Posts Tagged ‘Pentecost 20A’

Come Into The Fortress (and Stay There)!

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Twentieth Sunday in Pentecost A, October 26, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

Matthew 22:34-46

In 1505, a young but brilliant German law student named Martin Luther found himself caught in an open field, on foot during a violent thunder  storm.  As lightening struck the ground all around him, Luther in fear for his life threw himself on the ground, and with his face in the mud, he  begged God to have mercy on him and spare his life.  He entered into “negotiations” with God by stating that while he knew he was a sinner, if  God would spare his life, he would then dedicate his life to Him and become a monk.

Luther did survive, and true to his word he became an Augustinian monk.  During his time in a monastery, Luther tried to work out his salvation  and become closer to God through study of the Psalms, prayer, fasting, meditation and hard work.  But no matter how hard he tried, he could  not seem to find peace for his troubled soul.  Nothing seemed to shake his feeling that he was a helpless sinner caught in the grasp of an angry  and vengeful God.

In 1507, Luther was ordained to the priesthood and licensed to preach and study Theology at the University of Wittenberg.  Luther’s superiors  soon discovered that God had gifted him with a brilliant mind, but yet he seemed to be held back by his now obvious feelings of guilt.  The  solution?  Luther must make the pilgrimage to Rome, where church tradition taught that the journey itself would earn merit with God and bring  the pilgrim closer to salvation.  Luther was also told that he could purchase certificates of forgiveness called indulgences, which were published by the Pope himself.  These indulgences guaranteed the purchaser of even more favor and love from God.  Well, Luther, ever the obedient monk did as he was told, but he found no peace in the pilgrimage or the possession of indulgences.

All of us, like Martin Luther hunger to be closer to God; we desire to do the things that please Him, but no matter how hard we try to do those good thing, sin, our sin is always there pulling us away from God.  This is the hard lesson Luther learned.  It was not until God, through His Word provided Luther with a faith to trust in Christ alone that Luther was finally freed from his guilt and his bondage to sin.  What does scripture say about faith?  Faith comes from hearing the Word of God, which is the Word of Jesus Christ. [Romans 10:17] Martin Luther discovered this one evening while studying God’s Word in the privacy of his own room.  Through his devotional reading of the Book of Romans, Luther received peace with God through God’s gift of faith.  Listen to the words that jumped out at Luther, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” [Rom. 3:21-24]

By those Words, Luther discovered that God is not angrily staying far away from us and we do not have to try hard to reach Him or please Him.  In fact, the opposite is true.  You and I though born sinful and distant from God are not lost at all, for God Himself through Jesus Christ, has come to us so that we who were once lost are now found and released from the bondage of sin.  Through Christ’s work alone upon the cross, and through the gift of new life given to you within the holy waters of your baptism, you are now right with God!  Now while this is certainly Good News, it is not new news, but rather it is the consistent and old gospel message of grace, which has been handed down from the very beginning; it had simply been overlaid and hidden by the traditions of men.

Luther discovered that God’s grace is like a fortress, a Mighty Fortress, the likes of which the devil Himself can not breech, nor overcome.  Lets look at our Gospel lesson (Matthew 22:34-46) and maybe we too can learn how to not just enter the Mighty Fortress we sang about, but stay in it for life!

Our gospel lesson starts out with the question of a seeker; one who wants to be close to God, but on his own terms. We know this is true, because he starts out on the wrong foot immediately.  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Another way to ask this is, “Which commandment should I consistently fulfill in order to please God?” Or yet another way to ask this is, “What must I do to be saved from my sin?”  Like Martin Luther, this young lawyer, a Pharisee was trapped by his inability to keep all of the commandments of God perfectly, and so he desired to know which commandment out of all of the others would buy favor with God if he can keep that one.

“And (Jesus) said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the greatest commandment.”  Uh oh… the young lawyer and all of the other Pharisees knew Jesus was right of course, but they also knew that each of them failed miserably in keeping this first great commandment.  You see, they knew something most of us know as well, but also like them we conveniently ignore.  The kind of love that Jesus is talking about is not a warm fussy feeling, but a commitment.  This kind of love that Jesus speaks of is the kind of love that God promises to those who love His law and meditate on it day and night.  God promises that no matter what happens, He will never leave nor forsake His child who likewise is committed to Him.  And there is the rub isn’t it?

