Posts Tagged ‘Repentance’

Is Salvation a Work of God Or Not?

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

Sevententh Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 30th, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” [Ezekiel 18:2]

Another way of saying that is, “How dare you say that God is not a just God.” Have you ever found yourself questioning God; accusing Him of allowing things to happen that were not fair towards you or your family? That was the situation that surrounded Our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 18:1–4, 25–32), which is essentially a conversation between God and His children of faith, the nation Judah, through the prophet Ezekiel. They were the last remnant of Israel, and they were being led out to Babylon and into captivity. And as they were saying goodbye to their old lives, they were accusing God of punishing them for the sins of their Fathers; the national sins of the past. In essence, the people were accusing God of being unfair. Behind their complaint was the idea they were not as guilty as their fathers had been and didn’t deserve being exiled into Babylon. By quoting that proverb, they meant to say: “Our fathers sinned and the children have to suffer the consequences.”

So, in the words of Michael Turko (an investigative TV reporter in San Diego, CA), “It ain’t right!” But God will not let this accusation of being unjust or unfair, go unanswered. Listen…

“As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” [Vs. 3,4]

I think we tend to forget that the wages or payment for sin is death. But we like to measure or quantify sins don’t we? Don’t we like to think that a little sin is not as bad as a lot of sin? You know how we think: There’s big sins and then there’s my sins!

Don’t we like to think that our sins aren’t nearly as bad as say the sins of an extremist group like ISIS? Ok, that’s a little extreme so let me give you a somewhat easier example of how we play with this idea of grading sins, and how we affix blame to other people’s sins.

On December 11, 2008, Bernard Madoff was arrested by FBI agents and charged with one of the most devastating violations of Security Fraud ever committed against numerous financial agencies; it left thousands of investors broke, and it was the beginning of the great recession, which we are only now beginning to rise out of. In a kind of ripple effect, bad mortgage loans have been foreclosed and are still being foreclosed today and home loans are harder to come by, thus restricting access to the American middle class dream of home ownership. So, in a sense, our teeth are set at edged because of the sins of Bernie Madoff. We don’t have a problem with Bernie paying for his sin, but it doesn’t seem fair that nearly ten years later, we are still paying for his and other peoples greed.

Did God allow Bernie Madoff to commit that great crime? Yes. Did God cause Bernie Madoff or anyone else who commits a crime, to sin? No, but God does punish sin. That punishment will come in eternity and there is no reprieve once it has been instituted. But while sinners wait for that eternal penalty, or judgment of sin, we all suffer the temporary repercussions of that sin within the world that we live in. Scripture makes it clear that these temporary discomforts caused by our sin or other peoples sins are nothing in comparison to the eternal punishment that awaits all unrepentant sinners!

So what is the solution? Is there a way out of this mess we call sin, or are we bound to it and it’s inevitable conclusion, like the collision of a train plowing through a vehicle stuck on the tracks? Well, in verses 30 through 32, God gives us not only hope, but a solution to our sin problem. Listen…

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” [Vs. 30-32]

Now O Christians you stand before a righteous judge; the Judge who knows your every sin; nothing is hidden from Him. He has shown you that by your sin, through every sin, you are guilty of breaking the very first commandment. You love yourself more than you love God. You have made your own desires the master of your soul. And our Righteous God, our Creator judges you guilty and worthy of an eternal sentence of suffering and death. How do you plea? You must be honest if you hope for any leniency! If you plead guilty, then listen to your only hope. “Repent O Christian. God does not desire the death of anyone, let alone one who has been purchased by the lifeblood of His Only Begotten Son!”

You see friends, Christianity is not a movement, an organization, or an attitude. It is a relationship between God and an individual person, and it’s based on your faith in God’s only provision of mercy, Jesus Christ the Savior from sin. God is asking each of you to respond to what the Lord has given you in Christ, and then daily ask Him to help you live a life that reflects the righteousness that Jesus has given you. And so It becomes true, the righteous man “lives,” that is, he exists and will continue to do so under the blessings of God.

To attempt to base our relationships with God on ourselves without Jesus is to tell God that we think Christ’s work is neither necessary nor beneficial. Such a misguided life can take any track it wants, but it is always headed away from the Lord and his blessings and waiting for the inevitable collision with eternal judgment. But there is a solution to this sinful life style, and it is one of repentance and baptism.

How you live out this new baptismal life will depend on how you answer this next question. Is baptism a work of God or man? Is salvation a gift from God or is it something you earn?

This is in essence the question that was set before the Pharisees in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 21:23-32) and it is the question set before every Christian today.

How you answer this question will not only effect how you live your life today but even how you spend your eternity. Let me ask that question in another way, “Do you want to risk your eternity on your own efforts, trying to outweigh your sins with your own “good deeds”, like some kind of ponzie scheme, or do you want to take God’s promises by faith and rest in and trust them alone?

You see friends, Baptism isn’t simply a custom of the church, but rather its a divine ordinance, the only way that God has provided so that sinners can be saved from their sins, and it stands in force until the Last Day. It is for all people no matter how early or late in life they embrace this wonderful means of grace. It is equal to the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of God’s Word. Jesus made them equal in force and power with His command: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” [Matt. 28:19–20)

As God’s solution to sin and His means of allowing us to stand before Him and be pardoned and given a new life in Christ, He has protected this holy washing of water and His Word and ensured that Christ’s church would continue this sacrament, which Jesus instituted before He ascended into heaven. Since the day of Pentecost, we hear of this Holy Sacrament being offered to sinners who desired to be saved from their sins. Listen to Peter’s proclaimed solution to the people’s sin: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Dear Christian friends, above all else that you hear today, please remember this, Baptism is a means of grace.

It is God’s means of removing your old sinful identity and replacing it with the perfect identity of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. It creates faith in God who comes to you with His solution to your sin, which is the suffering and death of His Son upon the cross for the sins of the world. In other words, Baptism is God’s means of making you sinless and exempt from both the judgment and the punishment you deserve for your many sins. Or as the Apostle Peter declared “Baptism… now saves you also.” [1 Peter 3:2]

In your baptism, God put your sinful nature to death, by joining it in Baptism to Christ’s death. He buried that old nature in Christ’s tomb, the only place where He no longer looks. And then, miracle of miracles, He raises you up to new life as his child. Your old self is crucified in Baptism by God’s Word, and in this death that Christ shares with you, you die to sin every day as you continue to hear that same Word, and are set free from the punishment of your many sins. So, through your baptismal death and resurrection, you have been given new life. [Rom. 8:17]

So I ask you, is God fair? Do you prefer His means of grace, His way of dealing with the sins of the world, even your sins, or do you prefer that He punish all people according to their sins? If you prefer the way of His grace, then can you see baptism as His means of grace? Do you see it as a mystery or sacrament of His love for sinners or do you prefer to earn your forgiveness and work for your salvation? In essence, “Is Baptism a work of God or a work of man?” May God give you faith to see the answer clearly as you ponder the mystery and work of His Son Jesus Christ within His church and indeed, within your very life… AMEN!

