Posts Tagged ‘Peace’

The Cross We Bear!

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, July 2, 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


“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” [Matt. 10:38-39]

You know throughout our Bible there is one message that God continually offers to His people who relate to Him by faith, and that is peace. In Hebrew, the word for peace is Shalom! What that word actually means is wholeness. If you are whole, that is if you are all that God originally created you to be, you will have peace. And that is the one thing that all people of every race, ethnicity, and religion have in common; we are all searching for wholeness; for peace! That was really the message that our great Declaration of Independence was declaring long ago in 1776. So then why did Jesus, the Prince of Peace say, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [Matt. 10:34] Why did he say that in order to find our life we must lose our life? Well, the answer of course can only be found in the cross; it can only be found in the death of Jesus Christ and the example of living to die that He gave to us.

The cross of Jesus Christ does bring wholeness and life, but it also brings conflict, turmoil and death; it brings independence from the condemnation of sin and dependence on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus brings these things first within us and then around us. So this morning we will be learning how to die and how to live. We will learn how death brings life to ourselves first and then we will learn how dying brings death and life to those around us!

In our Epistle lesson (Rom. 7:1-13) St. Paul confronts us with these words of life and death.

“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” [vs. 4-6]

What Paul is talking about is how we become whole, or how we are recreated to have peace within ourselves; God’s peace that not only gives us peace with Him, but peace with our neighbor. He wants us to first understand that we were set free from the Law; a law that demands that we do this or that to please God, but then offers us no way to actually do what it demands be done! He does this by pointing us to the death of Jesus upon the cross. When Christ died upon the cross He set us free to be people of God; free to know peace and wholeness. But in order to receive this peace we need to see the need to die alongside of Jesus Christ; only those of us who are connected with Jesus in His death, can experience the peace and wholeness that His resurrection brings. The death of Jesus Christ can only free those who are willing to put all of their hopes of peace and wholeness in that death of Jesus. There is no room for any other method or technique. Doing your best to please God and find happiness won’t work; there is simply nothing you can do but surrender to your complete helplessness and trust instead in what Jesus’ death provides for you. This is what dying to yourself means.

Paul illustrates this in a wonderful way by comparing us to a married woman. He says that “a married woman is bound by the law (that is the 6th commandment that calls adultery a sin, as long as that married woman’s husband still lives), but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage (and is free to marry again without fear of sin). (So), she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.” [vs. 1-3]

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been freed from our oppressive dependence on the law; we no longer need to try to be something we never could be. What is it that we were trying to be? We were trying to be whole; we were trying on our own to have peace with God through the Law we can never keep. So Jesus solves that dilemma for us by His death. He died the death that we should die to satisfy our inability to fulfill the law; this is a death that frees us from the law so that we may seek a new means to find wholeness and peace with God. His death frees us from our dependence on fulfilling the law perfectly so that we might belong to Him! In keeping with Paul’s illustration of marriage, Jesus frees us from the tyranny of our first marriage so that we can be remarried to Him; then and only then can we truly be whole and know peace. But our old sinful nature does not want to go away that easily. It fights to live; not only that, it fights to destroy our faith and satisfaction in the cross of Jesus, which is God’s means of wholeness and peace. When faith comes alive within our hearts through the means of God’s Word, our sinful nature continually seeks to find ways to defeat it and turn us back to the law, or our own ability to live a good life, as an alternative way of earning God’s love and wholeness. What is the solution? We must put to death, every day our old sinful nature. We must learn to die so that we can live! This is our internal cross that we must die upon every day. But if we’re left to do this on our own, we’ll be in no better condition than we were when we were under the law. On our own, we can never have faith to trust in Jesus and His cross. That is why God provides this faith for us. How does He do this? By living within us!

In our baptism we were sealed as God’s own possession through His means, the water and His Word. In our baptism, the Holy Spirit actually took up residence within us. Daily, we are asked to embrace God’s Spirit within us by turning to His leading presence and dying to our own sinful desires. So the Holy Spirit is our actual teacher, who teaches us to die every day, and God’s Word is the text book that He teaches through! But this is more than just a teaching; it’s a relationship of love, trust, wholeness, and peace with God that continues everyday of our lives until we leave this sinful world and our own sinful flesh behind. But this dying to self doesn’t just happen internally; you see we must also learn to die to the things and concerns that are around us.

In our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 28:5-9), we are introduced to the prophet Jeremiah.

He was a man familiar with sorrows and woes. In fact, he is often called the “weeping” prophet, because so many of the messages that the Lord asked him to declare caused him to weep for his fellow Jews. He was hated by most of them, because many of his messages from God were unpopular. In fact, on several occasions he was thrown into prison and threatened with death if he returned. What was the message that Jeremiah brought from the Lord? Repent! Don’t trust in a worldly way of finding wholeness and peace with God, but instead turn to and trust in the Lord’s Means of wholeness. Turn away from a mindset that says happiness can be found in the comfort of wealth and the security of earthly friends, and instead trust in the Lord’s plan. That was the last message that the Jews wanted to hear; they wanted Jeremiah to sit down and shut up! So poor Jeremiah spent most of his time away from his people, and he only returned when he had another painful message from God. We might say that Jeremiah would be completely at home singing that old African American spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long, long ways from home.” What Jeremiah discovered is what we need to learn too: Each of us must take up our cross and follow Jesus.
For Jeremiah, the cross that he was to take up was simply to declare God’s Word and place all of his faith in that Word, and that is the cross that we must take up as well. Like Jeremiah, we too live in dangerous times. There is terror all around. In a time of extreme tolerance, where all life styles and philosophies are said to be equal, we Christians are the only ones being told to sit down and shut up! But like Jeremiah, God says we can’t do that! “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” [Mark 8:38]

No dear friends, you cannot ignore God’s Word! He makes it clear, that there is no other way to please Him accept through His Son, Christ Jesus! There is a way that seems right to a society but in the end it only leads to death. Thus says the Lord, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6] “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”” [Matt. 10:37]

The truth is friends, in a society that continuously teaches personal gain and material riches, we are to proclaim another message, “Jesus is the only way to wholeness!”

In a society that advances the message, “If it makes you feel good, just do it!” we proclaim instead, “Seek the Lord while He may be found!” Even in many churches today, a message of extreme tolerance and acceptance like in the day of Jeremiah has replaced the Law and Gospel message of God. Itchy ears long to hear that their walk with God will be an easy and happy road; they don’t want to hear about sacrifice and pain; they don’t want to hear that they must die to live. When things go wrong they blame God, and then quickly begin shopping for a new message that will satisfy their greedy hearts and bring them peace. But what kind of peace do they really want? Do they want worldly peace or heavenly peace? Concerning peace here, again Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” [Matt. 10:34-36]
Dear friends, these Words of Jesus are Words of peace. Jesus gives them to us so that we will have peace, but to hear them we must receive them by faith. We must by faith die to what we want and receive what God desires to give to us. And what is He giving? Peace! It’s a wholeness that is always centered in Christ’s faithfulness to provide for everything we need, therefore it is a spiritual peace. The peace He gives is completely opposite of the kind of peace the world wants from Him and you. Listen to His voice speaking to your heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27]

Friends let’s not walk in worry and fear. Let’s not worry about lost relationships if we don’t endorse someone’s behavior. Instead let’s declare our independence from the ways of this sinful world, and then declare our dependence on Jesus and His cross. Let’s simply follow our Lord wherever He leads. Sometimes the road will be easy and sometimes it will be hard, but always Jesus will be walking right beside us. And now, may that true peace of God, a wholeness which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and may that wholeness enable you to bear the cross joyfully, following Him where ever He leads you… In Jesus name… AMEN!

Back to the Future

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

11th Sunday in Pentecost-B, August 9, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” (Ephesians 4:17, 18).

The music you just heard is the theme song to the hit three-part movie classic, “Back to the future.”  But before we tie that into our message as a mental hook, I want to ask you a few questions: What does it mean to walk in the futility of our minds?  What does it mean to say, “Brother or Sister So and So, is living a dark life, alienated from God, because they are ignorant of the promises of God?”  Could this really happen to a Christian; could it happen to us?  Could we become so hard in our hearts that we are separated from God, and lost forever?  Well, not if God has anything to say about it, and this morning, He has plenty to say.  And what He says is meant to strengthen your faith so that you will not loose hope; so that you will be strengthened for this journey we call life!

This morning’s Old Testament lesson (1 Kings 19:1-8) is a case study of such a person.  Meet Elijah, perhaps the greatest prophet who ever lived and was called by God.  But Elijah’s greatness was not found within his own merits or personality, but within the almighty God who called him to serve.  And now, Elijah was about to be reminded of the God who takes all His children back to the future.  Let’s look at the ministry and life of Elijah…

Ahab had become the King of Israel.  Scripture says that he sinned “against the Lord more than any of his predecessors.” He married an evil, wicked woman named Jezebel, the daughter of a foreign king, and together they worshiped Baal (a sun god). He also built an image of Asherah, another foreign goddess.  In response to all of the evil Ahab and Jezebel had brought to God’s people, Elijah was moved by the LORD to declare a drought “in the name of the Lord, the living God of Israel – (which meant no dew or rain for 2 to 3 years) or as Elijah would have said it to the diabolical pair,  “Until I say so.”

