Posts Tagged ‘Kingdom of God’

Thy Word Is A Lamp Unto My Feet…

Sunday, May 13th, 2018

Easter 7B, May 13, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.” [Psalm 119:105pastedGraphic.png 

There are many ways to get lost.  People get lost driving from point A to point B all the time on our local roads and freeways.  But contrary to what my wife may tell you, I am never lost while driving, just a little confused.  “Honey” she says, “why don’t you stop and ask for directions?”  “What for” is always my response, “I’m not lost; I pretty much know where we are!  I’ll get us there; don’t worry!”  She was greatly relieved when I finally bought an iPhone with Siri, which includes a Street navigator and step by step verbal directions to most everywhere we go, and my wife is continuously happy for this! 

The truth is, each of us can and do become lost.  We can get lost in a world that hates our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for God’s Word.

I want to tell you a wonderful story about a man who found himself lost in just this type of situation.  He didn’t need Siri to find his way; instead it was God’s Holy Word that ended his confusion.

Shortly after Vietnam fell to the Communists, Hien Pham, a committed Christian and translator for American missionaries was arrested. He was accused of aiding and abetting the Americans; he was in and out of prison for several years. During one long jail term, the sole purpose of his jailers was to indoctrinate him against the West – and destroy his Christian faith. He was cut off from reading anything in English… especially his Bible! After months of brain-washing, Hien began to buckle under the pressure. MAYBE, he thought, God doesn’t exist. Finally, he made up his mind; he would no longer pray or ever think of his Christian faith again.

The next morning, he was assigned to clean the latrines of the prison. It was a chore that everyone hated and avoided; so with much disgust he began the awful task. As he cleaned out the 50 gallon cans filled with waste and toilet paper, his eye caught what he thought was English printed on a piece of paper. He quickly grabbed it, washed it off and slipped it into his pocket, planning to read it that night.  Later, after his roommates had fallen asleep, he pulled out a small flashlight and began to read the top corner of the paper, “Romans, Chapter 8.” Literally trembling with shock, he began to read: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom. 8:28, 31, 32, 35, 37-39]

Hien wept. He knew there was not a more relevant passages of conviction and strength for a person on the verge of surrendering to the threat of evil. He cried out to Jesus, asking for forgiveness, because that next morning would have been the day that he had determined not to pray or recall scripture ever again. Evidently the Lord had other plans. Today, Hien lives in the United States and is a successful business man.

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

Does God still miraculously intervene in our lives today?  According to our Lord’s promise in our gospel lesson, the answer is a resounding YES…ABSOLUTELY!  

Listen to His prayer for His apostles and His prayer for you: “(Father) I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [John 17:13-16, 18-21]

What is it that Jesus prays that we will have?  His joy!  Not just any joy, but His joy!  When you are confused and afraid, and think that you’ve lost your way in this dark world, remember that Jesus has prayed for you and He is right there beside you, praying for you; He’s praying that you would not loose His joy.  And what are we to have as the source of our joy?  His Word!  

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

The next thing that we learn from Jesus prayer is that we are not of this world!  

So what’s so bad about this world?  Well for starters it is ruled by Satan and his devils.  They are the princes of this world.  Second this world is so dark and lost in sin that people hate God’s light; they hate his only means of salvation… His Word!  Now this is where things get a little dicey for us.  We are each called to be a light, God’s light in this world of dark sin.  Remember you are not above your master Jesus.  The world hated and crucified Him, and they still hate Him because He is the living Word of God; He is the only light in this dark evil world that can’t be extinguished.  So if they hate Him they will also hate you!   The prophet Isaiah proclaimed this long ago when he wrote: “Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?”  As I said, this can be a little dicey, in fact this hatred of the world and the devils is the very thing that causes some Christians to be silent and avoid speaking about repentance and turning to Jesus for forgiveness.  Some have even abandoned their faith completely and become eternally lost in the darkness and confusion of sin.  For this reason Jesus prays something incredible for us and in this prayer we have a promise.

What is it that Jesus prays and promises?  Jesus prays that the Father will protect us from the evil one and the sin of this world; He prays that the Father will continually set us apart as His holy ones!  And what does He promise?  He promises that He who began the good work of salvation in us will continue this work and keep it safe until it is complete.  He is telling you that He promises that He will complete this work if… oh yes there’s always an if; if we stay in His Word.  Why His Word?  Because His Word is truth!  It is the very thing that has saved you, is saving you, and will save you, so we must not leave the Word.  

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

The Word of God really is a lamp or a light.  

A. In a world pitch dark with sin, you can’t count on your eyes you need a source of light.  Have you ever been in a dark place with very little or no light?  Isn’t it true that your eyes can play tricks on you?  Well that is the way it is in this sinful world.  We need to quit trusting in experience, that is in sight and we must learn to walk by faith; we need to learn to trust Jesus and be led by the light of God’s Word alone.  God wants us to use His Word as a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.  He wants us to let the Word alone guide our way; it alone must lead not just our feet but also our hearts.  Jesus is asking us to remember that it is the lamp of God’s Word that creates faith, but not necessarily understanding.  We don’t always need to understand, but we do always need to have faith and trust in Jesus prayer for us and God’s will.  

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

With God’s Word as our lamp and light, Jesus prays that we will have faith to do what we do not know how to do, go where we do not know the way, perform what we don’t understand, and follow the Word even when it seems we risk becoming stupid and foolish in the eyes of our community.  

When we follow the light and path of the Word we will by faith also follow the path of obedience.  And what is that path of obedience?  Well let’s get back to Jesus prayer and let Him answer that: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [Vs. 20, 21]

Dear friends you have been saved by the Word because God is love… because through Jesus Christ, God has not only shown you His love like a bright light, but He has also made that love yours.  In His Word He promises you that no one and nothing can ever separate you from His love which is yours through Christ Jesus!  But He has saved you for a purpose.  He has given you the light of His Word so that you can remain in this dark and sinful world for a reason.  What is that purpose and what is the reason?  The purpose is so that in the darkness you can seek and save others who are lost in sin.  The reason you are to seek and save the lost is because “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, so that whosoever believes in Him through the illumination of His Word, they and you shall not perish in darkness but have everlasting life!  

Your Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths. 

God’s Word alone keeps us on the path of salvation while it also acts as a search light to find lost sinners.  

God’s Word alone is how God builds His kingdom.  Kingdom building then is living in God’s Word and reflecting the light of that Word into the darkness of this sinful world.  You reflect that gospel when you share God’s Word of forgiveness and love with whoever God leads you to on the gospel path.  The kingdom of God is built one forgiven heart at a time.

What is the kingdom of God?  It is God’s Word which teaches us that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver all sinners out of the power and kingdom of sin, death, and the devil, and to bring us to Himself so that He may rule us as a King of righteousness, delivering us into a new world of righteousness, eternal joy, and peace.  On this path, many are led by the Holy Spirit through the Word into the Father’s kingdom of grace so that together with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we will each become joint heirs with Jesus and eternally remain in God’s kingdom of grace and light, a kingdom that has already begun and was given to you through His Word!  

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

God will not lead us to the wrong location. He alone is to be trusted always. May we forever stay in the light, God’s Holy Word and we ask this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… AMEN!

It Is Good To Be Here!

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday B, February 11, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org
Mark 9:2-9


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“And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.” [Mark 9:5a]

Have you ever had something happen to you, which was so profound that it seemed to change how you look at everything in your life? Peter, James, and John did, but to understand their experience correctly, we need to look at their recent experiences with Jesus.

In the last couple of years, the apostles experienced one miracle after another; they must have felt like they were on top of the world.

And then, out of nowhere, Jesus started talking about denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him into suffering and death! Why, He even said that if they wanted to save their lives they must first lose them. Then He said that even He would need to suffer and die at the hands of sinful men in order to fulfill the will of the Father.

Now to Peter, that was crazy talk, and he didn’t want to listen to anymore of that doom and gloom, so he took Jesus aside and tried to enlighten Him on how He thought a Messiah should speak. But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that; that was the devil speaking not Peter, so Jesus rebuked Peter with the often-quoted words, “Get behind me Satan.” He said that Peter was seeking the way of the world, and not the way of God!

Peter and the other apostles must have been thinking, “What’s going on here? This isn’t what I signed up for! What happened to all of the happy-clappy times that come with “walking and talking with our minds stayed on Jesus” the Messiah?” You see, they wanted more of the glory, fame, and high life, but Jesus was telling them that instead of living large and in-charge, they would need to experience suffering, shame, and death.

And then out of nowhere, Jesus gave them this little bit of information to think about: “Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come in power.” [Mark 9:1]

So now, six days later there is Peter along with James, and John, up on a mountaintop, watching Jesus pray.

Little did they know that they were about to experience the kingdom of God in all of its glory and power! It was getting late and they were tired; their eyes got heavy when all of a sudden, boom! It was as if all of the light in the world was pouring out of Jesus and the two visitors that suddenly appeared. And they weren’t just any visitors either; they were Moses and Elijah!
The three earth bound apostles were overwhelmed with the experience. The other gospels tell us that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were speaking about Jesus death, resurrection, and the day He would leave this sinful world, but Peter skipped right over those Words. All he seemed to care about was the glory! He must have thought, “Now this is the kind of Messiah I signed up to follow!” So with a mixture of fear and excitement (after all he was standing in the presence of God and the two greatest heroes of faith that ever lived), Peter interrupts Jesus’ discussion with these deep and insightful words: “(Hey, a) Rabbi, it is (a)good (thing) that we’re here (with you).” Do you want me to pitch a few tents for you and your guests?

I call that a Homer Simpson moment: “Dolp!”
With all of the responses someone should or could have had, maybe something like Alleluia, why in the world did Peter ruin that divine moment with such a stupid statement and question? And after Peter’s Homer Simpson moment, what happened next? A thick cloud suddenly appeared and Moses and Elijah were gone.

The experience was over. Or as B.B. King would say, the thrill is gone. But why? Well simply put, Peter’s attention was centered on what He was experiencing and not the Words He was hearing. He completely missed the conversation about Jesus leaving this world; he missed it because it was another message about suffering and death.

Aren’t we a lot like Peter too?

We love it when we come to church and we get to sing our favorite hymn or spiritual. We love it when the preacher is talking about heaven and what a time will have there with no more suffering, pain, sickness, and death, but as soon as the message starts showing us where we fall short or what God expects from us, we tune it out.

We love to be entertained for about an hour, but as soon as the service starts cutting into our Sunday afternoon plans we get fidgety, and then irritated! We love the fellowship and coffee but get bored with the liturgy and ritual! You see, like Peter we say that it’s good to be here in church, but only if it meets our desires; as soon as worship time gets personal we become nervous and hope that it ends soon.

Now you might not interrupt the sermon or the readings with a foolish statement like Peter’s, but you too have your Homer Simpson moments. For you, it happens the minute you tune out to what’s happening in Divine Service and tune into what you wish was happening. Peter wanted to silence the conversation and stay in the glory moment, and we aren’t any better. We love those mountaintop highs of worship, and if we could make it happen, that’s all we would ever experience.

