Posts Tagged ‘Rest’

On Independence and Dependence

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, July 9, 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

We Americans don’t like the thought of being held captive by anyone, and the historical proof of this is that 241 years ago, the Declaration of Independence was issued, dissolving the colonies’ subjugation to King George III by proclaiming that all people are created equal with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Today, over 2 centuries after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we may be free from the tyranny of King George, but our nation has witnessed and is still dealing with many other kinds of tyranny and captivity. Terrorism, war, drug addiction, broken families, crime, and racism; these are all signs that tyranny is alive and well in this great nation of ours!

Today, it is my privilege to proclaim to you that because of what Jesus Christ has done for you, you’ve been freed, made independent from the GREATEST form of captivity and tyranny, SIN! And today, it is my duty to proclaim to you that there is nothing within you that God would look at and determine that you deserve this gift of His … NOTHING… but as our savior hung on the cross, as He was suspended between heaven and earth, He thought of you, and He willingly took on your sin and exchanged it with the perfection of God! And as He hung there, He cried out to the Father and unto all of creation, “IT IS FINISHED!” These three Words were both your declaration of independence from God’s Law that judges you deserving of death because of your many sins, and they are your declaration of dependence upon God’s mercy. It is God’s love that calls out to you in the midst of your many sins and says, “Come Unto Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

With all of this being true, why do we constantly seem to be overcome by sin? Why do our sins and the sin of others seem to rob us of the joy of Christ’s gift of salvation?

Listen to St. Paul’s words in our Epistle lesson and see if they ring true with you: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want to do is what I keep on doing” “I delight in the Law of God in my inner being, but I see another law waging war against my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans:19, 22-25)

We’re a peculiar bunch of people, we Christians! We hunger for God’s protection and perfection in our lives, yet it seems we constantly fall short of the mark! We seem to constantly fall into sinful habits that non-Christians enjoy so much yet when we engage in the same activity, not only are we unable to find satisfaction in these things, but they also become a trap, even a prison that takes away our joy. In short, …WE BECOME MISERABLE! Why? Because we are acting outside of Christ’s nature that was provided for us at the cross and then wrapped around us in our baptism!

The story is told of a lamb and its mother, who passed a pigpen each morning on the way to the pasture. Watching the pigs wallow in the mud seemed like fun to the lamb. On an especially hot day the lamb asked its mother, “May I jump the fence and wallow in the cool mud with the pigs?” The Mother replied, “No.” And the lamb asked, “Why not?” The mother simply stated, “Sheep do not wallow!” Well, this didn’t satisfy the lamb. He felt his mother had no reason to refuse. As soon as she was out of sight, the lamb ran to the pigpen and jumped the fence. He felt the cool mud on his feet, his legs, and his stomach, and oh did it feel good.
After a while he decided he had better go back to his mother, but he couldn’t do it. He was stuck! His thick wool was weighed down with heavy, sticky mud. His pleasure had become his prison. He was a hostage of the mud. He cried out and the kind farmer, his owner, rescued him. When he was cleaned and returned to the fold, his mother said firmly: “Remember, sheep do not wallow!”

Well sin is like the mud in that story. It looks so inviting, and appears easy to escape from whenever we wish. But, because of God’s Law at work in our hearts, which is like the wool, ultimately we don’t find pleasure, but only pain! What seemed like pleasure becomes our prison. Because we sin, because we are born in sin and because we sin daily, we are held captive under the Law. We are caught in what the prophet Zechariah in our Old Testament lesson called the waterless pit. (Zechariah. 9:11) This waterless pit was a dry well that was used in biblical times as a sort of jail cell. Once in, there was no way out accept if someone (your jail keeper) were to lower you down a ladder of some sort.
Friends, for us, our waterless pit is the Law of God that says, “Thou shalt… Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul. You must always put God and His will first in your life! Thou shalt love your neighbor as your love yourself. You must put the needs of your family, friends, neighbor, and even your enemy at a level that is equal to or above your own.”

Oh what wretched people we are! We try and try to do what the Law says we must but instead of victory we run into failure after failure. Who will deliver us from this prison of death? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

We hear Him now, at the mouth of the pit calling down to us…

“Come unto me, you who have been laboring to free yourself from your prison of sin and guilt, and I will give you rest.” He calls to us and says, “Here friend, here is the ladder of my grace that you will need in order to leave the prison of the Law. But before you climb up to me, set your burden down and leave it there in the pit.” “Now that’s odd” we think, “I wonder what burden He’s talking about?” Reading our minds, He replies, “I’m talking about the heavy burden on your back! Friend, at least take it off and look inside to see what you are carrying.”

