Posts Tagged ‘Grumbling’

This Race Requires Great Faith

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Septuagesima, January 24th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” [1 Cor. 9:24]

Our lives of faith, your Christian life is like running a race.  It’s a peculiar race in that you aren’t competing against anyone, but rather to win you must finish the race.  And the prize you win for completing your race is a place reserved and prepared “for you” by Jesus Himself!

There are three ways we can run this race once we enter it, and they are:

  1. We can run with flawless execution and perfection, being careful not to make so much as a single mistake.
  2. We can run with a grumbling spirit.  That is we can run with the expectation of continuously being rewarded for each success and made whole through restitution for each time we feel we have been wronged.  Or…
  3. We can run with our eyes on both the author and perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ, Who is both the prize and the giver of the prize.

So what does it look like to run a flawless and perfect race?  Or rather, what does it take to live a perfect life?

In the tenth chapter of Mark we get our answer as Jesus meets up with a young rich man whom we are told He loved.  Listen: “And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

Now, I don’t know if you caught Jesus immediate answer, before He summed up the second table of the law of God, so I am going to point it out to you; listen: “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.”  Here Jesus is asking this young man if he’s just throwing out and misusing that Word “good” in regards to Jesus or if he really understands what it means to call Jesus good.  You see, if he is just misusing the word good, then he has already sinned; he’s broken the first commandment, “You shall have no other God.”  However, if He truly means to apply one of God’s titles to Jesus, then He is a lot closer to eternal life than he believes.

Do you understand what Jesus is saying friends?  He is saying that goodness is perfection, which is something both man and creation lost long ago, when through the sin of Adam and Eve paradise was lost.  Since that time, there truly is nothing good accept God.  We are lost in our sinful state and simply alone with no help of ever finding our way back to God’s goodness, accept through the only man who is good on His own, Jesus Christ, Who is also very God.  So to think that there is a way that you can live your life out side of Christ that will be God pleasing is just delusional.

But what about living a forgiven, Christian life, and running in the race of salvation with sinful eyes that have been opened by faith in Jesus Christ?  Well then, that makes all of the difference, because you see Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, which alone brings us to the prize of eternal life.  So now with Jesus, we are in the race again.  But so many times we disqualify ourselves by running our race, living our Christian lives as grumblers; as if someone or some God, owes us some thing.

Running the race, living the Christian life as a habitual grumbler is simply the surest way to disqualify ourselves from finishing the race.

In our Old Testament lesson (Exodus 17:1-7), we see this truth playing out in a very bold way.  Think about it for a moment; these Israelites had witnessed numerous miracles that God used to free them from their bondage in Egypt.  Why they even saw a deep and vast river halted with an invisible wall holding the raging rapids at bay.  The muck and mire that should have been the river bottom was instantaneously dried and hardened and they were allowed to walk across with out so much as getting a drop of water on their feet.  But when the pursuing Egyptian army tried to follow and do the same thing, the wall disappeared and the waters devoured them.  It is this group of Israelites who are now grumbling because they are thirsty; they’re grumbling because they feel that Moses and the God who freed them isn’t taking care of them.  Do you understand the audacity of their demand?  Do you understand how their grumbling and bickering is a direct attack against Jehovah-Jirah, the God Who always provides?  Do you understand that we have that very same sinful grumbling spirit within us today?

The crowd that Jesus was teaching in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 20:1-16) did not understand this truth, so Jesus told a story designed to show them the truth, and give them the desire to repent.  In the story, Jesus is showing all who will listen, even us today, what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  In this Kingdom there are two ways to experience it: As one who’s running the race in time, and finally as one who has finished the race and is resting in eternity.

To run the race, to live the Christian life is a reality of grace.  That is, you come to realize that every good thing you have is simply an unearned gift from God.  To run the race is also another way of acknowledging that you don’t even deserve to be in the race.  In Jesus story, God is the Master, the Owner of the Vineyard.  He calls all to work; He excludes no one.  In Jesus’ story there are no other employers, only the one.  All may work and find gainful employment, but not all will respond.  But here is the part that blows our sinful minds, everyone is paid the same whether they worked all day or one hour!  Why?  Because the owner does not need them to work, He simply offers them the privilege of working for Him, in His vineyard and with Him,  all so that He may bless them and they may also know Him.

