Posts Tagged ‘Justification’

Gathering the Scattered!

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

Pentecost 9B
July 22, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were
 like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” [Mark 6:34]

Do you know what happens to sheep when they don’t have a true shepherd?  That’s right, they scatter!   And once they scatter they can get into all kinds of trouble; trouble that usually ends in their death.  Why even sheep who have a shepherd can get themselves into a whole lot of trouble; that’s why the shepherd will leave the 99 to search for the one who has wandered off. 

An American, traveling in Syria, saw three native shepherds bring their flocks to the same brook, and the flocks drank there together. After a few minutes, one of the shepherds got up and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah! ,” the Arabic word for “follow me.” His sheep came out of the mixed herd and followed him up the hillside. The next shepherd did the same, and his sheep went away with him, and neither shepherd even stopped to count them. 

The American said to the remaining shepherd, “Give me your turban and staff, and let’s see if they’ll follow me like they follow you.” So he put on the shepherd’s dress and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah!” Not a single sheep moved.  “Will your flock never follow anybody but you?” inquired the American. The Syrian shepherd replied, “Never, unless their sick, then they will follow any one.”

This morning I want to talk about two distinct kinds of sheep; those with a shepherd and those without.  

You could also call them Christians and non-Christians, or the righteous and the unrighteous.  St. Paul, in our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 2:11-22) called them Jew and gentile.  But he also pointed out that that old classification no longer existed, because the True Shepherd had come and taken down the wall or fence that separated them.  That separation of course was the Law of God that shepherded the Jews, and condemned sinners like you and me.  In Paul’s time, many well-meaning Jewish Christians were insisting that gentiles had to first become Jews before they could become Christians, or in other words, they had to be Jewish sheep before they could be Jesus’ sheep.  Paul’s goal was to show them that this was not only incorrect thinking, but dangerous thinking; it would serve to scatter and divide God’s people of faith, rather than gathering them into one family, one body, one sanctuary, which is the body of Christ, His church.

So let’s look at the two groups of people that live all around us today, Christians and non-Christians.  But before we do, let me share another story with you. 

A newspaper in Camden, Maine, ran two photos on the front page; one showed the city council of Camden gathered together at a meeting, and the other picture was of a flock of sheep. The editor mistakenly reversed the captions of the two photos. Under the picture of the sheep, the caption identified them, left to right, as town officials; under the other photo of the city council, the caption read, “The Sheep Fold—naive and vulnerable, they huddle for security against the uncertainties of the outside world.”

Now as funny as that story is, I think that it describes both Christian and non-Christian alike; we are naïve and vulnerable.  And like the sick sheep in my other story, we Christians when we are tired, lonely, sick, or afraid might follow any old voice that seems sympathetic and able to help.  That is why we all need to learn, know, and follow our true Shepherd’s voice.  We all need the gift of faith to hear Jesus’ voice and to grow in that faith so that we will never follow another.

In our gospel reading (Mark 6:30-44), the contrast between the two groups of people is evident; the over-worked, under-appreciated, and tired disciples, who were ready for a break, and those who were lost, “like sheep without a shepherd.”  

We might also call them people with a mission and vision and the people without a vision who were wandering in life aimlessly.  This morning, in our gospel lesson, Jesus spoke to them both.  This morning Jesus speaks to both of those classes of people who are gathered here at Trinity.

This morning there are some of you who are just plain tired. You have been active in your Lord’s church for most of your life, and some have in the last eight or so years given the best of your time, talent, and treasure, to help make Trinity a city on a hill, a bright light here in Southeast San Diego, Southwest Spring Valley, and Southeast Lemmon Grove.  You have done so much and gone so far, that now you are just plain tired.  Many of you along with me, have the feeling of always being “on-call,” with more demands on your time than you could ever hope to meet.  I know your heart, because it is centered in God’s love for the wandering sheep; you are afraid of letting people down, and so you push yourselves past the limits.  You dream of getting away from it all and you pray that there would be more people to help shoulder the burden.

Well this morning Jesus, who is your Sabbath rest, knows your fatigue; He sees it and He speaks to you as He spoke to His disciples in our gospel reading.  “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” [v. 31]  

Many of you know the need for rest and you have been intentional on setting aside vacation time; you have had your rest already, and some of you have scheduled your vacation for a future date.  But the truth is, even when we are on vacation, we are never really away from it all.  It seems that the troubles of this world follow us every-where we go.  Even the best planned vacations don’t work out as planned.  There are always more demands for our time, and more needs to meet.  Sometimes we don’t even have time to eat!

So where do we go for true rest; for real peace?  It isn’t found in our vacations; it doesn’t happen when we try to get away from it all; no it’s only found when we get back to Jesus; back to the true Shepherd of our souls.  Our refreshment and new energy will not be found simply by going to a certain place, but instead it is found in Him who takes us to that place.  The disciples weren’t able to get away from it all because the crowds found them; but they were able to be close to Jesus and His miraculous presence; a presence which still stands ready in all situations to help us today.

For the non-Christians, those who are counted among the sheep without a shepherd, their days are spent in endless hours of useless activity meant to fill each day with meaning.  Whether its sports, politics, careers, partying, or just staring out a window they find little fulfillment and joy in the gift of life.  They feel like “aliens and strangers” [Ephesians 2:12] separated from the joy of really knowing God and His will for them.

Like sheep without a shepherd, their wandering sinful nature looks for meaning through self-pleasing activities, but eventually all of their attempts to find happiness end in failure.  So they set out on an endless search looking for meaning.  Some end up in cults and false religions.  Others find themselves in a church, which speaks the Word of the true Shepherd, but clouds that Word in philosophy, legalism, or liberalism.  Undoubtedly, these were some of the things that Jesus also saw as He looked out on that great crowd of people who were like “sheep without a shepherd.”

And Jesus had compassion on them.  He didn’t look at them as “no good” sinners, but as part of His scattered flock.  He claimed them as His own, and He taught them.  They were always His own, His purpose for coming; He came to bring them into His flock.  He came so that the scattered and the gathered might come together and know peace; peace with God, and peace with each other.  He came to give us all rest!

This morning, Jesus speaks to both groups and calls us together as one.  

He shows us that each of us have a common reconciliation… Himself!  Through His work alone upon the cross He makes all men and women right; He makes us righteous with His Father.  You who were at one time separated from God because of your sins are now gathered into His forgiving heart through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  By His blood He has purchased you, redeemed you from a commonwealth of judgment and eternal punishment, and transferred you into His Kingdom of grace and forgiving love. 

You who were once separated from God are now part of His body, the church.  You are one of many countless living stones set upon the Rock of Ages, the Cornerstone of God’s Eternal Sanctuary.  You are set upon Jesus Christ along with many other saints and together you are a living and ever-growing sanctuary.  How does the sanctuary, the body of Christ grow?  By the very same means that you were converted into a living stone; through the Word of Jesus Christ, the message of His gospel.

