Posts Tagged ‘Outreach’

On Independence and Dependence

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, July 9, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click her for audio of this message

We Americans don’t like the thought of being held captive by anyone, and the historical proof of this is that 241 years ago, the Declaration of Independence was issued, dissolving the colonies’ subjugation to King George III by proclaiming that all people are created equal with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Today, over 2 centuries after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we may be free from the tyranny of King George, but our nation has witnessed and is still dealing with many other kinds of tyranny and captivity. Terrorism, war, drug addiction, broken families, crime, and racism; these are all signs that tyranny is alive and well in this great nation of ours!

Today, it is my privilege to proclaim to you that because of what Jesus Christ has done for you, you’ve been freed, made independent from the GREATEST form of captivity and tyranny, SIN! And today, it is my duty to proclaim to you that there is nothing within you that God would look at and determine that you deserve this gift of His … NOTHING… but as our savior hung on the cross, as He was suspended between heaven and earth, He thought of you, and He willingly took on your sin and exchanged it with the perfection of God! And as He hung there, He cried out to the Father and unto all of creation, “IT IS FINISHED!” These three Words were both your declaration of independence from God’s Law that judges you deserving of death because of your many sins, and they are your declaration of dependence upon God’s mercy. It is God’s love that calls out to you in the midst of your many sins and says, “Come Unto Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

With all of this being true, why do we constantly seem to be overcome by sin? Why do our sins and the sin of others seem to rob us of the joy of Christ’s gift of salvation?

Listen to St. Paul’s words in our Epistle lesson and see if they ring true with you: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want to do is what I keep on doing” “I delight in the Law of God in my inner being, but I see another law waging war against my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans:19, 22-25)

We’re a peculiar bunch of people, we Christians! We hunger for God’s protection and perfection in our lives, yet it seems we constantly fall short of the mark! We seem to constantly fall into sinful habits that non-Christians enjoy so much yet when we engage in the same activity, not only are we unable to find satisfaction in these things, but they also become a trap, even a prison that takes away our joy. In short, …WE BECOME MISERABLE! Why? Because we are acting outside of Christ’s nature that was provided for us at the cross and then wrapped around us in our baptism!

The story is told of a lamb and its mother, who passed a pigpen each morning on the way to the pasture. Watching the pigs wallow in the mud seemed like fun to the lamb. On an especially hot day the lamb asked its mother, “May I jump the fence and wallow in the cool mud with the pigs?” The Mother replied, “No.” And the lamb asked, “Why not?” The mother simply stated, “Sheep do not wallow!” Well, this didn’t satisfy the lamb. He felt his mother had no reason to refuse. As soon as she was out of sight, the lamb ran to the pigpen and jumped the fence. He felt the cool mud on his feet, his legs, and his stomach, and oh did it feel good.
After a while he decided he had better go back to his mother, but he couldn’t do it. He was stuck! His thick wool was weighed down with heavy, sticky mud. His pleasure had become his prison. He was a hostage of the mud. He cried out and the kind farmer, his owner, rescued him. When he was cleaned and returned to the fold, his mother said firmly: “Remember, sheep do not wallow!”

Well sin is like the mud in that story. It looks so inviting, and appears easy to escape from whenever we wish. But, because of God’s Law at work in our hearts, which is like the wool, ultimately we don’t find pleasure, but only pain! What seemed like pleasure becomes our prison. Because we sin, because we are born in sin and because we sin daily, we are held captive under the Law. We are caught in what the prophet Zechariah in our Old Testament lesson called the waterless pit. (Zechariah. 9:11) This waterless pit was a dry well that was used in biblical times as a sort of jail cell. Once in, there was no way out accept if someone (your jail keeper) were to lower you down a ladder of some sort.
Friends, for us, our waterless pit is the Law of God that says, “Thou shalt… Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul. You must always put God and His will first in your life! Thou shalt love your neighbor as your love yourself. You must put the needs of your family, friends, neighbor, and even your enemy at a level that is equal to or above your own.”

Oh what wretched people we are! We try and try to do what the Law says we must but instead of victory we run into failure after failure. Who will deliver us from this prison of death? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

We hear Him now, at the mouth of the pit calling down to us…

“Come unto me, you who have been laboring to free yourself from your prison of sin and guilt, and I will give you rest.” He calls to us and says, “Here friend, here is the ladder of my grace that you will need in order to leave the prison of the Law. But before you climb up to me, set your burden down and leave it there in the pit.” “Now that’s odd” we think, “I wonder what burden He’s talking about?” Reading our minds, He replies, “I’m talking about the heavy burden on your back! Friend, at least take it off and look inside to see what you are carrying.”

