Posts Tagged ‘Means of Grace’

Eat to Live!

Sunday, August 19th, 2018

Pentecost 13B
August 19, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:54]

Have you ever heard the saying “Eat to live, don’t live to eat”?  It’s a common catch phrase that the nutrition industry has come up with in an effort to help us reexamine our diets, and there is good reason for doing that.  Did you know that about 36 % of Americans are classified as obese?  And did you know that if the current trend holds, which experts believe it will, by the year 2030 a whopping 42% of Americans may end up obese?  But wait, it gets worse, of that 42%, experts feel that 11% of them could be severely obese, which is about 100 or more pounds over a healthy weight.

So yes, there is reason to examine just what it is we are eating and why we are eating it.  If we are living to eat, that is living for the enjoyment of eating, the statistics are warning us that we could be in for big trouble.  And that is the message from God for us today.  It’s a message about eating and drinking, but it isn’t talking about our physical diet so much as our spiritual diet!

Our Old Testament lesson (Proverbs 9:1–10)  sets the table so to speak for the spiritual banquet that God has prepared for us this morning, listen: “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”  To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Leave your simple ways, and live and walk in the way of insight.”

The Bible seems to always be reminding us that there’s two different kinds of eating, physical and spiritual, and that the spiritual food is a lot more important than the physical food: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every Word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” [Deuteronomy 8:3]  

This morning, wisdom is inviting us to feast on God’s Word; to continue developing the practice of going to church, attending Bible study, reading and sharing the Word of God at home and with friends and neighbors.  Wisdom of course is present and received through the Word of God.  So really, the invitation to come to the banquet is an invitation to get to know God.  But before we will accept wisdom’s invitation, we have to first admit that we need it; we have to admit that we need God.  We have to admit that we are simple and lost sinners, lost in darkness and lacking judgment.  That is, on our own, we can only think of physical eating and drinking; we live to eat.  This morning, God is asking us to admit that there’s a greater kind of eating and drinking, a spiritual one that we can’t understand or see the need for unless He intervenes!

And right now, in His Word, God is doing just that; He is intervening in your life, in a mysterious and powerful way.  This morning God wants you to see that everything you consume physically is dead.  Your meat is dead, your grain is dead, your fruits are dead, and your vegetables are dead.  Once you start munching them down they are dead.  We are simply dead people munching on dead things, unless… unless God intervenes.

In our gospel reading (John 6:51-69), God does just that.  Today, God comes to you by faith in the real presence of His Son Jesus Christ and says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” [Vs. 51]  

Does that offend you?  Does it confuse you?  It may, if you simply hear those Words and stop listening.  You may be confused if you are thinking about living to eat and not eating to live!

Standing before our eyes of faith this morning is Jesus Christ, the son of Mary but also the true Son of God.  Like the people in last week’s gospel, we might be tempted to grumble to ourselves and even out loud that this is only Jesus who was born of a woman named Mary.  He was a man like us in every way, wasn’t He?  So how can He say He will give us anything that will make us live forever?  Well the answer is in the origin of Jesus.  As the Living Bread, He is the Living Bread that came down from Heaven.  In other words, Jesus is reminding us that while He was born into our human existence as one of us, His origin is not from among us; He has come from heaven.  Jesus is telling us that before His birth He was with His Father and with us, and after His death, He tells us that He always shall be.

Who is Jesus?  He is the voice of wisdom calling out to the simpletons and sinners; He is calling out to you and me.  He calls us to come, eat of His bread and drink of His wine; a banquet meal that He and He alone has prepared for you.  This morning Jesus tells us that we can’t settle for any other diet.  It must be His bread, His body given for us.

But Jesus, ever the gracious host, offers you more than just food, He offers you a refreshing and life giving drink as well.  ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [Vs. 54-55]  

Now this is the point where the grumblers try to turn Jesus’ Words into something a bit more palatable (pun intended)!  They say, “Ok, surely He doesn’t mean we can eat His body and drink His blood.  That would be cannibalism.  So this must be one of those wise philosophical sayings that says one thing but means another.”  So the grumblers keep on listening and keep on looking for ways to be “comfortable” with His Words.  But Jesus isn’t done; not by a long shot! Listen…

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. [Vs. 56, 57]  Now the grumblers are really becoming uncomfortable.  Jesus is still insisting that we eat His flesh and drink His blood, but instead of giving us the meaning of this saying, He makes the assertion that if we want to live forever, we really need to feed on Him, because that’s what God sent Him for!

What is causing the confusion?  What is causing the offense?  Is it Jesus or those who listen to His Words?  It’s those who are listening!  They are still living to eat and do not understand the need to eat to live.  So Jesus will give the grumbling munchers one more bit of wisdom in the form of a question.

“Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” [Vs. 61b]  

Do you take offense at that?  Do you see only the meal that is spread before you and fail to see the host who offers it?  Jesus is the son of Mary, but He is also the Son of God.  His flesh and blood are not simply like any flesh and blood; they are divine.  They have now somehow in a mysterious way become God’s flesh and blood.  The host has become the meal!  He who is Spirit has taken on flesh, and now He has become a new kind of flesh and blood; it is the flesh and blood of the God man Jesus Christ that you are offered to feed upon today.

In His Word He offers you real food; He shows you your sins and if you will see them, if you will eat that bitter herb, He quickly offers you the sweet delicacies of the gospel; He offers you forgiveness of all sins and peace with God your creator.  In your baptism He assigned you a permanent seat at His banquet table.  It is your place that He prepared for you at the beginning of creation.  Only you may sit there… only you!  And at that seat He prepared you for, He also dresses you like a prince, because that is what He has made you to be!  And in His Word, at His heavenly banquet He says, read, listen, and receive my Word, my flesh and blood.  Take and eat, this is MY body, which is given for you.  Here is the cup of thanksgiving; take and drink of it all of you; this cup is the new testament in MY blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. 

Do you hear the Words MY body, MY blood repeated over and over again.  It is truly His flesh and blood that He gives to us in His Word, in His Washing, and in His Holy Meal.  This morning Jesus wants you to see that by receiving His Holy Food, you are receiving Him. You receive His life and His death. 

What the disciples who grumbled and complained could not see, and what many of those who live to eat today can’t see is that unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus the son of Mary and the Son of God, you can’t have life.  Instead of eating to live, you will be living to eat.  What many can’t see is that in the heavenly food that Jesus gives is true life that comes from true sacrifice.  Upon the cross, the Son of God allowed men to take His life from Him.  He who is eternal, who can’t die, died; He died because He became one of us, for us.  He died because He gave His body and shed His blood for the sins of the world.  He died for you!  

When Jesus says take and eat, take and drink, He is giving to you real food and real drink.  He is giving to you Himself; His life and death for the forgiveness of sins… your sins!  Will you eat to live, or will you continue to live to eat?  Do you see your great need for this mysterious eating and drinking or will you simply turn away as another grumbling muncher?

As for me, I will answer with St. Peter, “Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the Words of eternal life”.  Alleluia, alleluia!

If It Had Not Been For The Lord…

Sunday, August 12th, 2018

Pentecost 12B
August 12, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” [John 6:39]

This morning our gospel reading drives home the point that Jesus is the solution, our solution to feeling lost, alone, and afraid. He’s even our solution to death.  He says Himself that He has come to give life for the world!  He repeats the message that we heard last week, that He alone is the Bread of Life, but this time He points out that if you don’t receive this bread (if you won’t receive Him), you will die.  But if you will eat the bread that He offers, well then you will have life, an abundant life, even if you sometimes don’t feel like eating that bread!

In our Old Testament reading [1 Kings 19:1-8], we jump smack dab in the middle of a crisis.  

It was a dark moment in the life of the prophet Elijah.  By dark, I mean Elijah was in the middle of deep depression; so deep, all he wanted to do was lie down and die.  Have you ever been there?  I’d like each of you to pause for just a moment and recall that time in your life; a time where all you felt was loneliness and perhaps hopelessness.

