Posts Tagged ‘Repentance’

Our Prodigal God!

Sunday, March 31st, 2019

Lent 4-C
March 31, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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Imagine in your mind’s eye that you’ve been transported back in time to a high school football stadium.  You’re seated in the bleachers, and you are drawn to one particular man seated amongst the sea of people.  He has such a big smile on his face and you see tears welling up in his eyes.  The hot sun is mercilessly beating down on him and pulling sweat from his body and soaking his neatly pressed dress shirt, but he’s oblivious to it. His eyes are focused on one young man on the football field. “Who are you looking at?” You whisper. “I am waiting for my son” he says. “Soon he will cross the stage and get his diploma. Then it is off to college. I am so proud of him.”

Now fast forward to two years in the future and you are once again with the same man. You’re sitting outside the county jail house.  He’s alone and he’s crying.  Quietly you sit next to him.  Finally you ask him, “What’s up?” “I am waiting for my son,” he sniffs, trying to hold back the tears. “The Police picked him up for DUI and I am afraid he’s on drugs, too.  He’s been so distant lately… it’s like I don’t even know him!”

Now fast forward eight years in the future, and you are with the same man.  This time you’re seated in a beautiful little church. The man is standing by his son at the front looking up the aisle. You walk up to him and whisper, “What’s up?” he whispers back, “I am waiting for my son to get married. His beautiful, bride will be walking down the aisle toward us in just a minute. I am so proud of him. I have been waiting ten years, but finally the wait is over. Drugs, alcohol, and jail are all behind him. He’s back in church and he’s landed a good job. I am so excited.”

     This father, if he was here this morning would tell you that he can read our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 15) with a real and special understanding. He knows what it means to wait for a son who seems lost to him and God. 

This morning, God wants us to see that He’s still looking and waiting for lost sons and daughters to come home. He’s still leaving the flock to go out and find stray lambs. This morning He wants us to know that we have a heavenly Father who loves us enough to spend everything on us. His open arms are waiting for every lost sinner to come home.  The welcome home party can be started in an instant, whenever they decide to come home.  And after they come home and they’ve enjoyed themselves at the party, they can join the Father in His waiting, watching and urging more lost children to come home. And when they come home, they can sit beside their elder brothers and sisters, and show them just how much the Father has always loved them, even if they never got to have a party thrown for them. All this and much more is waiting for sinners if they will just repent.  If they will just turn away from their sinful life and their sinful thinking, and then turn to God’s forgiving love through Jesus Christ!

Our gospel reading this morning (Luke 15:1–3, 11–32) for many is a familiar one.  

It starts out by introducing us to the sinful younger brother, who committed a huge sin by walking away from his position as his father’s son. He wanted nothing more to do with his father, but he did want the blessing of his father’s money!  Once he received what he wanted and not what his father said he needed, off he went!

Did you notice that it was the younger son who was on the move?  He wanted to get as far away from his father’s house and his father’s rules as he could!  But did you also notice that the father never moved?  He was standing still; still and waiting to see his son return someday. He was a busy man, a man of great wealth and business.  There was an entire corporation to run and it all depended on his leadership, yet he left his work to watch and wait for his lost son to return. 

To return from where?  Far away… about as far from his father and his people that he could get!  He was living large and spending money like it would never run out. “Finally” He thinks, “no rules!  I can do what I want and when I want to do it!”  The son has turned his back on his father… he’s turned his back on his father’s love!  

What a sad story.  It’s a sad story because it is the story that applies to real people who have rejected God’s love and grace which is there’s through Jesus Christ.  They’ve left the church and the communion of saints.  They counted their baptism as nothing really, simply a childhood memory.  They’re living far from God and His blessings, with the intent of enjoying the pleasure and promise of the sinful world!  But soon the good times end, and the sinner discovers that all that glitters isn’t gold at all.  Like a moth drawn into an open flame the world has devoured them and their hope of happiness. Their illusion of satisfaction found in the things of the world without the Creator and the Savior of the world has come to an end! 

So there they sit, alone and broke.  Not only did they loose their wealth, but they also lost their spiritual support to fall back on.  In essence, they have burned their bridges of return!  When sinners reach this point in their lives, the devil is ready to pounce on and devour them—many are led to suicide, either by a quick death or the slow death of substance abuse. But all is not lost, because…

The Father is still waiting… He’s waiting and He’s watching.  

And because sinners know this, because they know the fathers love, they come to their senses and remember their Father’s mercy.  They remember their baptism, the day that the Father’s love was first given to them.  They remember that through Christ Jesus suffering and death upon the cross God made a way for them to come home.  “Can it really be true?  Is it really not too late for me to come home?” they wonder.  Now hungry, poor, and tired, they remember the Lord’s invitation, “Come unto me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”  And when they remember, they begin to hunger for the Lord’s forgiving love and the fellowship of their brothers and sisters.  Now, maybe for the first time, they begin to feel alone and empty; they feel shame and a need to confess their sin.  Will God take them back?  Will they be able to hear those sweet words once again? “You are forgiven!”  

But there is another son that’s lost. His story is entirely different from that of his younger brother.  Like his brother he too is lost, but not in some distant land.  No, he is lost in his own father’s house. How is that possible? Because of his self-righteousness. He is busy working hard within his father’s business.  Although he has been supported by his father’s wealth, he now considers himself critical for maintaining and protecting that wealth.  In fact, he’s convinced that since his younger brother abandoned the family business, his father would be out of business if it wasn’t for him!  The way he sees things, his father owes him big time!  It’s been a hard day of business and he’s beat, so he heads home. As he approaches the house he hears music and dancing.  “What’s this” he wonders, “A party?”

The first person he sees says, “Hurry!  Come inside.  Your father wants me to tell you that, well… your brother’s come home!”  “No!” he says.  “I will not celebrate the return of my sinful brother!”  Now, his father hears of the older brother’s anger, and he immediately leaves the celebration to go out to his oldest son.  But he’s not going out to order him to come in, but to plead with him to come in out of his love for his father.

And here is where the sinful heart of the older brother is revealed. “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 

Can you hear the pride and self-righteousness in the words of this son?  Can you hear yourself in these words?  Is it clear to you that our Heavenly Father has every right to punish this type of hard heart?  To be angry with their brother is one thing but to publicly defy and disrespect God is a completely different issue!  God has every right to strip these self-righteous people of everything.  These people must be humbled like the younger brother was!

Dear friends, both of these ungrateful sons deserved nothing but anger from their father.  Both had shown nothing but disrespect.  Yet both were loved and forgiven.  Can you see yourself in one of these sons?  Can you see God’s love in Jesus story about the Father?   Maybe you’ve known this story as the “Prodigal Son”?  But really it should be called the “Prodigal Father”.  Do you know what the word “prodigal” means?  It means extravagant!  Can you see the Fathers unending love and patience towards his two sons?  We could say that the father was extravagant in his patience and love for his sons.  

Dear friends, Jesus tells this story for two reasons.  First, He wants us to see ourselves within one of the two sons.  Second, He wants us to see our Heavenly Father within the character of the father.  Jesus wants us to know that God is extravagant—prodigal in His patience and love for us.  Just as the younger son was lovingly welcomed back home God has the very same heart for each of us.  Just as the youngest son was cleaned up and given a beautiful robe to wear, Jesus wants each of us to know that in our baptism, we too have been clothed in His own righteousness.  And the truth is, the oldest son had nothing to feel threatened over; he was still clothed in the very same righteousness.  

How does God treat lost sinners? He focuses his attention on them. 

He pours his love on them. He waits patiently for them to come to their senses, repent of their sins, and come back to him. God has centered his whole plan for creation on one expectation: Sinners will see the error of their ways and turn back to him so that through Jesus Christ he can complete what He began within the waters of their baptism.

Dear friends, when you leave here this morning God would like you to remember that His love and forgiveness are always yours through your baptism.  In fact through your baptism and your faith in Jesus Christ, all that the father has is yours!  You are part of the body of Christ.  You are part of his team.  He invites you to patiently wait with Him for the lost, maybe even someone you love to come home.  He is inviting you to go out with Him, to seek out the lost, and then along with all of heaven, He wants you to welcome them back home within the church.  He invites you to help them put back on Christ own righteousness.  It’s a robe that fits them perfectly.  Because God had it tailored just for them within the waters of their own baptism!

Let’s pray: Loving, compassionate God, our Father in heaven, thank you for waiting for us to come back from the far country. Thank you for teaching us how sinful we are and what we leave behind when we desert you in our willful sin. Thank you for giving us great joy when we hear your sweet words of forgiveness… thank you for waiting for us and bringing us back home!  Heavenly Father, show us where to go for you; show us where to seek the lost and give us boldness to invite them to come home to you and to the church.  May they come to know the joy that we have found in you through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Precious Lord… Forgive Me!

Sunday, March 24th, 2019

Lent 3-C
March 24, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:5

Perhaps the most painful question Christians and non-Christians a-like whisper and sometimes scream into the ear of God in the dark of the night is “Why?”  Why does He allow the massacre of Christians in places like Africa, the Middle East, and the Philippines over and over again?  In 1993, why didn’t God protect those two young boys Charlie Keever and Jonathan Sellers who were killed in the South Bay, and why as we’ve heard in the news lately, does it seem like the killer keeps avoiding the prescribed course of justice? 

Why is there evil in the world if God is good and almighty?  This really is the ultimate question that sinful man most wants answered! We encounter variations of this question throughout our daily lives and it most often comes to us like this: Why did my sister die so young?  Why does God allow cancer? Why did I lose my job just before my pension was vested?   Why can’t I find the right person to spend the rest of my life with?   

