Posts Tagged ‘Law and Gospel’

Faith Comes By…

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, August 13, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

“But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:16-17]

If I were to summarize our message from God this morning in just a few words, I would say: We can’t have faith, saving faith that will never fail to please God, without God’s Word. It just can’t happen! You can have faith in many things, and it can be legitimate, built on experience, but ultimately the person or thing you have faith in will fail you. But in the Holy Scriptures, we are allowed to hear our perfect God speak to us. We hear Him speak because He gives us a gift called faith. By faith we are taught that God can can be trusted to accomplishing what His Word says He will do for us; namely He will save us from our sins.

So with God, not only do we have faith that is legitimate or justified, but we also have faith that justifies, or faith that saves us! You see, God’s Word is more than just a way He communicates with us, it is also a Word that creates and sustains us unlike man’s word which will eventually fail us.

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

God likes to talk because in His Word there is power! He began the world by talking it into existence. When Adam and Eve doubted his Word and hid from Him because of their guilt, God came to them in order to call them back into a relationship with Himself. [Genesis 3:9]

As a way to reclaim and restore his people, God has placed his power in our language as we speak His Word so that His gospel will lead people to trust in Him. So, we can say that God’s good news or the gospel, is the power He uses to save sinners, even you and me. [Romans 1:16] God’s good news brings us back into His grace and favor; the very thing we were first created to exist in. So this is why God loves to talk; because His message of forgiveness and new life brings us back into a right relationship with Him. And this “being made right” with God is given to us only through His Word, and only because we are allowed to receive His Word of promise through His gift of faith. [Romans 1:17]

And yet so many people still think that they can make things right with God in their own way. They see God’s 10 Commandments as suggestions or a loose code of conduct that they can adapt to fit their life style. They believe in this so strongly that they are willing to completely dismiss God’s gospel message.

Through the prophet Moses, God speaks to them this way: “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” [Deuteronomy 30:11-14]

Here Moses is speaking about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments [all of the commandments] shall live by them. But [a] righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down)  or “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” [Romans 10:5-8]

The point that God wants us to understand is that we are broken. We are trapped in our sin, and on our own we can never be right with God. If you know this in your heart and you agree with God, then you have experienced the work of God’s Law. It’s like a hammer that crushes us and it is like a sword that pierces our very souls, but it only does this work so that you will call out to God for His healing balm! And that healing balm, the forgiveness of sins is the work of the Gospel. The gospel tells us about God’s grace, His forgiving love through Jesus Christ. But why do some find it so hard to receive and believe in the gospel? Well the problem isn’t in God’s Word, the problem is in us; it is a problem of sin being in our hearts!

Both God’s Law and the Gospel come to us through the same means; they come to us through the Word. It is the same Word that we are to take into our ears and into our mouths, and then into our hearts! Both Law and Gospel are essential for making us right with God. If we truly want a relationship of love and trust with our Creator, it can only come to us through God’s Word, both the Law and the Gospel; it’s like Frank Sinatra sang in that old-time favorite song, we can’t have one without the other. If we reject either one we are simply lost in our sins; separated from God for time and eternity. We need to hear both the Law and the Gospel if we are to be right with God. That’s what Paul was saying when he wrote: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven’ or ‘Who will descend into the abyss!” In other words, if God’s Law has taught you how sinful you are and how much He hates sin, good! Don’t panic and think that it’s some how up to you to make things right with Him; don’t feel abandoned by Him thinking that His love and forgiveness are beyond you; do not think that He has left you helpless and alone in your own sins! Because if you feel that way then you won’t hear the gospel; and without the gospel you are forever lost, because you’re rejecting His heart, which is the very means that He has provided to save you!

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

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

So what must we do to be saved?

Well, what does God’s Word say? It says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that I am proclaiming to you right now); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (or one class of person over another class of person); for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:8-13]

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

Now while it is true that God does make use of creation and our history to communicate to us, He does this only to direct our attention to His Word, a Word which alone tells us of our need for our savior, Jesus Christ! The knowledge about sin and grace, can only come to us through God’s Word of Law and Gospel. It is through the Word alone that we are recreated back into God’s image! Without the preaching of Christ’s Word darkness still covers the world and our sinful hearts.

though our history shows that God speaks to us through the majesty of the heavens and the earth, even though God speaks to sinful man with a loud voice in earthquakes, war, famine and sickness, we are lost without God’s Word of Law and gospel speaking death to our sinful flesh and speaking and recreating new life to our new spirits.

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

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

Now friends please listen to what I say next because it is very important. Any belief centered in anything that is not proclaimed in the Word of Christ as we have it through Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles (John 17:20), according to the Scriptures is a delusion and a product of the sinful human heart and mind. [1 Timothy 6:3–4; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5] And this is also why God expects you as His holy priests, to be His witnesses to those who don’t know Him through His Word; because He wants them to know that there is power in His Word… Power unto salvation!

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

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

Kingdom Sowing and Kingdom Reaping

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, July 16, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

Imagine that you are part of a large crowd gathered on the shore of a lake; you’re there to hear Jesus speak and teach about the Kingdom of God. Jesus is seated in a boat that’s tethered to the shore and He begins speaking. You can hear Him clearly, because the water acts as a natural amplifier. As He’s speaking, He notices a farmer scattering seed in a field not far from you, so He points to this activity and says: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grains, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” [Matt. 13:3-9]

This morning we will use our ears to hear a message about the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom of sowing and reaping. This morning we must first see Jesus in this message and then we must see ourselves. Dear friends, this is a message about God and it is message about you! Do not worry if it is a message about your spouse, your children or your neighbor, but for now receive it as a message about only God and you.

This story is about God in this way.

God the Father is the Sower in the story, because it is He alone who gives the seed to the sower and bread to the eater. It is He alone who determines how His Word goes out and what it will accomplish. And it is the Father who promises that His Word will not return to Him empty or void, but it will accomplish His will and His purpose. It will do what He has declared it will do! [Isaiah 55:11]

God the Son is the seed. He is God in our flesh, the very seed of Eve who was promised to come and defeat our true enemies sin, death, and the devil. God the Son Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God that proceeds from the mouth of the Father to accomplish the will of the Father. And what is that will? It is that where sin and death once ruled in the hearts of men, new and eternal life would take its place. Where fear of God’s Angie and wrath once filled the hearts and minds of sinful people, forgiveness and peace with a God of love would take its place!

God the Holy Spirit is the producer of the good and fertile soil; a soil that will produce much grain and good fruit. He does this through the creative work of the Father’s sowing, the fertile seed of the Son who is the Living Word of God, and He does it while driving off the birds that pluck the seed. The birds that try to destroy and stop the will of the Father are the devils. They are a bunch of idiots, because they ignore our Old Testament reading that assures us that God’s Word and His will cannot be prevented.

And now this is where you come in…

You are the soil. At various times our hearts, our lives have been different kinds of soil.