What Are You Seeking?

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 24th, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” [Isaiah 55:6]

The title of our message this morning is a question; it is a question from God! What is it that you are seeking? Why did you come here? Are you here for the one thing you really need… forgiveness, or are you here for other reasons?

One of the biggest hurdles to faith that I encounter as a pastor is a person’s lack of forgiveness; either they feel that God won’t forgive them or they can’t forgive someone else.

Really, the two issues are just different sides of the same coin, because they represent a heart that won’t let God change it. Let me give you a general conversation I’ve had with many people: “Why don’t you feel God loves you?” Well, I did something a long time ago that I never dealt with and now that I’m older, well… I think it’s just too late! “Why do you think that?” I don’t know really, I just feel that its true!

At this point, my job is simply to assure them with scripture that God’s call to come to Him, to seek His love and forgiveness is really for them and it’s a lifelong process. As long as we keep coming and seeking Him, He keeps forgiving. Listen to the words of King David as He confirms this same truth in a very personal and experiential way: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” [Psalm 32:3-5]

This morning we come to God, we come to His Church seeking His forgiveness within His Word and Sacraments, and miracle upon miracle, He keeps forgiving us! Our response to this is simply falling down at the foot of the cross in a spirit of worship. And as we worship we hear God’s still soft voice assure us that we are changed, but we are changed with a purpose. We are changed to serve Him and reflect His love and forgiveness to others.

Before we seek forgiveness we must first see a need to be forgiven, and the only way we can see this is if we come to God in His Word.

In His Word we hear first that we are sinful and unclean. That means that as we are, God won’t love us! When we see this truth and admit it, it does something terrible but wonderful in our hearts and minds… it destroys us! God’s Law takes away any hope we have in knowing happiness and peace and it assures us that no matter what we try to do to remove our feeling of guilt, it will never work! But then the call of the gospel comes to us and reminds us that God not only will forgive us but He has forgiven us; all God asks us to do is simply agree with His Word that we are sinners in both what we’ve done and what we have left undone. If we can admit this then He gives us ears of faith to hear the gospel…

You are forgiven! Let those words of God sink in; understand what they really mean. And then, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon!” [Isaiah 55:7] This is God’s call to each of us to turn to the only way He has opened in order to be right with Him… and that way is through the cross of Jesus! We must turn to Jesus alone for God’s assurance that all of our sins are paid for… forgiven… covered with the blood of God’s Lamb of Sacrifice, Jesus Christ.

In both the Law and Gospel of God we are taught that sin is real and it needs to be dealt with. Either God covers it or we cover it up! And there’s a big difference between the two. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Nothing is ever settled until it’s settled right.” When the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes our only source of peace and happiness, well a true joy comes over us, because we know when God covers our sin, it’s settled forever!

So what is the reason God wants us to come to His church? For His Divine Service! We come to receive God’s work of forgiveness. And when we receive this work, this gift of forgiveness, all we can do is simply fall down at the feet of Jesus and worship Him as our Savior and God! So are you here for the right reason? Have you dealt with your sin? If not, what is it that you’re waiting for?

The story is told about a farmer who hated the church and his Christian neighbors. When he died he left a will giving all that he had to the devil. The will was contested by his family and the court was forced to make a decision. After several months of deliberation it handed down the following verdict: “It is decided that the best way to carry out the wish of the deceased is to allow the farm to grow weeds, the soil to erode, and the house and barn to rot. In our opinion the best way to leave something to the devil is to do nothing.”

So there is the truth that some here face this morning. To put off allowing God’s Word to change your heart is like willing your soul to the devil! So God is saying that today is the day that you should settle any feelings of abandonment, anger, bitterness, and hate. Today is the day that you should seek His love, because “the Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; He also hears their cry and saves them. [Psalm 145:18, 19] So come to Jesus. Let your desire for forgiveness lead you to seek Jesus; demand Him as your only means of help. Strive after Him and run to His cross. Let God’s Word move your heart to stretch out your arms of faith toward Him and then embrace Him and cling to Him alone.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 20:1-16) Jesus tells us a story about what God’s Kingdom of Grace, His Kingdom of Forgiveness is like.

In the story He presents two groups of people. The first group of people are the last group to be called to work in God’s Kingdom of Grace. They are real Christians, with real sin that they know must be dealt with by God’s means. They entered the church with no conditions; they simply came for forgiveness and a right relationship with their God; then they gladly worked in His kingdom by sharing the very same thing with the people that were in their lives. The second group of people is the first group that was called to work in God’s Kingdom of Grace. They are phony Christians; lip service Christians who are members of a congregation for reasons other than dealing with their own sin. God’s vineyard simply represents the church, even our own little congregation here. The work that each of us is to perform is that of Kingdom Building, or allowing God to use us to expand His Kingdom throughout our community; it’s the very same work that brought each of us into His Kingdom; it is the work of forgiveness of sins through the Word of God which tells about the Savior of the World Jesus Christ!

The payment, or the denarius is first the privilege of living and working in the church, and second it is an eternity in heaven or hell! One group lives in God’s kingdom but doesn’t really do the work of God’s Kingdom; they are forgiven but they will not forgive as God has forgiven them. They are in the Kingdom simply to receive the recognition and praise that the Kingdom brings to them while they live here on this earth. Long ago they lost sight of their own sin and their need of forgiveness, so asking them to forgive as they have been forgiven is ridiculous. The other group, the true Christians, have been humbled by their sinfulness and the gospel truth, which declares that God not only loves them but forgives them for Christ’s sake; it is their belief in this truth that is forever changing them as it brings them new life and peace with God. And now because they’re changed; because they have peace with God, they share that same forgiveness with whoever God put’s in their path.

When the workers are called together on judgment day, one group is told to enter and receive all the riches of God’s Kingdom as joint heirs with Jesus, the Son of God. The other group, the lip service Christians are told that they’ve been paid in full! They had their entire lives as a gift resting in the church and receiving God’s means of grace. The Word was always speaking to them, but they would not listen; they would not turn to Jesus and God’s means of grace and new birth. So Jesus tells this group that on the judgment day they have received all that they will get. On that terrible Day of Judgment, they will be told to run along; run straight to hell, forever separated from God’s love and kindness.

So which one of these groups do you belong to? Well didn’t we start God’s Divine Service with our confession of sins? Didn’t we hear His Word of forgiveness? Doesn’t He inviting us to His table of mercy; a table where we will eat and drink forgiveness? In these very things God not only gives you assurance that your sins are forgiven but He gives you assurance that you have nothing to fear. How can this be? Well to this question, God answers, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8, 9] Do you believe this? If you are struggling with faith to believe, then God says keep coming to my church; keep hearing my Word and seek me in the person and cross of Jesus Christ. And when you hear that you are forgiven, simply worship me with a thankful heart. And after worship, leave this place changed with a purpose and a mission… give that same Word of forgiveness to all that you meet. May this be the work that God does in each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Kingdom Sowing and Kingdom Reaping

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, July 16, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

Imagine that you are part of a large crowd gathered on the shore of a lake; you’re there to hear Jesus speak and teach about the Kingdom of God. Jesus is seated in a boat that’s tethered to the shore and He begins speaking. You can hear Him clearly, because the water acts as a natural amplifier. As He’s speaking, He notices a farmer scattering seed in a field not far from you, so He points to this activity and says: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grains, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” [Matt. 13:3-9]

This morning we will use our ears to hear a message about the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom of sowing and reaping. This morning we must first see Jesus in this message and then we must see ourselves. Dear friends, this is a message about God and it is message about you! Do not worry if it is a message about your spouse, your children or your neighbor, but for now receive it as a message about only God and you.

