Posts Tagged ‘Hope’

The Key to Fellowship… FAITH!

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arise, Be Faith-filled!

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High and Lifted Up

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

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

Numbers 21:4–9

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debt Paid in Full!

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Lent 3 B, March 8, 2015

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

1 Corinthians 1:18–31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justified and Faith-filled

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

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

Romans 5:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord Will Make You a House!

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Advent-B, December 21, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

The song you just heard is of course the theme song from the T.V. show Cheers, and it is meant to be a mental hook for you to hang our message upon.  We really do want to be where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad we came.  Wouldn’t you like to be in that place where you can see that all of our troubles are really just the same, and that they all find resolution and are replaced with peace through the same means.  Well congratulations, you’ve arrived in that place; a house that the Lord has built for you and me.  Now I admit, that this place here has its issues; it has its problems, but nonetheless it is a place that the Lord has built; it is a place where He truly has called you and knows your name.  And because He knows your name, we all know you too; we know you and each other in the peace and love of Christ.

Now before you let your emotions get the best of you and you begin to feel let down, let me say that this place with all of its flaws, is just temporary, and it will soon be replaced by an eternal place that will renew your mind and free your soul to be all that God has created you to be.  But you’ll have to wait in this place for a while until God calls you to your new home.  So relax, take a load off of both your feet and heart and let me share God’s Word with you this morning.

In our Old Testament lesson this morning (2 Samuel 7:1–16), we see King David also longing for a place of peace; a sanctuary where God’s people would collectively and eternally know God’s house as a special place where God would forever reside with His people.  David wanted to build a temple, a house of God that would glorify God forever.  And God heard the heart of David, and He knew David was a man after His own heart, and He was pleased with David.  So God sent the prophet Nathan to David and said, “Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” [2 Samuel 7:4-7]

Here God is reminding David and us, that His name and His eminence are glorified with or without our help, after all He is the creator of us all.  Here God wants us to set our hearts on an important truth: It was and still is His work to teach us Who He is and how His name will be glorified among us.  This is the very reason that God traveled with His people in a tent, moving from place to place.  You see, the tent and the sanctuary that rested within it, were reminders that God is always with His children as their protector and redeemer.

And now God speaks this Word of remembrance to David, to both calm His fears and strengthen His faith: “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you.”  Here, God is asking David and us to look back at our lives and see the many twists and turns that have brought us here thus far and proclaim, “If it had not been for the Lord, I would be…!”

Here is one way that we can glorify God’s presence and eminence; by remembering His work and presence in our past.

But God must still speak faith and hope into both David’s heart and ours; He must not only remind  us of His work in the past but the work He promises to do in the future: “And I will make for you (David) a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.”

What is this undefined and continuous work that the Lord will perform to make David’s name greater than all other names on earth.  How will God create a place for His children of faith and plant them so securely that nothing may move nor destroy neither them nor their place?  But more than this, where will this place, which is both the house of David and the house of God be located at?

Certainly, we can read in God’s Word that the temple of the Lord would years latter be built by Solomon, the son of David.  Is this the house and the seed of David that God speaks of?  At first sight, yes, God kept His promise through David’s son Solomon.  But verse 16 of our reading warns us that God’s building and providential presence and care did not stop with Solomon nor the great temple that he built.  Listen: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ”. In other words, it will be eternal.

If it’s only through Solomon that the promise of God is fulfilled, then in the famous words of the Apollo mission, “Houston, we have a problem.”  And the problem is this, Solomon is dead and the bloodline of David is lost.  Further, the temple of Solomon was destroyed long ago, and the second temple of Herod was also obliterated as well.  Now what?  Now, God shows all of us through Whom and how this promise of providing a place and home for each of us is ultimately fulfilled.

In our gospel reading (Luke 1:26–38)we begin to understand how this prophecy is finally fulfilled: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”

Make no mistake, the angel Gabriel is speaking to both Mary and all of us this morning; he is explaining in the clearest and most simplest way how God will ultimately fulfill His promise made to both David and us; a promise of providing a home, a place for us where God both knows our name, and cares for us eternally.  God will raise up a physical son of David who is also the eternal Son of God.  All of this prophecy would occur without any help from men, and it will occur whether they wish to receive this mighty champion or not.  The name of this God-child explains both His person and His work.  He is called Jesus, which means, “the One through whom Jehovah brings salvation;” for it is this Jesus who will save His people from their sins. [Matthew 1:22]

This exalted Savior God, born of the virgin Mary, who is of the bloodline of David, is the fulfillment of the promise that God first made long ago to Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the garden of Eden.  The seed of the woman would now complete the promised work of God that would bring God’s children of faith back to the promise land of Eden now restored.  An eternal abode, where men and women may once again walk with God in the cool of the day in peace.