Now this is where our Savior gets personal. We don’t want to look inside, because what’s in there is hidden for good reason—it’s embarrassing! We might even try to down play the weight of our burden by replying, “Oh that thing?! Well that’s nothing. I can manage climbing out of here and still carry the weight. Don’t worry about me.” But now Jesus is no longer at the top of your prison calling down to you, He’s right there with you. And He takes off your burden and opens it. Inside each burden, you will always find two very heavy things…

Pride and Discouragement.

If there is one word that adequately describes the average American it would be pride. We have many reasons to be proud. We are proud of our country, which is One nation under God. We are proud of our brave men and women who valiantly fight and sacrifice their lives for our freedoms. We are proud of our work ethic, which says along with the Ford Motor Co. that quality is job one. These are all great attributes that we can and should be proud of, but there is another kind of American pride that is not so admirable. It is the kind of pride that says, “I’ll be fine. I can do it myself.” Young people, your grandparents called this “lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps” and today we say that we “are an army of one.” Pride says, “I got myself into this mess; I don’t need any help getting myself out of it.” But to our pride Jesus says, “No friend. You must do this my way and then I will give you rest.”

There is another burden within our sack that we must surrender to the Lord, and that is discouragement. Discouragement is a burden because it is a sin; it is a sin because it’s a loss of faith in God’s mercy and love. Discouragement says, “Oh Lord, I’d like to put this burden down and climb out with you, but I’m so tired of my own failures. And you know Lord, I’ve tried to come out so many times before, but I just end up right back where I started. No, I think I’ll just rest here a while and maybe someday give this freedom thing another shot.”

Friends, discouragement and pride are the very things that Jesus is asking you to give to Him today. But He won’t take them from you, you must give them to Him. You must come to Him and surrender all of your burdens, and then He will give you rest. He’s made it easy for you to trust Him by providing the very means that creates this trust; we call this trust faith. He points you to His Word that gives you the faith to believe that each and every promise of rest and peace is for you and that it is true! He points you to the Baptismal font where He first saved you through the water and the Word, and He says, “I was there with you then and I am with you now. Believe that I will always be with you!” Why He even calls you to a Holy dinner where He invites you to feast on His very body and blood, where your faith is strengthened and He ensures you that all of your sins are forgiven!

So now that you are out of the pit and the captivity of sin, He has just one more thing to say to you…

“Now, take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vs. 29a)

Rest…Wonderful rest! We all need rest. In a world where sin, sickness, disappointment and death are all around us and even within us sapping our strength, rest is the one thing we know we can’t live without and at the same time it seems to be the hardest thing to find! Yet, when we first hear these Words, it might seem that Jesus is freeing us from one burden only to give us another? Could this be true? Well, yes! You see friends, the rest and the yoke are two pictures of the same blessing; Jesus is saying that when we take His yoke upon ourselves we will find true rest for our souls; in fact, we take this yoke when he gives us rest. We know that this is true because we have experienced its truth in our lives already!

We have already established that we no longer need to carry around with us things like guilt, shame, and discouragement. In our confession today, we gave him these burdens when we confessed our sins. And then, praise God, we heard and received the sweet words of absolution, “You are forgiven!” So, if you have faith in this truth, you already feel relieved; you’ve already “tasted and discovered that the Lord is good!” (Ps. 34:8; 1 Peter 2:3) If you have already discovered by experience that the Lord is faithful and good, that He is a loving God, then you’ve already received His yoke. While he is giving us His yoke he is teaching us through experience that He is right there beside us; a gentle, humble, and loving God shouldering any load we encounter, so that we will know that He is right there working with us.

Dear friends, what can be lighter than a burden which removes burdens and a yoke which carries you? Christ’s burden doesn’t oppress us, but instead it carries itself. The yoke and Christ’s rest are just two sides of the same coin. When you take one you have the other. So we have taken on a new Master, and he lays on us a new load—but what a difference that new load makes!

