Posts Tagged ‘Joy’

Let Me See Your Peace!

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Lent 2 B, February 25, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA 
On the occasion of the closure of the Interim Pastoral Ministry 
At
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, California

Click here for audio of this message

Romans 5:1-11

Reformational Scripture for Tim Botts 2017 Reformation Calendar

Do you have peace? If you do, may I see it? Show me your peace!

This is really the silent, yet always present demand of our unbelieving community that surrounds us everywhere we go. They will quickly tell you that they aren’t really interested in hearing about your Savior Jesus Christ, but if believing in Him works for you, well then, they’re happy for you. Now, while they may not care to hear about what you believe, let me assure you that they are watching you; watching to see if what you believe makes a difference in how you live! They want to see how you’ll stand up under the pressures of life as compared to them and their circle of friends. In other words, does what you believe make a difference in who you are? And in order to evaluate your belief system they want to see your peace.

Now, whether we want to admit it or not, we Christians are prone to demand this same thing from God whenever troubles and tragedies strike our faith-filled and grace centered lives. It’s really a little rude and inconsiderate when we consider all that God has done to provide us with His peace throughout our lives!

Did you notice that I said His peace and not yours? That’s the way that it should be. The objective is first and then the subjective. That is always God’s way. In other words, you can’t know real peace without first having God’s peace!

The world teaches that peace is first personal and then corporate.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me! The problem with this kind of peace is that it is very self-centered and dependent on however you feel at any given moment. This is a strange idea, because it assumes that you live for yourself. Not that this is anything new, William Shakespeare said long ago, “To thine own self be true!” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it leads to a personal peace at the cost of other peoples’ peace.

In the 1940’s Three Stooges skit called “I’ll Never Heil Again” the boys dressed up as Axis leaders. As they started their war council meeting they chanted, “Peace, peace, we want peace.” And to this Moe who was dressed up as Hitler stood up and said, “Yes we want a piece of this, and a piece of that.” And that, I am afraid is always the cost of our individual peace… it comes at the expense of others. Like money, we can never have enough peace. So, our natural tendency is to surround ourselves with as much of whatever we think will bring that peace, at the exclusion many times of other people’s peace.

Since I first came to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church I’ve had two rules that have guided me: First, like a physician, I desired to do no harm; Second, I wanted to create an atmosphere through the proper preaching and teaching of God’s Word, both Law and Gospel, which would flood your lives and this parish with God’s peace.

God’s peace is Christ’s own peace. Listen to the Son of God offer and describe this peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27] So what is this peace that Jesus says He has given to us? Well we know it ISN’T the kind of selfish, self serving peace that the world wants, and we also know that it IS the kind of peace that brings comfort and security in times of trouble, division, and fear.

In verse 1 of our epistle reading, Paul shares these words: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” So the kind of peace that Jesus gives, which Paul is telling us we already have, begins first and always with faith that justifies or makes us right with God. Now knowing this, there are a couple of questions we must ask to completely understand this peace that comes from God By faith. The first question is, “Faith in Who?” The Who is Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God who is the Savior of the world. The second question is “Faith in what?” The what, is the completed work of Jesus Christ; His birth, His life, His suffering, and His death, His resurrection and ascension. In these things, which are recorded for us in Holy Scripture we are shown God’s work for us; a work that has taken away our sins, atoned for our evil and made us right with God! Or as Paul says it, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

Through Jesus we have been reconciled; made right with God. Through this work, God addresses the one great obstacle that separates us from His love, and that is our sin. He alone does what we could not do, and He does it through the atoning death of His Son.

In Jesus, God put forward His love for you by putting Jesus in your place; by having Him suffer and die for you, because of your sins. In God’s self-sacrifice He points your divided, troubled and sinful hearts to His solution for your sins, and His Word tells you to be reconciled; that is to be made right with Him and each other! In Jesus God assures us that we are reconciled; we are at peace with Him!

This proclamation of peace with God through Jesus Christ is the gospel!

If you will receive this truth by faith, then you will see God’s justice performed on the cross for you, and you will know peace! This is the blessed assurance that saves the worst of sinners and then recreates them and gives them not just peace, but the ability to live out that peace, and even experience it.

What is assurance? Well here’s the concise theological definition: It is the firm persuasion of faith that you are in a state of grace. In other words, by faith you know that no matter what may happen around you, it is well with your soul, because God is with you and for you. It’s the God-given ability to move from the cross of Jesus to the waters of your baptism and say with all certainty that “Jesus died for me!” It’s hearing the promises of God to the world, and knowing that all of those promises were given to you personally when you were washed clean with the water and the Word in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In other words, as St. Paul says in the fifth verse of our epistle lesson, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Why has God’s love been poured into your heart? So that you would know and experience His peace! But aren’t we now talking about feelings? Isn’t our salvation independent of feelings? Yes, that is the objective work of God’s gift, a gift to the world. But in your baptism it became very personal, very subjective. You see, your salvation is something that is done and complete, but it’s also something you experience as you live it out! Every day, come what may, Jesus is with you! He is with you in trials, trouble, and tribulation. Every day God asks you to experience His presence and then learn to rest in His comfort, care, and love for you and for HIS Church.
Many years ago one of the astronauts who walked on the moon was interviewed and asked, “What did you think about as you stood on the moon and looked back at the earth?” The astronaut replied, “I remembered how the spacecraft (that I had to go back home in) was built by the lowest bidder.”
We as Christians can rejoice that the work of our salvation didn’t go to the “lowest bidder” but was provided by an eternal and infallible God. There will never be any problems with His gift of salvation. Your salvation is as sure as the Creator of that salvation, Almighty God! And because it is sure, we can learn to trust in Him and not our current experiences or feelings. We know by faith, that not only do we have peace with God, but we’re gonna keep on having that peace. This peace, which now becomes very personal, becomes an experience that God delights in giving to us. An experience that reminds us that no matter what may or may not be happening in our lives, ultimately it is well and it will be well with our souls!
What does this experience of peace mean to you and me?
Well, if you remember earlier, I mentioned the challenge from our unbelieving neighbors who want to see our peace, which now we know is really God’s peace in action. This peace of God, which surpasses all of our understanding, not only keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, but it also directs our hearts and minds outward to the people who live in our community; people who are dying without knowing the peace of God, which comes only through the cross of Jesus Christ. As they see us weather the same storms of life they go through, and still be both able and ready to rejoice and praise God in the middle of those storms, they will begin to notice that we are neither giving up our hope nor our peace. They will discover what you already know; your suffering produces endurance and endurance produces a Christian character of faith and peace in the presence and work of God on earth and hope in the promise of an eternity in heaven.
All that’s left, is for you to give an answer to anyone who asks for the reason you have this great hope and peace. The reason is of course God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, who takes your faith and hope, and then assures you that no matter what you may be going through, no matter what you may be feeling, in the end it will be well with your souls; you will never be put to shame! This is your blessed assurance of peace with God and peace with each other!
Dear saints of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, no matter what circumstances overtake you, and no matter what fleeting emotions and feelings may come and go within your lives, you can know for certain that God’s love, which He has poured out within this parish and within your hearts, will enable you to not only sing but live out the truth that says, whatever is your lot, it is well with your souls!
Indeed, it IS well with YOUR soul. In Jesus name… Amen!

On Becoming a Christian

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Third Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 12th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.” [Luke 15:1]

Here’s a question that I get asked a lot: “Hey Pastor, how can I really know that I’m a Christian?”  And to this I pose a couple of my own questions to them to lead them to the central idea of our message today: “Aren’t you really asking me how can you know that you are pleasing God?  Or maybe what you really mean is how can you know for sure you are saved?”

Well, in order to know you are saved you must first know that your lost; that is you must admit that you are lost in your sins, or simply put, you are a sinner.  So a sinner then, is someone who is lost in their sins with no ability of their own to be found or made right with God.  From this then, we can say to be a Christian is to be a sinner who has been found in the darkness of sin and then made right with God in Holy Baptism through the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  But what then?

Do you have to become a better person in order to be a Christian?

Of course you do!  Don’t we usually take that for granted?  Don’t we as a rule consider “Christian people” to be a people with a God-given moral standard; as people with certain customs and characteristics that are considered respectable?  But sadly, when we think of our own lives within those terms we usually are forced to admit that we haven’t  attained that standard of excellence; we fall far short.  And this is why many of us must sadly admit that if we are judged by our conduct and our thoughts, we fall far short of the mark, and all appears hopeless, and it seems that we will never truly become a Christian.

And that way of thinking, was exactly what had trapped the Pharisees and most Jews; it is what made turning to Jesus very difficult for them.  They were convicted by the Law of Moses (the 10 Commandments) that they were required to achieve holiness or righteousness with God through what they must do.  But Jesus taught something entirely different.  And this is what shocked the Jews.

