Posts Tagged ‘Regeneration’

Walking and Dying With Jesus

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

The Fifth Sunday in Lent (A), April 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.

“So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” [John 11:16]

When we hear Thomas’ words about dying, they are really God’s Words about dying. These Words are first to be taken spiritually that is, they are meant to first point our eyes of faith to a spiritual death, but then they force us to consider our physical death. They are Words that first bring a spiritual renewal and then the long promised physical resurrection, a resurrection from death. Do you think that Thomas was thinking about any of this when he said, “Let’s also go (with Jesus), (so) that we may die with him”? No, I think that these were the words of a pessimist; words of frustration that each of us can identify with. It’s as if they were saying, “Well, all of our hopes and dreams have been shattered, so there is nothing else to do but follow Jesus and die.” In those sentiments, I hear a spark of faith that moves their hearts to believe that if Jesus is leading them, some how, some way, everything would turn out alright. A spark of faith that would latter be revealed in the words of Martha and Mary when Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, a full four days after Lazarus had died: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

In our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 37:1–14), we see something similar happening.

The prophet Ezekiel, who is living in exile in Babylon with his fellow Jews, is taken up in the spirit by the very hand of God and shown a vast valley of dead, dry bones. And (the Lord) asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And (Ezekiel) answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Now let’s make sure that we remember those Words. The Lord knows. He knows what the outcome will be when we follow Jesus to what appears to be certain death, and He knows what the outcome will be in our lives when everything around us is telling us that living the life, or dying the death of a Christian should not have this much trouble, this much fear, this much worry. He knows, and because He knows, because He loves you and calls you to follow Him, we know that in the end everything will be well for our souls and our eternal life with Jesus.

Have you ever been so depressed that you just didn’t even feel like waking up in the morning? Some times it may be so bad that you don’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone. Even the Word of God seems to offer little help; well at least that’s what you tell yourself, when the truth is, the Word of God is the only thing that will do you any good; specifically that part of the Word that promises new life in a situation that seems completely hopeless and dead. And that is what God was speaking to Ezekiel and all of his fellow countrymen who were being held captive there in Babylon. Babylon was a place that seemed hopeless for the nation of Israel; they appeared to be dead as a people. But then God asked a question that was meant to test their faith and then cause it to grow. And where faith is alive and growing there is life and there is hope. “Son of man, can these bones live?” And to this, the weak voice of faith, like that of Thomas and perhaps like ours says, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

Do you hear the weak faith? Oh yes, it’s small, the size of a mustard seed I’d say, but it’s the kind of faith that let’s go of all hope that may come from within you or from this fallen world, and instead it simply chooses to trust only in someone greater and outside of itself and this world. It is the kind of faith that will cause our depressed hearts to take notice, and allow our unwilling ears to listen for at least a bit of “good news.”

Then (God) said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:4-6)] What was God showing Ezekiel? This is an important question, because God is always consistent, so what He is showing Ezekiel, He is showing us. In other words, He is demonstrating something the church, you and I, should know right now, today!

What God was showing Ezekiel and what He is showing us today, is that the Lord who promised to bring life to dead bones in the vision is simply doing the very same thing He did long ago in the garden of Eden… He is Creating life: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. [Genesis 1:26] The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostril the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [Genesis 2:7]

Where does our hope of life come from?

Hope of a future, hope of life always comes from the very Word of God and the very breath of God.

But the Word must be spoken; it must be declared with the wind, Spirit, and power of God, that is it must have the breath of life behind it. “So” Ezekiel in obedience to the Word, speaks the Word “as (he) was commanded. And as (he) prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And (he) looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then (God) said to (him), “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So (Ezekiel) prophesied as he (was) commanded, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. [Ezekiel 37:7–10]

At the Lord’s command, Ezekiel prophesied to lifeless bones, and a miracle happened. There was a rattling noise as bone came together with bone. To Ezekiel the valley seemed no longer to be full of disconnected bones but of skeletons. God’s miracle continued, “Tendons and flesh appeared on them.” Now the valley resembled a battlefield littered with corpses. But God’s miracle was still not over. At God’s command Ezekiel continued to prophesy, and breath entered that army of corpses, and they came to life and stood up. Through a vision Ezekiel saw how God would re-create his people now apparently hopelessly lost in Babylon.

Ezekiel carried out his orders and the Lord kept his promise. He did not want to speak, I’m sure, and neither did the Jews want to listen; they were depressed and simply waiting to die. But, when God speaks, His Words carry the mighty life giving power of His Spirit. When He speaks, even the dead in their graves must listen and respond. When a corpse, even one with out ears, or one where all of the atoms have been scattered to who knows where is spoken to, they must listen, and they must respond!