Now this is where our Savior gets personal. We don’t want to look inside, because what’s in there is hidden for good reason—it’s embarrassing! We might even try to down play the weight of our burden by replying, “Oh that thing?! Well that’s nothing. I can manage climbing out of here and still carry the weight. Don’t worry about me.” But now Jesus is no longer at the top of your prison calling down to you, He’s right there with you. And He takes off your burden and opens it. Inside each burden, you will always find two very heavy things…

Pride and Discouragement.

If there is one word that adequately describes the average American it would be pride. We have many reasons to be proud. We are proud of our country, which is One nation under God. We are proud of our brave men and women who valiantly fight and sacrifice their lives for our freedoms. We are proud of our work ethic, which says along with the Ford Motor Co. that quality is job one. These are all great attributes that we can and should be proud of, but there is another kind of American pride that is not so admirable. It is the kind of pride that says, “I’ll be fine. I can do it myself.” Young people, your grandparents called this “lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps” and today we say that we “are an army of one.” Pride says, “I got myself into this mess; I don’t need any help getting myself out of it.” But to our pride Jesus says, “No friend. You must do this my way and then I will give you rest.”

There is another burden within our sack that we must surrender to the Lord, and that is discouragement. Discouragement is a burden because it is a sin; it is a sin because it’s a loss of faith in God’s mercy and love. Discouragement says, “Oh Lord, I’d like to put this burden down and climb out with you, but I’m so tired of my own failures. And you know Lord, I’ve tried to come out so many times before, but I just end up right back where I started. No, I think I’ll just rest here a while and maybe someday give this freedom thing another shot.”

Friends, discouragement and pride are the very things that Jesus is asking you to give to Him today. But He won’t take them from you, you must give them to Him. You must come to Him and surrender all of your burdens, and then He will give you rest. He’s made it easy for you to trust Him by providing the very means that creates this trust; we call this trust faith. He points you to His Word that gives you the faith to believe that each and every promise of rest and peace is for you and that it is true! He points you to the Baptismal font where He first saved you through the water and the Word, and He says, “I was there with you then and I am with you now. Believe that I will always be with you!” Why He even calls you to a Holy dinner where He invites you to feast on His very body and blood, where your faith is strengthened and He ensures you that all of your sins are forgiven!

So now that you are out of the pit and the captivity of sin, He has just one more thing to say to you…

“Now, take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vs. 29a)

Rest…Wonderful rest! We all need rest. In a world where sin, sickness, disappointment and death are all around us and even within us sapping our strength, rest is the one thing we know we can’t live without and at the same time it seems to be the hardest thing to find! Yet, when we first hear these Words, it might seem that Jesus is freeing us from one burden only to give us another? Could this be true? Well, yes! You see friends, the rest and the yoke are two pictures of the same blessing; Jesus is saying that when we take His yoke upon ourselves we will find true rest for our souls; in fact, we take this yoke when he gives us rest. We know that this is true because we have experienced its truth in our lives already!

We have already established that we no longer need to carry around with us things like guilt, shame, and discouragement. In our confession today, we gave him these burdens when we confessed our sins. And then, praise God, we heard and received the sweet words of absolution, “You are forgiven!” So, if you have faith in this truth, you already feel relieved; you’ve already “tasted and discovered that the Lord is good!” (Ps. 34:8; 1 Peter 2:3) If you have already discovered by experience that the Lord is faithful and good, that He is a loving God, then you’ve already received His yoke. While he is giving us His yoke he is teaching us through experience that He is right there beside us; a gentle, humble, and loving God shouldering any load we encounter, so that we will know that He is right there working with us.

Dear friends, what can be lighter than a burden which removes burdens and a yoke which carries you? Christ’s burden doesn’t oppress us, but instead it carries itself. The yoke and Christ’s rest are just two sides of the same coin. When you take one you have the other. So we have taken on a new Master, and he lays on us a new load—but what a difference that new load makes!

By simply trusting in Jesus Words and following his gentle instruction we enjoy His grace, mercy, and peace because we are surrounded by His love. When we let go and let God lead and teach us, then we can truly know freedom from all forms of tyranny, even sin, death and the devil. Yes, it really is that simple…just let go and let God take over!
Let’s bow our heads in prayer. Heavenly Father, we thank you that you have revealed all of these things to us your little children because of your gracious will. Continue to show us how to give you all of the things that hold us back from trusting and walking with you and may Your Spirit, like a dove descend upon our lives and make us whole.
In Jesus name…AMEN!

