Posts Tagged ‘Hope’

What Is This Hidden Treasure?

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost-A, July 30, 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 her for audio of this message

The central theme in all of our reading is found in Jesus’ statement in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 13:44-52), “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” So, this morning’s message will explore that statement by answering three questions, which I believe are central for living the life of a Christian in the kingdom of Heaven, here and now. But to answer these questions, you will need to be equipped and well trained by the Word of God. So without further discussion, here are the questions: 1. How should every Christian treat the Word of God? 2. How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day? 3. Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

Are we ready to get into God’s message for us this morning? Good, let’s go…

How should every Christian treat the Word of God?

This week, God’s Word is compared to the most valuable treasure you could find; it was compared to the most valuable pearl that a person could cultivate, so valuable that you would give up every thing to posses it. “Do you feel this way about your Bible and the Word of God?” And I think that if we average Christians were to answer that question truthfully, the answer is “No!” But why is that?

I believe that I can speak for not just myself, but also for many of you when I say that we truly do love Jesus and His Word. Ok, so then why don’t we also have that kind of excitement when we open His book? The answer is of course, because we do not understand just how extraordinary that Word truly is. Isn’t it true that most of you have at least two or three Bibles in your home? Isn’t it also true that most of you grew up in a home that had that many, if not more Bibles in your home? Didn’t most of you grow up going to church and Sunday School, and didn’t you spend your formative years handling that Word? So is it possible that both time and commonality have diminished your estimation of that Word?

This morning, Jesus tells us two stories or metaphors that are meant to correct our misconception of both God’s Word and His Kingdom; He speaks about a hidden treasure and a chance encounter with a “pearl of great price (or value).” When we hear these stories, we think about incidents where people have accidentally found large sums of money, and after waiting for the owner to come forward, they are told by the authorities that because no one came forward to claim the money, it is theirs to keep. Or maybe we think of those lucky ones who struck it big by winning millions of dollars after playing the lottery. But this story is different, isn’t it? The men in both stories had to spend everything they had just to get their hands on the treasure, and once they did, their lives were forever changed for the good. I don’t know of too many incidences where lottery winners were impacted for the good; usually their money created a whole bunch of problems they never had before. But Jesus’ story about the man who bought the field to get at the hidden treasure is different. Why? Well to answer that, we must understand the metaphor; the field represents one thing, and the treasure represents another.

In order to improve our estimation of God’s Word, let’s consider the field as a representation of our Bibles.

And within those Bibles, this field that most people take for granted is the greatest treasure you could ever receive, it is knowing intimately the very Son of God, Jesus Christ. You see your Bibles are not given to you by God as some instruction manual that helps you live your life, but instead every page of your Bibles shows you two things, your need for a Savior and who that Savior is.

God’s treasure, which is the message of His Son Jesus the Christ, is indeed hidden, but it is intended to be found by you dear Christians. Others hunt for this treasure everywhere, but you have found it; you found it with very little effort. You see, God didn’t hide His treasure in a far off place in some philosophical realm where no one could even come near it, but instead he hid it in a common, lowly place, where it could be found by anyone who did not feel that the location of the treasure was beneath them because of their personal wisdom, pride, or self-sufficient attitude.

Now, let’s talk about this wonderful treasure that’s hidden within the field; within our Bibles. The treasure is so great that the men in Jesus’ stories sold everything just to obtain it. But they did not just sell all that they have, they sold it joyfully! And when they finally obtain the treasure they rejoice, but not in their poverty but in their new found wealth!

The point of Jesus story is this: The Kingdom of Heaven has come to sinful men, and it comes in the Son of God who is also the son of man. If there is anything at all that is standing in the way of you being drawn deeper and closer to Jesus, then that thing must be done away with so that you will be sure to obtain this great treasure, which is Jesus Himself. If you truly understand this message, then Jesus says that you are like a “scribe (or a teacher of God’s Word), who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven, and you will bring out of (your) treasure (things that are) new and (things that are) old.” In other words, through your discovery of the hidden treasure in both the old and new testaments, which is Jesus Christ, you have gotten your heart filled with all kinds of spiritual knowledge from the kingdom and the King, and you will be equipped to use it when it is needed.

Now, let’s add another dimension to Jesus metaphor, by allowing our Old Testament lesson (Deuteronomy 7:6–9) to guide us into our next question.

How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day?

Well, let’s allow God to answer Himself, listen: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Friends, do you hear that? You did not choose God, He chose you! You did not find Jesus and the forgiveness of sins that is yours through Jesus on your own; no, Jesus found you!

Do you understand what this does to Jesus’s stories; to His metaphors? It completely turns it around. Let me show you what I mean. Since it is Jesus who finds you, then the field becomes the sinful world, and the man who sells all that He has, is none other than Jesus Christ. And you know what that makes you, don’t you? You are the treasure! Upon the cross, all of God gave great wealth to obtain you as His very own, but only the Son of God, Jesus Christ who is the son of Mary, gave all of His life to redeem you from sin, death, and the devil.