By simply trusting in Jesus Words and following his gentle instruction we enjoy His grace, mercy, and peace because we are surrounded by His love. When we let go and let God lead and teach us, then we can truly know freedom from all forms of tyranny, even sin, death and the devil. Yes, it really is that simple…just let go and let God take over!
Let’s bow our heads in prayer. Heavenly Father, we thank you that you have revealed all of these things to us your little children because of your gracious will. Continue to show us how to give you all of the things that hold us back from trusting and walking with you and may Your Spirit, like a dove descend upon our lives and make us whole.
In Jesus name…AMEN!

There IS Rest For The Weary

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

21st Sunday in Pentecost B, October 21, 2015

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  And (to this, Jesus disciples) were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”” (Mark 10:25-27)

There’s a city in Peru named Arequipa.  The name of the city was chosen due to a miscommunication. You see, in 1537, Diego de Almagro, who was the first Spanish explorer to visit there, pointed to the ground and asked the name of that place. The natives thought that he was asking permission to sit down, so they courteously replied, “Arequipa,” meaning “Yes, you may rest here.”

Well this morning, God wants you to know for certain, you may rest here.  He desires that all will find rest here in this place and in His Word.  And He also desires that through His Word, you will find faith to believe that He has prepared an eternal place for you to rest.

Today, we’re all equals; that is we’re all Camels looking at the eye of a needle. And this needle’s eye is meant to cause each of us, along with the apostles to wonder out loud, “Who can be saved.”  And God’s answer through Jesus Christ is, “You can be saved.  You can be saved if you are weary of living your life your way, and if you are ready for God’s idea of rest.”

The rich man from last week’s gospel lesson wanted rest; that’s why he searched out Jesus.  But, he wanted rest according to His understanding of rest.  “What must I do to be saved” He asked?  And how did Jesus answer that request for knowledge?  Sell everything you have and follow me.  Now that’s an impossible teaching… for man.  That’s an impossible request to fulfill, but not for God.

What the rich man lacked was the very same thing the Israelites who died in the wilderness lacked… fear of God and faith in God’s ability to give them rest.  This is why our Epistle lesson (Hebrews 4:1-13) starts out with this simple statement:  “While the promise of entering (God’s) rest still stands, let us fear lest any of (us) should seem to have failed to reach it.”  Are you in danger of failing to reach God’s rest?  You could be if you lack fear in Almighty God, and faith in His ability and love to do exactly what He says He will do, and give precisely what He says He will give!

The good news for us this morning, is that God’s promise of eternal rest through the forgiveness of sins is still offered to us.  Think of the sweetness of these two words “promise” and “good-news”.  God is promising you right now today, that through His Son Jesus Christ, your sins are already forgiven.  Can you believe and receive this?   God wants you to believe, and that is why He freely offers faith that comes through His Word and Sacraments.  And through this gift of faith, God asks you then to obediently come to Him and receive rest; rest here in this place through His Word, and ultimately an eternal rest in Paradise.  But that good news, may also be bad news for some people.

For some folks who lack fear of God and faith in His loving promise of forgiveness and rest, instead of receiving a spirit of obedience, they are now caught up in a spirit of disobedience.  Oh God still calls out to them, He still invites them to come to His house of prayer and to receive His gift of rest in His divine service, but instead, with hearts hardened by a lack of faith, like the disobedient Israelites in the desert, they hear the invitation to come and the promise of rest and they do neither.  Occasionally they will gather with others around God’s Word and Sacraments, but because of their hard hearts they count it as nothing more than formality.

Sadly, some people refuse to believe, and because of their refusal they loose both their rest in Christ here in this sinful world, and also their rest for eternity.  They are Camels who scoff at the possibility of passing through the eye of a needle, even though the only One who can make the impossibility a reality is telling them how this can be done.  Listen to Jesus invite us now: “Come unto me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.” [Matthew 11:28]

We are all weary, whether we will admit it or not. You can hide your weariness from your loved ones here and at home, you can even hide your weariness from yourself, but it does not change the reality that God through His Word constantly points out your weariness.

God’s Word is indeed sharper than a double-edged sword.  It cuts deep like a butcher’s knife that separates bone from bone and even slices bone in half, exposing the very marrow deep inside.  God’s knife, which is His Word is able to separate your soul from your spirit.  And what is it that He wants us to discover?  He wants us to discover the very thing that we must acknowledge; that without Him, we are sinful and dead and in need of new life and rest.

