Posts Tagged ‘Love’

More Than a Feeling!

Sunday, November 4th, 2018

All Saints Sunday
November 4, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” [Mark 12:34]

In 1976, the Rock band Boston released the hit song “More Than a Feeling.” This morning let’s use that title to keep us centered in an important truth:  God’s Word, specifically His Holy Law, is not supposed to make us feel good about ourselves.  It isn’t meant to congratulate us on how much we love our Creator and our neighbor; in fact it should produce the opposite effect in us.  God’s Law should first terrify us, because it shows us how little we love Him and how poorly we love our neighbor, and then it should move us to call out to God for a solution to our lack of love.

And yet, like the Scribe in our gospel reading (Mark 12:28-37), we can become comfortable with how we think we are keeping God’s law.  Oh how easy it can become for us to turn off our ears and blind our eyes to the truth; we fall far short.

So is this a message about feelings?  Yes and know.  You see, we all have feelings; God created us to have emotion, but our emotions are defective; they lie.  No, our message this morning is first one of truth; God’s truth, and then God centered emotions, or feelings will follow.

The young scribe in our gospel lesson, is someone we might call a seeker in today’s lingo.  

He is genuine in his desire to live a God pleasing life.  What we must understand is that he comes from a confusing culture, where the Law of God exists within the frame work of not just 10 commandments but 613 commandments.  Can you imagine that?!  There were 248 positive commandments, or commandments that told you what you should do, and then there were 365 negative commandments, or commandments that told you what you should not do.  With all of these commandments a person could get lost trying to prioritize them.  So the young scribe presents a valid question to Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

The young scribe, like many people today, felt that he really did love God; He really wanted to please the Heavenly Father, and he thought trying hard to do that would please Him.  And second He had been listening to Jesus for some time now, and he really did respect Jesus and His teaching.  He probably found a great degree of wisdom in the Words of Jesus; he seemed to be comfortable around Him, listening to Him.  So when he asked Jesus, which commandment was the most important, he was really asking for Jesus’ guidance.

And Jesus seeing a desire for truth in the young man looked directly into His eyes and says, “Hear, O Israel”.  (Don’t just listen to the Word of God, but really hear it; let it enter your heart and mind, and let it change you; let it give you wisdom.)  “The Lord your God, the Lord is One.”  (He isn’t like the false god’s of your neighbors; He doesn’t inhabit certain regions or nations.  He is the ONLY real God, the Creator of everything.  He is all powerful, all present, and all knowing.  He can come to you in any way He desires, and His Word and His teaching are the only source of real truth.  So now hear that truth and let it enter you; let it penetrate you.)  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second (most important commandment) is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12:28-31]

The operative Word there in those two great commandments is Love.  Let’s look at that word.  This kind of love that God demands for Himself isn’t mere affection and it doesn’t mean passion either.  God isn’t telling you to have a warm fuzzy feeling about Him and your neighbor.  He isn’t saying that you should just be passionate about Him and your community either.  He is telling you that the kind of love that you are to have is based on something foreign to you; something that is completely outside the realm of possibility for you.  He is telling you that the kind of love you are to have is more than a feeling; it is more than a decision to be nice.  It is an intellectual assent to something higher and beyond your natural ability.  It is a God given love that will sacrifice everything in order to see this kind of love rule and reign over you and within you; when this God given love is present, it loves all things that God loves and it loves others just as it loves it self.

So we see now, these are tough words, meant to give wisdom.  Is that what the young scribe received?  Well almost; He almost understood.  Listen to His response: “You are right, Teacher.  You have truly said that (God) is one, and there is no other besides Him.  And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Well, that sounds pretty good.  He did a fine job of paraphrasing Jesus Words.  He even seemed to be paraphrasing another bit of wisdom that Jesus taught earlier concerning worship, “Go and learn what this means” He said, “‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  [Matthew 9:13]  And so Jesus looks Him in the eye once again and says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” [Mark 12:34]  You are almost there; you almost are wise unto eternal life.”  If only that young man would have asked Jesus to give him that heavenly love!

This morning Jesus is teaching an important lesson.  Knowing God and pleasing God are similar but separate.  Oh they’re close, but they aren’t so close as being the same.  There are two things that separate those who know God from those who please God.  And both of those things come only from God. They are the Word of God and the love of God, as given through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This morning, the Word of God calls out:  Hear O sinners.  Listen to the Word of God and let it penetrate you.  When you listen to the Word, when you really hear what it is saying you will know God’s truth and you will know His heart.  The truth of God is that you are trapped in your sins.  On your own you can never really love Him or your neighbor.  That kind of love can come only from your Creator.  And how does He give that love?  By allowing us to hear His Word.  And when we let God’s Word do what God intends for it to do, He gives us faith.  “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:17]

If our gospel lesson ended right there, we along with the young scribe could go home with a lot to think about; a lot to pray about.  But Jesus does not send us home just yet.  He continues teaching.  I would like to think that as He continued teaching, He winked at the young scribe, slapped him on the back and said “Listen to what I say next, young man.”  

 And this is what He said next: “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?  (I mean,) David himself, in the Holy Spirit declared, “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’  (You see there,) David himself calls Him Lord.  So how is He his Son?’

I can also imagine Jesus returning to the young scribe privately and saying, “Did you wonder why I winked at you?  Or did you see and understand what I just taught?  You know all about your traditions that teach about God’s final and righteous rule right?  You know the time is promised by scripture to come when the Messiah will take power and reign don’t you?  So, you also know that when the kingdom of God comes it will be visible and apparent, and everyone will have to acknowledge who it is that really runs all of creation, right?  Well listen now… it is happening right now.  I am the Messiah.  I am God’s Anointed One, who has come to make it all visible to all who have faith; to all who believe.”

This morning, Jesus has given to each of you the wink so to speak; a wink that unlocks the wisdom of God; the truth of His Word.  This morning you are being shown Jesus in the Word; Jesus in your baptism, and Jesus at the table in the meal.  And in these means of grace, you are being given faith to believe you are forgiven and faith to speak forgiveness. 

Through the writings of the apostles and the testimony of all of scripture, you along with the saints throughout time, read God’s Word with Jesus as the central figure and find Divine love, forgiveness, and faith.  

You can go from the commandments of the law to the fulfillment of the Law, which is the gospel, in the person of Jesus, the One true God; God in human flesh.  Because of the love of the Father and the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit, you can hear the Words of the Son of God, Jesus Christ and know that through Him, God alone has made all things new and right, including you.  You learn that the same love that led Jesus the Messiah to the cross to die for the sins of the world also leads you to love God with your whole being, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  

What is impossible for you to do, becomes possible when God is the one working in you and through you.  By faith, you know that in Jesus Christ, much more than all of the burnt offerings and whole sacrifices have been provided to make you right with your Creator.  Through Jesus, you see God Himself coming to you offering both sacrifice and obedience, and as a result, by faith you receive His forgiving mercy.  And now as our epistle lesson (Hebrews 9:11-22) states, you have received a Savior Who is your “high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”  Through Jesus life and death and the faith that comes from the very Word of God, you have been brought into the Kingdom of God just as was done for the saints before you.  

On this All Saints Sunday, let’s look back in our minds and remember those dear saints who died in Jesus and then, let’s remember the examples of faith, love, and service that they left behind for us to admire and follow. Let’s give thanks to God for the lives they lived and the impact they made on us and Christ’s church. And like those dear saints who have gone before us, let’s also be moved to give thanks to God Our Father In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, let’s remember what real love as given from God is not meant to bring guilt and shame because we fall short, but rather it brings God’s forgiving love that desires to use us to speak words of faith, forgiveness, and love to those who do not yet know the grace and love of Jesus Christ.  

God So Loved You!

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Lent 2 (A), March 12, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

john-3-16-christianity-12464028-461-405In the last few weeks we’ve learned that the purpose of all of God’s Word is that we would know Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Last week we learned that this was the case, even in the very first Words of Genesis… in the beginning! Well, this morning we shall see that God is love; God is love for you!

Now, don’t tune out this message simply because you can quote John 3:16; everyone who attended Sunday school for more than a year can do that. No, you need to understand the depth of God’s love for you, and that is exactly what this message will declare to us this morning.