You are the broad path where God’s good seed fell and never took root because you allowed the devil to take that seed. Broad is the way that leads to hell and judgment, but narrow is the path that leads to everlasting life! But you are also the rocky soil, because there have been times when you gladly heard and read the Word, why you even tried to follow it, but as soon as trials and sacrifice became part of your life in Christ, you fell away! But wait, there’s more, because God’s Word isn’t done yet, for you see you are also the ground that is covered in thorns! You need to understand that there have been times in your life when the cares of this world and the temptations of our society have pulled you away from your walk of faith with God; maybe that time is right now?! When that happens, you become guilty of breaking the very first commandment; you leave the Living God in order to chase after an idol that promises happiness of the flesh instead of spiritual and eternal joy.

Now this would be a miserable message if it ended here, but it doesn’t! You see, this has never been about you, it has always been about God, who is not only the Sower and the Seed, but He is also the Creator of the soil, a soil that is your new nature. In your baptism God the Holy Spirit created new and fertile soil within your heart; a heart that used to be deceitful, and full of rocks and thorns. Through the power of His Word, He has spoken new life in you, and you are able to produce heavenly grain and fruit. How can this be?

Well to understand this parable you must receive the mystery that is the Kingdom of God. A mystery which declares that through the work of God, the Kingdom of God exists within you and around you. A mystery that invites you to no longer identify yourself with just the soil, but with the Sower and the Seed.

How does this happen? [Romans 8:12-17]

It happens when we agree with God’s Word, specifically verse 12 of our Epistle lesson, which states that we are debtors. Another way to say this is to say we are beggars. We must agree with God that our true life, or our new and spiritual life exists entirely outside of ourselves; we must agree that without God’s work of Sower and Seed we would be lost in sin and subject to the attacks of the devil, which can only lead to eternal death. We need to agree with God that in order to keep this new eternal life and hold onto the promise of the resurrection we must live to satisfy the spiritual desires of our new nature, and we must also put the sinful flesh to death! We do this when we remember that we are debtors, people who owe our very existence to God the Father who created both our bodies and our new nature, God the Son who redeemed, that is rescued our bodies from the penalty of our many sins, and God the Holy Spirit who is continually remaking us into the image of God and assuring us that no one can interfere with the will of the Father who desires that none shall perish, but all would have eternal life!

You know, in our own community right outside the doors of this sanctuary are thousands of people separated from God, and dying in their sins. God wants us to know that their kind of life style only brings death. But He also wants us to have the same compassion for them that He has demonstrated to us. He wants us to share His message of the kingdom with them, the same message He is giving to us this morning! What’s that message? It’s this: “if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live!” [Romans 8:13] God wants us to explain to our neighbors in word and action, that there is a living that brings only death and there is a dying that brings life, or a dying that continually makes us alive. He wants us to explain to them, that it is only with our spirit then that we can hear God’s Word, agree with that Word, and then follow Him as He daily provides new life. This is what we might call the rhythm of a Kingdom life style. And the beat of that rhythm comes to us only through God’s Word, a Word of Law and Gospel. If they, like us, are living out this rhythm, then they too will become fertile soil, and used in God’s Kingdom of sowing and reaping!

What each of us must remember is that the proper work of God’s Law is to remind us that on our own, we will only encounter sin and separation from God, a separation that leads to eternal death. That’s what God’s law is suppose to do; it’s purpose is to turn us from our sins and into His forgiving love through the cross of Jesus Christ, and there we cry out to Him, “God have mercy on me a miserable sinner!” This is our confession; it’s the cry of a heart that wants to know God’s forgiveness personally! And when this cry of fear and agony is true, then the gospel enters into our heart and speaks life! Where once there was only dead rocky ground, covered with thorns and thistles, suddenly there is new fertile soil that is created through the absolution, the forgiveness of sins. And when a heart that is heavy burdened with sin hears that Jesus Christ through the work of the cross removed that burden so that it may forever have peace with God, it has a new cry; it cries out, “Abba! Father!” “The Spirit (the producer of good soil within our hearts) Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” [Romans 8:14-16] What is it we are heirs to? What have we inherited? Well that is part of the mystery of the Kingdom of God; you see we have inherited all of the treasures of Heaven and one day soon we will be glorified with Him! We have been assured of a place of honor in heaven with Jesus! [Romans 8:17] We have the honor of working alongside of Him as He sows and reaps!

How can we be assured that all of this is ours? By agreeing with God that His Word is true and that His will, which is taught to us in that Word can never be defeated! What is that will? That you would repent, that is turn to Jesus Christ and be saved. How do we turn to Jesus? We turn to Jesus every day when we suffer and die with Him by putting to death our old sinful nature and allowing our new nature that He provided in our baptism to become stronger every day!

I’d like to close with a story about a wise old man who people sought out for answers. One day, a smart-alecky teenager came to him with his hands covering something he was holding. He told the old man that he had a small, newly hatched bird in his hands. He challenged the old man to tell him whether the bird was alive or dead. Of course, he planned on embarrassing the old man; if the old man said the bird was dead, he would simply open his hands to expose a perfectly healthy baby bird. But if he said the bird was alive, then he would crush the bird before opening his hands. Well, the old man was wiser than that young man thought, because this is the answer the old man gave, “The bird is whatever you choose him to be.”

And that’s the way we live in the rhythm of God’s kingdom. Will we die to live with Jesus or will we live for this world, only to die to God’s love? May God continue to help each of us rest in His presence and work within us and around us, and then share that message with our neighbors; I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Who Is My Neighbor?

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words Are Important

Monday, August 15th, 2016

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Powerful Word!

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Sexagesima Sunday, January 31st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

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“And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As Jesus said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”” [Luke 8:8]

This morning, each of us gathers as both the soil for God’s Word, and fellow sowers of His Word.  Each of us gathers needing to hear Jesus speak, so that together we may obtain an abundant harvest.  So, what kind of soil are you?  Or another way to ask this question is, “Do you have, do you desire to have ears of faith that will hear God speak to you this morning?”  And then what kind of seed are you sowing?  Do you know of it’s power and purity?  Do you know, really know what it is able to do?

God’s Word is indeed powerful, but to the world it seems like a very small and insignificant thing; “After all” they say, “it is only words!”

And yet, it’s these very Words, which Jesus speaks to proclaim the mystery of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus spoke in parables, which to the outsiders were only words.  But to the apostles and disciples who walked with Jesus, those Words were the very source of hope and eternal life.

Some people stopped and listened to the Words of Jesus; they found a temporary diversion from the drudgery of daily life, but when He was finished speaking, they gathered their things and went back about living their lives, unaffected and unchanged by the Word.  But for those who remained at Jesus side, something else was given to them; they received the gift of faith.  To them, another Word was spoken; a deeper Word was given that both maintained the mystery of the Kingdom of God, yet assured them that they were a part of that mystery; a part of that Kingdom.

Why did this Word of Jesus seem to only grab a hold of so few?  What was there about these folks that separated them from the others?  Well, they were the good soil that Jesus talked about; not on their own or through their own doing, but rather they were changed from bad soil into good soil simply by grace and their felt need for that grace.  In their weakness, they knew that Jesus had the Word of life that would make them strong.  We might even say that these Disciples of Christ were even moved to brag about their weakness in order to point out God’s power, glory, and His wonderful gift of grace.