God the Father redeemed you through the life blood of His Son; He redeemed you from the curse of sin. But the reason He did this for you has nothing to do with anything that is unique or good about you, but instead it was because of His love and the blood of His Son Jesus, that you have been set free!

Listen friends, God is so serious about this truth, that He even swore it in an oath to our spiritual fathers long ago. He swore to Abraham to bless his seed and to bring blessing to the nations through his seed. [Genesis 22:16-18] But that oath includes blessings for us as well. It was kept, and still is being kept, through Christ’s work upon the cross. So, know this today, that it is those of (us by) faith who are the (true) sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you (that is in your faith), shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith, (that is those of us who have been found by Jesus and are resting and trusting in Him), are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” [Galatians 3:7]

Now, doesn’t that make you want to rest in God’s calling of faith? Doesn’t that allow you to realize that it is He who began the good work in you that will complete it? But you may ask, “How do I know that God has really began that good work of salvation within me? Where can I turn for assurance that I am really His great treasure, and He is mine? Well, why not turn to the very place that He began that good work in you… return to your baptism where He marked you and sealed you as His very own! And that takes us to our final question to be answered.

Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

Jesus answers that question in one last metaphor, when He says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matthew 13:47-50]

Friends, let me ask you a question, that if answered by faith, will also tell you whether you should be afraid of the final judgment. Are you a good fish or a bad one? Now before you answer, remember that you are Jesus’s own pearl of great price, and you are His valued hidden treasure. He bought you with His own life-blood. Do you believe that? If you say yes, then why in the world would He ever allow you to be called bad?

But don’t just stop acquiring the wealth of God’s Word there, let St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (Romans 8:28-39) give you a little more data to base your answer on, listen: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” [v.28] “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” [vs.31-34] Friends, that’s called a hypothetical question, and you are to enthusiastically answer it like this, “No one!” No one can accuse you of being damned and lost to judgment, because, “Christ died for you! But more than that, He also rose from the dead for you.” In His dying and rising, He shows you what is a done deal; a deal that was accomplished for you within the waters of your baptism. Your old sinful nature was put to death, and your new baptismal nature that will one day rise up with a new resurrected body is not only how God sees you but, it is also how you are to view yourself!

You are a good fish, who has been caught in the gospel net of the church. In all aspects of that net, you receive the hidden treasure of God, the message of Jesus Christ. And within that message, which comes to you in both Word and Sacrament, you have discovered that you are God’s valuable and hidden treasure. But, you are not hidden from God, you are waiting and resting within the gospel net, which is the church, along with many other fish; some are good and some are bad, but this morning Jesus says that is not your concern to worry over, you are simply to rest in the most blessed Word and will of God.

While it is tempting to worry about many things as we wait here for Christ’s return, we have been assured that God’s day of reckoning , that is the time of making all things right has not yet come. As we wait, we also trust and follow Jesus as His very own disciples. We wait both as people who have found a great treasure and, we wait for Jesus who will come to this world, and claim and acquire us has His own treasured possession. Even though our life in Jesus and His life with us remains hidden now within His Word and Sacraments, we can trust in the great and final work that Christ has done for us.

When we trust in this work, and in this Word, we are indeed like disciples who are able to not only draw out wisdom from a great treasure store, but we become wisdom in action. And that wisdom sees the wonderful faith, faith giving Word of God as great treasure indeed, and then it learns to trust and rest as part of that treasure. AMEN!

What The Future Holds


Monday, December 5th, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent-HL,
December 4th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” [Romans 15:4]

the_end_book
The Song you just heard, “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends” by Ronnie Milsap, will act as our audio and mental hook to hang our message on this morning. In spite of Ronnie’s desire and probably most people’s desire to remain ignorant of the end of all things, God does indeed in His Word tell us how the story ends; He tells us what the future holds. And what it holds should give you hope.

What a treasure scripture is in our hands.

With it, we can search through the will of God like a detective searches through his case file, or as a student looks through their notebook, as they prepare for an exam. God gave his people His plan for life. How happy the devil is when God’s people are ignorant or neglect that plan. How angry he becomes when we make faithful use of it. Do you want to frustrate the devil? Keep remembering and proclaiming just how close we all are to the Last Day and to Christ’s judgment over evil, and rejoice in the truth that God is in control.

The Word of God speaks in some places about how, as the world nears its end, children will turn against their parents and parents will turn against their children. Our world is full of examples that this happens and is happening even now. Parents commit the ultimate in child abuse—when they neglect their children’s souls. They don’t care where their children will spend eternity. They’ll spend money for their children’s bodies, education, and entertainment, but they neglect to tell their children the commands and laws of God, to talk about them on the way, to write them in their homes and on their hearts.