You see, it wasn’t respectable and moral people that were flocking to Jesus in order to hear Him and become His disciples, it was sinners… public, open sinners! The God fearing folks of Jesus time were offended by the truth that Jesus felt at home and very comfortable hanging out with sinful, no good ragamuffins!  He was at ease with those who were considered by others to be less than worthy of a place in God’s kingdom.  He received sinners and ate with them, which in the Far-Eastern culture meant the same as counting them as close friends. So He was a friend of no good sinners, and what’s more, He readily admitted it!  When they criticized Jesus for this He simply said: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous (or perhaps it is clearer if we say the self righteous), but sinners.” [Matthew 9:12, 13]

You see, the truth is that we do not become disciples because we have so many good qualities that have convinced us that we have something to add to or improve Christ’s church, but rather, we become Jesus’ disciple because we have so many faults.  We do not come to Jesus because we are better than others, but because we are just as bad, or even worse than them.

When Jesus called people into God’s Kingdom, His invitation made it clear to them that in spite of all of their sinfulness, they could still become the children of God.  In another story, Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a king who asks an accounting of His servant.   And what does that accounting look like?  A man is brought forward who owes the equivalent of millions of dollars, and he has no hope of ever paying it back.  And how does the master respond to this hopeless condition?  He has mercy on him and forgives the whole amount.  Cool, huh?

But does Jesus really make no demands on us?

Well to begin with, He makes only one demand, and that is that we come to Him in order to receive what He has to give us.  He simply asks us to come to Him and then to follow Him; listen to and trust in what He has to say, and then place ourselves under His influence.  From this comes another requirement…

We are to respond to the work and presence of the Holy Spirit within us, Who is always creating repentance, faith, and the desire and ability to do good deeds.  So the fact that we’ve become different and better people—is something that naturally follows upon the first requirement that we simply come.

Rather than seeing the need to be a good person as a demand that God makes as a qualification to come to Jesus, it is instead a result of turning to Jesus.

Consider the thief on the cross who was crucified with Jesus.  He did not have time to become a better man.  He would never have an opportunity to live a better life or produce any good deeds to brag of.  And yet no one could ask for a more unconditional promise of salvation:  “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  He had done the one thing that is necessary—he had come to Jesus to get help.  He believed in Jesus.

In the presence of Christ we must never expect to find a gathering of morally perfect people.  Remember, it was the tax collectors and sinners that were all being drawn near to Him.  So in our churches today, we must also expect to see sinful people wanting to be with Jesus and His disciples.  That is, we should see rough, sinful people being drawn to our church, wanting to become Jesus’ disciple.

If today His mercy calls you and you find yourself in this category, you must do the same.  He who does not do this should not be surprised to find a mixed company in Christ’s church.  But when we respond we will find that our despair and worry over first our own sinfulness and then other people’s sinfulness has been replace with…

The joy of salvation!

As Christians we live by faith in what Jesus has done certainly, but that faith always leads to joy!  Joy in the salvation of ourselves and others is simply the great delight or happiness that is caused by Christ’s exceptionally good work for all sinners, but especially because that good work of Christ is the true pleasure of God!

St. Paul in our Epistle reading experienced this realization also, and it created within him an extreme sense of thankfulness, listen: “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.”  Perhaps a better way to say this is that Paul was thankful that Jesus made him faithful through the gift of grace (God’s undeserved kindness) and then He gave him the strength to continue believing in and following Jesus.

Was there something that God discovered in Paul that made him worthy of being called into God’s kingdom of salvation through Jesus Christ?  Well, let’s let Paul answer that himself: “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief”.

And we must be careful not to think that because God saved Paul, Paul became so thankful and indebted to Jesus that he decided to change his life, formulate a plan and implement the plan that would allow him to live a God pleasing life and win many to the kingdom of God.  No, Paul would never say anything like that, in fact he said the opposite, listen: “(It was) the grace of our Lord (that) overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

So, along with Paul, we can say that by faith and first hand experience, this saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom Paul and maybe you and me are the foremost.  So if God desires to save a sinner like Paul, just imagine how much he wants to save you, and not just you, but also the many people living here in our community who are dying without ever truly knowing Jesus and His kingdom of grace.

The church, even our little church here, like our Lord, does every thing we can think of to find the lost, and we keep looking for them until they’re found; that mandate is the very reason that the church still exists within this sinful world. Through the preaching of God’s Word, both the law and the gospel, as a church we go after the lost sinner both creating the desire to be found and the ability to assure them that they have been found too.  And within our vocations or our callings in life as individuals, our Christian witness to Jesus and His desire to both be with and save sinners goes out into our community like a lamp that brings saving light into the darkness of sin.  For many, that searching light may be at first nothing more than the truth that it is Christ’s passion to be with and save sinners.

And when a sinner is found and turns or returns to Jesus’ side, we the church and indeed all of heaven rejoice and say amen to Jesus declaration: “Thus, I tell you, there is joy!” Great joy not just here in Christ’s church but “Before the angels of God in heaven.”

Today His mercy calls you, and if you have responded by turning or returning to Jesus, be assured there is a great celebration of joy in heaven, “Over one sinner who has repented!”  To God alone be the glory… AMEN!

A Little Message of Joy!

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 6C, May 5h, 2013

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“Until now you have asked nothing in my name.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” [John 16:24]

NOTE: The congregation has just sung the following verses of Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice.”

1. Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice, with exultation springing, and with united heart and voice, and holy rapture singing.  Proclaim the wonders God has done, how His right arm the vict’ry won.  What  price our ransom cost Him!

2. Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay; death brooded darkly o’er me.  Sin was my torment night and day; in sin my mother bore me.  But daily deeper still I fell; my life became a living hell, so firmly sin  possessed me.

3. My own good works all came to naught, no grace or merit gaining; free will against God’s judgment fought, dead to all good remaining.  My fears increased till sheer despair left only death to be my share;  the pangs of hell I suffered.

4. But God had seen my wretched state before the world’s foundation, and mindful of His mercies great, He planned for my salvation.  He turned to me a father’s heart; He did not choose the easy part but  gave His dearest treasure.

The sermon hymn that we just sang, “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” is a beautiful hymn, but if we do not finish it this morning, that is if we stop at the 4th verse the message really doesn’t give us much to be joyful over.  So, a little later, we will sing the next 6 verses as part of our message, our little message on joy.

Haydn, the great musician, was once asked why his church music was so cheerful, and he replied: “When I think upon God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap, as it were, from my pen, and since God has given me a cheerful heart it will be pardoned me that I serve Him with a cheerful spirit.”

So our desire this morning is to leave here knowing that we have true joy; a gift from God that can only come from God.  If we understand this truth, we will not have to pretend to be joyful, but we will rejoice and trust that God is our champion who fights for us, no matter how contrary to this truth things may appear.

In our gospel reading this morning (John 16:23–33), things did not appear very joyful there in the upper room as our Lord and His Holy Apostles prepared to depart for the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas would betray His Master by leading the temple guards to arrest Him in secret.  Jesus knew what was about to happen, but He also knew that after the betrayal, in His arrest, suffering, and death, all things would become clear to the apostles and the disciples.  They would see that it really is true that the things that the devils and sinful men mean for evil, God turns into good.

So Jesus says to them, “In a little while you will no longer see me; and then in a little while you will!  Amen, amen, I say to you, that you shall sob and wail, but the world will rejoice.  You will be filled with sorrow, but your sorrow will become joy.”  [John 16:16-20]

Very soon, in just a few short hours, the first part of Jesus proclamation would become crystal clear.  They would see him beaten, hung on a cross, suffering, with death the final outcome.  Most of them would abandon Him there at the cross and one would deny Him completely.  “In a little while you will no longer see me.  In a little while you will sob and wail.”

Imagine, something that you have staked your entire past, present, and future on is ripped away; that was plan A and you have no plan B!  You have been left alone, lost, hopeless, and you seem to be damned by God.  That is what our sermon hymn is communicating to us in the 2nd and 3rd verses.  Listen to those words again:

“Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay; death brooded darkly o’er me.  Sin was my torment night and day; in sin my mother bore me.  But daily deeper still I fell; my life became a living hell, so firmly sin possessed me.  My own good works all came to naught, no grace or merit gaining; free will against God’s judgment fought, dead to all good remaining.  My fears increased till sheer despair left only death to be my share; the pangs of hell I suffered.”

That is the true nature of one who has not been baptized, but it is also the true nature of a person who has walked away from their baptism.  They are prisoners of war so to speak.  Satan has them trapped in the chains of sin; their sin and the sin of the world.  The more they try to escape the hold of sin, death, and the devil, the tighter the chains bind them.

But how does a person try to escape without Jesus?  Well, they think that they can do it through there own good works of course; by trying to be a good and noble person; by trying to be compassionate and considerate, outside of God’s blessings through Jesus Christ.  Well what is wrong with that; good is good isn’t it?  And to that question, God answers, “No!”  Outside of Jesus Christ, all of our good works are like filthy rags!  But, if you are seeking glory only in this world, it will be at the expense of glory in the next.  And mark these words, there is a next; there is another place that you will live forever after your time here is through.