“What did I do to deserve this?” we cry out, as we keep noticing that people without an apparent faith in Christ seem to be living a happy life!   

Jesus’ disciples posed a similar question to him more than once. 

On one occasion, His disciples wanted to know whether the man who had been born blind had brought his condition upon himself or whether his parents were at fault because of their sin. To this question, Jesus assured them that God had a purpose in the man’s blindness.  What was that purpose?  To that question and to all of its variations, Jesus remained silent.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus takes the same approach, as He addresses two tragedies that seemed to swallow up a lot of people in an unfair way.  Some of His disciples had just reported that Pilate’s police had murdered some Galileans while they were worshiping God and offering their sacrifices.  Jesus used this incident to meet the obvious question: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were guiltier than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Jesus refused to answer the question. Instead, he used these incidents to call for something much more important… Jesus called for repentance. He rejected the assumption that great evil falls only upon evil people. “No,” Jesus said. They were not the worst of the worst; those Galileans had not sinned more than their fellow Galileans. That kind of question misses the point. The only point that Jesus wanted them to see in the midst of those tragedies was each person’s need for personal repentance.  (Luke 13:1–5). He wanted each person then and each of us today, to turn away from our sins and turn to God’s mercy and say “Precious Lord… forgive me!”

Did they get it?  Probably not, and that is why Jesus began to tell the parable about the fig tree within the vineyard.  In this story, Jesus was making the analogy that the city of Jerusalem was like the fig tree… fruitless and close to being “chopped down” so that something else… something that would bear fruit could be planted.  After the parable, do you think they said, “Ah… yes I see, I am the fig tree!  I better confess my sin and then turn to God’s mercy.  Let me confess my sinfulness and seek His forgiving love!”  No, they did not!  In fact the proof that they did not or would not understand lies in the truth that they crucified their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  And because of this, they have been chopped down, and a new tree, one that will bear fruit has been planted in its place… that new tree is of course the Church.  It is you and me!

So now, these words of Jesus are being spoken to us.  Are you different than the Jewish nation?  Will you listen?  Will you repent and bear fruit?  That is the question God wants you to concentrate on this morning and each morning that he allows you to live.  He wants you to know that through Jesus Christ, He has given you His grace, His undeserved kindness.  And because of Jesus, God is continually caring for you just as He did in the parable of the fig tree.  He is tilling the soil of your heart and applying good fertilizer through His Word and Sacraments.  Do you recognize that you have been placed in the most favored position… you have been adopted as sons and daughters of the most high God!  Will you be fruitful or will you prevent His grace from changing you?  Will you bring to nothing, everything that Jesus has provided for you?  Will you turn your back on His passion for you… on His suffering and death for you?!  

Can you really do that?  Yes, He will allow you to reject His gift of love, but by doing that, you are sealing your own doom!  Will you really do that or will you repent?

In this world, even in the life of Christians, we are surrounded by countless sins, sins that God expects us to acknowledge and deplore with true and sincere repentance.  

He wants us to hear His cry within the gospel, “Repent and trust in Christ alone!”  He delivers these Words of both His Law and His Gospel to us so that we will be delivered from eternal destruction. 

This isn’t a new message, in fact it was the first sermon preached in paradise, when God cursed Adam and Eve after their fall from grace.  But after their fall, He immediately gave them complete forgiveness of their sin, and the promise of a future Savior, the son of Adam who is also the very Son of God! 

Repent and believe!  This has always been God’s Word to sinful men and women!  This is the sum of all of God’s Word and it is the message that He wants us to receive as long as we are alive in this world!  God wants each of us to read His Word, the entire Bible and hear this message come alive on each page.  He wants us to read all of the testimonies concerning His anger against sin, concerning personal and public tragedies, concerning all of the warnings about eternal punishments, and  He wants us to hear these Words and repent; He wants us to turn away from our sin and our certain punishment of death, and then turn to the death of Jesus. Why?  Why must we turn from our sin and see Jesus death upon the cross?  Because dear friends, Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross is the clearest possible proof concerning God’s anger and hatred against sin! 

God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to hang upon the cross in the most violent manner so that you would know just how serious your sin is!  The death of Jesus isn’t just something for you to read about and consider like some book or movie … God wants it to scare the hunger for sin and Hell right out of you!  He wants you to see how serious His wrath against sin is.  He wants you to know beyond any doubt how serious, enormous, and indescribable your sin is.  He wants you to know that the only way you can be rescued from your sin is if the Son of God intercedes for you and is made a victim for you!  If you can see all of this and if you can agree with God that your sin is a huge problem, then repent!

Dear friends, God wants each of us to see ourselves in the words of our Epistle lesson this morning.  He wants us to see our own sinful lust as being identical to the Hebrews who rejected God’s law regarding sexual relations between a man and woman, within the structure of marriage.  He wants us to see ourselves within the story of those who continually tested Him by questioning His actions and His will!  He wants us to see that we are similar to those who murmured and complained about Him instead of trusting in Him and receiving from Him.  He wants us to see all of this within our own hearts and then confess these sins and turn away from them.

But still there is wickedness and suffering all around, isn’t there?  And maybe this is causing you to still struggle with the “why” of evil!  

Why does God allow such evil to flourish in this world?  And to this God answers, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”  And we ask, “Precious Lord, why won’t you answer my question?  Why won’t you tell me why there is evil?  And to this God says to each of us, “Because I care most about your love for me… I want you to trust me… trust that I am caring for you always!  You are who I suffered and died for!  You are the fig tree that I have planted within my vineyard, and you are the one that will give me fruit.  Turn back, repent from your own evil ways and love and obey me!  

Dear friends, the Father has planted you within His church.  He is nourishing you and tilling the soil of your heart so that you will bear much fruit.  What is that fruit?  It is the fruit of repentance; fruit that is called righteousness.  Fruit that trusts in Christ alone… fruit that does not lust after the riches and power of this world, but instead remains focused on what Christ has done for you.  Jesus is your fruit, and you can only find this fruit upon the tree of woe.  It is the sweet fruit of Golgotha…it is the fruit of righteousness unto eternal life!  “Take and eat” Jesus says, “This is my body!  Take and drink… this is my blood.”  Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your many sins and then rest in the truth that God forgives you; He still loves you and He still loves the world!

“But Lord” you cry out, “I am afraid that because of all this evil only a few will be saved?  I am afraid for my loved ones who will not repent!”  And Christ answers us by saying, “Friend, let me worry about that.  As for you, strive to enter through the narrow door.  Worry first about your relationship with Me and my gospel, only then will you be able to recognize and fight your own sin.”  

Dear friends, let God worry about the whys in life; you have enough to do just loving Him!  If you occupy yourself with this work, then when tragedy and suffering strike, you will be comforted and strengthened by Christ’s presence within you.  Only then will you begin to understand that true wisdom and comfort are not found in answering the why(s) but the HOW!

I pray that each of us will continue to grow in faith and be comforted by God’s love through Christ Jesus.  AMEN

BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD

Sunday, March 17th, 2019

Lent 2-C
March 17, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” [Luke 13:31-35]

On August 30, 2005, at 4 AM, Coast Guard Lt Iain McConnell, along with the rest of his aircrew, was summoned to the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama. The air base soon became primary base of operations for Hurricane Katrina relief. Less than 24 hours after the storm initially hit New Orleans, Lt. McConnell and his crew were ordered to fly their H46 helicopter into the storm damaged area for what would be a heroic rescue effort.  They entered the area ahead of every news crew in the nation; they were not prepared for the devastation they were about to see, the entire city of New Orleans was flooding.  They began to pluck people from rooftops. They literally flew around the clock, returning to the base only to refuel and then head back out, despite their exhaustion and fatigue and the risk to their own lives; they continuously went back out onto the storm. On their first three missions that day they saved 89 people, three dogs, and two cats. 

In our Gospel lesson today, as Jesus continued His way to Jerusalem and the cross, we come face to face with the Son of God in the midst of the greatest rescue effort of all time.  All of Scripture, the entire Bible after Genesis chapter 2, points to this rescue mission — Despite all the obstacles in His way, Jesus would continue on to Jerusalem; He was going there to suffer and to die in order to save. The majority of His own people would reject Him. But that too was foretold a long time ago in Psalm 118, where it says: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Psalm 118:22)

Let’s look again at verses 33-34 of our Gospel lesson: Jesus said,  Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day [after that],” and He goes on, “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish [anywhere else but] Jerusalem.’  O Jerusalem… the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 

Jesus is referring to a coming day of judgment. He talks about the natural instinct of hens that would vigorously protect their young by gathering them under her wings.  If there were a bird of prey nearby, the hen would cackle and cluck and call her chicks to her so they could find protection under her wings.

One day, shortly after a devastating fire in Yellowstone National Park, a park ranger was walking through a burned field. He came across what appeared to be dead prairie chicken.  As he nudged the dead bird with his foot, three little chicks came running out from underneath the dead hen; they had survived the fire because their mother had given her life for them.  Make no doubt about it, there is a fire coming — and that fire is God’s judgment!

USA Today and Gallup conducted a poll in which they asked Americans about the likelihood of an apocalyptic end to the world:

  • 23% responded that this was “very likely,”
  • 16% said it was “somewhat unlikely,”
  • 16% said it was “very unlikely,”
  • 41% had “no opinion.”

For the most part, Americans are not too concerned about the end of the world, they aren’t concerned about the return of Jesus Christ or a day of judgment.