“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” [John 3:1]

Uh, oh! Another Pharisee out to get Jesus? No not this one; this Pharisee was known by all to be a good man. He was on a real journey to live a God-pleasing life. He’s highly educated and very moral and religious. He is what others would call an upright man; he is not a hypocrite like many of the other Pharisees; he actually tries to please God! In verse 10 we are told that he is Israel’s teacher, so we know that he is trying to help others please God as well. So this man, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Why? Well because he doesn’t want the other Pharisees to know that he is seeking out their enemy. But why is he seeking out Jesus? Because, he has seen the miracles and he has probably heard some of Jesus’ sermons and the Word of God is beginning to work within his heart. In essence he wants to know more!

So he approaches Jesus and he starts a conversation in the usual way, he pays Jesus a compliment: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him.” [vs. 2b] Now if you or I were in Jesus position we would probably repay the compliment; but Jesus is not you or I! Jesus is instead the Great Physician, and He must get right to work on the soul of Nicodemus. “Jesus answered him (and said), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”” [vs. 3]

Now that is strange, and Nicodemus thought so too; that’s why he asked, “How can a man be born (again) when he is old (like me)?” Poor Nicodemus’ mind must have been spinning out of control. All of his education and religious training had taught him that he was doing everything he could to please God and now Jesus is telling him that he will never get into heaven as he is! Nicodemus didn’t understand yet, and neither does our world today. Why? Because their focus is on what they do and not on what God does!

Now Jesus must adjust the focus of Nicodemus and He must adjust our focus as well! Listen: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [Vs. 5-6] Jesus is actually saying that if we keep our focus on what we can do in our flesh, that is on our own we will never get beyond the flesh; that is we will never enter the kingdom of God; we will never inherit eternal life. He is saying we need a new focus, a new life; we need to have spiritual eyes if we are to understand the work of God’s Spirit!

“But how?” That’s the question of Nicodemus and the question of this unbelieving world!

They ask how because they still have eyes and a heart of flesh! “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [vs. 8] What is this wind? It is the Holy Spirit! And what is its sound? It is the spoken Word of God; it is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. It’s He who was speaking to Nicodemus, and He who is speaking to you this morning! Listen to the wind. You believe in the wind because you can feel it and hear it; you can even see the effect it has around you right? Well the sound of the wind is also heard in the Word of God. “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You hear the Wind of God in these Words as well: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn back from their ways and live.” [Ezekiel 33:11] “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]

In His love for the world God provides the sound of His Holy Wind, the public proclamation of His Word so that we can see His Son, Jesus Christ as our only means of salvation. Through this means, God wants to call all people to eternal life; He wants to draw all of us unto Himself and to give us new birth. He does this only through His Holy Wind, the Word of God. “Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save (through rebirth) those who believe.” [Acts 11:14] “So faith comes through the proclamation, and proclamation comes through God’s Word.” [Jn. 17:17, 20] And it is God’s will that all people should hear this proclamation and come to Jesus Christ. And Jesus will never push anyone away from Himself, just as the Word of God declares: “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” [Jn. 6:37]

So now we see that our salvation is entirely a work of God’s Holy Spirit which He uses to cleanse us and blow new life into us. It is God alone who “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” [Titus 3:5]

Jesus told Nicodemus not to marvel at this teaching about this washing of new birth that comes through the Word of God and He is telling you not to be surprised by it as well.

Where does this washing and rebirth happen? Where are we brought to be cleansed from all of our impurities and saved from our sin? First to the cross and then to the font; the fountain of Holy Baptism. Let me show you this in scripture. Listen to God speak through the prophet Zechariah: “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” [Zechariah 13:1] Do you hear the wind of God blowing and promising a source of salvation outside of the power of sinful men? Do you hear how God Himself would provide a fountain of cleansing and do you notice that it would do two very specific things? What are those things? It will cleanse from sin and impurity! What is this fountain? First it is the cross and second it is the font!

What did Jesus say to Nicodemus about God’s means of providing eternal life? He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:14-15] Now why did Jesus feel the need to bring up Moses? Because Moses and His Law were the very things that Nicodemus was trusting in to please God. But Jesus wanted Nicodemus and everyone else to see that everything that Moses said and did was done by God so that we would look to a prophet much greater than Moses; so that we would look to Jesus alone as our only source of hope. The people with Moses had sinned greatly against God with their grumbling and lack of faith, so God had to get their focus off of their flesh and back to Him; He had to give them eyes of faith; they needed spiritual eyes. They were being attacked by snakes and they were dying by the thousands; so God had Moses craft a bronze serpent and lift it on a pole. If they would look to this bronze snake on a poll and trust in God’s means they would live!

What does this have to do with anything? Well let’s allow the prophet Zechariah to speak once again: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.” [Zechariah 13:7] Now remember, in the earlier reading from Zechariah God promised to open a fountain that would cleanse the people of their sins, right? Well this is the day that the fountain would be opened; the day that the Shepherd would be struck! On that day there would be cleansing for all sinners, and it would come from a fountain that God would open! Jesus Christ dear friends is the Good Shepherd! He was the Shepherd who was struck down on the cross. He is the final provision of salvation that the bronze serpent on the poll of Moses represented! Remember on the day of our Lord’s death a Roman soldier pierced Jesus side with a spear? What was the result? A fountain of water and blood; a fountain of cleansing!

Dear Saints, we must stay there at the cross and see Jesus dying in our place; we must go to the cross and see God’s means of cleansing us from all of our sin and uncleanness! This is how much God loves you! The Son of God died for the world so that the world would not have to die! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For (you see) God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” [Jn. 3:16-17] But in order for this finished work of Jesus Christ to become yours you must travel by faith from the cross and then to the waters of your own baptism!

It is in baptism, your baptism that God made His love for the world His love for you!

In the waters of your baptism God gave you His gift of forgiveness and cleansed you from all of your sins. In your baptism God delivered you from death and the devil and gave you eternal life! In your baptism God made you a disciple and part of the body of Jesus Christ.

Through your baptism you put on Jesus Christ, that is all of His righteousness was made yours through faith in the Gospel that assures you that God so loved YOU that He gave His Son up to death for YOU! In the waters of your baptism you were buried with Christ into death, so that you would rise with Him into a new and eternal life. That which IS Spirit has given birth to a new spirit!

How can a person be born again when he is old?

Only by the work of the Spirit, the wind of God which gives eyes of faith and turns simple water in to a spiritual means of rebirth! Simple water yes, but when it is combined with the powerful Word of God, it becomes God’s means of showing and giving you Jesus Christ. First that Word shows you Christ high and lifted up upon the cross and then it shows you Christ high and lifted up, ascended and reining with the Father and Spirit in Heaven.

Yes friends, that is how God so loves you! I pray that He continues to give to you eyes of faith that look to Jesus Christ alone as your only means of God’s love and grace… AMEN!

The Way Towards a Strong and Prosperous Life


Monday, February 20th, 2017

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Loving-Our-Enemies-600x600This morning we continue our message from within Jesus Sermon from the Mount, and we’ll let these words confront us and comfort us: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48] Here’s a question that I want you to wait until the end of our message to answer: Is this the Law or Gospel? It’s my prayer that by the end of our message you will be able to answer this question, and that the answer will lead you in the way you live out the rest of your life.

In that question we must remember that Jesus’ primary goal isn’t to speak the law and condemn us as sinners, which we are, but instead He is leading our hearts to understand the will of God and our new identity as saints; people He is sending out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. [Vs. 13-16] Jesus wants us to see our need for living our lives in complete dependence on God’s love and care, which will then compel us to demonstrate or reflect that same love to our neighbors where ever we me meet them. And all of this is done within the tender balance of living a life of repentance and faith, which Jesus provided for us in the Beatitudes [Vs. 3-12], where He assured us of a life strong with blessings. When the reality of these blessing begin to control our very lives, we will begin to have an effect upon our community as salt and light. But we must always remember that our quest for completeness has nothing to do with entering or staying in the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has already given that to us!