For those who hear the gospel call and ignore it, or for those who have heard and for a little while believed, but latter walked away from the call to trust, follow, and believe in Jesus in search of other things, Jesus says that the little while where they will no longer see Him or experience Him is now.  It is a dark time of sobbing and wailing.  But if you will hear and believe what He says next, He promises that you will once again rejoice!

“Again, in a little while you will see me and your sorrow will become joy.”  This is precisely what verse 4 is saying; listen: “But God had seen my wretched state before the world’s foundation, and mindful of His mercies great, He planned for my salvation.  He turned to me a father’s heart; He did not choose the easy part but gave His dearest treasure.”

So how can we have this loving heart of God the Father?  By receiving His Word, which alone gives us His dearest treasure, His Son, Jesus Christ!  Please sing with the me, the next five verses of our sermon hymn:

5. God said to His belovèd Son: “It’s time to have compassion.  Then go, bright jewel of My crown, and bring to all salvation.  From sin and sorrow set them free; slay bitter death for them that they may live with You forever.”

6. The Son obeyed His Father’s will, was born of virgin mother; and God’s good pleasure to fulfill, He came to be my brother.  His royal pow’r disguised He bore; a servant’s form, like mine, He wore to lead the devil captive.

7. To me He said: “Stay close to Me, I am your rock and castle.  Your ransom I Myself will be; for you I strive and wrestle.  For I am yours, and you are Mine, and where I am you may remain; the foe shall not divide us.

8. “Though he will shed My precious blood, me of My life bereaving; all this I suffer for your good; be steadfast and believing.  Life will from death the vict’ry win; My innocence shall bear your sin, and you are blest forever.

9. “Now to My Father I depart, from earth to heav’n ascending, and, heavn’ly wisdom to impart, the Holy Spirit sending; in trouble He will comfort you and teach you always to be true and into truth shall guide you.

10. “What I on earth have done and taught guide all your life and teaching; so shall the kingdom’s work be wrought and honored in your preaching.  But watch lest foes with base alloy the heav’nly treasure should destroy; this final word I leave you.”

This morning Jesus declares to you, “In that day (that is the day of your salvation), you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” [Vs. 23, 24]

Now here is where our joy is full and complete.  What is the greatest thing you could ever ask of God?  Is it money, fame, or fortune?  No, but isn’t it the complete forgiveness of your sins?  Isn’t it having the absolute assurance from God that you are at peace with Him and have nothing to fear?  This is God’s will for all people; this is what He wants us to ask of Him.  He loves all sinners, baptized and unbaptized.  For the unbaptized, He wants nothing more than that they should turn from their evil ways and receive His Son’s love and grace, within the waters of baptism.  For the baptized who have walked away, He wants nothing more than they would return to the Lord their God, because He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  And for those of us who are still trusting in His Son Jesus Christ, seeing the remedy for our sin, which is the cross applied to us through the washing of water and His Word, nourished in the meal of forgiveness at His Holy table, and reassured in the Holy Absolution of forgiveness, He wants us to have our joy fulfilled.

Imagine the joy the disciples were increasingly filled with after Easter morning, when time after time, their resurrected Lord appeared to them.  Imagine how their despair and hopelessness was replaced with joy and confidence; a confidence that declared with the centurion at the cross: “Surely He was the Son of God!”

Dear friends in His Word this morning, you have heard Jesus speak Words of peace and encouragement to you.  You have heard the Spirit of truth once again declare to you.. “You are forgiven.” I pray that these Words will not only bring you peace but also joy.  I pray that through God’s forgiving love your frown brought by fear and worry, would be turned into the smile of peace and confidence: “(You know) a smile costs nothing, but creates much. It enriches those who receive it without impoverishing those who give it. It happens in a flash, and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None are so rich that they can get along without it, and none so poor but are richer for its benefits. It fosters good will in a business, it creates happiness in the home, and it is the countersign of friends. It is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and nature’s best antidote for trouble.” —Henry H. Evansen

This morning God in His Word is smiling upon you; I pray that you will do the same towards each other and your neighbors this week, simply because you know that for Jesus sake, God loves you. I ask all of this in Jesus name… AMEN!

A Peaceful Departure

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

First Sunday after Christmas Year (C), December 30, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

““Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lords Christ. [Luke 2:25, 26]

Merry Christmas dear Christians!  In our gospel reading we remember the presentation of our Savior Jesus Christ; a time when He was  only eight days old.  But even then as a small baby, He was true God and true man; He was already the Word of God in human flesh.  The  same living Word of God who spoke these Words of comfort: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you  the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). In other words, stop fearing that thing which you fear; do not fear it any longer. Your Father has been  pleased to give you the kingdom.

Many Christians today, still fear earthly death; their own death and the death of loved ones. But how can this be, when we who are  baptized confess the certainty of life after death each and every Sunday when we speak about “the resurrection of the body” in the  Apostles’ Creed and “the resurrection of the dead” in the Nicene creed? And still, some of us fear death, and “grieve as [do] the rest of  men, who have no hope”? (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Did you ever stop to think that the fear of death, is like a sermon that we’re preaching to the world; it’s a message that says that we  aren’t any better off than those without Christ; by our fear, we are teaching that God can’t be trusted. Instead of displaying confidence in the certainty of Christ’s death and resurrection for our sake, we are demonstrating instead a life of doubt, uncertainty, and a lack of faith or hope in the peaceful departure our God has promised us. When you live a life of fear and uncertainty because of death, you are proclaiming a false gospel about a false god who can’t be trusted, and not the story of the living God who has already acted to give you eternal life.

And so this morning, let’s consider Simeon, a man that God declared righteous and devout.  Why was he righteous and devout?  Was there something great about him?  Was he a great leader or a man who stood out in the crowd?  No, not at all, in fact we can assume that because scripture mentions nothing about him before he met the baby Jesus, he was simply ordinary; ordinary except for one thing… he was waiting for God to fulfill His promise that a Savior would come to take away his sin and make Him right with God.  And because he had faith to trust God’s promise, God declared him righteous.  You could say that He had faith in God’s faithfulness; he knew that God would do what He said He would do.  But how did Simeon become so faithful?  Friends, the very same way you become and stay faithful… through the word of God that promised him that he would not see death until the Lord’s Christ had come.

You have the very same promise, and you also have had the promise fulfilled.  In your baptism, God’s Word not only promised you a peaceful departure from this dark world of sin, but it provided the fulfillment of the promise.  Christ has come, and in your baptism you have been clothed with not only the righteousness of Christ but also the promise that He will come again for you!

But we have a problem; we are told by this world that being assured of a peaceful departure is not that simple.  Not only do we have other religions who resent and ridicule our blessed assurance, but in fact we have people who call themselves Christians who want us to believe that there must be a little something added to the promise besides our belief.  They tell us that we must do more than just trust in God’s promises.

They will point out that we are still very much trapped in our sins, and the proof of that they say lies within our own hearts, which testify against us and about our sinfulness.  They will insist that we follow certain rules and regulations in order to know that God loves us.  Or they will tell us that our own love and service of love must be great in order to finish what God started in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They will even insist that we acquire certain gifts or demonstrate certain acts of faith in order to know the real blessings of God.

But, when others talk like this to us, it is only evidence that it is they who do not understand God’s plan of salvation; they don’t understand what true forgiveness of sin is because they are so caught up in their own idea of what righteousness is.  They don’t understand that it is God’s Word, which calls each of us who are trusting in Christ alone His saints, or people of God.  It’s a shame that they have forgotten who we are, that we are saints already, because to forget this is the same thing as forgetting our baptism and the faithfulness of God to do what He says He will do.

These folks who claim to be our brothers and sisters, really only want to punish us with heavy consciences and guilt because of the sins they commit and think are to many or to big for God to forgive; they love to remind us that our sins are an offense to God because it helps them forget about their own sinfulness.  And instead of turning to God’s faithfulness and love they want to turn us to the same thing that they hope in… our own resourcefulness and strength.

And to this thinking, let me quote Luther’s response to the same faithless logic.  He said that just as “Motherly love is stronger than the filth and scabbiness on (her) child, so the love of God toward us is stronger than the (sinful) dirt that clings to us.  (So, even though) we are sinners, we do not lose our relationship to the Father on account of our filthiness, nor do we fall from grace on account of our sins.”

And that dear friends moves us to the solution of the problem; the very thing that Simeon declared in a song that the church calls the NUNC DIMITTIS.  “O Lord now let Your servant depart in heavenly peace, for I have seen the glory of Your redeeming grace.”

In God’s Holy Word and in the Blessed Sacraments He shows us Jesus; He shows us His glory.  In the infant Son of God holy and lowly, born in a manger in Bethlehem, God shows us His love for us by showing us the solution to our sin; He shows us the God-man crucified, high and lifted up upon a cross in Jerusalem.  You dear saints are more blessed than Simeon; he had only the promise of what this child in His arms would do, but you know the story completely.  He had the promise but you have the fulfillment of the promise.  And even more than that you have yet another promise from the God who does what He says He will do; He has promised you that He will come again to take you to be with Him in paradise.

