Posts Tagged ‘Mercy’

On Obeying the Word of God

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Fourth Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 19th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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If you remember, last week we talked about becoming a Christian.  Today, I would like to talk about what it means to live out that Christian faith, specifically we will look at our new obedience to God’s Word and what effect that should have in our lives and what dangers we face when we are not properly living out our Christian faith.

When the Word of God first comes to us, it comes and floods our hearts with mercy and forgiveness, which then moves us to demonstrate those same things within our own lives.

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we see this demonstrated beautifully.  If ever there was a man who seemed to be given a reason to judge others and even hold onto a grudge, it was Joseph.  Bullied as a child, sold to slave traders as an adolescent, Joseph had many reasons to remember and to pay back his brothers for all of their evil.  But God was with Joseph.

Sold into slavery yes, but God provided in the midst of his servitude, and so Joseph became the head servant of a very rich household.  But then it all fell apart and Joseph was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.  Imprisoned yes, but then God made a way for Joseph to become the warden of the very prison he was confined to.  But then it seemed that all of that fell apart too, as Joseph was once again falsely accused and facing hard time.  But God made a way out of that tight spot, and Joseph was given the ear of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh eventually made Joseph second in command, answering only to Pharaoh.

And now standing before Joseph were the brothers that bullied and banished him.  Now was the time for judgment and pay back, or was it?  Standing before his brothers and in the stead of a merciful God, Joseph knew what God would have him do; it was the very thing God had done for Joseph; Joseph would show mercy.  “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

In these Words, Joseph was demonstrating a man controlled by the Spirit of God and so He was compelled to act for God.  In these Words, Joseph was pointing towards the coming Savior, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God who would take the evil intentions of men and their cross and turn it around as God’s way to “bring it about that many people should be kept alive,” and spared the death penalty for their sin.

This is then not only the effect that God’s Word had in Joseph, but it is also the effect that God wants to have in our lives now in this age, as Ambassadors for Christ.  But be forewarned, even as the Holy Spirit of God is providing us with a new spirit of obedience to the Word of God, we also face the danger of falling to a spirit of pride and judgment.  You see…

When people begin to take the Word of God seriously, they also learn to love their success in keeping the commandments of God.

As the saints of God, isn’t it true to say that we struggle to live out our new baptized natures; we struggle to live a life that is pleasing to God.  We want God to know that we take His call of faith seriously, and because of that, we want to be doers of His Word and not just hearers.

This isn’t a bad thing; it’s not a bad way to begin our walk with Jesus.  What was it that Jesus said to the rich young ruler who asked Him what he must do to gain eternal life, “Keep the commandments!”  And isn’t that precisely what we are trying to do as we live out our Christian faith?

But as so often happens, people who begin to walk by faith in the new life of baptism, begin to believe that they are becoming much better at being good, and then they think it is becoming easier for them to “live a good Christian life.”  Some people may even think as St. Paul formerly thought, that in “regards (to) righteousness under the law—(they are) blameless.”

So where did they go wrong; where do we go wrong?  Well the mistake we sinners inevitably seem to make is that we feel we have a license to compare ourselves to others.  Don’t we find ourselves being thankful that we are not like old “so and so.”  Maybe we’ve even caught our selves thinking that if “old sinner so and so” really wanted to change, then they could, just as we have.  But it is precisely because we judge others that we find ourselves being judged by God.

When we find ourselves judging others, we should also discover that we have not really been taking the law of God seriously, because we have arbitrarily chosen who we will judge and what we will use as our standard to judge.  And because we’ve done this, we have lost the most important standard of all… justice and mercy and faithfulness.  Therefore Jesus reminds us that he who judges others will himself be judged.  So…

If we really want to take the commandments of God seriously we will stop comparing ourselves with others.

This is because God’s law demands that instead of comparing ourselves to others, we must compare ourselves only with God, because only He is perfect.  In other words, we ought to be perfect as God is perfect, merciful as He is merciful, holy as He is holy.  You see, the law does not give us any possibility to be satisfied with ourselves; you can never say I’ve arrived.  This is because the knowledge of sin, our sin, comes to us through the law.

Our mouths are shut as every one of us stands guilty before God.  The rich young ruler who approached Jesus knew that something was missing in him, even though he did everything he could think of to be a good man.  And when the crowd brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus to be stoned, it was the elders in the group who dropped their stones first and slithered away out of shame, when Jesus said that he who was without sin among them should be the one to cast the first stone.

