Posts Tagged ‘Kingdom of Grace’

Listen, God is Calling!

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

Second Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 5th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ” [Luke 14:23, 24]

Listen.  Stop all that you are doing, rid your self of all those things that are vying for your attention right now, and just listen.  Listen, because God is calling out to you!  He’s been calling you for a long time, but we wont worry about those other times, let’s just concentrate on Jesus call right now.  Any time Jesus invites sinners to gather around Him and receive His gift of forgiveness, of salvation through His means of grace, God is calling out to you.

In our gospel reading, God was calling out to a bunch of Pharisees who were sinners; He was calling out for them to repent, that is turn to the guest of honor, Jesus the Christ, the very Son of God and be saved from their sins.

If they would only stop, turn their attention to His Word and listen to the call of grace, they would be saved.  Would they stop and listen?  Did they see a need to turn away from their hollow religion and find salvation in the One who was speaking to them; teaching them with Words of eternal life?

Jesus let them know that there were three major reasons why they may not stop, turn, and listen.  The reasons were simply excuses that were seeds of dissent, which were planted by the enemy, the devil.  Let’s look at those “reasons”:

“I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.”  Here, within this excuse, many young families of Jesus’ time, and perhaps even our time can be seen.  “I just bought a house, and I have to get settled in first.  I agree that being right with God, of knowing Him intimately and personally is important, but I have to get my personal life in order first and then there will be time, real quality time available for me to dedicate myself to God.”  And then there is this “reason”…

“I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them.”  Oh the demands of employment, who could not understand this reason?  “I just started a new job, and if I go insisting on having Sunday’s off for worship, I probably won’t keep my job very long, or I will at least be destroying any hopes I have for promotion and advancement in the future.”

What is interesting to note here is that in both of these reasons given, the person responding to God’s call is not saying that they don’t need to respond to God’s invitation, they are simply saying that now is not the right time.  In other words, “At this time I must respectfully decline your invitation, but please keep me in mind the next time the invitation goes out.”

And finally the third response or excuse…

“I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”  In other words, “No thank you.  I have a spouse who is not a religious person and has no desire to become one.  I will adopt their attitude towards religion.  Please take my name off of your list!”

And what happens to all three of these sample groups of people in Jesus story?  He tells the servant who is sending out the invitations to take them off of the list; to bar them from the privilege of attending the banquet.  There will be no further offers of salvation; they’re done.  But then He does something amazing; He orders that others be brought in to take their place.  And still there’s room after the new group is brought in.  So…

So bring in the low life; go out everywhere and anywhere and “compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”  Bring in the beggars who never would have thought that they would be invited and let them know that they are not only invited but they are valued by God.

And that dear friends is where you and I enter the story.  We are the beggars who never thought that God would call or even desire to call us, and yet… He has and He is!  Listen, God is calling.  Do you hear Him?

When someone asks you to respond to God’s call, they are really asking you to accept His invitation to live within His Kingdom.

The Gospel message or God’s invitation to be forgiven, is one that makes it clear to you, that He is inviting and welcoming you to come and rest within His kingdom of grace, which is a kingdom of forgiveness.  Jesus compares this to an invitation to attend a great feast or a royal wedding as a welcomed and honored guest.  But Jesus also reminds us that the strange and remarkable thing is that there are many who are invited who just don’t desire to respond at all.

So how is the invitation sent out?  Well, an invitation could come either by a messenger or by a letter.  And both of these methods are used with God’s gospel invitation; that is Christ’s invitation for you to come unto Him and rest in His kingdom of forgiveness.

Our Lord has sent out His apostles first and then His disciples, and He sends all of them out with an invitation, which comes to you within His Word.  The invitation to come into His kingdom comes when we both hear the Word preached and when we read it in the Bible.

But Baptism also implies an invitation.

It is through baptism that we have been received into the kingdom of God.  To a Christian, baptism is meant to be what the celebration of the Passover was to the Jews, Listen: “And it shall be to you a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth.” [Exodus 13:9]

It is God’s will that each and every Christian look back upon their baptism as God’s final word or judgment which makes it clear to the one baptized, that He accepts and receives you just as you were found by Him.  But we must also remember that He loves us far too much to leave us in that “first found” condition.  The point is however, that no one who is baptized should ever doubt whether God wants to have a long lasting relationship of love with them.  You see, it’s when people forget God that His holy Word convicts us of our sinfulness and invites us to renew our relationship of grace with Him, by returning to Christ’s invitation, that is He invites us to return to our baptismal grace, which is still ours if we will but return to it.

This fresh call of God comes to us through the Word of God.  Personal sorrows over our sins, a fresh encounter with other Christians, and an inner emptiness, or a vague unrest in the conscience are all circumstances God may use to prepare the soil of our hearts to receive a fresh gospel seed of forgiveness and renewal.  But the invitation itself always implies that God in some manner is saying to us again: “Listen.  Jesus is calling.  Come; for all is now ready.”

The time may come when you hear God’s Word in a new way, and you try to rationalize that hearing and that moment as simply a coincidence.  But that coincidental hearing of God’s Word, perhaps your hearing of that Word right now, is really a part of God’s plan.

This is His moment; that’s why we call this time Divine Service.  He has had it planned since the beginning of time.  The Bible describes God as One who is “seeking” His people, not like a shepherd who goes out searching for new sheep to shepherd, but as a shepherd searching for His sheep who are lost; sheep that He often finds caught in the bramble and thorny vines.  And when He reaches his hand to free the lost creature, and then reassures it that it has been found and is safe, that lost sheep, you and me, may be saved immediately, if that is what we desire.

Today, as with all invitations received in God’s Divine Service, we are experiencing a moment of destiny-filled seriousness.  For sinners like us there is always the possibility of wriggling loose from the grip of God.  But then there is also the possibility, which is even greater than before, of our coming home to God and staying there; staying in Christ’s church.  Listen.  God is calling.  So…“Today, when you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,” and “seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.” [Isaiah 55:6]

When God seeks us, when we hear God calling us, that is the time when we should seriously seek Him, it’s a time that we should seriously begin to seek Him through His means of grace that He has made readily available to us.  Through His Word always, but also in the waters of our baptism and at His altar where He offers to feed our baptized  spirits with real food and drink that both strengthens our faith and assures us of our forgiven state.  These means of grace are the very sacraments that God uses to both create in us a desire to hear Him speak and then also  ability to understand Him.  Through these things God invites us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but also to rest in that salvation with great faith and confidence in all that Jesus has done for us, “holding fast the word of life,” [Luke 11:28] and to be concerned with hearing, learning, understanding, and applying the Word of God in our lives.