In Jesus’ story, He gave four examples of hearts that His Words would fall upon.  In His story, He compared those hearers and their hearts to soil and His Words to seeds being sown.

In His first example, Jesus speaks of hearts that are already shutoff from the power of His Word.  These hearts, Jesus compares to soil on a hardened foot path that can not receive the Word, due to lack of tilling or preparation, so the seed simply sits on top of the hardened soil.  But then Jesus adds an antagonist to the story; he adds birds.  These birds He tells us, are an example of Satan and the devils who do their very best to snatch away the seed of God’s Word, before the soil realizes what it is.  These devils use things like logic and philosophy and competing religions to make the Word of God seem impotent or no different than any other word.  They will even try to convince you that the true preachers and teachers are simply ignorant and selfish men who only want to make a living out of deceiving the masses.

The second example of soil is a rocky one; a thin veneer of soil that simply covers rock and gravel.  The Seed is received and even begins to sprout, but because of the lack of depth in the soil it can’t take root.  This soil, Jesus says are the hearts that gladly hear the Word of God and rejoice in that Word, but after leaving the presence of the Word, they are overcome by the temptations of a sinful lifestyle, so they go right back to a Godless life, unchanged by the power of the Word.

The third example of soil are those areas where the thorn bushes and bramble were not thoroughly uprooted in the plowing phase of planting.  As the seed grew, it was choked out of life from the thorns and brambles.  This soil represents those who hear the Word, become changed and renewed by the Word, but as life happens and responsibilities increase and the promise of wealth and happiness call, those hearers forget their first love and chase after created things and give up their desire to know deeply both the Creator and the mystery of His Kingdom.

And the fourth example of soil are we who simply trust in the seed to both recreate and renew our hearts as we are daily and weekly watered and nurtured by God’s Word and Sacraments.

It is God’s desire that everyone will allow Him to recreate our hearts into fruitful soil that gladly allows it’s weakness to be turned into God’s strength for His glory.  It is God’s will that each of us will see a need for His grace and mercy; that we will see that grace and mercy displayed for the world to see in the weakness of the cross.  He desires that you this morning, will remember that His grace and mercy were showered upon you and made yours completely in the waters of your Baptism.  It is God’s will that you will understand the true and utter power of His Word that is for you!

The power of God’s Word is the very thing that makes it different from all other words.

When God sows His Word out into this sinful world, it not only proclaims a message, but it also fulfills it.  In other words, God will do what He says He will do!  “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” [Isaiah 55:10, 11]

And this is how God’s power is revealed through His Word.  He did this very thing first in the creation of the world. [Genesis 1:30]  He spoke and it happened.  He commanded and it was done.  And since the creation of the world, He has been creating through His Word spoken by His chosen prophets.  God sends His Word out to “pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” [Jeremiah 1:10]

The same is true about the Words found within your Bibles.  It isn’t just a collection of teachings or a library of stories; it’s God speaking to you as you read; even those things that were written about and happened long ago, were written for your sake.  It has been written for your instruction.  In the very form that the Bible has been given to us, God meant it to be, so that His Word could be spoken and shared throughout the world for all generations.  The Bible declares to you, God’s desire for the world, for you as an individual, as “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.”  God sends His Word out against our sinful hard hearts as a fire, and as a hammer, that crushes rocky hearts into a powder.  It is living, and active, sharper than a two edged sword.  But when it strikes a broken heart, then the Word is Spirit and life.  It heals and regenerates, it turns the soil of our hearts from powdered rock to rich nutritious soil.  It is the power of God unto salvation.  And if you will allow yourself to be led by it, it will be a light unto your feet and a lamp upon your pathway.

But the Word does not work irresistibly.  Everyone of us are free to despise the Word and cast it aside.  But even then it is at work.  It hardens our hearts and finally, it brings judgment.

Dear friends, what Jesus Parable really give us is a final picture of sinful hearts that have been confronted with the Word of God. When each life is over, some will show a harvest, but many will not. Sadly, so many people will never let the Word in, some will never let it root, some will never let it grow up. God is showing this truth to us now as a warning, so that we will examine ourselves and discover how we are treating His Word now, before our lives here in this sinful world are finished. And while it’s true that no man or woman can change themselves, God by His grace has mercifully given to each of us His means of grace to change us all; trodden path, rocky places, and briar patches will all be turned into good soil through His Word alone.

You will need these means of grace and the power and change it brings, because God has invited each of you to also go out and broadcast, share, and sow His Word of eternal life to any and all He puts in your life, as you live out your lives being good soil and abundant in the life His “Good Seed” brings.

May God bless this planting and grant us an abundant harvest, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Predestined For Glory

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

July 12, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

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“In love (God the Father) predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” [Ephesians 1:5, 6]

Grace, mercy, and peace to you dear Saints from God our Father, and our Savior, the Son of God Jesus Christ.

Solely by the power and work of the Holy Spirit, you have been sealed as God’s prized possession; called for this moment to give glory to God for the great gifts that are yours only through Jesus Christ.  God calls each of you this morning equally through the atoning sacrifice of Christ.  By Christ’s death upon the cross each of you along with the entire world have had the devil’s ransom price paid.  This is most certainly true.  And now hear the mystery that both puzzles and disturbs so many sinners: Some people simply will not receive this gift.  Some sinners will not allow Christ’s payment of blood to be their payment.  Why?  It is because within our very nature we are sinful and unclean, and on our own we are lost in an eternity of punishment and payment for our sins.

This uncomfortable and even terrifying news must be heard, received, and believed before we can even see a need for a Savior; before we will accept the gift that His payment for our sins gives.

It was a message like this that God commissioned Amos with.  Amos did not ask to carry that message; he wasn’t even a prophet or a prophet’s son.  Why did God choose Amos?  This side of glory, we will never truly know or understand God’s reasoning, other than knowing that God is love.  Amos knew that God is love and that through His love one can always find mercy and forgiveness of sins.  Amos would need to remember this truth as he was commissioned to speak a very unpopular message to the King and people of Israel.

In what is now the third vision that God gave to Amos, the Lord Himself appeared before Him, standing next to a wall.  In order to make sure that Amos would remember the vision, the Lord asked Amos to report what He saw.  And Amos replied that he saw a plumb line in God’s hand.

The meaning of the vision was then explained to Amos.  The Lord is picturing Himself as a mason laying out a brick wall.  The wall represents the nation Israel; people created and called to receive His covenant and then repeat and live out that covenant as a light unto the unbelieving and dying world.  The plumb line is God’s law, the standard laid down at Mt. Sinai which would lead the people’s lives and faith as they continued to be God’s covenant people.  The law reveals Israel’s sins.  God is saying that the nation of Israel is like a sagging and compromised wall, ready to be torn down.  “I will never again pass by them (or perhaps another way to say that is, I will spare them no longer),” says the Lord. [Amos 7:8]

They were obdurate and prideful people who built shrines to worship false gods.  For these reasons, God declared that He would destroyed their nation by the invading Assyrian Empire.  This is why the Lord said “With my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.” [Vs. 9]

Now some may be tempted to take this passage and apply it inappropriately to modern nations like our own home country here.  And they may say, “See USA, wake up; God is not joking. He will take His plumb line and do the same to us, if we as a nation do not repent.”  And to this I must say, “No!”

