Posts Tagged ‘Humility’

He Entered As A King

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

Mark 11:1-11

Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

INTRODUCTION: Jesus rode into Jerusalem the Sunday before His betrayal, before the thorns and the nails, as a King; as Christ the Lord. A Roman leader would have ridden in a chariot pulled by magnificent white stallions… Jesus entered the city on a donkey, and a borrowed one at that!
1. A political leader would have been surrounded by security guards who would have kept crowds from close physical contact to prevent any personal harm to him… Jesus was surrounded by his disciples representing many walks of life and rode into the midst of the people, almost at their level.

2. A military leader would have galloped along the road, passing the crowds with perhaps a wave of the hand or a nod of the head if there were any recognition at all… Jesus on a donkey moved slowly with the people, accompanying the people, as well as accompanied by the people.

3. A religious leader in traditional, appropriate priestly robes would have moved sedately through the crowds surrounded by an orderly contingency of other religious leaders who would’ve prevented anyone who was unclean from touching him… but Jesus, dressed in his usual attire, moved humbly through the crowds, surrounded by his diverse band of disciples, not shrinking from the touch of anyone.

Summary: So, He did not come on a war horse in a great procession. He was not met by heads of state and dignitaries. He did not go to a palace or sit on a throne.
His Kingdom isn’t adorned with those things. No, this King came in humility. He wore clothes of the common man and was cheered on by children. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey; He came in that day to fulfill scripture and as an answer to the crowds prayers: “Hosanna” save us Lord, God. He wasn’t lured into the city by Jewish treachery or by Roman hatred, but instead He came because of His love for sinners, even for us. He came to do His Father’s will and save His people.

I. God always comes in a way we do not expect.

A. He always works in a way this fallen world won’t recognize. He is a God of opposites. Jesus comes to suffer and die, not to prosper and live.

B. His suffering and death is called “the Passion” because it was His deep and active love that led Him to the cross. The cross is the place for murderers and thieves, but God says that it is the place for His Son.

C. The cross was the appropriate penalty for Adam and Eve for eating the forbidden fruit, and it is the appropriate penalty for sinners like us; the cross is the way of death that leads to eternal life. Someone had to die once and for all for our sins.

D. In this way, the King submitted to His own Law. The King would breathe His last breath and die a real death for those He loves; for us. He would die for men and women who in God’s eyes, in their own eyes are lawless rebels. He would die, for us, we who mock His royalty and His divinity by our sinful lives. He would die for us, we who thought we knew better than He, in regards to what makes us happy; we who drank too much, who were sexually promiscuous, who have lusted with our eyes and have told lies; we who have gossiped and been lazy, we who have been racist and desiring vengeance upon those who have hurt or insulted us; we who have viewed pornography and stolen, who have neglected our children and pretended to be things that we’re not.

TRANSITION: Jesus, the King came to die for us.

II. For us He is King. For us He came, He died, and He rose.

A. We had no other help, no other hope. We were struck down in our guilt and dead in our trespasses. But remember, His love for us the unlovable, is intense. So intense, that He would obediently walk on towards a certain, tortuous, and agonizing death with the full guilt of sins of the world upon His shoulders; sins that He did not commit were weighing upon His soul.

B. Ride on, ride on to majesty Lord, to the shameful execution reserved for rebels who try to force away the Kingdom from the King. That was our crime, our sins He was riding on towards. But He took it upon Himself and voluntarily paid the penalty. The charge over His head (INRI, which is the Latin abbreviation for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews) was true on several levels, but never as the joke they meant it to be. For us He is King. He came, He died, and He rose.
Jesus rode on that day unwilling to compromise.

ILLUS: Perhaps some of you saw Mel Gibson’s movie that came out a few years ago called Braveheart. In the movie William Wallace (a Scottish commoner) attempts to unite the feuding clans of Scotland in their fight against England in the 13th century. He attempts to elicit the help of Robert the Bruce, the leader of the most powerful clan. Bruce refuses to help and in retrospect he says: “Wallace is an uncompromising man. Uncompromising men are admirable. But only a compromising man can be king.”

We can affirm that on Palm Sunday an uncompromising man became King of all history. Of course, there are many things that we do have to bend on. On strategies we can compromise, but not in regards to both the Word and will of God.

TRANSITION: There must come a time when we ask ourselves: Shall I compromise on the Word of God—Yes or No? Palm Sunday challenges the notion that all of life is but a part of the compromising process.

III. Jesus Kingly love was so intense that first Palm Sunday that it would bring forgiveness for all of our sins.

A. It removes every not-so-nice thought, every bad deed, and every shameful, despicable act we hope our mothers never learn of. The ransom has been gladly paid. His Kingly love has declared you worthy of the price of His life. He gives as a gift to you what Adam sought to steal. He gives Divine knowledge of good and evil that flesh and blood has not revealed. He makes you like Himself, a son of His Father, who enjoys life everlasting and eternal reign in heaven.

B. Jesus passion is about His love and the extravagant lengths He’s gone to in order to rescue you from death. It would be counter to God’s will for us to feel guilty about His death for us or to be sad about the story of His life, suffering, and death as it is read this Friday. For He did all of that to remove guilt, to heal wounds, to bind up hearts, and bestow joy. He has laid down His life once and for all, of His own will, on purpose, to set you free. He knew the cost and He did it anyway. It was His desire to do it for you.

C. The cross is His glory. For the cross is where His love is seen by men, women and children; its the place where He draws all people unto Himself. It is your glory, too. For you were born there out of His side. From your mother’s womb you came forth in water and in blood. From the side of Christ flows the birthing waters of Baptism in which you have been drowned and from where you have been raise. From the side of Christ flows the sustaining life poured out and into the the cup of which you partake. From the cross you are a new creation, beloved of the Father as His child where the Holy Spirit lives and dwells, in the Grace of the Son. You have been joined to Christ’s holy death. So now, His cross is your glory. And one day soon you will also be joined to His resurrection.

CONCLUSION: So now we begin our most holiest week, our most solemn celebration. We commemorate the beginnings of the New Covenant in Christ’s Blood, the destruction of Hell and its power in His holy death, and the justification of His Kingship one week from today. Please do not be sad or feel guilty. For behold, Daughter of Zion, your King comes to you in love. Ride on, ride on in majesty Lord, as we follow you for eternity…

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Be Patient

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

18th Sunday after Pentecost, September 27, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” [James 5:8]

Would you agree with me that waiting can be a hard thing to do?  Would you also agree with me that sometimes being asked to wait with patience can seem unbearable?  Patience is something that is not natural to us, and that is because it is a quality of God, which He demonstrates as He deals with sinful men and women who deserve His anger and punishment, yet He waits patiently for us to turn to Him.  So patience, is a quality that by nature is foreign to us.  But it’s a quality that God gladly gives to us the baptized, if we will simply receive it and live it out.

What does living out that patience mean to we who are now Christians, who walk by faith and live out our baptism?  Well patience is essentially the life of a thankful sinner who has been redeemed by Christ’s cross and recreated in baptism and sustained by God’s Word and Sacrament until…  Until what?  Until Christ’s second coming.  And when will that be?  We don’t know, but what we do know is that God has deferred that Second coming of Christ, the time when He will judge the living and the dead so that as many who desire will be saved.  Why?  Because God is patient, and He does not desire that any should perish, but be saved.  So we wait like God… Patiently.  What does that look like?