When we do this, then God has promised to continue the good work in our hearts and to bring it to completion.

May God continue to do this very thing within each of you as you listen to God call out to you, in Jesus name… AMEN!

There’s Something About the Name Jesus

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

Christmas 1 (HL), December 27, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” [Luke 2:21

Just like every other Jewish baby-boy, Jesus was circumcised a week after His birth.  Maybe that’s the reason why this gospel lesson always falls so close to New Years Day; so we can begin our New year with the name of Jesus on our lips and in our hearts.  You see…

It was at God’s command that Jesus’ name was given.

The name Jesus means “God Saves” or, as we simply say in English, Savior.  That’s why the Angel said to Joseph: “You shall call His name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

So, the name Jesus is given to God the Son by God the Father Himself, and because of this, all of God’s power is contained within that name.  Within the name of Jesus is everything that all of creation needs to be saved from the sins of the world.  That’s why the name Jesus is to be used and spoken only with the highest reverence and respect.  When we speak and use this name, we are in fact dealing with God Himself.

Within the name Jesus, is contained all that Christ possesses and is. When that name is mentioned, He is present Himself with all of His power, but here is something you must always remember when you speak or call upon His name; He is Jesus for you!

You know, we’re living in a time, within a society, that not only celebrates political correctness, it demands it.

This is an age where everyone is free to speak the name of their “god” but no one wants us to speak the name Jesus; and because we don’t want to offend the Muslims, the Jews, the Buddhist, nor the atheists, and because of our desire to get along with everyone, we end up avoiding the sweet name of our Lord, thus providing a witness to no one.

Once perhaps, when we were young and new to our love for Jesus, we spoke His name freely and with joy, but now, maybe thinking that we have matured and become respectful of others, we have possibly regressed into an immature state, and within this regressed state, we’ve left the very foundation of our faith and life, which is Christ crucified and resurrected.

This morning, the Holy Spirit calls out to us in love, and He warns us; He testifies to us concerning the name of Jesus; if we choose to shy away from our Savior and the blessed name of Jesus, it will at one point become near  impossible to be renewed again to repentance, since as deniers of His name we will be crucifying the Son of God all over again to our own harm as we allow Jesus to be held up to contempt. [Hebrews 6:1-5]

Jesus said that whoever is ashamed of Him (His name) and His Words (His gospel message), (He) the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. [Luke 9:26]

So I want you to know, that there will come a time, that at the name of Jesus every knee (will) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”  [Philippians 2:10]  That means that the day is coming (whether they acknowledge it or not) when every Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, and atheist that you are afraid of offending, will have to get down on their knees in judgment before God, and confess before they depart to the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, that Jesus is Lord!

Listen friends, Jesus knew that His name would bring division and trouble to this world; that is why He declared, ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  As Simeon said in our Gospel lesson (Luke 2:22-35), Jesus has been appointed for the fall and rising of many, and for a sign that is opposed and a sword that will pierce not only through Mary’s soul, but the souls of all, so that they may receive the recreating work of the gospel.

Do we really want to be shy, ashamed, and muzzled while so many who persist in unbelief will only know the edge of God’s sword, which is His law?  Is that what you want?  Do you want them to be lost without knowing what you know about the wonderful name of Jesus?  You see, Jesus doesn’t want them to wait for that last day; He wants them to avoid the eternal darkness; He want us to speak His name; the sweetest name they’ll ever know.

His name is Jesus; Wonderful Counselor, mighty God, and Prince of Peace.

By faith in His name, the saving name of Jesus, His work of salvation is for you and for all that still can not nor will not allow that name to be spoken!

It was because of the mighty name of Jesus that the apostles performed their great miracles.  To preach in the name of Jesus then, to speak, to teach, and to witness to that name, means not just speaking His name, but to speak in a very personal way through Scripture, which He has promised will be filled with His Spirit and power first for you and then for those who will listen to you.

To believe in Jesus, can therefore be said to have faith in His name and only His name.  To believe in and speak the name Jesus, is to proclaim to all who will listen, that there really is forgiveness of sins for those who will receive Him!  To believe and speak His name, is to proclaim to all those who do not yet know Him, that there really is a way back to God’s love.  This is why the name Jesus really is the sweetest name you will ever know.  To speak His name freely then, is simply to be a Christian, that is a child of God through Christ, who through Jesus, has life in His name; life He brings for you!

Jesus!  It’s a name that shoots out from not just the dead stump of Jesse, but from every stump that once represented the best intentions of men and women, from within a culture that once was great, but now is dying or completely dead.  It’s a shoot of new life that promises that there is a way that most certainly leads to an eternity of joy and happiness.

Through the name of Jesus, we are taught by God Himself that the Holy Scriptures are to be taken literally, because they are the very things that teach you both of Jesus and the power of His name.  And through these same scriptures, we are to have no doubts in our minds or our hearts when we hear that: “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  “… at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” [Acts 4:12 & Phil 2:10]. And when we hear His name spoken, our hearts and our lips are compelled to proclaim, “He is my Lord; He is my God!”

To pray in the name of Jesus, then, means to pray by faith in Jesus, under the protection of Jesus, with all of our sins forgiven that would otherwise prevent us from being heard by God, and with Jesus as our helper and our intercessor, we may always know that not only are we heard, but we are in fact forgiven.

And finally, to do something in the name of Jesus, whether we go to His table for His Holy meal, or rest quietly at home preparing for the New Year, by faith, we take Jesus with us, to stand under His forgiveness and His protection, and to know that He is with us always and everywhere, all of our days, and in everything we do.