Can you believe that in our modern time, especially in our American culture, we still have Christians who think that they need to evaluate themselves and others so that someone comes out on top and someone comes out on the bottom?  But Jesus won’t let us get away with this spirit of grumbling and judging other workers of His vineyard.  He won’t allow our demands for reward and restitution to go unanswered while we are running in His race, towards His prize.  So what does He do?  He warns us.  He says, “Beware of this evil in your heart, because at the end of the race, “The first will be last and the last will be first!”

So what are grumblers like us to do?  We are to keep our eyes on both the prize and the giver of the prize.  We are to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ!

It takes great faith to enter and finish the race towards the prize of eternal life in paradise with Jesus!

There are two people in the Gospels who Jesus said had great faith, the kind of faith that saves.  They were a godless Centurion and a sinful Canaanite  woman. [Matthew 8:5-12; Matthew 15:21-28]  I trust that each of you are hoping to hear that same proclamation from your Savior as well.  But our problem, the thing that seems to get in the way of our hope is the truth that very often our conception or idea of great faith, is completely wrong.  So what does Jesus mean by “a great faith”?

A people of great faith believe that there is nothing great about themselves.  Like the Centurion, they too say,  “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.”  They like the centurion know what is wrong with themselves  and what they lacked.  But they have respect for the will and command of God.  They’re comfortable to let others brag on them, but they refuse to do that themselves.  These kind of people, these people of great faith, don’t think of themselves as an example of greatness.

The Canaanite woman didn’t think her faith was anything either.  She thought it normal to be compared to the dogs that the Jews kept as pets; dogs who had no right to eat the bread of the children.  And yet she believed that because of Jesus’ love for sinful dogs, He would hear her and help.  And to this belief, Jesus told her she had great faith.

So a great faith isn’t something the world would take notice of.  Great faith is not faith in oneself, but it is a faith that believes great things about Jesus.  The Canaanite woman continued to pray to Jesus: “Lord, help me.”  You see, she knew to Whom she was praying to; that Jesus was the only One Who could help her.  This is what a great faith knows.  It knows its own weakness, but it also knows the great power of the Savior.  So this kind of faith, this great saving faith says: “I am not worthy… but only say the word.  I am receiving the just reward for my sins, but Jesus, think of me.  I know I don’t deserve it, but I wait like the little dogs under your table, hoping that some crumbs may be mine.  Lord, if you will, you can.  Give me sight.  Heal my servant, heal my child, heal even me!”

But there is still one more thing that marks a great faith, and it is the greatest thing of all.  “Say only the Word Lord.”  More than anything else, it is faith in the Word of Christ.  Great faith, saving faith needs this Word.  By this faith, a sinner may take a hold of Christ’s promises of forgiveness and cling to it alone.  By ourselves, without this faith, we have nothing but mistakes and failures.  We’re prone to wander away from God and doubt that there is any faith to be had at all.  But then the Word of God is heard and the saying is believed to be true, “worthy and of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  And I am the chief of them.”  So a great faith, can exist in a person who feels nothing but weakness in himself, and it is this great faith alone that can say: “I believe Lord Jesus; help me with my unbelief!”

So we find that when we believe that our weak faith has disqualified us from running the race, from being a Christian, great faith born in the promises of Christ’s Word reminds us that we should  not base our hope on our feelings; we should not judge our progress in the race on victories, and we shouldn’t look for successes in life as encouragements to run with confidence.  Nor should we go poking around in our own sinful heart’s for some other source of a great faith.  Instead, God asks us to cling to Christ and His Word alone; to turn to Christ cross and there remain, strong in prayer and strong in His gift of great saving faith.  And as we wait there at Christ’s cross, He continuously teaches our hearts to trust in Christ alone, as we humble ourselves under the almighty hand of God, so “that in due time He will lift us up.”  Blessed are you runners, you Christians who are on the road of faith, because your gift of faith is great even though your spirit is poor, because already yours is the kingdom of heaven.  AMEN!

What Is It?

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

10th Sunday After Pentecost, August 2, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” [Ephesians 4:2, 3]

INTRODUCTION: Unity, what is it?  We have heard a lot about the San Diego Unified School District in the news over the years; because it says “unified” does that mean it has unity?  According to the news reports, no!  When Congress votes on a hot button issue, many times you will hear the politicians say something like, “On this issue, we are a united congress.”  Does saying that they are united make them so?

This morning God’s Word encourages us to demonstrate the oneness that unites us all.  The oneness is our faith in the One True God, and our knowledge of the Son of God Jesus Christ.