You see, God is not talking to our nation, He is talking to you! He is talking to you who have been ransomed through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  God is talking to you both Christians and non-Christians alike, and He is saying, “You are mine.  I have bought you with a dear price.  Will you live as my people?  Will you receive the gift of freedom that I have given to you through my Son, Jesus Christ?”

And before we even say a mumbling word, God knows!  God knows your heart and He knows your life.  From eternity He knows how you will respond, and He still loves you… but He will not force His love on you.

In our Epistle reading (Ephesians 1:3-14), St. Paul wants us to know that all of God’s spiritual blessings have not only been showered upon the Ephesian church, but also upon each of us today; Christian and non Christian alike.  Some will receive these blessings and some will do what is only natural to sinners… they will reject those blessings.  And God knows, even if we do not.

For some, this mysterious will of God can cause fear and even anger.  And in response they may begin to use logic as a way to fill in the blanks so that they can comfortably receive God’s Word.  Or some, like the nation Israel will simply cast out this Word and refuse to hear it.

Who are these people?  God knows and He has known them since eternity.  But here is the hard part for us at least, we do not know who these people are, we only know that we are not part of them.  How can we know this?  Because God has left us marvelous gifts to assure us that He is ours and we are His.

In His eternal foreknowledge He not only knows us but He cares for us.  He has predestined us to one day join Him in eternity in our new resurrected bodies in a home that He has prepared just for us.  And to assure that we will continue to receive this gift of eternal life, God has created what we might call both a nursery and a nursing home.  God has given us a place that will comfort, nurture, teach, and care for us until He calls us home.  God has given us His Church.

In His church you have been taught that at Calvary, upon the cross, Christ’s blood paid the ransom price for all sinful people, but you are also being taught, that in the Word of God and His Sacraments, you have personally been given grace, that is God’s love and mercy, and faith to believe and receive these personally, because you believe that God did all of this for you.

So it is safe to say that since your baptism, God has been giving and teaching you about the forgiveness of your sins. And it is also correct to say that He continuously gives forgiveness of sins and new life as you hear His Word proclaimed or read; when you eat or drink His Word of forgiveness at His holy meal within the Sacrament of the Altar.  You can be sure of this because not only did Christ sacrifice His own body and spill His blood for you, but He is also the One, empowered by His Father before time to ensure that you are gathered within His church to be nurtured, taught, and sustained by these very gifts.  Christ is over all!

This morning, each of you the elect, who are resting within Christ’s church are invited to rest within God’s predestinating act of grace and simply be filled with faith to both receive and believe that Christ is “over all things”.  His purpose and will can not fail, because there is nothing that does not work in accordance with the will of God.  Man’s purpose may fail, and it often does, but God’s will never fails.  “(And) we know (through His Word that) all things work together for good, to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28]  We know this is so because God has said it, and He is always working to ensure that we trust it.

God does this work through both His Law and His Gospel.  Through the law we become conscious of sin and through the law we are reminded to live our lives in daily repentance.

Through the law we are taught to constantly measure what we think, say, and do by the plumb line of the Lord’s law.

Daily self-evaluation under the law of God prevents us from returning back under the bondage of pride and self-righteousness, because we know that the outcome will always be the same: our lives will be out of plumb with God’s will.

Through the gospel we are shown a better way; the way of faith, faith in Jesus Christ alone.  Jesus alone offers a perfect life to satisfy the perfect justice of God.  The perfect life of Christ measured up to His Father’s Holy Standard, and that life was lived and given for you.

When His Spirit gives us faith through baptism and the Word, God writes down His verdict of innocence next our names, and that verdict is based solely on the holy, loving life of Christ.  Jesus lived and died in our place “so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” [2 Corinthians 5:21]  And now for you dear saints who are predestined for glory, “There is no condemnation for (you) who are in Christ Jesus.” [Romans 8:1]

Dear friends, the Father desires that all people should hear and receive His proclamation of forgiveness of sins through Christ alone, and then come to Him through Christ.  And Jesus Himself said, “anyone who comes to me I will never cast out. [John 6:37]  And so that we may always know that it is never to late to come to Christ, the Holy Spirit creates true faith through the hearing of God’s Word, just as the Word promises: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing the Word of Christ.

This is the message you have now heard, and it is the message that you are to repeat.  And like Amos, God is asking you to repeat His message to a sinful nation made up of sinful people who may not want to be told that they are dying in their sins.

It is to the stubborn sinners that you are to speak both God’s warning of punishment and His promise of love and forgiveness.  You  are to tell them that if they truly want to be saved, they should not torture themselves about the secret will of God in regards to other peoples salvation.  Instead, you must encourage them to trust in God’s work alone, which was done in their baptism, and then turn both their hearts and lives to Christ Jesus and his on going work of salvation through his means of grace; the very grace that you receive here; and then encourage them to trust in the very same Lord, which you trust in and call out to along with them.  I pray that with the help of the Spirit of God, you will do this very thing…  in Jesus name… AMEN!

Living in the Promised Land

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (A), September 28, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” [Isaiah 5:1]

And let the church say Amen!  Amen to the reign of our beloved Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen to life in His vineyard, the church.  But most of us south of Temecula don’t really understand the nature of a vineyard, do we?  I understand that producing grapes is a lot of work, and yet it is completely foreign to me.  So, let’s talk about gardens instead.

Gardening, for many of you is a very satisfying and relaxing endeavor.  Your efforts are rewarded with beautiful flowers, plants, and produce.  But gardening is also a lot of work.  Many of us who worked these last two months to finish the rose garden on the east side of the sanctuary and the Polynesian garden on the west side of the garden can attest to that truth.  Many of us men have had sore backs days after working in those gardens.  We would almost swear to the truth that we perspired gallons of sweat and developed blisters larger than any we have ever had.  And yet, there outside of the windows of our sanctuary are the beautiful gardens, and they will be even more beautiful next year, God willing.

But sometimes you plant something that just doesn’t turn out to be what you expected it to be; it either never takes root or it grows in a wild way that you did not desire, and you know that if you don’t do something about it, it will ruin the entire garden.  So with those kinds of disasters, what is a gardener to do?  You uproot it and start over!

Yes, gardening is a lot of work, but God warned our first parents, Adam and Eve of this sad truth after they fell to sin.  Listen:  “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:17-9]  But God promised the faithful descendants of Adam and Eve, that one day He would send a Savior, who would first deliver them from their sins, and then He would also, through this coming Savior bring them back to Eden, the real “Promised Land!”

