Posts Tagged ‘Holy Baptism’

We Stand Upon Christ and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

Scripture Alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Prepared to Witness?

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Easter 6A, May 21, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Are you prepared to make a defense, that is to be a witness, to give witness to Christ? What is it that we are called to witness to? Well, how about this for starters, “Christ is risen! He is risen in deed!”

This morning the question is not could you witness to someone about your faith in Christ, but would you? Yes, with the help of God. The help of God? Is there really something like that happening today? And the answer is yes, but I don’t want to give away the end of the sermon so you will just have to have patience, and I promise that not only will you learn what that powerful help is, but you will in fact know that you have received it.

In our first reading (Acts 17:16-31) we join St. Paul after he has taken a tour of the city of Athens, Greece.

During his walk-about, he learned an awful lot about the city and its people. For one thing, he discovered that they loved art and philosophy, but he also discovered that they were very religious. It was this devotion to religion that motivated Paul to strike up conversations with the people he met concerning their religion. Well, actually it was the Holy Spirit of God that moved him to do that. You see, God’s Spirit caused Paul to understand and communicate a message, which is central throughout Holy Scripture, and it is this: God is a jealous God, and He will not share His glory with anything or anyone. In the past, like during the time of Noah and before, He overlooked their sin of false worship, but now, now He is calling the people to repent; that is, he calls all people to return to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. He calls them to receive that one thing needful by all people… the forgiveness of their sins and new life through the cross of Christ; it is then and only then that that they will be able to “worship Him alone and no other.”

And how did Paul speak this truth? He did it with the love of Christ and respect. He did it by becoming one with them. How so? With these words: “And (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for “’In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “’For we are indeed His offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone (that is he is not like some of the religious statues that some people worship), (because that is) an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked (that is before the flood during Noah’s time), but now He (this One true God who is very near to you and desires you to be near to Him), commands all people everywhere to repent (that is turn to Him and experience His presence and love), because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man (who is also God’s very Son in human flesh) who He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.” [Acts 17:26-31]

Today, you have this same power and opportunity that Paul had long ago; an opportunity to witness to the people in our community the very same message. You will encounter these people in your various stations of life; that is the people you have built a relationship of friendship with. It may be at your place of work, at a shopping center, school, senior center, or even within your own family. The point is, God has placed you there for a reason, and the reason is so that you can make a defense, or give a witness to His real presence in your life and in theirs. But, I suppose this still leaves the question of “how does God do this work through me” begging to be answered. So let’s first look at “where” God does this work, before we answer the question of “how” he does it.

God equips you and empowers you to do this work at His Son’s church.

But where? And the answer is, “Through His Word.” Humor me for just a minute, and take the hymnal out of the pew rack, and then look at page 203, and then the following pages. As you do, you will notice that almost every word we speak or sing in our liturgy has a scripture reference. That means that our liturgy is nothing less than the very Word of God. So, if you have been coming to church for any length of time, you will discover that you have a whole lot of God’s Word memorized.

So why is that important? Because it is that very same Word that empowered St. Paul to give his witness. Now, just memorizing the Word of God is a good start, but you should also have an on-going way to internalize it and make it real and personal to you. And so you are doing right now as you hear the Word proclaimed in this message and as you do during Bible study and catechism classes. God is preparing you right here at this little church to give a witness to anyone who may ask you the reason for the hope that you hold onto, and is so important to you.

Today as we live our lives, God is giving us many opportunities to share our faith. I suppose the best and most productive way to share with people, is to be prepared to answer them when they ask: “Why do you go to church so much?” And now, you have learned that “We go to church to hear from God in His Word, that through His Son Jesus we are forgiven of all our sins, and now we must live out that forgiveness within our community and share it with others.”

Of course this only applies to those of us who really do make Christ and His church a priority in our lives. It applies to those of you who see a need for God’s continued voice and guidance in not just your lives but the lives of your family too. But it only applies when God’s Word has moved you to repent and receive not just the complete forgiveness of sins, but daily strength to follow and trust His Word.

Now some of you may be getting uncomfortable right now because the Word has struck close to home.

Let me first say to you… good! If that is what you are feeling then that is what God probably wants you to feel; that is the work of His law and it is His will. He wants you, like the people in Athens who Paul shared the Word with to simply turn to Him alone; that is He wants you to reject anything in your life that has replaced Him and His church as first place in your life. It won’t be easy, because you will not just be fighting your own desires but also the entire way our society has been programed. Let me show you what I mean.

If you are single and alone, society would have you think that getting out and having fun is the best way to find someone to share your life with. If you are married and have a family, society will tell you that working hard to support your family and then spending quality time with them is what you should be most concerned with. But this morning, God is telling you that you have it all wrong. He is telling you that He wants to be first place. Come to Him and allow Him to heal you, strengthen you, and fill you first, and then go out into the world and work hard and have fun. Let Him bring you to Mr. or Misses right and then you will know real happiness. Let Him provide employment that will then provide for your family.

And as these things take place, be sure to let others know the reason for the hope that you have. And that reason is Jesus Christ and His church; His church where He gives to you all of His gifts of grace that sustain you and make you into the “good” person that you are becoming by God’s grace. His church is His very means to give you the answer to our long awaited question: “What is the power that God gives to me so that I can witness my faith to others?”

Dear friends the power that God gives to you is His very Son; His Son who also gives to you Himself. But He does not give just His atoning death upon the cross, but He also gives you His resurrection. You see, you don’t just believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world, you also believe that Jesus died for you; for your sins, and His resurrection proves that you too will have eternal life. And how do you know this? Because Jesus has given you another Helper, the Holy Spirit of truth who forever dwells with you and within you.

And how do you know this gift is really yours?

Because like Noah and his family, eight souls in all, you have been called by the power of God’s Spirit out of the darkness of sin and you listened; you got into the ark that is His church, and because you entered into the ark of your salvation, the church, you do not fear the day of judgment that is coming. But how did you enter the church? That is, where and when did this great work take place that saved you? St. Peter gives us the answer in our epistle reading, listen: “Baptism, which corresponds to (how Noah and his family were saved from God’s judgment and the flood), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” [1 Peter 3:21, 22] (Talk about the baptism we just had).

So Holy Baptism is not just what saves you, but is the very source of both God’s continued presence in your life and His power that equips you with the ability to live that life in a way that both glorifies Him and blesses your family, friends and neighbors.

So how does baptism save you? Didn’t Jesus save us on the cross? Yes, of course He did; He paid for all sins on the cross, and baptism is that promise coming to you personally as part of the church now. So, baptism now saves you, not by removing the dirt or the stain of this world, but by the promise or the covenant from God to you that you are in fact clean of sin in His sight. This is why you are always taught that you are saved by grace alone and by faith alone. So in baptism, God has given you a promise that your sins are removed by the blood of Jesus, shed for you upon the cross. And now in God’s sight, your conscience can be entirely clean because you know that you don’t have to stand before Him, on the day of judgment by yourself; you know that Jesus stands with you, and that through Him alone you will not be judged guilty as a sinner. That’s how baptism saves you; by giving you a promise that you can believe in, and He gives you the means to believe in it through Scripture alone, right here in His church.

Baptism gives you something to have faith in… it gives you Jesus. Baptism equals Jesus promise. You have the promise of free grace, because of the resurrection of Jesus who now is at the right hand of the Father, and who has subjected all things to Himself.