Does that mean that emotion during worship is bad? No, not at all, but the good times aren’t suppose to be the center of why we worship. So what’s the solution?

Well, we just need to let Jesus be Jesus and then let Him do what He does.

Do you see what I just did? I took the emphasis off of you and me and put it on Jesus. That’s always the solution to most every thing, isn’t it? Yes church, we must remember that worship, our worship of God is simply our response to what He has done and is doing right now for us! This is what we call Divine Service; God’s service amongst and within us; His work of dealing with our sins. If we really stoped to think about what’s really going on around us and within us each time we attend Divine Service (the devil being defeated, our sin being removed, and our eternal death being trounced, all as our faith to believe all of this is strengthened exponentially) we would not let anything get in the way of our attending Divine Service.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul talked about a veil that remains over the eyes of the unbelieving Jews. For us, that veil represents our flesh or physical desires; its our natural way of trying to get what we want, but Jesus always gives us what we need. When we listen to Jesus, the Word of God, God Himself removes the veil of this world off of our spiritual eyes and He allows us to see an entirely different reality… a spiritual one. Only through (Jesus) Christ can this veil be taken away.

You see, when we turn to Jesus and what He is doing or saying and receive that Word and that Word only, the veil is removed; we are freed from our own expectations of what our Christian faith and worship is, and then we can truly hear what Jesus is really saying. And when we hear what Jesus is saying, then and only then can we be transformed slowly but surely, into the same image and glory of our Lord.

Peter and the boys missed the obvious. They were awed by Jesus’ glory, because He was their man, the Messiah who would be their champion by righting all wrongs. They were so excited about what they thought Jesus would do that they missed what God had already done. There standing with Jesus, were Moses and Elijah shining in the same glory as Jesus. Moses the great teacher who brought us God’s law, was listening to Jesus. Elijah, the great prophet who was taken up to heaven in bodily form, was listening too.

What did it all mean? Only Jesus could explain it; and to make sure that they would one day understand, God’s Divine Service kicked into action again. Moses and Elijah disappeared within a dense cloud of God’s glory and the voice of the Father announced: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

How does our worship go wrong?

It happens when we shut down our hearts and minds to the message in exchange for the experience. How does God make things right? By taking our focus off of the experience and putting it back onto the Word, this Word: “Jesus is My beloved Son, my elected One; LISTEN TO HIM!”

The truth is, without the Word of God speaking to us, there can be no experience. What is the experience? Dying and living and Living and dying. In the Word you hear God’s law make demands that you can never meet; this is a Word that terrifies you, because you are a sinner standing in the middle of God’s perfect and blinding glory, and the result is your death, the death of your glory.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, you hear about a loving God who came to you, to take away your sins; the result is new life, a life free of condemnation and full of God’s love. In this good news you are taught that Jesus walked the painful way to the cross for you; He suffered and died to pay for your sins. In His death He conquered not just your sin and the devil, but also your own death. In His death and resurrection, all things can be new again, even you!

In your baptism, Jesus brought you into His glory by drowning and destroying your old sinful nature and by bringing you into the cloud of His divine presence. In your baptism He chose you and He cleansed you. And what He cleanses, He also molds and changes. What He molds, He fills. And what He fills, He uses. So now, you live! Every day you choose to live for God as you put to death your old sinful and self-serving nature; you live for God and you live for others!

Dear friends, God is leading us out into the real world; a place where there is real suffering and pain. But He is leading us out with our hearts and minds focused on His Word and the real change He’s made and is making within each of us. When you get afraid or tired, and just feel like quitting, think of this place and all of the wonderful gifts that God has given to you here, all so that you would be His witness of love and life in a dying world. Think of His glory that He has placed within you; a glory that can’t be seen with physical eyes but will one day shine as bright as the glory of our Lord’s own Transfiguration. And when you remember these things, it’s alright to feel excited but just remember emotions will eventually die off, and then it’s just you and Jesus.

So, until we meet again next Sunday for our next encounter with God’s divine service and our next foretaste of the glory to come, may He forever lead and guide you by the Word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior… AMEN!

Great is Our God!

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

5th Sunday in Epiphany B, February 4, 2017
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

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“Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”[Isaiah 40:1]

I don’t understand how people can say that they’re not sure there’s a God. I mean, where have they been all of their lives, living under a rock?! Just look around; are we to believe that all of this just happened by accident? And this is somewhat of a paraphrase of God’s question to unbelieving man through the prophet Isaiah. Listen again: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?”

The truth about God has always been available. But the human mind has been so darkened by sin that it can’t imagine God as He truly is. This morning, Isaiah pictures God as the Creator and Ruler of the world. God sits high above the created world as He stretches out the heavens as easily as someone might pitch a tent. God is not created but uncreated and eternal, without beginning and without end. He is separate and different from the world He created. He is holy, infinite, perfect, and changeless. To God, we are like a swarm of grasshoppers. Because of our sin, we are nothing like God. We are finite, temporal, imperfect, subject to change of every kind, and very mortal. What arrogance for finite creatures to fashion God in an image that they are comfortable with. If we want to know about God, we must humbly put our hands over our mouths and simply listen to what He tells us.

A law enforcement chaplain was invited one evening to give the invocation at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration for a bunch of crusty old cops at a local cop bar. After the invocation, he sat down to share an Irish beer with the boys, and one of the cops shouted so all who could hear, “Hey Chappy! I say that there is no God; so what do you have to say about that?!” The chaplain walked up to him, calmly laid his hand on his shoulder, and said, “Friend, what you just said is nothing new. In fact, the Bible said the same thing over 2,000 years ago.” The cop replied, “I never knew that the Bible made such a statement.” The chaplain replied, “Yep, Psalm 14, verse 1, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” But there’s a big difference between that fool and you. You see, the fool is modest enough to say it in the privacy of his own heart; he wasn’t so foolish as to go screaming it out in a tavern!”

Why is it so hard for people to see the existence of God?

I mean, it’s not like He’s hidden himself so that we wouldn’t know to look for Him! He’s revealed Himself from the beginning. He talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, and after they sinned, He continued to speak to them, and when He did, He promised that a Savior would come and destroy their sin and the devil who introduced it! He spoke to Noah before and after the destructive flood, and promised something similar. He used Moses to speak His holy and perfect Word to the people, so that they would know that not only was God with them, but He was protecting them. God made sure that Moses and all of the other writers of Holy Scripture recorded His Word, and not the sinful imaginings of their own minds. God inspired them, by giving them the words they were to write so that we could know Him and have faith in His love and care for us. The apostle Paul makes this very point when he writes, “We speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the (Holy) Spirit. [1 Cor. 2:13]

All that a person needs to do is look at everything that’s around them, and they can’t help but know that something, or someone had to create it.

Let me share another story with you that will illustrate the foolishness of a creator-less reality. An astrology professor constructed a small but elegant and precise model of the universe. As the students came into the classroom, one by one they commented on how beautiful and intricate it was. One student asked the professor who made it? The professor said, “No one, it just happened.” The students became confused and a little angry when time and time again the professor responded, “No one made this. It just happened, so quit asking.” Finally the professor replied “If you can leave this class and look at nature all around you, and still believe that it just happened, then why can’t you believe that this precise piece of work just happened without a creator?”

And that’s really what people want today; they want a creator-less society. They want all of the good things that creation has to offer, but they don’t want the creator behind them. For these opponents of God, it’s really pointless to try to convince them that there’s a God by using the Bible, because God’s Word is far above them. If they can’t see God in His creation, how do you expect them to see Him in His Word? So the prophet Isaiah starts at that very point. He is essentially saying, “How do you think all of this came to be?” The smarty pants atheists will say along with the popular sit-com, “It all started with the big bang!” Ok, then what created the energy that caused the big bang? At this simple question, all of their collective I.Q.’s stand silent. But we of course know the answer. God did, of course, but God didn’t just make our universe and our world and then leave us to contend for ourselves. He is still here taking care of our world; He’s taking care of you!

Now at this point, you might see an atheist become somewhat enlightened and become an agnostic, and they’ll admit to a creator but not to a Creator who actually cares about every thing that’s happening in creation. They’ll want to create God out of their own sinful imaginings; very often they’ll turn Him into some sort of absentee slum lord, who leaves us to fend for ourselves and maintain creation on our own. And to those who question God’s presence and care (by the way, we call that providence), to those people, God replies in His Word this morning: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Why do we say that God isn’t really active in my life; He’s just kind of left me here alone to grope in the dark and make sense of this messed up world.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” And, this is where God moves us from what we see to what we hear; He moves us from things that are created to His eternal Word.

Now it’s true that God’s Word tells us that everything we are going through is our own fault. It’s our fault because of our sin and other people’s sins. And that same Word teaches us that that’s precisely why we are always witnessing one crisis and tragedy after another. But God’s Word also promises us that we aren’t alone in the tragedies of life, and that one day in the twinkling of an eye, the promised Savior will right all wrongs. So without His Word, when the tragedies come, we will fail to see Him with us and we’ll most likely resort to finding comfort and protection on our own.

An artist asked a friend to come to his studio and see his latest painting. When he arrived, he was taken into a dark room and told to sit and wait. After 15 minutes, the artist finally arrived and brought his friend into the studio. Before the man left, the artist said laughingly, “I suppose you thought I was a little rude and strange by making you wait so long in the dark?” “Yes I did,” replied his friend. “Well,” said the artist, “I knew that if you came right into my studio with the glare of the street in your eyes, you wouldn’t be able to appreciate all of the fine coloring that was used in my painting; so I left you there until the glare had worn out of your eyes.”

Many times, when we are going through hard times, even tragic times, the glare of all of the pain in this sinful world can interfere with us sensing and seeing God’s presence, that is promised to never leave us. It may seem as though He’s not with us, or that He doesn’t care, but in reality, He’s just giving our hearts and minds time to transition from a physical reality to a spiritual one. This was true for every person in the Old Testament that God points out to us as models of faith. God cared for Jacob, He blessed him, and protected him. But in the middle of his tragedy and fears it appeared as though God had left him alone. But God had not left him! God appeared in the middle of his struggle, and then changed his name to Israel. God appeared to Noah and Moses in the middle of their struggles, and then He promised them that a Savior was coming who would make all things new and perfect.

The prophet Isaiah, who God used to write our Old Testament lesson, experienced something very similar. He was hated and despised by all of the important people of Israel, because he spoke a hard prophecy about God’s anger, but interspersed with these prophecies of punishment, God also had him repeat over and over that their Savior was coming and through His suffering and death, God’s Servant would bring His grace and peace to all of creation through the forgiveness of sins.

So do you not know? Have you not heard?

The Savior has come; He alone has made all things right and new between you and God, even if what you see in this sinful world says the opposite! His living Word has declared that you are saved! In His Word, He has revealed to you that He is “the Lord,” Jehovah God, the God of free and faithful grace. He is Emmanuel, the God who is always with you. He was with you in the waters of your baptism, He is with you even now in His Word, and He is with you at His holy table, where He asks you to hear, smell, touch, taste, eat, and drink His presence and His forgiveness of all of your sins.