At first, faith and knowledge are demonstrated in a very imperfect way.  This imperfect faith and especially knowledge, is to be expected in someone new to correct doctrine, and so the church, the local congregation gives grace to those who need time to mature.  However, if these imperfections are allowed to remain, they can and will damage the inner oneness of saints who are called collectively by faith.  What I mean by that is if these dear imperfect saints are not mentored and taught, they may not be united or welded together with the rest of the church as they should be; they may even become detached and drift away like a babe upon the sea; like an inexperienced sailor abandoned within a vessel he or she does not know how to operate.

This morning, we will look at the number one cause of division within the body of Christ, where there should be unity, and that cause is most always a grumbling spirit.

I. We have a couple examples of a grumbling spirit in our readings this morning.  First, in our Old Testament lesson [Exodus 16:2-15] we read, “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” [V. 2, 3]

What is interesting to note here is that Moses makes it clear to the people of Israel that it was not he nor Aaron who brought them out into the wilderness, it was the same God who brought them out of bondage.  It was God’s responsibility to feed them, not Moses’s.  So in reality, they were grumbling against God.  And grumbling against God can cause some harsh response from God, if the grumbler does not repent.

II. Do we, God’s church still struggle with a grumbling spirit?  Well let me share with you a little of the tension I have experienced here at Trinity, as we attempt to bring in new saints or Christians new to God’s Divine Service within the historical liturgy.  New people are almost always put off by our liturgy, because it repeats the same thing every Sunday.  They say they want something new; new contemporary music and words.  Now, I understand this because they have not yet learned what Divine Service is; they have not discovered that everything in the liturgy is the Word of God speaking and giving forgiveness of sins.  Sometimes, after I teach them they stay and try to embrace our liturgy, and when they do they are welded together with us.  But some times they would rather grumble and reject the gift of forgiveness within the liturgy, and so they fall away. Left on their own to navigate the ecclesiastical waters of junk food Christianity.

But wait, that’s not all…

The other group of grumblers that I must also be patient with are those who simply do not like the fact that I have judiciously added a contemporary worship song before the Service of the Word; before the Processional Hymn.  They grumble by saying, “That isn’t what I grew up with.”  When I ask them what specifically they don’t like about it, they usually say they don’t like the fact that it repeats the same words over and over.  And that it uses a style of music they can’t sing to.  Now I completely understand.  So like the first group, the new comers, I find this to be a teaching moment.  And so my response to them is that we only sing songs that are scriptural, or a contemporary expression of scripture.  And the reason we repeat the same “tag line” so often, is because it is preparing our hearts and minds for the theme of God’s Divine Service within the assigned lessons.

IILUS: Here is a good example of the type of contemporary worship songs we sing at least once a Sunday, in fact we are singing this one as special music this morning during the offering.  It is called, “Bread of Heaven.”  Listen: “Bread of Heaven, sent down from glory.  Many things you were on earth, a holy King a Carpenter; You are the Living Lord.  Awesome Ruler, Gentle Redeemer, God with us, the Living Truth, and what a friend we have in you, you are the Living Word.  Jesus, Jesus, that’s what we call You; manger born put on a tree, You are the Living Word.”

Now when we hear these words sung, we can either shut our ears to the music and miss the message, or we can hear the words and discover that a style of music that we don’t care for is actually being used by God to bring the message of peace and hope to someone else in a meaningful way, simply because it is delivered through a rhythm, tempo, and melody that speaks to their soul.  And when we see God working in His Divine Service in this way, we can’t help but glorify God in our souls by simply saying: “Oh, oh, oh.  YOU ARE THE LIVING WORD!”

III. A helpful way to keep our grumbling spirit in check, is to see that when we grumble, our eyes are no longer on the true gifts that Jesus brings, which is spiritual in nature, and properly called the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Rather, we are caught up in temporary things; things that often are self-serving and bring temporary comfort in this world, but no hope for our eternal existence, which is coming sooner that we think.

We read in our gospel lesson (John 6:22-35), “On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. [V. 22] When the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.  When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” [Vs.24-25]

What they were really saying was, “Bless us again Jesus!”  They knew there was something miraculous happening once again with Jesus.  He didn’t take a boat to get there, and he couldn’t have walked around the shore or they would have spotted Him.  “OK you wonderful miracle worker, how’d you get here?  Come on fess up.  You did something fantastic again didn’t you?  You’re the man Jesus!  As long as you keep making that wonder bread and amazing us with these unexplainable happenings, you are our lord and teacher!”