Now resting in this promise of blessing, hear the perfect Law of God:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (Or if someone punches you, punch them back.) But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.” Lord, are you saying don’t fight back against anyone? “(Yes”, he says,) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” But Jesus isn’t done yet, He now takes it a step further: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” In other words, if part of a settlement to a law suit is your jacket, let them have your shirt also! “And if anyone (say like the government or someone else with power over you) forces you to go one mile (say to carry something), go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” [Vs. 38-41]

“But Lord…. but Lord! Do you know what that will mean to me? That’s not only foolish it’s also impossible!” And dear friends, that is the point. Living the kind of life that Jesus is leading us to is the foolishness of the cross… the impossibility of fulfilling God’s perfect law. Your “but Lord” should be enough to turn you away from any foolish ideas you might have that keeping God’s law is doable! It should be enough to not only turn you to God’s mercy and forgiveness, but keep you there as you learn to follow Jesus!

You see friends, Jesus wants us to understand that it isn’t God’s law that brings about true justice for us but it’s His love and mercy that does that! Now our Lord knows that this is the complete opposite of what the world calls common sense; it goes directly against our natural inclination. You know what I am referring to don’t you? “A tit for a tat! I’m going to make sure I get justice!” That’s the natural way of this sinful world! They think that the law will give them wholeness and security; but we must always remember that the left hand kingdom or the kingdom of God’s law can never bring about any real change; it only demands it. Instead, it is God’s way to provide justice by inviting His children to trust in His plan for them and then turn to Him in prayer. And when we rest in God’s plan of justice, He then asks us to absorb the evil attacks of our neighbor and let it die there! He is asking us not to live a life of revenge, but instead live a life of sacrificially turning the other cheek and trusting that God will repay!

What we must remember is that this is ultimately not about you and me, but it is about Jesus Christ! He is the one who truly did turn the other cheek when He was struck by the Sanhedrin. He truly did let them take both His tunic and His cloak as they rolled dice deciding who would keep them. He truly did pick up His cross and walk more than a mile to the ominous poverty of Golgotha; with the sins we placed on Him.
But we must not ever say or even think that because Jesus lived this life perfectly for us, we no longer need to!
No friends, just the opposite is true; what Jesus did for us, demonstrates for us what it means to love! He demonstrates to us the highest form of love… God’s own love; a love of intellect and choice. As God has loved us, so we are to love our neighbor.

This kind of love means that we will stand against evil not by taking a physical and reactionary stand against it but by submitting to the one who is evil; by absorbing the evil and not matching it with our own form of pay back. Why would we do this? Because of God’s mercy and love that has been given to us through Jesus Christ!

Now I know, when we hear these words, we want to close our ears; we don’t want to do it! We desperately look for another way to explain this hard teaching of Jesus, but the truth is friends there is no other way to explain it and no other way to follow Jesus; He always leads us to the cross!

This isn’t a new teaching friends, nor is it without those who truly understood it and lived out its truth.

Martin Luther understood it along with those who went before Him and became martyrs. Mohandas Gandhi and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also saw and lived out the beauty of this teaching, and they absorbed so much hate and evil that it eventually took their lives. Martin Luther King Jr. not only walked the way of the cross but He taught others to do the same, and because of that obedience, God brought about great change. He changed the injustice of hate not with the sword but with mercy and forgiveness, and this change is still in motion today!

Through Jesus we find true power and truth in the cross. And that truth is that you don’t overcome evil by violently standing against it but by turning the other cheek. But don’t mistake this turning of the cheek with weakness or tolerance! Nowhere does Jesus say to turn the other cheek and refuse to speak up for what is right; nowhere does He say not to protect and take on the cause of those who are being overcome by evil! As salt and light, we are to speak the truth, God’s truth in love; a kind of love that moves us to take the evil action of another upon ourselves; the kind of love that moves under the burden of the cross another is bearing and help them shoulder the load. We are to take all of the evil action upon ourselves and let it die there, never bringing it up again!

Do you want to learn to be obedient? Do you want to become what God has already said that you are… holy? Then follow Jesus to the cross and agree with this teaching and pursue it! This is the way of the cross!

So are you looking for a “how to” part of this sermon?

Good, then I have only one step for you to follow: turn to Jesus and His cross! How? Well you’ve already been given the heart of Jesus, so follow that heart; follow that love of God that has been put within you. Love your enemy; pray for him. You will be surprised just how much change and rearrangement God will do when your heart first agrees that He’s right and you’re wrong. Once you learn to admit this, then praying for your enemy isn’t really that difficult.
But why must we do this? Well, Jesus answers this question as well. Listen: “(You will do this) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” [vs. 45] But that sounds like some kind of works righteousness! Is it? Is Jesus saying that I must work at loving my enemies here on earth so that my Heavenly Father can reward me by making me His son or daughter? No, not at all!
Jesus is saying that when we are loving our enemies we are showing them the love of the Father; we are showing them that we ARE sons and daughters of the Father! Through our acts of love that find their source in the heart of Jesus we are showing everyone, including our enemies that our God is also their God; a God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” We are showing them that not only are God and His love real, but also His Law that threatens anyone who refuses to follow that love through Jesus Christ! We are showing them that the same God who saved and changed us wants to do the very same work within them.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors (or open sinners) do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” [Vs. 46-47] You see friends, Jesus is telling us that we are not to think that our Christianity is something nice that we share with those who are part of our congregation; He’s not saying that your Christian love is reserved for anyone else who calls themselves Christian; He’s not even saying that our Christian love should be shared with those who do nice things for us! We are called not to love just those who love us, but to love those who hate us! This is the way of the cross; this is the path Jesus traveled and invites us to travel with Him.

Listen to Jesus final Words upon the cross and let them lead and guide you. As he was dying upon the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Who did He pray forgiveness for? Was it for those who placed Him on the cross? Yes, He prayed for all those present, He even prayed for you, and He prayed for your enemy, because it was all of our sins that placed Him there! And as He prepared to take His last breath He shouted: “IT IS FINISHED… it is perfect… it is complete!” What is? God’s plan to remove the sins of the world, even your sins!

Jesus closes our teaching this morning with these words:

“You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Vs. 48] Is that Law or Gospel? I say that it is both! You must be complete as your Heavenly Father is complete. You must be finished and you must be complete; this is the true meaning of perfect. And that is what you are because Jesus has blessed you with His completion! Through the beatitudes or God’s pronouncement of blessing at the beginning of Jesus Sermon, He gives you the very thing that He now tells you that you must have… completion! What wonderful news! Now take this blessing of completion and live a strong and prosperous life… prosper for the Kingdom of Heaven is upon you! AMEN!

Everything Is a First Commandment Issue

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, September 25th, 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

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment. [Matthew 22:37, 38]

We know Jesus said this.  And since He declares it to be the great commandment, we must take it very seriously; we should approach it as the most important thing of all and be prepared to give an account for its demands when the day of judgment comes.  Jesus also said, if you “Do this, you will live.” [Luke 10:27]

Martin Luther said that this commandment alone clarified all of the other ones.  He taught this truth this way: We should fear and love God so that: We have no other gods; We do not misuse the name of God; We remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy; (We must fear and love God so that) We honor our Father and Mother; We do not murder; We do not commit adultery; We do not steal; We do not lie; We do not covet our neighbors house or possessions; We do not covet our neighbors spouse.  So you see…

Everything in life really is a First Commandment issue.

We must love the Lord our God not just to the best of our ability, but perfectly, with every atom that forms, and holds together brain, blood, bone and sinew, with our whole undivided self, with our whole heart, soul, and mind.

But we also know how difficult, in fact how impossible this is for us on our own.  I mean, if we loved God above all, we wouldn’t have such a hard time confessing our faith before other people.  We wouldn’t find ourselves thinking of the commandments as an insurmountable burden.  We would never fear God’s wrath, since perfect love cast out all fear. [1 John 4:18]  We would never be uncertain when there is a choice between God and the ways of the world.

And yet we know that this happens to us.  If we take God’s Word seriously, we know how grim a matter it is to not keep the First Commandment.  We understand the troubled question, which the apostles asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” [Mark 10:37]

It’s important to remember that even the commandment of love belongs to the law which Christ alone has fulfilled.  The demand of this chief commandment reveals to us more clearly than any other place that we are and continue to be sinners who cannot answer before God in any way.