Jesus told us that on the Day of Judgment God is going to “…separate the wheat from the chaff.” (Matthew 3:12), He will sort “…the good fish from the bad fish.” (Matthew 13:48), and He will separate “…the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:32), God is going to sift and sort all the sinners (that’s everyone of us); He will separate those whose sins have been forgiven from those who have held on to their sins, and those that deny that they have any need for forgiveness.

Now before we leave this particular verse, I want to point out one more thing about Jesus saying, “How often I have longed to gather your children together…”

Last week in our Sunday morning Bible study, we were studying St. Paul’s first letter to the young pastor, Timothy.  In 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul tells us that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  God wants all people to be saved!

But do you see the paradox here? If God desires all people to be saved, doesn’t God get everything He wants?  God wants all men to be saved yet not all men are saved. Why is that?  Mistakenly, many have tried to solve this paradox by looking for some cause of salvation in human beings; that men can some how earn their own salvation. “Well,” they suppose, “If some one is a good and decent person, if they have enough love and enough good works, then surely they will be saved.” 

My brothers and sisters, Salvation is salvation! That means we can’t do anything to make it happen; to be saved means just that — to be saved. If we somehow helped with that, then we would have to say that we merely survived, rather than say that we have been saved.  Jesus answers the question of the paradox. God wants all people to be saved. Jesus wanted to gather all of Jerusalem, but Jesus said the people of Jerusalem were not willing! If a person is lost, it is because they made that choice. They were not willing to be saved!

Earlier, I mentioned the rescue efforts of Coast Guard Lt. McConnell and his aircrew. I told you about the first three missions they flew where they rescued an extraordinary amount of people. But on their fourth mission, despite twelve different flights into New Orleans, they were not able to save even one person. None! Everyone they encountered on that mission refused to board the helicopter. Instead they told the aircrew to bring them food and water so that they could wait out the storm. They were warned that this was extremely dangerous as the waters were still rising and were not going away anytime soon.  Sadly, when the dykes protecting the city broke, many of those people perished because of their refusal to be rescued.

So what does it mean to be saved spiritually? That is such an important question. I don’t want anyone to be lost on the Day of Judgment, and again St. Paul reminds us that God desires all people to be saved, so this is a very important matter.  Many people know about God, many believe that God exist, but that doesn’t mean they are saved.  The argument can be made that even the devil knows about God and even the devil believes that God exists…  Far too often people only look to God for “food and water” and believe they can wait out the storm on their own; they believe by being a good person with good intentions, they can sit out the coming wave of God’s judgment.

To be saved means that two things will happen to us. First, there must be a spiritual breakdown.  You’ve heard of nervous or emotional breakdowns — I’m talking about a spiritual breakdown. This means that we must come to the realization that, because of our sinful nature, we all are totally lost and condemned sinners. As Dr. Martin Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism to confess, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess to God all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Him, and justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment…” or as we confessed earlier in our service, “…we confess before God and before one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our own sinful condition.”

Many people don’t go through this spiritual breakdown because they truly believe that they are pretty decent people and they wrongly believe that’s good enough. They arrive at that conclusion by comparing themselves to the rest of this sinful world.

In our Epistle lesson today, St. Paul tells us about people like that, he says, “[They are] enemies of the cross of Christ… their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with [their] minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19) So if you compare yourselves to the rest of this sinful world, you might look pretty good too.  

But we will not be judged by the standard of this world. On the Day of Judgment, we will be judged by the standard of God — the standard of God according to His Law.  Now I don’t care who you are, there is not one of us here who are able to keep those commandments perfectly. We all have broken God’s Law and we all deserve the prescribed punishment, which is death. To be spiritually broken is to come to this realization, that we are lost and condemned sinners and that we cannot free ourselves from this sinful condition.

Secondly, salvation means that we come to the realization that we are under the protection of God’s grace and mercy. As the hen gathers her brood under her wings, so does Jesus gather repentant sinners like you and me under the wings of His grace and His mercy.

These wings manifest themselves in two ways: First, in the promise of forgiveness found in God’s Word and, second, in the miracle of the Sacraments.  When you study the Bible you will find only three things promise salvation: salvation is found in God’s words of forgiveness; salvation is found in our Baptism when our sin was washed away and we were marked as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified; and, salvation is found in Holy Communion where Jesus Himself tells us, “this is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Here we can be sure and certain that God’s judgment on the world’s sin, and on our sin, will never reach us and cannot touch us.  Jesus came to the rescue, and He willfully gave His life to make sure of this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) We have to trust in this promise!

Now we come to the best and most important part of this passage. Jesus quotes Psalm 118: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Luke 13:35)  God is intent on saving; God desires all people to be saved. If a person is not saved, it is not for lack of God’s efforts. Remember at the beginning of this message I quoted Psalm 118, verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” A little further on, verse 24: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  And in verse 25: Save us, we pray, O Lord!  This is the only time this plea appears in the Bible in these words. 

The Hebrew word, “hoshi’a na,” is translated in Greek and pronounced in English, as “hosanna.” The original intent of the scripture is “God save us!” It is a plea for mercy.

Right after that, in verse 26, there is a shift from concern to confidence. Verse 26 says, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  This is where grace and mercy is found, it is found in He who comes in the name of the Lord!

And so we have: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Or, as we know it, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

Jesus gathers us under His wings of Grace and rescues us from death.  Jesus fills the gap that separates us from the Father, to bring us home into heaven.

The people of Jerusalem didn’t set out to reject God. They didn’t wake up one day and decide that, instead of listening to God, they would make it their mission to kill the Only Son of God. The people of Jerusalem were deceived. They were blinded of the truth. Deluded by their sin and the author of sin. And, as a result, they were unable and unwilling to hear the Word of the God. 

Everything in our readings today, from the Old Testament, the Epistle, and the Gospel readings set up the polarity of earth and heaven, of disgrace and glorification, humiliation and exaltation. We preach the cross, because it is the only way to glory. Just look at Jesus, who set His face toward Jerusalem, endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of power, with all things under His feet. Pastor Brian told us last week that Jesus choose way of the cross so that we would know that the only way to God the Father and eternity is through the cross.

It’s not about you, it’s not about who you are or what you’ve done (good or bad); it’s all about Jesus and it’s all about who He is and what He has done. We need to surrender to the fact that we are sinners and we cannot, with anything we do, free ourselves from that sinful condition.  

But we cling to the fact that Jesus is “He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35) He came to lay down His life for the sins of the world, for my sins and for your sins.

Jerusalem was blind to His gracious visitation, Blind to the presence of God among them, and they put Him to death like the prophets before Him. Yet, His sacrifice upon the cross became the cornerstone of His Church. Jesus visits us today in mercy with His preaching of forgiveness, to gather us to Himself, “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34). 

This is what God’s steadfast love is all about.  As we walk with Jesus to Jerusalem during this Lenten season, we realize just how complete and steadfast God’s love really is for this world. We need to take that love back out into the world, we need to show God’s saving grace, His mercy, and His love in how we treat our neighbors in the works we do.  We don’t do good works to be saved, we do good works because we are saved!  We love because he first loved us! (1 John 4:19)

A Day of Judgment is indeed coming one day, but God’s Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, has already come and rescued us, of this you can be confident!

Our help is in the name of the Lord! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.

The Word Became Flesh!


Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

Advent 4-C
December 23, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” [John 1:1-3]

Just when we think we have God all figured out, He comes out of left field and does something we never even considered. How many times have you encountered what you thought was a hopeless situation, only to have the whole thing turned around?  Oh we of little faith!

The Jews knew that biting accusation all too well!  They were anxiously waiting for a warrior-king, a descendant of King David to come, who would make them a worldwide super power once again.  Oh their king came, a descendant of David certainly, but He didn’t come in a way they expected.  You see, there was no army carrying their king into battle; instead He was carried by a pregnant teenager who was about to give birth to their true king, God in human flesh.  Instead of defeating Rome and the Emperor, this King came to defeat sin, death, and the devil!

How did the Jews get so confused? 

Maybe they missed what God was doing because they concentrated on temporal things instead of eternal things.  Maybe they decided on concentrating on snippets of prophecy instead on the whole prophecy.  Maybe they used only portions of God’s Word, like those found in Micah, our Old Testament lesson this morning: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”  So far, that sounds like help is on the way.  Let’s see what else they may have read that gave them hope that their warrior-king was coming to fight for them.  How about this: “And He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.”  Well that sounds like a super power God for a super power nation, doesn’t it?

The problem was, they were only paying attention to the parts of God’s Word that they liked, and they were ignoring the parts of His Word that continuously reminded them that they were not living as God desired… they were not living as people of faith who trusted in, and patiently waited on their God to provide for them.  Listen to just a few of the many reminders God gave them: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” [Proverbs 21:2,3]

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. [Isaiah 1:11]

“But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” [Jeremiah 7:23-25]

Israel thought that by observing a few religious rules God would wink at their sin.  They thought they could hide the evil in their hearts by appeasing God with a few sacrifices.  But do you know what God calls someone who only listens to parts of His Word, while comfortably ignoring the other parts?  Lost and damned in their sins!

Friends, God’s Word always comes to us in two parts, the Law and the Gospel.  

When we only pick out the good news, the Word that speaks of God’s forgiving love, then we are sure to miss the way that He wants to bring us that good news… through our confession to Him that we are sinful.  We must be told by His Word that our hearts are sinful and we must admit it to Him before He will forgive.  His Word must show us that we are self-serving and prideful.  And by that same Word we must be convinced that the only way to know and experience God’s love is by confessing this truth.  If we do this as He asks, He in turn promises to make us self-giving and humble.  We must obey His call to confession and then admit our need for Him to change us before He will allow us to hear His Gospel Word of love and forgiveness.  