In a few short days we will gather again on Christmas Eve to celebrate and renew our joy centered around the birth of the God-child Jesus the Christ, through Whom alone comes the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring each of us home to a place that guarantees us an eternal peace with Him and each other.  And today, as we prepare and wait for our earthly celebration, we are led by faith to look past the earthly and perishable temple of Solomon and see the remaining and still standing presence of the eternal fulfillment of the promise.  God’s dwelling with men of faith did not cease at the destruction of the earthly temple in Jerusalem, but it has been realized and continues today and forever, in an amazing way through the coming of Jesus Christ, in Whom Jehovah came to be with His people.

He has come to us as our God who is the Logos, the very Word of God, who made our human flesh and our redeemed nature His eternal dwelling place.  God did all of this through the eternal glory of His only begotten Son.  We were reminded of this truth, when Jesus our Champion and Savior proclaimed in truth and in the power of God to those that planned to crucify Him, “Destroy this temple (the temple of His body), and in three days I will build it up again” (John 2:19). It is with this building up of the temple destroyed by the Jews, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that the complete and essential fulfillment of our promise of eternal life begins. And this promise continues through the temporary earthly body of Christ, which is the Christian church, which will one day soon, in God’s time be transferred into God’s Kingdom of Glory, where each of us will continue dwelling eternally with the Father and Son through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, who for now resides within each of the hearts of you who believe, that is have faith in the promises of God. [John 14:23; 1 Cor. 6:19]

But for now, we wait in these temporary temples made of flesh, as we gather together across the face of the earth in buildings made of wood and stone.  But we gather together always as the church of Jesus Christ, which is first and always, essentially a spiritual house of God, composed of living stones [1 Tim. 3:15, 1 Pet. 2:5; 2 Cor. 6:16, Heb. 3:6] And as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments, we are reminded that it is the promise of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ that gives us the ability to both wait and proclaim to all who will listen, “If it had not been for the Lord, I would be completely cut off from life and left hopeless.”

This morning, after hearing all of this work of God, His Holy Spirit continues to draw us deeper and deeper into a right relationship with Him through faith in His Son Jesus.  And as He leads us to reflect His love and forgiveness to our neighbors, even in times where love and forgiveness are the last thing we feel like offering, we will be moved like Mary to simply say, ““Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Can you be this strong?  Will you cooperate with the work of His Spirit?  Yes, you can and you will, if you will but remember the rest of the promise yet to be fulfilled.  The promise of Jesus that speaks these Words of comfort to you: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [John 14:1-3] A place of peace, a house prepared just for you by Jesus Himself; a place where God and everyone else knows your name and are glad you came.  AMEN!

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… AMEN!

Are You Someone Else’s Thorn?

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Sixth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 8, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Self-Pride can be a dangerous thing.  It’s an unhealthy focus on the self instead of on God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ.  It’s like a  man’s beard.  It just keeps growing and growing.  The solution of course is to shave it every day!

When we don’t keep our pride in check, we can become a thorn, a stumbling block to others.  Now, if it was just about you, I might be  tempted to leave you alone with the caution I just gave, but it is not just about you; you see you are a Christian, and others, especially  non-Christians are watching you and evaluating your faith and Christianity by your conduct.  So, to be a thorn to others because of  your pride can be a serious thing.  It can actually drive people away from Jesus instead of attracting them to Him.

But there is also a way, the way God works, that you can be a positive thorn in people’s lives.  What do I mean by that?  Glad you asked!    When people see you resting in conflict, disease, hurt, and disappointment; when they see you trusting in God no matter what’s going  on around you, they can get uncomfortable, because they know if they were in your place, they would be falling apart.  They’re  uncomfortable, because you trust in what appears to them to be an unseen, unknowable, and untrue God.  In essence your faith is a threat to their lack of faith.  So they are continually confronted with two choices: Investigate God’s way, a way that changes and empowers, or reject God’s way and follow their own prideful way!

A Christian grandfather, a Boy Scout, and a college professor were the only passengers on a small plane. The pilot came back to the cabin and said that the plane was going down but there were only three parachutes and four people. The pilot added, “I should have one of the parachutes because I have a wife and three small children.” So he took one and jumped.  The college professor said, “I should have one of the parachutes because I am the smartest man in the world and everyone needs me.” So he took one and jumped.  The Christian grandfather turned to the Boy Scout and with a sad smile and said, “Young man, I have lived a rich life, so you take the remaining parachute, and I’ll go down with the plane.”  The Boy Scout said, “Relax, old man, we both get a parachute.  You see, the smartest man in the world just picked up my knapsack and jumped out!”

