promise Land” that was waiting for them somewhere in the area of Palestine.  I can hear it now, “So here we are;  where’s that Promise Land, huh?!  Our lucks run out; we have been snake-bitten; led into this desert simply to die!  The only thing that’s been sustaining us all these years is our hope and this worthless, tasteless food; this manna that Moses has been forcing us to eat!  But now here we are, taking another long detour away from what we were told is our Promise Land.  God has abandoned us, and only Moses and a few of his worthless brainwashed lackeys still believe we’ll get there!”

Israel had fallen into the same trap that many of us fall into even today; they developed a grumbling spirit.

In the middle of their disappointment with God, because He didn’t make things go the way that they wanted or expected, they became impatient with Him and began to judge both His love for them and His sincerity.  In other words, they were throwing a pity party, and the featured entertainment at the party was a collective fit!  And from God’s perspective, fit throwing is really rebellion, and we all know that God does not deal with rebellion kindly!

Scripture is loaded with examples that prove that God will not tolerate rebellion within the ranks of his saints.  One thing is certain, when you rebel against God, He will act.  Sometimes He acts right away and sometimes He waits for just the right moment, but when He does act you know exactly what is going on.  And now in our Old Testament lesson, we see God acting.  He sends a bunch of snakes into the camp of the Israelites as a way of punishing their grumbling spirit and their open rebellion.  And what do you know… the Israelites really have been “Snake-bitten!”

By sending those snakes into their camp, God did a few things to bring those disobedient people back to a right relationship of faith in their God.  First, He showed His justified anger against a group of thankless sinners, who like their grandparents, underestimated and even rejected His means of grace that had sustained them all those 40 years.  Next, He wanted to show them that once again, it was their own rebellious action that caused them to turn a 40 day trip into a 40 year trip.  And finally, God delivered those poisonous snakes into their camp as a way of showing to them, both their sin and the consequence of that sin; the sin of rebelling against Him and rejecting His means of grace; His Word of promise that had sustained them all of these years.

So what does all of this have to do with us today?  Some of you, who are already dealing with the consequence of sin in your life already know where this is going; its going right back to us!

We can all learn from the mistakes of our forefathers.  Now some might declare that these were Jews and not our forefathers.  Oh, but once again God disagrees; you see we are all part of the same race.

Did you read in the news about the mixed race couple who had twins? One child was white in appearance, with red hair even, and the other was obviously black.  They are twins mind you; they have the same parents.  So what are we to make of this?  Well simply the fact that there is really, in God’s eyes only one race… the fallen, human, sinful race.  We are all exactly the same in God’s eyes; we are sinful and unclean.  We all need the same saving God!

Like the Israelites before us, we too want to take the matters of our lives into our own hands.  We too want to decide when enough is enough and boldly declare by our actions that God can’t be trusted.  We too allow God’s Word and our trust in His Word to become of less and less importance in our lives.  We too neglect our times of prayer and intimate talks with God, until they eventually become almost non-existent.  We too, neglect His means of grace, His preached Word and His Holy Supper, until like the Israelites of old, we see them as useless and tasteless food.  And so what happens?  We wander off and go our own way.  We go out looking for something better and more meaningful, and we reject God’s own means of grace as being old, worn out relics of a church that no longer meet our needs.

So now you see how each of us have entered into this old story.  Just like the Israelites, we too become tired of waiting on God and trusting in His promises of eternal life and glory in paradise; like the Israelites we want the promised land and the glory right now!

Now let’s go back to those snakes; we heard that God sent them as a tool in order to bring His children back to a right relationship centered in faith; faith in the promise of His Word.  His ultimate goal was to drive His children into a condition of repentance and save them.  God did not want to condemn them; He wanted to SAVE THEM!

Even today, God still uses adversity and tough times to turn our sinful hearts back to Him.  You know the old saying, “There are no atheists in the foxholes of war.”

I remember after the September 11th attack of 2001, how full our churches were.  This lasted for a couple of months, and then slowly but surely, attendance began to drop.  And after the one year anniversary, regular attendance had fallen back to and even below what it was before that fateful day.

But we are the same; we too seem to be drawn to church when times are the toughest in our lives, never realizing that they were tough because we had drifted away from God and His means of saving us.  God’s solution then for the rebellious Israelites, is still the solution for us who are by nature sinful and rebellious.