And this is the message that God would have you hear today.  You are forgiven through Jesus Christ.  In that message alone, God really gives you rest, fulfillment and joy.  But in that message, God also wants your life to have meaning and purpose.  You are here to live under and work out the will of God in your life.  And what is His will?  That you would rest in His Kingdom of grace and see it grow, one forgiven sinner at a time.  (Talk about inviting others.)

Jesus’ disciples and the scattered hungry were all fed by the very same Word.  Christ’s own personal preaching was full of peace for both Gentiles and Jews.  But what about now; do we still have that same care and concern?  Yes!  What we must always remember is that when Christ sent his message out into the world, he told His messengers: “I am with you always, even to the end of the world,” (Matt. 28:20). He assured them and He assures us that “He who hears you also hears me,” Luke 10:16; “Truly, truly, I say to you,” He said, “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” John 13:20. 

So congratulations to all of you here today; you who are tired may find rest in the same Jesus who invigorated the apostles.  He is here with you now!  You who were once scattered and lost, are now gathered and found, by Jesus Himself.  He has gathered you into the kingdom of God through the message of His cross; He has washed you clean in the waters of baptism and recreated you to live a life of peace. He himself is your peace and rest, now go and share that same peace, share that same rest with those who are still counted as scattered!  I pray you would do this very thing, and I ask it in Jesus name…Amen.

Who Is My Neighbor?

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 21st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9]

Isn’t that the way we normally live our lives; the way we normally respond to situations that seem to lead us to act for the benefit of others rather that passing them by and doing nothing.  It’s the way we justify not doing something; the way we naturally react to all the various people in our lives; people like coworkers and acquaintances.  Isn’t it true that we find it easier to show friendliness and do good towards a few chosen people in our lives; people who we know will reciprocate with equal friendliness?  But toward the majority of people whom we meet during the day, we usually do exactly as the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable did; we pass them by without more than a passing thought.

But in contrast, the Scriptures teach us that next to the great commandment to love God with our whole heart, body, mind, and soul, we are to  “Love our neighbor as ourselves.”  With such a broad, high, and demanding command as this, it isn’t unusual to find ourselves asking along with the lawyer in our gospel lesson (Luke 10:23-37)…

Who then is my neighbor, if I’m to love my neighbor as myself?

Jesus answered that question by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan who traveling alone one day happened to meet a man he could help.  In that moment, this suffering, dying man next to him became his neighbor.  You see, my neighbor, your neighbor is every person that we come in contact with, a person to whom we can do either harm or good towards.

Our neighbor can be a person who is close to us in the sense of proximity, or close to us in the sense that we have a God given ability to render immediate help.  The Jews were prone to limit their definition of who their neighbor was, to someone who was first and foremost part of their own people, and especially part of their own family.  In regards to how they would treat the others, they had a mindset that pretty much guided them, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But Jesus teaches that even the person who is unknown or indifferent or even repulsive to us becomes our neighbor as soon as we have dealings with them.

Does this seem like a difficult concept to embrace?  I would not be surprised if you answered yes, because the truth is, by nature,  all of us are lousy neighbors.

The belief that every fellow man is my neighbor is based in the truth that we are all so closely related to each other because of our fallen and sinful nature.  But…

All of us have also, been created by God to be His children and to relate to Him through faith.  In reality, we all have the same Creator-Father; we have all been redeemed by the same Savior, the Son of God.  And if we are baptized, we are even more closely related in that we have all been chosen to receive the same spiritual home, a place where we will all eternally live together as members of the same family.

The unknown people that we pass by during the day while we are walking or driving are also our brothers and sisters “for whom Christ died.” [Romans 12:5]  We are members of the same body, joined together by God Himself, so “that the members may have the same care for one another.”  We are to love the others just as much as we love ourselves.

In the Hawaiian language, there is a beautiful word that has multiple meanings and it is Aloha.  It can mean hello or goodbye. It also means love’ abiding love and affection.  With that in mind let me sing to you a bit of a song written by Larry Rivera titled “Aloha Begins With Me.”  I like to think of it as the “Good Samaritan Song.”  Aloha Begins with me.  Aloha begins with me.  Aloha begins with me.  When I walk down to the street, I will smile to all I meet and say Aloha!  When I drive on down to town and the traffic is slowing down, I smile and say Aloha!  In this country of many races we are blessed with all God’s graces.  So let every creature that has breath sing His praise.

Contrary to the spirit of Aloha or the type of love the Bible calls agape love, the truth is that we are usually pretty much concerned only about ourselves and not about sharing aloha with others.  But if we could only see just how closely we are related, actually one with another, wouldn’t we treat them just a little differently? “For no man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it.” [Matthew 7:12]  The simplest explanation of our obligation to love our neighbor was given by our Lord when He said: “As you wish that men would do to you, do the same to them.” [Luke 6:31]

The person who loves God is a person who truly understands who he is before a perfect and righteous God.  This kind of person understands just how deep God’s love for he or she runs, and then through this understanding of true agape love, aloha, they’re given a new ability from God, to approach other people with this new kind of love.  This love is given to us to be shared with both relatives and acquaintances as well as all those we encounter as we journey through life together.  But this kind of love, this agape love can only come through a true Christian faith; it is something that can only be received from God as a gift.  And after God gives this gift of love and faith, this person, these true Christians can say that they  “both love God and know Him.”

God is love, and to live in a right relationship with God through faith in Christ means to not only have His love residing and abiding in our hearts but it also means that it radiates from within and goes out to others as well.  The person who does not love his brother whom he has seen, can’t love God who he has not seen.  Everyone who loves the parent loves the child.

No one can force us to love.  The only way for us to receive the love of God is when He showers it upon us and in us through His means of grace.  When this happens, then we can love as He first loved us.  This morning, Jesus through His story about the Good Samaritan has done just that; He’s showered us with faith and grace.

In His story we should understand two important things: First, who the person robbed and dying in the ditch is and second, who the Good Samaritan is.

You like the lawyer testing Jesus, are in fact the injured traveler, who has been left to die alone in the ditch.  You were beaten by your enemies the day you were conceived; they left you robbed and in the grip of death the day you were born.  There was nothing you could do to save your self.  Even other people, important people in your lives are helpless to save you; and even if they could help they wouldn’t because they too were left alone and dying in their own ditch of sin and death.  They too, need the Good Neighbor.  But Jesus story does not stop there.  Next He tells you about a “Good Samaritan.”

A Samaritan was a class of people who were hated by the Jews.  To call a Samaritan good would be blasphemous to the ears of a Jew.  So you can understand the insult intended when the Pharisees out of frustration called Jesus a Samaritan simply because they could not trap Him and brand Him as a sinner.  They said that He was a Samaritan possessed by a demon.  Yes, Jesus says, “I am the “Good Samaritan.”  I am the only one who can be a good neighbor; the only One who has the true aloha spirit.  I alone have come to you, picked you out of the ditch, anointed your wounds with the gospel, and took both you and your burdens upon my self and carried you to be cleansed in the waters of baptism, and fed the Father’s Manna from Heaven, which is my Word, my body, and my blood.  I am your champion who not only rescued you from your true enemies, but I also destroyed them for you.  Now sin, death, and the devil can never harm you again.