Like the young lawyer, we too say that we love God, that we are committed to Him but then we do things, we say things… we think things that demonstrate something completely different.  Yes, the truth is we are far more often committed to ourselves than we are committed to God and His Word.  But Jesus is not quite done yet; He still has a little more to say about what we must do to be saved: “And a second (commandment) is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  In other words, Jesus is telling all of us, that if we want to impress God, if we want to be right with Him through our own work, we must love as He loves.

Here’s a little ditty that communicates the enormity of this task of loving like God: “To live above with saints I love, that will be pure heavenly glory, but to live below with saints I know… well that’s a different story!”

Friends, God’s love is a commitment to us to never stop loving us even when we are unlovable.  And in His commandments, He calls us; no He demands that we do the same.  That is the nature of God’s law, it demonstrates perfection in how God acts and then it demands that we do the same without giving any help to “do” that thing.  Now if this was all that God’s Word informed us, we would be no different than any other religion; in essence we would be in big trouble.  But that is not all that God’s Word says, is it?  No, God offers us another way… the way of the gospel; a way that becomes a Mighty Fortress that we must enter and stay in, and that way is Jesus Christ, both the son of David and the Son of God!  And this is the very truth that Jesus must now steer the hearts and minds of both the young lawyer and ourselves to this morning, and He does it with a question of His own.

““What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”

How sad.  Not only couldn’t they answer His question, but they never bothered to ask Him any follow up questions.  They would not, because they could not; their pride in their own righteousness just would not let them precede any further.  Yes, that is sad, because standing right in front of them was not just a son of David, but the very Son of God.  This is why David called his own descendant Adonai, or Lord, God.  So sad.  They had just heard the little children and thousands of people on Palm Sunday proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, with the word “Hosanna”, but they could not join in, because they were in bondage to their sinful wills and refused to submit to the will of God.  They could not agree with God the Father that Jesus, the son of  Mary, a simple carpenter was in fact the very Son of God.  But Jesus tried to open their eyes.  He tried to take their eyes off of the law of God as their source of salvation, and instead turn their hearts to God’s one and only means of salvation… Jesus the Christ, the very Son of God.

In a few short days, Jesus would demonstrate God’s final solution for bringing sinful men and women back to Him in a relationship of love and faith.  Jesus would prove His Father’s love for sinful men and women, by allowing Himself to be hung upon the cross.  Jesus would prove that He is in fact both the son of man and the Son of God, by dying as all men die and then taking His life back from the tomb, thus defeating death itself.  But Jesus did not die and come back to life to prove a point; that would simply be a demonstration of God’s wrath.  No, Jesus died and took His life back again so that we would know that God still loves us and that He has provided a way back to Him; a way that is greater than our mortal enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil.

In Jesus death and resurrection, He not only shows a way back to God, but by faith He takes us on that way.  Jesus shows us that it is He alone who can fulfill the commandments of God perfectly, by perfectly demonstrating God’s own love for us.  I doubt that Jesus had warm fuzzy feelings for any of us as He was whipped within an inch of His life, and then as He hung dying upon the cross was insulted and challenged.  While the Son of God may not have felt feelings of warmth He did demonstrate commitment to fulfill His promise of salvation, and that dear friends is divine love!  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” [1 John 4:10]  And “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]

The way of the Cross is the way to enter the Fortress and the way to stay within it. By that I mean to say along with the ancient church and the sainted Rev. Dr. Martin Luther that by grace you are saved through faith, and that this faith comes by scripture (God’s Holy Word, both the Law and the gospel) alone.  Christ’s death and resurrection is a fact that scripture proclaims, but it is a fact that you must both receive and believe.  But you cannot do this on your own; it must be received from God as a gift.  It is a gift that comes from the very heart of God the Father, and it is given through the sacrifice of His Son, but your heart must be taught to both desire and trust this gift of God, and that work is done through the power of the Holy Spirit through scripture alone.

It is Holy Scripture that teaches us the difference between God’s Law and His Gospel.  We are saved by the gospel, God’s work for us sinful men, but we are sustained and led by His Law, which teaches and moves us to love God and our neighbor just as Jesus loves.  The law and gospel work together though in different an opposite ways. (1) The Law teaches us the knowledge of sin, but the Gospel gives us forgiveness of sin; (2) the Law teaches what good works are, but the gospel produces true joy and both and desire and zeal to do those good works; (3) the Law checks our outward sinful behavior, and increases our inward secret sins, but the Gospel destroys both our outward sin and our inward sin.  So the difference between these two works of God can be explained this way, “The law tells us what we must do to be saved and the Gospel does that work for us and through us.”  Or another way to say this is that “The law kills the sinner, but not sin; the gospel kills sin, but not the sinner.”