Those who looked upon the bronze snake then, not as a representation of God but as a symbol of His promise and protection were saved!  Those who were in the very throughs of death and judgment were instead given life and pardon for their sins.  It was their faith in God that saved them; faith grown from the regular use of His Word, which assured them that God was still with them, guiding them, protecting them, and loving them.

God is always the same; there’s no shadow of change in Him.  Out of the same love and forgiveness He showed to the Israelites then, He speaks to us today.  Out of that same love, God has provided a solution for us and our own sinful rebellion as well.  God sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ into this sinful world of snake-bitten people, people dying of the devils venom of fiery disobedience to be high and lifted up on a different kind of pole.

In today’s gospel lesson (John 3:14-21) we hear Jesus own Words to Nicodemus describe why He has come to us as one of us, listen: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” [Vs. 14, 15]

Jesus was lifted up upon the cross of death to suffer the punishment, the condemnation, the eternal death that each of us should have received on account of our own rebellion.  We, who have been snake-bitten by that ancient serpent, the devil, and continue to be snake-bitten and bite others with our own sinfulness are now saved if we will but look!

It was the simple act of the snake-bitten people looking upon the bronze serpent on a pole that saved them; it brought life to a bunch of dying rebels who were healed and saved.  They would make it all the way into the Promised Land, where they would be safe.  They turned from their own sinful ways and followed God’s way.

In the same way but in an eternal, spiritual way, the simple act of looking up at Jesus high and lifted up, upon the cross of death for our sins, we too who are dying from sin are healed and live.  In Christ Jesus, through faith in His promise to forgive us of all of our sins, we are saved by His death, and given the promise of eternal life in a resurrected body, as we arrive home in our own Promised Land… Paradise.

The grumbling, disobedient Israelites repented of their sins; they repented of a spirit that wants to go its own way and they received forgiveness and life.  And we as well this morning have been led by God’s Word to recognize our own sin; our own sinful desire to go our own way.  Now led by God’s Spirit, we too repent and return to our baptismal condition where every day we are led to put to death our disobedience and live in our new forgiven nature of faith.

Now I know that the miraculous work of God both in the bronze serpent being lifted up in the desert long ago and Jesus being lifted up on His blessed cross just doesn’t make sense to some of our neighbors and friends.  But isn’t that the point that is being made here?  You see, without faith nothing written in scripture or declared from this pulpit makes a lick of sense, because it is all dependent upon God and not sinful men.

Jesus forgives your sins and gives you eternal life completely by grace through faith in God’s faithfulness to do what He says He will do.  That is the summation of our Christian walk.  So look to the cross dear saints and see Jesus high and lifted up.  Lifted up first upon the cross and then carried to the tomb.  And then see that tomb just three days latter empty and see that Jesus lives again.  And then by faith, come to this place often to be spiritually fed by God’s means of grace so that you will always see Jesus high and lifted up, ascended and reigning with the Father in glory.  Where He is now, their you shall also one day join Him on the day of the resurrection in all of His glory in paradise.  AMEN!

Debt Paid in Full!

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Lent 3 B, March 8, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church,
San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

1 Corinthians 1:18–31

Click here for audio of this message

This morning in our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 1:18-31), St. Paul declares the cross of Jesus Christ to be both foolishness for people who are dying in their sins, and the power and salvation of God for those of us who are being saved by that cross.

Now the cross in and of itself is simply two pieces of wood fastened and bound together, or in a darker sense it is simply a means of execution for a criminal, much like our electric chairs.  But for you dear Christian it is both the instrument and the pulpit where God not only reconciled sinful men and women to Himself, but from that platform, high and lifted up He declared it so clearly so that all sinners would understand:  “It is finished!”  The debt of sin has been paid in full.

This morning, we will look at both the work and word of the cross from two different perspectives; the perspective of sinful men and women who will not be saved, and the perspective of sinners who have received God’s pardon and gift of new life.  And we will also look at three different areas where these differences play out, and how ultimately God works to move your entire being to praise Him and boast to others about His unfailing power and glory.

First, let’s talk about True Power, not as the world sees it but Christ the power of God. What is power?  What I mean to ask is what does the average person think of as true power?

In a world of conflict and war, a nuclear weapon is true power; not simply if it is used, but even the threat of its use is powerful.  In the world of politics, a secret is true power; it can garner you position, influence, and wealth.  In our community today, we could say that education, image, and reputation are powerful.   They can help you with employment and advancement.  But what happens when a nation doesn’t have a nuclear weapon, and know’s it never will?  What happens when a politician either can’t obtain or chooses not to traffic in the currency of secrets?  And what of those in our community who have no education or reputation?