Now, since Christ suffered because of your sinful flesh, to save you, then arm yourself with the same mindset, and expect that you too may have to suffer because of the attacks of the devils and your own sinful flesh. But as you wait for Christ’s return; as you are prepared to give a defense to anyone who should ask you why you go to church so much, remember it is God who gives you the Words to speak. And even if you have to suffer at the hands of others for giving that defense, for insisting that Christ’s church is important to you, God will continue filling you with faith and power as you trust in His promised blessings, which come with this declaration, “Christ has risen, Christ has risen indeed.” AMEN!

Jesus Is The Rock Who Cleaves For You!


Monday, March 20th, 2017

Lent 3 (A), March 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

IMG_0088“Is the Lord among us or not?” That’s perhaps the most common question both sinners and saints ask the church. Maybe you’ve asked that question before as well? Is He with us or are we simply left on our own to fend for ourselves? So, let’s settle that question right now, this morning.

“Is the Lord among us or not?”

That is the very question the Israelites asked Moses as they grew thirsty in a land of rocks and sand. Did the Lord really lead us out here or was it you, Moses? Did you bring us out here to die of thirst?
Oh how quickly they have forgotten how miraculously powerful the Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt land! Oh how conveniently they’ve dismissed the Lord’s ever-present cloud by day and pillar by night. Oh how easily they have dismissed the Lord’s continuous care, through the mysterious feeding of the manna and quail.

Who here this morning can blame Moses one bit for crying out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people?” as they had stones at the ready, just waiting to stone him to death! But the Lord was listening; He was in control; He was more than pleased to show His people once again, that He indeed was with them.

Oh how quickly the Israelites forgot, and oh how quickly we too forget. How easily we too forget or dismiss the proof of our Lord and His presence with us all of these years. Think back, for many not so long ago, where you can truly say that “If it had not been for the Lord, I would have…” well, you can fill in the blank.

The people back then forgot that they were following the God that not only makes the water, but He actually is in, with, and under the water. And so do we. They actually grumbled against their God who provided for their needs through the mask of Moses, and so do we, as we dismiss the majority of the pastor’s words as simply the wisdom of a gifted communicator. When we forget our many blessings that we have received regularly here in this house of worship and outside of this place, we too are forgetting the God who is behind those wonderful gifts.

God was not absent then and He is not absent now; He would not allow His people under the leadership of Moses to live as if there is no God leading them, and He will not allow us to live that way either. God had a plan then, and He still has a plan today. God’s children of faith are to be a light in a world dark with sin. Through the promised Savior God’s plan is to open wide His store-house of blessings and through His children of faith, bless the entire world as well. But nowhere did God ever promise that our trek out of our bondage of sin would be painless and easy. God has promised us nothing in this life except the privilege of experiencing His forgiving love and glory.

In our Old Testament lesson, we read that God had Moses and some of the elders pass before the vast company of the grumbling Israelites, displaying the staff that parted the water, and there in front of those stiff necked people, He directed Moses to strike a certain Rock. Moses did as he was told, and out from the cleft rock came a gush of living and refreshing water!

What kind of rock was this, and just what kind of water was it?

If we will for but a moment, simply dismiss any scientific explanation about the origin of the water, and instead allow God’s Word to explain it’s source, we can then wonderfully see the God who is not only in, with, and under the water, but also the God who is the source of it.

But the source came from the rock, didn’t it?! Yes, that’s right, but again, let’s not put to much effort into understanding the how of the water, but instead let Holy Scripture tell us the Who and the why of it. What scripture is that? How about this information from St. Paul: “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. [1 Corinthians 10:1–4]

The Savior-God showered His grace on his people Israel by means of this rock in the desert, just as God has blessed us in Christ beyond all that we sinful creatures deserve. “Nevertheless,” Paul continues, “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall (be careful that you are not by choice, choosing to plant your feet of faith on some other foundation than the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ)! No temptation has seized you except what is common to all people. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (that is He will not allow you to fall completely away from the Rock of your salvation). But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (as you stand upon the Rock)” (verses 5, 11–13).

That way out friends is the Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself who sought you out and found you in your sins, while you were still an unredeemed condemned enemy of God, and He suffered and died for you, by placing you and your wretched condition upon His very existence! Make no mistake, God found you and not the other way around. He alone has cleft for you and incorporated your very existence upon His own.

In your baptism, Jesus came to you through simple water. But how?

Again, like the water from the rock, do not be concerned with the how, but the Who and why of it. Jesus, all of Jesus was and is in the water of your baptism. When I say all of Jesus, I truly mean all of Him. Jesus who was fully man and fully God was there within the font when each of you were baptized. All of “Jesus the man” had to be there, because only real blood can pay for real sins. Only real suffering and finally death can free a sinner from the price of sin. But then again, only all of God can have complete victory over sin, death, and the devil. Only all of God can raise a dead sinner into a living saint.

Ok, to satisfy those of you who still want to know the how behind the water, here it is. God does it through the rock of ages, Jesus Christ, who by the power of the Spirit of God is in, with, and under the water of your Holy Baptism by the power of His Holy Word; a Word that promises salvation; a Word that promises that all of God is always with you! And all of this He does through a living water that is a bath for sinners and a cool and refreshing drink for saints who are struggling to pass through this wilderness of sin.

The bath is needed if we want to be regarded as one of God’s children of faith. It is the only means that He has provided that will truly wash us clean and remove our sins. But it is also the very source of refreshment that will forever quench our thirst for God’s righteous presence and protection in our lives. Holy Water is the very resource that will turn us again and again to our Savior, who declared to the sinful woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” [John 4:14]

And yet, how often do we who have been washed clean by this holy bath, refreshed by this living water grumble and complain about God’s way of dealing with us. Oh how easy we forget the God who is in, with, and under the water, and how easy we forget that through Christ, we are never disconnected from God! How easy we forget His plan for us to be His light of forgiving love in a world darkened with sin, so that the world will see the Rock of ages cleft for them too, and know once and for all that there is a God among them!

“Sir,” we must say every day to our Lord, as the Samaritan woman did, “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.” [John 4:15] We must say everyday, “Lord, help me live in, with, and under this spiritual water, and protect me when I thirst for other sources of refreshment offered by the devil and this sin-darkened world.”

Dear friends, like the Israelites following God through the leadership of Moses, we too are traveling through a desert of sin. We to will know pain and suffering along our journey. It will be tempting to grumble against God and those who lead us through the proclamation of His Word, but God is not absent in these times of testing; He is not hiding some master plan from you that you know nothing about! The master plan is first and foremost your salvation through the cross of Jesus and the washing of His water and Word. And next, that plan is for you to listen and follow Him out into our community that is dying of thirst. They need to know about the God-man Jesus Christ who knows everything about them, and yet still loves them!

Dear saints, let’s learn from the mistakes of the people of Israel and not allow Satan to draw us into a spirit of grumbling and complaining, which is really a sign of unbelief. Instead, let’s keep our eyes on the Rock of Ages, the Author and Perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ. He is the God who is among us as our Rock and our Living Water; He is the One who has cleaved Himself wide open so that we to may fit within His own body, the church. AMEN!

Who Did John Baptize?

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

Epiphany 1-B, January 11, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.TLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), but then in the middle of time, “John the baptizer appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem went out to him to be baptized.  They were drawn to John; they confessed their sins to John.  They even wondered out loud and asked if John might be the promised Savior of the Jewish people, and John said very plainly, (No, but He is coming.)  “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And then one day, along came Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee and He presented Himself to be baptized by John in the Jordan.  [Mark 1:4-11]  Do you think that John knew whom it really was that presented Himself for baptism?  Certainly he was equipped by God to receive all that Jesus revealed Himself to be, but did He know that Jesus was from before the beginning of Creation?  Do we understand?