The people wanted things.  They wanted to be amazed.  To all of these people and to us today, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw the sign, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Don’t work for food that perishes (for things), but (work) for the food that endures (and will give you) eternal life, which (I) the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.”  (There is no other way for you to obtain this true food of God except through me!) [V. 27]

Friends, in Jesus own Words, we hear Him explain exactly why the crowd followed Him; not because of His miracles and His teaching but because they wanted things!  They wanted Him to be a political savior, their messiah who would free them from the tyranny of the Roman Empire.  They wanted Him to provide them with the desires of their hearts and gratify all of their wants.  And when He refused to be their kind of Messiah, they grumbled and demanded new miracles.

Even today, we see these people gathered in churches across our nation eagerly welcoming politicians to speak during worship, so that they can assure them that if they elect or reelect this person, they will have their needs met and they will have a bright future.

And right along with those eager to hear from politicians, are those who are just as eager to hear a gospel of prosperity from their preachers.  They do not want to hear God’s message of Law and Gospel; no these people are flocking to churches wanting to hear a message that will ensure them of an easy life here of earth.

And then there are those who gather where God’s Law and Gospel is correctly and boldly preached, but they find no meaning or comfort in His Word.  And when they leave worship and the company of other Christians they seek out a new message; a different way to satisfy their desires.  They live as if Christ didn’t matter and God doesn’t see.  They long for the experience of another type of teaching.  Just like the Hebrew people that were led out of the Egyptian captivity, they begin to pant after the meat of prosperity.  You see friends, in all three cases each group has turned to God and said, “Don’t give us want you say we need, but instead give us what we want!”

So what’s the solution to all of this disunity and discord?  We must through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit…

IV. Return to the One body, which is built and sustained by the One Spirit where we have been called into the one hope of forgiveness of sins.  We must be united under One Lord Jesus Christ, insist on one faith in Christ alone, and receive one baptism, and never allow someone to cause us to doubt God’s Work within our baptism.  We must return to our one true God and the Father of us all, who is over all and through all and in all.

We must return to the teaching of the apostles and their creed of faith that declares the simple message of God’s forgiving love and mercy.  And it is that gospel Word, which turns our eyes of faith to the cross of Jesus Christ as a sign of God’s understanding and tender heart (for Jesus came into our flesh to suffer as we suffer, but to suffer on our behalf as a payment for our sins).  We must return to the empty tomb where the angel declared, “He is not here, but He has risen.”  And we must know that as He is risen, so too shall we.  These are the gifts that Christ freely gives to you who have been baptized into the one true faith.

We must gather each Lord’s day to hear these truths proclaimed by the teacher, preacher, and shepherd that God has placed through the call and prayers of you his people, and we must receive that teaching, knowing that we the saints of God are being built into one body, which is the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the work of holy ministry, until we all attain together the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.

We always speak the truth to one another, but we do so in love and a desire for unity, so that together we may grow up in every way into Jesus who is our head, who guides the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, so that when each part is working properly the body grows and is built up in the love of God.

CONCLUSION: I want you to look at your hand. What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it? Are there any particular strengths or skills that your hand has? What does it enable you to do? Are there any ways your hand has made life difficult or painful? Now look at your knee. What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it? Are there any particular strengths that your knee has? What does it allow you to do? Are there any particular ways that your knee has betrayed you or caused you pain?

Now, consider both your hand and your knee. How do they benefit you? What would your life be like if you didn’t have your hand or your knee? Both hands? Both knees? Both your hands and your knees are gifts to you, gifts from God. Sometimes they may be painful to you. Sometimes they may not do what you want them to, what you need them to do, but they are yours and you are much better off with them than without them. They are yours; parts of you, unified as one body.

Now, please stand and look around the sanctuary, not at the walls, but at the people, not at their hands or knees, but at them. As you look around, ask yourself what particular strengths you see among the people here? What do you like about them? Consider these people around you. They, like your hands and your knees, are a part of you. You are a part of them. We are all parts of the body of Christ. He is our head. Just as your hands and your knees are gifts to you, gifts from God, so are the people around you gifts from God. They may at times be very pleasant gifts from God. At other times, like your hands or your knees or other body parts, they may be difficult or painful to you. Like your hands or your knees, they may not always do what you want them to. But, you know what? They are still part of you. Just like your hands and your knees, you are much better off with them than without them. They enable Christ to accomplish things that you could not do without them. They are yours, you are theirs, parts unified and growing together as one body, the body of Christ, the church.  AMEN!