And here is the amazing part of God’s pronouncement of our condition, even after it is proven to us unless we have faith, which is mingled in with the hearing of His Word, we will justify our emptiness and lifeless condition, by saying, “I’m just tired.  I need a break.”  And what is our idea of a break?  We stop for a moment from our work and we recreate; we use vacation time or we buy something special or many somethings that we really want, and we use these things as a way to put our minds and hearts at ease.  And at the end of the day, ease is all we’ve gathered for ourselves.

Now please hear me, and listen and learn what I am about to teach you.  Ease and rest are not the same thing. Ease can only give you a temporary respite by taking your mind off of your real problem.  And your real problem is that without God’s Word and promises you will never find relief from a guilty conscience, because that guilty conscience is God’s way of demonstrating your real need to enter His rest.

Your conscience can never find rest and peace through work or through ease, but by faith in Christ alone.

St. Paul says “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.” [Romans 5:1]  So what is it that is preventing you from resting in Christ, in trusting Him, in leaving your old life and following Him into a new life?  Could it be your accumulation of stuff that you are afraid to live without?  Is there something in your life that you have put your trust in that is causing your terrified conscience to waver and doubt the promises of God?  Are you compensating for your guilt before God by working harder to be a better person, a better parent, or better what ever, so that at the end of your life God might see these things and be pleased?  But can’t you see, that these are the very things that are causing you to reject God’s offer of forgiveness and rest?

So let’s take this path to its obvious conclusion, shall we?  In the end you will simply rush headlong towards your ultimate demise pretending to be alright, but inside you are tired, afraid, and in need of the one thing you have refused, and that is rest.

But God will not give up; His Word will always hound you until you simply quit running from Him and admit something we all know to be true; you do not do the good that you want to do, but rather the evil you don’t want to do. [Romans 7:19]  With your mind you are a slave to the condemnation of God’s law, but with your flesh you are a slave to the law of sin. [Romans 7:25]

It is God’s Word that has left you naked and afraid before His ever present eye.  And now shivering in the dark cold of reality, God has you where He wants you, your cornered and crying out to Him, “Who can ever love or fear you enough?  Who can wait patiently while hardships, disease, and personal attacks are coming down upon them?  Who is it that can be so faithful that they never doubt what they hear in your Word?”  And at that point, addressing all of your fears, doubts, worries, in the midst of your emptiness, God points the eyes of your heart to His Son Jesus and says, “He can and He did.  And what’s more is that He did it all for you so that you may find rest.  He is your High Priest who came from me so that you could find, keep, and rest within the abundant life of forgiveness that I give.”

All of this is yours for the taking, if you will simply receive it by faith.  Your sins really have been forgiven at the cross.  You really have been washed clean, recreated at the font.  You really do eat and drink Christ’s body and blood for the experienced forgiveness of sins.  Will you believe?  Do you want to believe?  Good, then simply continue to turn to Jesus every day in His Word.  Continue to come to this place to be filled, healed, and restored with all of these wonderful gifts.

Perhaps this morning, the best way for me to close our message is the same way that Mark closed the 10th chapter of His Gospel; with a further explanation of who Jesus really is and why He really came to us.  Listen: “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” [Mark 10:32-34]

Do you get it?  Jesus is saying that He would be smitten, stricken, and cast down for you!  He knew that where He was going to, would be a place where He would be mocked, spit upon, beaten, and then crucified for you; He would undertake all of this for your sins so that you can be free.  And then, after all of this was done to Him, three days latter He rose from the dead to prove to you that His promise of eternal life and rest is real and it’s yours, if you will simply believe and receive this gift through His Word.

It is His Word friends that comes to you every week here at Trinity.  It is His Word that not only strengthens your faith to believe but also changes how you think, speak, and live.  It is His Word, which convinces you that the greatest Christians in God’s eyes are not the ones that seek leadership, but the ones who flourish in humble service to others.

Finally, God points our eyes to the last verses of Mark Chapter 10, where we meet a blind beggar named Bartimaeus in the city of Jericho, who encounters Jesus as He makes His way to Jerusalem and then to the cross, and He simply cries out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  That cry for help from that poor man was enough to stop Jesus in His tracks, and have that man brought over to Him.  “And (the Apostles) called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.”

This morning Jesus is pointing our hearts to that blind beggar and to the camel that must pass through the eye of the needle, and He is asking us if we understand.  He is saying, “Do you get it?  That’s you!  I am here every Sunday passing in your midst and all you must do is see your need for both the faith I give and the rest I provide, and then simply enjoy My gift of forgiveness.”