Dear friends, can you see that you are in the very same place as Simeon?  You too may now behold the anointed one of God, Jesus Christ, and you may depart in both faith and peace.  For your ears have heard the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sins; your eyes too, have seen His salvation, in the breaking of the bread and the lifting up of the cup for the forgiveness of sin.  You are partakers of the very salvation that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have prepared in eternity in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to God’s people who both speak and rest in the blessed name of Jesus.  Oh, there is indeed something about the name of Jesus; it is the sweetest name I know!

In the name of Jesus then, let all God’s people say… AMEN.

The King’s Royal Roots-Back to the Future

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

Advent 4-C, December 20, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” [Micah 5:2]

There’s something about going back to your roots; it can help you remember who you really are. Isn’t it true that sometimes we can lose our way in life, and isn’t it also true that becoming lost usually happens so slowly that we hardly realize that it’s happening.  I think that it’s kind of like getting lost in the woods, when suddenly you realize that you don’t recognize where you are or where you’re going. And what do you do then? You retrace your steps; you look for and go back to familiar landmarks, until you find your way home.

Well, like getting lost in the woods, we can get lost in life, too. We have plans, even strategies for achieving them. We have values and priorities. We have a sense of who we are, who we want to be, what we want to do. And then… and then life happens.

Now there always seems to be some people who appear to instinctively stay on track. They have a plan and strategy for their life, and they seldom deviate from it. But others, or maybe most people, somehow get off track, because, well, life happens, and things pull us in all different directions. And when that happens, we can find ourselves far off the course we had set for our lives.

This kind of thing can happen in our spiritual lives, too.

Many of us were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ when we were infants or children, and when it happened, we were totally dependent on God’s grace and his action in Christ, for us. But as we grew older, something happened; we became more independent and more sure of ourselves and our place in this world, and then we started to think that God needed our help with some things.  And so, we began to evaluate our spiritual life on what we had done or wanted to do, instead of what God has done and will do for us.

Perhaps when we were confirmed in our faith as young teenagers, we promised to remain faithful, even unto death. And then came high school, and college, our career, and, well, life happened. And then, maybe we found ourselves distant and disconnected from God, His Word, His will, and His way.

This can even happen to the church too. Frankly, it’s what happened at the time of Luther—the whole Reformation was really a course correction for a church that had, over time, drifted away from the basic truths that became the great themes of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, Christ alone!

It can even happen to an entire denomination. Sometimes churches can find themselves majoring in the minors, or emphasizing Christian living for its own sake and not for the sake of accompanying Christ on His mission. We can become so caught up in our priorities and strategies that we begin to lose our theological mooring, our identity as Lutheran Christians. Or conversely, we can focus so much on who we are that we forget what we are to be—and to be about—on mission with Christ.

Yes sometimes even we Christians can loose our way, and when we do, we have to recalibrate our spiritual GPS—in our lives, as a congregation, as the church, as the kingdom of God in grace on earth. This is really what had happened in the time of Micah, the prophet of our text. As we’ve heard the last few Sunday’s during our Advent journey, the people of God had lost their way. The kings of the house of David acted as though they were the real kings, not the servants of God for the kingdom of God. The people had become more interested in themselves, in their own success, than serving God and their neighbor.

And the prophets had some hard words, as we have heard before. Of the great citadel Jerusalem and its temple, Micah said, “Zion will be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins. Yet their message was not without hope. They spoke of a new king, another son of David. But there was also a sense that the new king was not just another David, as though maybe just one more generation was needed to get it all back on track. No, this was not just about going forward, this was a message of going back, remembering where they came from, and getting back on course.

For the king, this meant remembering David and his humble beginnings, back in his home town of Bethlehem. It wasn’t “David’s royal city” then. It was a small rural town, and Jesse and his sons were shepherds. Remember that Samuel looked for a son to anoint as king, and they paraded all of Jesse’s sons past him but David, he was the youngest and was out in the fields doing his work. He wasn’t even under consideration, but he was the one.

Of course, we know by a simple reading of scripture that when David became king, he quickly outgrew his humility and meekness. It didn’t take long for the house of David to get off course. And God would have to find them, having lost their way, and bring them back. Back to the beginning. Back to Bethlehem.  Back to a new birth of a new king.

Dear friends in Christ, we started our advent journey toward understanding God’s king and his kingdom by talking about “home,” the place, the city that is the king’s capital, which identifies his kingdom. We talked about the importance of a place to call home, with its safety and security. But we also noted that even a king who is serving in the kingdom of God could confuse his ideas about the kingdom with what God really wanted and intended it to be.

And now, this morning, we hear God’s solution to our sinful tendency to get lost; a Messiah would be born, One who would be ruler in Israel. His origins, and his “goings forth” (that is to say, where he came from and where he was going) was all part of God’s everlasting plan to send a Savior who would save the world, save the church, and save you and me, from our irresistible tendency and temptation to get ourselves lost, to get off course, to wander from God’s plan and then even to wonder if we are still God’s people.

In our text today, on this last Sunday of Advent, now less than a week away from Christmas itself, God calls us to consider not just our home, as we did when we started this journey, but our roots—not where we live, or lived, but where we were born; where we started, where our family comes from.

We think immediately of our family home, but in our spiritual lives, God reminds us to consider where and when we were born into His family. For some of you, that may have been right here, at this baptismal font. For others, it may have been in other churches in other places, but the point is, it was within the same waters of holy baptism, all of which has the same power of God unto salvation wherever and whenever it comes to his people.

So, as we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth, we recall that little town of Bethlehem, not for the sentimental scenes we might find on Christmas cards but for the holy history that it conveys: this was the birthplace, if you will, of the kingdom of God with men.

And as we prepare for Christmas, we remember how God himself went back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to Bethlehem. And this time the son of David got it right. No losing his way. No selfish sinful acts. This son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom.

Yet He was the King, a true and greater King than any ruler of Israel or president of the greatest democracy on earth. An angel choir announced his birth – not to the people of power in high places but to shepherds, out in the fields, doing their jobs like David was doing back in the day, just outside of that little town of Bethlehem.