And that is the situation that the prophet Isaiah speaking for God, is describing in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 5:1-7) this morning.

The children of Israel, descendants of faithful Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been resting in God’s vineyard, the promised land for many long years now.  And when they first arrived there, they were told that it would be a land of milk and honey; in other words, God would provide all that they needed to live right and peaceably with Him, each other, and within the land itself.  All that they needed to do was trust in the promise of the coming Savior and then follow God’s commandments, which were to be a hedge of protection for them, and a wall that would separate them from the godless nations that surrounded them.  But…

They began to develop a national pride that caused them to not only look down on other nations but they also forgot about their God who actually planted them there.  There God was the One who prepared the Promised Land for them; He was the One who dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted them there as His choice vines.  He set up the watchtower, which was their form of worship of the One True God, and He was the One through the use of the Law and Gospel, worked within them to put to death their old sinful nature, and bring to life their new circumcised nature, a faithful nature, which waited patiently for the coming Savior.

And as they continued to live as if God did not matter, God took notice.  He sent many prophets and judges who spoke Words of warning and Words of encouragement, so that the people would remember the true God and then see their sinful need for a Savior.  But they would not take notice; they would not yield!

So now O church, judge between God and His vineyard.  What more was there for Him to do for His vineyard?  He looked for a yield of grapes, that is works produced by faith in the coming Savior and the promised return to Eden, but He found only wild grapes, works that glorified man and not their God.  Well there was one more thing that God would do; He would send His Son!

In our Gospel reading (Matthew 21:33-46), Jesus tells another story about a vineyard.  It is a story told to the same sort of religious leaders that Isaiah was speaking to in our Old Testament lesson.  A man planted a garden and rented it out to tenants. But when the owner sent servants (prophets of God) to collect the rent, the tenants killed the servants. In exasperation, he sent his son (His Only begotten Son), and they killed him. Jesus asked his hearers what the owner would do, and the crowd answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” (21:41). Looking for grapes, precious grapes, the owner instead got wild grapes, and on top of that, they killed his son too.

You see friends, this morning’s readings aren’t really about vineyards or gardening at all, instead they’re about the people of God, ancient Israel and you and me today.  It’s a warning that we must not become wild in our nature, but remain people of faith; faith in the Savior promised long ago who has come, and faith that one day very soon, He will come again to bring us once and for all back to Eden, the true Promised Land.

We may be tempted to ask God why He chose to place those disobedient people into His vineyard, knowing that they would be wild grapes and produce only bloodshed and outcries, but then we would have to ask Him also, why he brought us into His new vineyard, Christ’s church.  You see, today you and I are supposed to be God’s pleasant planting; we too are suppose to produce fruits, good works of righteousness, but many times we don’t; instead we produce wild grapes.  So why does God plant?  Because He loves His vineyard, His garden; God loves you!

The church, which for now is our promised land, is God’s planting, His vineyard.  It is easy to forget that this isn’t our church, but His.  And it is even easier to forget that it is God who does the real work within us and through us.  Like preparing a vineyard or garden, He plants us in Holy Baptism and then lovingly tends to our growth through His means of grace; His teaching, preaching, and Holy Supper.  It is His work within us that shapes us and prunes us into the very image of His Son, who was killed by the former tenants so that He would rise from that death and fulfill the promise of the coming Savior who would bring us one day back to the final promised land, the Kingdom of Heaven, which is Eden restored!

You see friends, this pleasant planting of the Lord we call the church is for now, as we wait, our promised land; it is where God provides for our needs, and prunes and tends to our growth.  All of this work of God is centered in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ who died, rose, and gives us His Holy Spirit.  Jesus assures us of this when He says, “I an the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15: 1, 5]

And here we are abiding; simultaneously resting and working within the promised land we call the church, and knowing full well that by God’s grace we will one day enter the final Promised Land.  And as we wait, we have two missions to fulfill.  The first is to grow in faith everyday as we are planted in the church, and the second is to seek out and bring other wild grapes into God’s vineyard through His Son Jesus Christ.

Today is LWML Sunday.  It is a day that we celebrate a very fruitful portion of God’s vineyard; a portion that continues over and over again to bear much fruit.  Through the collection of mites and their faithful service in mission, these faithful ladies not only wait for the return of their Lord, but they serve Him in their waiting with gladness and zeal.  They freely recognize that all of the hard work that they perform throughout the world is possible only because it is their Savior Jesus Christ, who is working in them and through them.

This morning, we recognize the ladies of the LWML because they are living proof that God still does marvelous things within His vineyard.  Where the ladies serve with gladness, the oil of gladness begins to impact those parts of the vine that they are attached to.  Where once a congregation may have been wild or shriveled and old lacking fruit, when the LWML is revived within that congregation, a new spirit of service, as a result of the Spirit of Christ begins to reshape that congregation.  This is why we celebrate the LWML this morning.  We are not celebrating the ladies who serve, but the Savior God within them that proves to all of us that God is still doing great and marvelous things around us, and that He wishes to call each of us into that mission so that He can do great and marvelous things within us and through us!

While I understand that many who love gardening believe that they are closest to God when they are in their garden, I believe, no I know that we are really closest to God, nearest to His heart, when we are in His church.  His presence among us through His means of grace moves our hearts to be thankful beyond words because He has made us a part of His pleasant planting through Jesus Christ.  It is then that each of us will be moved to serve the Lord with gladness!  AMEN!

Color Me… Christian!

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 10A, August 17, 2014

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Isn’t it true that we Christians hate discrimination of any kind?  Isn’t it true that all of us, at one time, have felt the pain of being singled out, left out, looked down on, or trodden upon?  Its no fun being excluded, not being invited to a party or special event, simply because your not part of the “in-crowd”.  Being left out can lead to depression and a real sense that no one cares or appreciates you for who you are.  

So then why do we Christians do that to members of our own family of faith?  Why do we create clicks that clearly demonstrate how our group is different than other groups?  Because it is in our nature… our sinful nature!

God’s message for us this morning in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 56:1, 6-8) assures us that God has a solution to our sin problem; to our tendency to group up at the expense of others feeling uninvited or not part of the family.  He shows us how we are all His chosen people who are never left out.  He does not discriminate or exclude anyone by race, former beliefs, or ethnic background.  God looks for and finds even foreigners and outcasts.  This morning’s message tells us that God’s Salvation through Jesus Christ is for everyone, and that everyone is the same color… and that color is Christian!

This is a message that has always been part of God’s plan, but over the years it became lost in the sinful hearts of His children of faith, the children of Israel.  It became lost through nationalistic pride and ethnic feelings of superiority, which replaced what was suppose to be pride in the One true God, who called them out of darkness and into light.