Isn’t it true that sometimes, that feeling of depression can sneak up on you when you least expect it?  For Elijah it came immediately after a huge victory.  He was sent by God to confront the wicked Queen Jezebel and her false prophets of Baal.  He was sent to prove to the people of Israel who their true God was and is!  It was a perfect day; Elijah called down the fire of heaven and left the false prophets and the people of Israel speechless.  There was one problem though… the sinful Queen was enraged.  She swore that she would get her revenge quickly by taking Elijah’s life; he was a wanted man. 

So off he ran, into the wilderness where he sought refuge in a place of seclusion.  Alone with his thoughts and weary from being zealous for God, he laid down under a shade tree; he laid down to die!  He asked God to take his life and end his existence.  He was tired of doing the right thing and then paying the price.  You could say that he found a degree of truth to the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished!”  

Have you ever felt like that?  Did you ever lay down in your bed, completely happy with never opening your eyes again?  Have you ever felt like everything was set against you?  And yet you are still here; you are no longer in that dark place.  Something happened that got you out of that dark place and carried you to another place.  Maybe you can look back at some of those darker days and say, “If it had not been for the Lord… well I don’t know where I’d be right now!”  And that is certainly how Elijah must have felt; for you see, in the middle of his dark and depressed sleep, God sent His angel to wake Him.  There at his feet was a nutritious meal, and an angel who said, “(Elijah) Arise and Eat.”  

Now scripture doesn’t say what Elijah’s answer was, but I can’t help but think that he must have grumbled; he must have responded in a way that any of us would who were camped out in that valley of darkness would: “No!  Leave me alone; I’m not hungry!”  And to that God must have told him, “Eat any how; it will be good for you.”  Not wanting to devote any more time to fighting God or dealing with any of the problems He led him into, I can see Elijah saying, “Fine.  I’ll eat, if after that you will just leave me alone to die.”

And what happened next?  A few hours later, after he had eaten, the Lord sent the angel again to wake him and have him eat again!  This time though, he was feeling just a little better, and besides that, there was not only Word from the Lord, but purpose; God had given him a reason to live another day and a new mission: “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”  And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” [1 Kings 19:7-9]

We can learn something wonderful from this story about a depressed man of God; something wonderful that can help us through our own dark moments, but before we do there is one question that needs to be answered.  

Why was God taking Elijah to a mountain far away named Horeb?  Does anyone know why that mountain was important to Elijah or anyone from the old church?  Well, it was the very same Mt. Horeb where God first spoke to Moses and proclaimed that He saw His people held in captivity in Egypt, and He was then going to do something about it.  It is also the same mountain where God later spoke to Moses and sent him down to his people with the Law of God; a law that would protect His people and prepare them to enter the promised land of milk and honey!

If it had not been for God, where would Elijah be?  If it had not been for God, where would the old church be?  If it had not been for God speaking tenderly but sternly to you, where would you be?  When you were lost and alone, when you thought you lost your way, He spoke to you also and said, “Arise and eat!  Remember my promise to you in my Word!  Arise and read!  Go to church and hear the Word preached to you!”  

Oh we are not much different than Elijah; we too have had many times in our lives where the Lord has had to spoon feed us so to speak; “I don’t want to go to church; I don’t want to hear a sermon; I don’t want to hear that I am a forgiven sinner.”  And to that God’s consistent message has been, “Do it anyhow, because your journey and your purpose is not complete.  You will need the strength!”  Oh, if it had not been for the Lord, I don’t know where I’d be right now!

 And just what is it that the Lord has done for us?  In our 2nd reading (Ephesians 4:17-5:2), we get the answer, and oh what an answer it is!  

He has not only fed us, he has given us a holy appetite for heavenly-spiritual food; food that not only nourishes us but continually recreates us!  Just as God made Elijah go back to the beginning at Mt. Horeb, St. Paul does the same thing for us this morning.  He takes us back to the beginning of our new baptized nature.  There in that holy washing with simple water and God’s powerful Word, he points us to His mysterious work that is daily transforming us again and again.  This morning, God is asking you to look backwards in order to reestablish your bearings; in order to see your life as He sees it; you have a purpose!

In your baptism, and every day since, you have been learning to live a life walking with the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  You have learned that in your baptism, your old dark nature has been crucified with Jesus; put to death, and yet you still live, or Rather the mind and heart of Jesus lives within you leading you and strengthening you.  You are taught every day to put off your old self.  You must put it to death because that is the self that is prone to doubt, grumble, and wander away.

In your baptism, you are told, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (who lives within you), because you belong to God; you are His beloved child.  If you want meaning in your life, you can’t give up; instead you have to continue receiving God’s nourishment.  You will need that nourishment if you are to imitate your Savior, your Bread of Heaven.  So arise and eat!  Even if you don’t feel like it, get out of bed; with every source of energy you can muster stand up within your depression and get to the place where you are fed the Word of God; with every exhausted muscle in your body turn yourself towards Jesus and receive the Words of life… YOU ARE FORGIVEN!  

Hear, read, listen, and receive that nourishment, because without it you really are headed for death, and not the kind of death that leads from trouble to peace, but an eternal death that forever knows nothing but trouble and never a moment of peace.

In our gospel lesson (John 6:35-51), Jesus was pleading with the people to eat that true bread of heaven; bread that would bring them life.  

In last week’s gospel lesson, they bragged that their ancestors ate manna from heaven, but this morning, Jesus counters that by saying while it was true that they ate that bread, it was also true that they were all dead.  “So,” says Jesus, “eat the Bread of Heaven, and you will live forever!”

The people in Jesus audience grumbled and complained and wanted to know how they would live forever!  “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’”

And to this grumbling spirit that is born in the darkness of sin; sin that gives birth to doubt and the hopeless feeling of depression, Jesus speaks not in the thundering threats of the Law; He doesn’t demand faith but instead in the still soft voice of the Gospel, He gives faith by saying: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day… Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes (in me) has eternal life.  I am the Bread of Life.”

And there in those sweet Words, Jesus speaks faith into each of us by taking us back to our baptism.  He reminds us that we did not choose Him, but He chose us; the Father, His Father chose us.  He sealed us to Himself within our baptism, and He daily draws us into Himself.   In those words, Jesus reminds us that just as He has been crucified and resurrected, so it is true with our own identities.  

Our old sinful nature is behind us and we are to look forward every day to our own resurrected life.  And to reassure us every day that this is not only our new identity, but also our eternal future, Jesus speaks in that still soft voice, “Arise and eat!  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, He will live forever.  And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.  (My flesh crucified for the sins of the world; even your sins)!  And in those Words we find hope; we find peace with God.  OH, IF IT HAD NOT BEEN FOR THE LORD…!  AMEN! 

THE Bread of Heaven

Sunday, August 5th, 2018

Pentecost 11B
August 5, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

There’s a famous Saturday Night Live segment that was known as “Hans and Franz Pump You Up!”  In this segment, two wannabe, phony body builders named Hans and Franz are speaking in contrived Austrian accents, as they tell the viewing audience that they are there to pump them up.  At the time, everyone knew that they were of course making fun of movie-star, body builder, and future Governator of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In one episode, Arnold even walked out on the stage in the middle of their skit and confronted their phony portrayal of body builders.   