Whether He comes for you on the last day of all creation or comes to you in your final moments at death is immaterial; He has promised you that He will take you home to be with Him!  And it is to the promise fulfilled and the promise still unrealized that we grab onto to by faith.  You are asked to live a life and tell the story about God’s faithfulness so that others may believe and be saved as well.

What is it that we are supposed to speak and model?  Well what did Simeon say?  Didn’t He say that He had seen God’s saving grace that He had prepared for all the people?  Didn’t he say that this message, this good news was to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of God’s people Israel?

So the message we are to live and speak to the world isn’t one of fear and trembling but faith and rejoicing.  We are to hold on to both the promise and the One who promises in heaven at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ our Savior.  If we fall into sin, He will be there to pick us up again; by His Word, He encourages us to keep on fighting our sin until we are finally given victory over not just our sin but even the devil and our own death.  When we fall into sin we will remember our Savior who though He fell under the burden of the sin of the world that was place upon Him through the cross, He got back up and made His way to Golgotha, where He suffered and died to take away even our sin.  When we feel filthy and unloved because of those same sins, we will remember the life giving and life changing waters of our baptism that washed us clean and made us forever holy.

So you see dear friends, our Christian faith truly is different from all other religions; it is different because it isn’t based on what we will do, but on what Christ has done.  It is different because our faith in God’s faithfulness grows stronger, even in the middle of evil and sin; even in the face of death.  But we also remember that without God’s Holy Spirit ever providing and strengthening His gift of faith through His Holy Word and sacraments, we would be just as lost as any other sinner.

So when others belittle you for your child like faith, and when they try to rob you of the joy of your salvation, turn away from anger and fear, and feel godly sorrow for those who can only trust in their own resourcefulness for hope.  And by faith, turn to and trust in a Faithful God and say, “Through Jesus Christ, I am a child of God.  And as His child all of my works that are done in faith are good.  And even when my good works are lacking, God’s Word promises me that He will not condemn and leave me, but continue to change me until I lack nothing according to His good and perfect will.”

This is the message that many find so hard to accept and receive this Christmas season, but it is the only message that will give to both sinners and the dying, a peaceful departure.  It is a message that you dear saints live out and trust in by faith, and it is marvelous in the sight of God and His church…AMEN!

Emmanuel: A Gift That Keeps on Giving!

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

4th Sunday in Advent of the Church Year (C), December 23, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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““Behold I have come to do your will, O God. [Hebrews 10:7a]

Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist knew that the Lord was with her; and her unborn baby John knew that the Lord was with him, which is  why he leaped in the womb of his mother.  Do you know that He is with you?  In spite of your fears that the end of the world could have come  just two short days ago, in spite of the fact that the end of the world did come for 26 Sandy Hook elementary school children and their  teachers, do you understand that God is with you, even when you have your doubts?

““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us).” [Matthew 1:23]  This  morning, the Words of the pre-incarnate Son of God ring out for us this morning and declare, “A body have you prepared for me; Behold I  come to do your will, O God”!

And what is the will of God the Father?  That you would see His love for you in the gift that He has given to the world; a gift that He gives to you  personally: His Son, Immanuel… a gift that keeps of giving.

But something terrible has happened; something that just won’t allow you to see how wonderful His gift is.  It is something that moves our hearts to look at God’s gift as insignificant and inadequate for facing this hard life we are living.  In this life we know the fear of senseless violence; we know the fear of lack of wealth and even homelessness.  We know the fear of lost love and appreciation.  We also know that in order to deal with these things we need something big; we need a windfall and a miracle that will turn things around for us.  So we look past the baby in the womb of Mary; oh we appreciate the coming of the baby in the manger with no crib for a bed, but this is the real world where people are dying for no good reason.  This is a world where the greedy and the violent seem to always have the upper hand…  so how does a little baby born in Bethlehem help anything… at all?

Well, simply put, this little baby in the womb of mother Mary is your only real source of help because He is in fact God in human flesh.  You see, Mary is not just Mary the mother of Jesus; she is also mysteriously the Mother of God.  The fruit of her womb is not just a baby who will soon be resting Away in a Manger; He is the God and Creator of all things; a God who never slumbers nor sleeps.  He is the one who keeps His entire church safe, even a sinner like you!

Maybe we tend to look down or even away from this little baby in the womb of Mary, because we know that He will also grow up to become the God-man who suffered and died upon the cross for our sins.  And there really I think is the problem; we must admit that He was born to die for our sins.  We are alright saying that God must punish the sins of the killer who struck at the school in Connecticut, we are alright with saying that God must punish the Bernie Madoffs of this world, and even the social leeches who produce and sell drugs in our neighborhoods, but is God really concerned with our sins?  Yes!  It is your sins as small as you may say that they are which separate you from the love of God.  But truth be told, you and I know that if others really knew the evil and vile things that go on in our hearts and minds, no one would want to be around us.

Why don’t we appreciate the gift of Immanuel?  Because we don’t like to be shown our need for it; we don’t want to admit that in God’s eyes we are just as bad as a mad-man or a serial killer.

So hear Immanuel speak to you again; hear Him give to you a gift that keeps on giving: “Behold I have come to do your will, O God!”

Now dear friends let’s allow the Spirit of God to remind us just how important and exciting this gift really is.  God has come to our world in power; He has come in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  God is Spirit and truth, and in the flesh of Jesus, the very Son of God comes to you to give you true peace!  Peace in the middle of your fears; peace in the middle of your worries; peace in the middle of your ungodly sins, He says I shall be your champion and your deliverer.  I was born to die for you.  I spent my whole life walking to a cross on Golgotha, outside of the Temple.  I suffered and died alone abandoned by my Father, because I carried your sins with me; I died the death of a criminal, of a murder so that you could go free!

Behold I have come to do the will of the Heavenly Father; I have come to bring life where there is death; I have come to make all things new… even you!  This news is so good that a fetus jumped for joy; John the Baptist, who was as of yet unborn jumped for joy in the womb of his mother Elizabeth.  A life unborn responded to the presence of his Savior with unbound joy!  You who have been baptized, perhaps also as a small baby have been baptized into this same joy.

Your reason for being joyful then and now is the same reason that moved John to leap for joy: Your God has come to you in our own flesh.  He has come to live a hard life; the same life you have lived and are living, but He also came to die an agonizing death, and in death be separated from His Heavenly Father.  This is the death that you deserve to die, but never will, because you are resting in the truth that Immanuel came to do the Father’s will.

And what is that will?  That when you leave this veil of tears you would never again know suffering, pain, fear, or sin, but instead that you would dwell forever in the house and love of the Lord!

Even now dear saints you have something interesting happening within your hearts; you are experiencing God’s work of removing your shame and guilt; guilt perhaps centered around your tendency to look down upon this baby as insignificant in times of trouble, but even stronger than that truth is the reality that you truly are forgiven. Even now, you are beginning to experience the joy of remembering just what He came to do.  You remember that He has set you free from the things that can separate you from the love of God.  You remember that God alone in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all of your sins.

So let your heart leap for joy; call out if you wish; praise Him with cries of thanksgiving and praise; shout glory even in the darkness of this sinful world; even in the darkness of your own sin.

Today, if this good news has softened your hard heart once again, then I pray that you will let the joy of the Lord fill you and lead you from this place of worship out into a community that is dark and cold, and dying in sin.  I pray that in the joy of the Holy Spirit you will go out and live a joyous life, even though you know that you will experience both rejection and acceptance; failure and success; death and life.  Live with joy in the midst of every tension, because you  know that your Savior did the same thing.  And through His birth, life, death, and resurrection, He has brought to you the assurance of everlasting peace.

This morning God calls each of us by faith to follow His Son from the cradle to the grave, and from the grave unto our eternal home with confidence knowing that we are not alone.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the son of Mary came to do God’s will; He came to prove to you that it is God’s will that you should not die alone in your sins but have eternal life.

This morning, God’s Word shows you that He uses little things to make a big difference in this world of sin.  He comes as a simple fetus in the womb of a young woman.  He rests as a simple and helpless baby in a manger in Bethlehem.  He comes to you in simple language in the Word, but He also comes in simple elements like water, bread, and wine.  But because He comes in accordance with His will and not the sinful will of men, He takes these simple things and He does marvelous things with them.

This little baby grows to be the God man who dies for the world, but then takes His life back up again and ascends to heaven, forever defeating sin, death, and the devil.  And this God-man assures us that every Word that God has ever willed to be recorded can be found within the pages of your Bible so that you will know His Son Jesus Christ as your Savior and King.  And He takes those Words and He attaches them to water so that the gift of salvation for the world becomes your own personal gift within the waters of your baptism.  He takes that simple bread and wine and He tells you that it is also His body and blood consumed for your continued forgiveness and the strengthening of your faith!