After the prophecy, God warned Elijah to go and hide, and he did, going first to Cherith Brook near the Jordan where ravens were commanded by God to bring him bread and meat until the brook ran dry.  After that, he stayed with the widow of Zarephath who shared her last handful of flour and bit of olive oil every day “for many days”.  When her son became ill and died, Elijah stretched himself out on the boy and through his prayer, God restored the boy to life.

In the third year of the drought, the Lord told Elijah to return to Ahab.  When they meet Ahab tells Elijah that he is the worst troublemaker in Israel.  Elijah retorts: “You are disobeying the Lord’s commands, and so it is you O King, who is bringing trouble to Israel.”

The two agree to a contest between God and the Baal.  450 prophets of Baal and 400 of Asherah meet little old Elijah on Mt. Carmel.  Elijah tells Israel to make up their minds, which they will serve, God or Baal.  Two altars are built, two bulls are killed and the contest begins.  “Don’t light the fire” Elijah says,  … “let the prophets of Baal pray to their god and I will pray to the Lord, and the one who answers by sending fire — he is God.”  When Elijah’s turn comes after the failure of the false prophets, he pours water on his altar, soaking both wood and sacrifice.  Then God brings fire down and consumes the wood, the sacrifice, the stones of the altar, and scorches the earth.  The people acknowledge the true God, and at Elijah’s command all of the prophets of Baal and Asherah are killed.

When Jezebel learned of the death of the prophets, she sent a message to Elijah:  “May the god’s strike me dead if by this time tomorrow I don’t kill you for what you did to the prophets of Baal.”  Elijah flees … again … and then the account of today’s text occurs.

Elijah, depressed, in hiding after a day of travel, sits under a tree and “wished he would die.”  “It’s too much, Lord.” he prayed.  “Take away my life: I might as well be dead.”  And he sleeps.

The angel of the Lord, who seems to be the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, wakens him and encourages him to eat bread and water, which He provides.  Elijah goes back to sleep, perhaps still to depressed to get up.  The angel of the Lord wakes him a second time and insists that he eat more “or the trip will be too much for you.”  Elijah eats and drinks again and “the food gave him strength to walk 40 days.”  And where is it that he goes?  He goes back to the beginning; back to the birth place of God’s people of faith; he goes back to Horeb, or as you may know it Mount Sinai, the holy mountain of God, the very place where Moses had received the Law from God 600 years earlier.

Have you ever been there; so tired of being beat down by life that you just wanted to lay in bed and never get up?  Maybe some have felt so defeated by life that you actually just wanted to die?  Maybe like Elijah, you said, “Ok Lord, that’s enough.  Just take me home.”  For any of us beaten down by life, by sin, sickness, disease, and the devil, God has His means of strengthening us.  He feeds us His holy bread of heaven, and in the strength of that food, he sends us back out into the wilderness of life, where in the midst of storms and earthquakes we will once again hear him speak; softly and tenderly He speaks to us a message of hope and peace.  So in the strength of that food, the Word of God, we get up and follow where He leads.

In our epistle lesson, we are given a puzzle that only God can solve.  We are told that this is the good news; the gospel that brings us hope, but if we read it on our own, thinking like Elijah that we battle our Ahabs and Jezebels with our own strength, we will find only more despair in those words.  Listen: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” [Ephesians 4:25-32]

How can these words be anything but an accusation of our weakness and failures to do the things we are commanded to do?  By hearing them not as a command, but as an invitation to go out into the wilderness facing whatever comes with the strength of the food Jesus gives; by going back to the beginning we go back to the future that God has prepared for us before hand.  The beginning, our beginning is Jesus Himself, so…

Read those words this way and you will understand: “Because Jesus has given you new life, you will put away falsehood.  Because Jesus died for your sins and appeased the anger of God on your behalf, you will be angry but not sin.  Because Jesus defeated the devil upon the cross, you will likewise give the devil no opportunity to accuse you.  Because it is the work of God’s Holy Spirit to ensure that you are fed the very Words of Jesus unto eternal life, you will not grieve the Holy Spirit.  Because the Holy Spirit, within the very waters of your baptism has sealed you for the day of the resurrection and eternal life, you will allow all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander to be put away from you, along with all malice.  Because in Christ you are always shown God’s friendly heart, you too will be kind to others and tenderhearted, forgiving your neighbor as God in Christ forgave you.”

And there my friends is the power of God that assures you that the food he gives is enough for your journey.  The word says, “As God in Christ forgave you.”  Do you hear the good news in those words?  Forgiveness is a done deal; it already has been pronounce.  Now by faith, you must live that out.  When you fail and fall to sin, you must get back up strengthened for the journey of life in the food you are fed.  And what is that food?  It is the very beginning and source of the food; which is both the Giver and the Food…

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” [John 6:35]  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me.”

“And this is the will of Him who sent Jesus, that He should lose nothing of all that has been given to Him, but raise it up on the last day (on the day that your journey in the wilderness shall come to an end and you arrive at the Mountain of the Lord).  For this is the will of the Father, that everyone who looks to (Jesus) the Son (of God) and believes in (Him) should have eternal life, and He will raise you who believe (to eternal life) on the last day.”

Amen, amen, whoever believes (in Jesus, already) has eternal life.  Jesus IS the bread of life; the bread of life that comes down from heaven, so that anyone who eats of it will not die.  Jesus IS the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of Him, they will live forever.  And the bread that Jesus gives for the life of the world is His flesh.  He says, “Take and eat this is my body.”

This Jesus is the very same Son of God who like you walked that 40 days in the wilderness amongst the temptations of the devil, and yet He did not sin.  This Jesus like you was fatigued and beaten down by His journey; He grew hungry and His flesh was refreshed by food supplied by the angels.  This Jesus also walked towards a Mountain that seemed too high to climb, but it was not Mount Horeb, but Calvary.  As Jesus looked upon the mountain of sin that He must climb, he saw the skulls of millions of dead men and women who ever died and would die in the hope that God’s Champion would one day come and deliver them from death unto eternal life.  And so, in the strength of the food that the Father had provided, He climbed that mountain carrying His own cross.  And as he hung there at the top of Calvary, it was really from the top of the world, because as He drew His last breath in our flesh, the voice of God thundered out of His mouth from heaven… “IT IS FINISHED.” Your debt owed to God on account of sin has been paid in full.

This is what it means dear friends to journey to the Mount of God; the place where an eternal new beginning was created.  But there is still one more beginning you must turn your hearts and minds to, before you go back out on this pilgrimage we call life.  You must go back to your personal  beginning; back to the waters of your baptism.  The place where God sealed you with the Holy Spirit; the place where all of the benefits and fruits of the cross were made yours.

Like Elijah we to must daily make our return back to the font, the place of our beginning.  It is there in the waters of our baptism, where our transformation to be holy, perfect and righteous began, and it is there that it will find its completion.  This process of change, of success and failure requires us again and again to look backwards to that glorious day when God began His good work within us, so that we will know that it will be Him and Him alone, through faith in Christ, who will complete that work.  And as we look back, we remember God’s kind heart, and it is from that point in our lives  that God gives us the true bearings to continue our journey.  It is always from that “place of beginnings” that one walks forward to not only our eternal future, but to receive strength to deal with the challenges within the here and now.  May God continue to bless your journey towards the resurrection and eternal life, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

A Debt of Praise and Love

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

9th Sunday in Pentecost-B, July 26, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” [Ephesians 3:20, 21]

Last week, you may recall that I said that neither God, the church, nor your brothers and sisters in Christ owe you anything, accept the debt of love.  But love is a debt far greater than anything else we could ever owe; it is great because the kind of love we all owe to God and each other, comes only from God to His children who have been given the gift of faith to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior; as their God.  So we must always remember that this debt of love and the ability to repay it always comes from faith.  It is this kind of divine love, which prevents us from willingly offending God and our neighbor.  Now I say this so that I may qualify what I am about to declare next.

When someone justifies his or her sinful action by saying, “I guess I can’t help my self, that’s just the way I am.”  Or, “I am acting this way because of someone else’s behavior.  Don’t blame me, blame so and so.”  When I hear this kind of talk, I become very concerned about the eternal condition of the person speaking.  I begin to wonder if they still have faith, because they appear to be demonstrating a lack of divine love; love for God and love for their neighbor.  Another way to say this is that they appear to be refusing to repent; turn to Christ alone, who makes all things new.

The solution for this person, if they even care to be restored to God through Christ, is to remember the power, the anger, and the love of their Creator God.

I. The Power of God: How did we start out the Apostles Creed this morning?  Wasn’t it with a statement of God’s almighty power?  Listen: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”  And how did God create?  Was it an arduous task that took great effort and strain?  No.  But how did he created?  Simply with His spoken Word.  God said and there was.  Now that is power.  God created everything out of nothing simply because He chose to; simply by speaking and it became!

After God created the world, His Word in Genesis makes it clear that He created it for a purpose; He created it to be a cradle for His greatest creature… man.  Through God’s power, God created man in His own image; that is He created man to be a steward or caretaker of the very world that would be the cradle that God would place man into so that man could learn to relate to God by faith; so that man could know God for who He was… the source of all power and strength.