So now hear this good news and have faith in it.  It is God’s will that just as His Law has shown us that we can never live up to His holy standards, and that we have no right to judge other people’s salvation, it is also His desire that through the same Law, each of us would be forced to see our great need for a Savior who alone can make us right with God.  It is God’s will then that His law would point your guilty conscience towards the cross of Jesus where every sin, even our sinful desire to judge others was put to death.  If we will begin to listen to this message of the Gospel in a fresh new way, we will then begin to truly know a Savior who does not judge us in the midst of our sins here in this sinful world.  And remember this—Jesus refrains from judging us not because He can not judge, but because He has taken that judgment upon Himself as our brother and LORD; because He has died in the place of sinners; He has died for you.

And now that we have received this strong love of Jesus, what shall we do with it?

Shall we keep it to our selves?  No, but we are told to go and share what we have received from our Lord with other sinners. What this means for us today is that we are being compelled by the Holy Spirit to show both kindness and mercy towards others who appear to be trapped in sin; others who think or act differently than us – even those caught in adultery, cohabiting men and woman, or the homosexual couple. We are to care about their needs and also their eternity because Jesus cares for them.  We are to speak God’s mercy and love to them, and we do this when we speak God’s truth.

Listen, it is not our job to go around finding the specks in our neighbors eyes, because we are still working on the log that lies within our own eyes.  It is not the job of one blind man to lead another blind man upon a dangerous path.  But rather when asked for the reason of the hope we have in Christ, we are always prepared by God to speak God’s own truth, not in judgment but in love; we are always prepared to point them to the Great Physician Jesus Christ who also desires to heal them of spiritual blindness just as He heals us.

So we speak God’s truth … not in anger or spite, but in mercy and forgiveness. By speaking this way, we pray that God would do the same work of repentance and hope in them that He is doing in us.  So remember, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” [Luke 6:37, 38]. May this strong Word forever lead our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… AMEN.

Abraham’s Bosom?

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 26, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning God’s word jumps out at us like a Hollywood movie.  It’s a story of contrasts and a story of tragedy.  If it was a movie, we might call it “Rich Man-Poor Man” or “Eternally Trading Places”.  Remember from last week’s gospel lesson that there are three different groups of people listening to Jesus teachings.  There are Jesus disciples, the open sinners who are drawn to Jesus Word because they really hungered for a life of forgiveness and peace with God, and then there are the Pharisees who have been eavesdropping.  Well eavesdrop no more you brood of self-righteous vipers, because now Jesus is going to talk directly to you, but in doing so He is also talking to everyone else who longs for God’s love and forgiveness.  In short, He is talking to you and me!

Jesus sets the stage for His parable by telling a story of two men.  Both were Jews who worshiped the same God.  One was empty but would be satisfied and full; the other was already satisfied and full but would be emptied.

The first character that we are introduced to is the “Rich Man”.  Jesus says that he was “clothed in (a) purple (robe and wore) fine linen (under his robe), and (he) feasted sumptuously every day!” [Luke 16:19]  In other words he was living large; he was living a lifestyle of the rich and famous.  His lifestyle was so opulent that even Robin Leach would have blushed!

The second character that we’re introduced to is Lazarus, who was more than poor; he was a terminally ill beggar who counted on the pity and care of others.  Listen to how Jesus introduces and describes him: “And at (the rich man’s) gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” [vs. 20-21]

Like a Hollywood script, these two men are flashed before our eyes.  One lives in the lap of luxury and the other in extreme poverty.  Now we must remember that being rich is no sin, but how you use your riches can be!  The Pharisees were lovers of money in addition to being self-righteous, so they knew that Jesus was talking to them.  They knew that Jesus was forcing them to look into their own hearts and they didn’t like it one bit! 

Now, did you notice that the rich man had no name but the poor man did?  His name was Lazarus.  Do you know what that name means?  It means “God helps”!  This was a direct appeal to Levitical Law where God commanded that the poor be taken care of by those who had plenty.  You can be sure that the Pharisees knew that this story was aimed at their hearts.  In the character of the rich man, Jesus had put his finger or their love of money by comparing it to the nameless rich man’s greed and opulence. 

Poor old Lazarus!  He was dumped at the rich man’s front gate by some people who thought, “Surely this rich man will give him a little something!”  Did he?  No, not one thing!  I’m sure that a lot of other rich people came by every day to visit, and none of them gave him a thing.  The only comfort that Lazarus found was the companionship of roaming dogs that licked his sores with their soft tongues!  God provided brute comfort when human comfort failed!