This story is about God in this way.

God the Father is the Sower in the story, because it is He alone who gives the seed to the sower and bread to the eater. It is He alone who determines how His Word goes out and what it will accomplish. And it is the Father who promises that His Word will not return to Him empty or void, but it will accomplish His will and His purpose. It will do what He has declared it will do! [Isaiah 55:11]

God the Son is the seed. He is God in our flesh, the very seed of Eve who was promised to come and defeat our true enemies sin, death, and the devil. God the Son Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God that proceeds from the mouth of the Father to accomplish the will of the Father. And what is that will? It is that where sin and death once ruled in the hearts of men, new and eternal life would take its place. Where fear of God’s Angie and wrath once filled the hearts and minds of sinful people, forgiveness and peace with a God of love would take its place!

God the Holy Spirit is the producer of the good and fertile soil; a soil that will produce much grain and good fruit. He does this through the creative work of the Father’s sowing, the fertile seed of the Son who is the Living Word of God, and He does it while driving off the birds that pluck the seed. The birds that try to destroy and stop the will of the Father are the devils. They are a bunch of idiots, because they ignore our Old Testament reading that assures us that God’s Word and His will cannot be prevented.

And now this is where you come in…

You are the soil. At various times our hearts, our lives have been different kinds of soil.

You are the broad path where God’s good seed fell and never took root because you allowed the devil to take that seed. Broad is the way that leads to hell and judgment, but narrow is the path that leads to everlasting life! But you are also the rocky soil, because there have been times when you gladly heard and read the Word, why you even tried to follow it, but as soon as trials and sacrifice became part of your life in Christ, you fell away! But wait, there’s more, because God’s Word isn’t done yet, for you see you are also the ground that is covered in thorns! You need to understand that there have been times in your life when the cares of this world and the temptations of our society have pulled you away from your walk of faith with God; maybe that time is right now?! When that happens, you become guilty of breaking the very first commandment; you leave the Living God in order to chase after an idol that promises happiness of the flesh instead of spiritual and eternal joy.

Now this would be a miserable message if it ended here, but it doesn’t! You see, this has never been about you, it has always been about God, who is not only the Sower and the Seed, but He is also the Creator of the soil, a soil that is your new nature. In your baptism God the Holy Spirit created new and fertile soil within your heart; a heart that used to be deceitful, and full of rocks and thorns. Through the power of His Word, He has spoken new life in you, and you are able to produce heavenly grain and fruit. How can this be?

Well to understand this parable you must receive the mystery that is the Kingdom of God. A mystery which declares that through the work of God, the Kingdom of God exists within you and around you. A mystery that invites you to no longer identify yourself with just the soil, but with the Sower and the Seed.

How does this happen? [Romans 8:12-17]

It happens when we agree with God’s Word, specifically verse 12 of our Epistle lesson, which states that we are debtors. Another way to say this is to say we are beggars. We must agree with God that our true life, or our new and spiritual life exists entirely outside of ourselves; we must agree that without God’s work of Sower and Seed we would be lost in sin and subject to the attacks of the devil, which can only lead to eternal death. We need to agree with God that in order to keep this new eternal life and hold onto the promise of the resurrection we must live to satisfy the spiritual desires of our new nature, and we must also put the sinful flesh to death! We do this when we remember that we are debtors, people who owe our very existence to God the Father who created both our bodies and our new nature, God the Son who redeemed, that is rescued our bodies from the penalty of our many sins, and God the Holy Spirit who is continually remaking us into the image of God and assuring us that no one can interfere with the will of the Father who desires that none shall perish, but all would have eternal life!

You know, in our own community right outside the doors of this sanctuary are thousands of people separated from God, and dying in their sins. God wants us to know that their kind of life style only brings death. But He also wants us to have the same compassion for them that He has demonstrated to us. He wants us to share His message of the kingdom with them, the same message He is giving to us this morning! What’s that message? It’s this: “if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live!” [Romans 8:13] God wants us to explain to our neighbors in word and action, that there is a living that brings only death and there is a dying that brings life, or a dying that continually makes us alive. He wants us to explain to them, that it is only with our spirit then that we can hear God’s Word, agree with that Word, and then follow Him as He daily provides new life. This is what we might call the rhythm of a Kingdom life style. And the beat of that rhythm comes to us only through God’s Word, a Word of Law and Gospel. If they, like us, are living out this rhythm, then they too will become fertile soil, and used in God’s Kingdom of sowing and reaping!

What each of us must remember is that the proper work of God’s Law is to remind us that on our own, we will only encounter sin and separation from God, a separation that leads to eternal death. That’s what God’s law is suppose to do; it’s purpose is to turn us from our sins and into His forgiving love through the cross of Jesus Christ, and there we cry out to Him, “God have mercy on me a miserable sinner!” This is our confession; it’s the cry of a heart that wants to know God’s forgiveness personally! And when this cry of fear and agony is true, then the gospel enters into our heart and speaks life! Where once there was only dead rocky ground, covered with thorns and thistles, suddenly there is new fertile soil that is created through the absolution, the forgiveness of sins. And when a heart that is heavy burdened with sin hears that Jesus Christ through the work of the cross removed that burden so that it may forever have peace with God, it has a new cry; it cries out, “Abba! Father!” “The Spirit (the producer of good soil within our hearts) Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” [Romans 8:14-16] What is it we are heirs to? What have we inherited? Well that is part of the mystery of the Kingdom of God; you see we have inherited all of the treasures of Heaven and one day soon we will be glorified with Him! We have been assured of a place of honor in heaven with Jesus! [Romans 8:17] We have the honor of working alongside of Him as He sows and reaps!

How can we be assured that all of this is ours? By agreeing with God that His Word is true and that His will, which is taught to us in that Word can never be defeated! What is that will? That you would repent, that is turn to Jesus Christ and be saved. How do we turn to Jesus? We turn to Jesus every day when we suffer and die with Him by putting to death our old sinful nature and allowing our new nature that He provided in our baptism to become stronger every day!

I’d like to close with a story about a wise old man who people sought out for answers. One day, a smart-alecky teenager came to him with his hands covering something he was holding. He told the old man that he had a small, newly hatched bird in his hands. He challenged the old man to tell him whether the bird was alive or dead. Of course, he planned on embarrassing the old man; if the old man said the bird was dead, he would simply open his hands to expose a perfectly healthy baby bird. But if he said the bird was alive, then he would crush the bird before opening his hands. Well, the old man was wiser than that young man thought, because this is the answer the old man gave, “The bird is whatever you choose him to be.”