A Christian teacher had just finished putting the last pair of rain boots on her first-graders—thirty-two pairs in all. The last little girl said, “You know what, teacher? These aren’t my rain boots.”  The teacher removed them from the girl’s feet. Then the little girl continued, “They are my sister’s, and she let me wear them.” The teacher quietly put them back on her pupil.  Patience, unnoticed by the world yet celebrated in heaven.

A famous teacher of the early church named Chrysostom once said that a patient man is one who although he has the resources and opportunity to avenge himself, chooses to refrain from carrying out vengeance and waits for God.

In our Epistle lesson this morning (James 5:1-12) that is precisely what James is encouraging us to do, wait.  But like we said earlier waiting is hard, but waiting patiently is almost unbearable, especially when we see the world outside of Christ not waiting but taking all they can, even at the expense of others.

This morning, through James God is warning us not to worry about those who live for worldly glory and fame. He is telling us not to envy them or copy their ways because their time of judgment is coming, and it wont be pretty.  Listen: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.” [Vs. 1-3]

In this world where the lives of politicians and the rich and famous are celebrated, it can be hard to not envy their life styles and attitudes, but this warning from God is meant to remind you that their moment is fleeting and futile; it will vanish and wither life a puff of steam on a hot summer day.  Their eternity has been set and their punishment is certain, but the sad part about that is they don’t even care.

Their lack of concern over their sinful lives is then the best evidence and justification for God’s punishment. They have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence (without a care in the world for their eternity).  They have fattened their hearts for the day of judgment and slaughter.

But God sees and God will act.  He sees His little ones being cheated and neglected.  He sees those who may have the ability to fight back simply rest and wait for the purposes and vengeance of God, and God pronounces us blessed.  We are blessed because…

We are waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ who will make all things new and right.

Listen to the example James gives starting in verse 7: “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

I remember when I was a boy growing up in Wisconsin the anticipation we developed for the sweet corn harvest.  I want to tell you right now that some of the best corn you will ever eat comes from my home town of Pewaukee.  For a period of about 3 weeks, I would have, if I could have, eaten corn every day and in every way.  I loved it boiled, baked, and grilled, but I especially loved it fresh and raw, right off of the stalk.  My friends and I every summer went on wonderful walks through out the country side through forests and farmers fields, and for someone who loves raw corn, walking in early summer when the corn is only the size of your hand being patient and waiting can be very difficult.  Many of my friends just could not wait, so they plucked the baby corn and ate it any how, but not me.  You see I knew that if I just waited another month or so, that sweet delicacy would finally arrive and I would then eat my fill!

So we wait, but remember, we are to wait patiently and anticipate the joy that will be realized when Christ finally comes again.  And because we are waiting for our Savior and Lord, we will wait in a way that will also help others wait.  So… “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” [V. 9]  In other words, don’t take your frustration or your lack of patience out on other Christian folks, because they’re waiting just like you, and like you, they too are struggling to have patience, the patience which comes from God, as a Father gives gifts to His children.

In God’s Word, He has lavishly given to us wonderful examples of saints who have gone before us who were able to persevere in the toughest of trials.  Look at the lives of the prophets who spoke God’s Word and in His name.  Don’t we consider those great men and women of God blessed because through their lives and patience God was able to not only speak through them in their time, but still speaks in the Word preserved in our time?  And what of Job, that great champion of God, who through God’s gift of faith and patience, was able to not only persevere but latter speak great Words about the resurrection and Paradise that still give us hope.  Listen: “Oh that my words were written!  Oh that they were inscribed in a book!  Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!” [Job 19:23, 24]

Let me just interject and say to Job, “Dear brother they were written down in a book that bares your name.  But the words are not only yours, but the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ!  A Word that not only is written in the rock, but is the Rock of our Salvation!  But go ahead Job and preach on…

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.  And (long) after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh… I shall see God… Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  (And oh) My heart faints within me!” [Job 19:25-27]

These Words are for you dear baptized.  They are meant to give you strength and patience as you hold on to the cross of our dear Savior Jesus.  They are meant to give you joy in the midst of tribulation as you wait for that great and final day, which is the resurrection of the body.

The ancient church has always found encouragement in the truth of scripture, which clearly proves that God’s ways are not only different from man’s ways, but in fact they are far superior. Where the world scoffs at pain and suffering, the church knows that these things will inevitably come to one who gathers at the cross of Jesus.  But the cross of Jesus is what the world calls dead and foolish.  The world will show you the evidence of an opulent and materialistic life, and they declare that is real life.

Martin Luther said that each of us are called to look at two different kinds of wood, one that the world says is living and one that the world calls dead.  But he says, “From the living wood (the tree of knowledge of good and evil) came sin and death; from the dead wood (which is the cross of Jesus, comes)  righteousness and life.”  And so Luther warns us, “Do not eat from that living tree, or you will die, but eat of this dead tree; otherwise, you will remain in death.  That is, do not hunger for the things of this world, but for the things that find their source in heaven.

You who are baptized have a new spirit; one that truly wants to eat and enjoy [the fruit] of a tree, so that you will live in God’s Paradise. Let me turn your hearts then, to a tree that is so full of fruit that it could feed all of creation for eternity. But be warned, just as it was difficult for our first parents Adam and Eve to stay away from that living tree, so it is difficult for us to enjoy eating the fruit from the dead tree. This is because the tree in Paradise that was forbidden, was the very image of life, delight, and goodness, while the fruit from the other tree, the cross of Christ is the image of death, suffering, and sorrow.  To the eyes of sinners, one tree is living, the other is as good as dead. Within each of our hearts there is a natural desire to follow the way of glory now, in this life; that is within this life of those who must die, and then there is a natural fear to run from death where we are promised from God the only sure and certain source of life.  This tension between death and life can only be resolved when we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

Taking up the cross is by nature something that causes pain. We do not choose the cross, but it has chosen us. All we are asked to do is agree with God that there is a need for this tree, and then we are to take up the cross, and by faith follow Jesus and live.  We must agree with God that there is a need to be conformed to the image of the Son of God, which was given to us within our baptism. [Romans 8:29]  We must in the Word of God, hear the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts, and by faith believe that “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus can expect and will experience pain and suffering.” [II Timothy 3:12]  We will come to believe that “In the world we will have tribulation.” [John 16:33]. We will know sorrow and weeping in times when the the world will rejoice,” [John 16:20]  But we preach teach, confess, and believe that “If we share in [Christ’s] sufferings we shall also be glorified with him.” [Romans 8:17]  And so we know that “if we are left without discipline, which all experience, then we would be illegitimate children and not sons.” [Hebrews 12:8]

But we who are baptized, have learned by God’s hand to hunger for the fruit of the cross, because we know that the touch of Christ’s hand sanctifies all of our sufferings and sorrows and replaces them with the joy of anticipated future glory. We know that if we run from suffering, then we are siding with the unbelieving world, and turning from our Savior who has given both the gift of salvation and the privilege of sharing in his own passion.

Sadly for those who are perishing, those who do not wish to follow Jesus and bear the cross which God places upon him, there is no future for eternal glory and a return to Paradise.  God will not force them to follow—they are always free to deny Christ. But in so doing they have chosen to forsake the eternal fruit of His cross and will never know the joy of fellowship with Christ.