So you see, the incarnation of the Son of God who is also the son of Mary is really what makes all of the difference.  It takes a bunch of sinners like us who have nothing and recreates us in to saints who have the greatest gift of all… Immanuel: the gift that keeps on giving.

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

Rejoice, Always; Really?

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

3rd Sunday in Advent of the Church Year (C), December 16, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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““Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. [Philippians 4:4]

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What kind of response do you think I would receive from someone who just found out they were in stage 4 cancer, and I greeted them  with the word, “Rejoice!”?  What about the homeless or the hungry?  Do you think a Christian parent worried about their young adult  child and the life choices they are making would appreciate me telling them to rejoice?  Probably not, but that is because they are  living in the right now, a bad right now, and in their minds the time of rejoicing is something that perhaps will come in the future, a  very distant future, if at all.  For now, all they can see; all they can think about is that dark right now.  And yet God’s Word does that  very thing; in all three of our readings, God’s people are encouraged to rejoice in the middle of a dark right now.

In our society, we let our joy, or our rejoicing be dependent on external things like our health, wealth, and relationships.  Or another  way to say that is, that our peace seems to be dependent on how we feel.  Whenever our health, wealth, or relationships are threatened,  we will immediately shift from being happy Christians to fearful and unhappy children of this world.

But the prophet Zephaniah in our Old Testament reading (Zephaniah 3:14-20) never lost sight of God’s promises to His people of faith as they waited for deliverance out of their bondage in Babylon.  So God spoke another Word of promise, of deliverance to Zephaniah; it was a Word of hope that he was to speak to God’s children of faith who were losing hope: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel!  Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!  The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies.”  In other words, even when you think all is lost, look to the Lord and the promises of His Word and shout, “Glory!”

As St. Paul sat in a dark and dank Roman prison with a death sentence looming, wrote to the brothers and sisters in Philippi (Philippians 4:4-7), Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. But wait a minute there Paul, you are experiencing seclusion, hunger, physical pain, and the knowledge that soon you will be put to death.  How can you be rejoicing?  Are you really rejoicing?  Why?

Yes, it is clear that people of great faith seem to be able to find joy even in the middle of suffering; even when their health, wealth, and relationships are falling apart.  But what about us normal people?  When we become afraid or worry, does that mean we lost our faith?  Does that mean God has given up on us?  Well, let’s look at someone who fits that description, and let Jesus speak to that concern.

In our Gospel lesson (Luke 7:18-28) we find John the Baptist in the middle of Herod’s prison.  He also was experiencing fear and worry.  What was he afraid of?  He was afraid that Jesus, the Son of God no longer cared that he was wasting away in his cell.  Day and night after lonely night, John was alone in Herod’s prison.  He seemed to be living in a time of perpetual waiting and uncertainty.  John knew that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior of the World; in fact He had been preaching that very thing before Herod had him arrested, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

But John also knew that there were certain prophecies that must be fulfilled by the Savior.  He knew that the blind would see, the lame would walk, the deaf would hear, the lepers would be cleansed, the dead would be raised, and those in prison would be set free.  And to John’s knowledge, it seemed that all of them had been fulfilled accept one; John was still in prison.  So, yeah, John is a little impatient, maybe even a little peeved.  He’s watching, waiting, and enduring.  He knows the time is right and He knows that the Word of God will always be fulfilled so, so… WHY IS HE STILL IN PRISON?   With that question looming in his heart, he sends a delegation to Jesus to ask a stupid question that he already knows the answer to; he asks it because it expresses his fear and worry; he asks it so that words of faith can be spoken by Jesus to take away his fear and worry.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Can you hear it in John’s words?  It is really a prayer: “How long Lord will you wait?  Come to me quickly and comfort me.  I need you; the one you love is afraid and alone; I might even be dying!”

And to John’s prayer, Jesus speaks Words of life; words that create both faith and joy.  Jesus speaks to John and all others in prison; He speaks to the elderly person dying all alone in a nursing home, seemingly forgotten by his family and church; He speaks to the addict who just wants to be free of the addiction; he speaks to the homeless and hungry; he speaks to the cancer patient and all those who are sick; and he speaks to the Christian parent who worries about their adult child and their lack of faith.  “I am He who gives sight to the blind, causes the lame to walk, cleanses lepers, gives hearing to the deaf, and raises the dead.  You have the good news preached to you; you know that I have taken away your sins.  You are blessed if you will concentrate on this truth and not lose faith in me; you will be blessed with eternal life.  So hold onto my Word and do not stop coming to my church where I will continue to strengthen your faith.

St. Paul, this morning gives us the same Word of encouragement.  He says that “the Lord is at hand”.  Your time of waiting, your time to be comforted and assured that all is well here.  He comes to you in His Word.  It is the same Word that told the waters, “Peace, be still!” and they were.  It is the same Word that called Lazarus out of the grave and brought Him back to life.  It is the same Word that promised Zephaniah and his countrymen that their bondage was soon to end, and one day they would celebrate in front of, and with God Himself.  It is the same Word of peace that spoke new life into us at our baptism.  It is a Word that says continuously, “The Lord is near.”

He comes to you in His Word and He fills you with faith.  He reminds you that you are forgiven and all is well with your soul.  He comes to you in the Word at His table, and He says, “Take eat; this is my body.  Take and drink; this is my blood.  I come to you in these things; these means… the Word, the water, the bread and the wine.  I come to you, as your brothers and sisters speak forgiveness to you and you speak the same forgiving Words back to them.  But soon and very soon, I am coming in the flesh again, to set you free from the prisons that this sinful world has built to hold you captive.”

What is it that holds us in bondage?  Isn’t it our fear and worry?  Isn’t it our sinful flesh?  Isn’t it our flesh that is in the bondage  of sin?  But our spirit is free; it was created to be free!  It is your spirit that hears the Word of God and rejoices.  It is your spirit that looks at temporary things like health, wealth, and relationships and knows that these are not what define your future.  It is your spirit that remembers the promises of God and waits for them to be fulfilled.  It is your spirit that knows that it is “He who began the good work in you who will complete it, on the day of Christ’s return.” [Philippians 1:6]

The Lord did not forget His promise to Zephaniah and the children of faith who were in bondage in Babylon.  He did not forget His promise to John the Baptist or St. Paul as they waited in their prisons.  He spoke to them and reminded them that He was there with them.  They were not alone, and neither are you.  He knows you are waiting.  He knows that you are patiently enduring attack after attack upon your health, wealth, and relationships.  He does see how dark and lonely you can be.  He sees your sadness and knows your pain.  He understands your worry and even your doubts.  He hears your prayers and supplications and he remembers your prayers of thanksgiving.  He is not silent; He has not forgotten about you.  He is answering the cry of your heart even now!  But to hear Him speak, you must be still and silent.  You need to look only to the means that He has given to us to hear Him and experience Him.  You must receive Him by faith in His Word and in His sacraments.

This morning, God wants you to know that the heavens and earth will pass away but His Word will never pass away.  The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord will always be with you.   Turn your eyes to the Word of God in human flesh.  Look to Him and no other for hope and peace.  Listen to Jesus speak to you and hear His promises of eternal blessing.  Watch and wait for the one who has come and is coming again.  Receive His coming now in His Word and in His body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine.  He comes to comfort you in the middle of your sadness and depression.  He takes away your sins, gives you peace and a clean conscience as He removes all fear and worry from your heart.  In the middle of uncertainty, he gives you assurance; a blessed assurance.

In this season of Advent we wait together in joy.  The joy of being certain; we wait for He who has come and is coming again.  We wait for a God who always fulfills His promises.  Let this season of waiting be a time of peace, and faith-filled confidence that comes always and only through the mighty Word of God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

Let Me See Your Peace!

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Lent 2 B, March 4, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Romans 5:1-5

Do you have peace?  If you do, may I see it?  Show me your peace!  This is really the silent, yet always present demand of our unbelieving community that  surrounds us everywhere we go.  They will quickly tell you that they aren’t really interested in hearing about your Savior Jesus Christ, but if believing in  Him works for you, then they’re happy for you.  While they don’t care to hear about what you believe, they are watching to see if what you believe makes a  difference in how you live!  They want to see how you’ll stand up under the pressures of life as compared to them and their circle of friends.  In other  words, does what you believe make a difference in who you are?  And in order to evaluate your belief system they want to see your peace.

Now, whether we want to admit it or not, we Christians are prone to demand this same thing from God whenever troubles and tragedies strike our faith-  filled and grace centered lives.  It’s really a little rude and inconsiderate when we consider all that God has done to provide us with His peace throughout  our lives!  Did you notice that I said His peace and not yours?  That’s the way that it should be.  The objective is first and then the subjective.  That is  always God’s way.  In other words, you can’t know real peace without first having God’s peace!