This ought to be a description of our lives. When we are so depressed that even the chirping of the birds and our neighbors laughter and joy cause nothing but irritation and even anger, we have no choice but to listen and respond, as God speaks. As we are carried away by the power of the Lord’s Spirit, we have no choice but to carry out the Lord’s orders, and then watch as the Lord carries out his promises of life within us.

Dear friends, it is the knowledge that we are doing the Lord’s will in our lives that will take away the boredom, drudgery, and even the depression we find in life; it is what brings life to dead and dry bones.

It is this very knowledge when received by faith, that will transform our lives. When we realize that since our baptism we have been brought to death with Christ, but then raised to a new and eternal life with Him, that we are not just working for a paycheck, but we are serving our risen LORD and God, who through that paycheck is supporting our families, then that transformation is displayed in God’s power. This is the power of new life.

It is God’s power that teaches us that we are not just studying to get a passing grade in school, but we are instead using our minds to the best we can, because our Lord has called us to be good stewards, or managers of our intellects. It teaches us that we are not just taking care of the kids or grandkids, but we are shaping their souls as God’s own children, and teaching them about Jesus by the way we talk and act.

And through this power of God, we demonstrate God’s power even when we feel depressed and alone, because we know that behind every thing we do is the promise of God, that says “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to God’s purpose.” [Romans 8:28] And the Lord keeps his promises, just as he did when Ezekiel preached to those dry bones as he was instructed to.

This morning, just as Ezekiel was obedient to the call of God to prophesy, that is to preach the Word of God so that life could come amongst those who felt as good as dead, I too am called to preach the same message of life and renewal. It has been a long period of Lent, and we are tired, but our travels are not yet complete. We must continue to follow Jesus and learn to die with Him, so that we will live with Him.

So hear these last words:

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:11-14]

This morning, some of us may be distracted by tragedy or loss in our lives. Maybe it is the loss of a loved one through death, or the sting of betrayal, or the fatigue and frustration of sickness or old age. Perhaps it is the loss of a job or the lack of one for a long period of time. And maybe, like Martha we have spoken similar words of pain and disappointment to our Lord: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” ‘If you had been with me, I would not be suffering this loss in my life.’ And now, the winds from the four corners begin to blow; the power of the spirit of God begins to fan that spark of faith that still lives in you, and along with Martha you are led by faith to proclaim: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

To Martha, Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” And to us, He is saying your hope, and indeed your very joy in life has not left you; I am still with you, and I will never leave nor forsake you.” And as Martha says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” we may say with her, “I know that one day this depression, this sorrow will pass on the last day, when I am in heaven.” And to Martha and to us, Jesus says, “I AM the resurrection and your (joy of) life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Dear baptized, do you believe this? Then your Master calls to you along with Lazarus, in the same power that brought life to the dried bones in Ezekiel’s vision, and He says: “Come out!” Come out with a purpose and a mission. Come out into a world that is dying and share the church’s story of faith; share your story. Tell others how God has saved you and is saving you. Tell them that how even in the midst of tragedy and disappointment, He is still with you.

Holy week is fast approaching and what a wonderful opportunity it is for us to invite our neighbors, family, friends, and coworkers to come and experience the wind of God that brings life to dead and dried up bones. You can start by inviting them to Palm Sunday, where they will experience the pomp and majesty of our Savior as He rides into Jerusalem upon a donkey, surrounded by the chants “Hosanna,” and knowing full well that be was about to die a criminals death for all sinners. And then, you can invite them to experience the nurturing power of God that was served to the apostles and now you, as we celebrate the last supper of our Lord on Maundy Thursday at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. Then as you leave on Thursday night, invite them to come with you again to Trinity Lutheran Church on Good Friday and experience the passion of our Lord, as He suffered and died for every person that will ever live, even for them. And finally, make sure you invite them to experience the source of our joy, the resurrection of our Lord on Easter morning. The very exclamation point in God’s Word that assures all of us that one day soon, Jesus will make good on the vision given to Ezekiel, that all those who have fallen asleep in death will rise again in eternal life. AMEN!

On Light and Darkness


Monday, March 27th, 2017

The Fourth Sunday in Lent (A), March 26, 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

“Awake, O sleeper and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” So says the final words of our epistle lesson this morning (Ephesians 5:8-14). But what do these words really mean? Are we to think of our faith, our very salvation as nothing more than an alarm clock that rudely awakens us from a pleasant dream, leaving us the choice to either get up and walk the rest of our lives by faith with Christ, or simply hit the snooze button and drift off back to pleasant dreams? Well, yes; that is if you feel separated from God because of the shameful things you’re doing and never repented of, or if you’ve always felt that being baptized or living out your baptism is either a childhood fantasy or a complete waste of your time, then yes quite frankly, this alarm is for you. “Awake, O sleeper and (get up) from the dead, and (then) Christ will shine on you!”