But there are also those parts of scripture that declare that as the final day grows closer and closer, parents and children will be talking to each other and turning to each other. There will be good families. God will see to it! In our day when we sometimes feel like despairing because there are no good families left, there are good families. Families do pray together and do stay together through life. This is the greatest turning together of hearts, parents talking to their children about the Savior, children talking to their parents. Their hearts are being touched by the only thing that changes hearts, the Word of God.

In our Old Testament lesson (Malachi 4:1-6), which is the very last book of the Old Testament, the very last Word it speaks is one of prophecy; a Word that tells us how the story ends. But the end will come as a time of hope for God’s children of faith who are baptized into the name of Jesus Christ. And this hope will restore families and bring strength to the faithful as we wait for the end of the story. But before we go to the end, we must start in the beginning of God’s New Testament of hope.

In the fullness of time Christ came to our world.

Every thing that had taken place before pointed forward to this singular event. And everything that has happened since finds its meaning and importance through Christ. Even right now, this particular moment in history has its goal in Christ. “He is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” [Acts 10:42] Whether we believe it or not, all of us are moving forward to the great day when we shall meet the Lord.

This is why God asks us to believe that there is definite meaning in all of world history. Throughout our history, it has been both God’s command and desire that the Gospel be preached to all people. The great net of the kingdom of God must be drawn through the sea of time, and at last the great catch will be cast upon the shore, where all the evil and the righteous will be separated from one another.

But to say that the movement of history has meaning is not the same as saying that we can understand or discern that meaning. Each of us have grown accustomed to believing as our culture teaches us, that the world is moving forward and upward, and that little by little things will be getting better, and that it will become increasingly easier to live.

Perhaps some of you are fans of Gene Rodenberry’s utopian portrayal of mankind in the 24th century, as described in the various presentations of Star Trek. Within Rodenberry’s fictional account of mankind, through technology, humankind has progressed to a point where there is no more hunger, racism, and economic status; position and status has been nullified, and even war no longer exists on the planet earth.

But the Word of God gives a more realistic view. It is true that technology and science have made incredible strides forward. Man has been given dominion over nature and even over the vast universe. But this does not mean that evil is less active. Evil too has made vast steps forward; evil too can utilize technology and science.

As time moves forward, the battle of evil becomes bitterer against Christ and His church. Wars become more brutal, and the catastrophes of world history become more destructive. The Book of Revelation paints this kind of picture very vividly and also makes it very clear why things do not get better in spite of all the warnings God gives. People simply do not wish to repent! They continue in their former foolishness and sin. As the end draws near things will get worse, says Jesus: “Because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.” [Matthew 24:12] Our observations after two world wars, two police actions, and now an international war on terror in our generation ought to have taught us how true our Lord’s warning is.

But our hope is not defined by the world around us but by the very Word of God that tells us how the story ends.

Knowing how the story ends helps us live out our part of the story with hope.

Today you have heard it declared that the Sun of righteousness will rise soon above what seems to be dark and ominous skies. This is the very news that gives us hope; it is what we the church, have been looking for and waiting for. There has long been that pre-dawn glow in the sky, and so we know that the Sun is coming. We who once lived in darkness have seen a great light. Now it peeks above the horizon and soon it will leap into the sky in all of its splendor. It brings healing too; an eternal presence that no longer knows sickness, disease, poverty, violence, or even pain. The utopia that so many long for becomes a reality. As this Sun of our righteousness rises we can bask our cold stiff joints, limbs, and hearts in its glow. It heals and restores. It brings eternal life!

Besides this wonderful, warming Sun there is the picture of calves released from their stalls after being penned up all winter. They feel good. They want to run and jump for the sheer joy of it. That’s the way it is even now with Christ’s people, you the baptized who understand and appreciate that Christ’s birth, life, death upon the cross and the empty tomb has set them free.

No sick calf feels like jumping, but we have been healed in the blessed waters of our baptism. The sickness of sin is past! Our spirits feel good! They want to kick and frolic in God’s sunshine forever—and they shall! Nothing can hold us back. We the saints stream into our final pasture. The Good Shepherd has kept his word. All is well and good. And that truth, knowing how the story ends makes all of the difference.

In life as we wait, we wait in hope. We gladly work to love God with all of our being; we greatly desire to love our neighbor as our self, in fact these things have become our passion. We desire to live a life that demonstrates the love of God to others, because in Christ, God first loved us!

The truth is friends, our outlook for the future would seem rather hopeless, if there were no Christ.

But now even this is woven into God’s good plans for us who love His Christ. And these plans, culminate in the victory of Christ and a new world where no sorrow or crying or tears shall be. And so compelled by the Holy Spirit, we confidently live our lives refusing to sink into despair or drop out of life when all the things Scripture warn us of begin to happen. Instead we can lift up our heads. Now our redemption is drawing near. Now the Son of our eternal summer is approaching. And so we remain awake and alert. We remain steadfast, both in calm moments and in the middle of life’s storms. And we also continue to be soberly realistic.