And that’s the way we live in the rhythm of God’s kingdom. Will we die to live with Jesus or will we live for this world, only to die to God’s love? May God continue to help each of us rest in His presence and work within us and around us, and then share that message with our neighbors; I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

On Light and Darkness


Monday, March 27th, 2017

The Fourth Sunday in Lent (A), March 26, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk In The Light!


Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (A),
January 22, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

repentThis morning, we’re allowed to briefly look into the heart of an apostle who is also a pastor. This pastor, the apostle Paul is troubled by some news he’s received. It seems there’s controversy brewing back in the parish over who is the best teacher, or preacher. Some say its Paul himself, others say that it is Paul’s assistant pastor, Pastor Apollos, and others say that it’s Peter. Then there’s another group who is trying to stay out of the whole argument, and they simply say, “I don’t know and I don’t care, I just follow Christ!” Paul now wants them to examine themselves and their faith and see the error, the darkness in what they have started. He wants them to be of one confession of faith, and he wants them to be of one heart and mind, the heart and mind of Jesus Christ; He wants them to walk in the light of the gospel!

Now before we begin to click our collective tongues at this whole mess, let’s see if we too have a need to repent and refocus our lives; let’s see if we to need to simply turn from darkness and walk in light.

If you call yourself a Democrat or Republican Christian, you may have to repent. If you call yourself a poor, middle class, or wealthy Christian you may need to repent! If you only call yourself a Christian around other Christians then friend, you really do need to repent! Now why do you think that any of this really matters? Friends, it matters because the world is watching us; your neighbor is watching you! They want to see if you’re the real thing; they want to know if you’re any better off than they are; they want to know if you really have the power of God unto salvation!

[1 Corinthians 1:10-18] Let’s look at our Epistle lesson a little more deeply to see where God is leading us.

Was Paul angry when he wrote this letter to the church at Corinth? No, I doubt it, but he was concerned. There have always been disagreements among people of faith and there always will be. Paul simply wanted to get everyone back to common ground… he wanted them to go back to the very foundation of their faith, Jesus Christ. If he could get each person’s heart back to what Jesus did equally for each of them, then these other matters, like who is the best preacher, or what political party you vote in become secondary, and may I even say unimportant?

Divisions weren’t anything new in Martin Luther’s day either. Listen to what he said regarding divisions that were created because of his preaching of the gospel: “For the operations of God are not childish or bourgeois or human, but divine and (they exceed) human (understanding).  But you do not seem to see that these tumults and divisions are marching through the world by the counsel and operation of God, and you are afraid lest the heavens should fall.  But I, by the grace of God, see this clearly, because I see other greater troubles in time to come, by comparison with which these present seem no more that the whisper of a breeze or the murmur of a gentle stream.”

What is Luther teaching? He’s teaching the same thing that Paul is teaching and it’s this: Each one of you is saying something different, and that is what will cause divisions. Instead of being different for your own purpose be different for God’s purpose. Instead of preaching opinion to your neighbor, and causing division, preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and let the divisions be between light and dark, good and evil! Speak of Christ crucified!

Now there’s a danger when we share our faith with our neighbor, and Paul wants to be sure that we don’t fall prey to this threat. What is that threat? Friends, it’s the temptation of proclaiming a bloodless gospel, or if you will a cross without the body of Jesus! Why would we do that? Because many people today don’t like to hear about a Savior who died a criminal’s death. They don’t want to hear about a savior who was beaten near death, and executed on a cross. So instead of simply sharing the gospel as it’s found in the pages of the Bible, the temptation is to explain these things with modern ideas, or to just share the moral ideals of our Christian faith.

Then there are those that we will encounter who don’t mind hearing the mysteries about a dying God, who came to us in our flesh and lived the perfect life on our behalf; they enjoy hearing how this God paid the penalty for our sins, but to just leave it there, doesn’t seem fair. This group of people insists that they need to add something to Jesus work upon the cross! So for these challenged individuals, some parts of the church has\ve, in error I will add, come up with little rules and regulations to help sell the message of the cross. These false teachings say things like, “Jesus starts us on the right path with His cross and with our own baptism by giving us His grace, but after that” they say “it’s our responsibility to finish what He started by loving and living a good life!” With this slight of hand, they turn God’s work into the work of sinful men and women!

To both of these groups, Paul is almost shouting at us in vs. 17 and saying, “No! Christ didn’t send me or you to proclaim a gospel that’s centered on eloquent wisdom, the work of sinful man, or in a way that will be more accepting to sinful people! If we do that then the cross that’s saved us will be emptied of its power!”

[Matthew 4:12-25] Now let’s look at our Gospel lesson.

Do you want God’s power in your life? Then look to the cross! What kind of power am I talking about? Well how about this… it’s a power greater than the power that God used to create the entire universe! It’s the power of God unto salvation and we call that power grace! Grace is the undeserved kindness of God; it’s God making you right with Him and not the other way around. Its new birth through the washing of the water and the Word! It’s the power of grace that gives you faith to believe in God’s Word and follow it where ever He leads! It’s the power of the Word which moves you to trust God even when you doubt Him.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus demonstrates that power for us when He calls Simon-Peter and his brother Andrew out into the mission field. If you remember in last week’s gospel reading, Jesus had already spoken the Word of eternal life to them. They were given God’s power of grace and faith unto everlasting life, and now Jesus calls them to learn to use that power to build the Kingdom of God. What was this Word that Jesus spoke to them that was so full of the power of God? It was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [Matt. 4:17-19]

Dear friends, in these Words of Jesus we see two things. First we hear that we must repent. “That seems easy enough” many think, “I must simply quit doing bad things and try my hardest to do good!” But friends, this is a grave and mistaken way of looking at repentance. This type of repentance becomes your work and not the work of Jesus! Do you want to see the work of Jesus? Look to the cross! That is His Work, His work for you! To repent does not mean simply turning away from your sinful life, but rather it means turning to the cross and seeing Jesus suffering and dying for you; to save you. It means clinging to a Savior, to a God who died in your place so that you can know for sure that you are saved!

Now some might say, “Oh that’s just semantics preacher. They both accomplish the same thing!” And to that I say, “NO!” Not at all; you see one way of repenting gives you glory for having the wisdom to know that you are a sinner. It gives you glory for taking the initiative to turn away from your sin. But the other way, the Biblical way to repent is to simply turn to God’s mercy and forgiving love and see Him dying in your place. To turn to Jesus is to know that only through Him can we find life, abundant life! And when we turn to Jesus we also hear Him say, “Follow me!”

Why do we follow Jesus? Because we have heard Him call and invite us through the mighty power of His Word. Why do we follow Jesus? Because His Word has moved us to turn to Him and trust Him. Can you see by the light of God friends that it is God alone who has done this great work of repentance within you and it is God alone who should get the glory! Through the Word of God and His invitation to follow Him we begin to hate our sin, and we are given the power to live a new life—the life of holiness. Through the power of God unto salvation we are not only forgiven but we are changed.