In our gospel lesson this morning Jesus leaves us with some ominous words. Listen: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” [John 9:39]

Now some of you may be confused; you may see Jesus only as the great Savior of the world. You may want to quote our gospel from two weeks ago and remind me that God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son Jesus so that who so ever believes in Him won’t perish, but have everlasting life. You’ll also no doubt, remind me that God didn’t come into this world to condemn it but to save it. [Jn. 3:16] Now if you told me all of this, I would agree with you, but I would also add that Jesus came to save a sinful world! So, what difference does that make? Well, you have to first admit that you are part of that “sinful” world that Jesus came to save! In other words, you have to first admit that you need saving; that you have sin that you can’t deal with on your own and you need a Savior; you need God’s help… you need His means of salvation! And this was exactly what we learned in our gospel reading this morning.

Consider this, a man blind from birth. He is a Jew and he has probably followed the true religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all of his life. He comes from a good Jewish family with a mother and father who love him, pity him, because of his blindness, and they care for him as best that they can. If you were this blind man you would have long ago accepted that this was your eternal lot in life. Are you angry with people who treat you as less than a man? Maybe! Do you get angry with your parents because they still at times treat you like a child? Perhaps. Are you angry with God for allowing you to be born like this… probably so. And what do you do with all of this disappointment and anger? Well you do what everyone else does, you go to temple and you pay the prescribed sin offerings and then just hope that God will somehow find room for you in His heaven.

But one day you meet a man who speaks truthfully to you; he doesn’t talk down to you, but with you. He tells you that God is real and He knows precisely why you are blind. And then He lays hands on you, he comforts you, sends you to a pool in the temple to wash something off of your eyes that He just applied and… praise God from whom all blessings flow, you can see for the first time in your life! What would you do then? Well again, the rules of worship say you should go show yourself to the religious officials so that God can be praised. Well, you do that and they just belittle you just as they did when you were blind. Even your parents refuse to offer comfort and support; they tell you that you’re and adult and you should work it out on your own with the temple officials. So much for life being better if you could see! Now what? Are you angry with the people in the temple? Probably. Are you angry with your parents? Most likely. Are you still angry with God? Yes, maybe more so than when you were blind! Now what do you do? Well…. Nothing!

You see, this has never been about what you do, instead it is about what God does; it always has been. In our gospel lesson what did Jesus do after restoring the man’s vision? He went to the man who was blind. Because, you see there was still more to the work that God was doing for the man. Restoring his physical vision was just a way to wake him up from his sleep. Now Jesus must do the true work of God; He must speak the gospel to him.

“Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man (that is the Messiah)?” (And the man who was blind at birth but now sees) answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe?”

Even though this man was confused about a lot of things and disappointed by a lot of people, He knew for certain that this man Jesus, who spoke truthfully and lovingly to him, who gave him something he thought he would never have this side of heaven was one man that he trusted. So he was willing to go and believe in anyone that Jesus pointed out as being His Savior. And Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” Now it all made sense; now he understood why this man’s voice was so comforting and yet so authoritative. So he said, “LORD! I believe,” and he worshiped him.” [Jn. 9:35-38]

He worshiped Him! That means that He saw first who Jesus was and second, he saw the gospel truth in Jesus Words; he was saved! “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!” Did you know that those words written by St. Paul were actually taken from an early church hymn. I suppose it’s possible that they could even have even been written by this man or someone from his time. They explain a lot about the gospel call that Jesus gave not just to that man born blind but to everyone who witnessed it and who reads about it today. If that hymn describes the call of God before the man received Jesus as his savior, then this hymn describes the song of his life afterwards and even our lives now. Listen: “I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus. God set the stars to give light to the world. The star of my life is Jesus! In Him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus!” [LSB 411 vs. 1]

The story’s told about a man who became blind at the age of ten. He came from a wealthy family, and they spared no expense in finding a medical way to restore their son’s eyesight, but nothing worked. The boy grew to be a man, and he was resolved to the fact that he would always be blind, so life went on for the blind man. He did as all men do, seeing or blind, he worked and provided for a future. One day part of his future began to take shape. He met the love of his life. The two were engaged to be wed and they set the date. Several months before the wedding, the man was called into his doctor’s office and told that there was now a surgical procedure that could restore his eyesight. The man was excited but also nervous; you see it had been 20 years since he saw nothing but darkness. Well after a moment of prayer, he of course agreed to have the surgery. The man informed his doctor that he would be married in 6 weeks, so he asked if he would be able to see his wife on his wedding day. The doctor assured him that the healing process would be complete by then and the bandages could be removed. On the day before the wedding, the doctor called the man into his office to remove the bandages, but the man refused instead, he asked the doctor to come to his wedding and take off the bandages at the altar. He said that the first image he wanted to see was that of his lovely bride standing before the altar of the Lord, so that he could marvel at her beauty and praise God at the same time.