When Adam and Eve fell to the trick of the Devil, the cradle of life that was to sustain them, became hostile and it had to be worked and mastered by the power and intellect that God gave to man.  With His hand, man was to work the land to produce a livelihood; a means to sustain the very life God gave by His power, in the beginning.

As man began to obediently go forth and multiply upon the face of the earth, they began to collectively grow distant from God.  That is, they forgot who God was in power and strength.  They began to offend God in what they thought, said, and did.  So God decided with His power to respond to the sinfulness of man as…

II. The God of Anger. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thought of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved His heart.  So the Lord said, I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” [Genesis 6:5-8]

Today, we love to talk so much about how God is love, and that thank God is true, but we also must remember that God is power, and that God does get angry.  Listen: “And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make and end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them.  Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”

What God was telling Noah was that the very earth that He created for man as a cradle and as an asset for man to manage, God would now use to destroy man.  How would he do that?  By using His power in response to His anger towards the collective sins of man.  By doing something, creating a phenomenon that up this time had never existed; God cause it both to rain relentlessly and He caused all of the great water stores beneath earth to rise simultaneously and collectively upon the surface of the earth where all of life, including man existed.

But our powerful God, in His anger remembered Noah and His family, eight souls in all; He remembered that they alone feared and honored God, and they found favor in God’s eyes, so God spared them by placing them within the ark before the flood began.  But God also remembered that He had created man with a purpose; in the image of God to be a steward of God’s creation, so God also spared a sample of all creation for man to manage.  God did this for Noah, because God is also…

III. The God of love. God loved Noah and his family because they retained their fear and love for God.  To fear and love God was an ability outside of themselves; it was a gift from God that came by their faith in God.

Noah and his family remembered their debt of love for God because they retained and cherished God’s Word of promise that declared one day through God’s Champion, they would be allowed to return to Paradise; the Word that was the very first covenant that God made with sinful men and women.  Noah remembered that covenant and he had faith in it; it was the very proof that declared God is love.  And by faith He would receive another covenant from God in the form of a visible sign, a rainbow.

Through the rainbow, God assured those eight people of faith who were about to set out on their new lives, that through His covenant promise, they could be assured that He would never destroy the earth by flood again.  But why a rainbow?  So that they would have a physical sign to remember God’s grace.  Martin Luther rightly pointed out in one of his sermons that Noah and his family must have lived in great trembling.  What they had just gone through for such an extended period of time must have terrified them, because they experience God’s great power and anger.  All around them was evidence of fearful destruction.  So out of love, God saw that these frail creatures of dust needed every bit of assurance and love that they could receive.  So God gave them a visible sign as a seal of the truthfulness of His promise.  “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” [Genesis 9:13-15]

Dear friends, our God of love has given us other powerful signs.  Jesus tells us Himself that His death upon the cross is a sign that assures each of you that God’s power and anger has been satisfied with His death upon that cross.  For you it is a sign that God has relented in His anger and desire to punish all of creation for it’s sinfulness.  And Jesus Himself said that the sign of Jonah, three days in the belly of the whale pointed towards His own victory over death itself.  But the good news from our God of love does not stop there; because Jesus desires that you receive that gift of forgiveness of sins and victory over death personally.  And so God comes to sinners like us Himself with another sign and another use of His Word to create another covenant promise.

In Holy Baptism, Jesus Christ, the living Word of God promises that through the washing of the water and God’s Covenant Promise, we are born again.  Listen: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”

Dear Christians, what a wonderfully powerful and loving God we have.  He is a God who came to us through His Son in our own flesh to make all things new; all things right.  He comes to us because we can not go to Him.  He is a God who promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  Sometimes in life we may feel that He sends us out onto a sea of turmoil, in a flimsy vessel alone, but he is always watching us and ready to sustain us by giving us both great faith and love.  He comes to us, even in the midnight hour He comes.  And when He speaks, His very Word gives what He commands, “Peace be to you.  Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”

Like the apostles, we will not always understand what we are going through or why, but we will always remember that Christ was ever with us.  And as we remember our God of power who’s anger was appeased by the very life blood of His Son Jesus Christ, we remember that we are a part of a vast host of saints we call the church who owe God and each other an eternal debt of love and praise for the great things He has done.  But we also remember what He is still doing through this vast church that must always be expanding and growing one forgiven sinner at a time.

And so out of our debt of love and praise to God we give that same debt of love to our neighbor as we forgive them and point their hearts and minds to the very same source of new life.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Christ Is Our Peace

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

8th Sunday in Pentecost-B, July 19, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

What a peculiar place Christ’s church is, and it must be just that… peculiar.  It is different by nature from anything else on earth, which is created by man.  And that only makes sense; it makes sense because the church is created and sustained by God Himself, according to His good pleasure; according to His will.  How are we peculiar?  Well because we are made up of so many different people, with different races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds.  What is it that brings us together?  Peace.  When God’s peace comes amongst His children who respond to His call of faith, those children come.  How does peace come?  Through faith.  How does faith come?  Through the gifts of God that build His church.  Faith comes by hearing and receiving God’s Word and Sacraments exactly as God gives them; as means of grace to bring forgiveness of sins and peace to be what God has called you to be and become what He promises you shall always be; holy, perfect, and righteous.

Here at Trinity, we are made one around that peace of God, but we are made up of 3 parts: Life time members; Transfers from other churches; and new additions.  All three have been brought here by God according to His good will and purpose, and all three groups are completely equal before God.  And all three should settle for nothing less than…

The pure gospel of God in Jesus Christ, which brings freedom from guilt, through the forgiveness of sins. This is such a wonderful and essential gift for living a life of freedom, and without it there can be no true peace.  It is the equivalent of breathing in pure oxygen.

If you went to the hospital and you were having trouble breathing, if they gave you a choice between L.A. smog and pure oxygen, which would you choose?  Of course you would choose the pure oxygen, and likewise we should only be willing to receive the pure gospel of God.  And yet in so many churches today, people are willing to be given the smog of other men’s opinions.

Let me share with you briefly, the story of Pastor Falemao Esera and the American Samoan congregation that has merged with us.  Their denomination has a rich and faithful history of people, sinners who through the pure Word of God recognized that only through the gospel-Word of forgiveness can they know peace.  In their seminary, their pastors were taught the very same things our pastors are taught, the pure Word of God.  But something happened over time; both their denominational leadership and the seminary began to embrace new teachings that no longer found their origin in the Word of God, but rather in the hearts and minds of sinful men.  As a result, Pastor Fale left his denomination and the congregation followed.  They became independent.  And after a long season of prayer and patient faithful waiting, God led them here to Trinity and our beloved Missouri Synod.  And in Pastor Fale’s own words, “Here I found freedom and peace like before; through the pure Word of God.”

Now to all of you dear saints who gather at Trinity; to the life time members, the transfers, and the new additions, God is asking each of us to evaluate our reasons for coming to this old faithful church.  Whatever our reason, God is pleased that we are here, but if we are here for any other reason than to receive the pure Word of God, then each of us must reevaluate our motivations, and then allow God to realign our hearts and minds so that both will be pleasing to Him.

In our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 23:1-6), we see God’s heart regarding His children of faith.  We see a protective God who promises to punish the government of man when it no longer cares for the needs of its citizens in accordance with the will and law of God.  But we also see God scolding the citizens for accepting anything but His pure Word and promises of deliverance through the long awaited Messiah.

To the government of Israel God says: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord.”  And to the people who have been scattered, separated from the pure Word of God, He declares, “I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.  I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.”

Two things should grab our hearts and minds here.  First, it is God who says that He has scattered His children of faith.  And this is true.  It was God that allowed them to go into exile, because of their many sins and unwilling spirit to turn away from their sins.  But the second truth that grabs our attention is perhaps the most important truth; it will be God Himself who brings every one of His children of faith back to Him.  And how does He do that?  By setting faithful shepherds or pastors over them who will teach them nothing but the pure doctrine of the gospel.  And what is that gospel?  Listen: ““Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

Dear saints the gospel is simply Christ alone, who only is righteous; Christ alone who comes by grace alone, which is God’s unearned and undeserved kindness.  Christ alone who comes by faith alone.  You can’t debate a person into trusting God; you can’t prove the love of God through Christ to someone.  These things can only be received as a gift from God by faith.  And how does faith in Christ come?  Through Scripture alone.

Each of you here today have been drawn by God through the pure teaching of His Word, which alone brings forgiveness of sins and peace with God.  But this teaching also brings another kind of peace; it brings peace within the family of God; within even our own congregation.  And we will need this peace to continue being God’s children of faith within our community, because the very diversity in persons, which marks a healthy and vibrant church, also brings tension; tension which can rebuild the very thing that God through Christ has demolished. Listen…

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” [Ephesians 2:14-16]

By remembering who we were before God’s pure Word brought us peace, we will also remember who we are now because of that peace.  If you are a lifetime member of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod , surely you can remember disobedient times in your life when you were not allowing God’s Word and Sacraments to both change and sustain you?  If you are a transferred member who came from another denomination, surely you can think back and remember what it was like living under a teaching that smothered God’s forgiving love under a blanket of legalism and works righteousness; a teaching that always left you wondering if God would really forgive you?  And if you are a recent addition to our church family, and you are still growing in your understanding of the true peace of God that comes through His pure Word, may we all say welcome… you are not alone!