Now as funny as that skit was to me, it also had a degree of truth.  And it was this: If left on our own, we can be a lot like those posers pretending to be body builders; we will pretend to be Christians.  And instead of making Arnold sick, we make ourselves sick; sick with sin!  Now if you are happy with living a life that satisfies only your physical needs you probably won’t be interested in our message this morning.  And if that is the case, then your sin-sickness will lead to death.  But if you’re willing to let God’s Word speak to you this morning, you will begin to understand the need, your need to see all things in a spiritual way.  You will begin to say with the crowd in Capernaum, “Sir, give us this bread always.” [John 6:34]

In the last few weeks, we’ve heard about Jesus feeding well over 5,000 people with a few fish and loaves of bread, we’ve witnessed Him seeing an emergency at sea that no human eyes could have seen, we’ve heard about Him walking on water and then calming the sea, and we also heard about Him healing the sick and even raising the dead!  

That’s a lot to take in; a lot to process.  Imagine how the people who were there were struggling with that information overload.  And instead of processing the information and making a conclusion about who Jesus must be, they asked for more of the experience.  More information to overload their limited minds.  “Sir, give us this bread always!  We want more of your wonder bread.”  They wanted more demonstrations of God’s power through this insignificant son of a carpenter.  They were ready to settle for food that spoils and reject God’s presence and gifts that were within the “wonder bread” given by the God-man Jesus Christ.

In this simple retelling of an actual event that took place in Capernaum, God would have us notice two things about the people then and people today.  We all are very quick to settle for things that spoil, rust, and rot, and we can quickly become bored with who Jesus really is, the Son of God.  And if we aren’t mindful of this, we might find ourselves conveniently placing our relationship with God on a shelf, relegating Jesus and His Words to just another religion, another way to live right.

In our gospel reading the people of Capernaum demonstrated that they were not all that different from their ancestors, the people God led out of bondage in Egypt.  

In our Old Testament reading, we heard how the former Hebrew slaves grumbled when the miracles that provided for their physical needs seemed to dry up.  They began to long for the good old days.  They grumbled just weeks after being freed from their bondage, “(Oh, that we were still by our) meat pots (in Egypt where we) ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” [Exodus 16:3]  And the people of Capernaum in our Gospel reading, grumbled just a few hours after Jesus fed them bread out of nowhere; wonder bread that satisfied their hunger for an evening, “What (additional) sign do you do” they asked, “that we may see and believe you? What other miracle will you perform to get us to keep following you?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Will you give us this same bread?

And what about us; what do we grumble about?  Perhaps it’s the way God answers our prayers?  Maybe it’s the lack of respect we feel that others give us?  Maybe our economic condition is the thing that seems most unfair?  Or maybe we grumble about the need to go to church and Bible study every week.  For some it might be the type of music we sing during worship or the length of the service!  Or maybe you just don’t like the pastor and his personality?

Like the people then we too can get so hung up on the physical representation of God’s gifts, that we loose sight of the giver.  When that happens, we can get caught up in a grumbling spirit and miss the more important spiritual work He’s doing within us through His Word.  In essence when we physically or mentally check out we have cut off our true spiritual connection with God! 

So how do we restore that right condition, that spiritual condition within us.  How do we reconnect with God?  We do it by receiving Jesus for who He is and then simply listen to His Words!

Who is Jesus and what is it that He wants to give to us?  

Well let’s let Him answer that for Himself: “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” [John 6:32, 33]

Who is Jesus?  He is the bread of heaven; He is the One Who comes down from heaven to give you all good gifts from above.  He is your Creator and God.  What He gives to you in physical gifts are given so that you will hear and receive His Word, and then see the Giver behind the gift with eyes of faith.  And once He has given you faith, you are able to see the true gift that He gives behind the physical gift.  He gives to you Himself!

Jesus says to you this morning, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” [vs. 35]  “Take and eat this is my body, which is given for you.  This do in remembrance of Me.”  (Take and) drink of it all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.  This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” [Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25]

What is it that Jesus gives to you?  He gives you Himself; He gives you His body and blood in with and under the gift of bread and wine, and when He gives you Himself, He gives you life… new life; He gives you forgiveness of sins.

So Why do we grumble and complain?  

Listen, forget the physical reason you might be tempted to gripe, and listen to the truth, the spiritual reason you grumble and fail to see your Savior active in your life.  You grumble because like the Hebrews that God used Moses to save, you are really groaning under bondage; you are in bondage, you are enslaved in your sin.  

Your sin is the reason that you so quickly get caught up in the physical blessings and ignore the eternal spiritual blessings.  Your sin is the reason that you so easily forget about your bondage to it, and then forget about your sinfulness; and when you forget about your sinfulness, you also forget about your need for a Savior.  You forget that yours is not a religion like all of the others, a religion where you must work and work to hopefully please an angry god; no yours is a relationship of love and trust with your Creator who has come to you just as you were and done the only work necessary to save you… He has died to take away your sins and set you free!

In the life, the suffering, and the death of Jesus, the Son of God, you have received The Bread of Life, come down from heaven.  He alone satisfies your hunger and gives life to the world.  By His cross only, God has taken away the sins of the World.  And in your baptism, this great gift of forgiveness has been given to you personally!  In your baptism, Jesus has shared God’s Spirit with you; He alone gives you and always fills you with the power to love and live for others.

And as you live your life loving others, forgiving others, you are also leading them to the same source of strength that has recreated you, the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ.  In His Word, Jesus not only washed you clean, but He renews your mind and is constantly recreating you into His image.  He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  He speaks these few precious Words to you over and over again so you will truly receive the Giver behind the gift… “You are forgiven!”

It is my prayer and God’s will that you will keep coming to this place to receive His gifts and hear the Word that is behind each gift.  As He fills you, it isn’t a phony pumping up like Hans and Franz, but it’s an actual re-creation and healing; it’s real change!  It is my prayer and God’s will that you will keep saying along with the people of Capernaum, “Sir, keep giving us this bread always.”  

Heavenly Father, keep filling us with your forgiving love and power, so that we may give these same gifts to our neighbors by bringing them to the same source, the bread of life, Jesus Christ.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Living On the Edge!

Monday, October 16th, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 15th, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 22:1-14

Following Jesus is, well it’s… wonderful, amazing, fulfilling, exciting, and peaceful, but it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy because it requires faith, and faith requires you to release control of your life and your decisions to God’s direction. Faith is the substance of things that we hope for, but as of yet, they are unseen! To live a life following Jesus requires living by faith and not by sight. In other words it requires us to live on the edge of faith and fear.

This is the message that our gospel reading leads us to this morning; it was the message that Jesus was speaking to the Jewish leaders and others that were listening to Him teach, and it is the message that He is giving to us this morning. This morning, Jesus speaks this message to you and me: live a life of faith by living on the edge! But as I said, this kind of life isn’t easy; it never has been.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of God here on earth, we have seen a picture of disappointment, fear, doubt; we see sin becoming stronger, while the joy, courage, and faith of those who live in and proclaim the kingdom seems to be getting progressively weaker.

Jesus story about a King who invited many to his son’s wedding banquet is told to illustrate this very point. Like His story, the history of the Jews and even our history displays sinful people refusing God’s offer of grace. Within the ranks of these sinful men are a mixture of open and defiant sinners and those who seem like real believers, but secretly they’re posers, unbelievers; Jesus says that the time is coming when they’ll be unmasked! Within His story, Jesus has miraculously compressed all of the New Testament time and even our time, into one story.

What we need to remember throughout the story is that the wedding and the invitations to attend it are a picture of God’s grace; His undeserved mercy, forgiveness, and love for all of sinful mankind. But this grace can only come through Jesus Christ, the living Son of God! The banquet table and the feast that’s being served on it represents the feast of victory for our God; a victory that celebrates first the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and then the very same thing that’s promised to each and every person who is seated at the feast of victory. Well almost every person. You see in Jesus’ story, there is one person who doesn’t belong there. There’s one person who isn’t wearing the robe provided by God! That one person represents a vast number of people who refuse to turn to Jesus as their Savior, Lord, and King. And the change of clothes they refuse to be fitted with represents the new identity that each of us is offered and given in our baptisms.