Dear friends,  all of God comes to work for you, and He comes in response to sinners like us crying out to Jesus, “Son of God have mercy on me!”  If that is your cry this morning, then Jesus answers you, “I have forgiven you and I always will, if you will but trust me, leave everything behind, follow me, and you will have… rest.”  AMEN!

The Cross and the Yoke!

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

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

Click here for audio of this message

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” [Matthew 11:28-30]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gathering the Scattered!

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Eighth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 22, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were
like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
[Mark 6:34]

Do you know what happens to sheep when they don’t have a true shepherd?  That’s right, they scatter!   And once they scatter they can get into all kinds of  trouble; trouble that usually ends in their death.  Why even sheep who have a shepherd can get themselves into a whole lot of trouble; that’s why the  shepherd will leave the 99 to search for the one who has wandered off.

An American, traveling in Syria, saw three native shepherds bring their flocks to the same brook, and the flocks drank there together. After a few minutes, one  of the shepherds got up and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah! ,” the Arabic word for “follow me.” His sheep came out of the mixed herd and followed him up the  hillside. The next shepherd did the same, and his sheep went away with him, and neither shepherd even stopped to count them.

The traveler said to the remaining shepherd, “Give me your turban and staff, and let’s see if they’ll follow me like they follow you.” So he put on the shepherd’s  dress and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah!” Not a single sheep moved.  “Will your flock never follow anybody but you?” inquired the gentleman. The Syrian  shepherd replied, “Only if their sick, then they will follow any one.”

This morning I want to talk about two distinct kinds of sheep; those with a shepherd and those without.  You could also call them Christians and non-  Christians, or the righteous and the unrighteous.  St. Paul, in our Epistle lesson called them Jew and gentile.  But he also pointed out that that old classification  no longer existed, because the True Shepherd had come and taken down the wall or fence that separated them.  That separation of course was the Law of God  that shepherded the Jews, and condemned sinners like you and me.  In Paul’s time, many well-meaning Jewish Christians were insisting that gentiles had to  first become Jews before they could become Christians, or in other words, they had to be Jewish sheep before they could be Jesus’ sheep.  Paul’s goal was to show them that this was not only incorrect thinking, but dangerous thinking; it would serve to scatter and divide God’s people of faith, rather than gathering them into one family, one body, one sanctuary, which is the body of Christ, His church.

So let’s look at the two groups of people that live all around us today, Christians and non-Christians.  But before we do, let me share another story with you.

A newspaper in Camden, Maine, ran two photos on the front page; one showed the city council of Camden gathered together at a meeting, and the other picture was of a flock of sheep. The editor mistakenly reversed the captions of the two photos. Under the picture of the sheep, the caption identified them, left to right, as town officials; under the other photo of the city council, the caption read, “The Sheep Fold—naive and vulnerable, they huddle for security against the uncertainties of the outside world.”

Now as funny as that story is, I think that it describes both Christian and non-Christian alike; we are naïve and vulnerable.  And like the sick sheep in my other story, we Christians when we are tired, lonely, sick, or afraid might follow any old voice that seems sympathetic and able to help.  That is why we all need to learn, know, and follow our true Shepherd’s voice.  We all need the gift of faith to hear Jesus’ voice and to grow in that faith so that we will never follow another.

In our gospel reading, the contrast between the two groups of people is evident; the over-worked, under-appreciated, and tired disciples, who were ready for a break, and those who were lost, “like sheep without a shepherd.”  We might also call them people with a mission and vision and the people without a vision who were wandering in life aimlessly.  This morning, in our gospel lesson, Jesus spoke to them both.  This morning Jesus speaks to both of those classes of people who are gathered here at Trinity.

A. This morning there are some of you who are just plain tired. You have been active in your Lord’s church for most of your life, and some have in the last four years given the best of your time, talent, and treasure, to help make Trinity a city on a hill, a bright light here in Southeast San Diego, Southwest Spring Valley, and Southeast Lemmon Grove.  You have done so much and gone so far, that now you are just plain tired.  Many of you along with me have the feeling of always being “on-call,” with more demands on your time than you could ever hope to meet.  I know your heart, because it is centered in God’s love for the wandering sheep; you are afraid of letting people down, and so you push yourselves past the limits.  You dream of getting away from it all and you pray that there would be more people to help shoulder the burden.