But because we’re interested in what makes the First commandment supreme, we must also consider a second commandment that is like it in supremeness.  This is why Jesus mentioned a second commandment, specifically the one declared in Leviticus 19, in the eighteenth verse: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In quality it is “like” the one regarding God. Here again we have “love,” and here again we have the full extent of this love, which includes every contact we have with our neighbor and indeed all of humanity.

The truth is, we would all be lost and shut out from God unless God Himself acted to save us; unless God out of His love for fallen and sinful people like us acted first.  And He did!  He acted first when He gave His own Son who shed His life blood for us upon the cross.  So you see, it is not our love that saves us but God’s love towards us.  Love is not to be found in that we have loved God, but in that He first loved us and sent His Son to redeem and save us from our sins.  The true and complete nature of love, which does not seek its own ends, has come into the world, into your very life, in the person of Jesus Christ.

In our gospel lesson, [Matthew 22:34-46] Jesus after successfully demonstrating the two most important commandments now sets His face towards the cross; the instrument of death that the very men He was speaking with would ensure He would walk to and die upon in just two short days. He does this so that these men and indeed all of mankind would understand just Who it is that gives His life and why He gives it.  He does this with a simple question…

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?”  The Pharisees quickly parroted the answer that had been passed on through many generations after David’s prophecies concerning the coming Messiah’s bloodline: “The son of David” they answered.  But Jesus will not allow that answer to be sufficient; He cannot, because there is infinitely so much more, and if we do not grasp this truth and accept it by faith we cannot be saved from our sins.  You see…

Jesus cannot simply be a complete man who reveals how a good man can love.  If that were the case, we would be lost in our sins and mandated to suffer God’s judgment and punishment for our sinfulness, because let’s be honest, even after our best efforts we still do not love God as we must.  No, Christ must be more than “the son of David,” that is, He must be more than a mere man with unusual qualities and of unusual importance.  You see, He must also be David’s Lord, and far beyond any of the greatest figures of history.  This is why Jesus follows up with another question.  “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?”   If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

In this question, Jesus is passionately trying to demonstrate exactly Who it is that they will condemn in two short days, and who it is who will suffer and die as the only true innocent man upon the cross of a criminal.  He wants them also to understand that in just three days after the death of this innocent man, who it is exactly who will rise from the dead and both proclaim and give victory over mankind’s true enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil!

Who do you say Jesus is?  Do you agree that He is the second person of the Holy Trinity, the very Son of God who comes to us as the perfect, mysterious son of Mary, who has come to die for you?  If you answer yes by faith, then you have both learned and received the divine gift of agape love. [1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:9]

Jesus is God’s solution to our sinful natures’ inability to love both Him and our neighbor as we should.  As both Creator and creature, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and son of Mary came into this world as one of us.  He lived the perfect life of love for God and neighbor that we can not, but most importantly He did it for sinners; He did it for you!

And if you do the one most important thing that God has equipped and encouraged you to do, that is if you receive Jesus as your Divine King and live under and within God’s love by faith, it will become a power in your very lives.  He who believes “is born of God and knows God.” [1 John 4:7]  It will be as when a man finds a treasure in a field, or a merchant discovers a pearl of great price that he has searched for long and patiently.  Your heart will become dominated by the power of this great treasure. [Matthew 13:44-46]

When our hearts are opened to the love of God, we can’t help but be overwhelmed and captured by it.  Not so fully that we cease to be sinners, because we still live and struggle with our sinful flesh, but so that we can honestly say along with St. Peter, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” [John 21:17]

Who you say Jesus is will then determine how you will live the rest of your life.

In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus gave the Great Commission, one last commandment of love to His church before He ascended back to the right hand of God the Father.  Listen: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Why do we preach and teach the Word of God and then form and support the various congregations throughout this world?  Because we fear and love God; because we love our neighbor who is still trapped, dead in their sins.  Why do we meet each Sunday, careful not to neglect the meeting of the saints?  Because we love our brothers and sisters born of Holy Baptism just as we were.  Because together we equally need the gifts that God so freely lavishes upon us in Word and Sacrament every day so that we can continue to grow in love towards God and one another.  And then together, with one heart, the heart of Jesus, we are enabled by God to go out each and everyday, prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in God through Jesus Christ. And the answer we give, will always be centered in God’s gift of mercy and love that fulfills both the great and second great commandment to love.

May God the Father Who created us, may God the Son Who redeemed us and saved us from our sins, may God the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies us and fills us with divine love and wisdom, keep both us and Christ Church until the resurrection of the dead.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

The Art of Thankfulness

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 28th, 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

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ for you.” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]

Many times it seems as if God’s will for us to give thanks is seldom fulfilled by us.  Oh it’s true that there are some circumstances in life when we can’t help but be thankful, but sometimes, many times those circumstances are few and far between.  That’s because people usually—even those of us who want to behave as Christians—have a limited view of our eternal reality.

Our realities consist first of all of ourselves, then it widens into our immediate everyday lives, but last of all, to our shame, we consider God.  Isn’t it true that we can be overwhelmed just by dealing with our everyday lives?  Bad things and good things happen to everyone, and many times, we forget to thank God.  Oh we’ve been known to turn to God when real situations arise; situations that we can’t explain or control, and if and when God responds, we gladly give Him thanks and praise, but sometimes we do forget to praise Him even when we successfully pass through those tough times.  We can be a lot like those nine lepers in our gospel lesson (Luke 17-11-19) who were healed and never bothered to return to Jesus and give thanks to God.  Yes, we modern folks aren’t all that different from people in Jesus time.  So how can we correct this?  Well the quick answer is that we can’t.  When we tell ourselves we must give thanks, it is no longer an expression of gratitude from our hearts, but rather a law or regulation that imposes something that really should be given freely and gladly.  So the secret to being thankful isn’t something we can develop, but rather it is something we are given.

The secret of thankfulness is no secret at all; it’s simply the art of walking by the Spirit, and learning not to evaluate things by the desire of our flesh.

When we learn to see things first within a spiritual reality we will also discover that things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control are things that come only through knowing Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected for me… for you!

And knowing Christ in this way can only come by being in God’s Word.  When we are in the Word we will find ourselves gladly being led, renewed, and refreshed by the Holy Spirit of God who empowers that Word.

It is that intimate relationship with God through Christ in His means of grace that begins to teach us all things; in other words, the Spirit brings us wisdom.

In our Old Testament lesson (Proverbs 4:10-23), the voice of God calls out through Holy Scripture and says, “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.”

This is a challenge God puts out to each of us who are baptized.  It is as if He is saying, “Try me out.  Listen to my Word; let it teach you the truth about sin and death, and then let it take you on another path, the path of forgiveness and eternal life.”

The path of forgiveness and eternal life comes only through the Word of God, and it is always a Word about Jesus Christ.  That Word forces you to see your need for Christ as your Savior and it is showing you the true victory Christ won for you on the cross, and the sure and certain promise of the resurrection that He gave to you in the waters of your own baptism.  This is why our Old Testament lesson ends with this plea: “My son, be attentive to my Words; incline your ear to my saying.  Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.  For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.  Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” [Proverbs 4:20-23]

But even if we give God this kind of thanks, it is still only a portion of the gratitude that we should return to Him.  So how can we develop this art of being thankful? It’s not that difficult really; we do it…

By keeping our eyes on Jesus, which will both teach us and fill us with a God given ability and desire to be thankful.

Jesus thanked His Heavenly Father for everything—from the bread and the wine on the table to the deepest mysteries of salvation.  He thanked His Father for an answer to prayer even before it came. [John 11:25-43]  But you and I aren’t Jesus; we are imperfect saved sinners struggling to hold onto the gifts of forgiveness and new life.  But still we know that God both desires and equips us to be thankful people.  The apostles took part in this same struggle, but in the midst of trials they constantly urged their fellow Christians to continue practicing that art of thankfulness, always giving thanks to God our Father in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!  This is not a pious figure of speech that God’s Word teaches but instead, it is described as a basic attitude of life and a direction for our personalities.  It is the proper attitude of a Christian, and it flows from our knowledge of God, which only comes through the frequent use of His Word.