And yet, even though, by faith we believe that all of this is true, we still want to cry out angrily at God sometimes and say, “But life is too hard and it isn’t fair!” When those feelings arise, and they will, God wants you to see them for what they are, a lack of faith in His presence and the salvation that He’s provided for you through His Son, Jesus Christ. And this is exactly why He wants you to come here every Sunday for Divine Service. It is here, where we gather around His Word and Sacraments that He gives you faith to follow Jesus along the narrow way, the way of the cross.

The way of the cross is a way that will sap all of your physical and emotional strength, just as it did Our Lord. It’s the way that is lined with atheists, doubters, scoffers, and devils. Every one of them will tell you to abandon your faith in Jesus. But remember, you aren’t alone. Jesus walked that same narrow way when He declared that He had come to set the captives free. He walked it from the temple to Golgotha, the hill of the cross, where they crucified Him. And as He walked to the cross, they beat Him, spit upon Him, and ridiculed Him with harsh words: “He helped others, let Him help Himself. If you’re really the Son of God, save us and save yourself.”

Yes, the way of the cross is a hard way; it’s hard because it doesn’t look for glory in this life, but the life to come. The way of the cross is a hard way, because we can become discouraged and want to fall away. And so, to make sure that we don’t become discouraged and walk away, Jesus says “My grace is sufficient for you.”. Hear my Word and be filled with Living Water that will bubble up within you, and take and eat and drink my body and blood, which are real food and drink.

This life of a Christian, your life of faith is called the way of the cross, and it can only be maintained through God’s means of grace. We can only receive His strength if we will look beyond creation, beyond what we can see, hear, and touch, and then see Him by faith walking through our tragedies with us. It is a relationship of experience that comes when we constantly handle the things of God as His assurance that He’s really with us; caring for us and protecting us! In His Word, God answers our prayers of fear and worry with the proclamation that all of our tragedies, the attacks of the devils and sinful people are nothing before Him. Neither life, nor death, nor demons can separate us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus!

You are on the way of the cross, because you are following Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior. He said that in this life you will have troubles, but that does not mean that you are alone in those troubles. He is with you. He tells you that by faith, His grace lifts you up out of the temporary attacks of sin, death, and the devil so that you can soar in His eternal embrace of love and fulfillment. Just as the eagles ride the air currents as they stretch out their wings and soar, God promises you that He will be the wind beneath your wings of faith. Will you stumble and fall? Yes, but Jesus is at your side, lifting you up and dusting you off and saying, “Don’t stop. My strength is enough for you. When you are weak, I am strong.” This is God’s promise for our entire lives; all of our walking, running, and even our falling will end in a soar as we are continually filled with God’s boundless and tireless strength! What wonderful comfort for all of us who remember how great is our God!

May God help us to remember this lesson, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Do You Know Who He Is?

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

4th Sunday in Epiphany B, January 28, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

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“The Lord Your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen”. [Deuteronomy 18:15]

Ask ten different people who Jesus is and you’ll most likely get ten different answers. Some will tell you that He’s their higher power. Some will say that He’s their source of peace. Some will answer, it’s not who He is but who He was as an historical figure that matters. I think one of the funniest answers became popular in the early 90’s on bumper stickers: “Jesus is my co-pilot.” And then several years later, another bumper sticker declared: “If Jesus is your co-pilot, move over.” And from that bumper sticker came the ever popular country song, “Jesus Take the Wheel”.

Do you know who He is… do you know who He really is? He is the one that God raised up, a prophet like Moses from among the Hebrews, and it is to Him we must listen! And what’s His message? Well, it’s a new message with authority and power; a message that’s clear, and concise; a message that drives out demons with a single Word.

Can you imagine being in that synagogue in Capernaum when Jesus taught his simple message of repentance and forgiveness.

While He was declaring that the kingdom of God was at hand it broke out right before them in power! Everyone was astonished at His teaching, because it was new and it had authority. It was new because it declared God’s forgiving love for repentant sinners. And it had authority because it had the power to drive out demons. “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit (a demon). And he cried out, “What have you do to with us, Jesus of Nazareth! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” And what did Jesus do? With authority and power, He commanded the demon to shut up and leave the poor man. And immediately the demon did exactly as Jesus commanded him!

I wonder how many people there that day knew who Jesus really was? They should have known, because what they went out and told others, were the very words that were prophesied long ago. They said that what they heard and witnessed was “a new teaching with authority!” But prophecy can be a tricky thing. As the Chinese wise man once said, “It’s very difficult to prophesy, especially about the future!”

In a sense, prophecy is a little like space travel. We’ve learned a lot about our past and gained insight about the future of our world by going into space and looking down on our earth. We’ve learned about weather patterns, location of past and present oil and other natural resources, and we’ve even learned a lot about how our climate is changing. In a sense, we’ve learned things we never could have until we were given the proper perspective. And in a similar way, prophecy takes us out of the limitations of our current perspective and allows us to take on the big picture. And that’s what God was doing through Moses when He promised that a new prophet was coming, a prophet that would speak a new Word from God!

Why did the people need a new message?

Well, because they just weren’t getting the old one. When God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses, He was speaking something about His own nature. He was speaking in Spirit and in truth. He was teaching them that He alone was holy, perfect, and righteous, and His people must become the same. How? By hearing God’s Word in spirit and in truth. They had to first be honest with God and then themselves; they had to confess that they couldn’t be as God commanded them to be without His divine help. Soon, God’s sinful people realized this very truth. In Exodus 19, they cried out to Moses: “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

And yet God must speak and they must listen, because it’s only through His Word that forgiveness and new life can come to sinful men and women. But why must God’s Word make us afraid of Him? Because our fear forces us to see and deal with our own sin. That is always the primary purpose of God’s law. But our sinful nature tries to twist the purpose of His law to fit our sinful desires.

So at first we might try to ignore our sins, which the law shows us, or maybe down-play them. We might incorrectly see the law as a self-help tool and say, “Finally, some teaching I can sink my teeth into.” But this kind of approach to God’s Word lacks spirit and truth; it stops us from realizing just how perfect God is and how sinful we are! So God’s law like a great spotlight keeps shinning His truth into our sinful lives until we realize that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will always fall short of the demands of His Law. After we fail over and over again to be perfectly good, it’s God’s will that we’ll finally arrive at this frightening conclusion: There is no hope for me unless God is the one who brings it to me.

Now the devils don’t want us to hear this new Word from God, so they work very hard to replace His new Word with a different message, a false gospel. This is where false prophets come in. Led by the devils and their own sinful pride, they teach that a happy life, a life that pleases God is possible if we just keep working at it. These false teachers have an assorted array of “easy steps” that we can follow which will ensure happiness and peace with God and our fellow man if we just keep working the plan. They will gladly share their new message with melodious voices and a big smile on their face. They claim to have all kinds of messages that are sure to give your life meaning and make you feel complete! They have a plan for a healthy marriage, a promising career, obedient children, and just about everything else you could ever want, it’s all yours if you will just follow their “easy steps.” The only problem with that teaching is that it never gets rid of the one obstacle that stands in our way… our own sin and our lack of spirit and truth!

I’m afraid that this teaching of techniques only gives us false hope from an eternal perspective. And these steps prophets are new prophets alright, but they are not the ones that Moses prophesied about long ago. These step prophets are false prophets because they bring false hope that always leads to suffering and eternal death. Why? Because their teachings aren’t centered in repentance and forgiveness of sins, but on the ingenuity of other fallen men and women. And if you aren’t careful, these false prophets will have you traveling with them to a new paradise of their own making, in a foreign land, gathered around cyanide-laced Kool Aid. “Drink of it, all of you,” they say, “and you will find a beautiful death” that is until you wake up in hell!”

So how are we to know the true message of God?

Well how did the people of Capernaum know it when they heard Jesus speaking? They knew it because not only was it different than the law centered message that Moses gave, but it came with power and authority. What power? The power to forgive sins and the promise to make everyone who received it right with God! What was the authority? Well, the type of authority that sets the captives free! Free from what?
Well, Jesus answered that when the demon was cast out. Coupled with the greater promise of forgiveness of sins, they knew, and we can know also that in Jesus, God was giving them not just a new message, but the only prophet who can provide complete victory over sin, death, and the devil!

So, while we must still hear what Moses and the Law of God have to say, we must then let the Spirit of God move us from a message of death to a message of life! It’s this new message alone that will be our only source of hope and power in this life and the life to come! This new message is of course the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the only message that God’s prophets are to speak unto eternal life. It isn’t a message of steps or strategies, but a message of forgiveness and hope. It is the Words of Jesus and His true prophets.

Listen to some of this hope and let it’s message breath new life into you: “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven”” (Luke 10:20) This is a message of certainty that those who hear Jesus Words and believe them are saved from their sins. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Cor. 6:11] And Peter declares this message to Christians scattered throughout the world: “You were like sheep going astray; but you are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [1 Pet. 2:25] Likewise, John speaks this Word of hope and peace to the church: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is.” [1 John 3:2] Nowhere in God’s Word do you find the prophets creating the perception that salvation can be found by following a series of strategies or steps. Instead, the consistent message is that this new prophet that Moses promised would come has come, and He alone makes us right with God through His Work and teaching of forgiveness of sins.

This new teaching, the good news about forgiveness of sins is a simple one. The Kingdom of God is here through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Fully God, yet born of a woman so that we can call Him brother, He was sent by the Father to save you from the evil presence of the devil; He was born to die upon the cross for you. He was born to suffer at the hands of sinful men so that by His stripes, His suffering and death you might be free forever from your fears concerning your own death and the sin that separates you from the love of God; so it’s stripes, not steps that bring you an eternal and abundant life!

What is the abundant and eternal life?

It is freedom from not just your sins and physical death, but also the devil! Jesus has come to set the captives free! By a Word of command He silenced the devil that day in Capernaum, and with that same power, He proclaims that in your baptism, your old sinful nature along with the Devil has been destroyed. Through your baptism, He casts out all things demonic and pronounces you clean.

This morning I proclaim to you that there is one stronger than the devil and your own sinful flesh that is with you this very moment. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living and faithful God, and where He is eternally, you shall one day join Him, because He has washed you clean; forgiven all of your sins. He has given you freedom from your old sinful nature, victory over the devils, and peace and joy with your Heavenly Father. That is who Jesus really is.

The demon in our gospel reading knew who Jesus was and he identified Him immediately as the Holy One of God. The people who saw and heard everything that day stood in amazement. They knew that they had heard and seen things that were new and powerful; they knew they had witnessed the authority and power of God in action.

It is my prayer that you will know these things also, and that you will, like the people in that Capernaum synagogue, leave here and at once spread the good news about who Jesus Christ really is, and what that means for the people in our community. I pray that you will tell them about a holy and perfect God who cannot tolerate sin, but made a way out of it, so that they could be free of not just sin, but also shame, addictions, and death. I pray that you will be enabled by God to declare to your neighbors that Jesus is the only way to God’s forgiving love. Tell them, and then invite them to come to church with you and see for themselves. I ask this in Jesus name, AMEN!