So in the middle of our doubts and fears, the Voice that spoke in the beginning speaks again about a new beginning.  “And when (Jesus) came up out of the water, immediately (John) saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

In the beginning God… Do you understand what those simple words mean?  Do you understand that in the beginning of all that we know as our reality, there was already God Who has no beginning?  Prior to the beginning, there was no up and no down, no here and no there.  There was nothing—except God.  He always was and always shall be.

So, in the beginning before there was anything, there was God who creates time and space, simply because He wills it.  This is Who we gather to hear from this morning; He alone deserves to be held in reverence and awe by us, His creation.  Everything exists because of Him and for Him, including you and me.  We don’t exists of ourselves or for ourselves.  We have no right to exist outside of our being in harmony and peace with our majestic Creator and His plan for us.  In His plan He makes us right with Him and each other, and He alone gives our lives great meaning.  What does it mean to have life?  It means that as people who live in the middle of time, the Eternal Creator, Who is the beginning comes to us in the middle and reveals Himself and allows us to know our own beginning and our end.

Do you understand who this Jesus that desires John’s baptism is?  He is the Logos, the Word of God, who from the beginning spoke these simple Words “Let there be light” and then there was.  Do you understand that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made”?

In Him and because of Him, we live and move and find our being.  He is the image of the invisible God.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.  For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him (the Creator of the beginning meets sinful creation in the middle and) reconciles to Himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace with sinful men and women.

But how can that be?  How can one who is in the middle with the rest of us be from the beginning; not just from the beginning, but before the beginning?

Sinful men and women can not understand the truth of who Jesus is, because not only do they run from the beginning of Creation, but they can not perceive of something before the beginning.  For although in their hearts they know there is God, they do not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they cling to their futile thinking, and pretend that their darkened foolish hearts are full of light and wisdom. So, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator they are lost in the middle.  But God still comes to sinful men and women; He will not give up moving their hearts and eyes of faith to the beginning and the end.

And here in the waters of the Jordan stands Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the son of Mary.  Here before John and us this morning is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.  In Him alone is the fullness of God and through Him alone the middle is brought back to the beginning by the blood of His cross.

Why was Jesus baptized?  Simply put, He comes to show us the way back to the beginning; to bring abundant life.  He comes as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world so that through grace we can know God’s love.  To ask why was Jesus baptized is really to ask why was Jesus born.  He was born to bring death and life; an end and a eternal beginning.  As He walks out of the waters of baptism He immediately enters into a life of service and suffering that will lead to His death upon the cross; a death that is for us, because it brings us back to the beginning and makes us right with our Creator.  But how does this help us?  Because where He leads, we follow.  We follow Him to the waters of our own baptism, and within those waters we also encounter the cross; we encounter and end to our sinful flesh as we follow Jesus who comes from the beginning.  Like Jesus, we die to live.  We emerge from our own baptism as someone who has been buried with Christ and raised to new life through the glory of the Father; a life that was the intent of the Creator in the beginning.

So consider yourselves dead.  You old self, that is your body of sin was crucified with Christ.

At the end of 2014 we celebrated the truth that God’s Son took upon Himself our human nature; He who was the source of the beginning came to us in the middle.  But He did more than come to us as one of us, He came to take on our sin.  And because of that sin, we can say that the source of the beginning takes on the nature of the middle, so that he can put an end to our fear of the end by bringing us back to the beginning.  For us He is born and for us He dies. In baptism, faith in this Son of God unites us to Him so that His death is truly our death.

In the beginning, the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  In your sins, you also were covered by darkness.  But in your baptism, the same Spirit of God that hovered over the waters in the beginning, hovered over the waters of your baptism.  In the beginning when the Logos, the Son of God spoke and said “Let there be light,” there was!  And in your baptism; the day you first entered into God’s beginning, that same Logos, the Word of God spoke a beginning for you. Through the obedience of His holy church, Christ commanded that you be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  He commanded that you be taught to observe all that He has commanded and revealed. And behold, in your baptism He gives you this great promise,  “He is with you always,” (even) to the end of this sinful age when He brings you back to the beginning.

So, if you consider yourselves dead with Christ, you must also consider yourselves alive with Him as well.

In holy baptism you have been made truly alive!  You are alive because Christ is raised from the dead.  Remember, in holy baptism you are following Christ, the source of the beginning.  You must not remain at the cross of Good Friday, but you must proceed to the empty tomb of Easter morning.  He is risen indeed!

The Father put His approval on His Son’s death by raising Him up.  Christ’s resurrection seals the atoning power of His sacrificial death for you.  The sins of the world were once and for all paid for.  And now, you too are asked to leave the tomb of death, and follow your Savior in new life; a restored life that finds its source in the beginning.

You are alive.  To be alive is to walk; to be raised to life is to be enable to walk, to move to show great evidence to all who see that you have abundant life.  Remaining in sin is to be without spiritual life; it is death.  But in Christ, that is in your baptismal newness of life you have an abundant life!  You are truly alive in Christ; alive to God.  You are to live your life with a new identity, a new status.  You are a child of God, a child of the beginning.

You are baptized; you have been born again, brought back to the beginning.  And because you are no longer imprisoned in a body of death, you are free!

You are fee to live to God in this New Year with an eternal new beginning.  What will that new life look like this year?  Only God knows.  But I do know this, you will continue to have trouble with your old sinful nature, because it does not like to die, because it is afraid of both the beginning and the end.  But you are of the beginning, and you are a new creation in Christ.  You are free; free to grow and face any challenge that awaits you.  You are free, but your old nature is not; it is bound to die, and it resents that you may live and it may not, so it will fight you.  So, you must fight it back, by daily putting it to death.  You do this when you remember your baptism; by remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus is also your death and resurrection.

I will close with this brief story about a jeweler who once told me of an easy but certain way of knowing the difference between a true diamond and a phony one.  This test is called the water test. He said that if I ever want to see the difference between the two I have to go to the water.  “An imitation diamond” he said, “is never so brilliant as a genuine stone. If you drop an imitation diamond into a glass of water, it almost disappears, but a genuine diamond sparkles even under water, and is distinctly visible.”

The moral of that little story is simple.  If through out this New Year you begin to feel discouraged and tired from fighting off your old sinful nature; if you begin to feel like sin is winning and grace and forgiveness are loosing, go back to the beginning; go back to the water, back to your baptism and remember it is there where your Creator met you and gave you new life.  Go back to the washing of the water and the Word, and let God’s Spirit dwell richly within you and shine.  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

Click here for audio of this message

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

What is it that identifies the church as something different; something special 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!

Are You Prepared to Witness?

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 6A, May 25, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“(B)ut in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Are you prepared to make a defense, that is to give a witness to Christ?  What are we called to witness to?  Well, how about this for starters, “Christ is risen!  He is risen in deed!”

This morning the question is not could you witness to someone your faith in Christ, but would you?  Yes, with the help of God.  The help of God?  Is there really something like that happening today?  And the answer is yes, but I don’t want to give away the end of the sermon so you will just have to have patience, and I promise that not only will you learn what that powerful help is, but you will in fact receive it.

In our first reading (Acts 17:16-31) we join St. Paul after he has taken a tour of the city of Athens, Greece.  During his walk-about, he learned an awful lot about the city and its people.  For one thing, he discovered that they loved art and philosophy, but he also discovered that they were very religious.  It was this devotion to religion that motivated Paul to strike up conversations with the people he met concerning their religion.  Well, actually it was the Holy Spirit of God that moved him to do that.  You see, God’s Spirit caused Paul to understand and communicate a message, which is central throughout Holy Scripture, and it is this: God is a jealous God, and He will not share His gory with anything or anyone.  In the past, like during the time of Noah and before, He overlooked their sin of false worship, but now, now He is calling the people to repent; that is, he calls all people to turn to His Son, Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, and then worship Him alone and no other.”