If we will not approach Him just as He desires, with a broken spirit and a contrite heart, then we, like the Jews will miss the true Gospel found in our reading from Micah: “Therefore He shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of His brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their peace.” [Micah 5:3-5]  

Like the Jews, all of mankind is lost unless we receive our Savior as He comes, as a baby; lowly and humble, through the womb of a teenaged virgin. 

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]  

Dear friends, the warrior king that the Jews waited so long for did come, but He didn’t come as they expected; that is He wasn’t the kind of king they looked for.  If they had only drawn more deeply into God’s whole Word, it would have been so clear.  Their great King David, a man after God’s own heart spoke to them clearly in Psalm 40 about what this greater king and Messiah would do, listen: “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but a body you have prepared for me.  Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” [Psalm 40:6-10 LXX]

In these very Words friends, God was telling Israel and the world today, that He is saving sinful man in a way that we would never expect.  He comes to us in our own flesh; because we could never on our own delight to do God’s will, so God sends His Living Word to us to do it for us.  Listen now to that same Psalm as explained by the writer of our Epistle lesson: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but you have now prepared a body for me; (hear the truth sinful children, God does) not delight in (your religious sacrifices)—in your burnt offerings and sin offerings (He takes) no pleasure. (But now Jesus says), ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in (their prophecies).”

 

Dear friends, when Jesus Christ, the Word which became flesh said that God neither desires nor takes pleasure in the sacrifices and offerings of the Jews, He is speaking to us as well.  He is saying that our attempts to please Him by being good, by doing our best are not what He is looking for in us.  If these were good enough, then what need would any of us have for a Savior? Why must God the Father prepare a body for God the Son?  My friends, so that He could do what we cannot; so that in our flesh He can obey God in our place! But friends, obedience wasn’t the only reason that Christ was given a body!  No, you see because of our many sins, something much costlier is required in order to make things right with God.  Willful sin has been committed on our part, and an acceptable sacrifice must be given… a life must be taken and blood must be spilled.  You see friends, Christ’s obedience is much greater than simply living a life that pleases God; His obedience also includes a sin offering, the offering of the very blood and life of God the Son.  This is the true and final sacrifice for sin, because it is the ultimate sacrifice, which according to prophecy, God desired to be made, and friends He made it for you!

Just think about the grandness of God’s love friends.  

Hear the words of our Savior as He speaks them for you… as He speaks them to you in a way to make it clear that He alone can save you from the sin that has entrapped you.  With you on His heart He loudly speaks: “No, he will not die.  No she will not pay.  Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God.  Send me in their place!”  In that spirit, the spirit of love for the Father and love for you, Jesus offered his life to the Father. It was that very same love that motivated him (John 4:34) and guided Him all the way to Calvary. What a great cost He has bought you with!  Think of Him wrestling in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane and you will begin to understand the cost.  Think of Him calling out alone upon the cross as the last of His life giving blood and the love of the Father left Him: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  

This Christmas friends, it is good to remember the manger and the infant lowly, but do not lose sight of the cross!  Remember the cross, because to remember it is to remember a truth that will change the way you worship and the way you live your life in service to God: Jesus was born to die for you!  

Friends, do you want to live a life that pleases God?  Well the first step in doing that is by remembering the gifts of forgiveness and new life, which He gave you within the waters of your baptism, and then confess to Him that you can’t live the life of perfection His law demands.  Confess your sinfulness to Him and then put His Law that terrifies you aside and hear the Gospel.  Hear the Good News that assures you that God does love you and He forgives you of all of your sins because of what Jesus has done for you.  Hear this good news often.  Come every week to this place of worship and let Him strengthen your faith and nourish your spirit.  Let Him change you from the inside out.  And as you do that, something new and different will happen, you will begin to find yourself becoming more and more like your Savior-King who died for you.  

And then friends, when God begins to look for your obedience in small things you will begin to find yourself saying: Here I am—Lord—I have come to do your will, O God.  Send me… use me!”  May the love of God through Christ Jesus move our hearts and minds to do this very thing…. I ask this in Jesus name…. AMEN!

Christ Picks Us Up!

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Pentecost 21B
October 21, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” [Hebrews 4:7]

There’s a worship song by Donnie McClurkin entitled “We Fall Down” that we sing occasionally with a slight change to the lyrics. Listen to how we sing it:  “We fall down, Christ picks us up.  For a saint is just a sinner who fell down, and Christ picked up.  He picks us up again; get back up again; He picks us up again; get back up again.”  The sentiment is clear, the Christian life is a struggle, we live, we sin, we confess our sins,  and for Jesus Christ, the Son of God’s sake, God the Father forgives us, again and again.

Today, listen don’t worry about tomorrow or yesterday, but today, if you hear His voice, don’t let your heart become hard, but instead listen and grab onto the promises of His Word and get back up again and again!

Adam and Eve at first didn’t need the promise of forgiveness; they perfectly walked and talked with God in paradise.  

But then something happened; sin happened and they lost access to both paradise and God.  But God wouldn’t let that separate Him from the people He created in His image, so He did something to restore that image; He gave them mercy and grace, which in turn brought forgiveness and new life.  God gave His promise that one day He would come to them and provide a Savior through the bloodline of the woman.  Adam and Eve fell in sin, and God picked them up by giving them hope; He gave them the promise of a Savior, the Christ, who would  pick them up again and again!

Many years latter, the Hebrew people were in bondage and they cried out to God for help, and He heard them.  He reminded them of the promise He made concerning the coming Savior who would make all things new and right; He reminded them that they were a people of faith who by faith, should grab onto that promise.  So God sent them Moses, a type of savior, but not The Savior.  Moses would lead them out of bondage and into a type of promise land, Canaan, but not The Promised Land of Paradise.  But they began to grumble and complain.  They began to lose faith, and they sinned against God and their neighbors.  Their sin was serious; they would not repent of it and trust the promises of God.  So God allowed them to die in their sins.  But their children did  repent and believe, and God allowed them to enter Canaan.  They fell down, but the promises of God concerning their Savior lifted them back up again.

Their faith in this promised Savior was the only way God would one day give them total rest… Sabbath rest!  And that one day came, and God kept His promise and came to them from their own bloodline.  Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God came to them in human flesh.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  And on the third day He rose from the dead and proclaimed Sabbath rest for all who believe.  Through His death and resurrection He gave complete forgiveness for all sins.  This good news was preached first to the Jews, and then to all who would listen and believe.  Many rejected and fell down, but some believed and Christ picked them up.

And now we read in our Epistle lesson (Hebrews 4:1-16), that some are again in danger of disbelief; of lack of faith in the promises of God.  Some of them then and some now are in danger, so Christ desires to pick us up; He wants us to grab onto the promise of forgiveness and get back up.

I know that some of you here may feel like it might be too late to get back up; you might think that God is growing tired of you.  Maybe you feel that you are no longer counted among the saints.  Well like the song said, a saint is just a sinner who fell down and Christ picked up.  So… get back up again.  Do you need help getting up?  Then let this message from God pick you up again.

What was bad news for the wandering wilderness generation turns out to be good news for us.  You see, we learn that all of those who died in the wilderness, an entire generation of Hebrews, didn’t have to die; they could have repented, and trusted in the promises of God.  God would have lifted them up again, but they would not let Him, so they died in their sins, and the next generation made it to the promise land of Canaan.  But Canaan wasn’t the place where God would give them true Sabbath.  Canaan was just a shadow of the spiritual place and goal that God set before them in the promise of His Word.

Dear friends, that promise is still ours to grab onto, just as it was theirs.  It remains in force as an offer of peace with God; all any one ever needed to do was simply rest in the offer and receive the Savior who is promised in the Word of God.

Since countless men and women that went before us refused to trust in the promise of the Savior and died in their sins, forever cut off from paradise, then let us approach God and His promises with fear and trembling.  Otherwise we too may fail to reach our goal of paradise and peace with God.

The promises of God are the good news; the gospel about Jesus Christ.  Just as the promise came to those before us, it comes to us now… today!  The message they heard didn’t help them in the least, because they lacked faith in it.  You see, faith is the glue that sticks you to God and the hope of His promises fulfilled for you.  Faith is what gives you Jesus when you fall; the same Jesus who gladly calls you not just friend but brother.  He is the same Jesus who picks you up again and again.

By faith, God promises and gives to you Jesus, your true Sabbath rest.  By faith, we who believe in Jesus enter that Sabbath rest immediately at baptism.  And by faith, we walk in that Sabbath rest until we enter forever into God’s peace in paradise.  Since we have that rest and will forever experience that rest, shouldn’t we do everything to stay in that rest? Shouldn’t we put all of our attention on protecting our relationship with Jesus?

How?  How do we protect that relationship?  By staying in the Word of God.  A Word that is sharper than a double edged sword.  It is the Word of God and not our money, things, or prestige that offers peace and delivers it.  The Word of God alone looks intently into our souls and shows us the sin that we hide so well from others, and then it offers us forgiveness and new life.  All that God asks of us is that we trust Him; He asks that we hear Him speak to our hearts in His Word and simply believe.

It is the Word of God alone that strips you naked and leaves you vulnerable before your creator, and then offers to take your shame and cover it with the glory of Jesus Christ; the same glory that our parents, Adam and Eve once had but lost; but then had again when they placed their faith and trust in the promise of a Savior who would make all things new again.