But Jesus is also your good neighbor because He willingly took your place in the ditch; He allowed your enemies to beat, rob, and kill Him, upon the cross.  But it was His life to lay down for you, and He gladly did it, just so He could take it back up again.  He rose from the dead so you could see that because He has overcome death and the grave, so too shall you.

How can we become “good” neighbors?  Only by receiving and being transformed by God’s mercy as given through His Son, Jesus Christ.   Legalists who like to cross-examine Jesus Word and make it say a more palatable message, like the lawyer who confronted Jesus, still make no progress today towards appeasing their guilty conscience and satisfying the Law of God.  They never will have peace until they recognize that they are the man half dead and Jesus is the one who does mercy as their true neighbor. The lawyer says, “I will act to love my neighbor as myself; tell me who he is.” But Jesus answers, “You can’t act, because you are dead. You need someone to love you, show mercy to you, heal you, pay for you, give you lodging, and revive you. I am the only one who does those things, but I am also the one you despise because I love to be with sinners, but in fact I am the one who fulfills the Law, who embodies it, and brings God’s mercy. I am your good neighbor and will give you the gifts of mercy, healing, and life. As I live in you, you will have life and will do mercy—not motivated by laws and definitions, but animated by my love.”

I pray that each of us will continue to allow Jesus to deliver us from the ditch of sin, heal us, and strengthen and guide us as we go out allowing Jesus to be the good neighbor through us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN.

Words Are Important

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Twelfth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 14th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” [Matthew 12:37]

This is the word of Jesus.  It sounds dreadful, and we can understand why there were times when after the disciples heard Jesus teach and preach they responded with the question, “Who then can be saved?” [Matthew 19:25]

Why are our words so important?  And if they’re so important, why do we so often say so many things that we don’t really mean?  Well Jesus teaches that “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” [Luke 6:45]  Since every tree is known by its fruits, our thoughtless, angry, empty, and noisy words should then reveal the real condition of our hearts.  And to make sure that we understand this truth, Jesus also said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” [Matthew 12:36]

But thank God we are not limited to only our words; thank God there is a Word much bigger and powerful than any and all Words we will ever speak.  Thank God Jesus also says, “With man salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible; (Matthew 19:26) all things that begin not with the word of men but with the Word of God like this…

“In the beginning was the Word.” [John 1:1] “And God said, ‘Let there be …’  and all that exists came into being—by the power of his Word.” [Genesis 1:3- 24]

God likes to talk because in His Word there is power! He began the world by talking it into existence. When Adam and Eve doubted his Word and hid from Him because of their guilt, God came to them in order to call them back into a relationship with Himself. [Genesis 3:9] As a way to reclaim and restore his people, God has placed his power in our language as we speak His Word so that His gospel will lead people to trust in Him.  God’s good news brings us back into His grace and favor; the very thing we were first created to exist in.  So this is why God loves to talk; because His message of forgiveness and new life brings us back into a right relationship with Him. And this “being made right” with God is given to us only through His Word, and only because we are allowed to receive His Word of promise through His gift of faith. [Romans 1:17]  And yet so many people still think that they can make things right with God in their own way. They see God’s 10 Commandments as suggestions or a loose code of conduct that they can adapt to fit their life style. They believe in this so strongly that they are willing to completely dismiss God’s gospel message.

Here is the very point that God wants us to understand: on our own we are broken; our words and our good intentions accomplish nothing.  That is the primary function of the law, of the Ten Commandments; to show us that we are broken.  We are trapped in our sin, and on our own we can never be right with God. If you know this is true, then you have experienced the work of God’s Law.  It’s like a hammer that crushes us and it is like a sword that pierces our very souls, but it only does this work so that you will remember that with God all things are possible; so that you will be led to call out to God for His healing balm!  The healing balm of God, the forgiveness of sins is the work of the Gospel.  The gospel tells us about God’s grace, His forgiving love through Jesus Christ.  But why do some find it so hard to receive and believe in the gospel?  Well the problem isn’t in God’s Word, the problem is in us; it is a problem of sin being in our hearts!

Both God’s Law and the Gospel come to us through the same means; they come to us through the Word.  It is the same Word that we are to take into our mouths and then into our hearts!  Both Law and Gospel are essential for making us right with God.  If we truly want a relationship of love and trust with our Creator, it can only come to us through God’s Word, both the Law and the Gospel; we can’t have one without the other.  If we reject either one we are simply lost in our sins; separated from God for time and eternity.  We need to hear both the Law and the Gospel if we are to be right with God.   We need to receive that Word like the man in our gospel lesson (Mark 7:31-37) who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  He knew of no grand possibility of being made whole; he only knew that his friends brought him to Jesus as a broken man and that Jesus desired to make him whole.

What is the Gospel?  It is the Word of God that tells you that you have a God who has come to save you.  You have a champion that has destroyed the power of sin, death, and the devil!  You have a Savior and His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  If you go off looking for help from other means, then you are trying to make yourself right with God by your own code of conduct, and because of that, you are denying Christ’s death for you, and you’re in essence telling God, “No thanks Lord.  I’ve got this!”  If you do that then you can’t have a new and eternal life!

You see friends, Christianity is unlike any other religion.  It is the only absolute and perfect religion because it doesn’t ask you to do a thing, but instead, it teaches you to accept and receive God’s perfect and complete work for you through Jesus Christ—“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” [2 Corinthians 5:18–19]  In other words, the Christian religion is absolutely perfect because it isn’t a moral code that teaches us how to earn forgiveness of sins, but instead it teaches us that through God’s Word of Law and Gospel we receive faith that recreates and sustains us while God reshapes us.  All of this was given to us through Christ’s work upon the cross.  There on the cross He was pierced and killed for our sins.  By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed!

So what must we do to be saved?  Well, what does God’s Word say?

It says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:8-13]  So the simple thing we must do is be in the Word of God and call out to Him.

Sadly people today, will hear this Good News and still think that we Christians and our Bibles are narrow minded and bigoted.  They will say how presumptuous it is of us to assume that we are the only ones that are right about God.  They will point out that the great Creator God would never limit Himself to just the printed and spoken Word.  They love to point to the marvels of the world we live in, the universe around us and our own history to prove that God can and does speak to men and women outside of His recorded Word.  But the truth is, when people say something like that, what they are really trying to do is neutralize the Law of God.  Why?  Because to them, the Law is like a mirror, and they don’t like what they see in that mirror!  In the mirror of God’s Law they see the ugliness of their sin and they see the perfection that God demands!

Now while it is true that God does make use of creation and our history to communicate to us, He does this only to direct our attention to His Word, a Word which alone tells us of our need for our savior, Jesus Christ!  The knowledge about sin and grace, can only come to us through God’s Word of Law and Gospel.  It is through the Word alone that we are recreated back into God’s image!  Without the preaching of Christ’s Word, darkness still covers the world and our sinful hearts.  Even though our history shows that God speaks to us through the majesty of the heavens and the earth, even though God speaks to sinful man with a loud voice in earthquakes, war, and famine, we are lost without God’s Word of Law and Gospel speaking death to our sinful flesh and then recreating new and eternal life within us.