Now Jesus moves us to a place where all good stories and Hollywood movies seem to start and end… in death!  We are at a cemetery.  On one side of the grounds we find well-kept and peaceful tombs.  This is where the body of the rich man is laid.  Oh, you can be sure that his tomb was the finest that money could buy and that all of his rich friends were there to say their last good-byes.  If this was a Hollywood movie, they would all have on designer suits and dresses and their Limousines, Bentleys, and Rolls Royces would be lined up as far as the eye could see!  And on the other side of the grounds, where the poor people were laid to rest, there is another burial taking place.  But unlike the rich man’s funeral no one attends.  Like the Beatle’s song Eleanor Rigby, nobody came… nobody cared!  There was only the grave digger and the Rabbi and the body of Lazarus.  How sad!  Was the good life only a dream for poor old Lazarus; a dream that never became a reality?  No, because Jesus’ story flashes to another reality; not an alternate reality but an eternal one. 

“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” [vs. 22-24]  Like a bit of Hollywood magic, Jesus’ parable somehow combines two places into one.  Now we are simultaneously taken to heaven and to hell, and there we observe both the rich man who still has no name because God has forgotten him, and Lazarus, who once was hungry, poor, and pitiful but now is rich, blessed, and seated at God’s heavenly banquet table leaning on Father Abraham himself! 

What determined the fate of these two characters in Jesus’ story and what determines our fate?  This was the question that Jesus was confronting the self-righteous Pharisees with; it’s the answer to this question that we all must hear and learn from this morning.   And to get that answer, let’s get back to the story. 

“But Abraham said (to the rich man), ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime receive your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are (there) in anguish.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’  And (the rich man) said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send (Lazarus) to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’  But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets (that is holy scripture), neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’’” [Vs. 25-31]

Dear friends, Jesus is teaching us that it is God’s selected and declared means of grace alone that will save us from sin, death, and the devil.  It is His holy Word alone that has saved us, is saving us, and will save us!  It is God’s means alone that not only directs our lives here on earth but determines where we will spend eternity.  Jesus wants us to understand that it is God’s Word alone and our treatment of it which creates faith and the ability to do two things: Please God and to have a desire to be with God!

We please God when we desire to hear His Word and receive His Sacrament.  When we receive these things, they change us by giving us not just forgiveness of sins but the faith to believe in that forgiveness.  Hearing God’s Word and believing it are the only way to please God.  His Word is the only way that a sinful heart, your sinful heart can be cleansed.  But our sinful hearts don’t like to hear this, so we invent new means, our own means that we think God should have provided but didn’t, so we take it upon ourselves to fix what we feel God overlooked.  This is why the rich man wanted a miraculous raising of Lazarus’ dead body.  He wanted the dead to do the proper work of the living Word of God!  He wanted Lazarus to bring repentance and faith unto salvation instead of God’s law and gospel!

Friends, God’s means of grace, His Word and Sacraments and nothing else, are the very things alone that change our hearts so that they desire to do the things that please God.  How do we please God?  By hearing His Word and then building His kingdom!  How do we build His kingdom here on earth?  We do it by hearing His Word and then sharing that same Word with whomever He puts in our lives!  When we share His Word with those who are living without it we are opening the very gate of heaven to them.  Will they enter and be saved or will they reject His Word and only know the torments of Hell?  God alone knows and not us, so we continue to feed them God’s only means of salvation!

But what of those who are physically poor and pitiful like Lazarus?  What does God want us to do for them?  Well they too need the Word of God, so we also speak it to them, but they also need acts of loving kindness here on this sinful earth, so we feed them and care for their physical needs as well!  You know, our church pantry is a wonderful way to do this very thing!  We can always use donations of food and even financial support so that we can continue to show simple human kindness and compassion to them.  But we could also use your time there as well!  What a wonderful way to spend a few hours, sharing God’s Word and a sack of groceries with some of our neighbors!

Dear friends when we become centered in God’s Word, we will also begin to see it changing us and leading us.  And when that happens we will begin to find ourselves doing the things that need God.  And as you are doing the things that God wants done you will begin to see something else wonderful happening within your heart… you will begin to want to be with God!