Each of us who are here this morning long for the same thing… peace with God.  And all of us are dealing with all kinds of life issues and current events, which can bring confusion and insecurity.  How we deal with these things; how we deal with each other determines whether we are living in God’s peace where the wall of separation from God and each other is torn down, or if we are rebuilding the wall and thus separating ourselves from God and each other.

We rebuild the wall when we believe that God, His church as a body, and His saints as individuals owe us something.  Here is the hard truth, but I pray that you will hear and receive it.  No one owes you anything, especially God.  The church and its saints are no different than you.  Each saint here is struggling with their own lives and fighting to hold on to the pure Word of God and the faith to persevere, which comes through that Word.  The only debt we owe each other, is a debt of love.  Each of us, through the pure Word of God are moved to fear and love God so that we may continue to grow in faith, and love Him with all of our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls.  Each of us as well are learning every day to fear and love God so that we will love our neighbors as ourselves.

We allow Christ to continue tearing down the walls that divide us when we remember who each of us were without His pure Word and the peace it brings.  Without these things, each of us were dead in our sins, but with God’s pure washing of the water and His Word, we are brought back to life as a new man and woman.  Like the gentiles that made up a large part of the Ephesian church, we too were once foreigners, separated from God without hope.  “But now in Christ Jesus (we) who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.  (How did He do this?) By abolishing (the law’s accusation against us), (so) that he might create in Himself one new man in place of the two (or three), so making peace, and (through that peace, He) might reconcile us (all) to God in one body, which is the church, through the cross, thereby killing (our) hostility (to God and each other).

There is and will be new growth in this little church we call Trinity, because each of us are trusting in the same pure Word of God that brings peace.  It is the Word that brought us here and it is the Word that both sustains and keeps us here.  Each of us who were once far removed from the love of God have been brought near by the same Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Christ has brought us and He will continue to bring new additions.  He welcomes them, and so do we when we remember that it is the same blood that draws and covers them that brought and covers us.

Through Christ’s death upon the cross and the body and blood that was given and shed for sinners like us, we are reminded that all enmity and strife that comes through race, ethnicity, and economic status are made moot and pointless.  The walls of separation that our society and even our government erect are removed within the Kingdom of God, which for us comes only through Jesus Christ and grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone.  May these very things sustain you unto eternal life.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

The Key to Fellowship… FAITH!

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Easter 2B, April 12, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7]

The audio clip that you just heard is a snippet of the song “Break It Down” by Chris Warren.  Wrestling fans know it as the Degeneration X theme song.  I chose it as the audio and mental hook to hang our message upon, because the words pretty well describe the response of most doubters and deniers of what they perceive to be the Christian faith.  Listen to the opening lines: “You think you (can) tell us what to do?  You think you (can) tell us what to wear?  You think that your better?”

Is that how we present our Christian faith; as a simply a set of rules that are expected to be followed in order to fit into His church?  Or do we believe and model something more; something much deeper?  In reality, that is what this younger generation is looking for.  Like Thomas in our Gospel reading (John 20:19–31), young people today are looking for something that in their minds is real and life changing; something they can not only hear, but touch and be a part of.  This morning, our message will declare that as the very essence of what we preach, teach, and confess; but even more than that, it is something that we live out!

Why didn’t Thomas believe?  May I suggest that He simply chose not to rely on the simple testimony of his friends.  He didn’t want to just believe, but he also wanted the experience of belief; he wanted to encounter the same source of faith that they had encountered.  What experience?  Well, this one: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [Jn. 20:19, 20]

In my mind, I can hear the excited testimony of the apostles and disciples who testified to Thomas.  “Thomas, we have seen the Lord.  There is no doubt it was Him, because He showed us the nail scars in his hands and the wound in His side!”  Thomas wanted to experience the same encounter.  He needed that same experience because the last few days of living had beat him down; demoralized him!  Remember, he was the same disciple who said to the others, “Let us go, that we may die with him”, after Jesus announced that it was time for Him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. [Jn. 11:16]

Now here is where we see the loving desire of our Savior. Jesus Christ the Son of God, knew that Thomas had been separated from Him by lack of faith, and that just would not do.  You see Thomas had been set aside with the other apostles to not only believe in the Son of God Jesus Christ, but to also testify and proclaim the gospel which heralded the good news that Christ is risen!  So, if experience is what Thomas required in order to feel equal to the others, in order to have faith and believe, then that is precisely what Jesus would give to him.

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [Jn. 20:26-29]

Thomas’ faith was restored and he was returned to the fellowship of disciples who just eight days earlier also had faith, which seemed to be destroyed and lost.  All of them at first, seemed to have had lost their faith but not there fellowship.  What I mean by that, is that they still gathered together in that upper room, but not in a fellowship of faith, but a fellowship of fear of the Jews and disappointment in their Savior.  They were beaten down by life and disappointed by what appeared to be failure, just as people still are today.

What is the thing lacking in most people, which is preventing them from receiving Jesus as their Savior and then living out their new identity as a new person in Christ?  I submit that it is faith.  Without faith, there can be no real fellowship with God.  Faith is the only way to truly see and know Jesus; to know that He is the propitiation (or payment) for our sins, and not (just) for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.” [1 John 2:2]

When Thomas had earlier said “Let us go also so that we may die with (Jesus)”, I am sure he meant every word.  When he said it, he and all of the other disciples were confused and bewildered.  They could not have understood why the Messiah would willingly allow Himself to be humiliated and killed.  That simply was not how a champion behaved.  But they also did not understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was.  People still don’t understand.

People today just like the disciples before us can not receive faith in Jesus unless they perceive a need for Him.  In other words, they must first see a need for the kind of Savior Jesus is.

Jesus is the Son of God who comes to save us from our sins.  He comes to remove our sins; to pay for them with the only payment that can be made; a payment of blood and life.  Again, “If we (desire to be saved and) walk in the light, as (Jesus) is in the light, (then) we have fellowship with (the Father and the Son of God, and) one another, and the blood of Jesus (the Son of God) cleanses us from all sin.”

And it is that little Word sin, which keeps getting in the way; it keeps blocking folks from receiving the very thing they long for… faith.  You see, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

So what is the answer to this dilemma?  How can we even begin to reach people outside of Christ, especially young people with the very gift of life that they seem to so militantly reject?  We must make it real to them, by allowing it to be real to us.  We must allow the gift of Christ to change us so that the change is apparent to even the worst skeptics!

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

You know, in this world people say a lot of things; things they don’t really mean.  Another way to say this is that their talk and their walk don’t match.  But Jesus, speaks truth.  When He says “Peace” the very Word gives it.  The word gives peace and the faith of the believer receives it.

If a blind doctor offered you a liquid that would save your life, and then he told you that all you needed to do was hold out your cup and then drink what he pours into it, would you think that it was such a bad thing?  And if you told the doctor “I’m ready, poor away; my cup is waiting”, but you had no cup and simply let the medicine pour out on the ground, would that be the doctor’s fault, or yours?  Fool, why not just tell the doctor you have no cup, and he will gladly give you one!

And that is precisely the way of faith.  God’s Word is the medicine that will save you from your sins.  And the great physician of your soul is Jesus Christ.  If you have no cup, it is because you have either neglected to ask Him or you have refused to admit that you have a need for the medicine.  The cup is your agreement with God that you are indeed dying from your sins, and it is your confession, which proclaims that only He can save you.  The medicine is His very Word, which gives both forgiveness and eternal life; it gives you peace with God and each other.

When we have peace with God through faith in both the work of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb, we live out that peace with the authority that Christ’s Word gives us.  We are not only forgiven, but we are sent out to both speak words of forgiveness and to model them.  We hold no grudges, and simply allow God to work within the lives of the people we meet through the power of the Word he tells us to speak.

“I forgive you” is perhaps the easiest set of words to speak and the hardest to live out.  It is hard to live out because it involves complete faith that God will do what He says He will do.  He will bring peace.  Peace; first to we who speak the words of peace, and then peace to those who will hear and receive those words.

Thomas was restored to the fellowship of believers the same way the rest of them, including Peter were restored, through the person and work of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Jesus spoke and gave peace to them and their little fellowship of faith began to grow.  It grew so large that they began to attract the attention of the government of Rome, which eventually became terrified that they might represent a new threat against Cesar.  They tried to destroy the church by killing the Christians, but instead of wiping out Christianity, their attacks only served to cause the church to grow much faster.  Why?  Because “great grace was upon them all.  The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.”  With great power, the testimony of the apostles, which is the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, spread and brought forgiveness of sins and peace with God to many people.

That same peace of God, which comes through the same Word and means of grace of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are still proclaimed and given freely today.  It is the Word declared and the power of the Word lived out that will save this generation today, if we will simply trust God and live out this faith with an invitation to all we meet to simply come and see.  Come and believe that in our Bibles, “these (things) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  AMEN!

The Cross and the Yoke!