So hold on dear saints.  What we experience now in our time is no better or worse than the saints who went before us.  The promise that sustained them then is the very same promise that sustains us today.  Even in times where it seems impossible for us to wait for Christ, still we must wait.  Even when there seems to be no supply of patience, still we are ever reminded of God’s baptismal promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  It is in the Word of promise that we find both forgiveness of sins and the strength to hold on and wait.  In the washing of the water and the Word we are promised that though weeping may come to us in the dark times of evening, joy will be ours in the morning, and so we wait.  We wait with the church that has always patiently waited in anticipation, when Christ will come again and usher each of us into His kingdom of power and glory, forever and ever… AMEN!

From the Cross to Glory

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” [James 3:13]

When we read our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 9:30-37), did the apostles strike you as wise?  Is it ever proper or wise for Christians to argue over who is the greatest?  And yet, here we have the pillars of the church falling for one of the devils greatest allures; a diversion designed to cause the Christian to turn away from the cross that leads to eternal glory, and instead take a path of the world, the path of Satan, which promises that you can have the glory right now!  Do you want to avoid that dark path?  If so then pay attention to this message and understand that the devil will do everything he can to get you to follow his way and not the way of the cross.

Our Plea: This morning, each of us must understand the danger that surrounds us on our pilgrimage we call life.  We must seek to forever have this prayer, this plea on our lips: “Save me, O God, by your name; vindicate me by your might.  Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth.” [Psalm 54:1, 2]

All around us are folks that hunger for more and more earthly things.  They try to scratch an itch and feed a hunger that they can’t even truly identify.  For some, the allure is simply gathering more things, and for others its money, and for others it’s power and prestige.  They work to be noticed and clamor when they feel they are being ignored or devalued.  But what did Jesus tell his disciples was the key to being great in heaven?  Listen: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Is that Word from God enough to stifle your desire for a greater reward here on earth?  Now before you answer that question, let me simply say that if you lack faith, the answer will be “No!”  But take heart, the good news for you this morning is the truth that the very Word of God you have been hearing, a word which has already been delivered to you, is the same word within you, which creates that kind of faith.  There’s just one thing standing in the way of you and this faith, and it is what we will call…

Our problem: “Strangers are attacking me; ruthless men seek my life—men without regard for God.” [Psalm 54:3]  The Prophet Jeremiah, in our Old Testament lesson, like King David, was familiar with enemies who wanted to shut him up and shut him down.  Jeremiah was speaking out against the sin of the people.  He was warning that God was getting ready to take away their kingdom and lead them away in captivity.

In the people’s minds this could not be right; they had made great progress with their struggle to include God in their lives and government, and now all God had to do was cosign their plans for greatness.  So, if Jeremiah was going to continue living and speaking to them as if they were still gross sinners, well then they would just have to shut him up!

Jeremiah had what appeared to be a problem.  The people wanted one thing and God wanted another.  On the one hand, if Jeremiah simply shut up and went along with the plan of the people, life would certainly be easy for him; he would win his popularity back and most certainly would be well taken care of.  This path is what we will call the way of glory.  But God has a special word for double minded people like that, and Jeremiah certainly did not want to have God declare him to be an “adulterer!”

Does that sound a little harsh to you?  Well in our Epistle lesson [James 2:13-4:10], James addresses the Christians of his time who were grumbling against God.  They were upset that God had not blessed them with the “good life” as it appeared the Godless were enjoying.  So he answered them like this: “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?”

Truth be told, we are a lot like those early Christians.  Doesn’t our real problem lie within our own hearts?  Sure the devil is prowling like a lion seeking to devour all he can, but he can’t have us, because we have already been saved through Christ; we already have been washed with the water and the Word.  We already have been given and claimed the wonderful promises of eternal life; promises that come directly from God.

So what is our problem?  Is it other people; folks that just want to trip us up and shut us down?  No, they’re just tools of the devil, and remember the devil has been defeated.  Friends, our real problem comes from within our own hearts; those passions and desires that are modeled by the unbelieving world that has deceived us into thinking are necessary in order to be a success.  We have been tricked into thinking that we have to have it, but God won’t provide it, so instead of taking our anger to God, we take it out on our neighbor in the form of fighting and quarreling.  As a result, we become distant with God and quit talking to Him.  And so, because we don’t ask we don’t receive.  Or we ask and don’t receive, because we are asking in a way that is not God pleasing; a way that seeks only to satisfy our passions and desires but gives God no glory and offers no help to our neighbors in need.

When we embrace a life like this, we have become a friend of the world, and a traveler along the way of glory. And to this life style God indeed calls us adulterers.  We have left our first love and embraced the selfish path of self fulfillment; we have become a friend of the world, and a friend of the world is an enemy of God.

So what are we to do?  We are to embrace…

Our Solution: “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.  Let evil recoil on those who slander me; in your faithfulness destroy them.” [vs.4, 5]

Long ago, David was persecuted by Saul relentlessly, but never captured by him; David always was given a way of escape by God.  Jeremiah like wise was persecuted by his own family and friends, from the very town he was from, but God saved him.  And now like those dear saints that went before us, it is our turn to trust in God as our great helper and sustainer.  It is our turn to ask God to destroy both the evil and the slanderer that surrounds us.  And it is our turn to realize that our prayer has already been answered.

At the cross, we see that Jesus allowed the crowd of accusers and glory road travelers to load both their accusations and their sins upon His shoulders.  He allowed them to ridicule and humiliate Him by hanging him upon the cross.  He listened as the devil laughed and the glory mongers cheered.  And as He drew His last breath, He sighed and said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And then with His final words He proclaimed, “It is finished.  Their debt of sin is paid in full.  They are made right and new with the Heavenly Father.”

In His life and in His death, Jesus Christ the very Son of God, traveled the way of the cross.  The Lord of glory became the least of men so that you could become the greatest.  And all He asks of each of us is that we believe that this is enough to guarantee the world of an eternal glory that far out does any glory promised in this life time.  He asks you to walk with Him from the cross to your baptism, where all of His work upon the cross is given to you.  All of your fears, worries, and frustrations have been replaced with faith, salvation, and joy, if you will just walk this way of the cross; if you will walk by faith and trust in Christ.

While your sin may be great, and your faith weak, Jesus asks us this morning to understand that His grace, that is the Father’s love unearned by you is greater.  Through the way of the cross, God is asking each of us this morning to submit ourselves to Him.  To humble ourselves before the Lord, so that when our travel on the way of the cross is finished, each of us will finally realize…

The Promised Outcome: “He has delivered me from all of my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph upon the defeat of evil and the glory that awaits me in Paradise!” (Psalm 54:6)

The Lord alone will lift us up into a resurrected life of glory within God’s Paradise restored.  There within Paradise each of us will once again walk with our LORD in peace forever.  This is an outcome guaranteed for the travelers who follow the way of the cross.  It is an outcome realized by faith but not yet by sight.

I pray that faith is enough to sustain you on this journey of life.  I pray that it is enough to continue bringing you back regularly to this house of prayer for God’s Divine Service of Word and Sacrament.  And I pray that through His Service you will allow Him to equip you to live a life of thanksgiving and praise to His holy name.  I pray that when asked by those who are not yet traveling this way of the cross, you would always be ready to answer when asked why you travel such a lonely way simply as David responded in our Psalm this morning: “Because He has delivered me from all of my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph upon the defeat of evil and the glory that awaits me in Paradise… AMEN!”