This morning, God wants you to place everything you trust in at the foot of the cross.  He wants you to come empty and return spiritually naked to the waters of your baptism, where He daily clothes you with the righteousness of His own Son, Jesus Christ.  

This morning, God wants you to trust Him with your time, talent, and treasure, so that He can give you the wealth of His kingdom.  In essence, He wants you to enter heaven through the narrow way… Jesus Christ alone.  And to make sure we trust in Christ alone so that a sinner becomes a saint, He speaks Words of forgiveness and assurance to you.

Today, not tomorrow but today, if you are hearing His voice do not harden your hearts but enter into rest.  Turn to Jesus, the Son of God, your Compassionate High Priest.  Grab onto Him and let Him pick you up again and again.  Hold fast to your confession of faith that in Jesus alone you have peace with God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and Earth.  Think about this, you don’t have a High Priest in Jesus Christ who is unable to sympathize with your weakness, but instead you have your Savior and God who was born of the Virgin Mary just as you were born.  He suffered, not just in His death but in this life.  He faced all of the same tragedies and heartaches that you face, but He faced them perfectly, without sin, for you!  For you, He suffered, died, and was buried, FOR YOU, FOR YOU.  Let those words ring in your ears; let them soak into your heart and mind.  Jesus fell down; He let them put Him down, but then by His own power, the power of God He got up!  He got up so that you would trust Him and allow Him to pick you up, again and again, until the final day when He takes you up to your promised rest in paradise.

So be bold and grab onto the promises of God that were first given to you within the waters of your baptism.  Be bold and approach His table of grace where you dine on His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Be bold, believe, and become the saint that Christ picks up.  Boldly believe and become all that God proclaims for you, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Victory in Rejection

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Pentecost 8B
July 15, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” [Ephesians 1:3, 4]

Did you hear that good news!  You dear saints who have gathered here at Trinity Lutheran Church around God’s Word and Sacraments are blessed!  In Christ, or because of Christ you have every spiritual blessing; you have everything that you could ever need to keep you in God’s forgiving and blessing love.  But there is a condition.  You must remain in Him!  In whom?  In the Father’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  How?  By staying in His Word and agreeing with Him in His Word.  What Word is that?  All of it of course, but especially this one simple word… REPENT!

What does repent mean?  

It means turning to God and agreeing with Him.  It means admitting that God is right and you and this whole sinful world are wrong.  It means turning in agreement to God and facing your only hope… Jesus Christ.  Jesus is either your Savior or your judge, and which one He is for you hinges on your repentance or your lack of repentance.  

So the good news, the spreading of the gospel is always flowing from the church’s message of repentance.  That doesn’t sound like a very effective evangelism or outreach program does it?  And because that message is so simple and so abrasive to many, an untold number of books have been written to help the “church” develop an improved outreach program.  Now don’t get me wrong, social programs and strategies that will help make the church active in improving our community are important; they’re important if a congregation wants to be relevant in the eyes of a dying world, but they are not evangelism.  So then, what is?  Well it’s the preaching and sharing of that simple message… repent!  Turn to Jesus and be saved.  Agree with God that you are a sinner and then receive His forgiveness.

As a congregation, we can’t ignore the message of  repentance simply because many feel it’s offensive or divisive.  We can’t water down that Word and replace it with something else that’s more inclusive and attractive.  If we begin to turn away from the message of repentance and water down God’s Word, we will also be separating ourselves from God’s grace; from His forgiving love.  If we cease to speak God’s message of repentance, we will no longer be counting on God’s power and presence to preserve us as a church, but instead we will be trusting in our own resourcefulness.  And if we do that, we will very soon discover how limited our ability really is.  

The truth is, if we choose to agree with the world and not God, we have failed.  But if we fail we can be saved by hearing that same message we had refused to speak… Repent! And when we repent, we will always discover that God’s grace is sufficient for us.  We discover that it’s ok to fail, as long as we keep turning to God in agreement, saying that He is right and we are wrong; that He alone is righteous and we are sinful.  We need Him always and He is with us all the time.

If you recall, last week in our gospel lesson, Jesus sent out His disciples in His own authority.  It was an authority that backed a message, a message that was full of power; power that would never run out, but authority and power that could be rejected.  One simple Word brought the kingdom of God to sinful men and women… repent, and one simple word could refuse God’s forgiveness… NO!

If this Word of repentance was received, those who did not reject it would know God’s forgiving love, but if it was rejected, well then they would be condemned in their sins.  This was a message that was entirely between the  person listening and God.  If it was rejected, they weren’t rejecting the messenger, they were rejecting their God.  

And this was exactly the position that Amos found himself in, in our Old Testament lesson.  

God sent Amos to preach repentance; and God’s message alone is what was rejected, not Amos the messenger.  The fact that the King and Amaziah the priest rejected Amos’ proclamation of repentance was ultimately not Amos’ problem.  Amos was free to live his life as he saw fit.  He could return to tending his sycamore figs and the care of his sheep, just as the disciples of Jesus when they went out and were rejected were free to shake the dust from their feet.

But Amos didn’t go back to his old way of living and the disciples of Jesus didn’t quit going out proclaiming the good news after shaking the dust off of their feet in one village.  They continued to agree with God and speak God’s plan of salvation!  God’s call to repentance remained as valid to them as it ever was.

God’s plan, the only way to eternal life will always be contemporary and relevant because we will always be sinners who need Him.   God will always be the One with the authority and power to send His disciples to preach, teach, and confess His message of repentance and forgiveness of sins through His Son Jesus Christ, Who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

It is Jesus alone who chose us… destined us in love… bestowed on us, lavished upon us, and made known to us the forgiving love of God.  In other words, Jesus alone does all of this for us.  He gives us the gift to fail and then hear God’s Word again as His only means of correction and assurance of forgiveness.  This gift of freedom of both failure and forgiveness depends entirely on Him who first chose us.  His authority is always a resource that never fails. 

This morning, God is asking us to trust in Him alone.  

Amos did, and some sinners heard and were saved.  John the Baptist did, even when he knew that it would cost him his life, and the result was the preparation for ministry of some of Jesus first and greatest disciples .  And we can do it too, if we remember that the entire evangelism process is something that is completely in the hands of the One and only One with Authority.  Jesus alone does the choosing, the empowering, the granting of authority, and the uniting of all things in Him, at the fullness of time!

So now, you may be feeling ready to go out and share your witness and tell your neighbor about God’s forgiving love through His Son Jesus Christ.  You may be ready to see our little congregation grow and grow with other forgiven sinners just like you, and you may be thinking, “So how will we plan for this outreach program, and how can we motivate others to get involved.  And to that God is responding to all of us: Don’t you see how quickly you fell back on yourselves as a resource?  Do you really think that it is your job to motivate others to get involved in building My Kingdom?  Repent!

What is in this little word of repentance? Well everything. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ; the very “message of our salvation.” “The gospel” defines “the Word,” and “our salvation” describes “the truth” of that Word. The Word which deals with the truth, the gospel is that message of Christ’s cross, which saves us from our sins. The Word is, indeed, “the glad message” that has reached our ears through the grace of God. That message says turn from your sins by turning to Christ’s cross where those sins are forever removed from you. It is a message that actually gives you both the power and ability to repent. In the cross of Jesus we have a “Savior” who is able “to save” the world completely. And in the Holy waters of your Baptism, this message of salvation was made entirely yours by the power of the Holy Spirit, for “In connection with Christ you were sealed with the Spirit through the promise of God almighty.”

The truth is that the One with Authority who was able to motivate a country shepherd to confront a corrupt and powerful religious government is still working among us today. And the One who was able to collect and send out a sorry bunch of disciples is able to give us every spiritual blessing that we will need to leave this place of worship and go out into our community, our jobs, our neighborhoods, and even our families and use us to accomplish His perfect will in accordance to His own way and time; He alone will use us “for the praise of His glory.”

Now that may not be the message that you wanted to hear.  No one wants to hear that our mission may seem like a failure and that many will reject the message that we are sent out with.  But remember, there are untold spiritual blessings ahead for those who simply trust and follow Jesus.  And it is my prayer, that as you are being obedient to God’s authority and direction you will share His message with whoever will listen. It is also my prayer that as a result of your obedience to His Word of repentance you will invite them to gather here at Trinity Lutheran Church with us, and that will be how we will begin to see the Word of God grow in our presence.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!  

Were You There?

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

Easter 3B, April 15, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“…and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” [Acts 3:15b]

We are all called to be witnesses to God’s forgiving love in our own lives.  Each one of us is to always be prepared to give our own testimony to why and how Jesus saved us from sin and delivered us into heaven.  We are His ambassadors.  But before we can give a witness we must have a testimony—that then will be the focus of our message this morning…honing our testimony, and we will begin and end our message with this question: Were you there when they crucified your Lord?

In our reading from Acts, Peter confronts a crowd of people in Jerusalem who have gathered in amazement because of a crippled man who is healed.  

They try to acknowledge Peter and John as the source of healing, but Peter will have none of that.  He immediately gives all glory to God and begins one of the most convicting sermons ever preached.  The most intense portion of his message was this: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” [Acts 3:13-15]  

In essence, Peter was saying that they denied Jesus by delivering Him to be crucified, but Barabbas the murderer they chose to give life to instead of the author of life!

Now it is doubtful that there were many people present, if any, listening to Peter’s sermon who were actually there when Jesus was sentenced to death.  Most likely, many of those people knew nothing about Barabbas being granted clemency in exchange for the death of Jesus, and yet Peter insists that they were the ones who delivered Him over to Pilate and asked for the death of the Author of life!  How can this be?  Because it was their sins that Jesus took upon Himself that compelled Him to go to the cross.  While they may not have been physically present the day Jesus was sentenced and executed they knew that the man they once called Messiah was about to be put to death, and they said nothing.  They knew that an innocent man was about to die, and they offered no testimony on His behalf.    They killed the Author of life!