So ends the life of all who trust in their own “smarts” to survive.  One thing they never think about is the truth that no matter how they struggle and strive, they will never get out of this world alive!  They will have to stand before a righteous and holy God who will judge them guilty of pride and a host of other sins!

In our Epistle reading this morning (2 Corinthians 12:110), Paul knew this was true, but most importantly Jesus knew it was true.  That is why He allowed Paul to struggle with his thorn in the flesh.  He knew that Paul would need that challenge, whatever it was to keep him dependent on God’s grace; to keep him always turning to Jesus, crucified and risen above as his only hope of “getting out of this world alive!”

Did Paul have reason to be prideful?  Yes!  He was given knowledge that not many have ever been given this side of heaven.  He was able to actually go to heaven without dying and come back!  Oh the things he must have seen.  He surely did not want to return to this world of sin; but Jesus had plans for Paul.  He has plans for each of you here this morning; if He didn’t you wouldn’t still be here; you would be in heaven right now!

Paul knew that God’s will must be done, so He was resolved to wait on God’s call to come home.  He was resolved to serve God with all of his strength by teaching and living out the hope of the gospel.  But Paul had one huge challenge to this mission from God; he was living with a heavenly heart in a sinful body.  You see, Jesus knew that if Paul was not daily humbled with the reminder that on his own he was a wretched and sinful man bound for judgment, he would forget that it is only by God’s grace that he would one day return to paradise to be with His Jesus!  Jesus knew this and eventually so did Paul.

Three times Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away his thorn.  And on the third petition, Jesus’ answer was all that Paul needed to hear.  “Paul, my grace is enough for you.  By my love and only my love will you return to paradise, so simply rest in it; trust in it!

Many people have argued throughout the years as to just what Paul’s thorn was.  The truth is, no one knows.  And I think that’s good, because it allows us to concentrate on our own thorns.  We all have at least one; some have many.  Some are thorns of our own making; some are caused by others’ sinfulness, and still others have a thorn with the same source as Paul’s… it comes from the evil mind of the devil.  Here are some examples of mental thorns: Constant thoughts of lust, anger, blasphemy, and all kinds of mental illness.  Thorns that may exist outside of us, are things like unfair personal attacks, gossip, lack of employment or underemployment, unstable marriages, or disrespectful children.  And then there are the physical thorns that exist within us.  Assign to this class all kinds of illness, disease, and physical defects.

All of these things are a result of sin; our sin or the world’s sin.  They may or may not be sent directly from the devils, but they all have come to us because God has allowed them.  But why?  Why does God allow them?  So that we will discover the truth that there is strength in weakness.  So that we will experience the truth that Paul discovered: When we are weak Jesus’ grace, His power and love are strong within us!  They are sufficient to carry us through any challenge!

So what does this mean for us this morning?  What is God asking us to learn?  Simply this, He is asking us to trust His Son, Jesus Christ.  He is asking you to see things the way He says they are and not the way the world sees them.

In our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 6:113) we see Jesus rejected by His own people; His own relatives refused to see the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught it and presented it.  In Jesus, they saw simply human flesh and weakness; the illegitimate son of Mary who was the step-son of a carpenter… a common laborer!  No matter how many miracles Jesus had performed, not matter how true and clear His teaching about the Kingdom of God were, they could not get past His weakness.  He was not the model leader that the world always expects and demands.  He was not wealthy or highly educated.  He was not political or even connected to influential people.

They refused to believe that Jesus was both the son of Mary and the Son of God!  But Jesus is God, and pride-filled sinful opinions of men don’t change who Jesus IS in the very least; it did not affect Jesus’ mission then or now; Jesus has come to heal the broken hearted and set those imprisoned by sinful pride free!

People today, like people in Nazareth then, find Jesus, His miracles, and His teaching offensive.  He is a thorn to them, so they want to be a thorn to His people of faith.  But what they can never understand without eyes of faith is that Jesus truly is the Son of God.  To kick at Him and His church is like kicking a cactus; they are the only ones who will get hurt. If they continue to judge Him by the world’s standards they will be lost in judgment because of their many sins, but if they will simply allow the Word of Jesus to open their eyes of faith and see the reality that God sees in each of us they will be saved!