Dear friends, if you see and know Jesus as your Lord and Savior; if you see Him as both God and man; if you see him as your only means of pleasing God; and if you see all of this because God’s Word has both healed you and saved you then you are like the blind man in our gospel reading and like the blind man in my story.

By God’s grace and through the eyes of faith that He has opened with His Word, you see the brightness of God in Jesus Christ; you are drawn to this light and you follow it. Jesus is your light that allows you to see not just your sin, but God’s forgiving love that shines from the cross.

You follow this light from the cross to the baptismal font, where you were bathed and washed clean in God’s own light; you were recreated! And from the font it is your desire to follow that light where ever it leads you. And where does it lead you? It leads you out into our community where sin, death, and darkness blind our neighbors. And what are you to do as you follow the light of Jesus? You let it shine! But make no mistake; this light is not your light, not even a little bit! No, it is all God’s light reflecting off of you. As Jesus is your Sun, you are His moon. Your little gospel light is simply a reflection of Jesus wonderful light that is eternal in the city of God. And your prayer as you follow Him is simply this, “Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus. Bring your light into the darkness as I follow you.”

So dear friends, God is calling those of us who once were in darkness, but now have been given eternal life through His gift of spiritual sight to walk as children of light.

What are we to do? We are to gather around His Word and Sacraments and try to discern through the leading of His light what is pleasing to the Lord. We are to be in the world, but not of it; we are to take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose the darkness by our lives that trust and follow Christ’s light. Through the Word of God, our lives are shaped and through that same Word we are shaping our community by exposing the darkness of sin with Christ’s own light. We are to be a reminder, an alarm that shouts into the darkness and this sinful world, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you (too)!” In Jesus name… AMEN!

Gladly Say It!

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Baptism of our Lord Year (C), January 13, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of the Children’s Message

Click here for audio of the Sermon

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” [Luke 3:21, 22]

This morning we will explore two questions by looking at our two natures.  The two questions are: 1. Why was Jesus baptized?  (And) 2.  Why is your baptism such a big deal?

First, Jesus was baptized because it was necessary to fulfill all righteousness.  What I mean by that is, when He entered into the Jordan  that day to be baptized by John, He was announcing to this sinful world that His ministry to redeem and save it had begun; He was  announcing to all sinful men and the devils too that the promise of the Savior was being fulfilled and would be accomplished once and  for all by Him and Him alone.  When Jesus fulfilled all righteousness, He was declaring judgment upon the devil.  On that day He was  declaring to you that He would be your righteousness; you would be spared the final judgment for your sins because He would take the  punishment that you and your sins deserved.

Now this is both good news and bad news.  It is good news for you, that is for your new baptismal nature that God has given to you in  your baptism.  That new nature, the nature we identify as a saint, rejoices in this proclamation of righteousness.  Our sermon hymn, “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” is in modern terms, the theme song of our baptismal life.  That new nature celebrates that Jesus has now sanctified the waters of baptism through the power of the Holy Spirit.  No one has to convince it that God is love and has saved it; it’s very existence makes this self-evident.   But you have another nature; your old sinful person that does not see this as good news, because it means that it must die.  This old nature will do everything it can to live.  That nature has many “theme songs”, but perhaps this one is one of the best.  (The song “If Loving You is Wrong, I Don’t want to be Right” by Luther Ingram plays.)

Our old Nature says, “If loving you is wrong, then I just don’t care about being right.”  The “you” in the song is a mistress in an adulterous relationship.  But in our lives, the mistress is anything that we call right, which God says is wrong.  Intimacy without marriage is wrong, and marriage is between a man and a woman God says; wrong says the sinful nature, if it feels good and makes me feel fulfilled, then it can’t be wrong.  In regards to our bodies, God’s Word says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a (great) price.  So glorify God in your body.” [1 Corinthians 6:19, 20]  “Wrong” says the sinful flesh of today’s modern woman, “A woman’s body is her’s alone and the life within her womb is hers to decide whether it will be born or not.”

God’s Word says, “Thou shalt not have any other god’s before or beside Me,” and our sinful flesh shakes it fist at the law of God, and follows the law of society which says, “If it feels good, just do it!”  So we as a people, as a nation pursue happiness at all costs because that is our right as one who is simply doing what feels good and seems right.  We pursue and procure all things that promise happiness and a better life.  “I have a right to this and a need for that.”  So we set out on the pursuit of things that this sinful world and our own sinful desires say are necessary.  And this pursuit that seems good right and salutary makes itself central to all things; and when our sinful nature becomes central to our existence, we become the god of our lives.  We can easily justify lying, stealing, coveting, and even murder, because after all, it makes us feel good.  So we agree, “If loving (this or that) is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.”