And how did Paul speak this truth in love and respect?  He did it by becoming one with them.  How so?  With these words: “And (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him.  Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for “’In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “’For we are indeed His offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone (that is he is not like some of your religious statues that you worship), (because that is) an image formed by the art and imagination of man.  The times of ignorance God overlooked (that is before the flood during Noah’s time), but now He (this one who is very near to you and desires you to be near to you), commands all people everywhere to repent (that is turn to Him and experience His presence and love), because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man (who is also God’s very Son in human flesh) who He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.” [Acts 17:26-31]

Today, you have this same power and opportunity that Paul had long ago; an opportunity to witness to the people in our community the very same message.  You will encounter these people in your various stations of life; that is the people you have built a relationship of friendship with.  It may be at your place of work, at a shopping center, school, senior center, or even within your own family.  The point is, God has placed you there for a reason, and the reason is so that you can make a defense, or give a witness to His real presence in your life and in theirs.  But, I suppose this still leaves the question of “how does God do this work through me” begging to be answered.  So let’s look at “where” God does this work, before we answer the question of “how” he does it.

God equips you and empowers you to do this work at His Son’s church; even here at little Trinity Lutheran Church.  But how?  And the answer is, “Through His Word.”  Now, I have notice that many of you follow our liturgy, that is our order of worship by looking at the screens, and that’s ok, but remember that the screens simply are an aid for tired eyes; the actual liturgy is taken right out of our hymnals.  This morning, we are following Divine Service-Setting 4, which begins on page 203 in the Lutheran Service Book.  Humor me for just a minute, and take the hymnal out of the pew rack, and then look at page 203, and then the following pages.  As you do, you will notice that almost every word we speak has a scripture reference.  That means that our liturgy is nothing less than the very Word of God.  So, if you have been coming to church for any length of time, you will discover that you have a whole lot of God’s Word memorized.

So why is that important?  Because it is that very same Word that empowered St. Paul to give his witness.  Now, just memorizing the Word of God is a good start, but you should also have an on-going way to internalize it and make it real and personal to you.  And so you are doing right now as you hear the Word proclaimed in this message and as you did during Bible study and catechism classes.  God is preparing you right here at little Trinity to give a witness to anyone who may ask you the reason for the hope that you hold onto, and is so important to you.

Today as we live our lives, God is giving us many opportunities to share our faith.  I suppose the best and most productive way to share with people, is to be prepared to answer them when they ask: “Why do you go to church so much?”  And now, you have learned that “We go to church to hear from God in His Word, that through His Son Jesus we are forgiven of all our sins, and now we must live out that forgiveness within our community and share it with others.”

Of course this only applies to those of us who really do make Christ and His church a priority in our lives.  It applies to us who see a need for God’s continued voice and guidance in not just our lives but the lives of our family.  It only applies when God’s Word has moved you to repent and receive not just the complete forgiveness of sins, but daily strength to follow and trust His Word.

Now some of you may be getting uncomfortable right now because the Word has struck close to home.  Let me first say to you… good!  That is what you should be feeling; that is God’s will.  He wants you, like the people in Athens who Paul shared with to simply turn to Him alone; that is He wants you to reject anything in your life that has replaced God and His church as first place in your life.  It won’t be easy, because you will not just be fighting your own desires but also the entire way our society has been programed.  Let me show you what I mean.

If you are single and alone, society would have you think that getting out and having fun is the best way to find someone to share your life with.  If you are married and have a family, society will tell you that working hard to support your family and then spending quality time with them is what you should be most concerned with.  But this morning, God is telling you that you have it all wrong.  He is telling you that He wants to be first place.  Come to Him and allow Him to heal you, strengthen you, and fill you first, and then go out into the world and work hard and have fun.  Let Him bring you to Mr. or Misses right and then you will know real happiness.  Let Him provide employment that will then provide for your family.

And as these things take place, be sure to let others know the reason for the hope that you have.  And that reason is Jesus Christ and His church; His church where He gives to you all of His gifts of grace that sustain you and make you into the “good” person that you are.  His church that is His very means to give you the answer to our long awaited question: “What is the power that God gives to me so that I can witness my faith to others?”

Dear friends the power that God gives to you is His very Son; His Son who also gives to you Himself.  But He does not give just His death, but also His resurrection.  You see, you don’t just believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world, and that His resurrection proved that there is the hope of eternal life, but you also believe that Jesus died for you; for your sins, and His resurrection proves that you too will have eternal life.  And how do you know this?  Because Jesus has given you another Helper, the Spirit of truth who forever dwells with you and within you.

How do you know this gift is really yours?  Because like Noah and his family, eight souls in all, you have been called by the power of God’s Spirit out of the darkness of sin and you listened.  And because you entered into the ark of your salvation, the church, you do not fear the day of judgment that is coming.  But how did you enter the church?  That is, where and when did this great work take place that saved you?  St. Peter gives us the answer in our epistle reading, listen: “Baptism, which corresponds to (how Noah and his family were saved from God’s judgment and the flood), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” [1 Peter3:21, 22]

So Holy Baptism is not just what saves you, but is the very source of both God’s continued presence in your life and His power that equips you with the ability to live that life in a way that both glorifies Him and blesses your neighbor.

So how does baptism save you?  Didn’t Jesus save us on the cross?  Yes, of course He did; He paid for all sins on the cross, and baptism is that promise coming to you personally as part of the church now.  So, baptism now saves you, not by removing the dirt or the stain of all of your sin, but by the promise or the covenant from God to you that you are in fact clean of sin in God’s sight.  This is why you are always taught that you are saved by grace alone by faith alone.  So in baptism, God has given you a promise that your sins are removed by the blood of Jesus shed for you upon the cross.   And so in God’s sight your conscience can be entirely clean because you know that you don’t have to stand before Him, on the day of judgment by yourself; you know that through Christ you will not be judged guilty as a sinner.  That’s how baptism saves you; by giving you a promise that you can believe in, and He gives you the means to believe in it through His Word, which you receive right here at church.

Baptism gives you something to have faith in… it gives you Jesus.  Baptism equals Jesus promise.  You have the promise of a free covenantal grace, because of the resurrection of Jesus who now is at the right hand of the Father, Who subjected all things to Himself, including angels, authorities, and all powers.

Now, since Christ suffered because of your sinful flesh, to save you, then arm yourself with the same mindset, and expect that you too may have to suffer because of your own sinful flesh as you wait for His return; as you give a defense to anyone who should ask you why you go to church so much.  And even if you have to suffer at the hands of others for giving that defense, for insisting that church is important to you, God will continue filling you with faith and power as you trust in His promised blessings.  AMEN!