He was God’s true King: David’s son but also David’s Lord. He would come to His capital city in a royal procession and be crowned with a crown of thorns. He would take upon himself the sin and suffering for all, to bear our sin and be our Savior, securing God’s forgiveness for all of our own sin. And He would be raised again, ascended to his heavenly throne, where he lives and reigns to all eternity, for us and for our salvation.

Yes, there will be peace, even on earth, not just for the house of Israel, but to the very ends of the earth!

As our Advent season draws to a close, and we draw nearer to the manger itself, our preparation turns, too, back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to the font, back to the baptismal waters where it all started for you and for me. There we received our own new life. There the Christmas message became a lasting truth for our personal lives. There we became God’s people, forgiven, to live under him in his kingdom, and to serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness!

O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth— And praises sing to God, the King!—and peace to all the earth!  AMEN.

The King Will Have His Day!

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Advent 3-C, December 13, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

Isn’t it true, that life, our lives seem to be full of what we perceive to be good days and bad days? And if we feel we’re having a bad day, then we just look forward to a day when things will be better. And sometimes, in the middle of a bad day, other folks will try to cheer us up by saying, “Well, tomorrow is another day, and hopefully a better one!”

Of course, how we evaluate our days, whether they’re good or bad, are often affected by our own definitions of what is good or bad, and sometimes what we think is a bad day turns out to be not so bad, or we might even discover latter on down the road, that it was even for our good. And then on the other hand, what we may think is good can many times turn out to be bad.

Kings in the time of our Old Testament lesson (Zephaniah 3:14–20)—and I suppose world leaders today as well, too—can have good days and bad days. They don’t like to talk about the bad days, and they certainly don’t like their fellow citizens—or their enemies either for that matter—to hear about anything bad coming out of their kingdom or government. And it’s also true that as sinful people, we all have a very selfish and self-serving way of measuring things, and we really want things in our lives to be good, and if they turn out not to be good, we at least want things to appear to be good.

Of course, deep down we know the truth; we are not immune to bad days.  How many times have we sensed that others (and yes, also ourselves) are putting up a good front? Maybe it’s also true that we’ve gotten good at hiding our problems or internalizing our sadness, and because of this facade we’ve built, we’d rather talk about good days rather than dealing with the bad ones.

The Old Testament prophets talked about good days and bad days. But they had a better perspective on the realities of life. They measured and evaluated by something higher than human wants and wishes, needs or notions. They understood reality— past, present, and future—from the perspective and vantage point of God Himself, who made all of our days.

One of the biggest problems that these prophets—well, let’s just call them preachers, one of the biggest challenges they encountered was the tendency of the people to get the good days and the bad days mixed up, turned around. Isaiah gets to the heart of this problem when he says “(You call) evil good and good evil, you put darkness for light and light for darkness, (you call) bitter sweet and sweet bitter (Isaiah 5:20). In other words, we pick what looks good, but too often it turns out that is was not so good for us.

Part of the problem was that the people thought that God was obligated to giving them only the good stuff that they wanted. Since they were the people of God, they thought they were privileged to have things their way. And since God was a God of salvation and deliverance, they assumed that he would, well, save and deliver them no matter what the circumstances were.

And there was this phrase that the people kept talking about; about God’s great day—the “day of the Lord”—and their understanding was that it would be a day of salvation; a day that was anticipated as the time when God would finally give them victory over all of their earthly enemies. But the prophets (those faithful “preachers” of the Old Testament) had a way of turning this saying on its head. Amos, for example, preached, “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness and not light! It is as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or he went into the house and leaned with his hand against the wall (safe at home) – and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness and not light, and gloom with no brightness?” [Amos 5:18]

Last Sunday we had a similar taste of how the truth of God can turn us upside down, when Malachi told the people who were crying out for justice that when the king comes to bring justice, they’ll get justice all right—and none of them would be able to endure the day of his coming.

Today, in our text from Zephaniah (Zephaniah 3:14–20), we hear another prophet who talks about the day of the Lord.

Listen to a portion of Zephaniah’s sermon in chapter 1 (14‒16) before his sermon found in today’s lesson.  He says: “The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; The sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and think darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on mankind so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD.”

Does that sound like a good day to you? But here’s the rub, all of these words that bring fear and trembling had to be spoken so that mercy and grace could follow. It is a serious warning that God had to make clear to His children of faith. God comes as King to get the job done right?  He doesn’t come to acquiesce to our definitions of good and bad, light and darkness. In the end, if we’ve sinned and fallen short of the glory and goodness of God, then every day, and especially our last day, our judgment day, will be a day of darkness and distress unless God can make a way out of no way.

But before God will do this work for us, He wants us to first agree with Him, that all of our days lived apart from His perfection and light—are days of darkness. And, if we can see things God’s way; if we can admit that He’s right and we are wrong, then like the plot twist in a good novel or movie, we will encounter God’s great reversal; we will discover that God has made a way out of no way—his one and only way—of showing us that all those bad days have been made into good days.

This is because of the one great day, a day that according to human standards, should be called the worst day of all, the day on which the innocent Son of God and our Lord and King was put to death, not for anything He had done but for the sins of all the world. A day that seemed to bring out the greatest injustice of all, turned out to be the best day of all, and the King finally brought justice in a very swift and severe manner. And what do we call this “bad day”? We call it GOOD Friday! It’s good, because God has turned the mother of all bad days into the best day of all. And now, the darkness of that day and all days following, we can claim as light, the glorious light of Easter morn: He is risen, and ascended, and lives and reigns to all eternity.

Dear friends in Christ, gathered today on this third Sunday of Advent, we are in the midst of our own good and bad days, busy days preparing for holidays. But every day is lived in the shadow of the darkness and the light of Good Friday and Easter morning.

Here, in the midst of Advent, we are already thinking ahead of our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection, as we do every Son-day, in the light of God’s son, our Lord, our King. Last Sunday the theme of Advent turned dark. Malachi reminded us that the King Whom we are seeking will come—but with a twist. Though His coming is well announced, He will come suddenly, and with a surprise. Those who were looking for justice will find judgment. Those who were looking for light will find darkness.