(But)“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:14-17]

Isn’t it sad that so many people still reject The gospel!  But this isn’t any thing new; even Isaiah lamented to God and wondered if he was preaching in vain.  But God’s Word corrects this thinking; He corrects it by reminding us that the working of faith is His business.  He reminds us that He gives faith only through His Word, and that Word teaches us that saving faith is always faith in the Word of Christ, faith in the external Word of the Gospel, which Christ commanded His Church to preach and to teach. [Mark 16:15–16; Romans 1:1–2]

This external Word is both the object of our faith and the means by which faith is created.  This is why churches call pastors and it is why seminaries train and send them!  Any belief centered in anything that is not proclaimed in the Word of Christ as we have it through Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles (John 17:20), according to the Scriptures is just a delusion and a product of the sinful human heart and mind. [1 Timothy 6:3–4; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5]  And this is also why God expects you as His priests, to be His witnesses to those who don’t know Him through His Word; because He wants them to know that there is power in His Word… Power unto salvation!

Through the proclamation of the gospel then, the preached Word of God is sent out to every corner of this sinful world, inviting sinful men and women to believe and rest in God’s Word of forgiveness.  Through our witness as to how God’s Word has restored us, others can see Jesus living in and recreating us, and by God’s grace they will be moved to ask us about our faith.  This then is a God given moment to invite them to look deeper into that Word by hearing it preached and taught in God’s church, even our little church here.

Through faith in Christ we are covered by the righteousness of Christ, to be Christ’s many ambassadors.  Through the Word of God spoken by men, we have been given a new heart from which we can bring out things that are good and pleasing to God. [2 Corinthians 5:17]  Something new has been created within us, a good tree that can bring and bear good fruit.  This new fruit that comes from within our new hearts will bear witness on judgment day that the tree God planted within us was good.  But it is not for the sake of the good fruit that you are granted forgiveness and eternal life.  There is still enough left of the old sinful flesh that we need to pray day-by-day, “Forgive us our trespasses.”  But for the sake of Christ we are now “not under law, but under grace.” [Romans 6:14]

So you see, faith does grow out of hearing the Word of God.  Through God’s Word, new life is created and protected by the giving and sustaining of faith. Now our faith might not always understand the mystery of how God can speak to us through His Word and Sacraments, and faith won’t always be able to explain why God does what He does for sinners like us, but that’s alright, because you see, “faith is the assurance of things for which we hope for; it is the conviction of things that we don’t see. [Hebrews 11:1] So faith is simply hearing and resting in God’s message about Jesus Christ; His cross and empty tomb; His church and His means of grace; and the cherished time we spend alone in that Word and the time we spend together as the communion of saints!  May God continue to give us ears and a heart to hear and believe this message!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

On Being Made Righteous


Monday, August 8th, 2016

Eleventh Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 7th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  [Luke 18:14]

This is the verdict in regards to the no good tax collector, who for the Jews was the epitome of a sinner; he was considered a traitor to his people, because he worked for the evil Roman Empire.  This tax collector had been in the temple along with the self-righteous and confident Pharisee, the ultimate church goer.  We should note that the Pharisees had the same view of people and morality as many hard-working, idealistic, and socially responsible people have today.  They believed that there is a moral law that people are expected to live up to.  They believe that if you’ve done the best you can, the best you know how, you won’t fail in pleasing God, or another way of saying that is you wont become a lost sinner.

But according to the Bible this is simply a way to deceive ourselves.  It is a way that makes God out to be a liar and reveals that “His Word is not in us.”  [1 John 1:8-10] When we really see what God expects of us we can never be satisfied with ourselves.  Even when we have the will to do good, there is something evil in our nature that makes us prone to jealousy, pride, and self-interest.  And even if anyone should keep the law in its entirety and yet fail in only one point he has become guilty of breaking all of it, namely of sinning against God Himself. [James 2:10]

So, armed with this information, let’s again look at Jesus parable this morning.  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” [Luke 18:10]

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” [Vs. 11, 12]

The Pharisee in Jesus story simply is a character that personifies all of the countless people who have ever passed before God and who ever will pass before Him, trusting in their own righteousness, that is in their own good works as a way to appease God; to make Him happy.

We know that pride certainly is an issue for this Pharisee, because he took his place in the temple, during the prayer service right up front and in the central part of the room where everyone could both see and hear him recite his personal prayers to heaven.  And why shouldn’t he; everyone seemed to admire him for his piety, or he certainly wouldn’t have made this his practice.

Next, he thanked God that he was not like other people, like most people.  He wasn’t an extortioner, one who manipulates and uses other people.  He’s thankful that he’s not an unjust man, in other words in his mind, he is completely justified as righteous before God.  He’s thankful that he’s not an adulterer, running around living the swinger life style.

But now as he looks around the sanctuary, he spots a very notorious member of the worship community… the tax collector.  And he thanks God that he’s not like that man, an enemy both of God and God’s people.  He’s probably even wondering how that man was even allowed into the temple area. “He should be locked up” he might have said under his breath! But in reality, he really had nothing to thank God for, because in God’s eyes, the life he had made for himself was worse than the life of an extortioner and even the tax collector. You see, he was measuring himself and others with a wrong human rule and not with the rule of God’s Word, and what’s more, he was doing it right in God’s Temple, which had been dedicated to God’s Word.

Of all those who, like the Pharisee, trust in their morality, it is still true as Jesus said: “They say one thing, but do another.” [Matthew 23:3] When the law speaks, our mouths are stopped, and the whole world stands guilty before God. [Romans 3:19] There is therefore none that are righteous accept Jesus Christ. [1 Peter 3:18]. And all that Jesus has done He has done for us.  In our place and for our sake He has fulfilled everything, even the smallest parts of the law in order that “by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:19]

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” [Vs. 13]

Here is Jesus’ example of the complete opposite to the Pharisee. He, too, stands before God in the Temple, but he is not in a special place of honor or attention, in fact, he stands as far away from these places of honor as possible. He felt that he was too unworthy to go any nearer. He didn’t even have the will to lift up his eyes to heaven, because he was completely ashamed to stand before God. He doesn’t even attempt to brag about what he has done for God and the church, but instead he simply pounds his chest as a way of showing great sorrow and pain for his sinful life.

And now we hear his prayer, which is also his confession of sins.  He admits his sin of being an open and public sinner, but he prays that God would atone for, or take away his guilt.  It’s to bad that our contemporary translations choose to use the word merciful, because the actual word translated from the Greek is translated as “propitiated.”  So, his words should really be read like this: “God be propitiated to me a sinner.”  He had probably just provided his gift of something that had just been sacrificed by the Chief Priest at the altar of God; a gift that he hoped would atone for His sins.  So he is praying, “God please accept the sacrifice I offered and let it be enough to bring atonement for me and bring me peace with you.”