With the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, we will not panic when things seem to be moving toward catastrophe. These moments of tragedy must take place, but they alone do not mean that the end is at hand. But if it does come, if and when the end happens, we simply remember that all is happening exactly as our God warned us it would. Heaven and earth may pass away, but never God’s Word, nor he who believes it and holds fast to it.

May you always cling to Christ and His Word until that very hour… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Signs From Heaven

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

Twenty First Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 16th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” [John 4:48]

Well, people haven’t changed much since the day Jesus said these Words.  They were spoken in response to a desperate father’s cry for healing on behalf of his dying son.  People still beg for miracles from a God they hardly know and seldom acknowledge.  People still today, imagine that if they could only see some kind of miracle from God, it would make it so much easier for them to believe.  Maybe it’s true, that most people normally don’t think very much about God.  But when they are in trouble, well you know the saying; “There’s no atheists in a fox hole.”  Most people, when they become desperate, will pray for a miracle from God.  It’s as if they are putting God on trial and demanding that He prove He exists.

Even Jesus enemies accepted the fact that He could probably do wondrous and miraculous things, so the signs He performed became His reputation and not the proof that the Messiah had come to save His people.   But search the gospels, and you will see that Jesus never worked miracles to impress people or to make Himself more popular or to gain true believers.  Even the devil with all of his temptations thrown at Christ, could not move Him to do that.  Jesus used His power to help others, but He never used it to help Himself or to make His life more prosperous or comfortable.  He always used His divine powers to reveal the mystery and mercy of God and God’s loving presence in the midst of a sinful generation.  For those who had eyes to see, His miracles revealed that the Kingdom of God was now with sinful men and women and that the Messiah had indeed come!

But why didn’t Jesus perform such signs as would convince others of who He really was?  Why doesn’t God allow such signs to be given to us today?  For the answers to these questions let’s look at our gospel lesson. [John 4:46-54]

The healing of the royal official’s son shows us both the expectations of sinful people when dealing with their perfect Creator, and the perfect Creator’s response when dealing with sinful men and women.

“And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.””  Now here’s a question that begs to be asked, “If the man knew of Jesus and His miracles, why did he wait so long for an opportunity to know Jesus; why did he wait for this desperate hour, literally the last hour of his son’s life before he sought out Jesus?”  The answer that was true then is the same answer that’s true today:  Knowing God and serving him is never a priority until it’s an emergency.  This is why Jesus said that unless we sinful people see signs and wonders we wont believe.  We wont believe because we don’t see a need to believe.  And when the need like an emergency arises, we have faith alright, but it is a general faith, a desperate faith.  But Jesus refuses to be known in this way, like some kind of magic genie who only lives to fulfill our wishes.

Somehow this desperate father perceived this rebuke in Jesus statement.  So his guilt and his desperation produced repentance and he was some how filled with the audacity and persistency to ask Jesus again, but this time with a heart that was beginning to understand something about how God works.  So the desperate father said to Jesus again, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  This father, broken of pride and humbled by the impossibility of the request refuses to leave because it has nowhere else to go but to Jesus.  But most importantly it now knows that only Jesus can do the impossible.  The audacity of this hope is that it believes that Jesus really wants to help!

Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”  Now this man’s faith has moved from a general faith to a specific faith in Jesus alone and it is well on its way to a saving faith.  Listen: “As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.  So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”  The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household.”

He believed!  But what does He believe?  He believes that the Word of Jesus is true.  He believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior who has come to save sinful mankind.  He does not understand this nearly as intricately as you do today, because he did not have all of the facts that you have, but nonetheless, he believed!  And what’s more, he shared his newfound faith in Jesus with his family and now they believe; they too are saved from their sins through faith in the Word of Christ alone!

So which is the greater miracle, the healing of the boy or the salvation that came to the family by faith?  Is this gospel lesson today about healing or about salvation?  How you answer that question will reveal what kind of God you think you serve and trust in.

Some people search for promises of healing and prosperity when they read their Bibles and others search for promises of forgiveness and restoration.

People who search for prosperity and healing will always find disappointment, because Jesus did not come into this world to make us rich and healthy but to save us from our sins.  When people asked Jesus for a sign or miracle, He told them that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up (upon the cross).  He said that they would receive no other sign than the sign of Jonah.  Jesus means two things by this.  In the first place He declares the need for seeing and confessing our sins.  This was the message at Nineveh when Jonah declared that the sinful proud Ninevites were damned to eternal punishment; this is the message that brought them to their knees in repentance.