Today, the prophet Zephaniah brings us to the end of the story; those having a dark day will see the light. Even in the midst of the dark deeds all around us, in the dark uncertainties of our world and our lives, even in the midst of the dark secrets that we keep hidden, out of sight and out of the light, God has a message of a very, very Good Day: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion, . . . Rejoice and exult with all your heart . . . The LORD has taken away the judgments against you. The King of Israel is in your midst—Right here, right now, in His word of grace and forgiveness, in His body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of YOUR sin.  ON THAT DAY (like today it’s a good day, hear the Word of God) It shall be said to Jerusalem (that includes you, right here, right now) Fear not, O Zion!  Let not your hands grow weak.  The LORD YOUR God is in YOUR midst— A mighty One who will save.

This morning the prophet Zephaniah has abruptly ended his message of law, and immediately breaks into songs of joy and he calls us to join him in praising God.  Why?  Because the Lord has taken away YOUR punishment, He has turned back YOUR enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  They were YOUR enemies that He defeated.  It was YOUR sins He took away.  He did it for YOU!

YOUR enemies and YOUR sins were removed by YOUR King and Savior, Jesus Christ. Death and hell are no longer a threat to YOU who cling to and trust in Christ your King, only!  This very morning, the Lord promises YOU that while you may not perceive it fully today, He has restored YOU, His faithful people, to a position of honor and praise. No longer are you to be despised and ridiculed by a world of unbelieving and faithless people. The last, great day of the Lord has come in Jesus Christ, and it will come again as a completed day of universal deliverance. You dear saints, will be among the sea of faithful children of God through Christ, who will be the center and joy of His creation, as He always intended the crown of his creation to be. On that final and great day of the advent of our God, our Lord will restore the original beauty of His creation and open up to us once again our heavenly home, Paradise restored!

Yes, the kings of the earth have their days, good days and bad days. So do we. We all may wait to “have our day,” but this day, this very day, is our day indeed. It is the Lord’s Day, it is the Day of the Lord. The king has come and had his day; it was a bad day that turned out to be a Good Day, a Good Friday.  And because of His day, He makes all our days His—His good days, for us!  AMEN!

The King’s City: Safe and Secure

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

Advent 1-C, November 29th, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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Where do you consider home?  Is it where you live now’ or maybe it’s where you grew up? Sometimes that’s not an easy question to answer.  In this ever mobile society we live in, everything seems to be changing; things keep us moving, and that can cause us to feel unstable and even restless. In our virtual world of the Internet, space and time seem to be both expanded and compressed in a confusing and dazzling, and sometimes dizzying, way.

But we all want and need a place we can call home. Here’s a news flash: Sociologists have come to the remarkable conclusion that a safe and stable home has an enormous positive effect on child development—who would have thought! If your like me, you can think back on your childhood memories of home with mixed feelings of comfort and conflict, and maybe even remember that fateful moment when you were determined to run away from home— and only getting a block or two away before the rights and liberties of independence gave way to the certainties and securities of a place called home.

This is a universal truth; it touches all cultures in all time and places. We don’t know a lot about the emotions of home life in Bible times, but we do know that family, land, house and home  were an anchor in life where being “on the road” was no less dangerous than in our day and age.

The “home” that engages us in our Old Testament lesson today is really even greater than our traditional family home—it is the home of a whole country, a nation, a people.

In our Advent lessons this year from the Old Testament prophets, we will listen and learn about God’s kingdom, and God’s king, and what it meant to be the people of God in his kingdom.

In the days of the Old Testament prophets, the kingdom of God on earth was under the human leadership of Davidic Kings; kings that were from the lineage of David. A king had his palace, as well as the temple, in his capital city, which became the focal point and even identity of his rule and reign.

For our spiritual ancestors in the Old Testament, that was, of course, Jerusalem, or, in light of the future home in paradise that it symbolized, Zion. In fact, Zion was the citadel of God’s “palace” or His physical dwelling place in the midst of his people, within the temple.  The kings and the people often had to be reminded of a truth they often conveniently forgot; God’s Temple was right “next door” to the King’s palace, and the palace was to find it’s worth and importance from the Temple, and not the other way around.

In the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the time of our text today (Jeremiah 33:14–16), both the king and the temple were being threatened and under siege by the Babylonians and their king Nebuchadnezzar.

There was a good and godly reason for this, and Jeremiah had made it clear to all: both king and people had forsaken their God; they had forsaken God’s way and were following the ways and the religious practices of the world. They had also assumed that if they did just enough to keep the temple worship going, bringing sacrifices and offerings, then God would be kept happy, even appeased, and then through their service, they assumed that they had earned God’s protection. After all, he was their God, and they were his people.

If there had been an international press corps back then, the siege of Jerusalem would have been reported as just another act of aggression and expansion by the dominant world power at that time. In the eyes of the prophet, priests, and some of the people this was clearly God’s righteous judgment on the sins of his people. But in the eyes of the king and most of the people, this seemed to be an unfair action by a God who should have been saving them, not destroying them.

But Jeremiah stood up to the false prophets, who “prophesied peace when there was no peace,” and he stood up to the king, who refused to believe either that the city would fall or that this was God’s just judgment against him, his leadership, and the sins of all.

Here is something worth noticing for we faithful witnesses living in this contemporary world: Jeremiah’s faithfulness to God earned him only scorn and derision; he was punished and then put in prison. So much for the life of a faithful prophet!  But, Jeremiah through faith, saw the bigger picture. Yes he knew God’s judgment, but he also knew that this was part of a larger plan, not to destroy and kill, but to restore and make alive. And so, as is always the case, a faithful saint must always speak as God speaks.

Right in the middle of this message of judgment came another message that spoke of God’s forgiving love, his everlasting love and His commitment to His people. Yes, God would punish them, with “tough love”. Yes, their sin had to be punished. Yes, Jerusalem, the “home” of king and people, would be lost, and they would be refuges in exile, but that was not the end of the story.

You see, God had a future and a hope for them.

In fact, just as the siege of Jerusalem was underway, Jeremiah even bought a field; at God’s direction, he invested in real estate — just to demonstrate his conviction that God was committed to this land and to bringing the people back to it.