Throughout the life of every person ever created, there are God-created opportunities to receive this new identity, to put it on if you will, to walk around in it and become comfortable in it. But God in His wisdom allows each of us to reject this new identity and that is what causes tension; it’s what makes us feel like we’re living on the edge of joy and disappointment; the edge of courage and fear; and the edge between faith and doubt!

Living on the edge means living between joy and disappointment.

Let me tell you a story about a fictitious Christian woman named Adrian. Adrian was strong in a Christian faith that she had grown in since she was baptized as a baby. She had been taught in her teenage years that she should not be unequally yoked to an unbeliever, specifically, some day she should seek to marry only a Christian with a faith similar in strength to her own. One day Adrian met the man of her dreams who brought her joy; he was compassionate and filled with sympathy and empathy towards others. He seemed to live the model life of sacrifice for others, and that included especially Adrian. There was only one major problem, he was not a Christian, and he seemed to have almost no knowledge about Christ, but he seemed to not only be open to Adrian’s witness to Christ, he even seemed to enjoy his time as Adrian instructed him in the scriptural knowledge of God, the problem and reality of sin since the fall of Adam and Eve, the promise of and need for a Savior, the birth, Ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and His institution of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Finally she showed the love of her life how all of this was part of God’s plan to both save the world and him. He listened to this explanation each time with patience and a smile. But one day, he looked lovingly at Adrian and said, “Sweetheart, I’m glad your faith brings you such comfort and joy, but you should know that not only do I see no need for your Savior God, but I can confidently tell you I never will. To believe in Jesus would require me to give up to much of myself.”

And with those words, Adrian sadly kissed the man of her dreams on his forehead and bid him farewell and the hope that one day he would change his mind.

Now that’s a serious story about a serious problem. Invitations are sent to many to come to church but so few people respond. It’s frustrating. Many of you have reached out to neighbors or friends, and even like Adrian, to serious suiters, and you have asked them to come to church and meet Jesus, and you too know all too well the disappointment, of how few respond.

Maybe that is why we find this morning’s parable so familiar. But we must remember that Jesus has told us that the Kingdom of God has always been like this; it’s like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son and many would not come. They are just too busy to respond. But not you… here you sit at the table! You got in, so put aside your disappointment and receive the joy of the Lord!

Living on the edge means living between courage and fear.

In Jesus story the royalty, which represented the Jewish nation were the first ones invited to the feast! As a group, they would not come, so they were destroyed. In the year 70 AD the nation of Israel, the city of Jerusalem and more importantly their temple, their way of life and worship was destroyed, all because they would not come to a new Holy City, the Kingdom of God which can only be entered through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. But their empty seats will not even be noticed because God is no longer inviting a nation of people, but all people from every nation, tribe, and tongue; that means He is inviting you!

Now for some people this can cause fear; even fear that can almost paralyze them. They see how God punished the nation of Israel for the way they mistreated their invitation, and so they see God as an angry and punishing God. But if they see Him in this way, as if He has dark storm clouds draped across His face, they aren’t seeing Him correctly! The very fact that He has invited you first in the waters of your baptism, and the fact that you are seated here right now hearing about His mercy and forgiveness proves that He is a God of love! And because He loves you, He says to you this morning, “Take courage, put on your new baptismal identity and rest at my table of peace!”

Well finally, living on the edge means living between faith and doubt.

In Jesus’ story, the king invited everyone to the feast. Many have responded, and the dining hall is filled with guests, but there’s a problem. The king sees a man who isn’t wearing the appropriate wedding attire. He is wearing an old, perhaps tattered robe, obviously the garb that he wore in everyday life, his street clothes. “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe,” the king asks. The man was speechless, so the king had him bound and tossed into a place called outer darkness. Jesus concludes the parable with these solemn words: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

What we learn from Jesus story is that everyone is invited into the Kingdom of God, but not everyone will respond to that invitation. But we also discover that even if you get in you’re not really in unless the King chooses you to stay! And here is where doubt can creep in; here is where we begin to ask what does it take to really get in?

Well it all depends on what you are wearing! In your baptism you have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness; in essence, you’ve put on Christ. No work or accomplishment of your own can be included. Naked you came into this world and naked you must leave, accept for the righteous robe of Christ. Remember, when we’ve done all that we can we are still worthless servants, because we’ve only done that which was our duty to do. [Luke 17:10]

If our garment isn’t the good life we live on this earth for Jesus, then what is it? It’s faith in what Jesus has done for us! Theologians call this the imputed righteousness of Jesus which becomes our hope and the object of our faith. Because faith is the garment that is put on us, all we can do then is rest in it or wear it. Another way to think of this is to say that our faith is like a cup or the sea shell I use sometimes to pour water on someone during a Baptism, it simply holds God’s free gift of righteousness. In your baptism you can say that, “God has clothed me with His garments of salvation, and He has covered me with the robes of righteousness.”

And here you have the close of Jesus parable. Oh wait, there is another little matter to address isn’t there? If the banquet table represents the Kingdom of God, then how did that unbeliever get in there? Isn’t there a great divided between heaven and hell so that none may cross? Yes there is, so that means that the banquet table isn’t necessarily the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is the Kingdom of God! Is there a difference? Yes and no!

What we need to remember is that the Kingdom of God is where God’s people gather around His gifts. What are His gifts? Well they are His means of grace, or His means of faith! Chief of all of these gifts is His Word, Holy Scripture, which is not just your invitation to the banquet but the very Son of the living God, Jesus Christ. Within God’s Word you are given the gift of faith to believe that you really belong in God’s Kingdom, both here on earth and in heaven.

So what is the Kingdom of God here on earth? It is the church, the very bride of Jesus Christ, which receives not just His Word but His Sacraments. In your Baptism, you have been ushered into the Kingdom of God! Someday in your future, after a long life of reading and studying God’s Word, hearing countless gospel messages, and receiving many meals of forgiveness served at the Lord’s table you will pleasantly find your self in Paradise! As each of us receive these gifts, we are reminded that we are living a life of dependence on God, a life of faith that’s filled with tension between heaven and hell. But Jesus assures us that because we are resting in Him and receiving His gifts we will one day join Him at His eternal table of feasting where there will be no more suffering, pain, disappointment, fear, or doubt, and this is the gospel, the good news that gives us peace and joy. But there are some here, in Christ’s church who will not put on this new baptismal identity. There are some who are simply posers, mere imposters. They refuse to be changed and they will not respond! They already have the reward of living in God’s Kingdom, His Church, but they will not be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and eternally find their seat at His banquet table.

For these poor souls, there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth in a dark place where they will be forever bound and kept. All because they would not receive the Word of God; all because they would not keep fighting to retain their baptismal identity; all because they would not confess their sinfulness and be fed their Lord’s meal of forgiveness!

Yes, living the life of faith is living on the edge, but if you are resting in the gifts of God through Jesus Christ you have been assured that even if you experience disappointment, fear, and doubt, one day very soon you will only know joy, love, and peace, all because you walked by faith and not by sight!

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen!

Is Salvation a Work of God Or Not?

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

Sevententh Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 30th, 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

“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” [Ezekiel 18:2]

Another way of saying that is, “How dare you say that God is not a just God.” Have you ever found yourself questioning God; accusing Him of allowing things to happen that were not fair towards you or your family? That was the situation that surrounded Our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 18:1–4, 25–32), which is essentially a conversation between God and His children of faith, the nation Judah, through the prophet Ezekiel. They were the last remnant of Israel, and they were being led out to Babylon and into captivity. And as they were saying goodbye to their old lives, they were accusing God of punishing them for the sins of their Fathers; the national sins of the past. In essence, the people were accusing God of being unfair. Behind their complaint was the idea they were not as guilty as their fathers had been and didn’t deserve being exiled into Babylon. By quoting that proverb, they meant to say: “Our fathers sinned and the children have to suffer the consequences.”