Let Us Go and Die With Jesus

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Lent 5 (A), April 6, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.[John 11:16]

So are the words of Thomas, and so should they be our words as well.  They are the words that the saints are to speak to their sinful flesh that will one day die, once and for all, and will one day in the Lord’s time, rise redeemed and completely sanctified for an eternity with Jesus and their neighbor.  But these aren’t simply words we speak to make it through times of sorrow, suffering, and testing; no these are words that echo the very Word of God.  Listen: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Galatians 2:20]  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [Romans 6:3-4]

These Words of dying are meant to first point our eyes of faith to a spiritual death and then to a physical death.  They are Words that first bring a spiritual renewal and then the long promised physical resurrection, a resurrection from death.  Do you think that Thomas was thinking about any of this when he said, “Let’s also go (with Jesus), (so) that we may die with him”?  No, I think that these were the words of a pessimist; words of frustration that each of us can identify with.  It’s as if they were saying, “Well, all of our hope and dreams have been shattered, so there is nothing else to do but follow Jesus and die.  In those sentiments, I hear a spark of faith that moves their hearts to believe that if Jesus is leading them, some how, some way, everything would turn out alright.

In our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 37:1–14), we see something similar happening.  The prophet Ezekiel, who is living in exile in Babylon with his fellow Jews, is taken up in the spirit by the very hand of God and shown a vast valley of dead, dry bones.  And (the Lord) asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And (Ezekiel) answered, “O Lord God, you know.”  Mark and remember those Words.  The Lord knows.  He knows what the outcome will be when we follow Jesus to what appears to be certain death, and He knows what the outcome will be in our lives when everything around us is telling us that living the life, or dying the death of a Christian should not have this much trouble, this much fear, this much worry.  He knows, and because He knows, because He loves you and calls you to follow Him, we know that in the end everything will be well for our souls and our eternal life with Jesus.

Have you ever been so depressed that you just didn’t even feel like waking up in the morning?  Some times it may be so bad that you don’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone.  Even the Word of God seems to do you no good; well at least that’s what you tell yourself, when the truth is, the Word of God is the only thing that will do you any good; specifically that part of the Word that promises new life in a situation that seems completely dead.  And that is what God was speaking to Ezekiel and all of his fellow countrymen who were being held captive there in Babylon.  Babylon was a place that seemed hopeless for the nation of Israel; they appeared to be dead as a people.  But then God asked a question that was meant to test faith and cause it to grow.  And where faith is alive and growing there is life and there is hope.  “Son of man, can these bones live?”  And to this the weak voice of faith, like that of Thomas answers perhaps a bit pessimistically, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

Do you hear the weak faith?  Oh yes, it’s small, the size of a mustard seed I’d say, but it’s the kind of faith that let’s go of all hope that may come from itself or this fallen world, and trust only is that which is greater and outside of itself and this world.  It is the kind of faith that will cause our depressed hearts to take notice, and allow our unwilling ears to listen for at least a bit of “good news.”

Then (God) said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:4-6]  What was God showing Ezekiel?  This is an important question, because God is always consistent, so what He is showing Ezekiel, He is showing us.  In other words, He is demonstrating something the church, you and I, should know right now, today!

What He was showing them and us is that the Lord who promised to bring life to dead bones in the vision is simply doing the very same thing He did long ago in the garden of Eden… He is Creating life: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. [Genesis 1:26a] The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostril the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [Genesis 2:7]

Do you see where the hope of life came from?  It was from the very Word of God and the very breath of God.  But the Word must be spoken; it must be declared with the power of God, that is it must have the breath of life behind it.  “So” Ezekiel in obedience to the Word, speaks the Word “as (he) was commanded.  And as (he) prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And (he) looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then (God) said to (him), “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”  So (Ezekiel) prophesied as he (was) commanded, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. [Ezekiel 37:7–10]

At the Lord’s command, Ezekiel prophesied to lifeless bones, and a miracle happened. There was a rattling noise as bone came together with bone. To Ezekiel the valley seemed no longer to be full of disconnected bones but of skeletons. God’s miracle continued, “Tendons and flesh appeared on them.” Now the valley resembled a battlefield littered with corpses. But God’s miracle was still not over. At God’s command Ezekiel continued to prophesy, and breath entered that army of corpses, and they came to life and stood up. Through a vision Ezekiel saw how God would re-create his people now apparently hopelessly lost in Babylon.

Ezekiel carried out his orders and the Lord kept his promise. He did not want to speak, I’m sure, and neither did the Jews want to listen; they were depressed and simply waiting to die.  But, when God speaks His Words carry the mighty life giving power of His Spirit.  When He speaks, even the dead in their graves must listen and respond.  When a corpse, even one with out ears, or one where all of the atoms have been scattered to who knows where is spoken to, they must listen, and they must respond!

This ought to be a description of our lives.  When we are so depressed that even the chirping of the birds and our neighbors laughter and joy cause nothing but irritation and even anger, we have no choice but to listen and respond, as God speaks.  As we are carried away by the power of the Lord’s Spirit, we have no choice but to carry out the Lord’s orders, and then watch as the Lord carries out his promises of life within us.

Dear friends, it is the knowledge that we are doing the Lord’s will in our lives that will take away the boredom, drudgery, and even the depression we find in life; it is what brings life to dead and dry bones. When we realize that since our baptism we have been brought to death with Christ, but then raised to a new and eternal life with Him, we are not just working for a paycheck, but we are serving our risen LORD and God, who through that paycheck is supporting our families. We are not just studying to get a passing grade in school, but we are instead using our minds to the best we can, because our Lord has called us to be good stewards, or managers of our intellects. We are not just taking care of the kids or grandkids, but we are shaping their souls as God’s own children, and teaching them about Jesus by the way we talk and act. We do these things even when we feel depressed and alone, because we know that behind every thing we do is the promise of God, that says “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to God’s purpose.” [Romans 8:28]  And the Lord keeps his promises, just as he did when Ezekiel preached to those dry bones as he was instructed to.

This morning, just as Ezekiel was obedient to the call of God to prophesy, that is to preach the Word of God so that life could come amongst those who felt as good as dead, I too am called to preach the same message of life and renewal.  It has been a long period of Lent, and we are tired, but our travels are not yet complete.  We must continue to follow Jesus and learn to die with Him, so that we will live with Him.  So hear these last words:

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:11-14]

This morning, some of us may be distracted by tragedy or loss in our lives.  Maybe it is the loss of a loved one through death, or the sting of betrayal.  Maybe it is the loss of a job or the lack of one for a long period of time.  And maybe, like Martha we have spoken similar words of pain and disappointment to our Lord: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  ‘If you had been with me, I would not be suffering this loss in my life.’  And now, the winds from the four corners begin to blow; the power of the spirit of God begins to fan that spark of faith that still lives in you, and along with Martha you are led by faith to proclaim:  “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

To Martha, Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.”  And to us, He is saying your hope, and indeed your very joy in life has not left you; I am still with you, and I will never leave nor forsake you.”  And as Martha says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” we may say with her, “I know that one day this depression, this sorrow will pass on the last day, when I am in heaven.”  And to Martha and to us, Jesus says, “I AM the resurrection and the (joy of)life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Dear baptized, do you believe this?  Then your Master calls to you along with Lazarus, in the same power that brought life to the dried bones Ezekiel’s vision, and He says: “Come out!”  Come out with a purpose and a mission.  Come out into a world that is dying and share the church’s story of faith; share your story.  Tell others how God has saved you and is saving you.  Tell them that how even in the midst of tragedy and disappointment, He is still with you.

Holy week is fast approaching and what a wonderful opportunity it is for us to invite our neighbors, family, friends, and coworkers to come and experience the wind of God that brings life to dead and dried up bones.  You can start by inviting them to Palm Sunday, where they will experience the pomp and majesty of our Savior as He rides into Jerusalem upon a donkey, surrounded by the chants “Hosanna,” and knowing full well that be was about to die a criminals death for all sinners.  And then, you can invite them to experience the nurturing power of God that was served to the apostles and now you, as we celebrate the last supper of our Lord on Maundy Thursday.  Then as you leave on Thursday night, invite them to come back again on Good Friday and experience the agony of our Lord, as He suffered and died for every person that will ever live, even for them.  And finally, make sure you invite them to experience the resurrection of our Lord.  The assurance that one day soon, Jesus will make good on the vision given to Ezekiel, that all those who have fallen asleep in death will rise again in eternal life.  AMEN!