Sunday, January 21st, 2018
3rd Sunday in Epiphany B, January 21, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Mark 11:4-20

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“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” [Mark 1:15]

What does a traveling preacher with a divine call and one of the most sinful cities known to man have in common? Both were separated from God because of their sins, and both heard God’s invitation to turn to Him for forgiveness and faith, and they did; both are examples of repentance!

Many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah.

God ordered him to go to one of Israel’s arch enemies and announce the need to repent or be destroyed. Jonah threw a fit; he didn’t want them to repent, he wanted them to be destroyed, so he booked passage on the nearest freight ship intending to get as far away from Nineveh as possible. Why? Because he knew the LORD “is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” In other words, he knew that if his enemy repented God would even love and forgive them! Isn’t that something? At the expense of his own salvation, Jonah refused to play a part in bringing salvation to an entire city.

Well, eventually Jonah did repent, but it took the help of an angry boat crew who threw him overboard and the God directed presence of a big fish or whale, that swallowed him and safely spit him up at the shores of the very place he was trying to run from… Nineveh! Through God’s work in the circumstances of Jonah’s life, Jonah was put back on course for Nineveh and salvation; he returned to the call and will of God.

Now if you think that was miraculous, what about the entire city of Nineveh repenting? That’s huge! Christians throughout our nation have been praying for that to happen right here in the good old US of A, and well, it hasn’t happened yet! Abortion is still legal, even though God say’s it is an evil abomination. So if we as a nation haven’t repented yet, then what happened to save Nineveh? Well, it was the very same thing that caused Jonah to repent; the Word and work of God.

The people of Nineveh heard the Word of God, both the law and the gospel. The law was the Word of truth that the Living God was angry with their sin and about to destroy their entire city. The gospel was the truth that this same living God was giving them 40 days to repent, to turn and confess their sinfulness and receive mercy and forgiveness. Through both the law and the gospel, God created faith in a city full of faithless hearts. In the darkness of sin, He created a city of light! Could that happen in this country? Could we ever repent of the sin of abortion? Yes, but only through the work of God causing us to repent and turn to His forgiving love!

So what is repentance?

Really it’s a person’s pain over their sins and a turning of faith to a God who will show mercy and forgiveness. It’s realizing that everything that you’ve done apart from God and faith in Him, is nothing but evil and darkness. Everything?! Yes, everything! God’s Word confirms it, listen: “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one!” [Romans 3:10—12]

Do you understand what that means? It means that no matter how hard you try to change your life, to become a better person, you will never succeed in pleasing God! Why? Because God can see into your heart; he knows that whatever you do or try to do will be self-serving; that is you will only be trying to save your own skin! Just as it didn’t matter if the whole city of Nineveh voted and decided to take care of the poor with their vast amount of wealth, God was still going to destroy not just the city but everyone who lived in it! Even if they decided to never make war again, and even if they freed every one of the slaves from every country they ever conquered, God was going to destroy them, unless… unless they confessed that they deserved His punishment and acknowledged that the true and Living God was the only one who could save them.

But this work of repentance, this one work that was pleasing to God was impossible for them to do, unless… unless God desired it to happen. And here is the miracle, God did desire that very thing, so he created faith in the hearts of all of those sinful people through the preaching of Jonah; He created faith so they could see the truth about their sins and turn to the LORD who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. When they turned to God’s forgiving heart He relented from bringing down punishment for their many sins.

Now, there are some here this morning who are in the very same predicament as the people of Nineveh.

You’ve been living a lie; you’ve been telling yourself that if you try real hard to live a good life, God will see that and help you to be better. But like I said, that’s a lie. You have to see, like the people of Nineveh had to see that you can’t do better; you can never get rid of all of the evil that is in your heart. You can’t erase all of the sins you’ve committed and you can’t prevent the sins you’re going to commit. So what are you going to do? Nothing but the only good work that God counts as righteous; you must by faith turn to God and confess that He is right and you are wrong. You must call out to God for mercy and pardon and do what He tells you!

And that friends is the obstacle you can never overcome unless God wills it; unless He creates faith within your heart to see this narrow doorway into His kingdom of forgiveness and peace. It’s like the little boy who got His hand stuck in His mother’s expensive vase. His parents tried everything to free him; they tried soap, cooking oil, lard, even engine grease, but nothing worked. Reluctantly, the father went to the garage to get a hammer to break this expensive vase. It was then, when the boy asked one simple question that changed everything: “Dad, would it help if I let go of the quarter I dropped into the vase?”

And that is what some of you need to do this morning. You need to let go of your own efforts to please God and do the one and only thing that will please God… you must trust Him. You need to hear Him speaking to you this morning and let go of the ways of this sinful world and turn to His forgiving heart and be freed, changed, forgiven, and loved! You need to agree with God that you can’t change yourself, and that your only hope is for you to allow Him to change you!

In our gospel lesson this morning, God’s only means of salvation is made to stand right in front of us and speak the only Word’s that will make us right with God!

“The time is fulfilled” Jesus said, “and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” What time is he speaking of? The time when God will bring both judgment and salvation. The time that everyone, including the evil city of Nineveh was waiting for… the time of God’s final work; God’s solution to sin. It is the time to repent and believe. Believe in what? Well, the better question is: Believe in Who? You see the what and the who are the very same thing. Believe in the good news of God’s forgiving love; believe in the Living Word of God Who is telling you that through Him alone, God will forgive you and save you from your many sins! Believe in Jesus Christ!

As Jesus spoke to the people in Galilee, He not only proclaimed God’s forgiveness, He demonstrated it. Standing before them was God in human flesh; their only means of forgiveness and salvation. What must they do to be saved? The very same thing we must do; hear the Words of eternal life and receive them. Repent and believe. Even now, God is working within our hearts to provide faith, faith to receive this message and live. Jesus is inviting you to let go of your past and to receive your future.

Listen to this poem by Theodore Brennan and see if it doesn’t describe your life and your heart as well: “I looked upon a farm one day, that once I use to own; The barn had fallen to the ground, the fields were overgrown. The house in which my children grew, where we had lived for years—I turned to see it broken down, and brushed aside the tears. I looked upon my soul that day to find it too had grown, with thorns and nettles everywhere, the seed(s) neglect had sown. The years had passed while I had cared for things of lesser worth; the things of Heaven I let go while minding things of earth. To Christ I turned with bitter tears, and cried, “O Lord forgive! I haven’t much time left for Thee, not many years to live. The wasted years forever gone, the days I can’t recall; if I could live those days again, I’d make Him Lord of all!”

Friends, if that is how you feel, then God is working a mighty work in your heart right now. That pain you feel over your wasted life, your sinful life is called contrition. Now the only thing left for you to do is hear God’s gospel Word and receive His forgiveness. You are forgiven! Leave those feelings of regret behind and turn to Jesus Christ and live. You see, it’s not about what you feel, or even how you felt in the past, instead it’s about what God says to you now… you are forgiven through Jesus Christ!

You know, we’re all a lot like Jonah when you think about it. We have been forgiven and loved by God. We’ve been washed clean in the waters of our baptism, and yet we can get caught up in our own anger and disappointments to the point where we can no longer see Jesus upon the cross crucified for us. We can sometimes get to a place where we no longer see the miraculous life giving work God did for us in our baptism.

And now, here is Jesus standing before us in His Word, saying to even we life-long Christians, “Repent and believe.” Put to death that old angry and sinful nature that was drowned in your baptism and turn to God’s forgiving love; a love which can only be yours by turning to Jesus. That was the only work that the people of Nineveh could do that pleased God and it is the only work that we as Christians can do.

When you let go of how you feel, and grab onto Jesus and His Word and believe that He alone is your source of hope and salvation, something amazing begins to happen… you begin to change. The good things that you use to wish you could do but failed become the very things you can do. And as you do these good things, God begins to give you right feelings to replace your old feelings of guilt, anger, and disappointment. He gives you a feeling of peace and satisfaction, as you realize that it isn’t you doing these good things, but God doing them in you and through you! That’s the message that saved all of Nineveh from their sins, it’s the message that’s saving you, and it’s the message that can save even our great nation from the sins of abortion and many others. All it takes is turning to God in repentance and receiving His forgiving love as we forget the sins of the past and embrace God’s will.

So you see, it really isn’t about what you feel, but it’s about what you know. And what is it that you know? In God there is forgiveness; there is new life when you receive Jesus’ work upon the cross, His suffering, death, and resurrection, as your only source of hope and peace in this life and the life to come. I pray that you will hear Jesus message of repentance and not just believe it but share it with your neighbors. I pray that you will let this forgiveness of God cause you to be salt and light, as you continue to speak the things of God even to your elected officials, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Arise!

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

24th Sunday After Pentecost-A, November 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 25:14-30

Does the day of the Lord frighten you? For many it can, because it can be looked at as a day of judgment rather than a day of reward. But if you are trusting in Christ and the gift you’ve been given in your Baptism, you have nothing to fear. So get up and don’t be someone who thinks and lives in darkness, but live as you have been called to live… live in the glorious light of Christ Jesus your Savior. It is your Savior who brings you into the Kingdom of His Heavenly Father, while the light of the Holy Spirit takes you by your hand and says “ARISE”!

Now this sounds good to everyone who has been baptized, and yet when we leave this place but not God’s presence, our sinful flesh will do everything in its power to convince us to lie back down and sleep a little longer.

Your sinful flesh backed up by a chorus of devils will try to convince you that there’s no need for urgency. As you’ve heard me say before, in our sinful nature we’d rather worship at a place called St. Mattress than a place called St. Matthew!

Knowing we are but flesh and subject to falling back into our sinful nature, God’s Word calls out and says arise… wake up you sleeper and walk in the light!

What is that light? It is God’s Law and His Gospel. This morning we will use God’s law first as a Mirror, a mirror that will show us the darkness of sin that surrounds us, and then we will hear His Gospel; the good news that is God’s Word of love, love which dispels the darkness and surrounds us with His love!

Why is God’s Law a mirror?

Because if we aren’t trusting in God’s forgiving love, it clearly shows us that the day of the Lord is something that we should dread; it is a day of punishment for sin, our sin! That’s why so many people today don’t want to hear God’s law preached; they only want to hear a message of prosperity, health, and wealth; they don’t want to hear the truth. What is the truth? We are broken in sin; we are separated from God; we are sick and death is inevitable! This is what the law of God shows us!

You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, and with all of your soul! That is the demand of God. You heard me right it’s a demand, and it offers you no help in accomplishing it! It’s a demand that forces you to admit that you can’t do the law, you’ve never been able to do it, and on your own, you never will! That’s why it’s a mirror; it simply shows you the truth about who you are… you are a sinner who has only judgment to look forward to!