And God sees all of this and warns us that we are lost in sin, and if left on our own we are dead, forever lost and separated from Him because of our sins.  In His word, He shows not only our sinful fallen nature, but He also shows us the only way to ever be right with Him; He shows us our Savior, His Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus came to us not just to show us the truth about our sins, but to pay for them.

Why was Jesus baptized?  So that through His Word, through His cross, and His empty tomb, we would know the truth and that truth would set us free.  So that through the same water that He Himself sanctified as He set His face to the cross, we would know that nothing can ever separate us again from the love of God.

Now that you have heard His truth, hear this truth also.  “Baptism, which corresponds to (the ark, which saved Noah and his family from the flood) 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.” [1 Peter 3:21] “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” [Romans 6:4] This is why your baptism is a big deal!

It is God’s promise to those of you who are worried about your sin; those things which cause you to fear that God no longer cares for, or loves you.  When you are cut to the heart and don’t know how you will ever know peace with God, listen to St. Peter, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” [Acts 2:37-39]. You are baptized and your sins are forgiven, so continue to repent and turn to Jesus Christ alone!

For you who long to hear words of comfort, hear the gospel in our sermon hymn, and let it be your new nature’s theme song.  Let these Words speak to your heart.  Agree with God and shake your fist at the devil and your own old, sinful nature.

God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!  He, because I could not pay it, Gave my full redemption price.  Do I need earth’s treasures many?  I have one worth more than any, that brought me salvation free; lasting to eternity! Listen, I know my own self, and you know yourselves; we shouldn’t be God’s own child.  We know that in our old sinful nature, that is on our own, there is nothing worth loving or saving within us, and yet, God’s Word declares that He does love us and He has saved us through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son our Savior Jesus Christ.  That one gift is greater than anything the world has to offer.  Claim that gift that was first given to you in your baptism and rest in it forever!

Sin, disturb my soul no longer:  I am baptized into Christ!  I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.  Should a guilty conscience seize me since my Baptism did release me in a dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood? We do have guilty consciences don’t we?  Well, let the Word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ give you peace.  Jesus died to bring forgiveness to the world, and in your baptism He came to give it to you personally.  You are forgiven!  Let that truth soak in and live out it’s truth.  Fight the sin that is within your old nature.  And when you fall into sin, don’t let that old nature trick you into thinking you have sinned beyond God’s ability to save.  Shut its mouth with the Word of God and continue to remind it that “you have been baptized into Christ Jesus and into His death.  The old nature was buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, you too might walk in newness of life.” [Romans 6:1-11]

Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!  Drop your ugly accusation, I am not so soon enticed.  Now that to the font I’ve traveled, all your might has come unraveled, and, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me! So when the devil begins to throw your sins in your face, and when he taunts you with your weaknesses and doubts, even when he threatens you with the fear of hell, simply tell him, “Devil you go to hell because that is what you desire; as for me, I admit that I am a sinner, what of it?  You see I know of One who is greater than my sin and has conquered all of my fears and tormentors, even you!  His name is Jesus Christ, and where He is, there I will be one day with Him as well!”

Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!  When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise!  Though I lie in dust and ashes faith’s assurance brightly flashes: Baptism has the strength divine, to make life immortal mine. We’ve talked about the fear of death quite a bit this last season of Advent, but it bears repeating.  A Christian who fears their own death because they are uncertain about what or where their life will be after they leave this sinful earth, is a Christian who has small faith and lacks the joy of their salvation.  But small faith, the size of a mustard seed is better than no faith.  God shall one day take that small faith and show you what miracles He can and will do with it.  You will behold your God one day with your own eyes; you and not another for you, and He will say, “Welcome baptized Christian, come and enter your Fathers heaven, and rest in a place that He has prepared for you.”

(So you see), There is nothing worth comparing to this lifelong comfort sure!  Open-eyed (our) grave is staring: Even there (we’ll) sleep secure.  Though (our) flesh awaits its raising, still (our) souls continues praising: (We are) baptized into Christ; (We are) children of paradise! You are baptized dear saints.  Your old sinful nature will never gladly celebrate this truth, in fact it will fight it until your last breath.  It knows that it has lost, and it knows that it must die, but like the devil it will not go quietly.  Together, your old sinful nature and the devil want only to cheat you out of your inheritance, but if you will simply hold onto the promises of God, rest in the cross of Christ and your own baptism, you will be clothed with divine strength, which in the end will provide you with eternal life and everlasting peace with God.  It is that nature, with God’s means of grace protecting and providing for it, declares now and forever: “By baptism, I am God’s own child, and I will gladly say it!  AMEN!

Idou!