Where do you suppose those who are powerful would advise these people to turn to?

Those in power always ask the weak and less fortunate to turn to them for both care and protection.  In fact, not only will they advise it, but through their perceived power, they may even insist on it.  In their estimation, those of us who they see as weak and downtrodden have no other choice than throwing in with them.  And when we refuse to put our trust in them and instead declare that we will trust in the Lord our God alone, they will always scoff at our choice and ask us to show how our God’s power is greater than theirs.  They laugh at Christ’s cross and death, and they will point out that their lives are much better than ours.  “But to those of us being saved (by the cross of Jesus Christ), it is the power of God (a power that brings us forgiveness of sins and eternal life).

We who have been saved by the power of God’s grace, which comes to us through the the Son of God, Jesus Christ and His cross, are those who can read our Old Testament lesson (Exodus 20:1-17), without fear.  Instead of hearing the voice of an angry God demanding perfection, we hear the voice of a loving God who says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out…”  We can think back on the mess we have made of our lives in the past and even cringe at the possible messes we’ll make in the future, and because of the cross of Jesus Christ we remember that our God is a God who not only brings us out of our sins, but He sustains us in the midst of a sinful world and daily transforms us into His righteousness all because of the cross of Christ and the power that has been poured out upon us as we walk with and trust in that power alone.

While it’s true that those who trust in the power of the world will never understand the power of God and His cross, it does not mean that God does not desire that they should be saved; rather God is relentless and will not cease to confront them in their sinfulness so that the power of the cross can transform them as well.  And how does the power of the cross come to those who are powerful?  The Same way it comes to those who are wise.  Through the preaching of the Word of God, which is the message of the cross.

True Wisdom does not come as the world desires it, but through Christ the wisdom of God. “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  For God has declared, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Now the wise people of our day would counter, “Where was that done?  How has God silenced us?  And the answer is, “He is doing it right now in the preaching of this message about the cross of Jesus Christ!”

Those who will not receive the message of the cross, or those who will change the message of the cross so that it is not offensive to themselves and others, only manage to do one thing, they rob the cross of it’s power to save sinners.  A cross with out the suffering and payment for sin for the entire world is no cross at all.  It becomes merely a symbol.  That kind of cross does not address the purpose of the cross, which is to pay for the sins of the world.

Only a cross that pays for all of the sins of the world; only a cross that brings all of mankind back to a right relationship with its Creator God is the true cross.  The world will not accept this cross; they will not accept the message of this true cross because it is both foolishness and an offense to them.  It is foolishness because it excludes the fantasies of an educated mind, which insist that mankind is able on it’s own to bring order to a world of chaos.  It is offensive because this kind of cross, this kind of message insists that all men must bow before this suffering Servant Savior, who died as a criminal, and then they must confess their sins to Him, and further they must confess Him to be their Savior and God.”

“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”  Throughout the history of the world, sinful mankind has failed completely to obtain the one great thing it needs to be saved: They have failed to know God.

The world has never been able to get a hold of this real knowledge of God, because they will not know Him as He presents Himself. When he speaks to the world in the gospel even today, they laugh; they do not think that it is God speaking to them. Like the Jews in the temple who Jesus drove out because of their sinfulness (John 2:13–22), they talk and boast about their god, but their actions and life styles prove they have never really known the One True God.

Why don’t they know God?  Because they lack faith, and without faith the message of the cross is not only lost but rejected.  Only by faith, which comes through the proclaimed Word of God can a sinner see a need for the cross and receive the Savior God who died upon it for him.  God’s wisdom is just to simple and easy for great minds.  The world’s wisdom always goes off into its own proud, self-sufficient, self-glorifying paths, and when it does, it blinds itself to God’s wisdom which is all around them.

The astronomer gazes at the miracle of the stars for years and then tells us with great certainty that he has found no God. The natural scientist announces that the apes are his ancestors and declares that all life has evolved from a tiny cell that came from pond scum. New Agers proclaim: “God is all, and all is God.” So the collective “know it all’s” of this world along with the powerful elite proclaim that their message is one that will truly bring world peace and replace the antiquated wisdom of God.  And then they sigh and say, “If only the ignorant Christians would give up their superstitious belief in the cross and their Lord, then everything would be better in this world.”