AN EXPOSITION OF SAINT MATTHEW 18:1-22

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 13A, September 7, 2014

Click here for audio of this message.

INTRODUCTION: This morning we will discuss a topic near and dear to me, and it is my prayer in Christ’s name that by the end of this message, it will be near and dear to you as well.  Specifically, we will be discussing the application of Matthew 18 in our lives and in the life of our parish.  Have any of you ever heard me speak of Matthew 18 in say the last 2 years?  Well now, with the leading of the Holy Spirit you will understand completely what I meant before and what Jesus desires you to learn today.  And it is also my prayer that these words will bring new life and love to this parish, which IS Christ’s church.

This morning, Jesus declares, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 18:3]

I. Why did Jesus say those words to His own apostles, the ones who were closest to Him, and by default, likely the most spiritually mature of all of the disciples?  Because in fact they were not spiritually mature.  They were trying to understand the coming of God’s kingdom in terms of how the world thinks as oppose to how God thinks.  They had a false idea of what it meant to be the greatest and the best.  To them, to be the greatest meant to be the most powerful, second to Jesus of course.  But that is not how God’s Kingdom operates; His way is the opposite of man’s way.  So Jesus addressing the twelve, calls a small toddler to come to Him, probably motioning to it with open arms, and then He most likely picks up the child who comes quickly and easily, and says… “If you want to be someone important in heaven, then REPENT, that is turn to me in love and trust just as this child did.”

Small children trust so easy and they forgive even easier.  This child most likely had never known Jesus before, but it was attracted by Christ’s love; by His soothing voice and the welcoming gesture.  So it came to Jesus quickly.  And once in Jesus’ embrace, it did not think, “I am such a wise child.  I must be great to be welcomed so easy by this gentle man.”  Little children do not think like that; they simply trust and obey, and the reward from Jesus is more love!

TRANSITION: So, do you want to be someone important in heaven; maybe you want to be a big shot around here?  Good then humble yourself in both the sight of the Lord and your church family here, and Jesus Himself will pick you up. [James 4:10]  But maybe you say that you have already tried that years ago and now you are already mature and in a position of leadership here in Christ’s church.  Ok, then welcome others who are still struggling with pride, fear, and doubts.  Welcome those who are still rough around the edges and difficult to get along with.  Repent, again and again, and hear these words of Christ fresh and new every day: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” [Vs. 5, 6]

I trust that our Lord has your attention now?  Good, then what He says next will definitely move your heart to cry out for His mercy.  Listen…

II. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!  And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

Now, I have preached and taught this portion of Matthew 18 many times and each time it is brought up, it causes some fear and confusion within your hearts.  I seem to have to repeat the teaching of this portion more than any other.  Now this morning I will say briefly and concisely that these words are meant to teach you that it is impossible for you to please God by being good!  You cannot earn a place in heaven by trying to be sinless.  If that was the case, then you should, by all means cut off your offending body parts, and keep cutting and cutting until there is NOTHING left of you, but perfection!  But that is not God’s way of grace.  Christ has the better way; He gives to us the way of the cross, which is the way of baptism.  Repent, turn to Jesus and become nothing so that He becomes everything.  Repent from your desire to be Mr. or Mrs. Big Shot, and become humble like a child, like your Savior.  In this way of the cross, repentance not only brings forgiveness of all sins, but it also brings to you a new ability to welcome, value, and protect those who are by nature and spiritual stature, weaker and less mature than you.

III. The way of the cross will also help prevent you from looking down on other folks.  Or rather, it will help you understand what Jesus means when He says: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?  And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” [Vs. 10-14]

Being humble, being as a child forever running into the arms of Jesus can be a wonderful life, if you will simply embrace it with the faith that God provides, but it can also be a trying and difficult life as well.  What do you do when one of the little immature ones is wandering away from the faith?  What do you do when they are behaving badly, and embracing the way of the world more than the way of the Kingdom of Heaven?  Well, you could look at all of the work involved in helping them come back to the Kingdom way of life and say, “Forget it!  Let someone else worry about So and So.” Or, you yourself, can become like a child, run to Jesus and then follow the real Good Shepherd as He leads you out to find and bring back your lost brother or sister.  You could do that if you truly desire to be humble and willing to be led yourself.

TRANSITION: But don’t some people deserve to be lost and punished for their sins.  Isn’t there a time when we just let some people go to the devil to be tormented and perhaps scared back into the fold?  Well remember now, we are talking about little ones, helpless children in the eyes of God.  If you saw a toddler separated from it’s mother wandering along a dangerous highway, would you say, “Let him go.  If he doesn’t get killed, maybe his fear of this danger will teach him to make better choices next time.”

By now, some of you are catching on to what Christ is teaching us, and some of you are having trouble letting go of your idea of justice.  And perhaps you are thinking, “But pastor, there are times when someone has committed a gross sin, and they simply will not repent.  Are you saying that Christ wants us to ignore that?”  Certainly not!  He wants you to be jared by it like a slap in the face, and then He wants you to do something about it.  He wants you to do everything within the power and abilities that He has given you, to bring that little sinning child back to a forgiven relationship with God; back to a state of grace within Christ’s church.  He does not want you to stop pursuing your brother or sister until they are safe once again within the heart of Christ, within the bosom of His church.  Listen to Christ’s way, the way of the cross…

IV. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” [Vs. 15-17]

A common theme of frustration, which I hear over and over again from dear saints who believe they are following this portion of Matthew 18 is this: “Pastor I have already tried that.  They will not listen to me.”  And my answer, which is also Christ’s answer is, “Try again.”  And the response I get is, “I didn’t read that in Matthew 18!”  And to that response I counter with, “Oh but when Peter asked in verse 21, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered him in verse 22, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  In other words there is not an assigned number of times where you simply give up on one of Christ’s little ones.

But at some point, you will begin to become discouraged and even tired of the tension that your brother’s sinful state is causing both to you and others.  At this point, you should look for both strength and wisdom in the presence of others.  Proverbs 15:22 teaches us that “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”  When you share your burden for your lost brother or sister, you are admitting that you are small and incapable of finding a way of changing the lost ones heart, so you naturally reach out to others who are also aware of the lost one’s state, so that they may assist you in your rescue mission.  And the first thing that you must do as a group is pray to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and then allow the Holy Spirit to formulate a plan that will lead you towards recovering your erring brother or sister.  But I warn you, the others may tell you something you may not want to hear; they may tell you that you are making a much bigger deal out of the behavior of the one you have labeled lost; they may tell you truthfully that what you are experiencing is not sin, but a portion of the other person’s personality that is still immature, but open to growth and change.  In other words, they may tell you that you are making a mountain out of a mole hill.

But if, within the multitude of counselors, there is common agreement that your brother or sister has committed a gross sin against you or Christ’s heart, the church, then you will approach that little one, in love for the purpose of helping that person turn back to Christ and away from the sin that has trapped them.  Again, there is no assigned number of attempts; you simply keep trying until once again, you are exhausted.  When you reach that point, and only that point, are you free to make that lost brother or sister’s sin public, and you do that by telling it to the church.