The world teaches that peace is first personal and then corporate.  Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!  The problem with this kind of  peace is that it is very self-centered and dependent on however you feel at any given moment.  This is a strange idea, because it assumes that you live for  yourself.  Not that this is anything new, William Shakespeare said long ago, “To thine own self be true!”  The problem with this kind of thinking is that it  leads to a personal peace at the cost of other peoples’ peace.

In the 1940’s Three Stooges skit called “I’ll Never Heil Again” the boys start their war council meeting with the chant, “Peace, peace, we want peace.”  And to this Moe rises and says, “Yes we want a piece of this, and a piece of that.”  And that, I am afraid is always the cost of our individual peace… it comes at the expense of others.  Like money, we can never have enough peace.  So, our natural tendency is to surround ourselves with as much of whatever we think will bring that peace, at the exclusion of other people’s peace.

But there’s another kind of peace, God’s peace.  Listen to the Son of God offer and describe this peace:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27]  So what is this peace that Jesus says that He has given to us?  Well we know it isn’t the kind of peace that the world wants, and we also know that it’s the kind of peace that brings comfort and security in times of trouble and fear.

In verse 1 of our epistle reading, Paul shares these words: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  So the kind of peace that Jesus gives, which Paul is telling us we already have, begins first and always with faith that justifies or makes us right with God.  Now knowing this, there are a couple of questions we must ask to completely understand this peace that comes from God.  The first question is, “Faith in Who?”  The Who is Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God who is the Savior of the world.  The second question is “Faith in what?”  The what, is the completed work of Jesus Christ; His birth, His life, His suffering, and His death, His resurrection and ascension.  In these things, which are recorded for us in Holy Scripture we are shown God’s work for us; a work that has taken away our sins, atoned for our evil and made us right with God!  Or as Paul says it, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Through Jesus we have been reconciled; made right with God.  Through this work, God addresses the one great obstacle that separates us from His love, and that is our sin.  He alone does what we could not do, and He does it through the atoning death of His Son.  In Jesus, God put forward His love for us by putting Jesus in our place; by having Him suffer and die for us, because of our sins.  In God’s self-sacrifice He points our troubled and sinful hearts to His solution for our sins, and His Word tells us to be reconciled; made right with Him!  In Jesus God assures us that we are reconciled; we are at peace with Him!

This proclamation of peace with God through Jesus Christ is the gospel!  If you will receive this truth by faith, then you will see God’s justice performed on the cross for you, and you will know peace!  This is the blessed assurance that saves the worst of sinners and then recreates them and gives them not just peace, but the ability to live out that peace, and even experience it.

What is assurance?  Well here’s the concise theological definition: It is the firm persuasion of faith that you are in a state of grace.  In other words, by faith you know that no matter what may happen around you, it is well with your soul, because God is with you and for you.  It’s the God-given ability to move from the cross of Jesus to the waters of your baptism and say with all certainty that “Jesus died for me!”  It’s hearing the promises of God to the world, and knowing that all of those promises were given to you when you were washed clean with the water and the Word in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  In other words, as St. Paul says in the fifth verse of our epistle lesson, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Why has God’s love been poured into your heart?  So that you would know and experience His peace!  But aren’t we now talking about feelings?  Isn’t our salvation independent of feelings?  Yes, that is the objective work of God’s gift, a gift to the world.  But in your baptism it became very personal, very subjective.  You see, your salvation is something that is done and complete, but it’s also something you experience as you live it out!  Every day, come what may, Jesus is with you!  He is with you in trials, trouble, and tribulation.  Every day God asks you to experience His presence and then learn to rest in His comfort, care, and love for you.

Several years ago one of the astronauts who walked on the moon was interviewed and asked, “What did you think about as you stood on the moon and looked back at the earth?” The astronaut replied, “I remembered how the spacecraft (that I had to go back home in) was built by the lowest bidder.”

We as Christians can rejoice that the work of our salvation didn’t  go to the “lowest bidder” but was provided by an eternal and infallible God. There will never be any problems with His gift of salvation. Your salvation is as sure as the Creator of that salvation, Almighty God!  And because it is sure, we can learn to trust in Him and not our current experience or feelings.  We know by faith, that not only do we have peace with God, but we’re gonna keep on having that peace.  This peace, which now becomes very personal, becomes an experience that God gives to us.  An experience that reminds us that no matter what may or may not be happening in our lives, ultimately it is well and will be well with our souls!

What does this experience of peace mean to you and me?  Well, if you remember earlier, I mentioned the challenge from our unbelieving neighbors who want to see our peace, which now we know is really God’s peace in action.  This peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, not only keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, but it also directs our hearts and minds outward to the people who live in our community; people who are dying without knowing the peace of God, which comes through the cross of Jesus Christ.  As they see us weather the same storms of life we all go through, and still able to rejoice and praise God in the middle of those storms, they will begin to notice that we are not giving up hope.  They will discover what you already know; your suffering produces endurance and endurance produces a Christian character of faith in the presence and work of God on earth and hope in the promise of an eternity in heaven.  All that’s left, is for you to give an answer to anyone who asks for the reason you have this great hope.  The reason is of course God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, who takes our faith and hope, and then assures us that no matter what we may be going through, no matter what we may be feeling, in the end it will be well with our souls; we will never be put to shame!  And because it will be well with our souls it is well with them right now!  This is our blessed assurance!

I’d like to close with a final thought that is based on the background of our sermon hymn.  It was written by Horatio Spafford.  In 1870 Spafford, a Christian attorney from Chicago, suffered a great financial loss.  Shortly afterwards, his only son died of scarlet fever.  A year later, the great Chicago fire destroyed his family home and all of the family’s investments.  In 1873, after seeing his family at the verge of a breakdown, Spafford used what little money he had left to pay for a family vacation and a missionary tour to Europe in order to help his family refocus on God’s peace.

As he was preparing to board the ship with his family, some last minute business came up, so he was forced to stay behind while his family headed to Europe.  He promised them that He would be on the next ship and would join them there.  So Mrs. Spafford and their four daughters sailed east to Europe, while Mr. Spafford returned to Chicago.  Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife that informed him that the ship his family was on sank and everyone in his family, accept his wife had died.

Upon hearing the terrible news, Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife. As he was traveling near the area where his children died, the captain called Mr. Spafford to the wheel house and said, “A careful reckoning has been made, and I believe we are now passing the place where the ship your family was on sank.” Mr. Spafford then returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics of our hymn, “It is well with my soul”.

It would be very difficult for any of us to predict how we would react under similar circumstances, but we do know that the same faith in the grace of the same Savior who sustained Mr. and Mrs. Spafford would also be with us.  No matter what circumstances overtake us, and no matter what fleeting emotions and feelings may come and go within our lives,  we can know for certain that God’s love, which He has poured out within our hearts will enable us to say along with Horatio Spafford… it is well with our souls!  In Jesus name… Amen!

Let’s sing that first verse one more time together:
It is well … with my soul! It is well, it is well, with my soul.
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well … with my soul!

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

The Power of God’s Love!

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, September 16, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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NOTE: Only the scriptures and some main points are available for this message.  For the entire message please listen, using the audio link above.


Romans 12:
9-21

 (Vs. 9) “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”    Right from the beginning St. Paul is making it clear to us that everything that follows is centered in love.  But this kind of love is different from the kind that we naturally show others; it’s the kind of love that is the ultimate fruit of God’s love for us.  It is the kind of love that gives you faith to believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. 

 (Vs.10-13)Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

  (Vs. 14-16) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”  Do these words sound familiar?  They should, because they are a paraphrase of Jesus’ own Words: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and “bless those who curse you.” [Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-28]  Think of Jesus last words upon the cross before he died, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  I know what you’re thinking: “Well sure, He was the Son of God, of course He could bless and forgive.  No man could do that could they?”  Well what about Stephen, who opened his mouth in a blessing upon those who were stoning him to death?  Do you remember the last words that he uttered? “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)

  (Vs. 17-20) “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There is no question that the man who does us evil ought to be paid back with the exact proportion. This is God’s own principle, and Paul isn’t ignoring that. But if God applied only that principle to us, where would we be?  And that is the point, without God’s grace through Jesus Christ we would be damned along with our worst enemy.  Friends, it is God’s work alone that saved us, and we should do everything to glorify Him and bring honor to His presence in our lives by living a life that demonstrates that same grace.   

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, the summary of all of this can be found in Paul’s last words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God demonstrated this principle for us long ago, when He sent His only Son to die for you upon the cross.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!  Just as Jesus prayed for us long ago upon the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” so too, we must pray for those who hurt us.  We need to pray and ask God for love as we try to show kindness to our enemies. Will they take advantage of us? Will they hate us even more? Only the Lord knows. Our task is not to protect ourselves but to obey the Lord and leave the results with Him.  Friends, even if our enemy refuses God’s love, we will still have experienced the love of God in our own hearts and we will grow in His grace.

Such Joy!