Sadly this wisdom of man has already begun to effect the church. When the wisdom of scientific revelation is received within the ranks of believers even though it is in complete disagreement with scripture, these “new breed” Christians are quick to concede that scripture must be wrong.  This thought is then quickly endorsed by their learned so called theologians who agree that in this case or that case, worldly wisdom must trump Divine wisdom.  But what they fail to understand is that when the authority of God’s Word, even a portion of it is replace with the wisdom of men, the power of the cross is lost along with the salvation that it brings.

Since the world has continually and foolishly rejected God in favor of it’s own wisdom, God chose to use the “foolishness” and silliness of preaching the Word of God and the cross, to save sinful men and women.  He chose to call sinners unto salvation through a Word, a Word that would declare the cross as the only means of making them saints.

The foolishness of God declares that we who receive the message of the cross are both Sinner and Saint at the same time.  This will only make sense for us when we learn to stop looking at our selves and instead see Christ working within us.

Through Jesus Christ and His cross, God demonstrates His presence in this fallen world with both power and inconceivable wisdom.  Jesus alone served as God’s perfect prophet, the Living Word of God, which He uses to bring His message of love to his people. He demonstrated this message of ultimate love through the human form and flesh of Jesus Christ. Jesus is both the message and the Prophet. For God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19) by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20). He demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

This message is a message of foolishness and weakness from the standpoint of fallen human creatures. God chose what is foolish and weak in the world’s eyes to shame the wise and the strong (1 Cor. 1:18–30). The crucifixion of the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8) reveals both the ultimate love of God and the foolishness and impotence of this world’s attempts at mastery.

Sinners tried to put Christ away on a cross, sealed away in a tomb, but he came back, not with vengeance to punish, but with love to save; to end their existence as sinners. He came back to give them new life (Rom. 6:3–11).  Even now within this message, Christ repeats who God is to us within his own person, he pronounces the end of all fallen human endeavors to secure life on our own terms. In this message of the cross and God’s love for us he shatters every hope we have apart from him.

God chose what is foolish and weak so that by faith, you would receive Divine wisdom.  God chose what is weak; God chose you. God called you out of a world of darkness and sin and by His work alone, He declares you a saint.

God chose what is foolish and commonplace and combined it with the power of His Word and washed you clean.  In your baptism, you were not simply cleansed you were recreated.  In the waters of your baptism, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being may boast in the presence of God.”

At birth you were not a saint; you were an ain’t; a good for nothing rag-a-muffin.  But on the day of your baptism, God took a lowly base sinner, He took you, and through the washing of the water and the Word, He attached the fruit of the cross, He inserted into you the very righteousness of His Son, your Savior Jesus Christ.  And now you are saved!

In God’s “self-disclosure” through Jesus Christ, life springs out of death. Christ’s power reveals itself in our weakness; it brings new life. His wisdom comes through the ultimate foolishness of the cross. His love is exhibited within the wrath of a Father because of sin, forsaking his Son on the cross (Mark 15:34). His presence moves into our lives through that ultimate forsakenness. His justice and righteousness triumph in the moment of ultimate injustice. The Author of Life dies (Acts 3:15). Precisely at the most fragile and frail point of his humanity Christ reveals the ultimate expression of who God is and how He acts toward us.

This is the God who has paid your debt in full.  Do not let the wisdom of the world undo for you what God declares is finished through Jesus Christ and His cross.  Repent!  Turn to the cross and be saved… AMEN!

Justified and Faith-filled

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

Lent 2 B, March 1, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church,
San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Romans 5:1-11

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In our Old Testament lesson, Abraham is told by God to walk before Him “and be blameless, (so) that (God) may make (His) covenant between He, Abraham, and we this morning who make up the multitude of nations that have come from Abraham. [Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16]  How are we to feel about this seemingly impossible task of being blameless?  How was Abraham able to walk before God and be blameless?  Can we do that?  How is one even suppose to initiate that process?  This morning our message will answer those very questions through the teaching of our Epistle lesson (Romans 5:1-11).

Well right off the bat, let me tell you what this message should do for you this morning; you should leave here with hope and joy, and the reason is because this message declares that you have been made right with God, that is you have been justified and, you are filled with faith.  How?  Because God says so, and what God declares, simply is our reality.  You have been declared righteous.  That is how Abraham was able to walk before God and it is how you do the very same thing today.  But what is of interest to us this morning is how, or why you have been declared righteous.

You have been declared righteous by faith, and through faith in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, you have, not “will have” but you have, peace with God right now!  Isn’t that what we all want deep down inside, peace?  We desire first, peace within ourselves, peace with each other, and then peace throughout the world.  Wait, what about peace with God?  And there is the rub; the very source of peace is excluded from our wrong desires of peace.  And what happens without peace with God?  We see everything fall apart.