God saw a future for both the king and the city, and he described them both in the same way: In those days (those days to come, when God would fulfill his promises once for all) and at that time (yes, at God’s “right time,” not ours), I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it (Jerusalem) will be called: Yahweh (God) is our (only source of) righteousness.

Dear saints, have you been away from home too long? If so, you know the feeling that creeps into your heart, don’t you? It can be rough out there; sometimes it can even be rough at home. But deep inside, we long for a home that is safe and sound, where we are loved, saved, and dwell securely.  Imagine how the folks from Jerusalem felt the first morning they woke up in Babylon! They weren’t on an exotic vacation to see the Hanging Gardens; they were in exile, far from home.

Yet for them, and for us, God has provided a place, right here on earth, in space and time, where He calls us home.

It’s a place much greater than any capital city of the world. It’s even greater than the most loving and safe home we’ve ever lived in or dreamed of living in. It’s a place where true peace and justice, righteousness and salvation are to be found, to be given, to be shared. It is completely dependent on God, not on us, or on our efforts even to make the world a better, a safer, place.

You see, back then in the time of Jeremiah, God promised a King and an eternal city that only He could create. Yes, the king and city that his people had messed up had to be destroyed, but God found a way to punish sin and yet save His people. He promised a new and supremely better King, of the house and lineage of David, but not just another David. He promised a new and better City, which would be called righteous. But note where the righteousness, justice, truth and peace are found: Yahweh (God) is our righteousness.

Back then in the time of Jesus, there was one born of the house and lineage of David, to be a new and greater David, David’s son, yes, but also David’s Lord. And He came also to provide the new and greater temple and city, where God would dwell on earth in the midst of his people.

By now, I hope you see, right now, in these days of Advent preparation, we can celebrate, right here, right now, that we have a home. A city, if you will, a place to call home, where God is with us with an everlasting love. Call it church, call it our faith family, call it the Body of Christ, where both King and city come together in one person and in one place, where His cross, His Word sprinkled with water, His body and blood are here for us to forgive, renew, and empower us to be the place where God dwells in our world, in our time and space, for all who perceive a need to be a part of this King, this city, this house, and this home.

Where do you live? Where do you call home? Where is a place for safety, security, salvation and life for you? Perhaps you’ve found your home right here in this little church we call Trinity; a place where you and your family gather around the message of a true and righteous King who offers a real place to live in comfort, hope and security.  A place where by God’s design, you continually hear the story of how your God through His Son Jesus Christ works through His Word and Sacraments to bring you faith in this home right now and eternal life in your home to come in paradise.

With all we will do in the weeks ahead, with overfilled schedules both at home and running around, today we remember the anchor of our lives, our home with God in Jesus, in this place where he cares for us with forgiveness and life!  May this message continue to bring peace for today and hope for tomorrow.  In Jesus name… Amen.

A Different Kind of Kingdom

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Last Sunday of the Church Year (B), November 22nd, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“”Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world.” [John 18:36]

On December 7, 1941, a quiet naval harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese military.  After several years of sitting out the war, that was enough to propel our great nation into action.  We were at war, and we would defeat the enemy at all costs!

On September 11, 2001 our nation was attacked on three different fronts, by a loose but large confederation of Islamic terrorist known as Al Qaeda. That was enough to begin a war on all terrorist who pose a threat against our country, and indeed democracy throughout the world.  Our nation, once again has vowed to win that war at all costs, and even now, that war rages on throughout the world against the same enemy, but now preferring to be called ISIS.

And yet, in our gospel reading, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who alone is our true and eternal King, was about to be brutally beaten and crucified at the hands of an occupying terrorist force in Palestine, known as the Roman Empire.  Where was the outrage?  Where was the beating of war drums?  Why would God the Father allow this to happen?  Jesus gives the answer: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

What does that mean?  Well simply put, like our King Jesus we do not find our identity here, but in Him we live, breathe, and find our being.  We know that in this world of sin, we will find suffering just as our King found suffering. We have learned to accept this truth as our reality while we wait patiently for our King to return.  And while we wait, we are not a threat to this physical world.

We live in this world, but we are not of this world.  We obey the law, we pay taxes, we do many works of charity, and we give large sums of money to work towards peace in this world, and yet, we suffer for the good we do.  Why do we accept this as our reality?  Because we know that the time is coming when our true King will come in power for us to make all things new and right, but we also know that He is coming to judge the unfaithful and punish sin.

Until the day of our Lord arrives, we are simply to wait; we are to do nothing disruptive, but simply wait and behave as good citizens under whatever government we find ourselves in.  Are we doing anything to prepare for our King Jesus’ return?  Are we preparing by committing acts of sedition?  No!  Are we working to undermine the authority of our rulers?  NO!  So what are we doing?

We are praying, “Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

So, is prayer all that we do to prepare for Christ kingdom?  Certainly not; you see we also speak God’s Word, which is God’s power, or God’s means in both opening the gates to Christ Kingdom and closing them to those who rebel against His Kingdom; those who prefer to reject Christ and His Kingdom of grace, will be forever banned from His Kingdom of glory, and instead they will be forever banished into an eternal internment camp, built by the Power of God to forever separate unrepentant rebels from God’s children of faith.

The Kingdom of God is here with us right now; we call it His Kingdom of Grace, but His Kingdom is not yet complete.  On the great and terrible day that it comes in full, it will come with power, great power that will not only topple all earthly kingdoms, but it will also destroy both the earth and heaven together.  And when it comes, it will usher in a new heaven and earth that will be one under the rule of the Son of God, King Jesus Christ.

Now, as Isaiah reported in our Old Testament reading, our King has set His Word as a true source of justice and divine light for all of the people of the world.  It’s righteousness draws nearer every day as His Holy Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world.  He has prepared those who will hear His Word to respond to that Word of forgiveness; that is why Isaiah was compelled to write that “the coastlands hope for (their King). [Isaiah 51:4-5]  And what we hope for is what we wait for; so we can say that the Kingdom of Jesus, that is His Kingdom of Power is not yet.

And this is where people who are not God’s children of faith have a problem.  They have a problem because they will not look up to heaven for answers.