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 4A, July 6, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.”” [Matthew 11:28-30]

This morning, God has chosen to reveal a great and wondrous mystery to you… if you have been worn down by life, if your labors have seemed to zap you of strength and the joy of life, come to Christ and He will give you rest.  If you seem to be trapped by life circumstances and bad choices, come to Christ and He will give you rest.  But more than that He will set you free from the strongholds of your life and transfer you from a stronghold of hopelessness and death into a stronghold of joy and eternal life.

Are you ready to experience this?  Good, then all you need do is allow Jesus to place His yoke upon you; that is you must allow His life giving and life changing Word to transform and renew your mind, and then, you will have rest for your soul.

Now, before we get started remember this one bit of advice:  As you are listening do not allow the allure of the world to take your eyes off of Christ and His cross.  What ever the world may have in abundance will be forever lost, but what ever you may lose in this world because you follow Christ, that will be added to you in abundance on the day of Jesus Christ.  You can be sure of this, because Jesus Christ your Savior, your brother, and your God has assured it through “the blood of God’s covenant (His promise) with you.”  He has, He is, and He will set you free!

The invitation: This morning, Jesus shows you that the yoke that He places on you and the cross that you are given are in fact one and the same.  Now people who have set their hopes and hearts on the promises of this world and our sinful society will at once cringe and turn away from this kind of talk; they will say, “Why would I want to follow a Savior who only promises me hardship and pain?”  But that is a defective question; it is disingenuous.  Jesus does not promise only pain.  Pain is something that everyone experiences in this world; it goes hand in hand with the disappointments of sin.  So pain is always a reality in life, along with the fact that people and life will always disappoint you, but God will never disappoint.  What ever He promises you, He seals it as fact with the great AMEN, which is the very lifeblood of His Son Jesus Christ and His cross.

Supposed Wise and intelligent men and women who focus on only this physical world can not accept this promise of God’s blessing, because they can not accept the cross; not Jesus’s cross or their own.  They are filled with their own ideas, and so God finds them already filled and satisfied, and He can give them nothing.  They are those who say, “The idea of God is dead.” But you who gather this morning, are to be like infants, because you realize that you lack everything; you know that on your own you are empty and the world and society cannot fill you.  You are the poor that mourn and are meek; you hunger and thirst for righteousness.  You who have nothing will one day, on the day of Christ be given everything by God. [Matthew 5:3-6; Philippians 3:8]  You are those who can declare with certainty that, “God is not dead.  For I have tasted His presence and He is good!”

Dear friends, please know that this invitation is universal; that is it is for everyone, everyone who is willing to come like an infant and depend on the care and promises of our Heavenly Father.  Each of you who have responded to the invitation, must now also hear of the intent of God.  God the Father desires to place upon you the yoke of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Yoke: If you find yourself drawn to Jesus with His invitation to come to Him for rest, then you have experienced the desire and power of God to draw all men unto His Son for eternal life. [John 12:31, 32] And it is that same power of God that will allow you to receive and live under the yoke of His Son that is placed upon your shoulders.  That yoke that He places upon you is faith to believe that God alone is your ever-present help; He alone is able to complete the good work of salvation and eternal life within you; and He alone will never leave nor forsake you.  The yoke that is placed upon you is meant to disconnect you from the load of guilt and fear of sin, death, and the devil, which the world gives, and instead place upon you the yoke that His Word alone places upon you; a Word that connects you to Jesus Christ. It is a yoke that always involves a strong declaration of faith in God’s presence and work in your life.  When we live under the yoke of God, we can declare happily, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him,” I also believe that in His Word and the message of the cross, God has called me to His Son, and He alone enables me to follow the way of the cross.

So what is the way of the cross?  It is the only way to find real rest; rest for this present life and the eternal one to come.  It is knowing that through the cross alone, you have a God who is for you and not against you.  It is knowing that you are God’s true child and an heir to the kingdom of heaven. [John 1:12-13; Galatians 3:26; Romans 8:17]  It is the assurance that your rest is even attended to and protected by holy angels. [Hebrews 1:14]

On the other hand, as we live our lives of faith, we acknowledge as God’s children that the high dignity of being a Christian is not fulfilled in this world; that is it is not displayed in a way that sinful flesh can understand.  Rather, the same humility and lowliness that was displayed in the life of Jesus Christ should also be displayed in a Christian’s earthly life.  And this imitation of our Lord, this bearing the burdens that God through our lives places upon us or allows to be placed upon us, is called the cross of a Christian.

Now those who reject Christ and His cross also have burdens and sorrows, but only the sufferings of Christians are called a cross.  What you dear Christian suffer as a Christian, as you live out your faith in Christ alone in this sinful world, that only can be called a cross of God.  If you follow Christ and confess the Gospel of Christ crucified, who is a stumbling block to the religious and an offense to the educated elite, you WILL receive the same treatment from the world that Christ and His dear saints before you received.

You have by faith through holy baptism, been forever connected to the cross of Jesus Christ; that is the burden He has placed upon you and it is also your own cross.  Your cross then is to be forever bound together with the Christian faith and the Church.  This is most certainly true, so true that who ever refuses to bear this cross of faith should no longer claim to be a Christian.

So, how should we view this cross that is ours to carry? Well, the truth is that if left on our own, our sinful flesh would consider this cross-bearing a burden to heavy to carry.  By your sinful nature, you are led to think that when the world mistreats you and you suffer because of your faith and desire to worship God as He leads you, you are not receiving what you should as God’s own child; as an heir to eternal life.  You may even be tempted to think that God has forgotten you or that He is against you.  But this way of thinking is a trick of the devil, and unless those kinds of thoughts are defeated and destroyed, you run the danger of loosing your faith and abandoning your eternal home in heaven. [Luke 8:13]

The only way to combat this faulty view is through God’s own means of grace.  The Word alone is able to create in us a new and clean heart; a heart that by faith understands that all things work together for our own good, because we love God and are called according to His purpose and not ours.  Scripture alone instructs us that we should not neglect the meeting of the saints, that is God’s Divine service in this place because it is there that He fills us with His gifts of faith, peace, and hope.  Scripture further instruct us that when we suffer because of our confession of faith in Christ by Word and works, the cross is for us a great testimony of the Holy Spirit’s power and work in our lives.  That is, how we live under our cross is a divine testimony to the world and the devil that we are not of this world; we belong to Christ.  Or, as St. Peter has said, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” [1 Peter 4:14]

So then, what is the purpose of the cross?  How does the cross benefit us? The cross in its simplest form is God’s way of leading Christians through this sinful world into eternal life; it is how God brings you to the place that Jesus has gone to prepare for you. [John 14:3]  It is the very thing that gives strength and proves true the words of scripture, which declare that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”  But those same scriptures also bring us strength and a proper perspective to our cross, by saying that, He who “raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present (us) to himself. [2 Corinthians 4:14]  And, that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” [2 Corinthians 4:17]

But how can we have the strength to bear our cross? God’s Word teaches us that the strength to bear the cross comes entirely from His assurance that all of our sins are truly forgiven and we have already been given eternal life.  It is only you dear Christian who can experience the promise of God’s glory in a time of trouble; it is only you who will not perish in times of danger, suffering, sickness, fear, and pain.  It is only you who will bear it because the very promise of Christ empowers your faith.  What promise is that?  The assurance that His “yoke is easy and His burden is light.”

Dear friends, what can be lighter than a burden that unburdens sinful and fearful hearts?  What is lighter than a yoke that bears the bearer of a cross?  Hear this dear Christians, Christ’s burden does not oppress, threaten, or demand a thing from you.  In fact it makes the load light and itself bears the burden along with those of us who are under the load.

Perhaps there is no greater load to carry than the load of sins past, present, and future.  “Come unto me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest.”  That is He removes that burden of sin, so that you may continue to live your life by faith in what He did for the entire world upon the cross, and for the gift that He gave to you in Holy Baptism.  You are free, forgiven, and equipped for a purpose.  That purpose is to glorify God in thought, word, and work.  On one hand you struggle under the cross of acknowledging your sin and you say along with St. Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” [v. 19]  “(Oh) wretched (person) that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  But then also with St. Paul, the truth you declare and the life you live in service to God and your neighbor declares, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [vs. 24, 25]

Dear friends, God does not want to attack or torment us, but the devil does, and he cannot stand your dependence on God’s Word and your faith in Christ.  There is nothing he hates more than our faith in God’s Word. It is only the Word of God that exposes him, and leaves him nowhere to hide. The more you are in God’s Word, the more the devil will attack you.  He will use your friends, family, employer, and even the government as tools to trick you into abandoning the promises of God and the gifts of hope and strength that God gives to you in His Divine Service here at Christ’s church.  But be of good courage and do not give an inch, because Christ fights for you, and His very Word assures you that Christ and His cross have overcome your enemies, your own grievous sins, even your own death, and especially the devil.  AMEN!

What Makes You Whole?