Truthfully, on are own, we are the wicked and lazy servant that God gave one talent to. Instead of using that talent we want to hide it away; we don’t really want to take care of it. For some, perhaps they spend their whole life hiding the talent, and they convince themselves that God loves them no matter what, and the proof is is the talent that He gave them, but they never use it! They can skip Divine Service and never think twice about it. They can come to the Lord’s Supper with bitterness and an unforgiving heart and then think that there will be no repercussions. They can give a small sum of money as their weekly offering and dismiss any feelings of inadequacy or sinfulness by simply repeating what they were taught in Sunday School: God loves a cheerful giver! You wicked and lazy servant, the day of the Lord will come upon you like a thief in the night; punishment is at hand! Now, don’t look away or close your ears, because we aren’t done looking in the mirror.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the demand of God’s Law. It’s a demand and not a suggestion.

Who is your neighbor? Your neighbor is your spouse. The very person that you promised God you would love and honor till death do you part. The very person you promised that you would be lover, supporter, and comforter to in good times and bad, sickness and health, in periods of wealth and poverty. And how do you show that love? With unfaithfulness! You give the best of your passion, your time, your comfort, and support to something or someone before your spouse. And maybe you justify your actions with the argument that times have changed and so have relationships! Now maybe you are dismissing this guilt by saying to yourself that you’ve never actually cheated or turned to the arms of someone else, but isn’t it true that marriage is oh so much more than the physical aspect?

Who is your neighbor? It is your children and grandchildren! Each time you hear God’s Word reminding you to spend more time with your family and demonstrate your love to them by teaching them the truths in God’s Word as found in your catechism, and each time you do the opposite, you are not loving your neighbor! Have you forgotten that your Master is coming and will expect a full account of how you used His talent that He gave to you?

Who is your neighbor? Your neighbors are those who can benefit from any of the many ministries we have here at our church, if you would only invite them and bring them. Now I know that many of you don’t like to do church things on a day other than Sunday, especially in the evening, but have you forgotten that it’s not about you, it’s about your neighbor, your neighbor who is dying without knowing God’s love through Jesus Christ. Your neighbor that hasn’t even been given a talent from the master yet!

Who is your neighbor? Your neighbor may be someone in this congregation that you have held a grudge against or harbored a bitter spirit against for some time. Instead of going to your brother or sister and explaining how they’ve sinned against you and allowing God’s grace and Spirit to bring reconciliation, you harbor resentment and anger. Oh we wicked and lazy servants, it is time for us to arise… to wake up from our deep dark sleep and let God’s Word rescue us.

But how… how will this happen? By turning to His face of love; by embracing his gift of love that He has given to us!

What is God’s face and gift of love?

It’s the cross of Jesus Christ. In His cross you see God’s love, and when you see His love, you fall in love with Him yourself. In His arms of grace you feel connected and never disconnected; you feel his forgiveness. In His cross you see His sacrifice, His death upon the cross as a gift for you. In His cross God shows you that Jesus death was your death. In the cross of Jesus, God provides a very great gift for all of us… He provides His talent.

What is this talent? It is first and foremost the gift of faith; faith that allows us to be free from the terrible threatening of God’s Law and then faith to see God’s forgiveness. But this gift of God’s love doesn’t just come with wishful thinking, but instead it comes through God’s means; it comes through His Word! In His Word, God the Father is always telling you to turn to His Son, to turn to His Son’s cross and confess that you have failed in satisfying the demands of His Law. In the cross of Jesus, God is always reminding us that it is He alone who rescues us from our sins, from the attacks of the devil, and from our own death and the day of judgment.

God’s Word about Jesus’ sacrifice for you is the breastplate of faith and love… it is the helmet of your salvation. Without the Word of God you can have neither faith nor love; you can have no talent from God. Without the Word of God, you can have no helmet of salvation that protects you from the sinful thoughts that so easily entangle you and lead you back into a world of darkness and slumber! Without the Word of God you cannot walk as a child of the light.

Oh you can pretend to be following Jesus, but without the Word of God leading you and changing you, you are just going through the motions.

So this morning God’s Word simply has one command and it is Arise!

That’s it. Get up and take up His holy Word. Stay in the Word and embrace the light that it gives to you. Oh, and because God has given you a talent, the gift of faith, He now assures you that you don’t need to be afraid of His Law anymore; you don’t need to avoid reading and meditating on that Law. He doesn’t want you to see His Law as something to be avoided, but see His Law as a Law of love; see it as His way of continually recreating you into His image; it is part of the talent or gift of faith that He’s given to you so that you’ll no longer see yourself as a wicked and lazy servant, but as a wise, appreciative and loving servant who will only hear Words of praise and reward on the day of the Lord! Under the council of God’s Holy Law He is teaching you how to multiply the talent that He has given you. In His Word He is not only teaching you how to love Him but also how to love and forgive your neighbor as He has loved and forgiven you!

As God’s Word continues to save you, it will also continue to change you and rearrange you; it will teach you how He has specifically gifted you with special talents, and then He will teach you how to use those talents to help bring others out of darkness and judgment and into the glorious gospel light of love and forgiveness.

I’d like to close our message this morning with this story: One day, Satan held a strategy session for defeating Christ’s work of salvation. “What shall we do?” asked Satan. A daring demon stood and shouted, “I have it! I know what we can do! We can tell people that there is no life after death, that they die like animals.” Satan’s face fell as he answered, “It will never work. Man is not stupid; even atheists will admit that they have times when they sense a tomorrow after death.” Another demon spoke, “Here’s the solution! Let’s say that the god who started life is dead—let’s say that while he started the universe, he’s long gone now.” Satan replied in dismay, “That won’t work either; most of them know there is a God, even though they don’t look for him.”

Other ideas were presented, but none brought hope to the devils. Finally, as they were about to give up, one demon jumped to his feet in joy, “I have it! This is sure to work!” The other demons crowded around to hear the plan. “Go tell them that God is real and the Bible is God’s Word.” A gasp came from the audience as the demon continued, “And tell them that Jesus really is God’s Son and that He died to free them from their sin.” The other demons were horror-stricken, thinking that their associate had lost his mind, until, with a smile, he added, “Then tell them that this is not the best time to turn their lives over to Jesus. Help them make excuses for living in a life of darkness. Tell them there is no hurry!” If we do this we will fulfill the warning in Proverbs, “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” [Proverbs 6:9-11] The demons danced in delight, realizing a workable plan had been discovered.

But those devils aren’t celebrating this morning at our Church; no, because this morning we have heard the gospel command to Arise! We’ve heard God’s Word, and because of that Word of God and the gift of faith it brings, we can truly say, “I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus!”

May God through His Word continue to turn our hearts and minds to Jesus and His cross, and may He continue to give all of us the faith, the talent and the strength to keep doing that very thing until the day of the Lord. In Jesus name… AMEN!

Give to Caesar What’s Caesar’s and…

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

20th Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 22nd, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 22:15-22

Our text for this morning is one that is very familiar with many of you. “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” [Matthew 22:21b] I’m sure that you’ll all agree with me that the one thing our modern day Caesar wants the most from us is our money! Oh they’re going to get it, you can be sure of that, after all their name is all over “your” money… even though it’s in your pocket right now, it isn’t really yours, it’s Caesar’s, and he’s just letting you use it!

In this political season there’s a lot of talk about the best way to take our money and then the best way to spend it. In our political system here in the U.S., we are assured that we have a say in how this decision will be made; we have elections and the person or the party with the best ideas in how to collect and spend our money will supposedly be the one elected. But in the end, no matter who is elected we are always reminded that it never really was our money. We are reminded that the golden rule of any form of government is, “He who makes and distributes the currency, makes up the rules.”

But if we would just remember that our money really belongs to someone else, life sure would have a lot more peace and contentment in it. Like the old folks use to say back home, “Money will buy ya a nice dog, but only love will make him wag his tail and be your friend!”

In our gospel lesson this morning we discover something else about money… it can be a trap, even when you use it to trap someone else!

We meet Jesus teaching in the temple and it is the week of His passion; in other words He is only days away from His suffering and death. He knows this; He knows what is waiting for Him, so this is His last attempt to bring faith to an evil self-serving nation. He is teaching in the temple for good reason; it is the very heart of their identity as a people called by God to relate to Him in love and trust and then reflect that relationship to other people… other nations. He has just finished condemning the religious leaders as phonies, imposters. The word I used last week was posers! And now they’re flaming hot with anger and thinking only of revenge; they want to trap Jesus with His own words so that they can arrest Him and turn Him over to Caesar for execution.

The Pharisees went off away from the others and devised a way to trap Jesus. Jesus own words will be coaxed out of Him and they will be words of treason! Once that was done, with the members of the Herodian political party as witnesses, the governor will quickly arrest Jesus. So the Pharisees picked some of their youngest and brightest disciples and taught them what and how to ask Jesus. So while Jesus is teaching, this group of strangers approaches Him and begins to ape the words of admiration and praise that their teachers taught them: “Teacher, we know that you are (the real deal and that you) teach the way of God truthfully, and (we know that) you don’t care about anyone’s opinion (of you, because you’re) not (fooled) by appearances.”

Now stop and think about that for a moment. If they really believed that, would they have said what they just said? After all weren’t they just doing the very thing they said Jesus could see through? If only they had eyes of faith to see that they were actually talking to God! Well so much for that; the puppets had to ask the question that the puppet masters put into their mouths. So here it is: “Tell us, then… Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Now remember, because of their lack of faith they do not see God in Jesus. To them there is nothing divine about Him; he is just a man who’s causing troubles with the status quo; He’s rockin’ the boat and they want Him thrown out so that they will continue to have smooth sailing. But Jesus is God and He sees the evil intent in their hearts, so He says to them: “Why are you putting me to the test you hypocrites? (You who say one thing with your mouth but then you do the evil that is in your hearts. You don’t really want to hear God’s powerful Word and allow that Word to change you. You are in it for the money! You are here to just keep getting richer while God’s Kingdom suffers at your hands and His people pay for your greed!) Show me the coin for the tax.” And out of their own pockets comes the very thing they supposedly hate… Caesar’s money; money that undeniably belongs to Caesar, because it has his name and his face on it! So Jesus asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is (on) this?” And the answer they gave not only reveals their hypocrisy but Jesus divine wisdom. “And they (answered) “(It’s) Caesar’s.” (And Jesus) said to them, “(Then give back to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar), and to God the things that are God’s.” Scripture says that they were amazed at Jesus answer; they marveled at the wisdom in His Words, but they would not let that wisdom change them. Why? Because they were hypocritical impostors that didn’t care one bit about being rich in the Kingdom of God; they only cared about becoming rich in the kingdom of men!

The funny thing about money is that it will buy you a bed, but not sleep. It will buy you books, but not brains. It will give you a beautiful house, but not a home. It can afford medicine, but it can’t give you good health. It will bring you amusement, but not happiness. It can buy a beautifully hand carved crucifix, but not the Savior who hung upon it! No, to have the things that money can’t buy, we have to be resting in God’s mercy and forgiveness, and that rest can only come through Jesus Christ!

When the Pharisees presented a coin to Jesus, He pointed out the image of Caesar.