Eyes Shut Tight

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Lent 4 (A), March 23, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant.” [Isaiah 42:14]

The song you just heard, “Slipin’ Into Darkness” by WAR, is meant to act as our mental hook, to hang this very important message from God upon.

Our text this morning leads us to ask ourselves, “Why can God no longer restrain Himself?  Why does He cry out like a woman in labor?”  Well the answer is, because His children, you and me have a tendency to slip into darkness.  We are a lot like the Israelites of old, or if you prefer, like the frog who is slowly being boiled alive.  We see nothing wrong with our warm bath of sin; in fact, it feels very comfortable and soothing.  But as the water slowly becomes hotter, it begins to perform a work of decay called apathy upon our bodies.  Slowly but surely, like the frog in his bath, we are being boiled alive within the acceptance of sin in our lives and Christ’s church.  And God’s message is, if we will not listen to His Word now, today, and every day, before we know it, it will be to late; we will have already slipped into darkness.  So to prevent us from “slipin’ into darkness”…

“The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious.” [Isaiah 42:21]

What law is that?  Well it is the law that is presented to us in all of God’s Word.  It is the law of holiness, which demands that we acknowledge our sins, and it is the law of promise, which declares that only God can prevent us from “slipin’ into darkness.”

Is God serious about this law?  Well, listen to Him speak and I will let you be the judge: “I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.”

These are words of judgment; they represent the finish of all things created in both heaven and earth.  They are words about the end of days.  God was telling the children of Israel that the final day was coming.  They of all people had to know that this was the truth.  They could trace their origins directly back to Father Abraham; the great patriarch of all of God’s children of faith, who heard God speak the impossible and by God’s gift of faith, He was enabled to believe God, and that belief was accredited to him as righteousness.

They knew first hand from their sacred writings, how God used Moses to intervene in their lives, in order to save them from slavery in Egypt.  They knew how their powerful God punished the Egyptians by causing great plagues to strike the land so that Pharaoh would let God’s people go.  And they knew that God had before dried up the water by parting the sea and making a straight path for them to escape and eventually arrive into the Promised Land.  They knew about God’s care for them in the wilderness, and they also knew that after all of this, many grumbled and sinned against the Lord and died, never reaching the promise land.

And now, as God speaks through Isaiah, He is warning them again about their sin, and it’s penalty; they would once again, because of their sinfulness be enslaved in the land of the Babylonians, but God would one moe time bring them back home to their own land.

All of this that God does, demonstrates who God is: He is a jealous God, who loves His children who relate to Him by faith, with an everlasting love.  He is the God who will not give His glory to another, and not allow His children to follow any other god, whether it is man or religion.  In order to be saved from God’s wrath, all they had to do was close their eyes to any other messages, and simply follow God’s promises of deliverance by faith, and they would be spared from His judgment.

But all of their history and their immediate physical reality was meant to act as a way to help them remember and believe in their God who saves; it was meant to prepare them to follow their God who would come among them and “lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known” before. [Isaiah 42:16]  They were to see their “Savior,” God’s “Suffering Servant” Jesus Christ, as God’s only solution to defeating their persistent sins and hard hearts.

Jesus is our only God given resource to ensure that you do not slip into darkness.  He has come to save those of us who know that we are indeed blind to God’s will and deaf to His warnings.  So He has come to guide us out of that sin in paths that we do not know; paths that we could never find on our own.  He has come to turn our darkness into light, the rough places into level ground.  These are the things that He does and He will never quit trying to call you who are baptized into His name, to follow Him.

We who make up the church, that is those of us who call ourselves Christian can hear these Words of promise and begin to think that there is nothing that could ever cause us to “slip into darkness.”  Why do I say that?  Because the same danger that enslaved the children of Israel also threatens all of Abraham’s children of faith; that is, it is still a very real threat to the church; to you and me.  What danger is that?  The danger of being a privileged child of faith but rejecting the very means that makes us privileged; the means that saves us.  What means is that?  It is all of God’s Word; both the promises and the threats of judgment and punishment.  The real danger that confronts us is that we would become so comfortable in our salvation that we are no longer uncomfortable in our sins!

Do you know what a besetting sin is?  Listen to how the book of Proverbs describes it: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself; the simple pass on and are punished.” [Proverbs 27:12]  So, a besetting sin is a sin that no longer bothers you; something you either no longer fight or are no longer bothered by.  It is something that God’s Word makes clear as sinful, but the society we live in does not have a problem with.

Besetting sins are those things that you know right a way are wrong, because God in His Word has made that truth clear to you, but over time, like the frog slowly boiling towards its demise, you no longer care; you are comfortable in a sin that will eventually if not repented of, cause you to slip into eternal death.

Besetting sins then may have this type of effect on you: You may no longer believe that marriage as God has described it in His Word is the truth for society today, in fact you may believe that marriage really isn’t necessary at all.  You may no longer care that God’s Word declares that life begins at conception.  You no longer care that gossip and slander are evil and contrary to everything that God declares good.  You may no longer hear God’s warning that you must not neglect the meeting of the saints, that is you must do everything you possibly can, to ensure that you do not miss coming to church, where you receive His Word and sacraments.  You may no longer seem to care that God’s Word challenges you to give the complete tithe, that is 10% of your income to His church, all so that He can prove to you how much He loves you as He blesses you.  You may no longer extend the invitation to your neighbors to come to church with you and hear God speak His truth and love.

By embracing your besetting sins, you have become like those who see many things but do not observe them; whose ears are opened, but do not hear. [Isaiah 42:20]  And this morning, God is warning you that you are “slipin’ into darkness.”

So what are we to do?  Nothing.  Instead, you are to trust in what God has done and what He is still doing within you and around you.  You are to simply continue dying to your old sinful nature and the lure of our sinful society, and follow Jesus and live.

Jesus alone has come to save you.  Jesus alone is the embodiment of all of God’s Word and will for you, both the threats and the promises.  Jesus is the “Suffering Servant” who took your sins upon Himself and allowed this World and the devil to strip Him of His dignity.  He allowed this for you; He chose to suffer and die in your place; on your behalf.   He was smitten, stricken, and cut down, so that by His stripes you would be healed.  Upon the cross, as the life of the Son of God slipped into the darkness of death, the Son of God cried out to His Father,  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Do you want to know why the Son was forsaken by the Father?  So that you would not be!  Do you want to know why Jesus allowed His life to slip into darkness?  So your’s would not!  As Jesus died upon the cross, He became the very embodiment of all of God’s Word, both the threats and the promises.  As you read God’s Word, this is the message that God so desperately wants you to receive… GOD LOVES YOU… He loves you enough to send His Son to die for you.  Isn’t this enough to take your eyes off of the false gods that promise you nothing lasting and eternal, and then fight to rest in the God who promises you everything, if you will but believe and follow His Son Jesus Christ?

Dear friends, for a long time, God seemed to be silent; that is He allowed men to go their own way.  And what was the result?  We began to think that God was not serious about sin.  But this morning, God has spoken; you’ve heard that He is deadly serious about sin, especially those who are so comfortable in their salvation that they are no longer uncomfortable in their sin.