I’m reminded of that old Three Stooges routine that spoofs World War II.  “The unruly crowds are outside of the government building chanting, “Peace, peace, we want peace.”  And then the evil Axis leaders chime in, “Yes, a piece of this and a piece of that!”  Isn’t that the real reason we don’t experience peace today?  Whether it is within our hearts, our homes, our church, our community, our nation, or throughout the world, everyone has their own self-serving idea about peace.

What is peace?  Well if you were to ask the people of the Middle East or many parts of Africa that question, they would tell you that peace is the absence of war or conflict.  To those in conflict, peace is a very emotional, or subjective term.  But once again, that leaves us with a problem, because that idea of peace excludes the Creator and is instead, focused on the creation.  But God wants us to remember what we stated in the beginning of this message; true peace can only come from God and His declaration of our new identity, which becomes our reality.

Every Sunday, we close God’s Divine Service with what is called the Aaronic benediction.  God instituted that blessing to give His children peace.  Listen: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” [Numbers 6:24-26]  Now did you hear anything about what you need to do?  All of our blessings are simply a result of God’s actions of being gracious and having favor towards us!

Here is God’s simple truth for each of us this morning, “Through His Son Jesus Christ, He has imposed His saving covenant promise upon you who are redeemed and baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In that name is included the name of Jesus Christ, the name above all names who alone, by His cross makes you right with God.  In that name is given to you what only God can give… peace and righteousness.  Another way to say that is, we have peace with God because God made us right with Him through His Son Jesus Christ.”

So peace is a relationship that we have with God, and that relationship can only come from God and according to His means.  Even Abraham was not made right with God because of any goodness that came from within Him, but instead it came through his trusting in God’s faithfulness to send a Messiah through Abraham’s bloodline.

Through Jesus Christ, we have obtained and retain access to God’s kind and loving heart by faith.  Do not underestimate this little word access.  To have access with God should be understood within the context of a common servant having complete access to a king, as a close friend yet still a servant.  What this means is you have nothing whatsoever to fear of the King of all creation!  The reason again is because of grace, which you have heard me teach before means “God’s riches at Christ’s expense!”  Through Christ you have the undeserved kindness and favor of the Creator of the universe.

Since this is who you are now through Jesus Christ, I would say you have something to celebrate; you have something to rejoice over.  Another way to say this is, you have something to boast about!

So let’s boast… let’s rejoice!  “We rejoice (or we boast) in hope of the glory of God.”  What else could we boast about?  Our righteous living?  Our great faith?  Our wonderful stewardship or care of our families and church?

Here is a truth worth remembering.  Any boasting or rejoicing outside of God’s glory is always self-serving and sinful; it is a violation of the First Commandment.  So our hope, our rejoicing and boasting is always based in the glory of God and who we are because of Jesus Christ.

But why rejoice or boast over God’s glory in our lives?  So that others will know!  But know what?  Well actually it is to know the Who and then the what.  We boast, that is we testify to God, and then His goodness that has unconditionally been given to us through Jesus Christ, so that others may know that they too can have this same faith that has been given to us.

Faith is certainly the substance of things hope for but not seen, but it is also completely foreign to us; it must be given to us.  Why?  So that the promise of God will be certain to us.  The promise says we shall not only receive righteousness but actually hold onto it forever.  St. Paul says that faith not only gets us into God’s grace but it also maintains that condition until the day we actually join Jesus Christ in paradise sharing the glory of God.  In other words, faith alone is both the beginning of our peace with God, the middle, and the end of everything. (FC SD KV 34)

At this point of our message, even seasoned and mature Christian’s maybe wondering, “Since I have so much favor with God, then why is my life so miserable.  Why do I seem to simply be moving from one period of suffering to another?  And the answer is…

We all have our cross to bear.  In our gospel lesson (Mark 8:27), Jesus asked the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”  And to that, Peter speaking for them all answered Him, “You are the Christ.”  Peter speaks for us today as well, so what Jesus says next is important, it is crucial for understanding the times of suffering in our lives.  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

St. Paul puts it this way in verses three and four of our Epistle reading: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”  Another way to explain the sufferings in life is to look at them as pressure that tempts you to take your eyes off of God’s glory and the peace you have as you rejoice in that glory.  But instead of choosing to focus on the temporary suffering that you are going through, you choose to receive it and pass through it as another opportunity to praise God, Who was with you through it all.