How many times have you turned away from doing what you know is right because it was inconvenient to be a person of faith?  For some here this morning, it may be easier to be politically correct than being faithful to God’s will.  Go along to get along!  Maybe you‘ve learned to follow society’s moral idea of right and wrong rather than what God’s Word says is good and evil?  Or perhaps you’ve chosen a political party or leader over God’s clear will as communicated in His Word? If so, you killed the Author of life!  For others, maybe you know that Jesus suffered, died, and rose for you, but you have never really taken the time to know Him.  You know that His entire gift of grace is for you, but you have never really found the time to live in it!  If so, you killed the author of life!  Maybe you are one of the many that finds yourself vacillating between claiming Him and forgetting Him.  Some days you are thankful for all that He has done for you and on other days, well…you live as if He never did a thing for you.  If so, you killed the author of life!  Or maybe you are one who has truly discovered what it means to be saved by grace, through faith in Christ alone just as the Bible says, but you are terrified to tell others how your relationship with Jesus has saved you.  If so, then you also must realize that you too killed the Author of life!

Dear friends, Peter was painting a bleak picture to the people around him that day and he paints a bleak one for each of us as well—bleak, but not hopeless!  Listen to what he says next: “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” [vs. 17-20a].

Dear friends, if you have been convicted by God’s Word this morning then listen to what Peter says… “I know that you acted in ignorance.”  

Confess your sin and turn to Him who was crucified for you, so that all of your sins may be wiped clean!  Instead of carrying your guilt with you, come to your Savior, the author of life so that times of refreshing, goodness and peace with God can be yours!

It was not by accident that Jesus suffered and died.  We may be ignorant that our sins took Jesus to the cross, but God knew what He was doing.  God knew that He must give Jesus as a lamb for the slaughter, as the sacrifice for the sins of the world.  We act out of ignorance, but God acts in full knowledge with an intent centered in nothing but love for us.  We may be ignorant, lost in our own sins, but thank God that His wisdom and undeserved love for us makes us wise through faith and brings us to salvation.  Through our own wicked sinfulness God brought us His salvation; He gave His Son Jesus to you who took away your own guilt as He took away the sins of the world!  

Is this good news?  If so, then repent!  Turn away from your sinfulness so that “times of refreshing may come from God!  The suffering, worry, and fear are over the battle is won!  Alleluia!  Turn from sins that so easily trap you and turn to your redeemer, your savior, the Author of life, Jesus Christ.  This is what St. John meant when he wrote in our Epistle lesson that, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” [1 Jn. 3:6]  How do you keep from falling into sin?  Only by turning away from a sinful life and turning to Jesus!  How do you know that you are walking with Jesus and not following the ways of the devil and the world?  Because you practice what is right.  You look to Jesus alone as your way to please God and you hold on to the very things He’s given to you so that you will not lose hope!  You claim your baptism as His promise that He will never leave you or forsake you, and when you do sin, His Holy Spirit pains your heart to confess your sin to Him and then by the very same Spirit He gives you faith to know that you are forgiven.  How long will God put up with your sinfulness?  As long as you continue to turn to Him and be saved and recreated into His image and will for you. 

This dear friends is exactly the relationship that God desires and it is exactly the relationship He creates and sustains within us as we abide in Him.  It is the relationship of a Father and His children.  Now there are other types of relationships that this world likes to show off.  They are relationships where one gives as much as another; relationships like husband and wife, friend and friend.  But in our relationship with God it is entirely one sided…He gives and we only receive in gratitude.  And what does He give?  He gives forgiveness, He gives new life… new birth from the darkest death!  And what is our response?  Gratitude!  How do we show our gratitude?  

We show our gratitude by witnessing. 

A. In our gospel lesson, Jesus teaches His disciples and He teaches us how we are to live our lives because of what He has done for us and because of who we now are.  Listen: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.” [Luke 24:45-48]  Friends, Jesus has opened your mind through the gift of faith.  You too can understand scripture.  You too now understand that Christ suffered, died, and rose for you.  If you are living out this truth then you are a good witness.  You too have a testimony to give.

There’s a Christian guy who prayed every morning: “Lord, if you want me to witness to someone today, please give me a sign to show me who it is.” One day he found himself on a bus when a big, burly man sat next to him. The bus was nearly empty but this guy sat next to our praying friend. The timid Christian anxiously waited for his stop so he could get off the bus. But before he could get very nervous about the man next to him, the big guy burst into tears and started weeping. He sobbed with a loud voice, “I need to be saved. I’m a lost sinner and I need the Lord. Can’t somebody tell me how to be saved?” He turned to the Christian and pleaded, “Can you tell me how to be saved?” The believer immediately bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, is this a sign?” 

Are you looking for a “sign” to start witnessing?  Well you have one…the sign of the cross; the cross that saved you and the world.  Who should you tell?  Whoever you know needs to hear the good news.  How should you tell them?  By demonstrating love for God in your own life, and then by explaining why you love Him.  Have you experienced repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus name?  Remember, you can’t witness to something you haven’t experienced!  Were you there when they crucified your Lord?  If you can answer yes, then tell your story!

Jesus Walks With Us!


Sunday, February 18th, 2018

1st Sunday in Lent B, February 18, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org
Genesis 22:1-18, James 1:12-18, Mark 1:9-16

INTRODUCTION: This morning dear friends, God’s Word comes to us in all 3 readings bringing parts of the same message: Repent and believe! As God spoke to Abraham at Mt. Moriah, He also speaks to us: “Take your pride and your joy, along with your fears and worries and offer them to Me as a sacrifice of faith. Do not doubt, but trust my work in your life. Give these things to me so that you may draw closer to me and enter into a relationship of love, the likes of which you have never experienced before!”

I. What is meant by our pride and joy, fear and worry?

A. Well friends, we don’t have to look any further than our present economic and social condition to get an answer to that question. If you let the media and the government control your attitude, you might just become a little confused, afraid, and maybe worried. Questions race through our minds like, “Is my job secure. How will the tax changes effect me? Will this effect how I care for my family? Will my retirement annuity be enough to support me until I die or will I end up being a burden to my children? What about all this violence and this latest school shooting in Broward County, Florida? How can I feel safe, when children aren’t even safe in school?” When these worries and fears begin to control our thinking we may tend to lose our confidence in God’s care and love and look to other things as our source of hope, strength and security.

B. Friends, our source of hope cannot be found in armed guards, President Trump or the Congress, a change in leadership, or the republican tax cuts. If we trust solely in these things we will only be disappointed, and this disappointment will invariably lead us to think and do things that we would normally never dream of. What things? What about being so afraid of violence that we barely leave our homes? How about cutting back on your offering to God because money is tight but continuing your spending on entertainment and non-essential food items and drinks? How about lying on your taxes so that you can get a better return? These and many others, are real temptations that tempt real Christians like you and me.

C. I once heard the story about a so-called Christian woman who claimed that God takes care of her by bringing law suits her way. If her coffee is too hot and she burns her mouth she sues. If the floor is slippery in a store, she claims that she twisted her ankle and she sues. If she is visiting a friend’s house and their dog jumps on her to greet her with a kiss, she sues! Why? Well it’s because she says that they are all better off than she is, and God wants her to be blessed too!

TRANSITION: All of these examples can only be described as sin; sin that separates us from the love of God. What is the solution? The very same solution that Abraham gave to his son Isaac: Believe that “The Lord sees and will provide!” Friends, don’t trust in anyone or anything for hope but God alone.

II. When testing and temptation come, we must learn to draw closer to God.

A. Now for some, this is much easier to say than to do. It can be so tempting to take matters into your own hands and find an immediate solution to your problem. For others, you might not want to hand your problems over to God because maybe you blame Him for letting things get so out of control. Dear friends, please hear me, this is precisely the time you must turn to God by faith and trust in His promise; a promise that says that “for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.” [Rom. 8:28] To this we might say, “But why then if God sees what I’m going through, and if He loves me so much, why is He allowing these things to happen to me? Doesn’t He know I am hurting and in need? Doesn’t He love me enough to help me?”

B. Yes friend God sees and knows your hurting and in need, and He hasn’t left your side for a moment, and that’s precisely the point. That’s why you should not be afraid. He’s with you and He’s teaching you to go through the tough times with Him so that you will learn to stick to Him, trust Him, and experience His great love for you.

TRANSITION: Now someone might ask, “How can I experience His love and concern when everything seems so dark and hopeless?” The answer dear friends can only be learned through Jesus Christ!

III. Jesus is God’s assurance that we will be protected from all of life’s hardships and He is our assurance that nothing can ever separate us from God’s eternal love, presence, and care!

A. God teaches us these truths through His Word, which when heard and read creates and strengthens our faith, and then in-turn creates and strengthens our love for God and our reliance on His care for us. You see, love for God and trust in His care is really the result of our faith. The Lord’s promises to you are intended to stimulate your love for Him; it is God’s love that assures you that He will never leave or forsake you because you love Him. He delights in giving you the crown of eternal life. Just as your faith strengthens you when you are under trials, so also does your love for Him who first loved you and died to save you.