God is not only the God of the unusual event and the difficult circumstance, but  He is also the source of all things and the giver of every good gift. [James 1:17]  It should be a real eye opener when we read the Psalms and we discover that many “normal things” are objects of praise and thanksgiving for the psalmist.  The psalmist praises and blesses God for the streams that make their way through the hills, for grass which comes forth out of the ground, for the grain that makes bread, or wine which gladdens the hearts of men and women, for sun and moon, for the darkness of night and the light of morning, for the task of the day and even for the work which last until evening.  God is praised for covering the skies with clouds and for giving rain to the earth, for giving food to the creatures of the earth and sustenance to all living things.

But thanksgiving becomes even more abundant when the Scriptures begin to speak to our hearts about the salvation that God has provided for sinful people like us.  This is the same spirit of thankfulness that led St. Paul to break out in joy and praise, right in the middle of some carefully studied thought.  “Thanks be to God” Paul says, “through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Romans 7:25]  “God who is over all be blessed forever.  Amen.” [Romans 9:5]

You see for Paul and the other apostles, everything is ultimately spiritual, and it’s all connected to how God is breaking through into our physical reality.  Everything that Paul writes is filled with a God given spirit of thanksgiving for Christ, Who is God’s unspeakable gift for sinners like you and me.  Oh that we would overflow with praise and be taught to rejoice even in the middle of suffering and tribulations; oh that we would learn to rejoice in Christ with an unspeakable and glorious joy. [1 Peter 1:3-9]

Dear friends, today God is calling each of us to be transformed like the Samaritan leper in our gospel lesson and like the apostles and early disciples of Jesus.

God is asking each of us to be the minority that returns to Jesus every day to give Him thanks and praise.  Let’s not try to answer the question that asks, “Where are the others?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God accept this foreigner?” But instead, let’s just be thankful that He accepts foreigners like us; let’s thank Him for His faithfulness.

Let us be transformed everyday, becoming more and more thankful that God would call sinners such as us, such as I, such as you!  And as we are being made thankful, let us also like the Samaritan respond to Jesus invitation to journey with Him.  Let us proceed to and through those Dark Gethsemane moments and even to the cross of suffering and shame, being thankful that Jesus is our’s and we are His.  Let us follow the sorrowful procession to His tomb and say a resounding yes to the Spiritual that asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  Yes you were there; it was YOUR sins that He died for, but let’s also remember that we were there by faith, when God the Father raised Him from the tomb.  And because He lives, we too shall live with Him forever in Paradise restored.  Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, that Jesus would suffer and die for such a worm and foreigner as I!

Again we find that the art of being thankful is not in trying to make ourselves thankful, but instead it comes simply as a gift of comfort from God Who breaks into our sometimes painful reality, as we are being taught to cling to Christ and His gospel alone.  It is in moments like these that we find ourselves simply rejoicing in the knowledge that God loves us and He has forgiven us for Christ’s sake.  When this one pure thought becomes certain to us, we will not be able to contain our thankfulness.

And this thought can only come by faith through the Word of God and the work that the Word performs in our hearts.  It is the Word that assures you that you are everywhere and always surrounded by the goodness of God in Jesus Christ.  From Him and through Him and unto Him are all things, even our cries of thanksgiving.  To Him be glory forever and ever…  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.

On Cleaving and Clinging

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

Pentecost 25B, November 15, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:24, 25]

Growing up as a Christian I heard a lot of talk and teaching about cleaving and clinging.  I was taught in Sunday school that I must cleave, or split away from the naughty way and always search out the good way.  I was taught that I must “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” [Matthew 7:13, 14]

Now, I was taught that this meant that I must leave my sinful life and cling to Jesus and the road to salvation.  The only problem with this teaching is that no one ever told me how to do this, and no one bothered to tell me that in Holy Baptism, I was already on the narrow road of salvation; Jesus had already found me and given me the new, forgiven life.

This morning, we will look at what means God uses to both keep us on that narrow way and help others to find it also, and then, we’ll learn to trust in Jesus alone.  And to do this, we will simply allow God’s Word to speak to us and teach us how He draws us to Himself, and then secures us in His love.  And then we will learn how God uses we, who are clinging to Jesus, to draw others who are still trapped within a life of guilt and separated from God’s love.

First, as a way of refreshing our memories, let’s define God’s love, or Agápē love. It is God’s own love for creation, for you and me; a love that is intelligent (He knows all of the facts about you and still loves you) and works to bring about new purpose and new life for you and within you.  It is God’s Agápē love that saw the world and all of mankind from the very beginning as sinful, defiled, and lost in darkness, and yet it was this Agápē love that moved God to act in such a way that His act of love would save every last sinful person who was willing to be saved.  To accomplish this mission of salvation centered in Agápē love, God the Father called upon His Son to make a way, a path, or a road back to Paradise.

God sent His Son Jesus to us as one of us, so that He could be our true High Priest. There were priests before Christ came to us, very many of them who were called upon to serve under the old covenant of the law; they were called to do a monotonous service, “offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” [Hebrews 10:11] But God sent His Son and named Him Jesus (God saves).  The very name was to indicate the mission that this God-child, born of the Virgin Mary was sent on.  He would grow to become the God-man, the only One who could live a perfect life, and then out of love for sinners, by way of Pontius Pilate offer His life upon the cross in exchange, or as payment for our imperfections… for our hideous sins.

Prior to Christ our Great High Priest, the high priest of the old covenant was the only one who could pass through the curtain that separated sinners, all sinners, from the holy of holies, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Mercy Seat.  All of these were physical representations of a spiritual reality, and a real place and position, which was simply beyond the reach and beyond the comprehension of sinful mankind.

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” [Hebrews 10:12]  This single sacrifice is both the very definition of Agápē love and the source of our salvation and our own expression of God’s Agápē love.  Through the sacrifice of His body and the spilling of His blood, Christ has brought into completion both our rebirth and our perfection.  Through God’s Agápē love, Christ has paid for the sins of the world, but more importantly, His passion, His payment, included your sins.

“By a single offering He has perfected for (eternity) those (of us) who are being sanctified (that is perfected in His holiness.  And so that you will be convinced of this truth), the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us.” [Hebrews 10:14, 15]  Within His Word and throughout your life, as you cling to Jesus, the Living Word, God demonstrates that He has put His law on your heart and He has written His Word in your mind.  And then He says, through Christ your High Priest, “I will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more.” [Hebrews 10:17]

Here is a truth worth remembering: God draws all sinners to Himself only through the Cross of Christ and His chosen means of grace.

It is through God’s means of grace where all of the Agápē love of the Father becomes yours personally, through the work and sacrifice of your Great High Priest Jesus Christ.  Through the blood of Christ, the entrance into the true Holy of Holies is open for you in connection with that blood, and it shall never be closed to you.  Jesus made a way, a very narrow way back to Paradise for all sinners.  It is narrow because it excludes all other ways.  It is a way, because you follow it every day; it is a living way, because the very veil that you must pass through is through Christ’s flesh.  The Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself is the living way, the truth, and the only source of eternal life.  In the old covenant or the old way, only the high priest himself could enter the holy of holies by way of the great veil or curtain, but this new way is for all of us; each of us are to use Jesus’ flesh as the great means of entry.

The crucified Christ is our entrance into both the holy of holies and the very mercy seat of God.  Jesus reminds us of this truth with these words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]  This morning Jesus holds out His hand to each of you and makes sure you understand all of this as He says, “My blood.  My body.  No other means.  I am the veil that separates sinful men from God the Father.  To get to the Father you must pass through me.”

So how may one enter through Christ our great veil and curtain?  We must continue to draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” [Hebrews 10:22]  Dear friends, we are drawn by God, that is we are pulled away from our sinful lives and into God’s Agápē love through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Through the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Great High Priest, His very body and blood are the only method of payment the Father will accept as atonement for our sins.  So, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8)  But how are we to draw near to God?

We draw near to God with a clean heart; with a pure conscience.  How?  With our hearts sprinkled clean by the blood of Christ and our bodies washed clean with the pure water of Holy Baptism.  And what is it that makes the water pure?  Nothing but the life giving, life changing, Agápē making Word of God.  Through His means of grace, God gives us both rebirth and continual forgiveness of all sins.  And through these gifts we are given a new way to love God and each other; we are given Agápē love; the love of intellect and purpose.  A love that finds it’s definition in the cross of Christ; a love that compels us to bear our own cross of sacrifice and the giving of our selves to our neighbor.