The church is not the pastor, but he is part of the church.  The church is not the Board of Elders, but they are part of the church.  The church is not only the body of Christ, but it is the place where you find His very heart; it is His bosom of love, where each of us through baptism are brought to nestle safely within.  When you tell it to the church, the church does not respond as the judge, jury, and executioner, but instead they respond as the heart of Christ; they respond in love.

TRANSITION: The church gathered together listens to the perceived danger of the lost little one, and then, and then…

V. And then they pray!  “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” [VS. 18-20]

Binding and loosening is serious business; it has eternal consequences both here and in heaven.  We are talking about either granting forgiveness of sins or withholding it.  This is a matter of heaven or hell.  So the church must pray; we must intercede for our lost brother or sister, but then at the time appointed by God and displayed with the peace of the Holy Spirit’s presence, we must finally confront our lost brother or sister.  “Do you repent of this gross and public sin or do you not?  Do you desire to be part of Christ’s body, protected within His sacred heart or do you not.  Do you repent?”

When this question is asked let the entire church give into their trembling and weak legs and fall onto their faces before God, interceding before His thrown of grace, asking that He please move the heart of their lost brother or sister, so that they will see their sin and return to Christ and His church.  And if they will not repent…

CONCLUSION: Oh, my… how sad.  My heart is broken because resting in the heart of my Lord, I know that His heart is broken too.  If they will not repent, then we have lost our brother; we have lost our sister.  But perhaps there is still hope?  Doesn’t our Lord promise that “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”?  And so we never give up; even if our brother or sister has chosen to be like one apart from Christ, we still wait, hope, and pray that one day they too will return, repent like us; become like a humble child and rest safely and securely in Christ’s Kingdom of grace.

So I ask you now, have you really followed Matthew 18 in the past?  May each of us be moved to follow our Lord’s Words recorded here for the rest of our lives, by the power and love of Christ that compels us… AMEN!

For The Glory of the Lord!

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 13C, August 18th, 2013

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“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.” [Proverbs 25:6]

One of my favorite sayings I speak to remind myself to choose the good over the indifferent or self-serving path is to say “I’m doing this for the glory of God.”  Now, this little statement has gotten me through a lot of tough times, but I’ve also found that it can also become a dangerous way of drawing glory away from God and to myself.  Let me show you what I mean.

You say to me, “Pastor, that was a good message.”  And I say with great joy in my voice, “Thanks be to God, all glory goes to Him!”  Or, your spouse may say, “I really appreciate the way you’ve been helping out around here.”  And you say, “Yes, if it had not been for the Lord, I certainly would not have been able to do the things that I did.”  Or how about this one; A pro athlete scores on the field, and drops to one knee and points up to the sky.

Now in and of themselves, all of those examples are really harmless.  But, if the reason each responded the way they did, was to create a false sense of humility in order to look better or be perceived in a way that earned favor and respect from others, well, to that, God’s Word says, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”

Humility is a slippery thing to display before others.  When it is generous, every one knows it, and they will at least silently confess that it is a trait that must be acknowledged and admired.  But it isn’t a trait that can be faked in a consistent fashion.  If it isn’t real, people will know!

I’d like to tell you a story about two brothers who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. One went away to college, earned a law degree, and became a famous lawyer in a very successful law firm. The other brother stayed on the family farm. One day the brother who was a lawyer came and visited his brother, the farmer. He asked, “Hey bro, why don’t you leave this place and make a name for yourself like I did?  Then you can go anywhere and hold your head up high like me?” The farmer brother pointed out at the wheat fields and said, “Do you see all of that wheat out there? Look at it closely and you will notice that only the stalks that are empty of kernels stand up tall. But the ones that are full always bow low.”

Said differently, “The branch that bears the most fruit is bent the lowest to the ground.”  But for what are we bearing fruit?  Is it for God’s glory or for our own?  Why do we really do the things we do?  Is it for God’s glory, to draw others to His kingdom, or is it for our own reputation and comfort?

When we analyze all of our actions, we must be honest and admit that humility, true humility, is like a slippery watermelon seed. Once you get it under your finger and you think you have it, “plop,” it shoots out of your grasp!

So what is the answer?  How can we be humble in a way that is genuine and pleasing to God?  And the answer is, “You cannot!”  Martin Luther confessed this same thing in his catechism when he taught, “I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel…”  So you see, it is only when the Spirit of Christ has come into our hearts that we can begin to turn away from our self-serving, false humility and show true concern for others.

In our gospel lesson Jesus tells two stories, both of them based on what He is seeing at a dinner party.  Both stories are means to get at the motivation behind the actions of those present. Jesus knows the hearts of every one there in a way that no one else could ever know.  So armed with this knowledge He points out how each person is trying to elbow out the other for the best seat at the party.  He says, that instead of fighting over the best seats, simply take the lowest seat and wait to be called up by the host.  We can be certain that each of them knew that Jesus was talking about them.  Jesus sees and He calls a thing what it is… and their thing was pride and a haughty, self-serving spirit.

Now, we might not be able to relate to a scene like this in a way that the guests at the dinner party could, but what if Jesus said, “When you go to Costco and the vendor puts out free samples, don’t elbow your way to the front of the line to get your sample, instead let everyone else go first, so the vendor can say, friend come here; I have saved the best sample for you!”

Remember, Jesus is watching.  “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”

But Jesus is not done teaching about humility.  He has one more story.  He says that “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not (keep) invit(ing) (only) your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, (also) invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”  [Luke 14:12-13]

Now once again, most of us may not be able to identify with this life style of the rich and famous.  So I want you to let go of the illustration that Jesus used for that specific person and apply the lesson to where you are right now.  Who are your friends and what activities are you involved in?  The point is that if you help or invite only those who will probably help and invite you in return at a latter date, then your gracious spirit is nothing more than a self-serving one.  You will have been paid in full; there is nothing there that God will admire.  So, do the opposite.  Help the poor and needy in a way that no one sees.  You can do things like giving liberally and often to our community pantry here at Trinity, so that your neighbor receives food anonymously.  Give generously with your time, talent, and treasure, in a way that makes a difference for others and not for yourself.  In other words, God knows why you do what you do.  If it is to be noticed and admired by others, to get something out of what may appear to be a selfless act; well then God says you are paid in full.

So how can we ever have true humility?  What is true humility?  Well St. Paul gives us a pretty good list of selfless acts in our Epistle reading (Hebrews 13:1-17).  Let’s look at those: Be kind to strangers, visit or care for those in prison, honor your marriage and the marriage of others, keep your life free of loving money and be happy with what you have.  But again, how can we do that in a way that is God pleasing?  And again, on our own we cannot, but through God’s work we can! “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”  Instead, remember that it is the Lord who is your helper, so don’t be afraid.

This is true humility.  Admitting that on your own you are helpless to please God.   Admitting that without His help you deserve judgment and punishment.  But true humility always bows low and accepts whatever truth God has declared.  And this is the truth you must hear.  It is not about you, but it is about Jesus, God’s Son and your Savior.  Jesus is the one who came and took the lowest position.  Though He is our Creator and God, he became our servant and friend.  He chose to be born a man, he ate with sinners, he stooped down to wash feet, and He bore the scandal and humility of the cross for you!

He brings the proud low, He speaks a Word of judgment to humble those who think they are something for a reason.  So that they and we might see who we really are.  So that we might see ourselves as God sees us.  So that when we see the truth about our sin we might also see God’s only solution to that sin… Jesus Christ!