When we desire to be with God we will also desire to stay in His Word and receive His sacrament, and when we stay in His Word and are fed in His Sacrament we discover that we are already with God!  Friends, through His Holy Word God draws all men, all sinners unto Himself, even you and me!  Through His Word He creates our desire to come to His heavenly banquet table and feast on a meal of forgiveness!  At His table and through His Word we discover that we’re already where we shall always be… at Abraham’s Bosom!

 What is Abraham’s bosom?  It is the living Word of God; the very person who has just shared this wonderful story with us; it is Jesus Himself!  He alone is Abraham’s heart and He is ours as well!  His living Words are real food and drink and they are the only thing that moves us not just to the gate of heaven but into heaven itself where we will discover that our place at His banquet table has always been our place.  It is a place where we have been communing with Him and we will continue to commune with Him.  It is the only place where we are assured of real rest and peace and peace with God!  I pray that God’s Word continues to do this mighty work within our hearts.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!


Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 19, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning’s gospel reading is really a continuation of Jesus teaching from last week.  If you recall, last week Jesus responded to the criticism of the Pharisees and scribes because He received open sinners.  Jesus shared with them and us His wonderful teaching about the extravagant measures that God takes to find and return any and all of His children who are lost in sin!  That parable was told especially for the benefit of the self-righteous and judgmental people who looked down their collective noses at sinners.  He forced them to see that they too were also lost in sin!

Well now, Jesus turns His attention away from the open sinners and self-righteous Pharisees and He is addressing His disciples; those who followed Him as their Lord and Savior, but as always, the Pharisees were right there eavesdropping and looking for a way to trap and attack Jesus.  So Jesus tells another parable… a story that communicates an eternal truth in a way that will make sense in a temporary and sinful world; He tells us a story about an unrighteous manager or steward.  This story is first a teaching about God’s mercy and second it’s a story that forces us to look at our own response to God’s Mercy.  Like Jesus’ audience of that day, we too can hear this teaching in one of two ways: First, we can hear it as His true disciples; people who know that their God is merciful and forgiving.  Or we can listen in on Jesus teaching as an eavesdropper—a person who is self-righteous and worldly and dismiss this parable as a silly story.

At the very heart of this parable then is a teaching on stewardship.  This story forces us to ask ourselves a very simple question: How do I view material goods and money?  Do I see them as mine in order to make life easier for me here or do I see these things as God’s which are simply on loan to me so that I can help build and advance His kingdom of grace here within a sinful world?

By the time Jesus is done teaching us, we will be forced to pick a side; either we will feel blessed to be called his disciple and we will see our money and possessions as tools which God uses to expand His kingdom or we will leave here feeling unchanged  and put-off; as if we are being pressured to do something we don’t believe in.

Now at first, Jesus parable about the unfaithful manager might seem strange; it might seem as if Jesus is saying that the manager who is also a thief is to be admired!  Well that would be the case if you made the manager the focus of the story.  But, if you change the focus of attention to the rich land owner, suddenly the story is not centered on the criminal activity of the manager at all, but instead it is focused on the mercy of the rich land owner.

What should have happened to the manager?  Well, what happens today when people cook the books, embezzle money, or at best misappropriate funds that belong to someone else?  They go to jail or they get sued!  And yet, the rich land owner in Jesus story not only didn’t throw that rascal in jail he let him leave and go and get the ledger book; why he even gave him time to cook the books!  Outrageous!!  And that is the point that Jesus is making… God’s mercy, His forgiving love for sinners such as you and me is outrageous!  Think about that for a moment; think of all the things we could have done to further God’s kingdom and we refused; think also about all we have done that has actually hurt His kingdom, yet  He still loves and forgives us.  He IS a God of forgiveness and grace!  Outrageous but true… God still loves me and you and He still loves you!

Well, now that we have properly adjusted our focus and placed it onto the mercy of the rich land owner and compared that mercy with the mercy of God we can safely and correctly evaluate the conduct of the manager or steward and look for some personal comparisons.  Remember now, Jesus is talking to the disciples.  Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?  If you answered yes, then this morning Jesus is talking to you too!  He’s asking you to look at the conduct of the manager and see if you don’t find yourself there as well.   

In Jesus parable we are shown what a great amount of wealth the manager misused and stole.  Now as a disciple of Jesus Christ, ask yourselves “What greater wealth could there be than the Word of God and His Holy Sacraments?”  How have we treated these things?  Have we taken them for granted and neglected their use?  Have you treated God’s heavenly treasure in a lower fashion than you treat worldly wealth?  Have you hoarded this wealth instead of using it to create more heavenly wealth by sharing it with others?  These are some important questions that Jesus’ parable forces us to ask ourselves.  Do you fall short of God’s demand?  Of course you do, and so do I.  But what now… what should our response be to this now apparent sinful condition of our heart?  We must confess this sin to Him.  You see, we really are like the crooked manager and God has confronted us with our thievery.  So like the manager in the parable, we must confess that God is right and then rest in His mercy and forgiveness.