Let’s close our message with a story that will bring all of this message together.

The story is told of a former cocaine addict who met up with a bunch of his former friends. They were shocked that he became a “goodie two shoes” Christian, so they began belittling him. “Man, you use to be so sensible! How can you believe in miracles like Jesus turning water into wine?” The man responded by showing the evidence of his own changed life: “Whether you believe that Jesus turned water into wine I’ll leave up to you, but I know that in my home He’s turned crack into furniture and food and clothes for my wife and kids!”

Yes, the Word of God often does seem like folly to our unsaved neighbors, family, and friends, but to us who have been saved by seeing Jesus’ cross as our only means of salvation, it is God’s mighty power! It is a mighty power that is always changing us and demonstrating His saving love and just how real He is! Through the Christian artist the world is shown that Jesus and His cross are the source of all beauty. Through the Christian musician they discover melodies that even the angels can’t sing. Through the Christian builder, the world is shown that Jesus is the sure foundation. In the service of the Christian baker, the world is shown that the church, which is Christ’s body is the one true loaf. Through the Christian doctor, the world learns that Jesus is the great physician. Because of the Christian geologist, the world learns that Jesus is the Rock of Ages. In the love and care of a Christian parent, Jesus is pointed to as the way for the world to know the true Father. And when each of us is living our calling through Jesus Christ, the sinner learns that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And for we who make up the Christian church, together we declare that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, our great savior who calls each of us to follow Him to His cross by living out our own cross of service and suffering for our neighbor and together building the Kingdom of God.

I pray that you will continue to follow this call to walk in the light of the Gospel and in that light, find your vocation as a way to be a fisher of men. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

On Being Made Righteous


Monday, August 8th, 2016

Eleventh Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 7th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  [Luke 18:14]

This is the verdict in regards to the no good tax collector, who for the Jews was the epitome of a sinner; he was considered a traitor to his people, because he worked for the evil Roman Empire.  This tax collector had been in the temple along with the self-righteous and confident Pharisee, the ultimate church goer.  We should note that the Pharisees had the same view of people and morality as many hard-working, idealistic, and socially responsible people have today.  They believed that there is a moral law that people are expected to live up to.  They believe that if you’ve done the best you can, the best you know how, you won’t fail in pleasing God, or another way of saying that is you wont become a lost sinner.

But according to the Bible this is simply a way to deceive ourselves.  It is a way that makes God out to be a liar and reveals that “His Word is not in us.”  [1 John 1:8-10] When we really see what God expects of us we can never be satisfied with ourselves.  Even when we have the will to do good, there is something evil in our nature that makes us prone to jealousy, pride, and self-interest.  And even if anyone should keep the law in its entirety and yet fail in only one point he has become guilty of breaking all of it, namely of sinning against God Himself. [James 2:10]

So, armed with this information, let’s again look at Jesus parable this morning.  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” [Luke 18:10]

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” [Vs. 11, 12]

The Pharisee in Jesus story simply is a character that personifies all of the countless people who have ever passed before God and who ever will pass before Him, trusting in their own righteousness, that is in their own good works as a way to appease God; to make Him happy.

We know that pride certainly is an issue for this Pharisee, because he took his place in the temple, during the prayer service right up front and in the central part of the room where everyone could both see and hear him recite his personal prayers to heaven.  And why shouldn’t he; everyone seemed to admire him for his piety, or he certainly wouldn’t have made this his practice.

Next, he thanked God that he was not like other people, like most people.  He wasn’t an extortioner, one who manipulates and uses other people.  He’s thankful that he’s not an unjust man, in other words in his mind, he is completely justified as righteous before God.  He’s thankful that he’s not an adulterer, running around living the swinger life style.

But now as he looks around the sanctuary, he spots a very notorious member of the worship community… the tax collector.  And he thanks God that he’s not like that man, an enemy both of God and God’s people.  He’s probably even wondering how that man was even allowed into the temple area. “He should be locked up” he might have said under his breath! But in reality, he really had nothing to thank God for, because in God’s eyes, the life he had made for himself was worse than the life of an extortioner and even the tax collector. You see, he was measuring himself and others with a wrong human rule and not with the rule of God’s Word, and what’s more, he was doing it right in God’s Temple, which had been dedicated to God’s Word.

Of all those who, like the Pharisee, trust in their morality, it is still true as Jesus said: “They say one thing, but do another.” [Matthew 23:3] When the law speaks, our mouths are stopped, and the whole world stands guilty before God. [Romans 3:19] There is therefore none that are righteous accept Jesus Christ. [1 Peter 3:18]. And all that Jesus has done He has done for us.  In our place and for our sake He has fulfilled everything, even the smallest parts of the law in order that “by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:19]

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” [Vs. 13]

Here is Jesus’ example of the complete opposite to the Pharisee. He, too, stands before God in the Temple, but he is not in a special place of honor or attention, in fact, he stands as far away from these places of honor as possible. He felt that he was too unworthy to go any nearer. He didn’t even have the will to lift up his eyes to heaven, because he was completely ashamed to stand before God. He doesn’t even attempt to brag about what he has done for God and the church, but instead he simply pounds his chest as a way of showing great sorrow and pain for his sinful life.

And now we hear his prayer, which is also his confession of sins.  He admits his sin of being an open and public sinner, but he prays that God would atone for, or take away his guilt.  It’s to bad that our contemporary translations choose to use the word merciful, because the actual word translated from the Greek is translated as “propitiated.”  So, his words should really be read like this: “God be propitiated to me a sinner.”  He had probably just provided his gift of something that had just been sacrificed by the Chief Priest at the altar of God; a gift that he hoped would atone for His sins.  So he is praying, “God please accept the sacrifice I offered and let it be enough to bring atonement for me and bring me peace with you.”

The main point lies in in the comparison of the two men.  The Pharisee thought of others as being sinners but fails to see the truth about himself; the tax collector thinks of himself alone as being the sinner and doesn’t even begin to think about others. Do you see, this is a mark of true humility; of true contrition and brokenness? This condition of the heart finds no comfort at all in the fact that there are many others who are even greater sinners; it sees only itself before God, only itself as “the”sinner who is unable to answer to God for his sins.

“I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” [vs 14]

So now Jesus tells us the very reason for the parable and the point of ultimate importance that we are to leave with.  Jesus wants to ensure that through His Word this morning, each of us will leave here justified, that is made right with God.

Jesus used the word justified intentionally.  It is the word that every sinner must use before God; both the tax collector and sinners such as our selves must confess before God that He is right and we are wrong; we must “acknowledged God as just” by remembering the need for Christ’s cross and the importance of our own baptism.  We must acknowledge that it is only through these means that God has chosen to both declare someone as righteous and recreate them in to someone who is righteous.

The irony here, of course, is that the one who goes back to his home “justified” is the confessed sinner and not the self-righteous sinner. So it all boils down to a simple matter of who we trust for our salvation: we either trust in ourselves, as does the Pharisee, who exalts himself as the means of his own redemption, or we trust in God and the atoning sacrifice he has provided (as did the tax collector).