Did you know that no where in scripture does God say that our suffering is good; scripture simply acknowledges that it is a present reality of this sinful world.  So in our message today, please do not misunderstand St. Paul and think that he is saying that your suffering is something to look for or chase after, as if it gives you bragging rights.  But instead, St. Paul is saying that the basis of boasting or being joyful is that even in the midst of your suffering God and His glory will not abandon you.

Your hope dear saints is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.  All other ground is simply sinking sand.  Your hope allows you to continue boasting and being joyful in the middle of those hard times.  Why is that?  Because hope looks ahead to the ultimate enjoyment of God’s glory.  We are able to stand up under those sufferings because we know that within it we are being given the gift of patient endurance.

A way to look at patient endurance is to see yourself standing in the intersection of where several rapidly moving streams meet; streams that are pushing in different directions trying to knock you down, but you have found your solid ground, which is Jesus Christ, and you are able to stand firm until the flow dies down and you may be safely moved to the shore line.  So a way to sum this idea up is to say, “While God sustains our faith, tribulations and suffering produce endurance.”

Another way to speak of endurance is to speak about testings.  When we pass through the troubles of life still faithful, we have been proven, or tested to be genuine, and afterward our tested character produces what we started out with, hope!  Hope in what?  Jesus Christ and His righteousness.

If we begin with hope and we end with hope, then it only makes sense that God must give us something to hold onto; something that was done for us that is completely outside of us, which gives us hope.  And that something is…

Holy Baptism.  Within our baptism, St. Paul points out in verse 5 that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Why are we hopeful?  Because God’s love has been poured into and remains within our hearts.  This is a kind of love that only God can give and it is the kind of love we can only give back after He gives it.  This love has been poured out upon you and it remains within you as long as you cling to Christ alone and live out this hope of sure and certain salvation that was given to you on that day when you were saved by the washing of the water  and the Word.  (Life Preserver and Anchor)

Within your baptism, God has given you the greatest gift you could ever receive… He has given you the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Together with the Holy Spirit, you receive the uncountable and incomparable blessings of God’s love poured out upon your dry and dead heart, and now it is alive and full of the vitality and new life of God.

So now that you are justified and faith-filled, you go out into this broken world hopeful and joyful.  You have been entrusted with a message of hope and promise.  And that message is something to boast about and not keep to yourself, because it is a message of forgiveness and new life.  And the message goes like this: “While we were weak and unable to help ourselves, at just the right moment, Christ died on behalf of all sinners; on behalf of the world.  “Since, therefore, we have now been justified (made right with God) by his blood (the blood of Jesus), (so) much more shall we be saved by him from the (anger) of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (or received through Christ a loving and gentle God).  May God empower you to both boast and live out this message of hope and reconciliation, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

We Stand Upon Christ and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 7A, June 1, 2014

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“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 and not of this world?  Another way to say this is, what is it that brings so much comfort and peace to the lives of so many Christians that others in this world 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: “Tomorrows, and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time.  And all our yesterdays have lighted fools, the way to dusty death.  Out, out, brief candle; 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, “He has risen.  He has risen indeed.”  And because Jesus has been raised from the dead, so shall we who trust in Christ alone, along with Holy Scripture alone, 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 is 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…

I. 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!  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 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 “He 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…

II. 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.

Last Sunday, in both our message and my little talk at our pot-luck and congregational meeting, I implored each of you to understand how important it is for you to not just be present here at church, but also active so that God’s grace through His gifts, that is His means of grace will be active, life changing and life sustaining among us, so that we can be of “one accord.”  That is, when you are in Christ’s church, when you are gathered around the Word and Sacraments, you are receiving Jesus gifts, which come through Scripture alone, by grace alone, and which save you by both creating and sustaining faith alone.

III. Faith Alone– It is that very thing, which alone 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 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.

So faith is simply the empty hand of a beggar, which has nothing on 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 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, will be the best news of all… you are going to an eternal place prepared just for you by Jesus Himself.  He is risen… indeed, and so shall we.  AMEN!

A Celebration During Lent… Really?!

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Lent 4C, March 10, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Did you recognize the words that we just sang in the Old Testament Canticle?  They were taken right out of our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 12:1-6).  They are words of celebration; words that  claim the promise of God, a promise which proclaims that the bondage of His people Israel will have an end.  The words are meant to turn peoples hearts’ outside of their misery and towards a God  who is mighty in strength, faithful, abounding in stead-fast love; a God who brings and gives salvation.