So, in the words of Michael Turko (an investigative TV reporter in San Diego, CA), “It ain’t right!” But God will not let this accusation of being unjust or unfair, go unanswered. Listen…

“As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” [Vs. 3,4]

I think we tend to forget that the wages or payment for sin is death. But we like to measure or quantify sins don’t we? Don’t we like to think that a little sin is not as bad as a lot of sin? You know how we think: There’s big sins and then there’s my sins!

Don’t we like to think that our sins aren’t nearly as bad as say the sins of an extremist group like ISIS? Ok, that’s a little extreme so let me give you a somewhat easier example of how we play with this idea of grading sins, and how we affix blame to other people’s sins.

On December 11, 2008, Bernard Madoff was arrested by FBI agents and charged with one of the most devastating violations of Security Fraud ever committed against numerous financial agencies; it left thousands of investors broke, and it was the beginning of the great recession, which we are only now beginning to rise out of. In a kind of ripple effect, bad mortgage loans have been foreclosed and are still being foreclosed today and home loans are harder to come by, thus restricting access to the American middle class dream of home ownership. So, in a sense, our teeth are set at edged because of the sins of Bernie Madoff. We don’t have a problem with Bernie paying for his sin, but it doesn’t seem fair that nearly ten years later, we are still paying for his and other peoples greed.

Did God allow Bernie Madoff to commit that great crime? Yes. Did God cause Bernie Madoff or anyone else who commits a crime, to sin? No, but God does punish sin. That punishment will come in eternity and there is no reprieve once it has been instituted. But while sinners wait for that eternal penalty, or judgment of sin, we all suffer the temporary repercussions of that sin within the world that we live in. Scripture makes it clear that these temporary discomforts caused by our sin or other peoples sins are nothing in comparison to the eternal punishment that awaits all unrepentant sinners!

So what is the solution? Is there a way out of this mess we call sin, or are we bound to it and it’s inevitable conclusion, like the collision of a train plowing through a vehicle stuck on the tracks? Well, in verses 30 through 32, God gives us not only hope, but a solution to our sin problem. Listen…

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” [Vs. 30-32]

Now O Christians you stand before a righteous judge; the Judge who knows your every sin; nothing is hidden from Him. He has shown you that by your sin, through every sin, you are guilty of breaking the very first commandment. You love yourself more than you love God. You have made your own desires the master of your soul. And our Righteous God, our Creator judges you guilty and worthy of an eternal sentence of suffering and death. How do you plea? You must be honest if you hope for any leniency! If you plead guilty, then listen to your only hope. “Repent O Christian. God does not desire the death of anyone, let alone one who has been purchased by the lifeblood of His Only Begotten Son!”

You see friends, Christianity is not a movement, an organization, or an attitude. It is a relationship between God and an individual person, and it’s based on your faith in God’s only provision of mercy, Jesus Christ the Savior from sin. God is asking each of you to respond to what the Lord has given you in Christ, and then daily ask Him to help you live a life that reflects the righteousness that Jesus has given you. And so It becomes true, the righteous man “lives,” that is, he exists and will continue to do so under the blessings of God.

To attempt to base our relationships with God on ourselves without Jesus is to tell God that we think Christ’s work is neither necessary nor beneficial. Such a misguided life can take any track it wants, but it is always headed away from the Lord and his blessings and waiting for the inevitable collision with eternal judgment. But there is a solution to this sinful life style, and it is one of repentance and baptism.

How you live out this new baptismal life will depend on how you answer this next question. Is baptism a work of God or man? Is salvation a gift from God or is it something you earn?

This is in essence the question that was set before the Pharisees in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 21:23-32) and it is the question set before every Christian today.

How you answer this question will not only effect how you live your life today but even how you spend your eternity. Let me ask that question in another way, “Do you want to risk your eternity on your own efforts, trying to outweigh your sins with your own “good deeds”, like some kind of ponzie scheme, or do you want to take God’s promises by faith and rest in and trust them alone?

You see friends, Baptism isn’t simply a custom of the church, but rather its a divine ordinance, the only way that God has provided so that sinners can be saved from their sins, and it stands in force until the Last Day. It is for all people no matter how early or late in life they embrace this wonderful means of grace. It is equal to the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of God’s Word. Jesus made them equal in force and power with His command: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” [Matt. 28:19–20)

As God’s solution to sin and His means of allowing us to stand before Him and be pardoned and given a new life in Christ, He has protected this holy washing of water and His Word and ensured that Christ’s church would continue this sacrament, which Jesus instituted before He ascended into heaven. Since the day of Pentecost, we hear of this Holy Sacrament being offered to sinners who desired to be saved from their sins. Listen to Peter’s proclaimed solution to the people’s sin: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Dear Christian friends, above all else that you hear today, please remember this, Baptism is a means of grace.

It is God’s means of removing your old sinful identity and replacing it with the perfect identity of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. It creates faith in God who comes to you with His solution to your sin, which is the suffering and death of His Son upon the cross for the sins of the world. In other words, Baptism is God’s means of making you sinless and exempt from both the judgment and the punishment you deserve for your many sins. Or as the Apostle Peter declared “Baptism… now saves you also.” [1 Peter 3:2]

In your baptism, God put your sinful nature to death, by joining it in Baptism to Christ’s death. He buried that old nature in Christ’s tomb, the only place where He no longer looks. And then, miracle of miracles, He raises you up to new life as his child. Your old self is crucified in Baptism by God’s Word, and in this death that Christ shares with you, you die to sin every day as you continue to hear that same Word, and are set free from the punishment of your many sins. So, through your baptismal death and resurrection, you have been given new life. [Rom. 8:17]

So I ask you, is God fair? Do you prefer His means of grace, His way of dealing with the sins of the world, even your sins, or do you prefer that He punish all people according to their sins? If you prefer the way of His grace, then can you see baptism as His means of grace? Do you see it as a mystery or sacrament of His love for sinners or do you prefer to earn your forgiveness and work for your salvation? In essence, “Is Baptism a work of God or a work of man?” May God give you faith to see the answer clearly as you ponder the mystery and work of His Son Jesus Christ within His church and indeed, within your very life… AMEN!

Recreated to Praise God

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

Easter 3A, April 30, 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

Christ is risen, He’s risen indeed. And because He lives, so too, the world may have rebirth and eternal life as well. But for you the baptized your hope is already made certain by faith in your resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. Your faith is made living through the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus. It is the Gospel that not only brings you a new and eternal life, but it brings you a life of purpose, right here and right now. Your purpose is to praise and glorify your saving God in all that you think, say, and do. And your service becomes pure and holy as you continue to read and learn from holy scripture. This learning is a life long process that begins in baptism, is continued as we grow, and it shall not end until the day we die. This is a process that became clear on that first Easter Day.

In our gospel reading, it’s once again the first day of the week, Easter Sunday.

Some of the women who were disciples of Jesus went to the tomb and found that Jesus wasn’t there; instead they found angels who declared that He had risen from the dead! They went back to where they were staying and found the 11 apostles and a vast number of disciples hiding behind locked doors, because they were afraid that the authorities would punish them as well! So when the women reported what they discovered and what the angels told them, the disciples were astounded, but soon their excitement wore off, and they all began the long trek back to normal living. In other words, they decided to ignore the reports of the resurrection!

That same day, two of those disciples were on their way to a town named Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem; they were trying to make sense of everything that had happened. They must have been discussing the last three years they spent with Jesus; how they were appointed witnesses and given authority to drive out demons and heal disease. They must have recounted how they followed this man they thought was the Messiah; the one who would anoint Israel to rule and bless the entire world. They must have recalled how on Palm Sunday He made His triumphant entry into the city and then into the temple to purify it from evil, which would then restore God’s rule on earth. But now, their hopes had been dashed by Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, who handed Him over to be killed by crucifixion and then sealed away in a tomb along with all of their hopes and dreams!