So the tax collector and we this morning go home justified.  What difference should that make in our lives?

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” [Ephesians 2:10]

Do you understand?  Praise His name, God has propitiated us; through the Sacrifice of Christ upon the cross He saved us from our sins, but He has also equipped us to live out our redeemed and justified lives with a purpose. As we leave this house of worship right with God, we are called and equipped to live out this status by doing the very things He has prepared for us to do; prepared for us to share with others who do not yet know Him rightly unto eternal life.

It is by sharing this righteousness that we demonstrate to others that we are in fact justified before God.  John writes: “…if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (one).”  [1 John 2:1]  His righteousness frees us from the judgment and punishment of our sins.  His righteousness is our propitiation; it’s our salvation when we believe in Him.  We “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” [Romans 3:24] That means that our sins are covered over by the righteousness of Christ, by the blood He shed upon the cross, and by the waters of our baptism, which applied that atoning blood upon us personally.  It means that God no longer deals with us according to our sins, neither those which we have committed nor those which are still part of our fallen human nature.

And this is why it doesn’t help a person in the least if they simply embrace a high morality.  No matter how much a person protests that their moral goodness should count for something, God says it does not; He says that they still belong to the group of those who did not go and do that which the Father wanted to have done.  But both tax collectors and prostitutes who repent may enter the Kingdom of God, and so can no good sinners like you and me.  [Matthew 21:29-31]

Inevitably this truth will mean that each of us will go out justified and do the will of our Father and do that will better than we ever could have done if we were simply servants of this worlds standard of morality, the law, and pure idealism.

May God continue to equip and empower us to do these good works, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Beware of a Comfortable Faith

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

Tenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 31st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord: When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?  They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return.”  [Jeremiah 8:4-12]

Yes, I too must speak for the Lord.  Why do baptized Christians  not confess and then return to the LORD after they fall in sin?  Why don’t they repent?  Isn’t it simply part of the life of a Christian to turn or rather return to Jesus after a fall from grace?  This is such an important part of being a Christian that our Divine Service liturgy always starts with Confession and Absolution.  So, then why are there so many Christians who refuse to acknowledge the sin that is separating them from the forgiving love of Jesus?  I believe that it is because they have grown sinfully comfortable in the Christian faith.  I believe that they have grown comfortable within a Christianity that makes it easy to be a Christian by creed while ignoring the deed of repentance and confession.

Is there a danger in being born within a Christian family; within a Christian culture?  Yes, and here’s why…

A person whose been born and baptized into a Christian family and culture is a person who has been received into the church, which is the body of Christ within a sinful and fallen world.  They are in the same situation as a person who has physically been born into a wealthy family and assured of an inheritance that’s worth a great fortune.  And so they may begin to feel that they are entitled to their sinful behavior because they are covered by grace.

A person born and then baptized into the church is one of the many “heirs of God” with the right to an inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled; an inheritance that is reserved and just waiting for them in heaven.  This inheritance even includes the right to be a child of God, to be able to turn to Him in days of trouble, and to be assured that God will see to it that all things will work together for their good.

But there is an important difference between our heavenly inheritance and an earthly inheritance.

In regards to an earthly inheritance a person has legal rights no matter how badly they act.  But to be an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus is something no one can ever demand as their right, regardless of their actions.  “For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.”  [Hebrews 3:14]  You see, this heavenly and eternal legacy can only be taken out by repentance and faith.

So, the danger of being born and raised within a Christian family and community is that we will become use to our status under grace.  That is…

We may begin to take God’s grace and our status in Christ for granted.

Many times, when baptized Christians fall into this status of being lost within the church, it can almost always be traced back to an unhealthy familiarity with all things “Christian” or an unnatural comfortableness in their faith. They begin to feel that while going to church and being in the Word of God are important, these are things that are not urgent right now.  After all, the church has always been there and it always will be, so, when they are ready to come back to church, they think that they can pick up where they left off.  So they see no risk in living their lives without the blessing of God and the strength He gives within His Word and Sacraments.

It was the same way with the people of Jerusalem in our Gospel reading; people who didn’t realize that the Son of God, the very source of the peace and fulfillment they were seeking within their lives and community was in fact among them in the person of Jesus Christ.  They refused to hear Him calling out to them; seeking to gather them as a mother hen gathers her chicks.   They refused to hear the warning that very soon it would be to late to repent, that is, to late to turn to their Savior who alone can forgive their sins and make them right with God.

Just as the very temple would be destroyed and taken from them, so would their very lives as God’s stones of judgment and punishment fell upon them.  But if they would hear Jesus speak to them in that very moment it would not be to late to repent and be saved.  But they could not hear because they would not hear.  And those who refuse to repent cannot be forgiven.

While the call of Jesus for sinners to repent is still as fresh and new today as it was then, there is one difference.  Jesus no longer calls nations to repent but instead, He calls individuals, people within the nations to turn to Him and be saved.

The truth is, no nation has a most beloved status in the eyes of God, not even Israel. And no one can afford to procrastinate, or put off their repentance and right relationship with God until a time that they feel is right.

Not even we Christians have a valid reason to believe that we have a special privilege to sin against the grace of God.  The people of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus, took it for granted that He would perform the same mighty miracles for them that He did for other towns; they thought that way because Jesus was one of them.  They expected the miracles, but they would not give Jesus their faith.  Sadly Jesus compared them to Israel in the time of the prophets, who would not repent and believe, which then caused God to pass them by and instead give His help to a people who did not know God.

Such a spirit of procrastination, of putting off for tomorrow what God says should be addressed right this moment, usually has dire consequences.  The classic example in the Bible is the people of Israel who became the chosen people of God; they possessed all of God’s promises as they were being drawn by God out of captivity in Egypt, but they still perished in the desert because of their unrepentant hearts and unbelief.

The same tragedy was repeated in the time of Jesus in His home communities of: Nazareth, Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida.  Jesus said that it would be more tolerable for the evil port cities of Tyre and Sidon and the wicked city of Sodom in the day of Judgment, since they would have repented if they had been able to see the same acts of God that they were seeing.

Jerusalem suffered the fate that Jesus predicted.  Not one stone was left upon another.  And the proud and self-centered Jews who, thought they were children of Abraham, because of their unbelief were broken off as dry branches from the noble olive tree of God’s people.

The early Christian church of the first century was very much aware that the same fate could befall them, so they vigorously taught the baptized that any one of them could be cut off from Christ at any time if they did not hold firm in repentance to their faith in Christ and the mercy of God.

They knew that their lamp stand could be removed from them if they did not value and hold onto the light by repenting and turning to Christ.  They knew that it was possible to have the name of being alive and yet be dead, and that it was therefore high time to wake up and strengthen that which remained and which was near death.  And to awaken meant to be concerned about the Word of God.