By doing this He’s presenting the reality that each of us lives simultaneously in two kingdoms: the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God. He was teaching them and us that just as the coin was created in the image of Caesar, we are created in the image of God. This means that every thing on earth and every part of our bodies, even the smallest of thoughts in our minds, belong to God!

Now there may be some here this morning that are like those disciples of the Pharisees; they’ve given God their mind but their heart is far away from Him. Some may have given Him their heart, but they’re unwilling to truly hear and learn from the Word, because they have their own way of thinking about how God’s Kingdom should be built. Some may be willing to give their muscles, but unwilling to bring their bodies consistently to worship and Bible study! Many give God 1 or 2 hours a week of their time, but God wants all 168 hours of every week! Some consistently give God about 2% of their income, thinking that someday they’ll reach the 10% goal, when in reality it all belongs to God, even if Caesar’s image is on it!

It becomes so easy for us to forget that God is actually with us in this sinful society when all around us evil greed and injustice seems to control everything. But just a few short days after the occurrence of our gospel reading, Jesus would be standing before Pontius Pilate, teaching him this very truth. There before Pilate, Jesus stands beaten and bloody, and Pilate asks Him if He realizes that he has the power to free Him or execute Him. And to this Jesus Words ring in our ears with the truth about the kingdom of men: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” [John 19:11] And here is the meat of Jesus teaching for us this morning: While the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God are two separate kingdoms, they both are ultimately controlled by God!

In God’s Kingdom of grace we are changed… we are recreated so that we can be in God’s presence even while living in the kingdom of man. God’s Word gives and teaches us and eternal righteousness of the heart so that through us and the sharing of the gospel, others may know of God’s mercy and love and be drawn into His Kingdom of Grace also. But God’s Kingdom does not destroy or take over the kingdom of men, instead it enters into individual families, communities, and governments it and changes them by changing the people who live in them.

What is the change that the gospel brings into these various groups that make up the kingdom of man? It brings a realization of God’s presence! As individuals, families, communities, and governments begin to realize that everything they do is not only seen by God, but ultimately judged by Him, God’s Kingdom is breaking in and His way of love, forgiveness, and mercy begins to be seen in how all of these groups serve each other. Individuals begin to give of their time, talent, and treasure in a way that honors God and helps build His Kingdom. Families begin to work, live, and worship together in a way that is pleasing to God! Communities begin to care for the weakest and poorest members in a way that reminds them that they aren’t alone! And governments remember that they are there to serve first the will of their Creator, and then address the needs of their constituents.

Now I know that all of this can seem a bit ideal, and that is because it is ideal!

It’s a picture of the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of men! It is what was happening that day in the temple when Jesus was teaching the people about God’s love as the Pharisees were demonstrating men’s greed! Jesus, God in human flesh came to His people that day to plead with them one last time to repent. He asked them to turn to Him and walk to the cross; a place where God’s own blood would be spilled for them as a payment for their sins. He asked them to follow Him by faith and see a better way; a way that trusts in God even when it seems that evil has won the day. He asks them and He asks us today to hear His Words of forgiveness spoken for those evil men that persecuted and crucified Him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” And He shouts so all can hear God’s proclamation of victory, even you and me today: “It is finished!” Your debt is paid in full! I your God have broken into your reality; I came to you myself and became your Savior, your Brother, and Friend!

So there you have Jesus teaching. It is not as simple as the simple minded hypocrites like to make it. Living in two Kingdoms at the same time never is easy. One kingdom says the rich should keep getting richer so that they can provide for the poor, and the other kingdom says you will always have the haves and have-nots, the question is what is it that they have or don’t have? Do you have Jesus? Is he the most important thing in life to you? Are you resting in the Kingdom of God knowing that Jesus is with you while you’re waiting and working in the kingdom of man, or is the Kingdom of God something that you will take seriously someday, just not this day?

I’ll close with this story. A businessman had an angel come to visit him, and the angel promised him that God would grant one wish. The man asked for a copy of the Wall Street Journal, with the stock market quotes for one year in the future. As he was studying the future prices on the stock exchanges, he became excited at the certainty of acquiring even more wealth, wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But then he glanced across the newspaper page, only to see his own picture in the obituary column. Suddenly, all of his current and future wealth meant nothing to him. He fell on his knees and confessed before God his sinfulness and his lack of faith and trust in Jesus gift of eternal life. How do you think that man spent his wealth from that point on?

And now dear friends, God grants the same blessing to you. He tells you now, that one day, perhaps soon you will die! Knowing that will you turn to Jesus? Will you rest in what God has done for you upon the cross and within your baptism? Will you allow the Kingdom of God to transform you and work within you, and then use the time, talents, and money that God has given to you to break into the kingdom of man? Will you be satisfied with what you have and use it to help those who don’t know Jesus have peace with God? I pray that God will enable each of us to do this very thing. And I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Is It Well With Your Soul?

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 17, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” [Genesis 50:19, 20]]

These words from our Old Testament reading are the words of a Kingdom builder; they’re the Words of the Lord of the Kingdom of God, which are simply being spoken by a subject of the King. They are Words of restoration and peace; they are Words of forgiveness. They are Words that make all things well with our souls! With all of this being true, then why do we find it so hard to speak them? Why is it such a battle to say, “I forgive you”?

Surely we have reasons, good reasons not to trust some people; not to forgive them. I would not put a convicted embezzler in charge of our church bank account, would you? Would you want a convicted child molester teaching your kids at Sunday school? Of course not, but does that also mean that we should withhold forgiveness, love, and restoration from them?

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we encounter Joseph, a man who had every reason to be bitter, hold a grudge and get revenge.

His own brothers threw him in a well in the middle of the desert and then sold him to slave dealers. But Joseph experienced something that changed him forever; he experienced God’s presence and God’s protection. In the home where he served as a slave, he eventually became the head slave and had complete freedom to run the entire home and its business. But trouble always seems to follow people who know they worship and are led by a merciful and loving God, and Joseph was no exception. Very soon he was falsely accused by the wife of the lord of the very home he was serving in. Bam! Joseph’s life was turned upside down again. Once again he was falsely imprisoned, but this time it wasn’t in a well but in a real prison! But Joseph knew that he wasn’t in that prison alone; he knew that the God of mercy was with Him and where ever God is, all is well with the soul of a child of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Once more God would prove to Joseph that He was a God who makes a way out of no way; He would prove that He was a God who never leaves or forsakes His little ones who serve in His Kingdom; Joseph was given the keys to the prison and allowed to run it! But that’s not all is it? No, eventually it became known to the Pharaoh that Joseph was a man of God who could interpret dreams. So as a result of one meeting with Joseph who spoke the Word of God truthfully, Joseph was made second in command in all of Egypt.

And now before him stands his brothers who did unthinkable evil against him; they were standing before the second most powerful person in the world. So this was Joseph’s chance to make things right; to right the wrongs that were done to him. And what does he do? He makes things right; right in the Kingdom of God! He offers forgiveness and restoration. But why… how? Because that is how the Kingdom of God operates! You see, the Kingdom of God makes a way out of no way. In a earthly kingdom where only death and punishment reign supreme, God’s Kingdom brings life and forgiveness. Out of fear and danger God assures His child that all is indeed well with his soul!

Do you think that Joseph had questions about the sincerity of his brother’s confession of sin? Sure, but having questions, having doubts isn’t what is important here, it’s where you take those questions and doubts. As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, Joseph immediately gave these things to God and He forgave all of them. It’s as if he was saying to them, “If God’s forgiven you, who am I to do anything differently? Don’t you see that what you meant for evil against me, God in His wonderful counsel has turned into something marvelous in our sight. He’s not only frustrated your evil plan, but He’s used it to bring abundant life and blessing for both me and you!” And that is always how things work in the Kingdom of God. You see, as citizens of God’s Kingdom of grace, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

So we see, in this way God causes good to result from evil, not that He wants us to do evil, but in His goodness He can take even our great wickedness and turn it into good. It’s God’s nature to forgive a fearful and sobbing sinner who is begging Him for mercy. And this is the very lesson that Jesus was trying to get Peter to understand; it’s the lesson He wants each of us to go home with this morning.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 18:21-35) Peter asked Jesus how many times he should keep forgiving someone for something they do against him over and over.

Now, the Jewish teachers said that three times is enough to satisfy the mercy of God, so that the justice of God could take over. So Peter took that number and multiplied it by 2 and threw in one more for good measure and answered his own question with a question: “Seven times?” Now don’t be too hard on Peter, because from a human standpoint, a flawed and sinful standpoint Peter did pretty well. Even our own society today would call that excessive and a bit naïve. You know the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me!”

So now learn the lesson about how things work in God’s Kingdom. “Jesus said to (Peter), “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Now that’s excessive! But the number isn’t the point of Jesus teaching, it’s the attitude or the spirit. Jesus is teaching us that the new nature of a baptized child of God is the type of nature that doesn’t keep count. Even if you did count how many times someone kept sinning against you, isn’t it true that you would lose count long before you got to 490?

So the nature of a citizen in God’s Kingdom simply does as Joseph did, He gives it to God and trusts that all things will work together for the good that God has determined.

Joseph learned to trust God and so did Peter.

They learned that even when it seems that things are at their worse, God is still present and in control! Each of us must learn this as well, and God has made sure that we can do this very thing. He did it by breaking into our existence, into our history through one event that has rendered everyone subject to One Judge… Jesus Christ Himself! The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has led not only the past, but it has shaped the present and it will determine the future. Joseph trusted in the coming Savior along with every other citizen of Heaven that came before and after Him. And when the Son of God took on our flesh and broke into our present and our future, the words of Joseph become the Words of Jesus: “As for you and your sinful ways, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Through my suffering and death your sins have been wiped clean. My death brought you life! Will you rest in this gift or reject it?)”

Today friends, we who are baptized into Christ Jesus can confidently say “I am a citizen of heaven. I was saved by Christ’s death on the cross, and through that work of the cross, forgiveness of sins was given to me in my baptism! I haven’t refused that forgiveness and I still pray for it every day. Daily through the power of God’s Word, I continue to see the sin that is still within me, but through that same Word I am given the promise of forgiveness and the ability to fight and destroy that sin, as I turn to Jesus and His cross for forgiveness! Every day I see the unthankful forgiven sinner within me holding grudges and planning revenge against my brother who sins against me, but I take this nature and I drown it in the waters of my baptism; I crucify it upon the cross of Jesus! Every day I fight to allow God to love my brothers and sisters through me even when they sin against me. I do this not because they deserve it but because God has done and always will do this very thing for me!” This dear friends is the life of a child who lives in the Kingdom of God.