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2010
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“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (Jn.16:22)

This morning, God’s Word teaches us about sorrow and joy.  Does anyone here know anything about sorrow?  I’m right there with you.  What is sorrow?  Is it the absence of joy?  Well maybe; or just maybe it’s the feeling of being helpless and alone; the feeling that it’s you against the world!  But what happens when someone steps in to help us shoulder the burden were under?  We begin to feel a sense of relief… a sense of joy!  That’s what Jesus wants you to experience when He says, “Come unto me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  If you’ve experienced that rest through God’s Word and His Sacraments, give God glory right now and thank Him!  God is good isn’t that right?

 Friends, God doesn’t want you to feel like it’s just you and Him against the world.  He’s called you into fellowship with other saints who have been saved by grace, through faith because of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  He wants you to be a part of the body of Christ so that the other saints in His body can help you carry your burden and sorrows, and then you can help them carry theirs.  Again, I say, God is good… Amen!

 But God doesn’t want you to think that it’s us against the world either.  He wants you to remember that your real enemy is the devil, not people.  So where does He send you after you’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good?  Well, He sends you right back out into the same sinful world that looks down upon you and your Lord.  He asks you to love those who belittle and demean you, even harm you, and He asks you to pray for them; He wants you to invite them to become part of His kingdom.  In other words, God wants you to be kingdom builders!

 I. This morning, in our gospel reading we are given a picture of confusion, worry and fear.   It’s the perfect illustration of “me against the world”!  The disciples are gathered together in the upper room, just hours before our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus has washed their feet and said they must be servants.  He has revealed once and for all that He is God.  He has taught that He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are together God.  Three persons, yet one God.    Then He began talking about the world’s hatred towards Him and by proxy for them.  But now comes the crushing blow; one of them will betray Him unto death and another will disown Him.  “How can this be?” they wondered.  “What am I going to do now?”

And to these fears, Jesus says: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” [v.12]   ‘Many things?  Oh Lord, if there anything like these other things, I don’t really care to hear them.’  But He continues, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me.  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”   In a little while, the disciples indeed shall feel alone in their grief.  They will be drowning in their own tears.  Their beloved Lord and master will die the death of a criminal!  But the world… well that’s another thing.  It will rejoice and be glad in it!  The devil, has worked his murderous plan upon the Author of Life and the world celebrates with unholy glee!  This is the “little while of sorrow” that Jesus spoke of.  But He also says “again a little while, and you will see me.”  Your sorrow will become joy!  And what was the source of their joy?  It was the Easter morning Resurrection!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  But in just a few short weeks He would leave them again when He ascends into heaven.  That’s why He reminded them and us that the Holy Spirit of God remains with us as our counselor, advocate and friend.  He reminds us that He has not left us as orphans.  He remains with us in His Word and Sacraments through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And, He is within us and He is all around us through the fellowship of other each other!  “Lo, I am with you always” He says!

 Dear friends Christ promises us that in this world “WE” WILL experience both sorrow and joy; but He assures us that He is still with us!  He comforts us with His Holy Word which is empowered by the Holy Spirit who lives within us!  He has washed us clean in the waters of our baptism… we are born again!  And He feeds us His very body and blood, through the bread and wine so that we may be continuously reminded that we are forgiven.  But He wants us to remember that we aren’t in this alone!  You see he has called us into His body, the church!  And together we learn to submit to His will, suffer and bear more than all other people.  We learn to take anything and everything the devil and this world can throw at us, because Jesus is still with us!  Who of us could have ever guessed in our youth that we would have gone through what we have gone through and still be walking with the Lord? 

 Dear friends, there is simply no way you could have made it through the troubles you’ve seen unless the Holy Spirit was guiding you!  He is called “the Spirit of truth” because in spite of what your sorrow and fears tell you, His message is always the same: “You are not alone!”  Through the work of the Holy Spirit the promises of the gospel break through and assure us that God’s dwelling place is within us and around us!  Jesus lives within you and you are his child, his friend, and his brother.  What a joy to know that we are not alone!  God is with us and we are in this together.  Isn’t it a great joy to be part of His body?  Isn’t it a blessing to call the person next to you brother or sister?

 II. But we still have sorrow, fears, and worry to contend with.  So what do we do when trouble and sorrows surround us?  Well our sinful tendency is to huddle together and protect what we have instead of sharing it!  Were a little bit like porcupines.  You know, the colder it gets outside, and the more we feel threatened, the more we huddle together; but the problem with that is, the closer we get to each other, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills.  So the deeper our sorrows and fears become the more we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own in to the freezing cold.  We freeze to death in our loneliness!  That’s how congregations eventually die out.  Why does this happen?  Because we forget to let the Living Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit lead us and change us!

Dear friends, when we develop this “us against the world” mentality when we forget that God’s Spirit is ever with us and sending us out into the world.  Instead of seeing ourselves as a missional outpost that raises up, equips, and sends out ambassadors to seek and save the lost, we can become more like a fortress; digging in and protecting what God says we must share.  If a congregation remains in this fortress mentality they will become unresponsive to the working of the Holy Spirit.  They become so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good!  It’s as if they’ve draw a line in the sand and said, “This is us and that’s them!”  But who is them?  Well, “them” becomes anyone who doesn’t think, act, talk, or worship like us!  In our Epistle reading this morning Peter along with all of us have been warned by the Holy Spirit not to look upon as unclean what God has made clean. 

Like Peter, when we put up our walls of protection thinking that we are fulfilling God’s will, we may just find ourselves fighting against the work of the Holy Spirit.  Now don’t get me wrong, certainly, like Peter we must protect God’s Holy Word and the correct understanding of it.  We must preach, teach, and confess both the Law and the Gospel in its proper form.  Our doctrine is pure, and we must fight to keep it that way.  Our Sacraments are precious and we must never let anyone rob us of God’s work that is given to us through them.  Our liturgical heritage is a gift from God and it finds its origin in the very first days of worship that were centered on God’s living Word.  Certainly there is no reason to abandon it now.  But what about those things that are not central to our faith?  May God protect us from becoming so fixated on a European heritage that we block out all other cultural heritages.  God forbid we call unclean and unholy what the Holy Spirit has sanctified and called clean!

 III. So what is the only way to ensure we are working with the Holy Spirit and not against Him?  By keeping our hearts centered on the gospel.  If we remember that God so loved the world, even you and me, that He gave His only Son that WE ALL might have eternal life, we will easily move from worry, fear, and sorrow into the joy of our salvation!

 Dear friends, God wants each of us to leave here this morning knowing that there is the promise of joy even in the middle of sorrow, fear, worry and pain. And until our hour comes to leave this veil of tears, I pray that we will not only rejoice in the hope of salvation, but we will also learn to rejoice in God himself.  If we will simply rest in Christ then through His Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit we will learn that Jesus’ love and presence are more than any circumstance in our life.  That he is greater than all his gifts.  That he is fully adequate for every situation in our lives.  You will learn that just as He promised, He is with us through the Holy Spirit guiding us through all the adverse circumstances, all the crushing disappointments, and all the heartaches.  And as you go through these things, you will learn that God is giving you the very thing He is after, faith and such joy in your salvation!

So hold on dear saints!
  Help isn’t on the way, it’s already here!  As one heart, God’s Spirit is inviting us to walk and work together with Him.  And remember, we are all serving and waiting together for the same goal—The day when each of us will be with God as His people, and He will be with us as our God.  He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. [Rev. 21:3-4]

The Power of God’s Love!

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Sixteenth Sunday in Pentecost, August 31st, 2008

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
” [Romans 12:12]

 

INTRODUCTION: Why would anyone set out to suffer and die?  Why would anyone choose humiliation over triumph?  To the world this is a ridiculous concept!  That’s why in our gospel reading, when Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed Peter answered, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  The other disciples must have been thinking, “Good for you Peter!  This can’t happen to the one we love.  How can a suffering, humiliated, or worse yet, a dead Mesiah save us!”  But to this, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Poor Peter, just days before this our Lord had praised him as being the model confessor of the church, because he confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  How could someone who seemed to have everything so right, now be so terribly wrong?  Our Lord answers that question so that we can see the error: “You aren’t looking at things from God’s plan, but from the plans of men!”  Well what’s the difference?  Both ways of thinking identify Jesus as the Savior, right?  Well yes, but the difference is in the kind of Savior!  Peter and the others wanted to glory in victory now!  They wanted a majestic conqueror—one that would by the power and might of man make all things right in the world.  They were appalled when Jesus said it was necessary for him to suffer and die.  They were so appalled that they missed the part that came next—the gospel!  “On the third day I will be raised from the dead!” 

 

The truth is friends, God’s love is always demonstrated as sacrificial love, and that is why Jesus said that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Without the self-sacrifice of Jesus, there would be no victory over sin death and the devil; without self sacrifice there can be no power in love.  And for us, if we want to truly live a life transformed by the “Power of God’s love” we must pick up our cross, and follow Jesus in the way of sacrificial love.  This is the truth that we will explore this morning in our Epistle lesson.  Please take out your Bibles and turn with me to Romans Chapter 12.