The Power of Christ’s Compassion

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, February 25, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION:  Several weeks ago, I was singing a praise song to myself, and when I started singing the verse I made a mistake—I never would have know that it was a mistake if I had not gotten out the music and words; I sang the chorus like this: “That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to every one, you’ve got to pass it on. What makes it incorrect is just one word, and that one word is “got”.  Of course the actual word is “want”.  “That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it—you spread His love to every one; you want to pass it on.”  There is a difference, one is natural and the other is forced.  Can’t you tell when someone is faking their affection for you—when they are trying to be nice?  But on the other hand, don’t you enjoy being with someone who just seems to naturally demonstrate care and concern for you—someone who goes out of their way to make you feel important? 

 I.  The Lawyer—Have you ever noticed that sometimes, even when we seem to be doing all the right things, we still feel unfulfilled?  Why do you think that it is?  I think that we feel this way because we have turned Gospel into Law.  We have passed over what God has done for us and instead allowed our attention to be focused on what we must do.  This was the problem with the lawyer in our gospel reading tonight, when he asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  Scripture says that he asked this question in order to test Jesus.  He wanted to use Jesus own words against Him.  I am certain that he was familiar with Jesus teaching about God’s grace and mercy.  The young lawyer must have been thinking, if I can just get him to say something against God’s Holy Law, then we can charge him as a blasphemer.

The lawyer, like many of the other Jewish teachers, was operating under the faulty assumption that it was God’s Law that would save them; it was what they could “do” that would earn them a place in heaven.  He thought he could work for his salvation by following the Law.  Did he really think that he could fulfill the demands of the law?  In our reading tonight, Jesus asks just one question so that the lawyer would understand just how preposterous his trust in the Law for salvation was.  Jesus asked him, “What is written in the law?  What do you read there?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and (you must) love your neighbor as yourself.” (So Jesus) said to him, “(Good),You have given the right answer; (now just) do this, and you will have eternal life.”  The key word is “do”; you must “do” the Law perfectly without failure.  To effectively see what an impossible task this was that Jesus gives us, let’s look at just one command and see how we do with it.  Let’s look at the 5th commandment, “You shall not murder.”  At first glance we might say, o.k., I’ve never done that so I’m o.k. with God, right?  Wrong!  You see within each command we must not look at just the simple meaning of the words, but we must look at the intent, or what’s behind the commandment.  We must consider certain aspects of the Law, which I call “the must not do’s” and “the must do’s”. 

In regards to the 5th commandment, God’s Word teaches us that we must not do anything that harms anyone, either by thought, word, or actions.  How are you doing so far?  We still have the “must do’s” to contend with!  You see, the work of God’s law does not stop at the must not do’s, because it also demands specific action from us.  He says that we must take “every opportunity to do good to our neighbor and to prevent, protect, and save them from suffering bodily harm or injury.”  Now how are you standing up under the law?  If you’re like me, you’re not doing so well.  Are you feeling guilty?  That is the true function of the law.  Remember, that’s just one commandment.

The young lawyer must have been feeling guilty as well, because he tried to get himself off the hook by asking a question meant to cloud the issue of loving his neighbor: “And who is my neighbor!?” he asked.  And at that Jesus began his story of contrasts.  He gave two examples of what a bad neighbor looks like, followed by one example of what a true or good neighbor looks like. 

In Jesus story, it was a Samaritan stranger, a person who would have been hated by the Jews and in turn hated them right back, which helped the injured traveler.  This person was the good neighbor.  Would you have stopped and helped your enemy?  Would you have done all that the Samaritan did?  You can be sure the lawyer asked himself these questions.

II. The Challenge—Jesus story of the good Samaritan is an example of what God considers to be perfect love to a neighbor; the kind of love that fulfills the law’s demand.  Within this love we see 4 things Jesus demonstrates.

  1. As the Samaritan gave up the comfort of his own transportation to the injured traveler, we too must be ready to use the many conveniences that God has given us to help others.
  2. As the Samaritan tended to the injuries of the traveler, we too must be ready to help bring comfort and healing to those who are hurting physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
  3. Just as the Samaritan used his finances to provide for the travelers needs, we too must utilize the money we have been given by God to help our neighbors (2 Denarius was the equivalent of two months room and board).
  4. Finally, just as the Samaritan was willing to pay “ANY” extra costs in the care of the traveler, we also must be willing to give sacrificially (until it hurts) so that our neighbor will be cared for.