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

Epiphany Year (C), January 6, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

““Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.   For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.  And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. [Isaiah 60:1-6]

Luther’s Large Catechism states: “Neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe in him and receive him as Lord,  unless these were offered to us and bestowed on our hearts through the preaching of the gospel by the Holy Spirit. The work is finished  and completed; Christ has acquired and won the treasure for us by his sufferings, death, and resurrection, etc. But if the work remained  hidden so that no one knew of it, it would have been all in vain, all lost. In order that this treasure might not remain buried but be put  to use and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to be published and proclaimed, in which he has given the Holy Spirit to offer and apply  to us this treasure, this redemption. Therefore being made holy is nothing else than bringing us to the Lord Christ to receive this  blessing, to which we could not have come by ourselves.”

This morning, through our gospel lesson (Matthew 2:1-12), we will examine four questions: 1. Why do some not see Jesus as the Son of  God? 2. What is it that causes some to see Jesus as the Son of God? 3. Why do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? 4. And finally,  because we do believe, what difference should that make in our lives?

(The Great Pretender music plays for a moment).  The song you just heard was “The Great Pretender” by the Platters.  I chose it as our mental hook to not just set this morning’s message on, but I also thought that it would be a great theme song for King Herod, and all other pretenders and enemies of the church.  Of course the first pretender, and the greatest Pretender of all, was Satan himself.  After his fall from heaven, he has been using deception and tricks, pretending to be something great, so that he can take the hearts of men and women off of their only hope; the Great Savior, the Messiah Jesus Christ.

King Herod was led away from the truth in the same way; his eyes were misdirected off of the promises of God, through the Word of God, and instead his trust, his security was placed in the government of men, at that time the Roman Empire.  When the wise men from the east were brought to Herod because they were asking everyone and anyone within the city of Jerusalem where the child who was born King of the Jews might be found, what was Herod’s response?  “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”  Worship him; really?  As we know from scripture, Herod wanted to know where the child was so that he could have him killed!  Oh yes, Herod was an evil pretender!

And what of the chief priests and scribes?  “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:  “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”   Do you see that?  They knew exactly where the child would be born.  And if He had come, as the wise men suspected, and if scripture was being fulfilled, why didn’t they go to see for themselves?  Because they were putting their hope and trust in their wealth and their position.

Sadly today things are not any different with the many pretenders that live among us.  They will pass themselves off as wise men, but really they are only “wise guys;” they are wise in their own sight.  They place their trust in knowledge and learning, but have no time for the wisdom of God; the miracles of God that alone lead to eternal life and salvation.  They will tell us that the story of the wise men following the star is simply a fable; a child’s story.  They will tell you that no star could behave the way this one did; appearing, disappearing, and reappearing, hovering, moving, and settling on one little house in Bethlehem.  And they are right; no star in the heavens could do that, but a light sent from God to lead people to the Savior of the world could.  They dismiss the miracle of the light, and when they do they also dismiss the miracle of the baby God-man, the Savior of the world.  But there were learned men who did allow the light of God to lead them, and they went from wise guys to wise men.

“And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.”   Behold… or in the Greek, idou.  Today, the young folks might say “check it out!”  Whenever that word idou appears, we have what we might call an “ah-ha” moment.  It means that God is intervening in the time and history of men in order to do something wonderful.  It means that He is acting in a miraculous way, so that sinful men, wise guys like Herod, the Sanhedrin, and chief priest, and you and me, won’t be mistaken; it means God is serious and He has something that everyone better take note of.

You know, like when Joseph the husband of mother Mary, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly, (and) behold (idou), an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” [Matthew 1:19-21]  Or, how about this one:  “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold (idou), I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. [Luke 2:8-14]

Imagine, God chose to tell the good news of a Savior for the people of Israel, to dirty no good sinners; foreign and pagan idiots who accumulated a lot of knowledge but no wisdom.  This was an affront to the good people of Jerusalem, the God-fearing Jews.  After all this was their Savior, the one that they were waiting for, so why did God invite the Magi?  He invited them so that they might see the Word of God, the prophecy of God in Micah fulfilled and become part of God’s people; part of the people of faith that He would shepherd.  He called them after He said “idou”.  Idou, all who hear; listen, repent, believe, and be saved.  So He called the Magi and they listened, they became wise onto salvation, but Herod, the Chief Priests and Sanhedrin, would not listen, so they just remained wise guys.

God is still calling out to sinners; He is still bringing light into darkness.  And today, wise men, illuminated by the miracle light giving God still listen and find Jesus.  They allow God to lead them out of the darkness and into the light, because they see a need for a Savior and a new beginning.

You too have had your idou moment; in fact you are having one now, as the Word of God continues to change and rearrange you; you are being asked to behold your God who is with you!  It first started long ago in your baptism, when God reached into the darkness of this sinful world, into the darkness of your own sin and saved you.  It was there in those holy waters that He first gave you the gift of His Son, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified upon the cross for the sins of the world, died and was buried.  But just as on the third day He arose, so to, you out of the waters of your baptism arose a new person; holy, blameless, and righteous, simply because that was God’s will for you.