But this is also a message of Gospel hope, which Jesus proclaims in His own death and resurrection.  Just as the sinful Israelites were to look upon the serpent on the pole as their only means of salvation and forgiveness, so too sinful men and women must look only to Jesus, lifted upon the cross, as their only means of forgiveness and salvation.  Just as Jonah stayed three days in the belly of the whale but was brought back among the living after the third day, so too, Jesus would rest within the tomb and on the third day rise to life and declare victory over sin, death and the devil.  This is why Christ has provided preachers for His church, so that we too can be confronted with the fact that Jesus died and rose again for grievous sinners like us.

And this kind of faith, according to Jesus, is the kind that saves.  In Jesus Words, the same Word that was spoken to the desperate father, is the power of God unto salvation; a power that touches our consciences and appeals to our sinful souls, and then confirms that because of the work of God alone, we “are of the truth.” [John 18:37]

In Jesus’ Word, we sense the accusations, we hear the promises, and we know what God has done not just for the world, but for us!  But if we do not have a conscience that is open to the voice of God, that is if we refuse to allow our faith to move from a simple general kind of faith to a saving kind, well then, no sign or miracle will help us.

Even King Herod wished to see a sign from Jesus, but he never received it.  He already received his sign when John the Baptist stood before him and preached directly about his sin; a sin that was separating Herod from the forgiving love of God.  When Herod silenced that voice of conscience, he had no other hope.  Jesus answered him not a word.  And if we silence the voice of the Holy Spirit, which seeks to bring us saving faith, neither do we have any other hope. [Matthew 14:9-12; Luke 23:9]

For each of us today, it is critical that we do not become a “faithless and unbelieving generation” who demand signs because we will not repent until we first have been thoroughly convinced.  [Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:16]  If today you hear His voice in Scripture and know that Jesus is your God and you are His, give glory to God alone.  And know that the only person who will come to God is the person who loves Him and seeks to do His good and gracious will, whether it is profitable or not.

When it comes to answered prayer, know that in Jesus in regards to the promises of God the answer is always yes.  Yes, you are forgiven through Christ because God has said so.  Yes, you will return one day to live eternally within the new Paradise of God restored to perfection.  Yes, you can have peace with God and joy right now, simply because God promises that it is so.  But in regards to asking for something that God has not promised is yours, something like a healing or a blessing of prosperity here in this sinful world, you must not be ashamed to ask, but you should also remember that their is no promise of God attached to your request.  So, keep on asking.  Keep on praying in faith, and then simply trust that God will give to you always and only what is best for you.

So where God speaks a promise we must believe by faith that it is so, and where God is silent we must trust and rest in His perfect love.  May God continue to make this so for each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Fight The Good Fight!


Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 2nd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven.” [Matthew 9:2]

These are the Words of Jesus, spoken for you this morning.  They’re Words that give great faith.  Our faith is what scripture says is the victory that over comes the world. [1 John 5:4]  But our faith is also a struggle.  Paul urges us to fight the good fight of faith. [1 Timothy 6:12]  And in this fight, we fight like an athlete who knows that only one can win the prize.  When St. Paul looked back upon his own life, he could declare that he had fought the good fight, he had finished the course, and had succeeded in keeping the faith; specifically, faith that saves.

What is saving faith?

Saving faith is the type of faith that trust only in what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for sinners like us who want to be saved from our sins.  Saving faith says, “I’ve got to get to Jesus!  No matter the cost, no matter the embarrassment; Jesus is the solution to my problem.”

Think of the paralytic and his four friends in our gospel lesson (Matthew 9:1-8); they were certain that if they could get to Jesus, well then, healing and restoration would be the result.  We don’t know much about this band of brothers, but we do know that there were five of them, and one of them was paralyzed and confined to a bed or stretcher of sorts.  The four who carried their friend must have loved him dearly to go through all of this trouble to help him get to Jesus.  But when they arrived the place was packed.  Now what?  Well, if they couldn’t go through the door or a window they would have to improvise, and improvise they did; they lowered him through a hole in the roof and down to the very feet of Jesus!

“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven.””  Wait… didn’t they come for a healing.  Didn’t these band of brothers want their number to be restored to five rather than four?  Yes they did, but Jesus knew something they did not; Jesus Christ the Son of God, very God of very God looked into the paralytic’s heart and saw guilt; great guilt.  He was sorrowing over his sinful life and the restoration that he needed ran so much deeper than just a physical healing.

Can you relate to that feeling?  Do you too know the burden of past sins and the fear of potential future ones?  If so, then you too desire something deeper than just a physical healing; you desire complete and total forgiveness and new life.

And Jesus knows.  Listen…

And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” [Matthew 9:3]

These men came from Jerusalem and Judea as well as from Galilee, and they came for one purpose, to keep track of Jesus and to gather evidence against him.  Now, Jesus had just claimed to be able to do what God alone can do; forgive sins.  In the futileness of their sinful minds, they could never think of Jesus as anything but a mere man, so when He claims to have the right and ability to forgive sins, in their minds, He was pretending to be God—to them, this was the very worst type of blasphemy.  Even this, Jesus knows.