Now, it’s true, that the law of God did command that some people were to be excluded from God’s people.  That was one of the functions of the law; to keep God’s people separate from the godless nations that surrounded them.  God didn’t want His people to be contaminated by the pagan religious practices of the nations around Israel.  They were called to avoid intimate contact with the Gentiles.  And for that reason, God’s chosen people had dietary restrictions; some foods were unclean simply because God said so.  God wanted the world to notice His people; He wanted a world trapped in sin to see that His children of faith were different.  They were circumcised as a sign of their covenant connection with Abraham and the promises God made to him.  Why?  So that the world caught in the darkness of sin would see this difference and God’s many blessings upon His people, and then desire to be included in this relationship.  But sadly, sin began to creep in, and God’s children of faith began to develop a spirit of superiority, and so their pride caused them to look down on other folks.

The Israelites disdainfully referred to the world outside as “uncircumcised.”  And they began to forget to ask some very important questions about these “outsiders,” questions like: “Does God want these people to also receive deliverance by hearing and believing in the coming of the Messiah of God?

That was the dilemma crying out in front of the apostles of our Lord in our gospel reading (Matthew 15:21–28).  Standing before Jesus and His Jewish disciples was a Canaanite woman from the foreign region of Tyre and Sidon.  She was a female, and one of those unclean foreigners that the Jews were taught to look down upon, and she did the unthinkable, she approached Jesus crying out “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”  Jesus seemingly ignored her and kept on walking by her, but she followed and continued to cry out for mercy.

After a while, the disciples couldn’t take it any more, so they asked Jesus to give her what she wanted, just  so she would go away.  But Jesus, ignoring the woman, answered the disciples request according to the law of God and said to them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel… It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  In other words, Jesus is saying that He wasn’t there to help the foreigners yet, but those who falsely claimed to be children of Abraham without faith like Abraham.  Why did they lack faith?  Because they had lost faith in God’s promise of the coming Messiah, the Suffering Servant who would come first to the Jews and then use them to draw all sinners to God’s mercy by faith in God.  You could say that when one is caught in the darkness, one must first have their own lamp lit before they can help others find their own lamps.

Now what the woman says next proves the next point of our message, which is that Salvation, is entirely a work of God.  The woman looks Jesus in the eyes and says, “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  This declaration moved Jesus to look at this woman with love and say, “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”

Did you hear that?  Jesus said that her faith was great, that is her lamp had been lit!  The very thing that the Jews were to have first before they could be effective in drawing foreigners into the inner circle of God’s family of faith, this woman had already received.  She knew who Jesus was; she desired to be part of what he brought, even if it meant enjoying it from the outside!  By being content with her outside status, Jesus drew Her in.

This brings us to our next point…

Salvation is entirely a work of God!  It is God alone who provides salvation, and it is He alone who brings it to people both on the inside and the outside who have been excluded due to sin.  It is what He does for sinners in His Word, the law first and then the gospel.  We see this displayed beautifully in the very first verse of our Old Testament lesson.  Listen: “Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.”  Do you hear the law?  Keep justice!  Do what’s right!  It demands much of us, but offers no help in doing!  But then as our terror propels us forward to try and do the law, to try and keep the command, God’s sweet and tender voice of mercy speaks, “It is going to be ok.  Soon my salvation, my Suffering Servant, your Messiah will come, and then the comfort and peace that you thirst for will be revealed and given to you for free!”

Friends, Salvation has come; it has come trough Jesus Christ, the light first given to the people of Israel and now as a light given to the world.  Where was this light given to all people?  Upon the cross!  Listen to these beautiful words of prophecy, fulfilled through Jesus suffering and death:  “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”  [Isaiah 53:5]

Jesus knows our every fear and weakness; He knows our struggle to find acceptance and belonging.  Like many of us, He too was an outcast, excluded by many of the people He first came to save; the ones who must first have the light before they could help the outsiders and outcasts find their portion of the light.  “He had no form or majesty that (others) should look at him, and no beauty that (they) should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and (even today) we esteemed him not.” [Isaiah 53:2, 3]  But He esteems us, He knows us, and now is the time of our salvation.  Now is the time that Jesus comes for all of sinful mankind!

This morning we gather as God’s children called by faith in His Word; called by faith in the Suffering Servant, the Son of God Jesus Christ!  This morning we know by this same Word and faith in that Word, that salvation is for all of mankind, first for the Jews and then for the world.  It is a work of God done for all sinners, regardless of skin color or the quality of their character, because Jesus calls sinners just as they are.  But when He calls them, He loves them to much to leave them in that condition.  For you see, the call also contains the power of God that transforms sinners into saints.

We are those who once were foreigners but now are sons of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.  People know that we are Christians by the marks that God imputes upon us and within us.  We love to serve our true and living God.  We love to speak His name… Jesus, and we find an unexplainable peace in living under that name.  We  are the ones who truly keep His Sabbath, because we alone find rest and peace in the proclamation and the hearing of His Word.  We alone, enabled by faith, trust in His new covenant promise of grace, and we do that by clinging to Christ alone and no other! We are the people who alone can say, “My color is Jesus and my race is Christian!”

Each of us, through no merit of our own has been drawn to God by His power alone.  Because of His Word, we hear and believe that it is God’s desire to bind all people to Himself through Jesus Christ, and that is exactly what He has done for us.  By faith, we see the very Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ, suffering and dying upon the cross as both God’s Suffering servant and our Messiah, and we know that like a lamb led to be slaughtered, He obediently died for the sins of the world.  But we also know by faith that within the waters of our baptism, salvation became very real and very personal.  In our baptism, we were both buried with Christ and made alive with Him!

Indeed, this morning as well as every Sunday we hear the proclamation that salvation is for all; none are excluded and all have been drawn into God’s inner circle as His children of faith who rest within the mystical body of Christ.  But sadly, there are some who are not yet resting as part of the “in crowd” within this position of peace and comfort.  There are many who still live in the darkness and continually reject God’s free gift of salvation through Christ, or perhaps they have separated themselves from the gift by judging others as not “like them” and unworthy of the same gift that once saved them.  They have bound themselves to darkness rather than to the light of Christ.

Is there hope for those who are perishing outside of Christ’s sacrifice and love?  Yes, and again I say yes, and that hope is spoken of in the last verse of our Old Testament lesson, listen: “The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to (the body of Christ) besides those already gathered.”  How does He gather?  Through the same means of grace that gathered you… through His Holy Word and Sacraments.  They are His means of grace, and we the church are His means of delivery.  As He binds Himself to us, we bind ourselves to Him to be His instrument of inclusion and Ambassadors of peace.  As we go out being His light in the darkness of sin, we remember that it is He alone who brings and works salvation by binding Himself to the waters of baptism and establishing new Christian identities in those who were once dying in sin, so that they too will serve Him and love the name that is above every name… Jesus Christ!  And in, with, and under that name let the church say… AMEN!

You Need God’s Strong Word

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 5A, May 18, 2014

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“And the twelve (Apostles) summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” [Acts 6:2]

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! You know that He has risen because His Word has told you so; you know that this Word is true because His Word is strong in deed; full of grace and the very power of God.  It is this Word alone that saves sinners and brings them new life, and that is why the Apostles said that they should not be distracted from the study, preparation, and the declaration of God’s strong Word.  The Sunday proclamation of God’s Word is the source of God’s grace and power, but you dear saints, like Stephen are the result of that grace and power when it is active in the life of a redeemed and sanctified saint of God.  And like Stephen, you need God’s strong Word so that you will know both God’s heart regarding your sin, indeed all sin, and so that you will not only know God’s solution to your sin, but also so that you will embrace His solution with all of your heart.