The Kingdom of Power is coming whether you believe in it or not; whether you hope for it or not.  The day is coming when the heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth will wear out like a garment, and all will die and all will come back to life.  The only question really is, after you die and you are returned to life, where will you spend eternity.  And what will answer that question will be the kingdom you are trusting and resting in.

You dear saints, who are resting in the Kingdom of Grace, Christ’s Kingdom are also pursuing righteousness. You are seeking God’s Kingdom and waiting for it to come in power.  But waiting in the Kingdom of grace and pursuing that Kingdom of power isn’t easy; in fact it’s impossible without faith.

As we live here in this world of sin, we soon discover that there is very little grace shown to us, and the power we experience seems to be evil and working against the good we try to do.  At best here in this world, we seem to have fleeting moments of happiness, but they elude us so quickly and then we fall to sin ourselves and collapse again in guilt, fear, and doubt.  We can become frustrated when we discover, that we can’t simply take off our sinful nature and hang it up in the closet or throw it in the trash.

So what are we to do?  Well listen of course.  We are to hear the word of God and pay attention to it.  Listen: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation (of faith); for a law will go out from me (to you).”  What law?  The law of grace that can come only through your King of Grace, Jesus Christ.

You see, God knows that you are but flesh; He knows that in your sinfulness, you cannot come into His Kingdom of Grace, so in His Word, He brings that Kingdom to you.  What word is that?  The Word about Jesus your King; His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.  It is that Word that has been sent out and found you.  It is a Word of forgiveness.

Grace to you… grace for you… grace, which is yours right now, if you see a need for it; if you want to be in God’s Kingdom.

God’s unmerited love is yours right now through Jesus who loves you and has set you free from your sins by His blood shed upon the cross.  He has done all of the work and simply calls you to come and rest in His kingdom of grace and pursue every day His Kingdom of Power.  You pursue His Kingdom of Power as His priests as you do the good He desires and as you go about proclaiming the message of His Kingdom of Grace; the message of your God and Father.  And the life we live here in the kingdom of man we live while waiting for the Kingdom of Christ.  And the life that we live is how we give glory to God the Father of our King Jesus, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. [Revelations 1:4-8]

At least every Sunday we pray, “Thy Kingdom come” in the Lord’s prayer.  What does it mean then to pray those words?

God’s kingdom comes all by itself without our prayer, right?  So why must we pray those words?  So that His kingdom would be so great within us and among us that others would know that there is a God in Heaven.  We pray those words so that we will be the type of child that not only lives in His kingdom but also helps to make that kingdom grow among us!  How does that Kingdom grow among us?  Through the message from and about our King Jesus, and that message, is the good news that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into this sinful world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil, to bring us to himself, and to rule us as our King of righteousness.  In this kingdom we are given life, and salvation against sin, death, and the devil. It is this message alone that keeps us in His kingdom and delivers His Holy Spirit to us in power, so that we may have faith to continually be saved by his holy Word and Sacraments.  These are the only means God has provided to save us and deliver us safely into His Kingdom.

When we talk about God’s Kingdom, when we pray that God would help us rest in His kingdom, we are really asking God to help us praise His name and live a Christian life. We ask this so that those of us who have already entered into the kingdom of grace may remain faithful and grow daily in it and also so that God may use us to help others enter it, and together we may all remain eternally in His kingdom that He has now begun in us and among us!

“The coming of God’s kingdom to us” then takes place in two ways: first, it comes here, in time, through the Word and faith, and second, it comes in eternity, with the end of days.  It comes in great power and might, and it is the only way that you can enter the kingdom of God.

Christ has done all of the work.  He has given to you His Holy gospel so that you may hear and believe through His gift of faith.  He has washed you clean in the waters of your baptism.  Not only has he stripped you of your sinful and soiled nature, but he has given you a new nature; a robe of righteousness, which is the very nature of your King Jesus.  And what’s more is, He invites you to come to His holy table to have communion with Him and all of the saints that have gone before you.  He asks you to dine on His very body and blood for the continued forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith.  And all that He asks of you is that you continue to use these things every day and trust in them alone.

Oh yes, there is one more thing He asks of you.  He asks that you pray to Him in Heaven that He would continue to keep His name and you holy, and He asks that you pray that His Kingdom would come soon in power and might.

Will you remember to pray that Christ’s Kingdom would come soon?  Will you look forward to that Kingdom and let all that is within you work towards ushering in that Kingdom first in you then around you?

I pray that God would continually move our hearts to always ask for His kingdom to come among us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

A Peaceful Departure

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emmanuel: A Gift That Keeps on Giving!

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejoice, Always; Really?

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He Has Done Great Things For Me, So…

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Second Sunday in Advent of the Church Year (B), December 9, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with  shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, The LORD has done great things for them. The LORD has done great things for us; we are  glad. [Psalm 126:1-3]

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  These are the very Words of God that come to you from the pen of St. Paul  in our Epistle (Philippians 1:2-11), from the mouth of the prophet Malachi, and the proclamation of John the Baptist (Luke 3:1-14), this second  Sunday in Advent.

Grace, the greatest gift you could ever receive.  Peace, the greatest thing that God can give to you.  You have a Savior and King who is closer than  a friend, in fact He is your brother who will never leave your side.  He promises that in all things, even the darkest of times He is with you!  He has  done great things for you, so… does that make a difference in how you are living your life?

ILLUS: One of my favorite movies during the Christmas season is “It’s a Wonderful Life” staring Jimmy Stewart.  The story is set during the time of  the Great Depression.  Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey has found out that the Savings and Loan that he is the president of has pretty  much gone broke.  He is overcome by grief and wanders out of town in a snow storm to a bridge just outside of town; the reason he is there is to do  what many poor souls did during that dark time of our nation’s history… he intends to kill himself.  As he climbs onto the bridge’s railing and looks  down into the dark cold waters below, the camera shifts to two angels in heaven who are also looking down at George.  One of the angels, named Clarence who is George’s guardian angel in training asks the other more senior angel, “Is George sick?”  And the other angel replies, “No worse… he’s discouraged.”