 

(Vs. 9) “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”    Right from the beginning of our Epistle lesson this morning, Paul is making it clear to us that everything that follows is centered in love.  But this kind of love is not your run of the mill, here today gone tomorrow kind of love; you know the kind I mean don’t you?  The kind of love that is ablaze with passion on the wedding day, but cold as ice on the 5th anniversary of that wedding night.  No this is the kind of love that is the ultimate fruit of God’s love for us.  It is the kind of love that gives you faith to believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior because “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son on the cross so that you would be saved!”  This isn’t the fake kind of Hollywood love, no this is the giving kind of love.  It gives everything it has so that the person receiving it knows they are loved.  With this kind of love, God chose to love you a sinner, and with this kind of love, as we will see latter, we are enabled to choose to love our enemies.  This is real love.  This love isn’t just words, but its action and truth! [1 Jn. 3:18]  So how do we demonstrate this genuine kind of love? “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”  Hate everything evil and sinful and be permanently stuck to everything that’s good!

 

ILLUS: Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this truth is to illustrate its opposite.  Within our own community, just a couple miles down Imperial Avenue, you will be in neighborhoods that are plagued by drugs of all kinds, including the worst drug of all, Crystal Methamphetamine.  Hundreds of our neighbors are addicted to a drug that contains, phosphorus, methylamine, acetone, chloroform, iodine, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, lithium, ether, and muriatic acid.   When all of this is mixed together and cooked, it creates a crude version of Methamphetamine, and when smoked or snorted it produces an intoxicating euphoria that causes one to feel that everything is good and right in the world.  Friends, the truth is for these poor souls, nothing is right!  Any one of those ingredients alone can cause death.  These poor people have learned to love the very thing that is killing them, and they hate anyone that comes between them and their drug.  How many families have been destroyed because of this drug?  How many lives have been lost?  Yet these poor souls have become addicted to it!  They are living out the opposite mindset that Paul is asking us to live out.  When Paul says that we should hold fast to what is good, he means that we should be permanently stuck to it!  We should be addicted to what is good, and we know that there is no one or nothing good but God Himself!  Friends, we hate illegal drugs because they are evil and because we love God!  Now because we love God, we find ourselves hating anything and everything that separates anyone from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus!  Now Paul will show us how this type of love will work in our church.

(Vs.10-13)Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Be devoted to one another with warm family affection and brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.  These words sound good; everyone wants that kind of love in our lives and in our church.  To Paul, this family-type devotion to one another is much more than friendship. It’s the type of love that involves commitment like that experienced in a good family.  When one person in a family is hurting, sick, or in trouble, all of the other family members rally around that person and help in any way possible.  This type of sacrificial, self giving love then is the fulfillment of “Honoring one another above ourselves”. When one of us is in trouble all of us respond.  But the truth is, this type of love can be a real inconvenient; it can even intrude into our personal lives at the worst moment, but this is God’s way, the way of sacrificial love.  It is God’s will that if one of us is in a time of testing, due to financial crisis, sickness, sorrow, or pain, rather than try to hide our tribulation, we should rather embrace the love and support of our church family,  and pray, waiting on God to supply our needs.  It is precisely during these moments when Christ’s church becomes the model of true love to the whole world.  This kind of love is a radical concept to the unbelieving world, but it is the only kind of love that matters to the church.  Paul says that the only way we can demonstrate this kind of love is if we are “fervent in spirit”. 

 

The actual Greek word that is translated fervent means “seething—be seething in spirit.”  Just as water and steam  violently bubbles and seeths out of a covered pot of boiling water, so too we are to be seething in the Spirit.  If you find yourself lacking that fervent, seething spirit,  Paul has just the way to obtain it—“Be constant in prayer!”  Through God’s Word we are given faith and empowered by a relationship of love that allows us to call our God and Creator, Father!  And because of this loving relationship, we are not only encouraged to bring to Him all of our own needs but the needs of others as well!    When we pray for a Christian brother or sister, God’s Spirit is active in our own hearts causing us to be seething in the spirit, so that He may love and care for that person through us, and when God is working through us it is not a chore to love someone, instead it becomes a blessing. 

 

ILLUS: Some years ago a Lutheran church in Oklahoma, divided. The split was so bad that one faction began a lawsuit to dispossess the other and claim the property for itself. The local newspapers picked up the story, and the locals followed what was happening with a lot of interest. The judge decided that it wouldn’t be a matter for the civil courts until the church authorities had made a ruling. After much discussion, the church authorities awarded the property to one of the two factions, and the losers withdrew and formed another church in the area.  Think about how different things would have been had those in that church followed Paul’s call to mutual commitment: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.   Be seething in the spirit!”  Now that we have an idea of what our love should look like inside of the Church, Paul brings everything together into one picture.  Here now comes the type of love we are to have everywhere.

 

(Vs. 14-16) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”  Do these words sound familiar?  They should, because they are a paraphrase of Jesus’ own Words: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and “bless those who curse you” )Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-28).  Think of Jesus last words upon the cross before he died, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  “Well He was the Son of God, of course He could bless and forgive.  No man could do that could they?”  Well what about Stephen, who opened his mouth in a blessing upon those who were stoning him to death?  Do you remember the last words that he uttered? “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)

 

Friends, the way of the world says that we should curse those who are unjustly persecuting us, but the Christian prays for bullies and tormentors.  Why?  So that they might repent, so that God might forgive them.  Bless, Paul says, and do not curse them, don’t speak evil against them behind their back, because it is never right to both bless and to curse at the same time.  No, instead, we Christians must model the same love that Jesus has loved us with.  When we follow the way of our Lord, we learn to “live in harmony with one another”. Oh yes, and Paul adds something else, “Do not be haughty, (that is prideful and stuck-up), but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.”  Just as you don’t like to be bullied or persecuted, be sure that you aren’t doing the same thing to others—by way of neglect or preferential treatment.

 

ILLUS: Have you ever heard of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. When he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Herbert Hoover in 1930 he moved to Washington, and transferred his church membership to a church there. It was the custom in that church to have all new members come forward during the morning service and be introduced to the congregation. On this particular day the first to be called was a Chinese laundryman named Ah Sing, who had moved to Washington from San Francisco and kept a laundry near the church. He stood at the far side of the pulpit. As others were called, they took positions at the extreme opposite side. When a dozen people had gathered, Ah Sing stood painfully alone. Then Chief Justice Hughes was called, and he significantly stood right next to the laundryman.  Friends, we are Christians, and we are to associate with everyone—the ordinary people, the unimportant, even the outcasts of society; even those who are being persecuted. If we can’t get along with one another, if we can’t be the champions for the oppressed in our own church, how can we ever face our enemies?  And that is precisely where Paul is taking us next…

 

(Vs. 17-20) “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There is no question that the man who does us evil ought to be paid back with the exact proportion. This is God’s own principle, and Paul isn’t ignoring that. But if God applied only that principle to us, where would we be?  And that is the point, without God’s grace through Jesus Christ we would be damned along with our worst enemy.  Friends, it is God’s work alone that saved us, and we should do everything to glorify Him and bring honor to His presence in our lives by living a life that demonstrates same grace.  Nothing that we do or say, should ever bring shame to our Lord and His gospel, and that is why Paul says, “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all”. To that same end, Paul tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” That would include peace with believers and nonbelievers, those in the church and outside of the church. You know friends, it takes two to fight, and if you as a believer aren’t seeking revenge, then there should be no long-lasting disruption of peace that involves you.

 

But what about justice?  To this Paul answers, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  Here is Paul’s answer. A juster hand than yours and mine is in control, and He will hand out the most perfect justice that is due to every unrepentant sinner. Friends, by choosing to not avenge ourselves, we aren’t abandoning justice, but rather we have chosen to trust God with the whole matter.  Remember friends, God saved you, and he doesn’t want anyone else to perish either.  So God is restraining his punishment with hope that your enemy will become you brother. So we wait; but while we wait, we aren’t just patiently endure mistreatment, no instead God wants us to seek to change our enemy, if possible, to bring him to repentance.  How?  By feeding him when he is hungry and giving him drink when he is thirsty!  These are only two of many possible examples, but they are good ones.  But why must we be nice to our enemy?  Paul answers that this way, “for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Or we could say that by being nice to him, we allow God’s Law to work within his heart, causing him shame, which will then hopefully cause him to repent of his sin and turn to the same source of love that saved us, Jesus Christ!

 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, the summary of all of this can be found in Paul’s won words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God demonstrated this principle for us long ago, when He sent His only Son to die for you upon the cross.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!  Just as Jesus prayed for us long ago upon the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” so too, we must pray for those who hurt us.  We need to pray and ask God for love as we try to show kindness to our enemies. Will they take advantage of us? Will they hate us even more? Only the Lord knows. Our task is not to protect ourselves but to obey the Lord and leave the results with Him.  Friends, even if our enemy refuses God’s love, we will still have experienced the love of God in our own hearts and we will grow in His grace.