But there is still one more issue in this parable that we need to address, and it is this: What did Jesus mean when He said that “the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness”? (vs. 8a)  Well again, if we take the focus off of the crooked manager and put it back on the land owner it becomes clear.  In other words if we take the focus off of our own sinfulness and put the focus on God’s mercy and grace it all makes sense!

The manager was shrewd because he quickly began building a future for himself so that he wouldn’t be homeless.  He couldn’t do manual labor and he knew he couldn’t beg.  So what was he to do?  Well the very thing he always did… he would count on the merciful nature of the rich land owner to carry him through.  You see, he knew that by chopping considerable amounts of money off of each of the debtors bills they would be obliged to him for using his masters’ mercy as a way to save them money.  And he also knew that because it was his master’s nature to be merciful he would be merciful to him as well.  And He was right!  When the master found out, he was commended him for his shrewdness; he was commending him for understanding his master’s true nature… his merciful nature.  

Now to make sure that our focus is still on the mercy of God and not on the actions of the unfaithful servant, Jesus sums up the parable with this application:  “for the sons of this world (meaning those who find their identity in the treasures of this world instead of God’s treasures) are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation (which means our present sinful generation) than the sons of light (which means those of us who are saved by grace and who by faith know that we have a God of love who mercifully forgives us).”  And to make it clear to us what we are to do now that we know we have a God of mercy, Jesus says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth (that is through the wealth of this world), so that when it fails (as it did with the dishonest manager, your heavenly friends) may receive you (not into earthly homes) but into the eternal dwelling.” (vs. 8b)  What is the eternal dwelling?  Friends it is your mansion in heaven; your personal and real home that is greater than any possession you could ever have here on earth.  After all, every one of the good things that you possess here in this world have been given to you by God.  He is the creator and owner of all.  What you have is simply a trust from Him.  But your eternal possession, your salvation is truly yours.  He has freely given that to you through Jesus Christ, and it is really is yours!  No one can take it away from you.  It is your birth-right that was given to you in your baptism and it is a gift that is always growing as you continue in the Word of God and make friends in heaven.  And who are those friends?  They are God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! 

So Jesus is saying that because of all of this we should be faithful with the little wealth we have been given here on earth.  What is that little wealth?  Certainly it is not God’s grace and mercy which are showered upon us in His Word and Sacrament!  Then what is it?  Friends it is the wealth of this world.  How are we faithful in this little wealth?  By using it to build the kingdom of Heaven; by using it to spread the gospel.  We don’t use it to feather our nest here in this sinful world, but instead we use it to spread God’s wealth and build His kingdom.  Does our money, time, and talent that we use to further His kingdom then buy our mansion in heaven?  No, and again I say no!  If it did, then that would mean we could buy our salvation.  Then what does our money accomplish?  It helps to spread the message that our God, their God is loving and merciful and He desires that none should perish but that each one would turn to Jesus Christ, the Son of God so that they too might eternally know God’s love and mercy, and then join with you the church in continuing to build the Kingdom of God, one heart at a time.

What must we do to ensure that we never become an unrighteous manager or steward?  We must keep our focus on the mercy and love of God; mercy and love which come to us only through Jesus Christ and the cross He chose to die upon for the sins of the world, even your sins!  When we turn to Jesus and His cross we are also turning away from our sin, even our sinful love of this world and its treasures.  Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”  (vs. 19)  It is an either or proposition friends.  You can’t love and serve both!

So it comes down to this: Who is your Savior and God?  For some, money and the things of this world are their god’s; and they will leave here this morning like many of the Pharisees, unchanged and feeling put-off.  They will look at this message as just another attempt by the church and one of her preachers to get more time, talent, and treasure out of them.  But because you know that through Jesus Christ your Creator God is merciful, loving and kind, you see your time, talent, and yes your money as well, as a tool that God uses to build His kingdom by pointing others to a merciful God who forgives and saves only through Jesus and His heavenly treasures, which are His blessed Word and Sacraments, the very things that saved you!  May God continue to give us this same mercy and grace through Christ Jesus our Lord… AMEN!