Today we still have the same privilege that Jerusalem had in the day of her visitation, the day when we read that Jesus taught them every day in the sanctuary.   Oh that we would have that same hunger for the Word of God that the people had then.  Oh that we would see the joy to be found in God’s visitation in our hearts, homes, and church.  Oh that we would be cut to the very soul by the tears of Jesus who weeps for the lost, because they will not turn to His cross in repentance and receive the blessing of true joy that is theirs through the waters of their baptism.

I pray that each of us would truly know and receive the gifts that God is so richly lavishing upon us this morning in Jesus Christ.  I pray that each of us would understand the beauty that is found in agreeing with and returning to God, and then finding that His grace really is sufficient to turn us away from all things that are not resting in His will as expressed by His living Word, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

May God continue to open our eyes and hearts to see Christ’s passion that was first expressed in His tears, which were in fact expressions of His love for sinners who He desperately desired to save.  And it was that same passion that led Him to give up His life upon the cross in agony… for you!

Oh friends, beware of a comfortable faith that no longer is held captive by Christ’s passion.  I pray that you will allow the Holy Spirit to always lead you along the way of repentance and forgiveness.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!

On Becoming a Christian

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Third Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 12th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.” [Luke 15:1]

Here’s a question that I get asked a lot: “Hey Pastor, how can I really know that I’m a Christian?”  And to this I pose a couple of my own questions to them to lead them to the central idea of our message today: “Aren’t you really asking me how can you know that you are pleasing God?  Or maybe what you really mean is how can you know for sure you are saved?”

Well, in order to know you are saved you must first know that your lost; that is you must admit that you are lost in your sins, or simply put, you are a sinner.  So a sinner then, is someone who is lost in their sins with no ability of their own to be found or made right with God.  From this then, we can say to be a Christian is to be a sinner who has been found in the darkness of sin and then made right with God in Holy Baptism through the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  But what then?

Do you have to become a better person in order to be a Christian?

Of course you do!  Don’t we usually take that for granted?  Don’t we as a rule consider “Christian people” to be a people with a God-given moral standard; as people with certain customs and characteristics that are considered respectable?  But sadly, when we think of our own lives within those terms we usually are forced to admit that we haven’t  attained that standard of excellence; we fall far short.  And this is why many of us must sadly admit that if we are judged by our conduct and our thoughts, we fall far short of the mark, and all appears hopeless, and it seems that we will never truly become a Christian.

And that way of thinking, was exactly what had trapped the Pharisees and most Jews; it is what made turning to Jesus very difficult for them.  They were convicted by the Law of Moses (the 10 Commandments) that they were required to achieve holiness or righteousness with God through what they must do.  But Jesus taught something entirely different.  And this is what shocked the Jews.

You see, it wasn’t respectable and moral people that were flocking to Jesus in order to hear Him and become His disciples, it was sinners… public, open sinners! The God fearing folks of Jesus time were offended by the truth that Jesus felt at home and very comfortable hanging out with sinful, no good ragamuffins!  He was at ease with those who were considered by others to be less than worthy of a place in God’s kingdom.  He received sinners and ate with them, which in the Far-Eastern culture meant the same as counting them as close friends. So He was a friend of no good sinners, and what’s more, He readily admitted it!  When they criticized Jesus for this He simply said: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous (or perhaps it is clearer if we say the self righteous), but sinners.” [Matthew 9:12, 13]

You see, the truth is that we do not become disciples because we have so many good qualities that have convinced us that we have something to add to or improve Christ’s church, but rather, we become Jesus’ disciple because we have so many faults.  We do not come to Jesus because we are better than others, but because we are just as bad, or even worse than them.

When Jesus called people into God’s Kingdom, His invitation made it clear to them that in spite of all of their sinfulness, they could still become the children of God.  In another story, Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a king who asks an accounting of His servant.   And what does that accounting look like?  A man is brought forward who owes the equivalent of millions of dollars, and he has no hope of ever paying it back.  And how does the master respond to this hopeless condition?  He has mercy on him and forgives the whole amount.  Cool, huh?

But does Jesus really make no demands on us?

Well to begin with, He makes only one demand, and that is that we come to Him in order to receive what He has to give us.  He simply asks us to come to Him and then to follow Him; listen to and trust in what He has to say, and then place ourselves under His influence.  From this comes another requirement…

We are to respond to the work and presence of the Holy Spirit within us, Who is always creating repentance, faith, and the desire and ability to do good deeds.  So the fact that we’ve become different and better people—is something that naturally follows upon the first requirement that we simply come.

Rather than seeing the need to be a good person as a demand that God makes as a qualification to come to Jesus, it is instead a result of turning to Jesus.

Consider the thief on the cross who was crucified with Jesus.  He did not have time to become a better man.  He would never have an opportunity to live a better life or produce any good deeds to brag of.  And yet no one could ask for a more unconditional promise of salvation:  “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  He had done the one thing that is necessary—he had come to Jesus to get help.  He believed in Jesus.

In the presence of Christ we must never expect to find a gathering of morally perfect people.  Remember, it was the tax collectors and sinners that were all being drawn near to Him.  So in our churches today, we must also expect to see sinful people wanting to be with Jesus and His disciples.  That is, we should see rough, sinful people being drawn to our church, wanting to become Jesus’ disciple.

If today His mercy calls you and you find yourself in this category, you must do the same.  He who does not do this should not be surprised to find a mixed company in Christ’s church.  But when we respond we will find that our despair and worry over first our own sinfulness and then other people’s sinfulness has been replace with…

The joy of salvation!

As Christians we live by faith in what Jesus has done certainly, but that faith always leads to joy!  Joy in the salvation of ourselves and others is simply the great delight or happiness that is caused by Christ’s exceptionally good work for all sinners, but especially because that good work of Christ is the true pleasure of God!

St. Paul in our Epistle reading experienced this realization also, and it created within him an extreme sense of thankfulness, listen: “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.”  Perhaps a better way to say this is that Paul was thankful that Jesus made him faithful through the gift of grace (God’s undeserved kindness) and then He gave him the strength to continue believing in and following Jesus.

Was there something that God discovered in Paul that made him worthy of being called into God’s kingdom of salvation through Jesus Christ?  Well, let’s let Paul answer that himself: “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief”.

And we must be careful not to think that because God saved Paul, Paul became so thankful and indebted to Jesus that he decided to change his life, formulate a plan and implement the plan that would allow him to live a God pleasing life and win many to the kingdom of God.  No, Paul would never say anything like that, in fact he said the opposite, listen: “(It was) the grace of our Lord (that) overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

So, along with Paul, we can say that by faith and first hand experience, this saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom Paul and maybe you and me are the foremost.  So if God desires to save a sinner like Paul, just imagine how much he wants to save you, and not just you, but also the many people living here in our community who are dying without ever truly knowing Jesus and His kingdom of grace.

The church, even our little church here, like our Lord, does every thing we can think of to find the lost, and we keep looking for them until they’re found; that mandate is the very reason that the church still exists within this sinful world. Through the preaching of God’s Word, both the law and the gospel, as a church we go after the lost sinner both creating the desire to be found and the ability to assure them that they have been found too.  And within our vocations or our callings in life as individuals, our Christian witness to Jesus and His desire to both be with and save sinners goes out into our community like a lamp that brings saving light into the darkness of sin.  For many, that searching light may be at first nothing more than the truth that it is Christ’s passion to be with and save sinners.