This morning, you have been gathered together as a ragtag bunch of ragamuffins who have been saved by grace, through faith, which comes to you in God’s Word through the Law and Gospel.  You have been gathered into the Mighty Fortress of God.  And now you are called to both rest within this Mighty Fortress and to live, breath, and find your identity within it.  And our identity is shaped by a few central thoughts.  The first one is this, God does not need your love, He desires it; He wants you to be in a relationship of love with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.  And the second thought is like the first, in that God does not need your good works, your fulfillment of His law, but your neighbor does!  Your neighbor needs you to help them, and you help them when you keep the law of God; when you do your very best unto the Lord.  You see friends; God wants you to allow His love to overtake you so that you will willingly commit yourself to Him and your neighbor.

Who is your neighbor?  Your neighbor is your spouse, your children, your friends and family, even those people that you are afraid of, or those who have hurt you in the past.  But your neighbors are also here within this church, the very place that God gives His gifts to sinners; the very place that becomes the Mighty Fortress of forgiving love for them as well.  Your neighbor needs your love and so does your church.  We all need you to be committed to this place and its people, so that together, we will continue to be a place of refuge, forgiveness, peace, and love.  We need your love so that together we can continue reaching out to the lost and help them both enter and stay within the Mighty Fortress, which is our God and the body of Christ… His Church.

I pray that God will fill you with faith and His mighty love as together we do these very things through the power of God… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Woe To Us If…

Monday, October 31st, 2011

20th Sunday after Pentecost A, October 30, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Matthew 22:34-46

INTRODUCTION: Woe to you if you will not hear God speak to you this morning!  Woe to me if I will not speak God’s true Word to you this morning!  Woe to all of us if we do not let God save us through His Word!  His Word brings both threats of punishment and promises of love and forgiveness.  They aren’t the kind of empty threats and promises that people throw out today.  There’s no bravado or manipulation in God’s Word; He means what He says and He says what He means!  Once He has told you what the punishment for your sin is, it’s settled!  The Jews knew this, and that’s why they wanted Micah to shut up!  “Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity.” [Micah 3:9,10]  “Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins.” [Micah 3:12]

So what do you do when you don’t like the message from a certain man of God?  You go out and find a new message!  You push and you scream, you threaten and you manipulate until someone comes forward and preaches the message you want to hear!  “No more preaching about repentance and contrition, give us a message about prosperity and wealth!”  The funny thing about an audience that demands this kind of preaching is that there never seems to be a shortage of preachers who will respond.  Why is that?  Because there’s money in it!  And before you know it, the message no longer comes from God but from the greed of the speaker who wants more money to preach a message that will satisfy the desire of the listeners who are willing to pay to hear it!

I. That was the condition of the church in Micah’s day, it was the condition of the church in our gospel lesson this morning (Matthew 23:1-12), and I’m afraid it is still the condition of the church today!  Who is to blame?  We are; all of us, both the preachers and the people.  The preachers or prophets were to blame in both our Old Testament lesson and our Gospel lesson, and they’re to blame today.

Instead of leading God’s people closer to Him, by pointing out their sin and helping them remain faithful to His Word, the false prophets became experts in certain portions of God’s Word and then they used those cherry picked snippets of scripture to lead their listeners deeper into sin and farther away from their Holy and Righteous Creator!  Instead of leading people into God’s forgiving heart they lead them directly into the path of His vengeance!

But the people are to blame too; they’re to blame because they know in their hearts that a message of prosperity without a message of repentance is completely out of character with who God is!  They knew God’s law; we all know it, because scripture says that God has placed it within our own hearts!  Each of you know how short you fall from loving God with your whole heart, mind, and soul; you know that you do not love your neighbor as yourself and what’s more, you know that on your own, you never will be able to do either of these as God demands!

In our natural condition, we are all like heroin addicts!  Every time God’s law speaks to us, it’s like an addict who is coming off of a high.  He begins to feel the cravings; after the cravings comes the pain of withdrawal!  When the pains of withdrawal get stronger, he begins to crave the drug more than anything!  Like the addict, we don’t want to hear God’s law, which only brings more fear and thoughts of eternal death.  And like the addict, we know that the only way to be free of our fear and pain is if we can somehow quit our addiction to sin cold turkey!  We must let go of our former way of living and thinking and simply let God speak His truth to us and then admit that He’s right and we and our old way of thinking and living are wrong!  But our craving for sin, and our need for it like the heroin addict, keeps drawing us away from God’s truth and back into a life of sin!