Some of you this morning may be discouraged.  This morning, God’s Word is calling out to you and asking you to let Him take away that spirit of discouragement and replace it with a spirit of joy and thankfulness.

I. In our Old Testament reading this morning (Malachi 3:1-7b), Malachi the last of the Old Testament prophets is writing to the people of Israel; a people who are discouraged.  Some have waited and waited for times to improve only to see them get worse, so they have abandoned the God of their fathers and chased after other God’s.  The faithful people of God haven’t followed, but sometimes they too were tempted to leave their religion is search of greener pastures.  So, they have loyally stayed behind to worship in the old way, but their faith is almost gone; they gather every Sabbath day to hear the Word of God, but they aren’t really listening.  Others, the faithful ones, the ones that are always in God’s house doing all of the work that must be done, well they’re still there, but they are just plain tired.  No worse than tired, they like George Bailey are discouraged.  They can be heard saying things like, “What’s the use of all of this church life?  No matter how much we serve the Lord, the ones that have left Him or refuse Him seem to always have it better than us.”

And to this spirit of discouragement, God replies to them and us, “Behold, your salvation is now at the door and the kingdom of God is upon you.  Very soon, your grumbling spirit will be silenced and the complaints of the priests and prophets will stop.  Those who preach a false message or preach the true message but do not believe in it will be silenced and God’s Word will be fulfilled.  The righteous people who still believe will be separated from the unbelieving wicked people, and those faithless people will no longer enjoy power and security, but you O little lambs of faith will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!

II. This morning, God brings two messages to us.  One is a message of Law and the other is the pure sweet gospel.  God wants both of these messages to play out in our lives so that our neighbors, family, and friends will see the difference that God’s Son, our Savior Jesus makes in the lives of believers and the world we live in.

A. The first message is simply one of repentance.  “Behold I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.  And the Lord you seek (the God that your soul has always thirsted and hungered for) will come to His temple (that is the gathering of His saints); and the messenger of the (new covenant) that is (Jesus the Judge will come to judge the living and the dead).  But who can endure the day of His coming and who can stand when He appears?”

In other words if you are not living out a life that trusts in a God who will make all things right and new, if you aren’t resting and trusting in His Son Jesus Christ who has come and will come again, you should be afraid, very afraid, because you will be judged and punished for your lack of faith and your lack of righteousness.

For some, resting and trusting in a Savior who came as a baby in swaddling clothes and then died a miserable death upon the cross is just too hard to believe in.  So they are the ones who have completely rejected the call of Malachi and John the Baptist to prepare for His coming.  Not only do they refuse to make His paths straight and the rough places smooth, they are doing all they can to fight the church’s work in doing those very things.  These are the scoffers and the atheists who belittle Christ and His church and work to undermine God’s means of grace that He has instituted to create faith and hope in people who are discouraged.

Then there are those who were once part of the church, part of the group of people who served God in His Kingdom of grace.  They were the ones proclaiming the gospel, living out the gospel of peace, but now because they are discouraged they have checked out.  They may gather with God’s people occasionally, but secretly they have given up hope in the truth of the message.  They have become discouraged.

B. And this is precisely where the second message comes in.  It starts with the first message of repentance, but then it removes all of the fear and hopelessness and replaces those feelings with faith and joy.  Repent!  Who can endure and not lose hope?  Who can endure the day of His coming?  Who can stand in hope when He appears again?  Those who gather around the treasure of our God; those who continually hear the Word of the gospel and place their hope in God’s gifts to His people.  The treasure of the church is Jesus Christ Himself and the gifts are His Word and Sacraments!

These are the very things that refine us and sustain us in difficult times.  They are the difference between faith and faithlessness.  God’s Word when it speaks the law to our sinful flesh burns away anything and everything that we might be tempted to trust in.  In the law of God we discover that there is nothing we can do to make God love us; nothing that we can hold up to Him and say, “See, this is good.”  In the law we discover that all of our righteousness or good works are like filthy rags before our creator.  But in His Word that we call the gospel, God makes some awesome promises to us.  He promises that we as members of His Church, the body of Christ are the new priesthood.  We are the true sons of Levi who God Himself has purified and is still purifying to this day.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ we are told that it is God’s will that no one should die in their sins but that all of us should repent, turn to Jesus and away from our sins and be saved.  We are to trust in the truth that God’s Son did come to us as an infant, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  We are to trust that He did live a perfect life on our behalf and then suffered and died by the hand of Pontius Pilate for the forgiveness of our sins.  But we are also to obediently believe that He in fact rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  And finally, we are to believe in the resurrection of our own bodies where we shall live with God forever in the new heaven and earth, where His Kingdom shall have no end.

How do we trust this message?  By receiving the gifts of God and by gathering around His means of grace that preserve us in this faith.  We do not neglect the meeting of the saints; that is we do not quit going to church, because it is here in church where God sustains us and protects us.  In holy baptism he took a brood of vipers, filthy in their sins and washed them clean like fullers’ soap.  Through the washing of the water and the word,  He created and sustains the gift of faith within us, the very thing that turns vipers into saints.  In the preaching of the Word, here in this very church, God continues to purify you by declaring His message of truth and hope.  And at His table, He sustains that hope in a meal of forgiveness and peace.

III. These are the gifts that sustain us and help us live a life of purpose; a Christian life of goodness.  We do not become discouraged when others fall away or ridicule us for our faith, because we are living a life that was bought with the very suffering and death, the life blood of our King Jesus; we are not our own, but we were bought with a great price.

So then, how we live our lives, in fact our very lives, becomes an offering acceptable and pleasing to God.  We may become discouraged, but we do not lose hope, because the very Word of God is what produces and sustains hope within us and encourages us to continue waiting for the Advent, the second coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And as God does this mighty work of producing faith, we can say with all of the church, “He has done great things for me, so I will praise the Lord.  I will praise Him with my time, talent, and treasure; I will praise Him with my very life, and I will teach my family to do the very same thing, over and over again, no matter what happens around me; I will praise Him until Christ returns again.”

CONCLUSION: Please rise and join with me in singing, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” [LSB 657]