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 11C, August 4th, 2013

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“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.  I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.” [Ecclesiastes 1:2, 18-19]

All hope in material things is vanity.  And that was really the point that Jesus wanted the young man in our gospel lesson (Luke 12:13–21) to understand; it is the lesson that He would have each of  us learn this morning.  But it is a hard lesson for people like us to remember, because we love our stuff.  The lure to acquire more and more stuff can be intoxicating if we are following the wrong  standard of what it means to be blessed.  If we use the worlds standard of success, to be blessed means to have more stuff.  So what will it take to make you whole?  How much stuff do you require,  before you will consider yourself blessed?

Here is a pop quiz to determine whether you are rich in the things of this world or rich in God:  Which disturbs you more… People dying without Jesus or a scratch on your new car? When you miss  worship service or missing a day’s work? A sermon 10 minutes too long or lunch an hour late? A church not growing or your garden not growing? Your Bible unopened or your weekend plans ruined  by bad weather? Church work being neglected … or housework neglected? The multitude of hungry in this world or the closing of your favorite restaurant? Your Sunday offering decreasing … or your  income decreasing?  Be honest, which really disturbs you most?

This morning, Jesus would have us explore the very purpose and meaning of life itself.  He wants us to see that our worth as individuals is not determined by our ability to consume, but instead by a determination that God alone has made.  Our worth as individuals must be seen through God’s Word, that is by God’s Saving action for sinful men and women throughout history and specifically in the event at Calvary when His Son, Jesus Christ died for us sinful men and for our salvation.  This morning, God’s Word will force us to see the truth that we can’t separate our worth and value from this one great event.  He will box us in so that we will understand that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” [James 1:17]

So again, what standard will we use to measure whether we are successful?  If we will follow the standard set down in our society, we will be following the same pathway that Jesus warned the young man not to follow.  “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [v.15]

The way of covetousness is one that is sure that life, its values, its goals, its very possibilities are determined by the things that we have or the stuff that we acquire.  But take care when following this path, as it may become the very cause of your downfall and demise.

In North Africa the natives have a very easy way to capture monkeys. A gourd, with a hole cut just big enough so that a monkey can put his hand into it, is filled with nuts and fastened firmly to a branch of a tree at sunset. During the night a monkey will pick up the scent of the treats, find the source, and put his hand into the gourd and grasp a handful of nuts. But the hole is to small for the monkey’s clenched fist, and he doesn’t have sense enough to let go of his prize so he can escape. So he pulls and tugs all night without success, and then when morning comes he is quickly and easily captured.

But we are not monkeys; we have an intellect that protects us.  Or does it?  In Tolstoy’s Man and Dame, Fortune the hero of the story, is told he can have the right to all of the land around which he can plow a furrow in a single day. The man started off excited, full of the possibilities of owning his own land.  At first, he was only going to plow a square of land that he could easily care for. But as the day progressed he wanted more and more land. He plowed and plowed, until at the end of the day there was no possible way he could return to his original point of departure, but that did not stop him from struggling to do so.  In the end, he fell to the ground dead, the victim of a heart attack. The only property he secured was18 square feet of land; the grave he was buried in.

The incessant lure of acquiring the world’s riches and the misuse of the stuff we have can all be linked to a false idea of security; a twisted understanding of what we need to make us happy.  At the very heart of covetousness is the desire for security.

Jesus story about the rich man allows us to see the very heart of covetousness.  It is the picture of a man who has arrived; he is a text book example of success.  This rich man looks out at a new storage facility and all of his stuff and says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”  You are a success!  But Jesus says that God has something else to say about the matter.

“Fool! This (very) night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

So what went wrong?  Well, the man in Jesus story made a foolish investment.  He was rich in the things of this world, but poor in the things of God.  He was willing to receive all of the stuff that life brought him, but unwilling to acknowledge the very God who gave them to him.  Why he even thought that his soul belonged to him.

Jesus story is more than a warning to the rich or those who want to be rich in the things of this world.  Isn’t it true that there are plenty of unhappy rich people in our society?  No, this story is about death and it is about life!  In Jesus story, at the moment of death, the moment that the rich man’s soul was returned to God who gave the soul, he is greeted with the words “you fool!”  A fool says in his heart there is no God.  Or a fool decides what his god shall be.  In this case the god of this fool was stuff; things made by human hands that pass away as quickly as they are acquired.

The rich farmer in Jesus story would be considered a real success story in our society today.  No where do we hear that his wealth was acquired illegally or immorally, and yet according to God’s judgment they were immorally acquired.  Why?  Because he failed to see where these things came from.  He failed to see the giver behind the gifts.

When we look at people who seem to have it made, who seem to be blessed we are only seeing the tip of an iceberg so to speak.  But God sees the whole picture, and He would have us see it too.  What we need to see is the iceberg under the water—the emptiness of a life that ignores God as the giver, grasps all that is given, and calls it mine!  This is the heart of an investor that Jesus calls fool!  A fool is someone “who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” [v. 21]

So what must we do to make sure that we are making eternal investments?  Only one thing… repent!  Turn to Jesus Christ and His cross and away from your desire to set up false gods that promise security, but in the end provide only judgment.  Turn away from a desire for what the world calls the “good life” and instead turn to your baptism and see what Paul calls in our epistle reading (Colossians 3:1-11), the good things above in the hidden life.  Listen: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” [vs. 2-3]

In those very words, St. Paul offers wise counsel that is guaranteed to bring good returns.  He says that in our baptism we were not only crucified with Christ, but we were also raised with Christ; so, we should set our minds on things, good things that are already ours; gifts from above.  What kinds of things?  How about complete forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and salvation that assures us that we are united with God by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ!  Through faith in these gifts you are already rich in God; you have the saving gifts that God has given you.  Each time you repent; that is each time you turn away from the temptation to acquire more stuff you are turning instead to Jesus Christ, his atoning death upon the cross and His empty resurrection tomb.  You are turning away from false security that comes through wealth and instead you are turning towards eternal security that was given to you in your baptism.

What is the mark of a successful man or woman?  It is the baptismal life of repentance.  Such a person is truly rich, however little or much they may have acquired of earthly things.

Dear friends, we are Christians.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we do not look at things of this life like the rich fool.  Instead, we see a God who created all things and created them good.  We see a God who loved so much that He made the greatest investment possible to save us from the disaster that we deserved.  In Jesus Christ, He set our feet back on solid ground; back on the road of life which is secured not in stuff but in His promises and His real presence with us.  You are already whole through Jesus Christ; you lack nothing that is good.  Now go out and live a life of wholeness.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

What Makes You Come Alive?

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost C, May 19th, 2013

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“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  [John 14:26]

This is the answer to the how questions that we Christians so often ask of God, and it is the answer to the questions our unbelieving friends ask of us.  “How can I make it through this?”  “How can I find the strength to get up, and to go on?”  “How can you believe in an invisible God?”  The answer, of course, is that on our own, that is with out the help of God we can not, but because of the work of the Holy Spirit, we not only will make it through what ever this world and the devil throw at us, we will in fact thrive after we pass through it.  Not only do we find strength to get up and go, but we get up and go with a purpose.  Not only do we believe in what the sinful world calls an invisible God, but we also hear and follow Him everywhere He leads.

Now to this response, some may ask, “How can that be?”  And our answer is that we abide in Christ.  That is that through the work and gift of the Holy Spirit, who uses God’s Word and Sacraments to give faith, we not only believe that Jesus is with us, we abide in that truth!  This is what Jesus means in verse 23 of our Gospel reading (John 14:23–31) when He says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Do you remember when Jesus used a vine as an illustration to describe what it means to love Him and trust Him?  He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]  On the screen is a picture of a grape vine my wife has been tending to for almost 20 years.  Do you see how thick and sturdy it is?  Its roots go down deep and wide.  But that is nothing compare to its many branches that grow and thrive above the ground.  Look at this other picture now; can you see how it’s branches are growing and thriving up above?

In our children’s message, I held up a branch of that vine and asked the children if they could guess how many grapes I would get off of that branch if I took care of it.  Of course they eventually understood that I wouldn’t get anything off of it, because apart from the vine, it was dead.  They understood that eventually that branch would dry up and be thrown away.  It was hopeless… without being part of the vine.  The branch lives because it is part of the vine.  When it abides in the vine, it is as if its life song is “Glory to the vine in the highest, and peace to the branches who abide!”

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 11:1–9), this is the very thing that God wanted the people to understand.  After the world was destroyed by the flood, God kept for Himself faithful Noah and his family as a way to restart fallen creation.  He wanted them to continue to be faithful and go throughout the earth and multiply.  He wanted their ancestors to remember that apart from living a life centered in Him, in His glorious presence with them, they would not have life.  He wanted them by faith to be obedient to His call to repopulate the earth with a people who knew Him and loved Him.  But something terrible happened… the subsequent generations began to forget about their God.  They became full of pride and no longer wished to venture out populating the earth, so they attempted to detach themselves from God’s presence.  They no longer gathered around His Word, which told them to go.  They thought that like the branch I showed the children, they could sprout roots and live; thrive with out the God who created them.  “Glory to man in the highest, and peace to their children who build!”