B. Now all of this being true, someone might ask, “But why then does God choose trials and testings when He knows I will be tempted and fall into sin?” And to this, our Epistle lesson answers, “Let no one when tempted say: “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by (their) own desire.” [James 1:13-14]

C. How many here remember that old 70’s T.V. show Hee-Haw? In one skit, old Doc Campbell is confronted by a patient who says he broke his arm in two places, to which the doc replies, “Well then stay out of them two places!” The point is, we can’t regularly put ourselves in the face of temptation and not be affected. You can’t pray “Lead us not into temptation” and then go right in! God did not lead you there, you did, and this is the test. Will you follow God’s leading our your own selfish desires and lust. Scripture says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” [James 4:8] How do you resist the devil? Repent! Turn away from your sinful desires and thoughts and turn to Jesus.
Turn to Jesus as your source of strength during times of testing. Turn to Jesus as your shield in times of temptation. And when you fail and fall into sin, and you will fail, turn to Jesus as your source of repentance, forgiveness, and faith.

D. Now I can’t close this message without addressing one last question from our assigned readings this morning, and it is this: Why was Jesus baptized? Wasn’t he perfect? Yes friends, Jesus was perfect and He was baptized in order to fulfill all God’s righteous demands on us. How did He do this? By walking the slow and painful course that ended in His bloody death upon the cross. His walk started at the banks of the Jordan River where He received John’s baptism of repentance for your sins. It was your sins, which were loaded upon Him that moved the Holy Spirit to drive Him into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days by the devil. There he withstood every temptation imaginable and He defeated every attack that Satan threw at Him. And when He had defeated that prince of evil, He put Him on notice that each of you had a new champion that fights for you, and His name is Jesus Christ the Holy Son of God, and wherever you go, He goes with you! But His walk did not end in the wilderness; no, His final battle with sin, death, and the devil would take Him to Golgotha, where He suffered and died for you! Why? So that you might realize that where ever you go, Jesus walks with you, allowing you to experience God’s love for you through the hearing of His Word of life, which then continually moves you to repent, believe and receive eternal life…and that through this gift of eternal life you might choose to live your life here abundantly, without fear or worry.

CONCLUSION: May God the Holy Spirit move each of our hearts by faith to know that all of these good things from our Heavenly Father are ours eternally through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior…AMEN!

Do You Know Who He Is?

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

4th Sunday in Epiphany B, January 28, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

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“The Lord Your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen”. [Deuteronomy 18:15]

Ask ten different people who Jesus is and you’ll most likely get ten different answers. Some will tell you that He’s their higher power. Some will say that He’s their source of peace. Some will answer, it’s not who He is but who He was as an historical figure that matters. I think one of the funniest answers became popular in the early 90’s on bumper stickers: “Jesus is my co-pilot.” And then several years later, another bumper sticker declared: “If Jesus is your co-pilot, move over.” And from that bumper sticker came the ever popular country song, “Jesus Take the Wheel”.

Do you know who He is… do you know who He really is? He is the one that God raised up, a prophet like Moses from among the Hebrews, and it is to Him we must listen! And what’s His message? Well, it’s a new message with authority and power; a message that’s clear, and concise; a message that drives out demons with a single Word.

Can you imagine being in that synagogue in Capernaum when Jesus taught his simple message of repentance and forgiveness.

While He was declaring that the kingdom of God was at hand it broke out right before them in power! Everyone was astonished at His teaching, because it was new and it had authority. It was new because it declared God’s forgiving love for repentant sinners. And it had authority because it had the power to drive out demons. “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit (a demon). And he cried out, “What have you do to with us, Jesus of Nazareth! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” And what did Jesus do? With authority and power, He commanded the demon to shut up and leave the poor man. And immediately the demon did exactly as Jesus commanded him!

I wonder how many people there that day knew who Jesus really was? They should have known, because what they went out and told others, were the very words that were prophesied long ago. They said that what they heard and witnessed was “a new teaching with authority!” But prophecy can be a tricky thing. As the Chinese wise man once said, “It’s very difficult to prophesy, especially about the future!”

In a sense, prophecy is a little like space travel. We’ve learned a lot about our past and gained insight about the future of our world by going into space and looking down on our earth. We’ve learned about weather patterns, location of past and present oil and other natural resources, and we’ve even learned a lot about how our climate is changing. In a sense, we’ve learned things we never could have until we were given the proper perspective. And in a similar way, prophecy takes us out of the limitations of our current perspective and allows us to take on the big picture. And that’s what God was doing through Moses when He promised that a new prophet was coming, a prophet that would speak a new Word from God!

Why did the people need a new message?

Well, because they just weren’t getting the old one. When God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses, He was speaking something about His own nature. He was speaking in Spirit and in truth. He was teaching them that He alone was holy, perfect, and righteous, and His people must become the same. How? By hearing God’s Word in spirit and in truth. They had to first be honest with God and then themselves; they had to confess that they couldn’t be as God commanded them to be without His divine help. Soon, God’s sinful people realized this very truth. In Exodus 19, they cried out to Moses: “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

And yet God must speak and they must listen, because it’s only through His Word that forgiveness and new life can come to sinful men and women. But why must God’s Word make us afraid of Him? Because our fear forces us to see and deal with our own sin. That is always the primary purpose of God’s law. But our sinful nature tries to twist the purpose of His law to fit our sinful desires.

So at first we might try to ignore our sins, which the law shows us, or maybe down-play them. We might incorrectly see the law as a self-help tool and say, “Finally, some teaching I can sink my teeth into.” But this kind of approach to God’s Word lacks spirit and truth; it stops us from realizing just how perfect God is and how sinful we are! So God’s law like a great spotlight keeps shinning His truth into our sinful lives until we realize that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will always fall short of the demands of His Law. After we fail over and over again to be perfectly good, it’s God’s will that we’ll finally arrive at this frightening conclusion: There is no hope for me unless God is the one who brings it to me.

Now the devils don’t want us to hear this new Word from God, so they work very hard to replace His new Word with a different message, a false gospel. This is where false prophets come in. Led by the devils and their own sinful pride, they teach that a happy life, a life that pleases God is possible if we just keep working at it. These false teachers have an assorted array of “easy steps” that we can follow which will ensure happiness and peace with God and our fellow man if we just keep working the plan. They will gladly share their new message with melodious voices and a big smile on their face. They claim to have all kinds of messages that are sure to give your life meaning and make you feel complete! They have a plan for a healthy marriage, a promising career, obedient children, and just about everything else you could ever want, it’s all yours if you will just follow their “easy steps.” The only problem with that teaching is that it never gets rid of the one obstacle that stands in our way… our own sin and our lack of spirit and truth!

I’m afraid that this teaching of techniques only gives us false hope from an eternal perspective. And these steps prophets are new prophets alright, but they are not the ones that Moses prophesied about long ago. These step prophets are false prophets because they bring false hope that always leads to suffering and eternal death. Why? Because their teachings aren’t centered in repentance and forgiveness of sins, but on the ingenuity of other fallen men and women. And if you aren’t careful, these false prophets will have you traveling with them to a new paradise of their own making, in a foreign land, gathered around cyanide-laced Kool Aid. “Drink of it, all of you,” they say, “and you will find a beautiful death” that is until you wake up in hell!”

So how are we to know the true message of God?

Well how did the people of Capernaum know it when they heard Jesus speaking? They knew it because not only was it different than the law centered message that Moses gave, but it came with power and authority. What power? The power to forgive sins and the promise to make everyone who received it right with God! What was the authority? Well, the type of authority that sets the captives free! Free from what?
Well, Jesus answered that when the demon was cast out. Coupled with the greater promise of forgiveness of sins, they knew, and we can know also that in Jesus, God was giving them not just a new message, but the only prophet who can provide complete victory over sin, death, and the devil!

So, while we must still hear what Moses and the Law of God have to say, we must then let the Spirit of God move us from a message of death to a message of life! It’s this new message alone that will be our only source of hope and power in this life and the life to come! This new message is of course the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the only message that God’s prophets are to speak unto eternal life. It isn’t a message of steps or strategies, but a message of forgiveness and hope. It is the Words of Jesus and His true prophets.

Listen to some of this hope and let it’s message breath new life into you: “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven”” (Luke 10:20) This is a message of certainty that those who hear Jesus Words and believe them are saved from their sins. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Cor. 6:11] And Peter declares this message to Christians scattered throughout the world: “You were like sheep going astray; but you are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [1 Pet. 2:25] Likewise, John speaks this Word of hope and peace to the church: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is.” [1 John 3:2] Nowhere in God’s Word do you find the prophets creating the perception that salvation can be found by following a series of strategies or steps. Instead, the consistent message is that this new prophet that Moses promised would come has come, and He alone makes us right with God through His Work and teaching of forgiveness of sins.

This new teaching, the good news about forgiveness of sins is a simple one. The Kingdom of God is here through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Fully God, yet born of a woman so that we can call Him brother, He was sent by the Father to save you from the evil presence of the devil; He was born to die upon the cross for you. He was born to suffer at the hands of sinful men so that by His stripes, His suffering and death you might be free forever from your fears concerning your own death and the sin that separates you from the love of God; so it’s stripes, not steps that bring you an eternal and abundant life!

What is the abundant and eternal life?

It is freedom from not just your sins and physical death, but also the devil! Jesus has come to set the captives free! By a Word of command He silenced the devil that day in Capernaum, and with that same power, He proclaims that in your baptism, your old sinful nature along with the Devil has been destroyed. Through your baptism, He casts out all things demonic and pronounces you clean.

This morning I proclaim to you that there is one stronger than the devil and your own sinful flesh that is with you this very moment. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living and faithful God, and where He is eternally, you shall one day join Him, because He has washed you clean; forgiven all of your sins. He has given you freedom from your old sinful nature, victory over the devils, and peace and joy with your Heavenly Father. That is who Jesus really is.