And now you have heard God shout out: I WILL NOT LET YOU SLIP INTO DARKNESS!  I will not allow the one l love to simply turn his back on Me and be overtaken by Satan and his devils.  You are mine; I have purchased you with a great price and washed you clean in the waters of your baptism.  You are mine and I will be relentless in my pursuit for your eternal soul.  I will hound you with my Word of threats until your soul once again longs to hear My promises of forgiveness.  I will do this, until you are no longer comfortable in your sin; until you learn to close your eyes tight to the lure of this sinful world, and place your hand of faith upon my Son’s shoulder as He leads you with eyes of faith through these many dangers and snares, to the place I have prepared for you in paradise.  I will not let you go “slipin’ into darkness”…  AMEN!

A Bath for Sinners, and a Drink for the Thirsty


Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Lent 3 (A), March 23, 2014
On the occasion of Holy Baptism for many children of God from within San Diego’s American Samoan community.

Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“Is the Lord among us or not?” is perhaps the most common question both sinners and saints ask the church.  Maybe you’ve asked that question before as well?  Is He with us or are we, as we just heard Paul Simon sing, just slip sliding away?  Is God truly with us or are we left on our own to work our jobs, collect our pay, raise our children and just slip slide away?

“Is the Lord among us or not?” is the very question the Israelites asked Moses as they grew thirsty in a land of rocks and sand.  Did the Lord really lead us out here or was it you, Moses?  Did you bring us out here to die of thirst?

Oh how quickly they have forgotten how miraculously powerful the Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt land!  Oh how conveniently they have dismissed the Lord’s ever-present cloud by day and pillar by night.  Oh how easily they have dismissed the Lord’s continuous care, through the mysterious feeding of the manna and quail.

Who here this morning can blame Moses one bit for crying out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people?” as they had stones at the ready, just waiting to stone him to death!  But the Lord was listening; He was in control; He was not just letting them slip slide away.

Oh how quickly we seem to have forgotten our Lord and His presence with us all of these years.  Think back, for many not so long ago, where you can truly say that “If it had not been for the Lord, I would have…” well, you can fill in the blank.

The people back then forgot that they were following a God that not only makes the water, but He actually is in, with, and under the water. And so do we.  They actually grumbled against their God who provided for their needs through the mask of Moses, and so do we. When we forget our many blessings that we have received regularly here in this house of worship and outside of this place, we too are forgetting the God who is behind those wonderful gifts.

God was not absent then and He is not absent now; He would not allow His people under the leadership of Moses to slip slide away and He won’t allow us to slip away either.  God had a plan then and He still has a plan today.  God’s children of faith are to be a light in a world dark with sin.  Through the promised Savior God’s plan is to bless the entire world.  But nowhere did God ever promise that our trek out of bondage would be painless and easy.  Nowhere did God promise His children glory during the voyage out of sin, accept the privilege of experiencing His glory.

In our Old Testament lesson, we read that God had Moses and some of the elders pass before the vast company of the grumbling Israelites, displaying the staff that parted the water, and there in front of those stiff necked people, He directed Moses to strike a certain Rock.  Moses did as he was told, and out from the cleft rock came a gush of living and refreshing water!

What kind of rock was this, and just what kind of water was it?  If we will for but a moment, simply dismiss any scientific explanation about the origin of the water, and instead allow God’s Word to explain it’s source, we can then wonderfully see the God who is not only in, with, and under the water, but also the God who is the source of it.

But the source came from the rock, didn’t it?!  Yes, that’s right, but again, let’s not put to much effort into understanding the how of the water, but instead let Holy Scripture tell us the Who and the why of it.  What scripture is that?  How about this information from St. Paul: “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. [1 Corinthians 10:1–4]

The Savior-God showered His grace on his people Israel by means of this rock in the desert, just as God has blessed us in Christ beyond all that we sinful creatures deserve. “Nevertheless,” Paul continues, “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall (be careful that you are not by choice, slip sliding away)! No temptation has seized you except what is common to all people. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (that is He will not allow you to slip slide away). But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (verses 5, 11–13).

That way out is the Son of God, Jesus Christ who has found you in your sins, while you were still an unredeemed condemned enemy of God, and He suffered and died for you!  Make no mistake, God found you and not the other way around.

In your baptism, He came to you through simple water.  But how?  Again, like the water from the rock, do not be concerned with the how, but the Who and why of it.  Jesus, all of Jesus was and is in the water of your baptism.  When I say all of Jesus, I truly mean all of Him.  Jesus who was fully man and fully God was there this morning in the waters that washed clean and recreated all of his children this morning, He was within their baptism.  All of “Jesus the man” had to be there, because only real blood can pay for real sins.  Only real suffering and finally death can free a sinner from the price of sin.  But then again, only all of God can have complete victory over sin, death, and the devil.  Only all of God can raise a dead sinner into a living saint.

Ok, to satisfy those of you who still want to know the how behind the water, here it is.  God does it through the rock of ages, Jesus Christ, who by the power of the Spirit of God is in, with, and under the water of your Holy Baptism by the power of His Holy Word; a Word that promises salvation; a Word that promises that you will not one day slip slide away!  And all of this He does through a living water that is a bath for sinners and a cool and refreshing drink for saints who are struggling to pass through this wilderness of sin.

The bath is needed if we want to be regarded as one of God’s children of faith.  It is the only means that He has provided that will truly wash us clean and remove our sins.  But it is also the very source of refreshment that will forever quench our thirst for God’s righteous presence and protection in our lives.  (Holy Water). It is the very resource that will turn us again and again to our Savior, who declared to the sinful woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” [John 4:14]

And yet, how often do we who have been washed clean by this holy bath grumble and complain about God’s way of dealing with us.  Oh how easy we forget the God who is in, with, and under the water, and how easy we forget that through Christ, He never lets us slip slide away!  How easy we forget His plan for us to be His light of forgiving love in a world darkened with sin, so that the world will know that there is a God among them!

“Sir,” we must say every day to our Lord, as the Samaritan woman did, “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.” [John 4:15]  We must say everyday, “Lord, help me live in, with, and under this spiritual water, and protect me when I thirst for other sources of refreshment offered by the devil and this sin-darkened world.”

Dear friends, like the Israelites following God through the leadership of Moses, we too are traveling through the desert of sin.  We to will know pain and suffering along our journey.  It will be tempting to grumble against God and those who lead us through the proclamation of His Word, but God is not absent in these times of testing; He is not hiding some master plan from you that you know nothing about!  The master plan is first and foremost your salvation through the cross of Jesus and the washing of His water and Word.  And next, that plan is for you to listen and follow Him out into our community that is dying of thirst.  They need to know about the God-man Jesus Christ who knows everything about them, and yet still loves them!

This morning we have seen the holy washing of many children, and we have once again had our hearts turned towards God’s refreshing drink.  Let’s learn from the mistakes of the people of Israel and not allow Satan to draw us into a spirit of grumbling and complaining, which is really a sign of unbelief.  Instead, let’s keep our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ.  He is the God who is among us as our Rock and our Living Water; He is the One who promises that He will never allow us to slip slide away.  AMEN!

Salt is Good

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 27, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 Our text this morning is the 50th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Salt is good, but it if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? [Mark 9:38-50]

What is the kingdom of God?  Where is the kingdom of God?  These are a couple of questions I want you to keep in the front of your minds as we receive God’s message this morning.  As I told you last week, the apostles thought that it would be a brand new world order, where Jesus would rule, destroy the reign of Cesar and the Roman Empire, and make all things right.  They wanted the Kingdom of God now, and they wanted it according to their estimation.  In their minds, it was Jesus and them against the world!  But Jesus had other ideas.  He always does…He is God.  Where they see the kingdom of God consisting in a select few, Jesus has other ideas: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he wasn’t one of us.”  But Jesus had other plans…”Don’t stop him” he said.  “Don’t you see that anyone who does a mighty work in my name will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Listen, the one who is not against us is for us.” 