Jesus, the very Son of God knows all things; he knows the sinful hearts of these men and He knows your heart, and He desires only to free them and us from our sinful nature so that by faith we all may be born again.  “(So) Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

Jesus has performed the one great act, forgiving the paralytic’s sins. The effect of this act is invisible: no one saw the sins piled up on the man’s soul, except Jesus.  And no man saw that mass of sin vanish from his soul with just a Word from Jesus. And now Jesus follows up this first act with a second one, he heals the paralytic. The effect of the second act is visible to all: they see the man rise, pick up his bed, and walk away not only freed of paralysis but forgiven and invited into eternal life, all this having been done in an instant. The act which the eyes are able to see verifies the other act which no eyes can see.

Jesus saving ministry of the gospel is still going on today.  He promises the church that He continues this ministry through contemporary disciples of every age.  So the church is always carrying out the work of baptizing and teaching, as Jesus abides with His church, which carries out those missional tasks. While it is true that the saving work of the church is completely a work of God, because the Son, who became a man calls others to follow him, He gives authority to His disciples to continue the in-breaking of the reign of God all the days until Christ returns. So God alone brings and gives this authority to save and recreate sinful people within the realm of men with the call to…

Put off your old self!

In our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 4:22-28), St. Paul calls upon all Christians to put off or put to death, once and for all the old sinful nature.  It is a final act but is repeated every day, in fact every moment of everyday because every day our old sinful nature still clings to the sinful life and its own desires.  This truth creates tension within us, because our baptized nature clings to and trust in Christ alone.  When we put on our new baptized, Christ-like nature, that is when we fight to do what is God pleasing, we can say that there truly is a war going on within us; a war of two natures and two desires.  We witness this as we discover that the sinful things we do not wish to do are the very things we seem to keep doing, and the Godly things we desire to do are the things that we struggle the most to accomplish.  Another way to say this is that we fight to be holy and righteous.

To be holy and righteous is to be like God; because He alone has these qualities.  Before the fall to sin, our first parents, Adam and Eve walked with God in peace and without fear.  They walked in holiness and righteousness; they did this because God gave them these qualities.

Holy baptism restores these qualities to you the baptized.  In the waters of your baptism, God imputed or recreated you to have these qualities as well.  In essence, He gave back to you what Adam and Eve had lost.  And now, everyday, He encourages you to become what He has already declared that you are… holy, perfect, and righteous.  We do this as we put away the old sinful nature of Adam so that the nature of the new Adam, the righteousness of Christ, comes alive within us.

We put the old Adam off by the active and effective power of grace. This power of grace doesn’t help us to do something, instead it recreates and renews us as we repent and believe that God with His divine power is in fact putting to death our old sinful nature.  For this reason we never say that our sinful nature is being converted or changed; it is not because it cannot be; it is not renewed—because it cannot be; it is replaced by the new nature solely through the a creative act of God as we fight to walk with Him and please Him in thought, Word, and deed.

So what is it that our faith must fight?

Obviously it is a struggle against the enemies of Christ, who themselves do not believe and seek to interfere with others who are coming to enter a life of faith.  The Bible speaks of these as “the world.”  From the very beginning the disciples of Jesus had to meet this kind of opposition head-on.  It could sometimes be like a mild form of skepticism: “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?” [John 1:46]  Or it might be a proud disdain: “We know that this man is a sinner.”  It could take place under the threat of imprisonment and even death.

But we encounter this resistance to faith within ourselves as well.  Just as our old nature neither can nor will obey the law of God, so neither can it believe.  It must be crucified with Jesus. [Galatians 5:4]  But just as it does not die here in our lifetime, so neither is it silent with its arguments against faith, and its nature remains as an enemy to God.

How, then, can it be possible that our faith can become so strong that it can overcome the world?  Well, it depends first and always upon whether it is a real faith, that is, a faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  This Jesus Christ is the One who died upon the cross and rose from the dead, forever defeating our true enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  So “Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” [1 John 5:5]  Jesus our Savior is the One who alone gives us real faith; faith that gives us the final victory over all enemies of God.

This faith is unconquerable, because it binds us to Christ Himself, that is, with Him who has overcome the world.  If we believe in Christ, then Christ dwells within us, and “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” [1 John 4:4]  You see, the victory does not depend on our faith but on Christ, to Whom our faith holds onto.  And so a struggling faith, a faith that feels itself weak can be so much stronger than a faith which feels itself strong because it relies on its experiences, its warmth, and its victories.  If God permits us to fail, then it may be that He wishes us to learn to rely entirely on Christ.