The main point lies in in the comparison of the two men.  The Pharisee thought of others as being sinners but fails to see the truth about himself; the tax collector thinks of himself alone as being the sinner and doesn’t even begin to think about others. Do you see, this is a mark of true humility; of true contrition and brokenness? This condition of the heart finds no comfort at all in the fact that there are many others who are even greater sinners; it sees only itself before God, only itself as “the”sinner who is unable to answer to God for his sins.

“I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” [vs 14]

So now Jesus tells us the very reason for the parable and the point of ultimate importance that we are to leave with.  Jesus wants to ensure that through His Word this morning, each of us will leave here justified, that is made right with God.

Jesus used the word justified intentionally.  It is the word that every sinner must use before God; both the tax collector and sinners such as our selves must confess before God that He is right and we are wrong; we must “acknowledged God as just” by remembering the need for Christ’s cross and the importance of our own baptism.  We must acknowledge that it is only through these means that God has chosen to both declare someone as righteous and recreate them in to someone who is righteous.

The irony here, of course, is that the one who goes back to his home “justified” is the confessed sinner and not the self-righteous sinner. So it all boils down to a simple matter of who we trust for our salvation: we either trust in ourselves, as does the Pharisee, who exalts himself as the means of his own redemption, or we trust in God and the atoning sacrifice he has provided (as did the tax collector).

So the tax collector and we this morning go home justified.  What difference should that make in our lives?

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” [Ephesians 2:10]

Do you understand?  Praise His name, God has propitiated us; through the Sacrifice of Christ upon the cross He saved us from our sins, but He has also equipped us to live out our redeemed and justified lives with a purpose. As we leave this house of worship right with God, we are called and equipped to live out this status by doing the very things He has prepared for us to do; prepared for us to share with others who do not yet know Him rightly unto eternal life.

It is by sharing this righteousness that we demonstrate to others that we are in fact justified before God.  John writes: “…if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (one).”  [1 John 2:1]  His righteousness frees us from the judgment and punishment of our sins.  His righteousness is our propitiation; it’s our salvation when we believe in Him.  We “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” [Romans 3:24] That means that our sins are covered over by the righteousness of Christ, by the blood He shed upon the cross, and by the waters of our baptism, which applied that atoning blood upon us personally.  It means that God no longer deals with us according to our sins, neither those which we have committed nor those which are still part of our fallen human nature.

And this is why it doesn’t help a person in the least if they simply embrace a high morality.  No matter how much a person protests that their moral goodness should count for something, God says it does not; He says that they still belong to the group of those who did not go and do that which the Father wanted to have done.  But both tax collectors and prostitutes who repent may enter the Kingdom of God, and so can no good sinners like you and me.  [Matthew 21:29-31]

Inevitably this truth will mean that each of us will go out justified and do the will of our Father and do that will better than we ever could have done if we were simply servants of this worlds standard of morality, the law, and pure idealism.

May God continue to equip and empower us to do these good works, and I ask this 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

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“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!

On Christ’s Atonement


Sunday, March 13th, 2016

5th Sunday in Lent-HL, March 13th , 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

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“Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.  Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” [John 8:42, 43]

Indeed, why are there still so many people today, who can not bear to hear Christ’s Word?  Even those who claim to be Christian reject large portions of His Word, which they claim are cultural and do not apply to today’s “progressive” society.  Why is this?  Could it be that they have rejected God’s demand that they allow the Word of God to have mastery over them?  Could it be that they do not wish to have complete dependency on Christ and His complete payment for our sins?  Or maybe they find the doctrine of Christ’s atonement for sin to be far too bloody and messy for their neat and ordered lives.  Or perhaps they resent the atonement because it completely negates their best efforts at living a successful life and instead insists that all of their self-worth must rest instead, entirely upon Jesus Christ and Him crucified?

In our world today we can draw a simple line of demarcation, which divides all of the worlds population into only two groups: Those who trust and live out Christ’s atonement for their sins, and those who reject it.

Looking at the large number of the religions in the world helps us understand this truth a little bit better.  There is of course Christ’s church and we who are called Christian, but right alongside of us we see and live with folks who are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and members of various other pagan religions.  What we must never forget as we are living our lives in this virtual sea of religions, is that there really are only two religions.  There are religions of the Law, that is, people who try to appease and angry God by doing and living the best they can, and the religion of the Gospel, that is the belief, that God’s anger and hatred over sin has been appeased by the vicarious atonement/sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Sadly, even in Christ’s church today, God’s solution to our sins, that is the message of the gospel, is not accepted as readily and easily as we would think.

Today, within the body of Christ we see divisions everywhere we look.  These divisions can be attributed to either a complete rejection of the atonement of Christ, or a surrender of any part of that doctrine, which only in it’s entirety can bring peace to sinners through God’s chosen means of grace.  So how did this happen in Christ’s church?  Well, it happened through false doctrine.

Through false prophets and apostles, our enemy the devil has been able to infiltrate the body of Christ and lead many astray with a false gospel of works righteousness.  You can identify this false gospel whenever you hear folks preach or teach anything that they claim to be essential, which consists of Jesus and this way of living or that way of worshiping.  They are the Jesus plus this or that crowd.  These false teachers have been unfaithful to the pure Word of God, and in the name of the Christian religion they have spread their false teachings, and they have grown like a cancer throughout the body of Christ.  Through the teachings of these children of the devil, the word of men has been elevated over the pure and simple Word of God, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now this truth defines both the challenge of the church today and the intent of our message this morning.  Through the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, and through your faithful witnessing to this simple gospel, which is the complete dependency on the teaching of Christ’s atonement for all sins, we’ve been called to help people think theologically, or think as God speaks so that others can find freedom in the atonement of Christ too.

This morning, Jesus says to us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” [John 8:51]  Now, what is that Word that Jesus asks us to guard?  It is all that the doctrine of Atonement presents through out Holy Scripture.

Jesus Word teaches us to cling to His life giving, sin forgiving Word so that we will avoid eternal judgment and receive eternal life.  It is that Word, which teaches that sin must be paid for or atoned for, and it has—through the life and death of our Great High Priest, Jesus Himself.  It was Jesus alone who entered into the heavenly and Most Holy Place and with His own blood and bought for us everlasting redemption. [Hebrews 9:11-15]  Jesus is the One who was before Abraham was, and yet He was also Abraham’s true descendant.  Jesus alone is the promised Son who carries the wood up the mountain for the sacrifice, who is bound and laid upon the altar of the cross.  Jesus is the fulfillment for you of the true ram who is willingly caught within the thicket of your sins and slaughtered in your place.  He alone is the One who wears the crown of thorns upon His head. [Genesis 22:1-14]  Even though the sons of the devil dishonor Jesus, He is vindicated by the Father through the cross as being the only true remedy or atonement for your sins.