True humility looks to Jesus alone, but not as some kind of example.  We are not to approach life’s dilemmas by asking “What would Jesus do in this predicament?” but instead we are to ask, “What has Jesus done?”

You see the humble life and struggle of Jesus is not an example but a substitute.  His struggle becomes our struggle, His death our death, His resurrection our resurrection.  He is our Master, our Redeemer, and Savior.  In our baptism He not only called us His own but He in fact gave us His humility.  So we can say you will be humble because you are humble.  And you will know that you are humble when you experience the hardship, suffering, and pain of the many crosses that come in this life, without being overcome with worry, fear, or anger.

“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”  That is a work and an assignment only God can perform, and He has done that very thing for you, through His Son, Jesus Christ.  This morning, before we leave this place, Jesus would have you remember that through your baptism He has called to you with these words, “Friend move up higher.”  When you leave this world of struggle, and you enter into the resurrection of the justified, you will have left the cross behind and entered into Jesus’ kingdom of glory.  And there, you will be welcomed with a holy kiss and asked to take your place of honor at Christ’s banquet table.  How good it is to be called forward in the King’s presence and stand in the place of the great, and it is all through Christ alone!  AMEN!

Equal Footing

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

17th Sunday in Pentecost B, September 23, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. [Mark 9:35b]

These words are hard to receive because they are hard to understand; they are hard to understand because they frighten us by  demanding that we put the needs of others above our own needs.  We are afraid to do this because it requires us to die to ourselves and  live for Christ; they demand that we allow Christ to live within us and teach us.

These words are hard to receive because in them Jesus gives us wisdom from above; a wisdom that is completely opposite to the  wisdom of the world.  This morning Jesus is teaching us that the way to make it big, the way to be first is by receiving those who are  smaller than us.

How do we receive those who are little?  Well, in our gospel reading (Mark 9:30-37),what example did Jesus use to teach His disciples?  That’s right a little child.  He scooped up a small child and placed it smack dab in the middle of the room so that all eyes would be  focused on that little one.  And then, He simply said that “Whoever receives one (such as this child) in My name receives Me, and  whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.” [vs. 37]

So, look at the least and discover your way to be first.  To receive the most, take the smallest.

Why did Jesus use a child to illustrate His teaching?  Well, because children were not given much attention back then.  You know the saying, “Children are to be seen and not heard!”  So by elevating small children and their small understanding of the world around them, Jesus is making a point that we must always be ready to receive people who may indeed be below us in not just age but also maturity and status.  But this receiving business isn’t simply opening your arms and taking an infant so you can admire and coddle them.  No, it is more than just a receiving blanket; Jesus wants you to take responsibility for the nurturing and mentoring of that one who is beneath you.

Think of the young couple who has just received their infant.  The father says, “We just had a baby,” even though it was the mother who gave birth.  The father gladly receives the baby from the nurse and coddles him and beams with pride.  But soon he gives the baby back to the nurse so he can make the necessary phone calls and hand out the obligatory cigars.

When mother and child come home, the proud daddy learns the art of diapering and feeding and promises his wife that they are in this together.  But after a few days, maybe even after a few hours, as B.B. King sang, “The Thrill is Gone!”  When the baby cries at 2:00 a.m. the father lies in bed pretending to be asleep and waits for his wife to get up.  Or, When the diaper contains a surprise that is obvious by the smell, he yells “Dear can you…?”

What happened?  Why is it only the mother who must bear the burden?  Because only the mother has taken to heart the words that to receive the child, that is to care for the child no matter the cost, is to receive Jesus!

In our world today, there are many who do not know Jesus.  When God brings them to us as individuals or as a congregation, they come with all kinds of selfish and sinful habits and ambitions.  They will be demanding of your time to the point of bitter jealousy.  They will exhibit selfish ambition and all kinds of vile practices; in essence, they bring with them the wisdom of this world; a wisdom that says only the strong and the best will survive.  If this worldly wisdom is allowed to remain within them they will bring disorder both to your individual lives and to our congregation.  So what are we to do?  Are we to send them away packing?  Are we to chastise them and demand conformity?  Well what did Jesus say?  We are to receive them as you receive a child; you are to receive them as a parent receives their infant.  You are to nurture and teach them; you are to take responsibility and serve them.  By this type of receiving you are receiving Jesus Himself.  Receive others as you would have others do unto you.  This is what James calls the “meekness of wisdom” in our Epistle reading. [James 3:13-4:10]

We are afraid of this teaching because its wisdom is the very opposite of what we learn in this sinful world we live in.  Here, in God’s Word, we learn that trying to be the greatest, that is to be first through selfish ambition, is to live outside of Jesus name; it is to be an enemy of God’s truth and an opponent to God’s wisdom from above.  That dear friends is not only wrong and sinful, “but it is earthly, unspiritual, (and) demonic.”

But we are afraid to hear this teaching, to receive it for another reason; it demands that we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

This morning, Jesus teaches us that as we “receive one” (such as a child in His name, we can expect to be treated as Jesus was treated; we can expect to be “delivered up into the hands of men.”

This was the second time that Jesus proclaimed to His disciples that He would soon suffer and die by the hands of sinful men so that He could save them.  While it was true that the disciples did not understand how that was a good thing, they also knew that it did not sound like the gospel.  They did not understand because they were still thinking with worldly wisdom and not with wisdom from above.   In their minds, suffering equals bad and comfort equals good!

We understand that also.  We seldom take risks for strangers because we all know that it can come back to bite us in the butt.  No good deed goes unpunished.  But in our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 11:18-20), Jeremiah understood this feeling.  He knew that by receiving and teaching sinful strangers he was opening himself up to a world of trouble.  The very ones that he was sent to save with the Word of God were the ones that would plot against him; they devised schemes saying “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” [vs. 20]

Jeremiah understood that it wasn’t really him who they were attacking but the Word of God.  It was the Word that they wanted silenced; a Word that pointed out their sin and their love of more sin.  Jeremiah understood, and if he could be here this morning, he would point you to one greater than he; one who is the true Suffering Servant that the sinners then and sinners today want to silence.

This morning, Jesus shows us that He is the greater Jeremiah, as He turns the prophets prayer of, “O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon (my enemies) for to you have I committed my cause [vs. 20], into “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And Jesus shows us how to be greatest by being least as He shows us how to trust God even in death with these Words, “Father, into Your hand I commend my spirit.”

Do you want to be great in the eyes of God even as the world thinks you are the least?  Then trust in and protect the truth of the gospel.  We trust in the truth of a gospel that points us to a Suffering Savior.  We trust in the truth which declares, that His suffering and death for our sins is the only way to please a righteous God.  We trust in the truth, which proclaims that His death upon the cross for a world of sinners was truly our own death when God’s forgiving love washed us and recreated us in the waters of our baptism.

And when we trust in this truth for us we are moved by the Spirit of God within us and our new baptismal nature to share that same message with others.  We share the message with others, because Jesus loves those little ones who are lost in sin.  He loves them however we find them; even if they are infants or elderly.  He loves them and calls all of them into the washing of the water and the Word.  He wants all of them to be washed clean and be received in the blanket of God’s forgiving love.

This is the message that calls each of us to die to sin and turn to Jesus for life.  It is a message of least and greatest.  It is a message that teaches each of us every day to die to ourselves and live for Christ.  It teaches that the way to be the greatest is to serve others so that Christ can be great among us.