And now, you live out each day a person who is wise and is becoming wise unto salvation.  You are asked every day to put to death that great pretender, the wise guy, who was drowned in baptism, hung on the cross at Golgotha, and then allow the Word of God to illuminate you with His idou, His gift of Epiphany to you.  The days of pretending are over; each day as you are led by God’s light, you are learning to agree with Him that there is nothing good or wise within you accept for the things He gives to you.  And what is the result of this work of God within a child of God?  As your shepherd, He is leading you into worship and witness!

We worship Him when we come to Him here in church and lay before Him our time talent and treasure.  We worship Him when we simply are still, hear Him speak and know that He is God, our God.  We worship Him when we agree that there is a way that seems right to sinful men, wise guys, but in the end it leads only to death.  We worship Him when we hunger to hear His Word, His message of forgiveness.  And then in the middle of worship, behold (idou), He moves us away from this place, but not His presence, into a world dark with sin, to simply live and let His light illuminate both us and other pretenders who need to know the mystery of God.  The wise guys, the pretenders who are foreign to God are also invited to be fellow heirs, members of the same body (our church) and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, the message of forgiveness. [Ephesians 3:4-6]

Dear friends, this was a message that once was hidden in the darkness of sin to even you, but now you have received the light of God, the message of God that has made you wise unto salvation.  This is the message that changes sinful pretenders into redeemed children of God; it is a message that changes “wise guys” into wise men and women.  It worked and is working for you; it has saved you!  And it is God’s desire that the message of forgiveness would save not just you, but also your family, friends, and neighbors too.  I pray that you will continue to follow the light of God and invite others to follow Him as well, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Light and Darkness

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

The Fourth Sunday in Lent (A), April 3, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 INTRODUCTION: “Awake, O sleeper and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” So says the final words of our epistle lesson this morning (Ephesians 5:8-14).  But what do these words really mean?  Are we to think of our faith, our very salvation as nothing more than an alarm clock that rudely awakens us from a pleasant dream, leaving us the choice to either get up and walk the rest of our lives with Christ or simply hit the snooze button and drift off back to pleasant dreams?  Well, yes; that is if you feel separated from God because of the shameful things you’re doing and never repented of, or if you’ve always felt that being baptized or living our your baptism is either a childhood fantasy or a complete waste of your time, then yes quite frankly, this alarm is for you.  “Awake, O sleeper and (get up) from the dead, and (then) Christ will shine on you!”

 In our gospel lesson this morning Jesus leaves us with some ominous words.  Listen: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” [John 9:39]  Now some of you may be confused; you may see Jesus only as the great Savior of the world.  You may want to quote our gospel from two weeks ago and remind me that God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son Jesus so that who so ever believes in Him won’t perish, but have everlasting life.  You’ll also no doubt, remind me that God didn’t come into this world to condemn it but to save it. [Jn. 3:16]  Now if you told me all of this, I would agree with you, but I would also add that Jesus came to save a sinful world!  So, what difference does that make?  Well, you have to first admit that you are part of that “sinful” world that Jesus came to save!  In other words, you have to first admit that you need saving; that you have sin that you can’t deal with on your own and you need God’s help… His means of salvation!  And this was exactly what we learned in our gospel reading this morning.

 Consider this, a man blind from birth.  He is a Jew and he has probably followed the true religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all of his life.  He comes from a good Jewish family with a mother and father who love him, pity him, because of his blindness, and they care for him as best that they can.  If you were this blind man you would have long ago accepted that this was your eternal lot in life.  Are you angry with people who treat you as less than a man?  Maybe!  Do you get angry with your parents because they still at times treat you like a child?  Perhaps.  Are you angry with God for allowing you to be born like this… probably so.  And what do you do with all of this disappointment and anger?  Well you do what everyone else does, you go to temple and you pay the prescribed sin offerings and then just hope that God will somehow find room for you in His heaven.

 But one day you meet a man who speaks truthfully to you; he doesn’t talk down to you, but with you.  He tells you that God is real and He knows precisely why you are blind.  And then He lays hands on you, he comforts you, sends you to a pool in the temple to wash something off of your eyes that He just applied and… praise God from whom all blessings flow, you can see for the first time in your life!  What would you do then?  Well again, the rules of worship say you should go show yourself to the religious officials so that God can be praised.  Well, you do that and they just belittle you just as they did when you were blind.  Even your parents refuse to offer comfort and support; they tell you that you’re and adult and you should work it out on your own with the temple officials.  So much for life being better if you could see!  Now what?  Are you angry with the people in the temple?  Probably.  Are you angry with your parents?  Most likely.  Are you still angry with God?  Yes, maybe more so than when you were blind!  Now what do you do?  Well…. Nothing! 