Now while they’re talking about these things and sharing their disappointment and shattered dreams, who is it that comes along side of them? None other than Jesus Himself that’s who!

But their eyes were kept from knowing who He is?

Now that’s strange! How did He do that? Well first, let’s remember who Jesus is, shall we?! He’s God, and He can do whatever He likes! But we also need to remember our message last week about Thomas; he refused to believe until he could actually see and touch Jesus, right? And what did Jesus have to say about that? He said that Thomas believed because he saw Him, but more blessed are those who believe without seeing; those who see not with physical eyes, but eyes of faith! Remember, Jesus is talking about you and me; we who believe because of the work of God’s Spirit that comes to us in His Word and Sacrament. Remember this, because it will be an important truth at the end of our message.

So back to our gospel reading and the two disciples who are kept from recognizing or seeing Jesus for whom He is. So Jesus asks them, “What is this conversation that you’re holding with each other as you’re walking along?” And they stood still, looking sad. That means that they were actually frozen by grief; they were so sad and depressed they couldn’t even find the strength or motivation to walk any further because of what they felt they lost; the one they thought was the Messiah is dead! “Then one of them named Cleopas, answered Him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened (in Jerusalem) these days?” (Dude have you been locked away in a tomb?!) And He said to them, “What things?”

Now that’s strange; I mean, why did Jesus ask “What things”; He’s God right? He knew, didn’t He? Sure He did! May I suggest that Jesus was testing their faith? In other words, He was taking their weak faith and making it stronger through proper instruction and understanding of the Word of God. You dear saints have experienced this method of instruction in your catechism study when the Pastor tests your knowledge of a topic with this question: “What does this mean?” And then you faithfully answer, “We should fear and love God so that…”

You see, Jesus had to completely destroy their hope in what they saw and perceived so that He could give them faith in what they could not perceive or understand! How? By opening up the scriptures and explaining God’s Word! What part of the Word? All of the Word; He did this by showing them that every page of scripture was about Him! He showed them that He was the key for not just unlocking scripture, but understanding it. How? By knowing that the gospel, the forgiveness of sins is exactly the very thing that God has always been up to throughout the history of man, and then by seeing that every word in scripture is recorded for that very reason! By showing them that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was the only sacrifice that could be made that would take away the sins of the world; even their sins!

So, what we learn this morning is that Jesus wants to remove our fears and disappointment and put Himself in their place! Listen to their confession after Jesus asked, “What things?” and see if you don’t hear fear and disappointment in their words. They answered, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (oops they forgot the part that He was begotten by the Holy Spirit; they forgot the part that says He’s the Son of God), but at least they got the last part of the creed right. Listen, “and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up (to Pontius Pilate), to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But “WE” had hoped that He was the one (who would) redeem Israel.”

Then they continued their testimony about how some of their women amazed them by declaring that when they went to the tomb of their former Messiah the body wasn’t there, but instead they were greeted by angels who said that Jesus wasn’t dead but alive!

And this is where Jesus begins to speak faith into their hearts and even into ours this morning, and He does it first with a scolding:

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?”

And that is the fatal flaw of their false faith. In their faith, their freedom, their new world order, and their grief, their feelings were central to everything they believed. Their lack of glory, or their desire for glory was the central reason for their unbelief in Jesus! But Jesus reverses their thinking, their glory seeking, by showing them that His glory should be the center of their faith; He shows them that without His suffering and death, there could be no hope for them or the world; it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and die! Now Jesus brings faith and salvation into their hearts by preaching about Himself! Now the living Word of God begins to open their eyes of faith and our own so that we too might believe unto salvation. But then He stopped the sermon as they were drawing close to the village, and He acted as if He was going on farther.

“But they urged Him strongly (they insisted), saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So He went inside the home with them. “(And) when He was at table with them, He took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.” Now doesn’t that sound familiar? Listen to a similar statement found in Luke 22:19, “saying “(Take and eat,)This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Yes, this appears to be a repeat of His actions when He instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion! “And (once he broke the bread and gave thanks), their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” Where and how did they recognize Jesus? In His Word and in His sacrament!

Here dear friends is the great transition from becoming a disciple through the act of being an eye witness to becoming a disciple by being a witness through the power of God’s Holy Word and Sacraments. Once they were given faith through the Word and the breaking of the bread, their eyes were opened and they saw, they knew Jesus for Who He truly is, the eternal Son of God! “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” And that has been God’s means of bringing sinful people like us to faith ever since. It is His means and not ours. It is so He is glorified and not us!

Now, as I move towards closing our message, I would like to speak to you Christian parents and Grand Parents.

I can think of no greater honor that you could give to God than to lovingly direct your children’s hearts to burn in love for God, His Word and Sacraments, and your Christian family. Wouldn’t you agree with me that children seem to have a natural burning love, or at least a burning desire for the love of their parents and grand parents? So, your task dear Christian parents is to take that love and direct it first and foremost to God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

You have the challenge of teaching your children that if they value and respect your love, they must first value and respect the love of God the Father “who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds.” In other words, they are to develop both a love and fear for God! Or as our epistle lesson states, they are to learn to conduct themselves “with fear throughout (their)time in exile.” What does that mean, their time in exile? It means the time that they are living and waiting in this sinful world for Jesus to come back, until the time that God has determined will be their last moment here on earth! How will you accomplish this task? By reminding them that they were purchased or ransomed out of this sinful world with the precious blood and sacrifice of God the Son, Jesus Christ! In other words, you must help them see that their future does not depend on you or them, but upon Jesus Christ Crucified and Resurrected for them and the world! Or as Martin Luther wrote, we must teach them to believe that Christ has “purchased and won (them)… not with silver or gold but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death, that (they) may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him!”

Now dear Christian parents is the time to begin directing the hearts and minds of our children towards God, no matter their age! Do not stop to think about lost time; do not even wonder if it is too late! Remember, their salvation is not up to you, it’s up to God and His work through His means. It’s not what you have done or failed to do, it’s about what God has done through Jesus Christ and what He is continuing to do! Our only job is to always point them to Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected for them and for us! That is the beautiful thing about grace… it’s never too late for faith in Jesus Christ! So for now on, let us resolve ourselves to giving our children, regardless of their age, the life changing exposure to God’s means of grace, His Word and Sacrament! Today dear friends is the first day of the rest of their lives. Let’s make it a blessed day by keeping Jesus Christ in the center of it! He has risen, He has risen indeed! AMEN!

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!

Listen, God is Calling!

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally the third response or excuse…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Baptism also implies an invitation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord Is In His Holy Temple

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

Epiphany 1 (HL), January 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.” [Psalm 11:4]

Each Sunday we hear a similar call and a declared need to both worship our God and be surrounded with His glory.  But do these words still apply to our churches today?  In Israel the temple was considered to be the dwelling place of the Lord, the place where His glory resided.  Is this true for us today, or is the time past when the worship of God is confined to a special place?

We can answer both yes and no to that question.  Without a doubt the time of the Old Covenant temple, with its sacrifices and ordinances is long past.  All that the Old Testament commands about the offerings, the service of the temple, and the festivals doesn’t concern us.  But on the other hand, the time isn’t past when God reveals Himself to us through distinctly tangible and physical means.  The God who surrounds us on all sides and fills the whole universe, Him we cannot meet or truly know as our dear Heavenly Father except through Jesus Christ.  It is in the Gospel, in the Word and the Sacraments, that we possess God as our God.

In every place where GOD’S Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered God comes near to us, in the same way that He drew near to His people Israel within the temple.

When a church building is set aside for worship, it is properly consecrated by the Word of God and by the prayers of God’s people who gather there to be both surrounded and filled with His glory.  This is why we call our church a holy place, because it is set apart for God, to be the meeting place where He comes to meet us within His means of grace.