Well this morning Jesus, who is your Sabbath rest, knows your fatigue; He sees it and He speaks to you as He spoke to His disciples in our gospel reading. [Mark 6:30-44]  “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” [v. 31]

Many of you know the need for rest and you have been intentional on setting aside vacation time; you have had your rest already, and some of you have scheduled your vacation for a future date.  But the truth is, even when we are on vacation, we are never really away from it all.  It seems that the troubles of this world follow us every-where we go.  Even the best planned vacations don’t work out as planned.  There are always more demands for our time, and more needs to meet.  Sometimes we don’t even have time to eat!

So where do we go for true rest; for real peace?  It isn’t found in our vacations; it doesn’t happen when we try to get away from it all; no it only is found when we get back to Jesus; back to the true Shepherd of our souls.  Our refreshment and new energy will not be found simply by going to a desolate place, but instead it is found in Him who takes us to that place.  The disciples weren’t able to get away from it all because the crowds found them; but they were able to be close to Jesus and His miraculous presence, which stands ready in all situations to help them and us.

For the non-Christians, those who are counted among the sheep without a shepherd, their days are spent in endless hours of useless activity meant to fill each day with meaning.  Whether its sports, politics, careers, partying, or just staring out a window they find little fulfillment and joy in the gift of life.  They feel like “aliens and strangers” [Ephesians 2:12] separated from the joy of really knowing God and His will for them.

Like sheep without a shepherd, their wandering sinful nature looks for meaning through self-pleasing activities, but eventually all of their attempts to find happiness end in failure.  So they set out on an endless search looking for meaning.  Some end up in cults and false religions.  Others find themselves in a church, which speaks the Word of the true Shepherd, but clouds that Word in philosophy, legalism, or liberalism.  Undoubtedly, these were some of the things that Jesus also saw as He looked out on that great crowd of people who were like “sheep without a shepherd.”

And Jesus had compassion on them.  He looked at them not as “no good” sinners, but as part of His scattered flock.  He claimed them as His own, and He taught them.  They were always His own, His purpose for coming; He came to bring them into His flock.  He came so that the scattered and the gathered together might know peace; peace with God, and peace with each other.  He came to give us all rest!

This morning, Jesus speaks to both groups and calls us together as one.  He shows us that each of us have a common reconciliation… Himself!  Through His work alone upon the cross He makes all men and women right; He makes us righteous with His Father.  You who were at one time separated from God because of your sins are now gathered into His forgiving heart through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  By His blood He has purchased you, redeemed you from a commonwealth of judgment and eternal punishment, and transferred you into His Kingdom of grace and forgiving love.

You who were once separated from God are now part of His body, the church.  You are one of many countless living stones set upon the Rock of Ages, the Cornerstone of God’s Eternal Sanctuary.  You are set upon Jesus Christ along with many other saints and together you are a living and ever-growing sanctuary.  How does the sanctuary, the body of Christ grow?  By the very same means that you were converted into a living stone; through the Word of Jesus Christ, the message of His gospel.

And this is the message that God would have you hear today.  You are forgiven through Jesus Christ.  In that message alone, God really gives you rest, fulfillment and joy.  But in that message, God also wants your life to have meaning and purpose.  You are here to live under and work out the will of God in your life.  And what is His will?  That you would rest in His Kingdom of grace and see it grow, one forgiven sinner at a time.

Jesus’ disciples and the scattered hungry were all fed by the very same Word.  Christ’s own personal preaching was full of peace for both Gentiles and Jews.  But what about now; do we still have that same care and concern?  Yes!  What we must always remember is that when Christ sent his message out into the world, he told His messengers: “I am with you always, even to the end of the world,” (Matt. 28:20). He assured them and He assures us that “He who hears you also hears me,” Luke 10:16; “Truly, truly, I say to you,” He said, “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me” John 13:20.

So congratulations to all of you here today; you who are tired may find rest in the same Jesus who invigorated the apostles.  He is here with you now!  You who were once scattered and lost, are now gathered and found, by Jesus Himself.  He has gathered you into the kingdom of God through the message of His cross; He has washed you clean in the waters of baptism and recreated you to live a life of peace. He himself is your peace and rest, now go and share that same peace, share that same rest with those who are still counted as scattered!

Now, may the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.