This is the equal footing that we all stand upon.  We equally can’t understand this message of suffering and death, but we trust it and we let it come alive within us.  Each of us are equally afraid of this message, but we draw strength and courage from it as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments.  Together, we equally see ourselves in a lowly and humble way; as empty vessels that God wants to fill with His divine grace and forgiving love.  And when God fills us equally, something interesting happens as we stand upon the equal footing with both young and old, mature and immature Christians; each of us discovers that our equal footing is really our true and solid foundation… Jesus Christ!  In Christ, or on Christ each of us are elevated high above this sinful world and the punishment that awaits it.  May God continue to give each of you more grace as you oppose the devil and your own sinful flesh; may God give each of you more grace as you cleanse your hands and your hearts.  May God give you more grace as you humble yourselves before the Lord, and then may your mourning be turned to joy as He alone exalts you unto eternal life… in Jesus name… AMEN!

“Move Up Higher”

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, September 2, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: Tonight, one word seems to jump out at us in our reading [Luke 14:1-14], and that word is humility! When we speak of humility we can speak it as a command or as grace. Let me show you what I mean; “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord!” That is the law… it’s a command. It doesn’t offer you any help in accomplishing it and if you are truthful with yourself and God tonight you know that on your own you can’t fulfill that command. But, if I put Jesus into the equation, Jesus for you, it becomes the gospel; it becomes good news for you! Listen: Jesus humbled Himself in the sight of the Lord for you! Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross (for you)!” [Philippians 2:6-8]

Do you see the point? If the focus is on you and your abilities and actions then you have the law, but if the focus is on Jesus and what He did for you in His life and death upon the cross, well then, you have the gospel. In one way of thinking you have yourself as the center of attention, as the provider of your needs and in the other way of thinking you have God as your focus and Jesus and His cross as your provider for everything… even your eternal salvation. You see, that is the difference between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross.

I. In our gospel reading tonight we join Jesus at a dinner party. But make no mistake, this was not a friendly gathering of supporters or men who simply wanted to hear Jesus teach the Word of God; no in fact this was a hostile crowd that invited Jesus with just one purpose… they wanted to observe Him and use His own Words in order to destroy Him! But Jesus accepted the invitation so that He could observe them and then offer them His Word, both law and gospel so that He could save them.

Picture in your mind’s eye, Jesus has entered the home of the host, a Pharisee, when He observes other Pharisees in attendance rushing to get the best seats at the dinner party. There in front of him are a group of men, the distinguished teachers of Israel behaving like a bunch of first graders fighting over who get’s to sit next to the teacher; they are each trying to elbow the other out of the way so that they can have the best seats. Jesus filed this observation away as an object lesson for his second topic of instruction, but first He wanted to address their false teaching about what constitutes doing work on the Sabbath day.

Jesus looks around and spots a poor soul looking in on the diner party. This man had a disease called dropsy. Dropsy is an illness where parts of the body retain an unhealthy amount of fluid and become swollen. Jesus motions for this man to come to him and asks the Pharisees a question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent.” [Luke 14:2-3] I imagine that Jesus let such an unusual amount of time lapse that it became uncomfortable. The question was a very simple one, yet because of their pride and self-serving interests, they refused to answer, so Jesus humbled them. “(Then) Jesus took (the man) and healed him and sent him away.” [Luke 14:4] And there is your answer; it is always good to do good on the Sabbath!

II. Now it was time for lesson #2! This lesson would deal with their self-serving and self-glorifying behavior, which Jesus observed earlier. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” [Luke 14:7-11]

Now see how masterfully our Lord teaches; He uses an earthly example in order to make a heavenly point! He was speaking to the Pharisees, but He’s also speaking to us, and He does it by showing us His own life. It was Jesus who stooped down to our level. It was Jesus, God the Son who humbled himself by becoming a man! He took on the humble form of a servant so that He could serve the sinful world his own obedience unto death, even death on a cross. Jesus served us by taking the last place at the banquet of death when He sat Himself upon the cold and splintered bench of the cross! What is the point of this parable? Simply this, “Everyone who exalts himself (above God and his neighbor) will be humbled, and He who humbles himself (before God and his neighbor) will be exalted!” [Luke 14:11] “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up!” [James 4:10] Once again, Jesus demonstrated that a man centered theology of glory stands in complete opposition to God’s way… the way of the cross! Jesus is saying that it t is better to be honored by God than by men. It is better to be humble so that God will reward you than to be full of pride, which will cause God to humble you. And to really understand this parable Jesus decides that we need to hear another one.

III. “Jesus said also to the man who had invited him (to the party), “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” [Luke 14:12-14]

So what’s the point? Simply this: don’t do things with a self-serving agenda. Don’t worry about rewards in this life, but concentrate on Jesus and the humble way of the cross and you will acquire your reward in heaven. You see, Jesus knew that the only reason that He was invited to the party was so that the host would gain standing with his fellow Pharisees. He wanted to be known as the one who helped bring Jesus down! But what he was really doing was bringing him down, down to hell.

Jesus used the thunder bolt of the law to shatter that man’s self-righteousness and expose him as an enemy to God! But He didn’t do it to punish him but to save him! Jesus shared these teachings so that the sinful Pharisees and you and me might be moved to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness by turning away from our self-serving life styles and turn to God’s mercy. In other words, Jesus wants us to repent and see Him as who He really is… our Savior!

Tonight, we need to understand that Jesus isn’t telling us to go out and throw a party for the poorest of the poor and the most needy of the needy. Instead, He’s trying to get us understand our sinful and self-serving reasons for why we do what we do! If we’re happy with being like the self-serving Pharisees, well then what we get in this life is all that we’ll get. But if our motivation is to serve God and build His Kingdom, then we should be happy doing things no one would ever notice, and if they did notice, they would never reward.

The truth is friends, the only way we can change our motivations from being self-serving to becoming God-serving is if we allow God’s grace to change our hearts and our minds. But like the Pharisees, we need to first admit that there is something that needs changing! We need to confess our tendency to be self-serving and then ask God to help us take our eyes off of ourselves and teach us to look to the cross and to Jesus Christ!

CONCLUSION: Tonight, I’d like to leave you with this question: “Will you allow God to teach you humility and learn to rest in Jesus?” Now if you’re honest with yourself, you will admit that while your heart says yes, you know that your sinful flesh will do everything in its power to break that promise. So what can you do? Nothing but turn to Jesus and remember who He is; He is God with us and God for us!

Jesus is here with us right now in His Word. He is always with you, strengthening you through His means of grace; every day He works to take your focus off of who you are so that you will know more clearly who He is. Every day He’s moving your focus to His cross and to the place He’s prepared for you in heaven. He is working within you and around you so that as you’re strengthened in His grace you won’t be afraid to humble yourself and place God’s will and the needs of your neighbor above your own. Because you haven’t rejected the work of his cross, in essence you have taken your own humble seat next to your Savior. And you know by faith that one day soon you will hear your Savior call to you, “Friend, move up here!” I pray that you will always desire to hear those Words and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

“Move Up Higher”

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 29, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

This morning, in all three of our readings, one word seems to jump out at us, and that word is humility!   When we speak of humility we can speak it as a command or as grace.  Let me show you what I mean; “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord!”  That is the law… it’s a command.  It doesn’t offer you any help in accomplishing it and if you are truthful with yourself and God this morning you know that on your own you can’t fulfill that command.  But, if I put Jesus into the equation, Jesus for you, it becomes the gospel; it becomes good news for you!  Listen: Jesus humbled Himself in the sight of the Lord for you!  Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross (for you)!” [Phil. 2:6-8]

Do you see the point?  If the focus is on you and your abilities and actions then you have the law, but if the focus is on Jesus and what He did for you in His life and death upon the cross, well then, you have the gospel.  In one way of thinking you have yourself as the center of attention, as the provider of your needs and in the other way of thinking you have God as your focus and Jesus and His cross as your provider for everything… even your eternal salvation.  You see, that is the difference between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross.