And when a sinner is found and turns or returns to Jesus’ side, we the church and indeed all of heaven rejoice and say amen to Jesus declaration: “Thus, I tell you, there is joy!” Great joy not just here in Christ’s church but “Before the angels of God in heaven.”

Today His mercy calls you, and if you have responded by turning or returning to Jesus, be assured there is a great celebration of joy in heaven, “Over one sinner who has repented!”  To God alone be the glory… AMEN!

The King’s Royal Roots-Back to the Future

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

Advent 4-C, December 20, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“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.” [Micah 5:2]

There’s something about going back to your roots; it can help you remember who you really are. Isn’t it true that sometimes we can lose our way in life, and isn’t it also true that becoming lost usually happens so slowly that we hardly realize that it’s happening.  I think that it’s kind of like getting lost in the woods, when suddenly you realize that you don’t recognize where you are or where you’re going. And what do you do then? You retrace your steps; you look for and go back to familiar landmarks, until you find your way home.

Well, like getting lost in the woods, we can get lost in life, too. We have plans, even strategies for achieving them. We have values and priorities. We have a sense of who we are, who we want to be, what we want to do. And then… and then life happens.

Now there always seems to be some people who appear to instinctively stay on track. They have a plan and strategy for their life, and they seldom deviate from it. But others, or maybe most people, somehow get off track, because, well, life happens, and things pull us in all different directions. And when that happens, we can find ourselves far off the course we had set for our lives.

This kind of thing can happen in our spiritual lives, too.

Many of us were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ when we were infants or children, and when it happened, we were totally dependent on God’s grace and his action in Christ, for us. But as we grew older, something happened; we became more independent and more sure of ourselves and our place in this world, and then we started to think that God needed our help with some things.  And so, we began to evaluate our spiritual life on what we had done or wanted to do, instead of what God has done and will do for us.

Perhaps when we were confirmed in our faith as young teenagers, we promised to remain faithful, even unto death. And then came high school, and college, our career, and, well, life happened. And then, maybe we found ourselves distant and disconnected from God, His Word, His will, and His way.

This can even happen to the church too. Frankly, it’s what happened at the time of Luther—the whole Reformation was really a course correction for a church that had, over time, drifted away from the basic truths that became the great themes of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, Christ alone!

It can even happen to an entire denomination. Sometimes churches can find themselves majoring in the minors, or emphasizing Christian living for its own sake and not for the sake of accompanying Christ on His mission. We can become so caught up in our priorities and strategies that we begin to lose our theological mooring, our identity as Lutheran Christians. Or conversely, we can focus so much on who we are that we forget what we are to be—and to be about—on mission with Christ.

Yes sometimes even we Christians can loose our way, and when we do, we have to recalibrate our spiritual GPS—in our lives, as a congregation, as the church, as the kingdom of God in grace on earth. This is really what had happened in the time of Micah, the prophet of our text. As we’ve heard the last few Sunday’s during our Advent journey, the people of God had lost their way. The kings of the house of David acted as though they were the real kings, not the servants of God for the kingdom of God. The people had become more interested in themselves, in their own success, than serving God and their neighbor.

And the prophets had some hard words, as we have heard before. Of the great citadel Jerusalem and its temple, Micah said, “Zion will be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins. Yet their message was not without hope. They spoke of a new king, another son of David. But there was also a sense that the new king was not just another David, as though maybe just one more generation was needed to get it all back on track. No, this was not just about going forward, this was a message of going back, remembering where they came from, and getting back on course.

For the king, this meant remembering David and his humble beginnings, back in his home town of Bethlehem. It wasn’t “David’s royal city” then. It was a small rural town, and Jesse and his sons were shepherds. Remember that Samuel looked for a son to anoint as king, and they paraded all of Jesse’s sons past him but David, he was the youngest and was out in the fields doing his work. He wasn’t even under consideration, but he was the one.

Of course, we know by a simple reading of scripture that when David became king, he quickly outgrew his humility and meekness. It didn’t take long for the house of David to get off course. And God would have to find them, having lost their way, and bring them back. Back to the beginning. Back to Bethlehem.  Back to a new birth of a new king.

Dear friends in Christ, we started our advent journey toward understanding God’s king and his kingdom by talking about “home,” the place, the city that is the king’s capital, which identifies his kingdom. We talked about the importance of a place to call home, with its safety and security. But we also noted that even a king who is serving in the kingdom of God could confuse his ideas about the kingdom with what God really wanted and intended it to be.

And now, this morning, we hear God’s solution to our sinful tendency to get lost; a Messiah would be born, One who would be ruler in Israel. His origins, and his “goings forth” (that is to say, where he came from and where he was going) was all part of God’s everlasting plan to send a Savior who would save the world, save the church, and save you and me, from our irresistible tendency and temptation to get ourselves lost, to get off course, to wander from God’s plan and then even to wonder if we are still God’s people.

In our text today, on this last Sunday of Advent, now less than a week away from Christmas itself, God calls us to consider not just our home, as we did when we started this journey, but our roots—not where we live, or lived, but where we were born; where we started, where our family comes from.

We think immediately of our family home, but in our spiritual lives, God reminds us to consider where and when we were born into His family. For some of you, that may have been right here, at this baptismal font. For others, it may have been in other churches in other places, but the point is, it was within the same waters of holy baptism, all of which has the same power of God unto salvation wherever and whenever it comes to his people.

So, as we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth, we recall that little town of Bethlehem, not for the sentimental scenes we might find on Christmas cards but for the holy history that it conveys: this was the birthplace, if you will, of the kingdom of God with men.

And as we prepare for Christmas, we remember how God himself went back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to Bethlehem. And this time the son of David got it right. No losing his way. No selfish sinful acts. This son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom.

Yet He was the King, a true and greater King than any ruler of Israel or president of the greatest democracy on earth. An angel choir announced his birth – not to the people of power in high places but to shepherds, out in the fields, doing their jobs like David was doing back in the day, just outside of that little town of Bethlehem.

He was God’s true King: David’s son but also David’s Lord. He would come to His capital city in a royal procession and be crowned with a crown of thorns. He would take upon himself the sin and suffering for all, to bear our sin and be our Savior, securing God’s forgiveness for all of our own sin. And He would be raised again, ascended to his heavenly throne, where he lives and reigns to all eternity, for us and for our salvation.

Yes, there will be peace, even on earth, not just for the house of Israel, but to the very ends of the earth!

As our Advent season draws to a close, and we draw nearer to the manger itself, our preparation turns, too, back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to the font, back to the baptismal waters where it all started for you and for me. There we received our own new life. There the Christmas message became a lasting truth for our personal lives. There we became God’s people, forgiven, to live under him in his kingdom, and to serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness!

O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth— And praises sing to God, the King!—and peace to all the earth!  AMEN.

Back to the Future

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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