God’s heart concerning your sin is hate.  God hates sin because sin is the very thing that separates you from Him, and God loves you.  Sin is that thing which refuses to die, and with great obstinacy, clings to your flesh and cries out “There is no God.  But if there is a Creator, He can’t possibly be interested in my sin.”  Therefore, sin is that thing which either elevates you as your own god, or it allows you to define who or what your god is.  The sainted Dr. Martin Luther once said that a god is anything you turn to in times of trouble or turmoil.  God’s strong Word tells us today, that not only is He powerfully present in your life, He is also powerfully active, bringing you grace (that is the undeserved kindness and mercy of God) and power (that is God’s power, which takes away your sins, and then gives you a peace with Him that surpasses all understanding).

You need God’s Word today because there are very many “false teachers” who take God’s strong Word, which is to be for Christians, as pure “breast” milk is to infants (1 Peter 2:2), and they either dilute it or replace it all together.  But how do they do this?  When they confuse the Law of God with the Gospel of God.  But why do they do this?  Well for the very same reason the Sanhedrin whom Stephen confronted in our first reading (Acts 7:51-60) abused the law of God then; they are by nature stiff necked people and uncircumcised in (their) hearts and ears; (they) always resist the (grace and power) of the Holy Spirit, just as sinners have always done and always will do.

To be stiff necked is to be unwilling to bend or respond to the work of God’s strong Word, as He shows you your sins.  That is, stiff-necked people refuse to be molded or recreated into God’s will.  To be uncircumcised in the heart and ears means that the listener refuses to hear God’s solution to their sins.  We received a powerful example of this behavior when Stephen, full of God’s grace and power simply reported the enormity of the Sanhedrin’s error; in their sins they had blindly crucified God’s solution… Jesus Christ.  “Full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and (was allowed to see) the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  And (Stephen) said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.” [Acts 7:55-57]

You see, false teachers then and false teachers today think that by living a certain way and believing in certain principles, they have received a way to please God; they think that through their attempts to keep God’s Law, they are safe and secure from the judgment of God. They take the very means, which God has instituted to show them the ugly truth about their sins and they have twisted it into a way to please God and assure them happiness.

It is a shame that the people who stoned Stephen that day, and the people who will not hear God’s strong Word today would not and will not listen to God’s strong Word.  It is that very Word, which the Apostles proclaimed and the people followed that is still preached today in Christ’s true church.  It is the strong Word, which is still the very rhythm of life for all children of God, and the work of that strong Word is called repentance.  What is repentance?  Simply this, the strong Word of God shows you your sins and you are grieved over them.  As a result, you feel lost and separated from God, that is you feel pain over your sins; real pain, but then the strong Word of God, the Gospel of God shows you His solution to your sins… the very Son of God, Jesus Christ!

You see friends, this truth is so simple that even little children can understand it, but little children must be taught this truth and they must learn to refuse to be fed any other teaching.  Another way to say this is that “Jesus Christ alone is our corner stone; He alone is God’s chosen and precious solution to our sin, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.” [1 Peter 2:6]  Only those little ones who believe and confess this truth may declare with a certain confidence, that “Christ died for sinners; He died for me!”  But for those false teachers and for those who do not believe that Christ alone is God’s only means of salvation, “The (corner) stone that the builders (that is the false teachers) rejected (has become for them) a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the Word of God.  They stumble because they will not allow God’s Word to declare them hopeless, helpless, and unclean in their sins.  They stumble, because they will not allow God’s Word to lead them into that condition of heart, which the church calls contrition… real pain for real sins.  And because they will not allow God’s Law to work within them, they will not, no they can not receive the Gospel of God, which declares that only the cross of Christ and His resurrection can bring peace with God and eternal life.

Stephen knew this truth and it transformed him forever.  As he declared the Word of God, he was also filled with the power of God.  But again, this truth makes no sense to the false teachers today, just as it would have been a pathetic joke to the Sanhedrin then.  Where is the power in an execution?  Who is the one in control?  To the rock throwers they were in control; they had the power of death.  If you were to tell them that with each rock they threw, Stephen became stronger and stronger, they would ultimately point to the pummeled, lifeless body of Stephen and asked, “Where is his power now?”  But this is always what happens to those who will not receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because you see, God’s message to sinners is not just the cross, but it is also the message of the empty tomb; the resurrection of the dead!

Stephen died for the Gospel of God because he knew that was what God had called him to do.  Would you do the same if called upon by God?  You would, if you were trusting in His strong Word.  Stephen was not an apostle, nor was he a pastor.  He was simply a redeemed sinner transformed and then nurtured by God’s own means of grace.  The position he held is what we would today call deacon.  The assignment that he fulfilled was much like the ministry our own deacons perform in their respective ministries here at Trinity.  Stephen was in charge of one of several help or charitable distribution centers, set up to help the poor, much like our own pantry, which Deacon Mark oversees, or the legal aid Deacon Clifton offers here at Trinity in the name of Jesus as an attorney.

So where did Stephen get filled with such grace and power that enabled him to give such a strong witness?  He received the teaching of the apostles just as you are doing today.  He was first baptized and filled with all of the Spirit’s power, just as you have been.  Each time he heard the Word about forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name preached, he was filled with that power.  Each time he received the absolution from the lips of his pastors, the apostles, he was renewed just as you are being renewed today.  Each time he approached the Lord’s Table and received the very body and blood of our Lord in, with, and under the bread and wine, he not only heard, saw, touched, and tasted forgiveness of sins, but he also received a powerful strengthening of his faith, which is the very thing that happens to you here at this altar.

We will close our message with the final portion of our first reading and two thoughts that God willing, will carry us through this week, until we gather again next Sunday to be filled once again with God’s strong Word: “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” [Acts 7:58-60]

Think about this truth first: As hard as a sinner’s heart may be, as lost as they may have become in the unholy doctrine of false teachers, God’s strong Word is still working to reach them.  This truth was proven true in the heart and life of the young man named Saul, who supervised Stephen’s execution.  For you see, this young man named Saul, would later encounter the resurrected Jesus Christ, the very Son of God as he was traveling down a dusty road to arrest and oversee the execution of even more Christians.  And after that encounter, Saul would for ever be know as St. Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ.  And he would follow in the footsteps of Stephen and also die for his Lord.

The second truth that we are led to see, is how God magnificently demonstrates His grace and His power in the lives of Christians just like us.  He does it as He did it through Stephen… He does it through the forgiveness of sins.  As you have received the absolution of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ this morning, it is God’s will that when you leave this place but not His presence, you too, would say along with Stephen, when someone does you harm, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Can you forgive as simply and freely as Stephen?  Yes, indeed you can, with God’s strong Word working within you!  AMEN!