This is the message that we must continually read, mark, and inwardly digest as the saving message of the gospel.  It is this message alone that can be brought by Christ alone, which promises that He has already given to you a gift that you can rest all of your hopes and dreams upon; it is a gift that assures you by faith that you will receive the promised eternal inheritance, simply because His death has set you free from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil. [Hebrews 9:15]

The doctrine of Christ’s atonement then forces us to see that our good works, or our attempts to live a good life can never merit what Christ has completely provided for us, which is the forgiveness of sins, all of our sins.  He alone has been appointed as our mediator and willing atoning sacrifice.  This is the simple truth of God, which you are asked to receive and believe by faith.  In your baptism you were washed with this very Word and promise of God; you were sealed within God’s courts above to live a life below that reflects this “justifying faith.”

And this is the faith that saves you; faith, which makes you right with God.  First, you must receive God’s promise and believe that all of the sins of the world were forgiven upon Christ’s cross, and that this promise of forgiveness was given to you personally within the waters of your own baptism.  Second, you must admit that this is a free gift, which you play no part in.  And third, this gift is based solely on Christ’s merits, as the payment for your sins.  In other words, Christ alone is now and always shall be the atoning sacrifice for your sins.

Christ as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world has been made once and for all and it never needs to be repeated.  We who were once far away from God are now brought near to Him through the blood of Christ.  He has brought us atonement with God.  Sin has been covered for all who desire to be covered by this sacrifice; for all of us who trust in this sacrifice alone.  So this morning, I declare to you…

This work of Christ must not remain simply a historical fact within your mind. It must become your heart felt truth.  The one in whom God dwells bodily has made peace by the blood of the cross so that all hostility between God and mankind might cease. [Ephesians 2:11-18; Colossians 1:15:22]

This morning, through the Word of God and the faith giving work of the Holy Spirit, God is inviting each of you to embrace the truth that Jesus came to rescue you from your sins so that you might live out your life in peace, the same peace that was the possession of Adam and Eve within the first Paradise before the fall.

Your entire past, present, and future now rests solely by faith upon Christ’s death at Calvary; it rests upon the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world. [Revelation 13:8]  The Messiah who died is for you, an absolute necessity and sufficiency no matter what direction in your life you look.  Without Christ’s atonement for our sins, and without Him as our intercessor and provider of a new testament with God, all that was promised to Adam, Abraham, Moses, and the prophets within the Old Testament would be for nothing and a complete mockery.  Without Jesus and His atonement there would be no eternal inheritance, no people of faith called to receive that inheritance, and no hope for a Paradise restored for sinful mankind.  Absolutely everything hinges upon the doctrine of atonement and this Mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ.  It is on His bloody atonement that we must meditate day and night and hang all of our hopes on.

Our message this morning is one that reassures us that our Lord not only defeated our enemies outside of our bodies, but He has also defeated the enemies within us; He has defeated all of our doubts, guilt, and shame.  He has taken our guilt and shame into Himself and buried them in His own tomb, the one place that God the Father will not look, so that we can stand innocent and righteous before God’s throne of grace.  By taking our place, or by taking our sins into another place, His own body, Jesus has established Himself as Lord over our sins.  He alone has the ability to eliminate our past faults and sins.  By absorbing them into Himself, He has consumed them in the fire of His own passion.

You know, we sinners like to think that we can control our present and our future, but one thing we can never think to be able to change is our past.  Our past is set isn’t it?  It is done as we have lived it, good or bad.  But God… God can even change our past.  Jesus alone is Lord of our past.  I pray that you will continue to allow Him to be your Lord of your past, present, and future.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

On Marriage and Families

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

19th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 7, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

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“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

Each of you who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are promised a seat at our Lord’s banquet table; you’ve even been promised a mansion in heaven.  Or like I taught the children in their message this morning, by abiding or resting in Jesus, you’ve been given a ticket on the heavenly train to glory.  So, are you going?  Will you be there in glory?

God’s Word promises that you will be there if you trust in that promise; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; He wants you to rest in everything that He has done for you in this life and the life to come.  Is that enough for you, or do you need more?

In our epistle reading this morning (Hebrews 2:1-13), God warns His little ones, He warns us, that if we don’t continually grab ahold of His promises about our blessed assurance, we might begin to drift away from our seat at the banquet table; we might begin to want to find another way to our heavenly home.  So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises?  Well it could be, if we allow ourselves to trust in anything for salvation other than the work and the promises of God!

Why do you think we have times when we feel like our lives lack meaning and purpose?  Could it be because we’ve taken our eyes off of God’s promises?!  Why is it that when trouble comes our way, often times we become afraid and filled with doubt?  Could it be, we’ve lost sight of Jesus and His real presence in our lives?  Why is it that when fear and doubt come, we begin to lose that joy in knowing that we really do have a place prepared just for us in heaven?  Could it be, we have begun to judge success by what we do and not by what God has done for us!

The truth is we all fall short of God’s will for us here; we all fall short of His perfection, but we still want so badly to please Him; to earn His love and respect.  But it’s also true that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will fail.  And yet we still try to earn our place in heaven by what we do.

This morning the theme in both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons seems to be marriage and family. In both of these readings, God is showing us His perfect will and how far short we fall from that perfection.

So then why do we still think that on our own we can be a good husband or a good wife, a good parent or child?  Because we have a sin problem, and our sinful nature won’t let us see the impossibility of change; it won’t let us see that on our own, we are without hope.  And so, even though we know that we fall short of pleasing God, our sinful desire to be independent would have us believe that we can bridge this gap by our own efforts.  So we are deceived into thinking that if we just try a little harder, then our marriages will be repaired and our families will be God pleasing.

This kind of thinking is not only dangerous, it is darn right destructive.  It’s harmful to ourselves and to those we love.  You see, when we think that action and effort are enough to please God and restore joy in our lives and our relationships with others, we have abandoned God’s promises of help and hope.  We’ve exchanged the hope of the gospel for the demands of the Law; a Law that will settle for nothing short of perfection!

Now please listen; I’m not telling you that we shouldn’t try harder to be better, what I am saying is that you can’t even try harder in a God pleasing way, if God is not the source of both your strength and your goodness.  Without God’s grace, we are just trusting in His Law that demands we do good, but then gives us no power or ability to do that good thing.

People who are trusting in the law are easy to spot.  They are the ones who struggle and strive but never really see any lasting improvement in their lives.

Life guards on our San Diego beaches say that the biggest danger to swimmers are the many rip-tides that are present off our shores.  They say that swimmers caught in a rip tide are also easy to spot.  They are the ones who swim and swim, yet they aren’t moving.  They aren’t moving because they aren’t strong enough to defeat the current.

Sadly, each of us can get caught up in the riptides of life.  We tell ourselves that if we just try harder, everything will be alright.  And when we become exhausted at trying to fix our marriages or our other relationships, we become discouraged and maybe afraid that God is angry at us because we aren’t spiritual enough.  So what do we do?  We look for another way to maximize our effort; we read another book or take another course.  We try new techniques and try to be nicer and more attentive.