This is where the false preachers come in.  In keeping with the heroin addict illustration, the false preachers are like methadone; they take away the fear of withdrawals by numbing the pain; they create a false sense of wellness.  But the problem with that is we’ve given up one addiction only to embrace another.  Like the addict, we don’t want to suffer and die by hearing God’s Word, so we embrace the “methadonic” (I know, I made that word up)  message of false preachers.  Like methadone, their message makes us feel better for a while by creating the illusion that all is well between God and us.  We learn to trust in the false message that says God isn’t really angry with our lifestyle!

ILLUSTRATION: There was a leader in the not-so distant past that often used Christian vocabulary to manipulate the people.  He talked about the blessings of the Almighty Creator and said that the Christian confessions would become the pillars of his new government.  He gave the outward appearance of a man weighed down by great divinely inspired responsibility.  He had pious stories on the tip of his tongue, ready to illustrate his point each and every time He spoke to large crowds or to the press.  He carried around His tattered Bible everywhere he went, and he often declared that he drew the strength for his great work from it.  Millions of people welcomed him as a man sent from God.  His name was… Adolf Hitler—a master of outward appearances, while inwardly harboring the heart and mind of a mad man!

So what is the point?  The point dear friends is simply to demonstrate how lost each of us are; how far away our hearts are from the very God who created them!  On our own, we will always fall for a false message of prosperity and hope; all the while we are like a wall of bricks that’s been put together without mortar.  We will fall, the only question is when!  We will fall, unless we hear a new message… the true message, and that message is Repent!

II. This message of repentance is a message of hope; it is a message about God making a way back to Him when there is no way.  It’s a message about God making a way for sinners, even you, to rest in His forgiving love.  It’s a message that we can only hear after His law has convinced us that we are addicted to sin and the only way to be free of it is if we quit cold turkey.  It’s a message that forces us to admit that we can’t quit our sin on our own!  It’s a message that says that God as your champion has come to you and taken away both the power of your sin and your fear of His holy presence in your life!

ILLUSTRATION: The story is told about a little boy who was frightened by a terrible thunder storm in the middle of the night.  He called out to his father from his room, “Daddy come here I’m afraid!”  “Son” the father said, “God loves you and he’ll take care of you.”  “I know” said the little boy, “but right now I want someone who has skin on them!”

We are that little boy, and God our Father has heard our cries of fear.  His law, like the terrible claps of thunder has terrified us, and instead of speaking to us from some distant room, He comes to us with our skin on Him.  God the Son comes to us as Jesus of Nazareth; He comes to us not in splendor as a leader demanding to be followed and feared, but as a servant who comes to suffer in our place.  He alone is to be called our Father, our Teacher, and our Lord!  He is our Savior Jesus Christ, and He has come for you.  He has come to set you free from your addiction to sin.  He has come to shut the mouths of the false preachers who claim that God’s love and blessings can be earned.  He has come to show us a way out of no way; and that is the way of the cross!  Jesus is the greatest among us because He came to serve us with His suffering and death; He has come to bring you back for ever into the loving heart of your Creator.  The Pharisees then and the false preachers today exalt themselves as someone great, but Jesus humbles Himself in death, even death upon a cross for you!  And now, seated at the right hand of the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ is somehow, right now here with you in His Word, and He is asking you to allow Him to come to you and teach you to walk with Him by faith, in the forgiving love of His Father.

CONCLUSION: In His Word, Jesus comes to us.  In His Law He’s showed us our terrible addiction to sin, but in His love, He also comes to us in His Gospel.  It is in that Word alone that He shows us a life of freedom and peace.  Freedom to follow God without fear or worry; freedom to follow Jesus first to the cross, then to the holy waters of baptism, where His Word of peace along with simple water washes us clean and recreates us into God’s own image.  And from the font we follow Jesus to His table where His supper of mercy and forgiveness is served.  And as we follow Jesus, the words of Micah, the true prophet of God become our words: “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to (all who remain in bondage and addiction) that their sins are forgiven.”

This is always how God comes to and saves this sinful world; one sinner at a time.  He sends out His Word to sinners who He changes and recreates into saints, and He does it through both the law and the gospel.  After His law has brought fear and death, then His gospel forever speaks word of comfort and new life to us.  It is this gospel Word that is forever transforming us from sinner to saint.  And it is that same gospel Word that sends us out into our community as God’s prophets speaking God’s true message of prosperity… the message about forgiveness and freedom; a message about Jesus and His cross!