In our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 2:1–5), Ezekiel is called to stand on his feet before a righteous and holy God.  But on his own, He could do nothing but lay flat on his face.  But Ezekiel was not on His own, because the living Word of God, Jesus Christ was speaking, and in His Word is the very love of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit!  And as God spoke to Ezekiel, the Spirit entered him and put him on his feet!

This morning friends, the voice of God is speaking to us.  He is assuring us that just as Ezekiel and Paul were protected and strengthened by the Spirit of God, so are we.  You have been saved by a Savior who the world considers weak and pathetic.  You are saved by a God who is a joke to unbelievers.  In Jesus they see weakness and poverty; in the cross they see scandal and shame.  But by Jesus weakness and shame, by His suffering and death you have been saved!  Jesus died for you!  If the world wants to turn our faith into a scandal, then this is the scandal:  A holy and righteous God came to suffer and die for them… for you!  That is the message that changes us every day; it’s a message that would change them too, if they would just let God’s grace be sufficient for them in all things.  But they cannot surrender to God’s way because of their pride.  But you have submitted to God’s will and in that will you trust and rest.  Come what may, you have discovered that God’s grace is sufficient to help you in all things.  So you have rested and by God’s grace you will continue to rest in Jesus Christ.

And now, God has spoken and we have listened.  Like Paul, we don’t always like what we hear, but eventually we learn to simply rest in the promises of God.  But also like Paul we are reminded that we cannot enter paradise just yet.  We must remain in a dying world to speak and live the gospel.  Like Ezekiel, we are sent out into a sinful society that is stubborn, prideful, and unyielding, just as we are without Jesus.  We are to speak about God’s judgment of sin, even their sin, but we are also to speak about God’s forgiving love!  And as we speak in our weakness, some will see Jesus as only a thorn, a threat to their own happiness.  But others will see beyond the thorn and see the beauty in a Rose that is hidden and blooming within you; and they will come to know Jesus too!   I pray that through your witness to others God will do this very thing.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Celebrate His Faithfulness!

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Fifth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 1, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” [Lamentations 3:25]

Waiting is always difficult.  We always want to find a way to eliminate it, or at least speed it up.  This is especially true when we’re waiting on  God to act, speak, or intervene.  May I be so bold as to say that “we” all can become impatient with God?  Could it be true, that in the middle  of our waiting we may even feel like God has abandoned us, and forced us to fend for ourselves?

The Apostle Paul knew that temptation to grumble about God’s perceived tardiness, which is why he wrote these Words to encourage the  church in Corinth: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck  down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8,9).

This was also God’s Word in our Old Testament Lesson (Lamentations 3:22-33) to His people of faith that were conquered and uprooted from their homeland.  They were stripped of every  material possession they had.  They lost their homes, possessions, and for some even their families.  To these poor souls, it seemed that they  could fall no lower.  They had no visible resources, either from within or without.  The whole world had declared them a lost nation.  But the unbelieving world did not know that they had one hidden and best resource left, and in truth it was their first and only true resource… they had the LORD!

Because of God’s great love for His children of faith, because of His great faithfulness, God’s people would survive; God would protect them and restore them.  His love for His children of faith always wins out.  Even when His children lose faith while they’re waiting, God is faithful and His love never fails!

God can’t help Himself; He always helps His children who He has loved with an everlasting love.  It was His love that fired His compassion to help his children back then, and it is His love that fires His compassion to help us and His church today.  And when we remember God’s love for us, our faith and resolve as a congregation and as His individual children are strengthened.  It is this remembering of His love and faithfulness that moves us to seek out Jesus and rest in His Word and promises.  It is this remembering that moves us to celebrate God’s faithfulness even when we are hard pressed, crushed, and perplexed!

In or gospel reading (Mark 5:21-43)  both Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood would have quickly testified that they too were hard pressed, crushed, and perplexed!  They must have both been wondering, “Why is this happening to me?”  Why is God allowing my little daughter to die so young?  Why has good allowed me to have this bleeding disease for so long and even blinded the eyes of the doctors so that they can’t cure me?

Jairus must have felt that all of his waiting for his daughter to be healed was for nothing.  Maybe he even felt betrayed by God.  After all he was the faithful leader of God’s people who gathered at the synagogue to hear God’s Word.  Jairus loved God’s children of faith with the love that the Father gave him to love with, so why wasn’t God responding with help?

The woman with the issue of blood also must have felt abandoned in her long wait for God’s cure.  Can you imagine, she waited twelve long years and went to physician after physician and no comfort or help was found?  She was now at the point of poverty, maybe even homelessness in her waiting, and still no cure or even a Word of promise and hope from God!