“(So) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:23-25]

How do we continually leave our sinful past and cling to Christ? How can we receive the strength and ability to continually love God with all of our heart and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves?

By holding fast to our confession of faith. By hearing the Word of God often and receiving the blessed assurance of complete forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.  By remembering our baptism and all that it represents.  By gathering each week to confess our sins together before God, and then quickly being assured that through Christ we are forgiven and loved.  By allowing God’s Word read, declared, and preached to sustain our faith and to increase within our hearts a hunger for a deeper relationship of Agápē love with our Heavenly Father.

And then, as faith and love lead us, we are to approach the mercy seat of God, take our place around this altar and receive the very body and blood that continues the Father’s work of Agápē love within us.

And now we must follow this work of Christ that God does within us to a new place.  There is no longer a need to continually focus on only our hearts when God has promised to do such a great work within them.  But now, God asks us to be concerned out of Agápē love, for the countless hearts around us; people lost in darkness and sin that God wants us to focus on.  But how?

By being a living representation of the very Agápē love that saved us; by encouraging “one another, and all the more as we see the Day (of judgment) drawing near.”

In these words, God is telling us that our time is both short and precious; He is inciting us, by the leading of His Spirit and the gift of Agápē love to cling to Christ alone, to come alive, and to help bring new birth and forgiveness to others.

Dear friends, our faith and God’s Agápē love that comes out of us are living, busy, active, and powerful things.  Martin Luther once said that faith and love do not ask “whether good works are to be done; but before the question is even asked, it has (already done) them and is always engaged in doing (those good works).” [C. Tr 941, 10]

Brothers and sisters, we need to meet weekly within this communion of saints,  because from within this very place, out of God’s Divine Service for us, we are continually filled with both faith and God’s Agápē Love, which then sends us out offering and performing good works for Christ’s church and our neighbor.

But because our human nature is constituted in such a way that we would rather be around and deal with those who are only good and perfect, and then neglect and ignore those who are imperfect and hard to love—because of this sinful tendency within us, we notice that those who are weaker cause those who are more perfect to be haughty, spiteful, judging, selfish and unloving while, on the other hand, those who are more perfect, more mature in their faith, cause those who are weaker to envy and be disrespectful.  This is why not only this epistle focuses in on our relationship with other saints, but indeed all of the epistles do the same as a way of warning and countering this evil, so that divisions and false teaching can not arise in Christ’s church.

So how can we avoid these terrible things and live our lives in a way that pleases our Great High Priest and Savior, Jesus Christ?  By leaving these things, confessing these things, and then by clinging to Christ alone; by turning to His cross and seeing atonement, and then turning to the Font and seeing new life.

When these things are active in our lives, it will be God’s Agápē love within us and around us that will bring peace and a strong witness to our community, the very people that need to know Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

This, therefore, is the Christian love that we cling to; it is the Agápē love that is shown to those who are contemptible and unworthy of love; this, Christian love that dwells within each of you, is the kindness that is given to those who are evil and ungrateful. For this is what God did for us; and we, too, are commanded to love as He loves.

Dear friends, broken people are messy, time consuming, and very hard to love; love them anyhow because God chose to love you!  AMEN!

I Agape You!

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

13th Sunday in Pentecost-B, August 23, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).”

Of course those Words of our text are not directed at you the Baptized, are they?  Isn’t it true that in Holy Baptism you have been recreated into the image of Christ; has not God declared you holy, perfect, and righteous on account of Christ?  Certainly this is true, but then why oh why do we have so much trouble becoming what God has declared we are, shall become, and always shall be?  Because we do not understand!

If ever there was a text that proved just how shallow our understanding is and conversely, how deep and vast our misunderstanding is, our Epistle lesson this morning (Ephesians 5:22-33) must be that text. Right off the bat, half of us who are  married have probably been offended, listen: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

Are you offended by this? If you aren’t it is may be because you are soft peddling what this little word “submit” means, so let me give you the dictionary meaning: “To give over or yield to the power or authority of another.” Now to all of you ladies who are married, ever been married, or are contemplating marriage, remember two things if you would, please.  First, this is not your pastor declaring these Words, but God the Holy Spirit declaring them through Holy Scripture; so please direct your angst where it belongs.  Second, the ability to submit to your Christian husband finds its origin in a kind of love that is completely foreign to you; that is, its origins are from outside of you.  So, if you are bothered by these Words, there is a good chance that you really don’t understand what these words mean, but you will soon enough.

Ok, now that I have made half of you married folks uncomfortable and the other half probably feeling a bit smug, lets take a look at the other half of that text: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” [Vs. 25-28]  Again dear Christian husbands, like the wives before you, I want to remind you that this kind of love will never find its source from within your own heart.  To understand where this love comes from, we must look to Christ.  How much does Christ love the church; how much does He love you?  Does he just love you like a brother or close friend?  Does He love you because He is crazy mad in love with you, your smile, your personality, and well, you see where I’m going, don’t you?  No to both of things, but rather, Christ loves you this much (arms stretched out as if hanging on a cross).  So husbands here is how you must love your wives; enough to sacrifice yourself, your needs, and desires, so that your wife is always first.  You must love your wife enough to insist that even if her physical needs are being met, the most important needs, which are spiritual will be met by Christ through you and the church you dutifully bring her to, which declares and provides all of God’s Word, both His Law and the Gospel.  That means you will not only make sure she hears the gospel, which is the forgiveness of sins, but she will also experience the gospel from you!

Now for the rest of you who do not find yourselves within the station of Christian marriage, may I remind you of St. Paul’s Words from last week, which are found just before our assigned Epistle reading this morning?  Listen: And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. [Ephesians 5:18-21]

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ!  Another way to say this is how Paul explained it in his letter to the Church at Philippi: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” [Philippians 2:3, 4]

This Word from God today then demonstrates the conflict that exists between our will and God’s will; it shows us how badly when left on our own we fall short of God’s will, and how easily we justify our false interpretation of the Word to justify our actions or lack of action.  Isn’t that true; don’t we create our own rationalizations in an attempt to justify ourselves and our actions before God and the church?  Don’t we too, like the Pharisees prefer our tradition, culture, and religion over the expressed will of God?  Don’t we want to prove ourselves by these things, and thus demonstrate that others may have strayed from them, but we have not? While others may be in error and strayed from the boundaries of tradition, we love to think that we still possess the truth.  While others need to change and get right with God, we love to believe that we are are ok with Him.  But to your dear Savior Jesus Christ, this kind of an attitude is simply an effort to honor God with our lips. [Mark 7:1-13]

To Christ this kind of pride is a sin, because it tries to secure God’s pleasure and confirmation of our values and ideas without opening our hearts to His changing, invigorating Spirit.  We would rather have God say a hearty “amen” to our attitudes and actions rather than speaking and living out our own “amens” to His will.  Why is this?  Because we don’t understand…

What we do understand is paying our own way. We do understand earning the right to speak. We do understand making ourselves as presentable as possible, cleaning up our acts before we come to the altar or our prayer closet. We do understand all the pot washing, and hand washing, and utensil washing and all the rites of purification and penance by which we hope to atone for our sins — all those psychological, ritual exercises that we use to make up for our failures and our losses until we feel clean enough to go to God, or feel worthy of the love that he has for us.  We do understand nursing the wounds of a troubled conscience with all of our resolutions of amendments and promises to do better the next time.  But this only proves that…

We do not understand! What we do understand is our piety, like the Pharisees, which willingly offers everything to God as Corban (Mark 7:9-13), leaving nothing left to care for others.  We do not understand that giving to God means giving to others.  We do not understand!  But I’ll tell you something of…

What we do understand, and that is not wanting to look on the inside to our heart where all of our uncleanliness lies; things like selfishness and all evil thoughts; things like fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, wild living, laziness, envy, slander, jealousy, pride, and foolishness. What we do understand is that these are too painful to look at; too guilt-ridden to deal with; too fearful to admit, because they are so far from God, so what do we do with these evil things that live within us?  We put them away in a mental box, out of sight and out of mind.