In our gospel reading this morning we join Jesus at a dinner party.  But make no mistake, this was not a friendly gathering of supporters or men who simply wanted to hear Jesus teach the Word of God; no in fact this was a hostile crowd that invited Jesus with just one purpose… they wanted to observe Him and use His own Words in order to destroy Him!  But Jesus accepted the invitation so that He could observe them and then offer them His Word, both law and gospel so that He could save them.

Picture in your mind’s eye, Jesus has entered the home of the host, a Pharisee, when He observes other Pharisees in attendance rushing to get the best seats at the dinner party.  There in front of him are a group of men, the distinguished teachers of Israel behaving like a bunch of first graders playing musical chairs; they are each trying to elbow the other out of the way so that they can have the best seats.  Jesus files this observation away as an object lesson for his second topic of instruction, but first He wanted to address their false teaching about what constitutes doing work on the Sabbath day.

Jesus looks around and spots a poor soul looking in on the diner party.  This man had a disease called dropsy.  which is also known as edema, an illness where parts of the body retain an unhealthy amount of fluid and become swollen.  Jesus motions for this man to come to him and asks the Pharisees a question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’  But they remained silent.” [Lk. 14:2-3]  I imagine that Jesus let such an unusual amount of time lapse that they were very uncomfortable.  The question was a very simple one, yet because of their pride and self-serving interests, they refused to answer, so Jesus humbled them. “(Then) Jesus took (the man) and healed him and sent him away.” [vs. 4]  And there is your answer, it is always good to do good on the Sabbath!

Now it was time for lesson #2!  This lesson would deal with their self-serving and self-glorifying behavior, which Jesus observed earlier. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’  Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” [vs. 7-11]

In this parable, Jesus was using an earthly example in order to make a heavenly and eternal point.  He was speaking to the Pharisees, but He is also speaking to us.  And He does this by showing us His own life.  It was Jesus who stooped down to our level.  It is Jesus, God the Son who humbled himself by becoming a man!  He took on the humble form of a servant so that He could serve the sinful world his own obedience unto death, even death on a cross.  Jesus served us by taking the last place at the banquet of death when He sat Himself upon the cold and splintered bench of the cross!  What is the point of this parable?  Simply this, “Everyone who exalts himself (above God and his neighbor) will be humbled, and He who humbles himself (before God and his neighbor) will be exalted!” [vs. 11]  “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up!” [James 4:10]  Once again, Jesus demonstrated that a man centered theology of glory stands in complete opposition to God’s way… the way of the cross!  Jesus is saying that it t is better to be honored by God than by men.  It is better to be humble so that God will reward you than to be full of pride and thus causing God to humble you.  And to understand this parable Jesus decides that we must hear one more.

“Jesus said also to the man who had invited him (to the party), “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.  For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” [vs. 12-14]

What is the point of this parable?  It simply finishes the thought of the first one; don’t do things with a self-serving agenda.  Don’t worry about rewards in this life, but concentrate on Jesus and the humble way of the cross and you will acquire your reward in heaven.  Jesus knew that the only reason that He was invited to the party was so that the host would gain standing with his fellow Pharisees.  He wanted to be known as the one who helped bring Jesus down!  But what he was really doing was bringing himself down, down to hell.  Jesus was using the thunder bolt of the law to shatter the man’s self-righteousness so that once broken and exposed as an enemy to God, he would then seek God’s mercy and forgiveness by repenting of his self-serving theology of glory.  If he would allow Jesus’ Words to humble Him in repentance then the eyes of his heart would be opened and He would see Jesus as He truly is… the Savior… his Savior! 

The idea wasn’t that this man should go out and find the poorest of the poor and the most needy of the needy and have them alone sit at his table.  Instead, Jesus was getting at the man’s motivation behind having this party.  If his motivation was to be admired and repaid by self-glory, then he was paid in full.  But if his motivation was to serve God and be a sincere servant of the kingdom of heaven, then he should do something that no one would notice, or if they did notice they would never reward.  The only way these Pharisees and even you and me can change our motivations from being self-serving to becoming God-serving is if we allow God’s grace to change our hearts and our minds.  But like the Pharisees, we must first see that it is part of our sinful nature to live a life that serves our own interests.  We must confess this tendency to be a theologian of glory as evil and then ask God to help us take our eyes off of ourselves and teach us to look to the cross and to Jesus Christ!

Dear friends in our readings today Jesus asks us to take our eyes off of the things that this sinful world says are good and pleasing and instead place our eyes upon Him and the ways God’s Word teaches are profitable to us and pleasing to Him.  This morning, God’s Word teaches us that Jesus is both the Law and the Gospel.  He is the law when he tells us that if we seek first and foremost glory and fame in this world God will punish us by withholding both in eternity.  But He is also the gospel, when he clearly teaches that He humbled Himself for you so that you would be exalted before God.  Jesus then is our liberty and freedom, but because He humbled Himself for us, he has also become our sin.  His righteousness became our righteousness and His death became our death.  If we will rest in this exchange then His glory in heaven is also our glory!  Because He permitted the Law to accuse Him and allowed our sin to damn Him, and death to devour Him He removed the threat of the law against us, He damned sin, destroyed death, and He justified and saved you!  So the question each of us must ask ourselves this morning is simply this: “Will I rest and trust in this gospel truth?”  If you’re honest with yourself, you will admit that while your heart says yes, you know that your sinful flesh will work with all of its might to break this promise, and that is because it is in the nature of our sinful flesh to serve ourselves and not God.  So what can we do?  We must remember who Jesus is; He is God with us and God for us!

While it is true that right now, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father and from there He will come again to judge the living and the dead; it is also true that He is here with us right now in His Word, in the font, and there at His holy table.  In heaven He stands before God and intercedes for you the baptized with the marks of His suffering and sacrificial death.  But He is also here with us in this sinful world!  He is walking with you and strengthening you through His means of grace.  He is daily working to take your eyes off of the things that are based in earthly glory and moving your gaze to things centered in a heavenly glory; He is moving your focus to His cross and to the place He has prepared for you in heaven.  He is working within you and around you so that as you are strengthened in His grace you won’t be afraid to humble yourself and place God’s will and the needs of your neighbor above your own.  Why He even leads you into your neighbors suffering that is caused by sin, and He does this through the power of His blood poured out for you on the cross and in His Supper; the very blood that has changed you forever.  Because you haven’t rejected the work of the cross and the font, in essence you have taken your own humble seat next to your Savior.  And you know by faith that one day soon you will hear your Savior call to you, “Friend, move up here!”  I pray that you will always desire to hear those Words and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!