The demon in our gospel reading knew who Jesus was and he identified Him immediately as the Holy One of God. The people who saw and heard everything that day stood in amazement. They knew that they had heard and seen things that were new and powerful; they knew they had witnessed the authority and power of God in action.

It is my prayer that you will know these things also, and that you will, like the people in that Capernaum synagogue, leave here and at once spread the good news about who Jesus Christ really is, and what that means for the people in our community. I pray that you will tell them about a holy and perfect God who cannot tolerate sin, but made a way out of it, so that they could be free of not just sin, but also shame, addictions, and death. I pray that you will be enabled by God to declare to your neighbors that Jesus is the only way to God’s forgiving love. Tell them, and then invite them to come to church with you and see for themselves. I ask this in Jesus name, AMEN!

Sunday, January 21st, 2018
3rd Sunday in Epiphany B, January 21, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Mark 11:4-20

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“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” [Mark 1:15]

What does a traveling preacher with a divine call and one of the most sinful cities known to man have in common? Both were separated from God because of their sins, and both heard God’s invitation to turn to Him for forgiveness and faith, and they did; both are examples of repentance!

Many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah.

God ordered him to go to one of Israel’s arch enemies and announce the need to repent or be destroyed. Jonah threw a fit; he didn’t want them to repent, he wanted them to be destroyed, so he booked passage on the nearest freight ship intending to get as far away from Nineveh as possible. Why? Because he knew the LORD “is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” In other words, he knew that if his enemy repented God would even love and forgive them! Isn’t that something? At the expense of his own salvation, Jonah refused to play a part in bringing salvation to an entire city.

Well, eventually Jonah did repent, but it took the help of an angry boat crew who threw him overboard and the God directed presence of a big fish or whale, that swallowed him and safely spit him up at the shores of the very place he was trying to run from… Nineveh! Through God’s work in the circumstances of Jonah’s life, Jonah was put back on course for Nineveh and salvation; he returned to the call and will of God.

Now if you think that was miraculous, what about the entire city of Nineveh repenting? That’s huge! Christians throughout our nation have been praying for that to happen right here in the good old US of A, and well, it hasn’t happened yet! Abortion is still legal, even though God say’s it is an evil abomination. So if we as a nation haven’t repented yet, then what happened to save Nineveh? Well, it was the very same thing that caused Jonah to repent; the Word and work of God.

The people of Nineveh heard the Word of God, both the law and the gospel. The law was the Word of truth that the Living God was angry with their sin and about to destroy their entire city. The gospel was the truth that this same living God was giving them 40 days to repent, to turn and confess their sinfulness and receive mercy and forgiveness. Through both the law and the gospel, God created faith in a city full of faithless hearts. In the darkness of sin, He created a city of light! Could that happen in this country? Could we ever repent of the sin of abortion? Yes, but only through the work of God causing us to repent and turn to His forgiving love!

So what is repentance?

Really it’s a person’s pain over their sins and a turning of faith to a God who will show mercy and forgiveness. It’s realizing that everything that you’ve done apart from God and faith in Him, is nothing but evil and darkness. Everything?! Yes, everything! God’s Word confirms it, listen: “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one!” [Romans 3:10—12]

Do you understand what that means? It means that no matter how hard you try to change your life, to become a better person, you will never succeed in pleasing God! Why? Because God can see into your heart; he knows that whatever you do or try to do will be self-serving; that is you will only be trying to save your own skin! Just as it didn’t matter if the whole city of Nineveh voted and decided to take care of the poor with their vast amount of wealth, God was still going to destroy not just the city but everyone who lived in it! Even if they decided to never make war again, and even if they freed every one of the slaves from every country they ever conquered, God was going to destroy them, unless… unless they confessed that they deserved His punishment and acknowledged that the true and Living God was the only one who could save them.

But this work of repentance, this one work that was pleasing to God was impossible for them to do, unless… unless God desired it to happen. And here is the miracle, God did desire that very thing, so he created faith in the hearts of all of those sinful people through the preaching of Jonah; He created faith so they could see the truth about their sins and turn to the LORD who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. When they turned to God’s forgiving heart He relented from bringing down punishment for their many sins.

Now, there are some here this morning who are in the very same predicament as the people of Nineveh.

You’ve been living a lie; you’ve been telling yourself that if you try real hard to live a good life, God will see that and help you to be better. But like I said, that’s a lie. You have to see, like the people of Nineveh had to see that you can’t do better; you can never get rid of all of the evil that is in your heart. You can’t erase all of the sins you’ve committed and you can’t prevent the sins you’re going to commit. So what are you going to do? Nothing but the only good work that God counts as righteous; you must by faith turn to God and confess that He is right and you are wrong. You must call out to God for mercy and pardon and do what He tells you!

And that friends is the obstacle you can never overcome unless God wills it; unless He creates faith within your heart to see this narrow doorway into His kingdom of forgiveness and peace. It’s like the little boy who got His hand stuck in His mother’s expensive vase. His parents tried everything to free him; they tried soap, cooking oil, lard, even engine grease, but nothing worked. Reluctantly, the father went to the garage to get a hammer to break this expensive vase. It was then, when the boy asked one simple question that changed everything: “Dad, would it help if I let go of the quarter I dropped into the vase?”

And that is what some of you need to do this morning. You need to let go of your own efforts to please God and do the one and only thing that will please God… you must trust Him. You need to hear Him speaking to you this morning and let go of the ways of this sinful world and turn to His forgiving heart and be freed, changed, forgiven, and loved! You need to agree with God that you can’t change yourself, and that your only hope is for you to allow Him to change you!

In our gospel lesson this morning, God’s only means of salvation is made to stand right in front of us and speak the only Word’s that will make us right with God!

“The time is fulfilled” Jesus said, “and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” What time is he speaking of? The time when God will bring both judgment and salvation. The time that everyone, including the evil city of Nineveh was waiting for… the time of God’s final work; God’s solution to sin. It is the time to repent and believe. Believe in what? Well, the better question is: Believe in Who? You see the what and the who are the very same thing. Believe in the good news of God’s forgiving love; believe in the Living Word of God Who is telling you that through Him alone, God will forgive you and save you from your many sins! Believe in Jesus Christ!

As Jesus spoke to the people in Galilee, He not only proclaimed God’s forgiveness, He demonstrated it. Standing before them was God in human flesh; their only means of forgiveness and salvation. What must they do to be saved? The very same thing we must do; hear the Words of eternal life and receive them. Repent and believe. Even now, God is working within our hearts to provide faith, faith to receive this message and live. Jesus is inviting you to let go of your past and to receive your future.

Listen to this poem by Theodore Brennan and see if it doesn’t describe your life and your heart as well: “I looked upon a farm one day, that once I use to own; The barn had fallen to the ground, the fields were overgrown. The house in which my children grew, where we had lived for years—I turned to see it broken down, and brushed aside the tears. I looked upon my soul that day to find it too had grown, with thorns and nettles everywhere, the seed(s) neglect had sown. The years had passed while I had cared for things of lesser worth; the things of Heaven I let go while minding things of earth. To Christ I turned with bitter tears, and cried, “O Lord forgive! I haven’t much time left for Thee, not many years to live. The wasted years forever gone, the days I can’t recall; if I could live those days again, I’d make Him Lord of all!”

Friends, if that is how you feel, then God is working a mighty work in your heart right now. That pain you feel over your wasted life, your sinful life is called contrition. Now the only thing left for you to do is hear God’s gospel Word and receive His forgiveness. You are forgiven! Leave those feelings of regret behind and turn to Jesus Christ and live. You see, it’s not about what you feel, or even how you felt in the past, instead it’s about what God says to you now… you are forgiven through Jesus Christ!

You know, we’re all a lot like Jonah when you think about it. We have been forgiven and loved by God. We’ve been washed clean in the waters of our baptism, and yet we can get caught up in our own anger and disappointments to the point where we can no longer see Jesus upon the cross crucified for us. We can sometimes get to a place where we no longer see the miraculous life giving work God did for us in our baptism.

And now, here is Jesus standing before us in His Word, saying to even we life-long Christians, “Repent and believe.” Put to death that old angry and sinful nature that was drowned in your baptism and turn to God’s forgiving love; a love which can only be yours by turning to Jesus. That was the only work that the people of Nineveh could do that pleased God and it is the only work that we as Christians can do.

When you let go of how you feel, and grab onto Jesus and His Word and believe that He alone is your source of hope and salvation, something amazing begins to happen… you begin to change. The good things that you use to wish you could do but failed become the very things you can do. And as you do these good things, God begins to give you right feelings to replace your old feelings of guilt, anger, and disappointment. He gives you a feeling of peace and satisfaction, as you realize that it isn’t you doing these good things, but God doing them in you and through you! That’s the message that saved all of Nineveh from their sins, it’s the message that’s saving you, and it’s the message that can save even our great nation from the sins of abortion and many others. All it takes is turning to God in repentance and receiving His forgiving love as we forget the sins of the past and embrace God’s will.

So you see, it really isn’t about what you feel, but it’s about what you know. And what is it that you know? In God there is forgiveness; there is new life when you receive Jesus’ work upon the cross, His suffering, death, and resurrection, as your only source of hope and peace in this life and the life to come. I pray that you will hear Jesus message of repentance and not just believe it but share it with your neighbors. I pray that you will let this forgiveness of God cause you to be salt and light, as you continue to speak the things of God even to your elected officials, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!