This morning, what God offers each of us is the key that unlocks the mystery of those things we may not understand, and that key is the truth that we do not yet…

Understand the cross. It is the cross that teaches us to admit that although we have nothing to give to God, it is exactly enough with which we may come to him and be received by him. Like the Syrophoenician woman we are to come only looking for the crumbs and believing that they will be enough. She came, willing to pick up the crumbs, with nothing to offer, with no good reason why Jesus should help her — only believing that He could if he wanted to (Mark 7:24-30). We are to come like those friends of the paralytic who brought him on the stretcher and lowered him through the roof (Mark 2:1-5), we are to bring our desires for our loved ones with no thought of making payment. We, like the paralytic, who had nothing to offer but the belief that Jesus would take care of him, should offer only our need and our trust. Like those who brought the deaf mute (Mark 7:31-37) to Jesus that He might heal him, we have nothing to offer but the hope that he will help.

We have nothing to offer. What we do have here are only a few words, however well thought out. And through those few words God returns to us the Good News of grace and the faith which comes by hearing — we bring together only a hand full of lives, some not even liking the others, lives so often out of control that it seems impossible that they can remain in fellowship, but through the cross, God creates and maintains us as His beautiful bride, the Body of Christ, born of the Spirit and the water.

We do not understand how the cross could have effected all this, but it has; and it does every time we hear the absolution directly after our private and corporate confession of sin; it has every time we hear from this pulpit the proclamation of the Gospel.  We do not understand how the cross could have such a profound impact on how we treat our spouse and our brothers and sisters within the church, but it happens when we hear the meager words, and eat and drink the humble bread and wine, which for us by faith has become the very body and blood of Christ.

Although we may not truly understand all of this now, we believe that it is so by faith, and because of faith, we receive a wonderful gift as one who has been abnormally born, cleansed by the washing of the water with the Word, so that Christ might present us with the rest of His church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we with the church might be holy and without blemish.

Now with the gift of a new kind of love called Agape, we can finally begin to love as Christ loves us; we can and will submit to one another through the power of the Holy Spirit, who moves us to sacrifice our time, talent, and treasure to benefit someone besides ourselves, as Christ through us loves the church, our spouse, and the world through us.  May God continue to fill us with this heavenly gift, which unlocks the mystery of marriage, community, and paradise to each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Do We All Believe in One True God?

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Holy Trinity Sunday C, May 26h, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death. [John 14:26]

After hearing those words of Jesus, most people who call themselves Christian, would respond with a hearty AMEN! And if this world were not controlled by our enemies, sin, death, and the crafty devil, we could  let it go at that; we could shake their hand, pat them on the back, and call them brother and sister. But this world is controlled by our enemies, and all that glitters… is not gold! So what can we do to protect  ourselves from the threats of our enemies and the false teachings that they have tried to sneak into the church since the very beginning of creation? We must keep God’s Word and accept the truth, that we don’t  all believe in One true God!

This morning, we have done something we only do once a year; we have read together the Athanasian Creed. Why did we do that? So that we can keep God’s Word; so that we can abide in it, be protected by it,  and so that we can protect it from the attacks of the enemy. That is also why every Sunday we recite either the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. If we do not know the truth, then unfortunately we will fall for  anything new, but as Solomon has said, “There is nothing new under the sun” and that includes the various forms of false teaching that bombard us today. Long before there were Jehovah Witnesses, Oneness  Pentecostals, Mormons, and Newagers, the church had to defend itself against Satan’s attack.

It started in the garden, when he used the serpent to cause doubt, with the words, “Did God really say you shall die if you eat of the fruit. You shall not die!” Once that crafty devil was given an inch by our first  parents, he has been taking mile after mile ever since. And his attack has been relentless, with false teaching after false teaching. What the cults and phony preachers are spewing out today is no different than the  lies that were proclaimed thousands of years earlier. And at the heart of all of their blasphemy, is the regurgitation of the same lie… God may express love, but God is not in His essence love! So let’s allow God to  shine His light on this lie so that we can continue to keep, teach, and confess His pure Word.

First, God’s own Word declares that He is love. Throughout Holy Scripture we see a compassionate and forgiving God; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We discover that God is not slow to punish  sinners, but He is patient, and He doesn’t wish that any should perish, but that all would return to Him and have eternal life. [2 Peter 3:9] And “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  [1 John 4:10]

Do you hear that? You can know that God is love by remembering that God has a Son, and that He sent His Son to die for you; to atone for, or pay for your sins. Remember those words always, because without them, the enemy can once again take an inch in your life, with the sole aim of taking away your eternal life.

The first attack of the devil is always to cause doubt; in this case, he wants you to doubt that God has a Son and His name is forever Jesus Christ. The devil doesn’t care if you believe in the Holy Spirit nearly as much as he cares about your belief in God the Father’s only begotten Son. He does not want you to believe that Jesus is God’s Son who is forever begotten and not made, because if you loose this faith, you will no longer see God as love, and if you no longer see Him as love, you will no longer see His desire to give a Savior who is sent to you in love.

In all three of the Creeds, we confess that the Son of God is begotten of the Father. Now this doesn’t mean that God some how reproduced Himself and created a Son in the same biological way that we reproduce. No the Son of God was not reproduced; He has always been God. You see, the First Person of the Trinity has always been the Father, and He has always been in a relationship with the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son. Their relationship has always been one of perfect love and it always shall be that way. Why? Because “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” [Numbers 23:19] In Him, “there is no variation or shadow due to change.” [James 1:17]

The Creeds, which God has given as wonderful gifts of security to the church, also express this relationship between the Father and Son together, with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is always proceeding from, or is sent out by the Father and Son together. Many have tried to explain with illustrations what this relationship is like, but ultimately all illustrations fall short and really do an injustice to our Triune God and once again invite the enemy to take another inch. What we do know is that the Holy Spirit, being sent by the Father and the Son uses the means that together they have chosen to bring faith and eternal life to sinful men and women. The Father and Son together send the Spirit on a mission to save a fallen creation, simply because…

GOD IS LOVE. In Scripture, whenever it is referring to the “inner relationship” of the Trinity, we are given a glimpse into the relationship that is also at the very heart of the God head… love!  This love that they share is more than mere affection and it is more than just an ideal; it is at the very heart of who God is.  You see, in order to say that you have love, you really must have someone to love, right?  Listen to how St. Paul describes love, and see if you don’t see this is exactly what he is saying: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful”. [1 Corinthians 13:4-5]

Another way we could say this is that love is always… and I mean always directed at another person, correct? Isn’t true love always a denial of your own comfort over another’s? This is why I always cringe when modern psychology says, “If you don’t love yourself, how can you love someone else?” Of course we should love our self; but that is not the kind of love that IS GOD! Self-love is really kind of a oxymoron, isn’t it? It’s like saying someone is a “married bachelor”. The point is, we cannot love ourselves if we truly understand what love is. Love is always about another.

So if God is love, the epitome of love, then God must have another person to love, correct? It just can’t be enough to say that He loves us, His creation, because then whom did He love before the creation? No, if God is love in its perfect and scriptural definition of love, then love must also describe who He was before creation. In other words, God has always had another to love; He has had Himself in the person’s of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit. The Son loves the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit loves the Father and the Son. In other words, God is One, but since God is love, He loves within Himself, in the way of the Holy Trinity!

So when we confessed the Athanasian Creed this morning, we see that not only is God love, but He is never alone. God Himself is a community of love; He is a relationship in and of Himself. He is One God but also Three Persons. God is love and…

THIS LOVE IS PASSED ONTO US. Through the Word of God we know that not only is God love, but that He loves us.  He has sent His Only Begotten Son to live and die for us.  In the cross, we see the extent of God’s sacrificial love for the world, and in our baptism we have been assured that His love is specifically now and forever given to each of us as individuals.  In baptism, we have been recreated into the very image of God… into the image of love.  God’s means of simple water and His powerful Word have recreated us to express our love not by ourselves, not by looking into a mirror, but in community.

This community is first expressed in family as husband and wife, parents and children, and then it widens into our church family, then our community, and finally out into the world, a world that God loves so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for. When tragedy strikes in any of our circles of love, God’s Holy Spirit moves us in this true love to gather around those we love who are hurting, and we support them and uphold them with God’s gift of love.