You see, this has never been about what you do, instead it is about what God does; it always has been.  In our gospel lesson what did Jesus do after restoring the man’s vision?  He went to the man who was blind.  Because, you see there was still more to the work that God was doing for the man.  Restoring his physical vision was just a way to wake him up from his sleep.  Now Jesus must do the true work of God; He must speak the gospel to him.

“Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man (that is the Son of God)?”  (And the man who was blind at birth but now sees) answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe?”  (Even though this man was confused about a lot of things and disappointed by a lot of people, Hew knew for certain that this man Jesus, who spoke truthfully and lovingly to him, who gave him something he thought he would never have this side of heaven was one man that he trusted.  So he was willing to go and believe in anyone that Jesus pointed out as being His Savior).  (And Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”  (Now it all made sense; now he understood why this man’s voice was so comforting and yet so authoritative).  (So) he said, “LORD!  I believe,” and he worshiped him.” [Jn. 9:35-38]

 He worshiped Him!  That means that He saw first who Jesus was and second, he saw the gospel truth in Jesus Words; he was saved!  “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!”  Did you know that those words written by St. Paul were actually taken from an early church hymn.  I suppose it’s possible that they could even have been written by this man or someone from his time.  They explain a lot about the gospel call that Jesus gave not just to that man born blind but to everyone who witnessed it and who reads about it today.  If that hymn describes the call of God before the man received Jesus as his savior, then our sermon hymn this morning describes the song of his life afterwards and even our lives now.  Listen: “I want to walk as a child of the light.  I want to follow Jesus.  God set the stars to give light to the world.  The star of my life is Jesus!  In Him there is no darkness at all.  The night and the day are both alike.  The Lamb is the light of the city of God.  Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus!” [LSB 411 vs. 1]

ILLUSTRATION: The story’s told about a man who became blind at the age of ten.  He came from a wealthy family, and they spared no expense in finding a medical way to restore their son’s eyesight, but nothing worked.  The boy grew to be a man, and he was resolved to the fact that he would always be blind, so life went on for the blind man.  He did as all men do, seeing or blind, he worked and provided for a future.  One day part of his future began to take shape.  He met the love of his life.  The two were engaged to be wed and they set the date.  Several months before the wedding, the man was called into his doctor’s office and told that there was now a surgical procedure that could restore his eyesight.  The man was excited but also nervous; you see it had been 20 years since he saw nothing but darkness.  Well after a moment of prayer, he of course agreed to have the surgery.  The man informed his doctor that he would be married in 6 weeks, so he asked if he would be able to see his wife of his wedding day.  The doctor assured him that the healing process would be complete by then and the bandages could be removed.  On the day before the wedding, the doctor called the man into his office to remove the bandages, but the man refused instead, he asked the doctor to come to his wedding and take off the bandages at the altar.  He said that the first image he wanted was that of his lovely bride standing before the altar of the Lord, so that he could marvel at her beauty and praise God at the same time.

 Dear friends, if you see and know Jesus as your Lord and Savior; if you see in Him as both God and man; if you see him as your only means of pleasing God; and if you see all of this because God’s Word has both healed you and saved you then you are like the blind man in our gospel reading and like the blind man in my story.  By God’s grace and through the eyes of faith that He has opened with His Word, you see the brightness of God in Jesus Christ; you are drawn to this light and you follow it.  Jesus is your light that allows you to see not just your sin, but God’s forgiving love that shines from the cross.  You follow this light from the cross to the baptismal font, where you were bathed and washed clean in God’s own light; you were recreated!  And from the font it is your desire to follow that light where ever it leads you.  And where does it lead you?  It leads you out into our community where sin, death, and darkness blind our neighbors.  And what are you to do as you follow the light of Jesus?  You let it shine!  But make no mistake; this light is not your light, not even a little bit!  No, it is all God’s light reflecting off of you.  As Jesus is your Sun, you are His moon.  Your little gospel light is simply a reflection of Jesus wonderful light that is eternal in the city of God.  And your prayer as you follow Him is simply this, “Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.  Bring your light into the darkness as I follow you.” 

So dear friends, God is calling those of us who once were in darkness, but now have been given eternal life through His gift of spiritual sight to walk as children of light.  What are we to do?  We are to gather around His Word and Sacraments and try to discern through the leading of His light what is pleasing to the Lord.  We are to be in the world, but not of it; we are to take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose the darkness by our lives that trust and follow Christ’s light.  Through the Word of God, our lives are shaped and through that same Word we are shaping our community by exposing the darkness of sin with Christ’s own light.  We are to be a reminder, no an alarm that shouts into the darkness and this sinful world, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you (too)!”  In Jesus name… AMEN!