But what should we expect from a branch?  Not only can they not live outside of the vine, they can’t even no what’s best for them.  And this is the very message that God communicated to them when He came down and confused their language.  Now, instead of acting as one sinful heart and mind, they would be force into an obedience that God wanted to come out of them willingly, by faith.  When God confused their language He was punishing them for acting as if they were the vine; as if they were God!  “I am the LORD,” He has told us.  “I will not give my glory to another (Isaiah 42:8).”  It is as if He is saying, “In Me only do you have life and move and have your being.” [Acts 17:28]

Has anything really changed today?  Yes, I know, man did go forth and multiply; the earth is full of people, but what kind of people?  Don’t we still, each of us deep down inside, like to have things are own way?  Don’t nations still go to war against each other because we do not abide in the God who created us?  Isn’t there an abundance of resources available controlled by a few; enough to feed, clothe, and house the worlds poorest and yet we do not share?  So what’s the answer?  Is it politics?  Is it war?  Civil unrest? Communism or socialism?  No, it is none of those things.  The answer to these problems is you… or rather you who are abiding in Christ… you who love Him because He first loved you… you who keep His Word and are loved by the Heavenly Father.

It is you and the rest of us who make up the church, who are fed and nourished by God’s own Word and Sacraments; you who have heard the message of the cross, the emblem of not just suffering and shame, but God’s love for the entire world.  It is you who are a product of God’s mighty work of rebirth through the water and His life giving and life sustaining Word, who are then equipped to allow God to do even more mighty deeds through you.  You love Jesus, because you know that through His atoning suffering and death you have been forgiven of so much.  It is you alone who can love Jesus and please God by singing “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.”

But what about those who don’t love Jesus; those who won’t abide in Him by keeping His Word?  Well that is where the mighty work of God is continued through those of us who do!  We are a branch of the vine for a reason.  We abide in Him and He has made His home in us as individuals and as a church for a purpose.  We are to share His Word with those who still want to make a name for themselves, apart from resting in God’s glory.

In our epistle reading (Acts 2:1-21), we see God’s solution to both our problem of wandering and the problems of those who will not abide, or receive and rest in His real presence in their lives; it is the Word of God and the Spirit of God that is received in that Word.

Prior to that first day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit was thought to be almost the exclusive possession of the Jews.  Through their own selfish sin of pride, they forgot once again that they were to go forth and multiply; that is they were to share God’s desire of restoration with all humankind.  But just as God acted in a mighty way at the tower of Babel, so He acted on Pentecost.  In St. Peter’s sermon, His text came from the prophet of Joel, listen: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”  Who does God want to save?  All sinful human flesh!  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16]

And now, witness dynamic proof, once and for all that God is serious about not sharing His glory with anyone or anything.  Witness the explanation mark upon Jesus declaration of “It is finished” before He gave His last life breath upon the cross for all sinful creation.  The Holy Spirit was in the house; like tongues of fire He appeared and He was saying that He is getting ready to make all things right.  He is going to make sure that all of those sinful branches that are disconnected from the vine understand that apart from Jesus there is no hope of life.

But the Holy Spirit is not just in the house, He’s out in the streets like a locomotive; like a tornado, tearing down strongholds, powers, and principalities, all so that God’s people can speak the gospel to their neighbors, just as Peter did!  Wouldn’t it have been a shame if the disciples never left the upper-room of that building?  Over 3000 people would not have heard the gospel Word, and would not have been returned to the vine that gives them life.

Isn’t it a shame if we refuse to go out into our community and speak gospel words of life to our neighbors who are also dying?

This morning God wants you to know that He still pours out His Spirit on all flesh; He wants His people who are separated from Him by sin to know that He still is coming to them.  We who believe in Jesus—are those whom the Spirit has called and gathered.  We are being enlightened and sanctified by God’s means for a purpose.  We are to prove to our neighbors that there is a God who loves them.  When we meet them, we are to invite them to come to the same vine that nourishes and strengthens us.  We are to invite them to come to church, even our little church and simply abide; to love Jesus who first loved them.  This morning Jesus wants us to know that through the Holy Spirit, He and the Father are targeting everyone with the same message of forgiveness.  While it is true that we may encounter closed doors, or broken branches that refuse to abide, who refuse to hear our testimony about God’s forgiving love, the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, is still going about His work and will continue to do so without pause, until the very last day.

What makes you come alive?  Abiding in the vine; being obedient to go forth and multiply.  I pray that you will remember that without being a part of Christ’s church, that is apart from His Word and Sacraments, you can do nothing, but wither and die.  But by resting in Christ, receiving His means of grace, through the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, you will not only abide, you will thrive.  I ask you then to both abide and thrive, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

A Peaceful Departure

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

First Sunday after Christmas Year (C), December 30, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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““Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lords Christ. [Luke 2:25, 26]

Merry Christmas dear Christians!  In our gospel reading we remember the presentation of our Savior Jesus Christ; a time when He was  only eight days old.  But even then as a small baby, He was true God and true man; He was already the Word of God in human flesh.  The  same living Word of God who spoke these Words of comfort: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you  the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). In other words, stop fearing that thing which you fear; do not fear it any longer. Your Father has been  pleased to give you the kingdom.

Many Christians today, still fear earthly death; their own death and the death of loved ones. But how can this be, when we who are  baptized confess the certainty of life after death each and every Sunday when we speak about “the resurrection of the body” in the  Apostles’ Creed and “the resurrection of the dead” in the Nicene creed? And still, some of us fear death, and “grieve as [do] the rest of  men, who have no hope”? (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Did you ever stop to think that the fear of death, is like a sermon that we’re preaching to the world; it’s a message that says that we  aren’t any better off than those without Christ; by our fear, we are teaching that God can’t be trusted. Instead of displaying confidence in the certainty of Christ’s death and resurrection for our sake, we are demonstrating instead a life of doubt, uncertainty, and a lack of faith or hope in the peaceful departure our God has promised us. When you live a life of fear and uncertainty because of death, you are proclaiming a false gospel about a false god who can’t be trusted, and not the story of the living God who has already acted to give you eternal life.

And so this morning, let’s consider Simeon, a man that God declared righteous and devout.  Why was he righteous and devout?  Was there something great about him?  Was he a great leader or a man who stood out in the crowd?  No, not at all, in fact we can assume that because scripture mentions nothing about him before he met the baby Jesus, he was simply ordinary; ordinary except for one thing… he was waiting for God to fulfill His promise that a Savior would come to take away his sin and make Him right with God.  And because he had faith to trust God’s promise, God declared him righteous.  You could say that He had faith in God’s faithfulness; he knew that God would do what He said He would do.  But how did Simeon become so faithful?  Friends, the very same way you become and stay faithful… through the word of God that promised him that he would not see death until the Lord’s Christ had come.

You have the very same promise, and you also have had the promise fulfilled.  In your baptism, God’s Word not only promised you a peaceful departure from this dark world of sin, but it provided the fulfillment of the promise.  Christ has come, and in your baptism you have been clothed with not only the righteousness of Christ but also the promise that He will come again for you!

But we have a problem; we are told by this world that being assured of a peaceful departure is not that simple.  Not only do we have other religions who resent and ridicule our blessed assurance, but in fact we have people who call themselves Christians who want us to believe that there must be a little something added to the promise besides our belief.  They tell us that we must do more than just trust in God’s promises.

They will point out that we are still very much trapped in our sins, and the proof of that they say lies within our own hearts, which testify against us and about our sinfulness.  They will insist that we follow certain rules and regulations in order to know that God loves us.  Or they will tell us that our own love and service of love must be great in order to finish what God started in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They will even insist that we acquire certain gifts or demonstrate certain acts of faith in order to know the real blessings of God.

But, when others talk like this to us, it is only evidence that it is they who do not understand God’s plan of salvation; they don’t understand what true forgiveness of sin is because they are so caught up in their own idea of what righteousness is.  They don’t understand that it is God’s Word, which calls each of us who are trusting in Christ alone His saints, or people of God.  It’s a shame that they have forgotten who we are, that we are saints already, because to forget this is the same thing as forgetting our baptism and the faithfulness of God to do what He says He will do.

These folks who claim to be our brothers and sisters, really only want to punish us with heavy consciences and guilt because of the sins they commit and think are to many or to big for God to forgive; they love to remind us that our sins are an offense to God because it helps them forget about their own sinfulness.  And instead of turning to God’s faithfulness and love they want to turn us to the same thing that they hope in… our own resourcefulness and strength.

And to this thinking, let me quote Luther’s response to the same faithless logic.  He said that just as “Motherly love is stronger than the filth and scabbiness on (her) child, so the love of God toward us is stronger than the (sinful) dirt that clings to us.  (So, even though) we are sinners, we do not lose our relationship to the Father on account of our filthiness, nor do we fall from grace on account of our sins.”

And that dear friends moves us to the solution of the problem; the very thing that Simeon declared in a song that the church calls the NUNC DIMITTIS.  “O Lord now let Your servant depart in heavenly peace, for I have seen the glory of Your redeeming grace.”

In God’s Holy Word and in the Blessed Sacraments He shows us Jesus; He shows us His glory.  In the infant Son of God holy and lowly, born in a manger in Bethlehem, God shows us His love for us by showing us the solution to our sin; He shows us the God-man crucified, high and lifted up upon a cross in Jerusalem.  You dear saints are more blessed than Simeon; he had only the promise of what this child in His arms would do, but you know the story completely.  He had the promise but you have the fulfillment of the promise.  And even more than that you have yet another promise from the God who does what He says He will do; He has promised you that He will come again to take you to be with Him in paradise.