Now I could end here and we would have a wonderful message about forgiving our brothers and sisters, but then you wouldn’t have God’s entire message. In order to complete our message, we must import one more bit of scripture. In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus has one more group of people that we must learn to love and forgive… our enemies! “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” [Matthew 5:43-45]

Now this can be a hard lesson for all of us to accept, especially on the heels of the sixteenth year anniversary of the September 11 attack against our nation by Muslim terrorists, and yet God is asking us to not only accept His will but to fulfill it! Here the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ gives us a command; we must love those who hate us and attack us. We must pray for the ability to forgive them and also pray that they would turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration. This kind of love can exist only in the Kingdom of God; indeed it is the very thing that separates it from all other kingdoms. Now don’t misunderstand, God isn’t asking you to put your arm around your enemy; He knows that we have reason not to trust them or like them. But He is asking you to be filled with the love of Jesus and let Him do this work within you! This is a higher form of love that can only come from God. It’s the kind of love that says “I know that I will never like a murderous terrorist, or a criminal who may have robbed me or threatened my life; I can’t like a false and lying, slanderous person who has attacked my character over and over again; but I can by the grace of Jesus Christ love them all; I can see what’s wrong with them and follow God’s Spirit within me and work to do them good. I can pray that God will free them from their vicious ways just as He has done and is doing for me!”

Is living in the Kingdom of God easy? No, of course not! It requires the same things that Joseph had and that Peter received. It requires faith and trust in a God who promises that all things will work together for the good for those who love Him and trust in His calling and purpose! Will you struggle with this command to forgive? Yes! Will you fail sometimes and fall back into a spirit and mindset of the world, probably so! You will also be tempted in times of tragedy to think that God has abandoned you, but you must remember, its God’s presence and mercy; it’s His forgiveness for you that will carry you through until the end and deliver you safely into His Kingdom!
Let me tell you the story of Horatio G. Spafford. He was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago with a lovely family — a wife, Anna, and five children. However, they were not strangers to tears and tragedy. Their young son died with pneumonia in 1871, and in that same year, much of their business was lost in the great Chicago fire. Yet, God in His mercy and kindness allowed the business to flourish once more.

On Nov. 21, 1873, the French ocean liner, Ville du Havre was crossing the Atlantic from the U.S. to Europe with 313 passengers on board. Among the passengers were Mrs. Spafford and their four daughters. Although Mr. Spafford had planned to go with his family, he found it necessary to stay in Chicago to help solve an unexpected business problem. He told his wife he would join her and their children in Europe a few days later. His plan was to take another ship.

About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic, the Ville du Harve collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Suddenly, all of those on board were in grave danger. Anna hurriedly brought her four children to the deck. She knelt there with Annie, Margaret Lee, Bessie and Tanetta and prayed that God would spare them if that could be His will, or to make them willing to endure whatever awaited them.

Within approximately 12 minutes, the ship slipped beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the passengers including the four Spafford children.
A sailor, rowing a small boat over the spot where the ship went down, spotted a woman floating on a piece of the wreckage. It was Anna, still alive. He pulled her into the boat and they were picked up by another large vessel which, nine days later, landed them in Cardiff, Wales. From there she wired her husband a message which began, “Saved alone, what shall I do?”

Mr. Spafford booked passage on the next available ship and left to join his grieving wife. With the ship about four days out, the captain called Spafford to his cabin and told him they were over the place where his children went down.

According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” while on this journey.

Life is full of tragedy and betrayal. It is easy to give up hope, thinking that God has abandoned you in those times, or we can choose to believe by faith the promise of Jesus, that He will never leave nor forsake us; that all things do indeed work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. Will we give up or will we let God’s grace, forgiveness and restoration change us?

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Chorus:
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul

Don’t Cross-out the Cross!

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 3, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]

One of my favorite shows on TV is the “Myth Busters”. So following that shows premiss that some things that we accept as true are simply false, We are going to debunk a couple of myths in Christianity. What is a myth? Well, it’s a little bit like an Old Wives’ Tale. A wives’ tale is s traditional belief or a societal myth that’s often founded in superstition. Here are a few to try on for size: If you swallow your gum it will sit in your stomach and turn into a hair ball! No not true. Gum passes out the digestive track like everything else! How about this one: If you eat water melon and drink milk you will get a poison in your system and it could kill you! Sorry, you might get a belly ache but it won’t kill you! Here’s one more myth that you mothers won’t like me debunking: If you go outside in the cold with a wet head, you will catch a terrible cold! Sorry Moms, that isn’t true either. No matter how much you protest, science has known for some time that colds are caused by germs that enter our bodies through our mouths!

This morning we are going to debunk a couple more myths about our Christian faith. These are myths that were created in a sinful world by sinful people. The first myth says that your Christian faith will protect you from harm, misfortune, poverty, and even sickness! Now this sounds good; we might even get in line to learn about this kind of Christianity, but if we did, we’d be falling into a trap!

Now the second myth about our faith says that what Christ did on the cross was a good start for us, but we have to reinforce that work of His with our own suffering and sacrifice; No pain, no gain! The folks that follow this myth really set aside Jesus suffering as perfect, and they believe they’ve got to add to it in order to please and angry God! But now Jesus takes this “no pain, no gain” mentality and He turns it on its head! Jesus says, without MY pain you can have no gain. Follow me to have eternal life, but as you follow me, you too will know pain!

So where did we receive our call to follow Jesus and live under His cross?

Well through His Word of course! It was His Word that spoke to many of our parents long ago, teaching them the need to bring us to the life giving waters of baptism. And it was that same Word that latter grabbed a hold of each of us and convicted us of our sin and our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is the Word of God that mysteriously and lovingly speaks to our hearts after we confess our sins and convinces us that we are forgiven. And it is the same Word that somehow creates the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood along with the bread and wine at our Lord’s Table, all so that we can know and experience forgiveness of sins!

It is this same Word that speaks to us now and says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24] Now why did Jesus speak this word about following Him and the need to pick up our cross? Because He knows that we like Peter want to follow the easy way; the myths of this world. But these myths were created first by the prince of this world the devil and they’re spread by the sinful people who have been trapped by his lies and myths.

In our gospel reading this morning Jesus began to teach his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die for each of them, even for you and me! And what was Peter’s reaction to this discovery? Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him with these words, “Far be it from you Lord!” That’s just not going to happen (and I’ll make sure of it)! And how did the Son of God, the Savior of the world respond? He rebuked Peter, or maybe a better way to put this is that He rebuked the sin in Peter and the cause of that sin; He rebuked the father of all lies, Satan Himself! [Matthew 16:21-23]

Jesus knew that voice and the temptations that it brings; He recognized the devil and his ministry of lies which promises glory without sacrifice! He encountered that same voice out in the wilderness on a forty day fast. That voice tempted Jesus with food, power, and glory! And how did Jesus defeat the devil? With the same Word he now speaks to Peter: “Get behind me Satan!” And after Jesus rebukes the devil, He speaks and teaches both Peter and us with these Words of life, He says: “You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Now what did Jesus mean by that? He meant that Peter wanted to follow the way of the devil and not the way of God!

Friends, the truth is that each of us are a lot more like Peter than we care to admit. Let me show you what I mean.

The word that Jesus used, which our Bible translates as hindrance is really the Greek word skandalon. It’s where we get our English word scandal. A skandalon is the little stick that holds the mouth of a trap open. Trappers will use some kind of bait that is irresistible to the prey they’re hunting and place it at the skandalon. And when the prey goes for the bait, they trip the skandalon and… SMACK! The trap springs shut trapping and killing the prey. So Jesus is telling Peter that his plan and idea to cross out the cross is actually that kind of trap! First it was a trap for Jesus; but Jesus is God, and far too wise to be tempted away from the cross. But it is also a trap for Peter and it is a trap for us.

Peter like us, wanted things the easy way. He wanted a life of ease and a cushy ministry. He wanted a Savior that would be a champion who would defeat the devil and create a Christian government here on earth! He wanted fame, fortune, and glory now, not later! How would he follow a dead Savior?

So what are some of the scandalons in our lives? Well let’s be honest, each of us wants the same thing! We want a great high paying job, a beautiful or handsome spouse, obedient children, a nice home and car, lots of bling, and we want it now! We might even reason that because we are children of the Living God, called out of darkness into light, forgiven of all of our sins, we deserve a prosperous life, free of pain, suffering, sorrow and poverty! So when God’s Word talks about suffering, we might not say it out loud but we think it, “Far be it Lord!” So what are we tempted to do? We’re tempted to go off in search for a different message; a message about prosperity and glory! We look for a message with less cross and suffering and more prosperity and glory; a message that tells us that we can have heaven here on earth! But if we follow this way of thinking, we are following the way of the devil. If we follow this way of thinking we are crossing out the cross and Jesus saving work upon it; we are following the way of glory or the scandalon of the devil!

So what does Jesus want for us? Well, He wants the same things for us that we want, He just wants them in a different way; He wants them through the way of the cross! You see, Jesus was committed to the cross, because it was the only way that salvation could be won for Peter and for us. Jesus committed Himself to the cross because He knew the will of His Father; a Heavenly Father who sent Him to suffer and die as the Savior of the world. He knew the reason for His gruesome death… “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory;” a glory that was first with us in the beginning. He knew that the only way that this glory could be recovered for us was if He was willing to pay for our salvation with His very life. So, He came to do that very thing. He came to give His life as a ransom for us (Matthew 2:28) and as a sacrifice for our sins! He was wounded for our transgressions, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquities of us all. [Isaiah 53:5-6] This was and is God’s love for us in action!

Jesus didn’t cross out the cross and neither will we when we see our lost sinful condition and by faith turn to that cross for forgiveness!

As we follow Jesus we must take up our own cross!

Again Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me!” Now don’t confuse Jesus cross with our cross. The truth is that only Jesus’ cross, His suffering and death can and does save sinners like us. So then what is this cross that Jesus wants us to take up? Well, it is a pattern for our whole lives! Our cross is all of the suffering, trouble, and hardships that will come to us because we are His followers. Whoever would follow Jesus Christ must follow His example. They must live to please God and give all that they have to bring His kingdom to every sinner. Whoever follows Jesus must be willing to deny themselves and live to please God. To deny, simply means to turn away from someone or something. In this case, God wants us to turn away from our old sinful nature and turn to Him. Every day He wants us to refuse to be associated in anyway with our old sinful nature and desires that were drowned in our baptisms. He wants us to live a life that disowns our old sinful identity and lives to only please our Savior Jesus!

The cross meant suffering for Jesus and it means suffering for us, but it is suffering for a purpose; suffering for a hope! We lose our lives so that we can gain them. If we refuse to die to our old sinful desires and embrace the ways of glory we are turning away from our only source of help and hope, the cross of Jesus! But if we receive and live out our new nature of sacrifice for God and our neighbor we are gaining not just the promise of a new and glorious eternal life, but the ability, the faith to live out this temporary life of suffering.

Young people, if you are ridiculed and unpopular because of your Christian faith you have God’s promise that you are blessed in God’s heavenly kingdom. Older people, if your Christian convictions cost you money and promotion at work, your cross is to keep on following Jesus, keep on fighting until you get the victory… eternal rest and joy in God’s Heavenly Kingdom. Parents and grandparents, God knows your pain for a child that seems to have walked away from their faith in Jesus and His cross! Through His Word He gives you faith to hold on and know that a change is coming; He gives you faith to keep praying for them. Dear saints, if there is a certain sin that seems to keep tempting you and it is a sin that you keep falling to, do not give up your fight to defeat it under the cross of Jesus. Struggle to remember that even that sin has been forgiven at Jesus cross.