So that which gives us faith in Christ is the power of His person and His Word.  So if we want to exercise and strengthen our faith we must be careful not to neglect God’s Word and Sacraments, and never think that we can get along without them.  We who gather each Lord’s day are those who it may be said of: “The Word of God dwells in you,” [Colossians 3:1]. We are called, “(Those) who have overcome the evil one.” [1 John 2:14]

Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, help us we pray to remember these truths and then by faith, cling to Christ alone.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Back to the Future

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

11th Sunday in Pentecost-B, August 9, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” (Ephesians 4:17, 18).

The music you just heard is the theme song to the hit three-part movie classic, “Back to the future.”  But before we tie that into our message as a mental hook, I want to ask you a few questions: What does it mean to walk in the futility of our minds?  What does it mean to say, “Brother or Sister So and So, is living a dark life, alienated from God, because they are ignorant of the promises of God?”  Could this really happen to a Christian; could it happen to us?  Could we become so hard in our hearts that we are separated from God, and lost forever?  Well, not if God has anything to say about it, and this morning, He has plenty to say.  And what He says is meant to strengthen your faith so that you will not loose hope; so that you will be strengthened for this journey we call life!

This morning’s Old Testament lesson (1 Kings 19:1-8) is a case study of such a person.  Meet Elijah, perhaps the greatest prophet who ever lived and was called by God.  But Elijah’s greatness was not found within his own merits or personality, but within the almighty God who called him to serve.  And now, Elijah was about to be reminded of the God who takes all His children back to the future.  Let’s look at the ministry and life of Elijah…

Ahab had become the King of Israel.  Scripture says that he sinned “against the Lord more than any of his predecessors.” He married an evil, wicked woman named Jezebel, the daughter of a foreign king, and together they worshiped Baal (a sun god). He also built an image of Asherah, another foreign goddess.  In response to all of the evil Ahab and Jezebel had brought to God’s people, Elijah was moved by the LORD to declare a drought “in the name of the Lord, the living God of Israel – (which meant no dew or rain for 2 to 3 years) or as Elijah would have said it to the diabolical pair,  “Until I say so.”

After the prophecy, God warned Elijah to go and hide, and he did, going first to Cherith Brook near the Jordan where ravens were commanded by God to bring him bread and meat until the brook ran dry.  After that, he stayed with the widow of Zarephath who shared her last handful of flour and bit of olive oil every day “for many days”.  When her son became ill and died, Elijah stretched himself out on the boy and through his prayer, God restored the boy to life.

In the third year of the drought, the Lord told Elijah to return to Ahab.  When they meet Ahab tells Elijah that he is the worst troublemaker in Israel.  Elijah retorts: “You are disobeying the Lord’s commands, and so it is you O King, who is bringing trouble to Israel.”

The two agree to a contest between God and the Baal.  450 prophets of Baal and 400 of Asherah meet little old Elijah on Mt. Carmel.  Elijah tells Israel to make up their minds, which they will serve, God or Baal.  Two altars are built, two bulls are killed and the contest begins.  “Don’t light the fire” Elijah says,  … “let the prophets of Baal pray to their god and I will pray to the Lord, and the one who answers by sending fire — he is God.”  When Elijah’s turn comes after the failure of the false prophets, he pours water on his altar, soaking both wood and sacrifice.  Then God brings fire down and consumes the wood, the sacrifice, the stones of the altar, and scorches the earth.  The people acknowledge the true God, and at Elijah’s command all of the prophets of Baal and Asherah are killed.

When Jezebel learned of the death of the prophets, she sent a message to Elijah:  “May the god’s strike me dead if by this time tomorrow I don’t kill you for what you did to the prophets of Baal.”  Elijah flees … again … and then the account of today’s text occurs.

Elijah, depressed, in hiding after a day of travel, sits under a tree and “wished he would die.”  “It’s too much, Lord.” he prayed.  “Take away my life: I might as well be dead.”  And he sleeps.

The angel of the Lord, who seems to be the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, wakens him and encourages him to eat bread and water, which He provides.  Elijah goes back to sleep, perhaps still to depressed to get up.  The angel of the Lord wakes him a second time and insists that he eat more “or the trip will be too much for you.”  Elijah eats and drinks again and “the food gave him strength to walk 40 days.”  And where is it that he goes?  He goes back to the beginning; back to the birth place of God’s people of faith; he goes back to Horeb, or as you may know it Mount Sinai, the holy mountain of God, the very place where Moses had received the Law from God 600 years earlier.

Have you ever been there; so tired of being beat down by life that you just wanted to lay in bed and never get up?  Maybe some have felt so defeated by life that you actually just wanted to die?  Maybe like Elijah, you said, “Ok Lord, that’s enough.  Just take me home.”  For any of us beaten down by life, by sin, sickness, disease, and the devil, God has His means of strengthening us.  He feeds us His holy bread of heaven, and in the strength of that food, he sends us back out into the wilderness of life, where in the midst of storms and earthquakes we will once again hear him speak; softly and tenderly He speaks to us a message of hope and peace.  So in the strength of that food, the Word of God, we get up and follow where He leads.