 And there you have it…the kingdom of God is a lot bigger than we think.  So some might say this is proof that denominational differences are unimportant—as long as your heart is in the right place.  Right?  Well, let’s keep reading and see if Jesus agrees with that.  Remember the child Jesus took into His arms in our gospel reading last week?  Well, this is a discussion that continues that teaching.  The child is still in His arms, and now He looks at His disciples and says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  What causes children to sin?  What causes adult Christians with a simple faith, like the stranger that was casting out demons to sin?  In both examples it is a lack of knowing and understanding God’s Word, both the Law and the gospel.  How can you help protect the young and the simple?  Teach them biblical truths…good doctrine.  Teach them that there aren’t many ways to the kingdom of Heaven.  Teach them that God doesn’t require any work from us before He will give us Jesus’ kingdom of Heaven.  Without faith in the true gospel, a faith that clings to Jesus alone friends, you cannot be saved.  In fact, bad doctrine can actually give us the opposite of salvation…it can lead to damnation.  An eternity in hell!

What is hell?  Jesus compared it to the garbage dump right outside of the city of Jerusalem.  It was called the Gehenna.  There, trash fires were always burning as refuse was disposed of.  In essence, Jesus was saying, “Imagine that the Gehenna is like a picture of hell with one big difference.  Where the fires of Gehenna are temporary, in hell they are eternal.  Where maggots eat rotting flesh until the flesh is no more or the maggots die, in hell the fire never goes out, there is an endless supply of flesh, and the maggot never dies.  So what?  Well friends, the fire isn’t burning the demons that are in hell, and the maggots are eating them either, because demons are spirit and they do not have flesh.  So who is burning, and who is being consumed?  People!  People who willing rejected God’s simple method of salvation—the cross of Jesus Christ!  People who refused to cling to Jesus alone and decided there was a better way to the kingdom of Heaven.  These are poor fools who decided that doctrine didn’t matter, and because of that they willing set aside the kingdom of God and embraced a lie!

What is hell?  Scripture says that it is the place where people are eternally banished from the sight of God—eternally excluded from communion with Jesus Christ.  To these damned souls, Jesus says “Depart from Me” [Matt. 25:41]; (and) “They shall be cast out into outer darkness.”  [Matt. 25:42]  Friends, we were made for God; that is we were made to have communion with God.  That is the supreme joy and delight of man—that is the kingdom of God.  But sadly, many people reject the offer of peace with God the Father, because they reject the means to that peace…God the Son, Jesus Christ.  Through their own sinful choice they have embraced a state of damnation where they will experience intense agony of body and soul that scripture calls “tribulation and anguish” [Rom. 2:9], “being in torment” [Lk. 17:4], “tormented in flames” [Lk. 16:24], “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matt. 8:12; 13:50]  There in hell, those poor damned souls will see “the smoke of their torment ascending up forever and ever; and they (will) have no rest day or night. [Rev. 14:11]  Friends, think of the horror that awaits those poor souls… for an eternity they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” [Rev. 20:10] simply because they have rejected God’s only means to save them.

 Friends, it doesn’t matter whether you believe that the fire of hell is real fire or a metaphor for unspeakable torment, the point is God doesn’t want you there; He wants you to escape the agony of hell.  It wasn’t designed for people created in His image—it was created for the rebellious and fallen angels…the devils.

How do we make sure that we never go to hell? Listen to Jesus answer: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  And if your eye cause you to sin, tear it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” [Mark 9:43-48]

 Does that sound crazy to you?  It should, it was meant to be absurd.  Jesus was addressing the mindset that people in that time had about sin.  They like many others in their day were trivializing their personal sins, much like many of us do today.  “I guess I can’t help steeling, I was born with itchy hands and sticky fingers.”  OK, cut them off!  “I can’t help looking at women that way, I must have been born with a wondering eye.”  OK, pluck it out!  “What do you mean?  I can’t” you say.  Friend, do you want to go to hell?  Well then get rid of the offending body part.  If you had diabetes, and your foot or leg was diseased you would let the doctor amputate it so you could live wouldn’t you?  Well…go ahead, cut it off and pluck it out.  Keep cutting and plucking until there is nothing left of your body!

 Absurd and ridiculous isn’t it?  And that is the point Jesus is making.  Your hand, foot, eye, tongue, or any other body part is not to blame.  They can’t think independent of you!  You are to blame…you have a wicked heart, and there is only one cure for a wicked heart… YOU MUST BE SALTED!

 You must be salted with fire.  In the time of Jesus, salt was both a preservative and an antiseptic. When someone had an infected wound they would pour salt on it.  It burned like fire, but that was good because it meant that there was still some life in the tissue that could be saved.  We must be salted too, because we carry with us dead tissue that must be removed.  How are we salted?  With the Word of God!  God’s Law must be applied to our sin so that we will feel the fire and wrath of God.  We must know that we are sinful thoughout every fiber of our being.  We must stand before God knowing that we deserve all of the punishments of hell.  We must be silenced and simply surrender to His perfection and Holiness!  That is the work and sting of God’s Law.  It is at this time, when the Law has had its way with us that we are moved to cry out to God, “Have mercy Lord!  Forgive me!”  And then…then when we feel our very life slipping away, we must listen—we must listen to God’s mercy.  “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us. That we should be called the children of God.”   How are we made the children of God?  Through the salting of His Word.  And it is that Word that tells us about the cross—the cross where He allowed His Son Jesus Christ to willingly and in agony give up His life for those very same sins that condemn us.  And then by faith, we must hear His Son shout loudly from the cross, “IT IS FINISHED!”  “What is finished Lord” we ask?  “My Father’s anger for your many sins” He says.  “How” we ask? “Friend” he says, “the Father no longer sees your many sins because I have covered then with my precious blood.  The blood I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, your brother and friend shed for you.” 

 Will you be salted?  Will you teach your children about this salt, this life saving Word of God that both terrifies and saves us?  This Word has been with you since your own baptism…will you grab onto it and live it out until your last breath is taken on this earth?  Will you remember that in your baptism God made you a mortal enemy of sin, death, and all the devils? 

 Friends, think about what we have done this morning at the baptism of baby Justin.  We have made him Satan’s mortal enemy.  We have made him a deserter from the forces of evil, and now it is as if he has a sign around his neck that says, “I hate Satan!”  He along with you who are baptized are truly Satan’s enemy!  How will baby Justin survive the constant attacks and temptations of those devils?  By being salted constantly with the Word of God. 

 Now do you understand how important it is to always be in God’s Word?  Do you finally understand how important it is for parents to bring their children to church, Sunday School, and to read and share the Word of God with them?  Do you understand how important it is for you to live this kind of life that clings to God’s Word and Sacraments?  Do you understand that God’s kingdom can only be found at the cross?  Do you understand that the kingdom of God, Jesus’ kingdom was given to you at the font?  And do you understand that every time you hear the Word preached and taught, every time you come to His table of mercy, you are being reminded that you are even now part of that kingdom of God?

Friends, don’t lose your saltiness.  Seek this salt in your life always.  I pray that you do.  I pray that you will hunger for this salt, and be at peace…peace with God and peace with each other.  In Jesus name…AMEN!