Whether He comes for you on the last day of all creation or comes to you in your final moments at death is immaterial; He has promised you that He will take you home to be with Him!  And it is to the promise fulfilled and the promise still unrealized that we grab onto to by faith.  You are asked to live a life and tell the story about God’s faithfulness so that others may believe and be saved as well.

What is it that we are supposed to speak and model?  Well what did Simeon say?  Didn’t He say that He had seen God’s saving grace that He had prepared for all the people?  Didn’t he say that this message, this good news was to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of God’s people Israel?

So the message we are to live and speak to the world isn’t one of fear and trembling but faith and rejoicing.  We are to hold on to both the promise and the One who promises in heaven at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ our Savior.  If we fall into sin, He will be there to pick us up again; by His Word, He encourages us to keep on fighting our sin until we are finally given victory over not just our sin but even the devil and our own death.  When we fall into sin we will remember our Savior who though He fell under the burden of the sin of the world that was place upon Him through the cross, He got back up and made His way to Golgotha, where He suffered and died to take away even our sin.  When we feel filthy and unloved because of those same sins, we will remember the life giving and life changing waters of our baptism that washed us clean and made us forever holy.

So you see dear friends, our Christian faith truly is different from all other religions; it is different because it isn’t based on what we will do, but on what Christ has done.  It is different because our faith in God’s faithfulness grows stronger, even in the middle of evil and sin; even in the face of death.  But we also remember that without God’s Holy Spirit ever providing and strengthening His gift of faith through His Holy Word and sacraments, we would be just as lost as any other sinner.

So when others belittle you for your child like faith, and when they try to rob you of the joy of your salvation, turn away from anger and fear, and feel godly sorrow for those who can only trust in their own resourcefulness for hope.  And by faith, turn to and trust in a Faithful God and say, “Through Jesus Christ, I am a child of God.  And as His child all of my works that are done in faith are good.  And even when my good works are lacking, God’s Word promises me that He will not condemn and leave me, but continue to change me until I lack nothing according to His good and perfect will.”

This is the message that many find so hard to accept and receive this Christmas season, but it is the only message that will give to both sinners and the dying, a peaceful departure.  It is a message that you dear saints live out and trust in by faith, and it is marvelous in the sight of God and His church…AMEN!

Emmanuel: A Gift That Keeps on Giving!

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

4th Sunday in Advent of the Church Year (C), December 23, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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““Behold I have come to do your will, O God. [Hebrews 10:7a]

Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist knew that the Lord was with her; and her unborn baby John knew that the Lord was with him, which is  why he leaped in the womb of his mother.  Do you know that He is with you?  In spite of your fears that the end of the world could have come  just two short days ago, in spite of the fact that the end of the world did come for 26 Sandy Hook elementary school children and their  teachers, do you understand that God is with you, even when you have your doubts?

““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us).” [Matthew 1:23]  This  morning, the Words of the pre-incarnate Son of God ring out for us this morning and declare, “A body have you prepared for me; Behold I  come to do your will, O God”!

And what is the will of God the Father?  That you would see His love for you in the gift that He has given to the world; a gift that He gives to you  personally: His Son, Immanuel… a gift that keeps of giving.

But something terrible has happened; something that just won’t allow you to see how wonderful His gift is.  It is something that moves our hearts to look at God’s gift as insignificant and inadequate for facing this hard life we are living.  In this life we know the fear of senseless violence; we know the fear of lack of wealth and even homelessness.  We know the fear of lost love and appreciation.  We also know that in order to deal with these things we need something big; we need a windfall and a miracle that will turn things around for us.  So we look past the baby in the womb of Mary; oh we appreciate the coming of the baby in the manger with no crib for a bed, but this is the real world where people are dying for no good reason.  This is a world where the greedy and the violent seem to always have the upper hand…  so how does a little baby born in Bethlehem help anything… at all?

Well, simply put, this little baby in the womb of mother Mary is your only real source of help because He is in fact God in human flesh.  You see, Mary is not just Mary the mother of Jesus; she is also mysteriously the Mother of God.  The fruit of her womb is not just a baby who will soon be resting Away in a Manger; He is the God and Creator of all things; a God who never slumbers nor sleeps.  He is the one who keeps His entire church safe, even a sinner like you!

Maybe we tend to look down or even away from this little baby in the womb of Mary, because we know that He will also grow up to become the God-man who suffered and died upon the cross for our sins.  And there really I think is the problem; we must admit that He was born to die for our sins.  We are alright saying that God must punish the sins of the killer who struck at the school in Connecticut, we are alright with saying that God must punish the Bernie Madoffs of this world, and even the social leeches who produce and sell drugs in our neighborhoods, but is God really concerned with our sins?  Yes!  It is your sins as small as you may say that they are which separate you from the love of God.  But truth be told, you and I know that if others really knew the evil and vile things that go on in our hearts and minds, no one would want to be around us.

Why don’t we appreciate the gift of Immanuel?  Because we don’t like to be shown our need for it; we don’t want to admit that in God’s eyes we are just as bad as a mad-man or a serial killer.

So hear Immanuel speak to you again; hear Him give to you a gift that keeps on giving: “Behold I have come to do your will, O God!”

Now dear friends let’s allow the Spirit of God to remind us just how important and exciting this gift really is.  God has come to our world in power; He has come in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  God is Spirit and truth, and in the flesh of Jesus, the very Son of God comes to you to give you true peace!  Peace in the middle of your fears; peace in the middle of your worries; peace in the middle of your ungodly sins, He says I shall be your champion and your deliverer.  I was born to die for you.  I spent my whole life walking to a cross on Golgotha, outside of the Temple.  I suffered and died alone abandoned by my Father, because I carried your sins with me; I died the death of a criminal, of a murder so that you could go free!

Behold I have come to do the will of the Heavenly Father; I have come to bring life where there is death; I have come to make all things new… even you!  This news is so good that a fetus jumped for joy; John the Baptist, who was as of yet unborn jumped for joy in the womb of his mother Elizabeth.  A life unborn responded to the presence of his Savior with unbound joy!  You who have been baptized, perhaps also as a small baby have been baptized into this same joy.

Your reason for being joyful then and now is the same reason that moved John to leap for joy: Your God has come to you in our own flesh.  He has come to live a hard life; the same life you have lived and are living, but He also came to die an agonizing death, and in death be separated from His Heavenly Father.  This is the death that you deserve to die, but never will, because you are resting in the truth that Immanuel came to do the Father’s will.

And what is that will?  That when you leave this veil of tears you would never again know suffering, pain, fear, or sin, but instead that you would dwell forever in the house and love of the Lord!

Even now dear saints you have something interesting happening within your hearts; you are experiencing God’s work of removing your shame and guilt; guilt perhaps centered around your tendency to look down upon this baby as insignificant in times of trouble, but even stronger than that truth is the reality that you truly are forgiven. Even now, you are beginning to experience the joy of remembering just what He came to do.  You remember that He has set you free from the things that can separate you from the love of God.  You remember that God alone in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all of your sins.

So let your heart leap for joy; call out if you wish; praise Him with cries of thanksgiving and praise; shout glory even in the darkness of this sinful world; even in the darkness of your own sin.

Today, if this good news has softened your hard heart once again, then I pray that you will let the joy of the Lord fill you and lead you from this place of worship out into a community that is dark and cold, and dying in sin.  I pray that in the joy of the Holy Spirit you will go out and live a joyous life, even though you know that you will experience both rejection and acceptance; failure and success; death and life.  Live with joy in the midst of every tension, because you  know that your Savior did the same thing.  And through His birth, life, death, and resurrection, He has brought to you the assurance of everlasting peace.

This morning God calls each of us by faith to follow His Son from the cradle to the grave, and from the grave unto our eternal home with confidence knowing that we are not alone.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the son of Mary came to do God’s will; He came to prove to you that it is God’s will that you should not die alone in your sins but have eternal life.

This morning, God’s Word shows you that He uses little things to make a big difference in this world of sin.  He comes as a simple fetus in the womb of a young woman.  He rests as a simple and helpless baby in a manger in Bethlehem.  He comes to you in simple language in the Word, but He also comes in simple elements like water, bread, and wine.  But because He comes in accordance with His will and not the sinful will of men, He takes these simple things and He does marvelous things with them.

This little baby grows to be the God man who dies for the world, but then takes His life back up again and ascends to heaven, forever defeating sin, death, and the devil.  And this God-man assures us that every Word that God has ever willed to be recorded can be found within the pages of your Bible so that you will know His Son Jesus Christ as your Savior and King.  And He takes those Words and He attaches them to water so that the gift of salvation for the world becomes your own personal gift within the waters of your baptism.  He takes that simple bread and wine and He tells you that it is also His body and blood consumed for your continued forgiveness and the strengthening of your faith!

So you see, the incarnation of the Son of God who is also the son of Mary is really what makes all of the difference.  It takes a bunch of sinners like us who have nothing and recreates us in to saints who have the greatest gift of all… Immanuel: the gift that keeps on giving.

Now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… AMEN!