In our epistle lesson, we are given a puzzle that only God can solve.  We are told that this is the good news; the gospel that brings us hope, but if we read it on our own, thinking like Elijah that we battle our Ahabs and Jezebels with our own strength, we will find only more despair in those words.  Listen: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” [Ephesians 4:25-32]

How can these words be anything but an accusation of our weakness and failures to do the things we are commanded to do?  By hearing them not as a command, but as an invitation to go out into the wilderness facing whatever comes with the strength of the food Jesus gives; by going back to the beginning we go back to the future that God has prepared for us before hand.  The beginning, our beginning is Jesus Himself, so…

Read those words this way and you will understand: “Because Jesus has given you new life, you will put away falsehood.  Because Jesus died for your sins and appeased the anger of God on your behalf, you will be angry but not sin.  Because Jesus defeated the devil upon the cross, you will likewise give the devil no opportunity to accuse you.  Because it is the work of God’s Holy Spirit to ensure that you are fed the very Words of Jesus unto eternal life, you will not grieve the Holy Spirit.  Because the Holy Spirit, within the very waters of your baptism has sealed you for the day of the resurrection and eternal life, you will allow all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander to be put away from you, along with all malice.  Because in Christ you are always shown God’s friendly heart, you too will be kind to others and tenderhearted, forgiving your neighbor as God in Christ forgave you.”

And there my friends is the power of God that assures you that the food he gives is enough for your journey.  The word says, “As God in Christ forgave you.”  Do you hear the good news in those words?  Forgiveness is a done deal; it already has been pronounce.  Now by faith, you must live that out.  When you fail and fall to sin, you must get back up strengthened for the journey of life in the food you are fed.  And what is that food?  It is the very beginning and source of the food; which is both the Giver and the Food…

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” [John 6:35]  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me.”

“And this is the will of Him who sent Jesus, that He should lose nothing of all that has been given to Him, but raise it up on the last day (on the day that your journey in the wilderness shall come to an end and you arrive at the Mountain of the Lord).  For this is the will of the Father, that everyone who looks to (Jesus) the Son (of God) and believes in (Him) should have eternal life, and He will raise you who believe (to eternal life) on the last day.”

Amen, amen, whoever believes (in Jesus, already) has eternal life.  Jesus IS the bread of life; the bread of life that comes down from heaven, so that anyone who eats of it will not die.  Jesus IS the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of Him, they will live forever.  And the bread that Jesus gives for the life of the world is His flesh.  He says, “Take and eat this is my body.”

This Jesus is the very same Son of God who like you walked that 40 days in the wilderness amongst the temptations of the devil, and yet He did not sin.  This Jesus like you was fatigued and beaten down by His journey; He grew hungry and His flesh was refreshed by food supplied by the angels.  This Jesus also walked towards a Mountain that seemed too high to climb, but it was not Mount Horeb, but Calvary.  As Jesus looked upon the mountain of sin that He must climb, he saw the skulls of millions of dead men and women who ever died and would die in the hope that God’s Champion would one day come and deliver them from death unto eternal life.  And so, in the strength of the food that the Father had provided, He climbed that mountain carrying His own cross.  And as he hung there at the top of Calvary, it was really from the top of the world, because as He drew His last breath in our flesh, the voice of God thundered out of His mouth from heaven… “IT IS FINISHED.” Your debt owed to God on account of sin has been paid in full.

This is what it means dear friends to journey to the Mount of God; the place where an eternal new beginning was created.  But there is still one more beginning you must turn your hearts and minds to, before you go back out on this pilgrimage we call life.  You must go back to your personal  beginning; back to the waters of your baptism.  The place where God sealed you with the Holy Spirit; the place where all of the benefits and fruits of the cross were made yours.

Like Elijah we to must daily make our return back to the font, the place of our beginning.  It is there in the waters of our baptism, where our transformation to be holy, perfect and righteous began, and it is there that it will find its completion.  This process of change, of success and failure requires us again and again to look backwards to that glorious day when God began His good work within us, so that we will know that it will be Him and Him alone, through faith in Christ, who will complete that work.  And as we look back, we remember God’s kind heart, and it is from that point in our lives  that God gives us the true bearings to continue our journey.  It is always from that “place of beginnings” that one walks forward to not only our eternal future, but to receive strength to deal with the challenges within the here and now.  May God continue to bless your journey towards the resurrection and eternal life, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

From Lesser to Greater

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

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

Sorry, no audio for this message is available

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Vocation is Clear

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Relentlessly Pursuing God

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well… AMEN!

Repentance and… Heaven!

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repent!  Turn to Jesus and cling to Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Key to Fellowship… FAITH!

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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