Today, we celebrate Memorial Day; a day that we remember the great sacrifice so many in our armed forces has given. In their sacrifices, we see pain and suffering; we see the cost of love. But we also see the greatest of all sacrifices in the giving of a Heavenly Son by a Heavenly Father so that we may be One with our Triune God; so that by keeping Jesus Word, a Word that proceeds from the Father and the Son, through the blessed power of the Holy Spirit, we might have eternal life… abundant life, and never ever fear death.

As we prepare to leave this place but not God’s loving presence let us also remember our brothers and sisters in Oklahoma, who have been hit so hard by another tornado. Let us keep them in our prayers, and where God provides let us find ways to come along side of them in love. When we do this small thing for them and any who are hurting within our family circles, we are really celebrating our relationship of love with one God in Three Persons, each relating to and loving one another and each other… and loving us. In Jesus name… AMEN!

It Was Love… A New Kind of Love!

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 5C, April 27th, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. [John 13:34, 35]

What was it that moved Christ to go from the upper room, to the garden, and then to His suffering and death upon the cross?  It was love; a new kind of love; a type of love that before was impossible for human flesh, sinful human flesh to express!  But Jesus is God—what does that have to do with us?  Simply this, Jesus said we must now have and express this kind of love.  “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another, as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

This means, we are to express a type of love that costs, even hurts at times.  We are to love each other with a sacrificial kind of love.

A grumpy old man called a church one-day and explained to the pastor that he was looking for a new church, as his old church no longer met his needs.  He said that he wanted to join a church that didn’t press him to get involved, a place where only the old hymns are sung, a church that didn’t keep calling him at home checking to see if he was alright, simply because he missed a few Sundays.  He wanted to be a member of a church that didn’t issue offering envelopes or keep track of his giving.  He then asked the pastor if his church fit the bill, and if not, could he recommend one.  The pastor was silent for a moment and then responded: “Well yes, I think I know just the place for you.  Do you have a pen and paper?”  The man said yes, and then wrote down the exact address of a local church that the pastor gave him.  The man got in his car and went out immediately, only to find a church that was boarded up, closed down and for sale.

That story is simply an illustration that points out the problem with each of us, if left on our own; we want life and all of it’s circumstances to meet our needs; we want everything to be done in a way that makes us happy.  It’s as if we are saying, “OK, I’ve been baptized and I have Jesus, now leave me alone and let me rest in His glory until He calls me to my mansion.”  Let’s call this way of thinking and living a theology of glory.  But that is not the love, the life that Christ calls us to live out.  He said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

This morning in our gospel lesson (John 13:31-35), Jesus teaches us a new theology; a theology of the cross.  His love took Him to the cross; the emblem of suffering and shame; a place where all mankind’s glory is destroyed and made empty and meaningless.  In the cross, God calls a thing what it is; He says that our sin, even our sinful flesh is vile and rotten and it must be destroyed.  But here is the amazing part; He doesn’t want to destroy our sinful flesh, but instead He destroyed the perfect flesh of His only begotten Son.  And even more amazing, the Son agrees that only this self-sacrificing love will save sinners like you and me.  And now from the cross, Christ calls out to each of us… follow Me!

Does this kind of love make you nervous or afraid?  If so, good; you should know what you are getting into.  Or, you should know what you’ve already signed up for.  This is love, not that we love God, but that He first loved us, and proved it upon the cross.

In our first lesson (Acts 11:118), some of the “holiness” brothers that were of the circumcision party, heard that Peter was hanging out with dirty gentiles, and even calling them brothers.  So they conveyed a board of inquiry to get to the bottom of this scandal.  But when Peter spoke of how even the gentiles were repenting and turning to Christ alone for salvation, they were quieted and then let go of their own agenda, and glorified God.

How were these Godless gentiles able to receive the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Jesus and be saved?  Well the same way every one does; through the Gospel message that Peter shared with them.  When they heard about their sins, and the penalty of death God imposes because of those sins, they were at first terrified.  But when they heard about the Son of God, Jesus Christ willingly taking upon their sins upon Himself, and suffering and dying for them, they were grieved, but then… once they realized that this meant peace with God, they were over joyed that God truly loved even them so much, that He gave His One and only Son, that if they believed and received Jesus’ gift of the cross, they would be forgiven.  And they were; and there after they too were baptized and renewed by the love of Christ.  They were remade to love as Christ loves.

How did all of this happen?  Through the gift of repentance and the gift of love.  Repentance is simply agreeing with God that He is right and we are wrong.  It is simply turning to the only means that God has made to save us from our own sins and the sins of others.  Contrition and faith, or Law and Gospel, which come through the Word of God, are the only means God chooses to turn our hearts from love of sin (love of self) and then turn them to the cross of Christ where we are all equally given full pardon and love for God and each other.  Where ever, when ever, and to whom ever God’s means speak to the heart of a sinner, new life is given.

Now what we must remember is that while this new life is invisible, because it exists in our soul, it is always expressed in how we live out our physical lives.  For those of us sinners who know how much we have been forgiven, we will certainly be able to demonstrate a love for Jesus that is empowered by this new kind of love.  And that new love will express itself first in our confession of faith, then our consistent worship of Him, next in our prayer life, and finally in our service to His church and each other.

But what about the good life; what about the glory of walking and talking in blessings with Jesus?  Now in that question is exactly where and how the enemy the devil tries to deceive us.  Nowhere did Jesus say that the life of faith is one without suffering and pain.  Nowhere does He say that once you’ve been baptized life will be easy; in fact He said the opposite.  Jesus said that, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33]  But Jesus does promise that there will come a day, perhaps sooner than we know when all of our suffering and pain will cease and then we will forever rest in glory.

Listen to this hope expressed in our Epistle reading (Revelation 21:1-7): “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Sounds good doesn’t it?  That is your promised inheritance, but for now, we must wait for that glorious day; but we aren’t waiting like a bunch of lost lambs bleating for their shepherd.  No, Jesus has sent us the Helper, the Holy Spirit who since the day of our baptism, continues to dwell richly within each of us.  Through this indwelling of the Spirit, we also have Jesus real presence, and together with the Father, Jesus truly has made all things new, even you.  It is a done deal; complete and finished, lacking nothing but the fulfillment of time.

To the thirsty, those who thirst for true love, Jesus as the Good Shepherd, calls us to drink in His Word and dine at His Holy Table.  We may fill ourselves with as much as we can hold, without cost, because Jesus has paid for it all with His very lifeblood.  And you will need every bit of this spiritual nourishment, because it alone gives you the strength to hold onto Jesus until the last day.

If you will remain in Him, through these God appointed means of grace, Jesus promises not just complete forgiveness, but also the ability to love others as He loves them; a love for even the unlovable; the kind of love that is willing to take risks and even receive injury.  On your own, you could never truly have or demonstrate that kind of love, but with God living and working within you, you will be able to watch in amazement how unexplainably it flows out of you.

How did the church go from a bunch of self-serving cowards to powerful and unafraid conquerors of sin, death, and the devil?  It was love!  It was the radical movement of love envisioned and empowered by our Lord, and today and everyday, it begins with us.  This morning, behind the closed doors of this church, God continues His campaign to save the world with His love through forgiven sinners like us.

Filled with the Holy Spirit of God, our relationship with one another becomes a strong witness to the world of just what true love is.  We are not just to open the church doors and shout out what love is, but we are also to open the doors and let the world look in and see what love is; let them see true love at work in us; changing and rearranging us.  We aren’t just to preach love, but we have been empowered to practice it, and not as the world knows love to be, but a new kind of love born out of Heaven that experiences being loved by the Lord of love.

Dear friends, we can testify about love until we’re hoarse, but until the world can see that love alive and lived out among us, and personally experience that love through us, all of our witnessing about love will be in vain.  As followers of Jesus, we live behind glass doors.  The world constantly looks into see what we are like.  If we show a new kind of love, the world will know it and investigate it.

Isn’t that an exciting challenge the Lord has left us?  Can we actually do it?  Yes, if we continue to follow Jesus and remember that it is He who works within us, forgiving, loving and teaching us how to do the very same thing.

Now, you who have been forgiven so much and loved so greatly go out and allow the Holy Spirit to do the same through you.  And if you should fall short this week, come back next Sunday to be forgiven and renewed for love!  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!