Like the people of old, we too are invited to celebrate and sing praises to the Lord for the glorious things He has done and is still doing for us.  We are still asked to tell anyone in the world what He  has done for us, and what He will continue to do for them, if they will just return to HIM.

What has he done for us?  What has He done for you?  Well, once again we have a wonderful illustration of what He has done and what He is doing.  This morning, in the baptism of Shukri Sahiti  and Elsa Swan, you saw young adults in their early thirties, snatched out of the bondage of sin and given their freedom in Christ.  You saw darkness completely swallowed up by light.  Like all  sinners, even us, Shukri and Elsa were lost in a world that is controlled by the devil.  But God… but God made a way out of no way for them to rest in the Kingdom of Grace, through Jesus Christ, with  the promise that one day they will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Through the washing of simple water and the Holy Word of God, Shukri and Elsa, in the only way God has ordained, have been  clothed with Christ’s own robe of righteousness.  Did they deserve this rebirth of Christ?  No and neither do we.  And to illustrate this truth, Jesus, in our gospel lesson (Luke 15:1–3, 11–32), tells us  a story; a parable about the prodigal son.

Jesus told this story because judgmental, self-righteous hypocrites were grumbling these words about Him under their breath: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  If I was there, I think  I would have told those self-righteous Pharisees, “Thank God He receives sinners, or you and I would have no hope of ever entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

In your baptism, like Shukri’s and Elsa’s baptism this morning, God looked upon you and not only saw your horrible sin, but He also saw something that you lacked; something that could only exist if He willed it and created it; and that was the goodness that you must have in order to be in a relationship with Him.  It is a goodness that you have always been invited to embrace and live out, but it is also a goodness that you have always had the freedom to reject.

Like the prodigal son, you too have at times struck out on your own; doing things your way, the way of the world.  And you can also testify to the truthfulness of this proverb, which condemns that way: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” [Proverbs 16:25]  At some point in our lives, each of us must see just how lost we are without God’s forgiving love, and then that reality causes us to simply call out to Him in despair.  What else can we do?

Despair of what?  The despair of being lost; despair of being dead in our trespasses, our sins.  In Jesus’ story, the younger son saw that all of the wealth that came from His relationship with his father had slipped through his fingers like water; all he had left to look forward to, was his own death.  His sense of self worth and value had vanished.  He lost all sense of what it meant to be home with the father he loved.  And it is only this feeling of despair, which led him to return to his father’s home, not as a son mind you, but simply as an unworthy servant who might find a little relief from his despair.

This kind of hopelessness is still played out today with the addict who will intentionally get arrested so that he can at least have the creature comforts of room and board, and a chance to be free of the demons that make up his addiction. Or the plea of a cheating spouse who is served divorce papers and ordered to move out of the family home: “Please, I’ll change.  You don’t even have to forgive or love me, just let me keep living in this home so I can be with the children.”  But despair can also be found in the plea of an employee who has been fired for bad work performance:  “Please… I’ll shuffle papers, make coffee, sweep the floors and empty the garbage; I’ll even work for half my pay if you will just keep me on the payroll.”  Yes, in this prodigal world, false realities crumble around the self-righteous sinner and then, a hopeless despair of reality and death barges in.  And when confronted with this dark reality, the prodigals call out, “Please someone save me; buy my soul if you must.  I’m not asking for a kingdom, but a crumb!  Dear God if you are there and you are listening, please save me!”

And now, the heart of a sinner begins to see the truth; the way that seemed right really does only lead to despair and death.  Nothing works.  Even when you cry out to God (if your honest, you’ll admit that many times before you did this), but even your cry for help doesn’t seem to work.  But wait; didn’t we all learn that to turn away from our sin is the first step towards salvation?  Well, let’s look at that for a moment.   In Jesus story, the prodigal did see the error of his way; he did turn away from his sin and resolved to return to his father’s home, but not as a son, but as servant.  So let’s not put too much importance on the prodigal’s wisdom in seeing his hopelessness; according to his terms, the only thing that would have changed in his idea of repentance was exchanging pig food for servant’s meals.  No, I don’t think looking at the mindset of the prodigal will help us learn too much from God’s Word that we don’t already know.  So instead, let’s look at the One he turned to; he turned to his father and his father’s home, which Jesus wants to make sure we understand, represents Almighty God and His Kingdom of Heaven.