Jesus Himself modeled for us a life that honored both the temple and the local synagogue.  As we heard in our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 2:41-52), at the age of twelve Jesus already spoke of the temple as “my Father’s house.”  As a mature man He drove the traders out of the temple and wouldn’t even allow them to carry anything through the sanctuary.  It was meant to be a house of prayer for all people.  It is stated that it was His custom to go to the synagogue.  Evidently this means that He attended the local houses of worship.  And following that same pattern of living, the apostles as well were loyal to both temple and synagogue as long as they were able.  And then when they were no longer welcomed, they found other rooms for worship, which in time became the forerunners to our Christian churches.

You see dear friends, we have both the right and the obligation to foster the same love toward our own churches, which the godly Israelites had with regard to the temple.  The truth is, our baptized souls and minds long for the house of the Lord; it is there where our hearts, whether we admit it or not, seek rest, as rain rests upon a lake, at the altars of the Lord of hosts.

We peculiar people who are called “Christian” in our spirits, are glad when they say: “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”  When we arrive at his house we truly can “enter His gates with thanksgiving and praise” and we can go forward “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” [Psalm 27:4]  We are aware that in the house of God that “Splendor and majesty are before Him; (and) strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” [Psalm 96:6] Word for word a Christian can say: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”  [Psalm 63:3, 4]

And we will need this work of God, because this entire world and really our own sinful nature both implore and even demand that we give up our faith and style of worship, which is considered by many, to be antiquated and a relic of the past.  To these voices from within the darkness of sin we respond, “The LORD has said that He would dwell in thick darkness.” [1 Kings 8:12] So “In the LORD I take refuge.  How can you say to my soul, ‘Flee like a bird to our places of safety.  All is lost within your religion, and we non-Christians surround and out number you.  Can’t you see that your foundations are destroyed?  So why do you cling to a faith and religion that can’t protect you?”  “Ha” we respond confidently…

“Our help is found by resting in the Lord; by allowing our faith to be strengthened through the means of grace that God Himself has determined to work through for our good.” You see, when we do this, we become part of the “foundations” of the very society God has instituted.

So what are these foundations that the darkness of sin threatens to destroy?  They are very simply the church, government, and family.  Luther called these institutions the stations of life, and he said, “Where such stations operate as they should, there things go well in the world, and there is the very righteousness of God.  But where such stations are not maintained, it makes for unrighteousness.  Now God declares (that) these stations must remain if the world is to stand, even though many may oppose and rage against them.” [AE 13:58 cf AE 54:446]

Now, while it is true that if we judge this world by what we see, all seems to be lost and enveloped by the darkness of sin, but remember God and His glory dwell within the darkness; even from within that darkness God declares, “I AM.”

The Lord is in His holy temple in heaven, but His glory fills all of creation; His eyes see and He guides you, and even if the world only see’s Him as if His eyes are closed, and even if they think He does not see or know, HE IS.

But the truth is friends, this darkness isn’t just something that surrounds us, but in fact it resides even within our own sinful flesh.  And because of this darkness we can begin to be flooded with doubts and fears.  Although it might sometimes seem that the wicked are prospering in their wickedness, God is still ruling in the heavens. Nothing escapes his detection. He sees the deeds of the ungodly, and he will punish them fully in His time. The Lord hates evil and He loves righteousness. When He comes in judgment, he will punish every sin of the unbeliever. But those who are righteous through Christ, you who trust in Christ alone, will dwell with God in eternal happiness.

Even when the very foundations of society seem to be undermined, this assurance of Isaiah remains true: [The Lord] “will be the sure foundation for your times” (Isaiah 33:6). Even when wickedness and lies flourish, “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” [2 Timothy 2:19]

Dear saints, we must be filled with all these promises, comfort, and strength regularly, and God does this very thing within His Divine Service here within our church home, which is His church.

The truth is, we who are God’s saints are being built up as His very foundation for maintaining His glory within this sin-darkened world.

We are drawn by the work of the Holy Spirit to this place; we come to be filled with light so that the world in darkness may know the source of our light.  We come as sinners forgiven through the Holy cross of Jesus, washed clean in the waters of our baptism, so that others will be drawn for the same reason and to the same source of new life and cleansing… Jesus Christ!

When the world looks for you to throw in with them, to be like them, and to act with them; when they look for you to follow them, and in surprise comment how strange it is that you will not; that you still find it necessary to “go to church,” you can then, through the work of the Holy Spirit respond as Jesus responded to Mary and Joseph, “Why do you wonder where I’ll be on Sunday?” “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

You see, through Christ, God is not just the Father of His Son Jesus, but He is also your Father as long as you see your need to take His Son as your Savior from your many sins.  And because God is your Father, you will also have the same regard as Jesus did for His and your Father’s house.  You will not neglect the meeting of the saints nor the up-keeping of the church and its ministry, because it is within that place of meeting and within those means of grace, that God freely gives you both forgiveness and new life.

Dear friends, our faith is often tested and its often found wanting. God’s faithfulness and mercy toward us, however, never weakens or fails. Despite our lack of faith and even our wicked deeds, He extends His grace as a refuge from our sinful nature and the sinful works of others. He does this so that we can both see and hear Him work through His Word and Sacraments, in order that we will have access to His undying testament, which guarantees His great and unending love for us.  Let us pray…

In You, O Lord, we take refuge. Though we are found lacking righteousness, save us by the righteousness of Christ. We ask this in Jesus name… Amen!

Trust The Lord Of The Harvest

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

Reformation and LWML Sunday in Pentecost B, October 25, 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

The song that we just heard, “Don’t Worry; Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin, will be our mental hook this morning, which we will hang our message on.

As you come to worship today, on this joint Reformation and LWML Sunday, what is it that you are worried about? Now, I know that it’s common for folks to do their best to convince us that there’s nothing to worry about, and in fact, one of my jobs as a pastor is to convince you to cast your worries upon the Lord, because He cares for you.  But we do worry and we don’t like others to tell us not to.

So the truth is no matter how many times we’re told not to worry, we do worry. And then naturally, we are drawn to environments and events that seem to limit the drama or worry that we might be exposed to.

Speaking of drama or worry free zones, from what I heard, that is exactly what thousands of saints during the LWML 36th Biennial Convention held in June this year at Des Moines, Iowa. That convention was based around the theme “Bountiful! Sow ∙ Nourish ∙ Reap.” I have been told that at the Convention, the ladies were blessed to be able to sow the seeds of faith in the lives of those God placed in their path.

Those in attendance were reminded of their Baptism where the seed of faith was sown into their hearts. They were nourished through God’s Word and the Sacrament of Holy Communion as they spent much time gathered around that very Word of God in worship in different settings like, Bible studies, devotions, and time together with roommates in the hotels. The convention body put this nourishment to good use in God’s Kingdom as new LWML Mission Grant recipients were selected for the 2015-2017 biennium. In selecting these grants, the LWML commits to support them with prayers and offerings. Those in attendance also celebrated the success God gave to His saints in the mission field through the last biennium.

Everything was wonderful. For many there was not a care in the world as they spent time on that mountaintop of worship. Then in the closing service, the proclaiming pastor shared God’s Word and the urgency to go back into their communities and sow and nourish the seeds of faith, and reap the harvest by the power of the Holy Spirit working in each of them and in those with whom they would share the Good News of our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

And at the conclusion of the Divine Service, just like it is here every Sunday when the Divine Service is over, it was time to leave the mountaintop. It was time to go in peace and serve the Lord.

So how do we, the redeemed, the bought and many times brought back, sons and daughters of the King respond to this awesome mission challenge that our Father places before us; how do we go in peace and serve the Lord?