You Are Free To…

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 6C, June 30th, 2013

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For freedom Christ has set us free For you were called to freedom, brothers.  But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [Galatians 5:1a, 13-14]

In just a few days, we will be celebrating our American day of independence. Oh it’s true, we Americans, out of all of the other nations in this world truly love our freedom, and this love of freedom is personified in our great Declaration of Independence. But we Christians also love freedom; the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus! But I think, that of all the Christians, we Lutherans love our freedom the most. Why we even have a catch phrase that helps us remember just how free from, sin, death, and the devil we are. It goes like this: faith alone, scripture alone, and grace alone, all under the banner of Christ alone!

So as American Christians, we Lutherans boldly declare to our government and to the accusations of the devil and our own conscience, “Don’t tread on me; don’t mess with us, because we are free men and women.” But freedom, true freedom always comes with responsibilities, isn’t that true?

Well this morning let’s take some time to allow God’s Word to show us some of those responsibilities that come with freedom, by showing us some of the dangers of being free.

We all know that as Christians, we have been freed by the sacrificial life and death of our gracious God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Through His gift of grace, the tyranny of the devils, the cost of sin, and the certainty of death, have been defeated. We are told in the gospel, that we are not required to pile up good deeds in order to please and angry God. We have been freed from this false gospel with the true gospel: Jesus paid it all. He alone gives us salvation! Instead of working to please God, the gospel tells us that we already have God’s love, and now we are free to share that love with our neighbor. Is this the freedom that we are experiencing?

Let’s consider the different conflicts and problems that are in our lives. First, let’s look at our money. You are a free person; you may spend your money any way you like. You don’t need to buy your way into heaven; you don’t need to give all of your “treasure” so to speak to the church in order to appease an angry God. So with this truth being stated, how are you spending your money? If we were to do a pie chart on how you spend your money, what would the biggest slice in that graph show? Would it show that most of your money is going towards selfish, self-serving areas? If you truly are living as a man or woman who has been freed by Christ, shouldn’t we expect to see that freedom played out in how you spend your money? Shouldn’t we expect to see that the bulk of your money is being spent on others; on your family, your church home and to those less fortunate?

Ok, enough talk about money; let’s look at how we use our time and talent. Since we truly are freed from the terrors of the devil and our own conscience, where or on what do we spend most of our time and offer the most of our talent? Where are you dedicating your sense of peace and security; who or what organization is benefiting most from your passion, your talent, and your precious time? Is it spent on others or on yourself? Do you live to please God and your family, or do you find yourself dedicating yourself and your freedom in an endeavor to satisfy your own desires?

This is really the point that Jesus is stressing to the three hopeful disciples and to us in our gospel lesson (Luke 9:51-62). The underlying questions behind all three conversations are: Have you really understood what it means to be my disciple? Do you understand that with great freedom come not just great joy, but hardship as well? Are you really willing to turn your back on what this world says is good and pleasing and instead receive as truth, the things that I say are God pleasing.

Another way to say this is, that the love of God is a proven possession of a Christian, when that love becomes evident in how he or she lives their life.

Christ truly has freed us from the burden of sin, and from our perceived need to earn God’s love and forgiveness. The gospel truly has taught us that the American way of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is not God’s way! Instead God’s Word says that if the Son has set you free, well then you are truly free! [John 8:36]

But sadly, many times this is not the image that we portray to those outside of the church. Sometimes our freedom leads us to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good in spreading God’s message of forgiveness. What I mean is, our freedom in living out God’s gift of complete forgiveness has the danger of tempting us to disengage from our community and surround ourselves only with other like-minded Christians. Instead of being Christ’s Ambassadors of forgiveness, we might be tempted to avoid our neighbors who are not Christians as if they have the plague. And if we do encounter them in a public forum, we may be tempted to quickly pronounce God’s curse upon them. This is precisely what James and John wanted to do to the people of the Samaritan village, who rejected Jesus. [Luke 9:54-56]

And how did Jesus respond to their zeal? Did He congratulate them on their righteous indignation? No instead, He rebuked them for having a judgmental heart. While it’s true that the villagers rejected Jesus offer to come into their midst, Jesus wanted them to see past this one time rejection, and to see the state of the Samaritans through the eyes of eternity. I believe that Jesus wanted James and John to honestly ask themselves whether they had done anything to win those Samaritans for Christ. Had they presented the gospel? Did they dedicate any of their time, talent, or treasure, towards opening relationships with the people of that Samaritan Village, so that they might open their hearts to hear the words of their Savior? Were they really willing to close God’s offer of repentance, faith, and salvation to them?

What James and John forgot was that Jesus’ great mission, which comes from the heart of the Father, was not to judge men, but to save them; to rescue them from sin and damnation and to then place them into a condition of permanent safety.

This week, many of us are saddened by our Supreme Court’s decision to strike down both the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, which also sought to define marriage here in California as between a man and a woman. If you are experiencing anger, I ask that you turn your fears and concerns over to the God, who has freed you and asked you to continue the mission of Jesus to save the world with the message of the gospel. I ask you not to pronounce curses upon those who support same sex marriages, but instead work to create relationships of trust with them. You will be able to do this if you avoid name-calling and instead embrace Christ’s call of repentance, and then live out your vocation as a free man or woman. Free to do as you like, but bound as a servant of Christ to speak and live out His truth in love.

For the sake of the church, and for the sake of our neighbors, even those who are militantly living a sinful life, we must learn and live out this simple truth: The whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 5:14]

You and I are free; that is the truth. We are free as Americans to speak our mind and we are free as Christians to check out of the public discussion about marriage; to wipe our hands of the whole mess and let God rain down his fire of judgment upon our entire nation. If that is what you want to do, then as our culture says, “Go for it! Just do it! Don’t let anyone tell you what to do! You are the master of your own ship. Why you might even have the mindset to tell those no good sinners that this country was founded on Judea/Christian principles, and if the sinners don’t like it they can move out and leave! Or…

We could be led by Christ; go after the fruit of the Spirit, which “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” [Galatians 5:22-25] Why not go for that? We are free! Just do it! Love and serve God and your neighbor by remembering how Christ loved and served you. Look to the cross and remember what the penalty of sin is… death! But then look to the empty tomb and remember what turning to Jesus in repentance means. Look to the font, to your own baptism and remember that you to were once caught up in the bondage of sin, but because Christ has washed you with water and His powerful Word you have been freed; saved from the tyranny of the devil!

True love is always directed at another. We see it expressed in how God operates. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [John 3:16-17]

You are a Christian. You are truly free, but you are also bound by love to the one who freed you… Jesus Christ! I pray that as this public discussion continues about what marriage is, about what sin is, that you would not shy away. I pray that you would continue the mission of Jesus by speaking God’s Word, both Law and Gospel. And that is exactly how we will close our message this morning. Please listen to these Words and let them transform you:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself, as He is pure.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that Jesus appeared in order to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Jesus keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Jesus or known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as Jesus is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed (His Spirit) abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” [1 John 3:1-18] AMEN!