Maybe, we hear about a Christian who seems to have everything going for them, so we try to find out their secret or technique to happiness.  And if we hear that they get up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to spend more time with God in prayer and Bible study, we resolve to do that too, even though we aren’t a morning person.  And what do you think the result will be for us?  We will probably still be frustrated, but now we’ll also be dazed, confused, groggy and grumpy all day because we didn’t get enough sleep.  And now with inadequate sleep, our marriage is worse and the people we love are avoiding us!

Now at this point, you would think that we would admit failure and try things God’s way, right?  Nope!  Instead, we’ll tell ourselves that because we’re exhausted and miserable, this must be what God wants us to do.  It must be spiritual!  So we keep it up for a few weeks or maybe even a few months, but eventually our discipline will break down, and we’ll abandon this latest technique towards building a better marriage, and a stronger family.  You know what comes next don’t you?  Guilt!  And after enough guilt we’ll simply move onto the next program or buy another book with 10 easy steps towards fulfillment.

Eventually, we will just give up; we simply won’t have the energy to try anymore.  And then what?  We learn to fake it.  We think that we can bridge the gap to heaven by acting like we’re alright, even though everything within us and around us is screaming in our ears that we aren’t ok.  But we keep up the image; we speak as if we had deeper spiritual experiences than we really have.  Our hearts become cold, and we speak as though our sin bothers us more than it really does.  We pray as though our voice is throbbing with deep emotion that isn’t really there.  Why we might even join in a game of spiritual musical chairs, always searching for a different church or ministry that will provide the magic key.  Some people go from one movement to another, continually rededicating their lives to the Lord, only to fall away again and again.  And if this continues, God is warning us that eventually we will secretly give up.  Oh, we’ll still hope that there’s a place for us in heaven, but between now and the day we die, we’ll spend the rest of our lives disappointed and not even trying to change.

So what’s the answer?  Where is the hope?  What is it that can break us free from these riptides of life?  It certainly isn’t greater resolve or another program; no I think that we need to follow the example of the mothers and babies in our gospel lesson to get our answer!

We need to let go and let God’s power take over our lives; we need to get to Jesus! Listen: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

The Pharisees didn’t really see a need to hear from Jesus.  Instead, they wanted Jesus to sit around with them simply talking about the best technique, the most God pleasing program that would free people from the condemnation of the law; in this case they were arguing about divorce.  But Jesus wouldn’t let them do that; instead He told them that they didn’t have a problem in choosing the best strategy, they had a problem with their hearts.  They were sinful.  They needed a new heart, and that was something only Jesus could give them.

The apostles didn’t have the problem of being with Jesus; they had constant access to God’s recreating presence; they were with Jesus all of the time.  No, their problem was their desire to control Jesus; they wanted to limit His audience, and the people who also got to be with Him.  They really wanted Jesus to themselves and they wanted Him to minister to others in a way they thought was best.  So they forbid the mothers from bringing their children to Jesus.  But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that.  He was angry and He let it show!  He told them that not only should they quit standing in the way of these little ones getting to Him, but that if they did not become like one of those babies, they would never get into heaven!  In other words, they too needed a new heart; they needed to turn to God confessing their helplessness, sin, and total dependence on His care!

The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t break free of the rip tide of our sins; we can’t ever bridge the gap to eternal life by our own efforts. We discover that we can never earn God’s love and forgiveness.  We discover that God will always work the way He desires and not the way we want Him to work; we discover that we must become like a child and realize that this kind of love can only come by grace.  A child knows that salvation is a gift; it’s simply something that is given to him; it’s something that he trusts in because it comes from Jesus.  That is why Jesus loves to use little children as his teaching aids.

What is God’s plan for you, your marriage, family, and life?  Well try this on for size; He doesn’t want you to trust in your own abilities or your self-improvement plans, but instead learn to rest and trust in what He has done for you through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, concerning your forgiveness, there is no place for self-improvement because that would negate the need for the cross.  In the cross, God takes you away from your plan of salvation and He shows you His.  He shows you His Son who suffered and died for every sinner that ever lived.  But He also makes it very personal by taking you to the waters of your baptism.  In your baptism He promises that you have been recreated and restored; He promises that in His Word, in His promises you can grab ahold of them, trust them and then watch as He continually renews you and changes you.  In His promises, He tells you of a Paradise restored that is waiting for you on the day the Lord calls you home.

The mothers in our gospel reading knew what you also know but often forget.  If you can just get to Jesus and stay with Him, there is new life and hope in abundance!  In the Word of God, Jesus speaks to you, to your marriages, to your families; He speaks Words of forgiveness and hope.  Even if you have been marked by divorce or a family tragedy, Jesus promises that this is not what defines you or condemns you; instead, He speaks forgiveness and new life as He continually invites you into His plan of salvation for you; and in this plan, He promises to give you a new and abundant life.  In the middle of the riptides of life, Jesus promises that if you simply quit struggling and let Him take over, He will pull you through.

Listen friends, God doesn’t want you to just be saved by grace but to live by it as well!  God’s plan is for your daily life to be guided, guarded, and energized by Jesus suffering and death for you!  He wants you to live in grace and then watch as it flows out of you and into your families, your relationships and even into our community.  In essence, God wants you to be amazed at how His Spirit will transform your life, your family, and our community.

In a few minutes you will hear me welcome you to the Lord’s Table.  Most of you will respond to receive Jesus body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine, simply because He invites you to be filled with His forgiveness of your many sins.  And one day, maybe sooner than you think the Lord’s eternal Banquet Table in Paradise will be the only table we are invited to sit at, because this earth bound altar will cease to exist.

So, will you be there, at the banquet in heaven?  Yes by grace alone!  But listen, God doesn’t want you to be satisfied with just your seat or just your mansion in heaven, He also wants you to go out and invite others to join you.  You can do that as you let His forgiving love live in you and pass through you.  You can do that as you invite others to come with you to this place of worship so that they too can experience the very same thing.  I pray that you will do this very thing… in Jesus name… AMEN!

High and Lifted Up

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

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

Numbers 21:4–9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debt Paid in Full!

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Lent 3 B, March 8, 2015

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

1 Corinthians 1:18–31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All You Need is Love!

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Epiphany 4C, February 3, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been known.” [1 Corinthians 13:12]

The song you just heard, “All You Need is Love” by the Beatles will serve as our mental hook this morning.  While our baptized nature would give a hearty AMEN to the title of that song, our old nature, that is our sinful, physical nature, would rather agree with Tina Turner and say, “What’s love got to do with it.   What’s love but a second hand emotion?  Who needs a heart, when a heart can be broken?!”

Yes, it is true, there is a battle of perspectives going on within each of us; each of us sees things dimly right now, as if we are looking through a dirty window.  But the time will come one day soon, when Jesus will greet us face to face.  Now we know things only partially, but soon we will know fully, even as we have been known.

Only two people really know you; God and yourself.  You know yourself just as thoroughly as I know myself, and we can agree and thank God that no one else really knows us.  They would be repulsed by our inward secret thoughts and maybe even some of our actions that we think we do in secret.  But as I said, there is another who knows; another who sees all things clearly.  God knows you because He created you.  Listen to Him speak to you this morning in our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 1:4–19).  He says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you”. [Jeremiah 4:5]  Do you hear that?  In your mother’s womb you were not just a lump of unformed flesh or even just a zygote, you were you, and God knew you intimately!