Whew!  Could there ever have been or could there ever be such a person as good as this “Good Samaritan” in our Lord’s story?  How could anyone demonstrate such a perfect love for his neighbor, especially a stranger?  When Jesus told this story, He knew that he was presenting an impossible goal for this young lawyer and anyone else who was listening.  To make sure that the young lawyer came to that very conclusion, Jesus had one more point to make: “Which of the three do you think was a better neighbor?”  To this, the young lawyer could only say truthfully, “The one who showed mercy.”  Now Jesus is ready to deliver the final blow of the law, the law that the lawyer was so willing to put all of his hope in.  Like a thunder bolt Jesus closed with, “GO AND DO LIKEWISE!”

III. The Solution—Friends, the truth of the parable is this: Jesus is the Good Samaritan, and as our Lord He provides a model for our own acts of compassion.  There were no limits to Christ’s love for us.  But how can we copy such a mighty demonstration of God’s love?  As the lawyer discovered so we too must realize, on our own, we can not!  Then what are we to do?  Friends, we need a change of identification.  Like the lawyer, we too have been destroyed by the command of the Law, “GO AND DO LIKEWISE!”  Now we must stop identifying with the lawyer and start living our lives as the beaten and robbed traveler.  We must allow our Savior to be our Good Neighbor as He brings us back to new life and strength.  The truth is we can’t do a thing to help ourselves, instead we must trust our Good Neighbor, because we have been beaten down by sin so badly that without His help we will surely die in that condition.  But we can trust in His care for us, because He has set no limits on the amount of elaborate care He will give us, even undergoing death and damnation upon the cross for us.  Christ’s life, death, damnation, and resurrection not only give us eternal life, but He also nourishes and empowers us with His Holy Body, Blood, Water, and Word, so that along with mighty deeds of compassion, we are also enabled to “go and do likewise.”   

 ILLUSTRATION: On April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and began sinking.  By the time the lifeboats were deployed, it was clear that the ship would sink at any moment.  Passengers were loaded into lifeboats, and the lifeboats were lowered into the icy waters.  Of the twenty lifeboats lowered into the water, most had room for more people.  Despite the cries for help, those in the lifeboats were afraid to return to the drowning people lest the boats be swamped.  Resisting the cries for help, the people in the boats rowed away from hundreds of people floating in the water.  In lifeboat 14, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe thought differently and acted differently.  He transferred many of his passengers to other lifeboats and returned to pick up more survivors.  Though he could not save them all, he could save a precious few from death in the icy sea.

We are like 5th Officer Lowe—we are survivors of vicious attacks of the sin within us and around us.  We have been rescued and are now sent out to find and help save other victims.  But sometimes we can be more like the people in the other boats.  We don’t want to take a chance with our own comfort and safety, so we ignore the leading of Christ’s compassion within us, which is responding to the needs of those who need their own comfort and safety.  Sometimes, we forget who we are, kind of like some of my wife’s rose bushes.

ILLUSTRATION: My wife Malia, has a wonderful collection of flowers and plants throughout our yard, but the rose bushes are perhaps her pride and joy.  Many times I’ve commented to her that some of the bushes seem to be dead, in fact I have said this with my shovel in hand, wanting to dig it up so she can plant something else.  With out fail, every time she tells me, no wait, you’ll see next season it will come back with pretty blooms.  Almost every time her confidence in those rose bushes is rewarded with beautiful blooms; it’s as if the rose bush forgot what it was created for.  It just needed some extra care and attention to help it remember.  That’s how it is with us sometimes—we become so overwhelmed with life’s cares that we forget that we have been recreated into the image of Christ; we forget that the Holy Spirit lives within us enabling, empowering, and leading us to do good things for each other and our community.  Once we remember why Christ died for us we can’t help but be just like our Good Neighbor, our Savior Jesus Christ!  

CONCLUSION: Now when we hear the words of our hymn, “That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it—you spread His love to everyone”—we will no longer incorrectly finish that hymn by saying “you’ve got to pass it on”, instead we will say “We want to pass it on.”

May God continue to move you my brothers and sisters here at Trinity, to live as the hands of Christ.  May He continue to fan your spark of faith, love, and Christian service into a flaming lamp which will light up the communities of Encanto, Jamacha, and Spring Valley.  In Jesus name…. AMEN!