The truth is for all of us, whatever crosses we have, we have them only because we are followers of Jesus and His cross! And as we follow Jesus and live out our cross, we are also exalting His name with the sweet song of alleluia!

Dear friends, as we fight the temptation to cross-out the cross of Jesus, God is strengthening our faith. We fight the temptation to cross out the cross by looking to Jesus alone who suffered and died for us in order to show God’s deep love for us! As we follow Him He is always urging us to continue taking up our cross and follow Him until the day He calls us home to a place that He has prepared for us in heaven!

I would like to close our message with a story: There was once a monastery that raised monarch butterflies. One day a young monk watched a butterfly struggle for hours to free its self from its cocoon. Finally, the sympathetic monk could take no more. He began to help the butterfly be free by peeling away the cocoon. Once the butterfly was free, the monk expected it to spread its wings and fly away; instead it only clung to the stick that it was perched on and finally toppled over and died. An older monk watched with great interest, and approached the sad young monk and offered this wisdom. “Brother you tried to help the butterfly by removing its burden, but what you didn’t realize was that it is the struggle under the burden that brings strength and vitality to not just its wings, but to its entire existence. So by providing and easy way out you removed the very thing that would bring it life!”

Brothers and sisters, we have been given the gift of eternal life with God. It is ours now, but not yet. Until our time in this sinful world is through, God calls us to struggle in our faith. He asks us to follow the way of Jesus’ cross knowing that at the end of our earthly lives of struggle, there is an eternity of living in God’s glory waiting for us. He asks you to struggle, putting to death your sinful nature with the sure and certain hope that one day you will enter heaven! This is faith in action; it’s a faith that doesn’t cross out Jesus’s cross or our own. It’s a faith that comes along side of others who are struggling with their own cross and helps them shoulder the burden. It’s a faith that knows and declares that we are not alone in our struggle; we are in this struggle together, and Jesus is here with us promising that soon and very soon we will be going to see our King; our King who comes in glory to pour out the fullness of His gift of eternal life. It is a Kingdom that will richly compensate each of us for all of our own suffering and loss for His sake.

May God help each of us to continue having faith in this promise… in Jesus name… AMEN!

 

Living Beyond the Mountain Top

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday A, February 26, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”” [Matthew 17:1]

Transfiguration-Cal-34-Mar1Have you ever had something happen to you, which was so profound that it seemed to change how you look at everything in your life? Peter, James, and John did, but to understand their experience correctly, we need to look at their recent experiences with Jesus.

In the last couple of years, they experienced one miracle after another.

They must have felt like they were on top of the world. And then, out of nowhere, Jesus started talking about denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him into suffering and death! Why, He even said that if they wanted to save their lives they must first lose them. Then He said that even He would need to suffer and die at the hands of sinful men in order to fulfill the will of the Father.

Now to Peter, that sounded like crazy talk, and he didn’t want to listen to anymore of that doom and gloom, so he took Jesus aside and tried to enlighten Him on how he thought a Messiah should speak. But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that; that was the devil speaking not Peter, so Jesus rebuked Peter with the often-quoted words, “Get behind me Satan.” He said that Peter was seeking the way of the world, and not the way of God!

Peter and the other apostles must have been thinking, “What’s going on here? This isn’t what I signed up for! What happened to all of our visions of glory that come with ‘walking and talking with our minds stayed on Jesus’ the Messiah?” You see, they wanted more of the glory, fame, and high life, but Jesus was telling them that instead of living large and in-charge, they would need to experience shame, suffering, and death. And then out of nowhere, Jesus gave them this little bit of information to think about: “Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come in power.” [Mark 9:1]

So now, six days later there is Peter along with James, and John, up on a mountaintop, watching Jesus pray and seeing the kingdom of God enveloping them in power.

God’s power and glory always comes through His Living Word and many times Jesus, the Living Word, comes when we least expect Him.

It was getting late and they were tired; their eyes got heavy when all of a sudden, boom! It was as if all of the light in the world was pouring out of Jesus and the two visitors that suddenly appeared. And they weren’t just any visitors either; they were Moses and Elijah!

The three earth bound apostles were overwhelmed with the experience. The other gospels tell us that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were speaking about Jesus death, resurrection, and the day He would leave this sinful world, but Peter skipped right over those Words. All he seemed to care about was the glory! He must have thought, “Now this is the kind of Messiah I signed up to follow!” So with a mixture of fear and excitement (after all he was standing in the presence of God and the two greatest heroes of faith that ever lived), Peter interrupts Jesus’ discussion with these deep and insightful words: “(Hey, a) Lord, it is (a)good (thing) that we’re here (with you).” Do you want me to pitch a few tents for you and your guests?

I call that a Cool Hand Luke moment; you know… “What we have here, is a failure to communicate.”

With all of the responses someone should or could have had, maybe something like Alleluia, why in the world did Peter ruin that divine moment with such a stupid statement and question? Because many times when it comes to listening to God, we have a listening problem.

KGO talk radio in San Francisco once conducted a call-in poll. Ron Owens invited listeners to express their opinion. Thirty-five percent said yes, 33 percent said no and 32 percent were undecided. One listener, aghast at the large number of undecideds, protested, “It’s this sort of apathy that’s ruining America.”

The only problem with all these responses was that the radio station had never posed a question. It’s not apathy that is getting most of us in trouble – it is shooting our mouths off and shouting our lungs out over things that we know nothing about.
After Peter’s “Cool-Hand Luke” moment, God allowed a thick cloud to appear, and it suddenly swept Moses and Elijah away. Why? Because God was making sure that they both heard Him speak, and that they also understood why He spoke.

Aren’t we a lot like those apostles too?

We love it when we come to church and we get to sing our favorite hymn or spiritual. We love it when the preacher is talking about heaven and what a time will have there with no more suffering, pain, sickness, and death, but as soon as the message starts showing us where we fall short or what God expects from us, we tune it out.

We love to be entertained for about an hour, but as soon as the service starts cutting into our Sunday afternoon plans we get fidgety, and then irritated! Or maybe, we love the fellowship and coffee but get bored with the liturgy and ritual! You see, like Peter we say that it’s good to be here in church, but only if it meets our desires; as soon as worship time gets personal we become nervous and hope that it ends soon.

Now you might not interrupt the sermon or the readings with a foolish statement like Peter’s, but you too have your “Cool-Hand Luke” moments. For you, it happens the minute you tune out to what’s happening in Divine Service and tune into what you wish was happening. Peter wanted to silence the conversation and stay in the glory moment, and we aren’t any better. We love those mountaintop highs of worship, and if we could make it happen, that’s all we would ever experience.

Does that mean that emotion during worship is bad? No, not at all, but the good times aren’t suppose to be the center of why we worship. So what’s the solution?

Well, we just need to let Jesus be Jesus and then let Him do what He does. Do you see what I just did there? I took the emphasis off of you and me and put it on Jesus. That’s always the solution to most every thing, isn’t it? Yes church, we must remember that worship, our worship of God is simply our response to what He has done and is doing right now for us! This is what we call Divine Service; God’s service amongst and within us; His work of dealing with our sins as individuals and as a congregation.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Peter used his mountaintop experience and the Word of God he heard that day, as a way to guide both his life and ours’ every day as we live not on the mountain top but in the valleys.

The greatest growth in the apostle’s lives did not take place on the mountaintop, but instead it took place on the way to a garden and a rocky hill. The vision of Moses and Elijah is not what shaped the three, but instead it was the three years they spent with Jesus listening to His Word; the very Word that would predict His own betrayal and death; it would lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested and then to Golgotha where they witnessed their Savior’s death upon a cross. It was not Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration that impacted them eternally but instead, it was His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, which confirmed that “truly He was the Son of God” for them and for the world.

The day Jesus was crucified, that hill where they planted His cross became the highest mountain in the world, because it reached heaven for us. Jesus did not go up that hill to pray, but he did pray, he prayed for you: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” You see friends; the experience at the Mt. of Transfiguration is inferior to the experience at Calvary’s holy hill, because it is only at Calvary where you receive forgiveness of sins.

Peter and the boys missed the obvious. They were awed by Jesus’ glory, because He was their man, the Messiah who would be their champion by righting all wrongs. They were so excited about what they thought Jesus would do that they missed what God had already done. There standing with Jesus, were Moses and Elijah shining in the same glory as Jesus. Moses the great teacher who brought us God’s law, was listening to Jesus. Elijah, the great prophet who was taken up to heaven in bodily form, was listening too. What did it all mean? Only Jesus could explain it; and to make sure that they would one day understand, God’s Divine Service kicked into action again. Moses and Elijah disappeared within a dense cloud of God’s glory and the voice of the Father announced: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

How does our worship go wrong?

It happens when we shut down our hearts and minds to the message in exchange for the experience; when we allow Jesus Word to become secondary to the experience. How does God make things right? By taking our focus off of the experience and putting it back onto the Word, this Word: “Jesus is My beloved Son, my elected One; LISTEN TO HIM!”
The truth is, without the Word of God speaking to us, there can be no experience. What is the experience? Dying and living and living and dying. In the Word you hear God’s law make demands that you can never meet; this is a Word that terrifies you, because you are a sinner standing in the middle of God’s perfect and blinding glory, and the result is your death, the death of your glory.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, you hear about a loving God who came to you, to take away your sins; the result is new life, a life free of condemnation and full of God’s love. In this good news you are taught that Jesus walked the painful way to the cross for you; He suffered and died to pay for your sins. In His death He conquered not just your sin and the devil, but also your own death. In His death and resurrection, all things can be made new again, even you!

In your baptism, Jesus brought you into His glory by drowning and destroying your old sinful nature and by bringing you into the cloud of His divine presence. In your baptism He chose you and He cleansed you. And what He cleanses, He also molds and changes. What He molds, He fills. And what He fills, He uses. So now, you live! Every day you choose to live for God as you put to death your old sinful and self-serving nature; you live for God and you live for others!

When the light show is over and the glory cloud vanishes, there is no one but you and Jesus, but not the bright as the sun Jesus, but the flesh and blood Jesus. He’s the one who moves around in this world of sin, loving, suffering and dying for sinners. He’s the One who speaks to them and through His Word makes them saints. How does He do that? Through the proclamation of His church… through you and me!

Remember in our gospel reading when He told the three not to say a word to anyone about what they had seen until He had risen from the dead? Well that time has come and gone. In case you haven’t noticed, everyone who knows is telling anyone who doesn’t what Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension means… it means the forgiveness of all sins and eternal life! But you can only share that message if you are willing to come down off of the mountain top of worship and go out into the real world where there are real sinful and hurting people, dying without knowing Jesus. The exciting part about all of this is the fact that God wants to reach them through you!

So, until we meet again next Sunday for our next encounter with God’s divine service and our next foretaste of the glory to come, may He forever lead and guide you by the Word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior… AMEN!