Maybe you know exactly how they were feeling.  Maybe you are going through that waiting period right now?  I know that we are as a congregation; we are waiting for God to send help to his children of faith who gather at Trinity Lutheran Church in San Diego.  Like the leader Jairus, we to have been faithful in our ministry of God’s Word and Sacrament.  We have been around since 1894, faithfully dispensing God’s law and gospel, baptizing and feeding His saints.  Why we can look back in the history of our congregation and see that at one time we were even directly responsible for planting several church’s here in San Diego.  We’ve been intentional in making our congregation multi-cultural and inclusive.  And here we sit; finances exhausted and our patience about at its end.  Why some of us are even talking about giving up and closing the doors!  I’ve heard it said several times, “Eventually we will just have to give everything to the Synod.  What else can we do?”

Well I’ll tell you what else we can do, both for our own lives and for the life of this congregation; we can find Jesus and go directly to Him!

That’s what both Jairus and the woman did in our gospel lesson.  Jairus, a man of prestige, a leader of God’s people threw himself down in the dirt at Jesus feet, and simply worshiped Him and called out for help.  “Kyrie!  Lord have mercy!”  The woman with the issue of blood did not even consider herself worthy of speaking to Jesus.  She felt that her bleeding made her an unclean sinner who shouldn’t even be out in public, yet she went out didn’t she?  She went out and found Jesus, and using the crowd of people to hide in, she got down on her hands and knees and simply reached out with her hand of faith to just touch the corner of Jesus garment.

And what was Jesus response to both of them.  “Do not fear, only believe. Your faith has made you well, made you whole.”  So what can we learn from all of this?  First, Jesus sees and knows all that is happening to you and to our congregation.  He hasn’t turned a blind eye to you or our problems.  Just as he knew how Jairus felt when they told him that his daughter was dead, He knows how we are feeling.  He knows our fears and our feelings of abandonment.  And so Jesus speaks the gospel, words of faith to Jairus and to us.  “Don’t be afraid.  Keep on believing.”

And to the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus called her out of hiding and insisted that she reveal herself in public.  When He did this, He was also revealing Himself to her; Jesus said,  “Your faith has made you well.  You are no longer a despised unclean sinner.  You are forgiven.  Your faith in me is what has saved you.  You reached out that empty hand of faith and I filled it with even more gifts.  Keep on believing and reaching out and I will keep on filling you!

This was Paul’s message to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).  They too, like Trinity were struggling within their poverty.  Their offerings had all but dried up so that to some it may appear that the work of God through the proclaimed Word of God might be dying along with their unpaid bills and salaries.  But Paul wanted to remind them that their true debt was a spiritual one.  And it had been paid in full by their Savior, the Son of God Jesus Christ.

Paul then directed their minds to a sister congregation in Macedonia.  They too had been stripped of most of their material wealth.  They too saw the tithes and offerings fall to almost useless proportions.  But still they gave.  They gave and gave to the point that Paul thought that it may be unhealthy for them to give anymore, so he asked them to stop.  But they begged Paul to let them continue giving.  Why?  Because they saw the truth in their giving; they were giving out of grace.  They were giving because it was the love of the Father, the gift of grace through faith in the Son Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit that was working in them to give.  They knew by faith that they could not out give God, so in essence they were afraid that if they quit giving God would no longer shower them with blessings.  What blessings?  Well I’m sure they were reaping all kinds of physical blessings; how else could they keep on giving?  But the true blessing to them was first the blessing of being forgiven and then the blessing of being part of the believing body of Jesus Christ; the blessings of being Christ’s church, with Jesus as both their head and heart.  And so they gave out of their poverty so that others could be helped and the preaching of the gospel maintained.

And that dear friends was Paul’s solution to the Corinthians lack of charity.  It wasn’t a command to give more or to even give at all; Paul didn’t say give until it hurts so that God will love you more and bless you.  No, Paul simply showed the Corinthians what happens when one heart and many hearts remember and celebrate the faithfulness of God as demonstrated by the coming and giving of His Son.

Turn your eyes to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.  Remember His suffering and death for you.  For you, for you, for you… let those words echo in your ears.  He became poor so that you could become rich.  He became weak so that you could become strong; strong in faith and strong in service.

How do we celebrate God’s faithfulness?  By turning our eyes of faith to Jesus.  We celebrate by opening our hands and hearts like Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood.  We wait on the LORD quietly to give and take as He sees fit.  We remember that God cannot fill a closed fist, but He can fill hands that are open and lifted high in prayer, giving freely and waiting to receive the abundant blessings from above.

May the Spirit of Christ move us to do this very thing… I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!