God knew that if He left you alone, that is without His loving care you would be nothing more than a clanging cymbal.  If the natural talents that He programed within you were not sanctified, that is set apart as holy and effective according to His will, you would be nothing.  God knew that on your own, even those gifts that the world calls good and pleasing, would in truth be self-serving.  What things?  Well how about giving away your time, talent, and treasure, to help others.  Remember now, God sees and knows you in a way that no one else but you knows, so you must agree with Him.  Agree with what?  That even if you gave away everything you owned, or even if you sacrificed your life for another person, say by dying in a fire for them, in the end, that is apart from the hand that formed you in the womb, it would be entirely self-serving; it would be about you leaving behind a legacy; your legacy!

This morning, God is asking you to look deeply into the mirror of His Word and find your sinful nature in that Word.  Now I know that it is hard to look at, but that is one of the reasons that this mirror is dim and foggy; God is simply giving you a glimpse at the real you so that He can give you another vision.  And that other vision is someone who is patient and kind; someone who never has an envious or boastful spirit; someone who has never been arrogant or rude.  God wants you to see someone who has never insisted on their own way and would never speak to another person in an irritable or resentful manner.  God wants you to see someone who would consider it unthinkable to celebrate sin or to profit from wrongdoing, and someone who only celebrates with truth.  God wants you to understand that the truth that you must celebrate is love!  Love bears all things, do you?  Love believes all things are possible, even in the darkest moments, do you?  Love always has hope in something perfect and endures all trials and temptations without anger or a grumbling spirit, do you?

Now wait, as I told you do not let this terrifying image of who you are in the flesh leave you hopeless, because there is hope, and our hope comes by looking even more intently into this mirror that is dim and fogged.  Look with me now even deeper into this mirror, this Word of God and let your hope, faith, and yes your love be strengthened.  “This is love, not that we love God, but that He first loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” [1 John 4:10]  And, this is love, the truth that declares that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]

Do you see a little more clearly now?  Do you see the truth that declares that from outside of you comes your champion; from God Himself comes His Son, who is your Savior.  He who knew no sin became your sin; that is He took on your sins.  Do you see Jesus?  This is love; it is the kind of love that completely fulfills all of God’s description of true love.  It is the kind of love that the world could never attain, because it is completely lost in its self; that is in its sin.  It is a heavenly quality of love that can only come from a God who is love.

Our sinful world would have us believe that love, that is their idea of love is god, but the very Word of God says that “He (alone) is love.” [1 John 4:16] If we want true love, we can only receive it from the source, and that source has come to us.

God loves the world.  It is a vile world that reeks of sin, yet He loves it.  If He left the world as it was, he could never embrace it because of all of its foulness, which permeates it’s very nature.  But God wanted to love the world because that is His nature, so He sacrificed Himself so that He could love the loveless and self-centered sinners; so that He could love you.  How did He sacrifice Himself?  He sent His Son along with a message, the gospel!  It is that message which proclaims that our God of love has made a way for you and all sinful mankind to return to Him.

This message of love proclaims God’s intent for you and all of mankind.  God made a decision that you would be saved.  God chose life and forgiveness at the expense of pain and suffering for His Son.  When I say that God chose and God decided I am saying that all of God who exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, agreed that this must be done.  The Son of God was obedient to His Father’s will, because it was His will, the will of God.  But it was Jesus, the Son of God, who alone stepped away from the treasures of Heaven and took on human flesh, and delivered up His body to be crucified.  He did this because He is God, and God is love.  He gained nothing by His death and lost so much; He did it for you.

Jesus alone was patient and kind, even when they ridiculed Him, spat upon Him and beat Him.  Even as He was on the cross suffering and dying He was patient and kind, praying that His father would forgive them, because they did not know what they were doing; because they did not yet understand the gospel.  God’s love bears all things and endures all things and it does it for a purpose, for a reason.

That purpose and the reason Christ suffered and died was not to leave a legacy, and it wasn’t to prove a point; that is Jesus did not die upon the cross to make God look great and powerful and leave you feeling guilty, although this maybe what you are feeling right now.   No, Jesus died upon the cross to show you how much God loves you.  He died upon the cross so that you would not have to forfeit your life as payment for your sins.  He died upon the cross so that your true enemies, sin, death, and the devil would once and for all be destroyed.  But He also died upon the cross so that He could take His life back up again and return to His Heavenly Home at the right hand of the Father, so that you would see Him and hear Him call to you, and be assured that where He is, you shall one day join Him.

Where does Jesus call out to us from?  How do we see Him as He truly is?  Well, in the mirror dimly lit of course!  It’s in His Holy Word, the gospel message of love, where we see and hear Him.  In the washing of this Word along with simple water, the Spirit of God gives us eyes of faith; spiritual eyes that hope in nothing else but Jesus and His righteousness.  In His Word, we cling to Jesus as our new baptized nature comes alive and is daily strengthened with something that only God can give us… love.

This love of God is strong and indwelling.  It grows and every day recreates us more and more into the image of Jesus Christ.  Every day, it reminds us of the truth of our gospel lesson (Luke 4:31-44),  that just as Jesus once walked among us in the flesh, driving out demons, curing the sick and raising the dead, He is still with us through the power of the Holy Spirit, casting out demons, healing divisions and bringing peace within His body, the church.  In simple things like human words, water, bread, and wine, His real presence is among us forgiving, imparting life, sanctifying our time, talents, and treasures, and advancing His kingdom of grace.

Can you love with God’s love?  On your own, never, but with Jesus presence always with you, not only can you love, but you will love stronger and better each day as you trust in His real presence.  Each day, God invites you to follow Him, to stay in His Word and allow Him to strengthen your faith, your hope, and your love.  You do this as you trust Him to love the unlovable through you, to teach you to forgive even the unrepentant sinners, and to help you learn to sacrifice yourself as He asks, setting aside all manner of resentment and anger.  It’s this spirit of love that He has given you that teaches you to keep believing in the hope of change for people who seem to be unchangeable.

In this world of imperfection, God’s perfection has come to you and saved you, but more than that it has done the unthinkable; it has declared you… sinful you, holy perfect, and righteous.  You don’t see it now, because you are looking through that dim fogged up mirror, but soon and very soon you will see all things clearly; you will see Jesus face to face as He embraces you and welcomes you home with the words, “Well done good and faithful servant.”  And then only one thing will remain; it will not be hope or faith because the object of your hope and faith will be right in front of you.  No, the one thing that will remain forever is love; God’s love for you and your love for Him and all that He has created.  Then you will be able to answer Tina Turner’s question, “What’s love got to do with it?” with this answer: “Love has everything to do with who we are.  All we truly ever needed was God’s love, and now we have it forever.”

Now may the peace of God and the love of Christ keep our hearts and minds forever… AMEN!