Let me ask you a question.  When the lost son was making his way back home, and when his father spotted him way down the road, what do you think was going through the father’s mind?  I know what might be our thoughts: “Why is my son returning?  Has he learned his lesson?  Maybe he wants more money?  Has he come to hurt me even more with his disrespectful attitude?  I better go out and meet him and find out what’s up!”  Is that really what you think the Father was thinking?

No, instead we behold something that a world, which believes in law and punishment calls foolishness.  We see a Father who sees his son with through eyes of mercy and a heart full of the forgiving love running out to meet His son.  So, in both the Father and the prodigal son, we see a desire to be reconciled to each other. [2 Corinthians 5:16-21]  The son seeks reconciliation with terms and conditions; a downgrade of his status if you will, but the Father has something completely different in mind.    So now they meet.  The son begins to recite his practiced apology to the father, expecting nothing but hoping for just a little.  And what happens next in the story?

I’ll tell you what happens next, amazing grace!  The lost prodigal son is very simply, openly, and compassionately welcomed home.  No lecture, no punishment, and no downgrade in his status as a son.  Don’t you think the son was shocked?  Wouldn’t you be?  And so you should be!  You see that is what is so amazing about God’s amazing grace!  Just as the lost son is received before he can even open his mouth, so were many of you who were baptized as babies.  And even as adults like Shukri and Elsa, when we try to talk, to explain and describe our unworthiness to receive God’s forgiving grace, we like the prodigal lost son and his well thought out “I’m sorry” speech are simply ignored!  So, do we confess our sins to God for nothing?  Well no, not for nothing, but the confession is not what moves our Heavenly Father to love and forgive us.  But our confession of sins to the Father is important, because it reminds us that while we are in that state of sin and despair, right there with us is a God who has never quit waiting for and loving us; a God full of mercy and abounding in steadfast love.  In our repentance, we discover a God who loves and is longing for us to come home.  When we turn our hearts to our heavenly Father, we see a God who is eagerly ready to receive us, welcome us, restore us, and rejoice because we have come back home!

So hear this all of you who are in the Christian faith; you elder brothers and sisters of Shukri Sahiti and Elsa Swan:  Your brother and sister were lost, but now they’ve come home.  All who would judge them in the sense of fairness and say that they have a long way to go before you can “really” receive them as a brother and sister, our Savior Jesus Christ says in the clearest of terms this morning, “Not so!”

This morning, Jesus’ Words turn each of us, baby Christians and mature ones to the very same source of foolish grace.  A love of God that knows no calculations or limitations; a love that can only be presented in His passion; a passion that shouts out loud and clear from the cross of His Son Jesus Christ… “IT IS FINISHED.  YOUR DEBT, EVEN THE SIN OF THE WORLD HAS BEEN PAID IN FULL!”

Upon the cross of Jesus Christ, “He who knew no sin, became sin for us, in order that we on our part may become God’s righteousness in connection with Jesus.” [2 Corinthians 5:21]  On the tree of death, a Lamb without blemish or spot was put to death in our place. [1 Peter 1:19]

This morning, we each discover that Jesus still gathers sinners around Him.  We gathered around the font with Shukri and Elsa, and witnessed God call more sinners into our midst and into the Kingdom of Heaven.  And we along with Shukri and Elsa will gather again next Sunday and every Sunday thereafter here at this church to celebrate our entrance into the kingdom and receive God’s other gifts of grace that will keep us safely in that kingdom until He calls us into our new home, the Kingdom of Heaven.

And so here we are together, a bunch of sinners being and becoming saints, waiting and receiving just as little children, the loving care of our Heavenly Father.  But we don’t wait idly as those with no purpose.  Because you see, we have been called to do two things, celebrate and welcome.  We are celebrating the fact that the church, even little Trinity Lutheran has been given the ministry of reconciliation.  We celebrate the truth that in our midst God has chosen to do the greatest work we could ever witness, calling lost sinners out of darkness into His marvelous light.  So we welcome you home today Shukri and Elsa but we also invite you to be part of this group of older sons and daughters who will not rest until this church is filled with other lost children who need to come home to their loving Father through the forgiving love of their brother, friend, Savior, and God,  Jesus Christ.

So I hope by now you see, there is a need to celebrate, even in the middle of lent.  We must celebrate with God, each and every time these brothers and sisters of ours who once were lost in the death of sin are found and come home.   “So give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name, make known His deeds among the peoples”, proclaim as His ambassadors His greatness and exalt His name by calling all people to be reconciled to their heavenly Father.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!