Perhaps we worry as He calls us off the mountain and back into the sin darkened world in which we live to share with our neighbors, the Good News of Christmas and Easter – the Good News of the Savior, born at Christmas, crucified, died, and buried on Good Friday, resurrected Easter morning, ascended back to heaven forty days later; sitting at the right hand of God until He returns to judge the living and the dead. We worry whether or not we “shared it right” and how people will receive this Good News.

Interestingly, even though this Good News is our blessed assurance, for many reasons, it causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble (“Were You There,” LSB 456) every time we hear the call to share it with others.

Now at this point, you might want to say to me, “Pastor, every time you talk about the opportunities God gives us to be “witnesses,” to be sowers and nourishers of those seeds of faith; or every time I hear my Savior say to me, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), or “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), my worry level rises and I tremble.”

And when we get caught up in worry, it can become a burden of fear that actually binds the Word of God within us, preventing it from going out into our families, community, and parts beyond.  So what should we do with this worry?  Well how about this, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:2). And to that promise from the Lord you might counter, “Ok Lord, what do You have that helps me with my case of worry?”

As we ask that question of our heavenly Father, He responds by reminding us to look at how we are already incredibly blessed. In fact the over-abundance is what can lead to worry as we stand looking into our closets trying to pick out an outfit from the abundance of clothes we have, or when we have to throw out food that has been in the refrigerator or cupboard too long and is no longer fit for consumption by man or beast, or when we have to buy another freezer because the other one is full to the brim.

And so we continue our conversation with God and say: “What really causes me to worry, besides health issues for some of those I love, and problems I have with members of my family, or issues I am having in a relationship, or my congregation here that seems to be dying, is when I seem to hear You calling to me and saying, ‘The time is now to come off the mountain, back to the plain, out of the worship service and into a dark and sin-sickened world with the only answer and solution to all of our and society’s ills.’”

Without a doubt, the time is now for each and every one of us, to use our God-given gifts and abilities to meet the challenge of sharing the Gospel message of Jesus Christ with those around us, and into all the world.

To be perfectly honest that is a huge responsibility and it causes us concern, worry, and moments of trembling. This is true as we look at the billions of people who need to hear of God’s love poured out to them through faith in Jesus Christ. This is true as we consider where some of our friends or some of our family members are in their walk with the Lord. We make excuses to our God: “Lord, You know that those conversations are very difficult to have for many reasons and on many levels. It is hard to confront those with whom I am very close in a way that will be perceived as loving.”

On this reformation Sunday, we remember almost 500 years ago how God used a terrified and trembling monk named Martin Luther.

Luther would have been satisfied and happy if God would have simply allowed him to remain shut away behind the walls of the monastery, oblivious to his sin and God’s solution to all sin, through Christ alone.

It was in God’s Word, where Luther began to understand that unless in love, God chose to have mercy on him, he was doomed to eternal damnation.  Listen to the wonderful news that not only set Luther free from his guilt, but also from his worries; it comes from our Epistle lesson, listen: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)

God wants each of us this morning to first be assured that through Christ, by grace alone and faith alone, we really are forgiven, and all of this is a work of God that comes to you by scripture alone.

Through this very same Word of God, God not only performs His work of salvation, but He also creates an equipping and support system that uses little old you, as a witness to others through your redeemed life, through which, He demonstrates to others, through His means of grace, that in Christ, He really has forgiven them and loves them too.

But perhaps this is where the worry comes; how do we show others the error of their ways without sounding “holier than thou,” or preachy, as we strive through the power of the Holy Spirit, to use God’s Word as the instrument that brings repentance, forgiveness, and new life?  And it is as we are dealing with these worries and countless others, that our Abba Father assures us that He knows what we need and has promised that as we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness first, all these things will be given to us as well (Matthew 6:33).

And still we continue to question God: “But I still have to ask Lord, what do You have to help me with my case of worry?”

Now, first let’s be honest with each other, shall we?  We really don’t want God to take away our worry, because if He does, well that will mean we really will begin to share our faith and His love with others.  But God does answer us in His Word.

Within all of Holy Scripture, God has placed our hearts and feet of faith upon the very foundation of Christ.

In Christ alone, we have been given the very source of our security and the power to come off the worry free mountain of worship, and then cling to Christ alone and His promises of new and eternal life, through faith in the perfect life He lived.  But Christ perfect life will not help you in the least, if you do not claim it as the perfect sacrifice for your sins.  So God asks you to continue to believe by faith, that Jesus suffering and death upon the cross was for your sins, and that His glorious resurrection three days later, is proof that the end of your mortal flesh is not the end of you; God desires that you believe that you too, shall rise to eternal life with Him in Paradise.  He wants you to agree with St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20, that “your brother Jesus Christ is the One who has been raised from the dead, and is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

And to this, we might yet again respond to God: “OK, that all sounds wonderful in theory, and I know that this is where my strength and assurance should be, but when and where the rubber meets the road, how can my focus change from fear to faithfulness, from worry to faith, so that I don’t have to be anxious about anything from food, drink and clothes, to working for the Lord in His harvest field ever again?”

Allow me to share with you some of the main thoughts from our Reformation Scriptures.

First of all, hear, believe and find comfort in Jesus’ Words this morning where He moves our hearts to both the source of our mission and the One who completes it.

Listen: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37) Now why do you suppose Jesus wants us to pray?  I mean, He’s God right; He could do it without us, right?  Yes that’s right, but He has graciously invited us into His mission and into the salvation story of others.  But how do you suppose He’ll do that?  Well by sharing His compassion for those who are dead in their sins.

Listen: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36). Jesus saw people, His people who were dead in their sins and He wanted to bring them eternal life; He wanted to be their Shepherd and Savior just as He is for you.  And when He invites you into prayer He also asks that you allow His heart and compassion to become yours.  In other words, Jesus not only invites you into His mission to seek and save the lost, He makes you part of that mission.

Let me share with you another well-known passage you can apply to your worries. Hear the inspired words of Philippians 4:13, where our Father in heaven assures us that as His forgiven, redeemed, restored children we can boldly profess with St. Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

And, if I may share one more passage with you, especially when it comes to God’s call to you to be out in the harvest field doing the works of Him who sent us while it is day, since night is coming, when no one can work (John 9:4), it would be the promise from the very lips of your Savior as He said in Luke 12:11-12, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

And finally, consider our first reading from Revelation 14:6, 7, listen: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.  And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

The truth is dear saints, within those very Words, God not only promises success in the mission your on, He also promises to give His Word protection from devils and sinners.  The Word comes from above us and never finds its strength in us, and neither can it be defeated by devils.  When you live out the scriptural promises of forgiveness, you do so by God’s gift of faith which allows you to receive that forgiveness as an unearned gift, that is by grace alone, all because of Christ alone!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, all of these promises are ours even when we speak to the neighbor across the street, our friend at work, or our son or daughter who has grown away from the Lord and for whom our heart aches.

You and I have a heavenly Father who does not just talk a good game. “Don’t worry, be happy” is not His mantra. He backs up and follows through on the promises He makes 100% of the time. He acts on that admonition to seek first what is of utmost importance, promising that all of these other things we have been talking about will be given to us as well. (Matthew 6:33)

God’s promise throughout the ages is the same, “seek first the kingdom of God (“desire above all to live under the rule of the one true God” [Lutheran Study Bible Notes, Matthew 6:33]) and His righteousness (the salvation which Christ Jesus has won for us and all people on the cross of Calvary, [John 3:16]), and all these things will be added to you.”

That my friends is providing and coming through on a promise. And since you and I are united with His Son in Baptism, in hearing the Word, in receiving His very body and blood, in His very death, being “buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life,” (Romans 6:3-4), we have nothing to worry about as we seek first His kingdom, serving Him as we serve those He places in our lives (Matthew 25:40) wherever and whenever He has need of us, carrying out the great task He gives to us of bringing the lost and the erring into eternal fellowship with Him. Amen!