Posts Tagged ‘Righteousness’

Living in the Promised Land

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 8th, 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

“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” [Isaiah 5:1]

And let the church say Amen! Amen to the reign of our beloved Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen to life in His vineyard, the church. But most of us south of Temecula don’t really understand the nature of a vineyard, do we? I understand that producing grapes is a lot of work, and yet it is completely foreign to me. So, let’s talk about gardens instead.

Gardening, for many of you is a very satisfying and relaxing endeavor. Many of us have had sore backs days after working in our gardens. We would almost swear to the truth that we perspired gallons of sweat and developed blisters larger than any we have ever had. And yet, weeks latter we are rewarded with beautiful flowers, plants, and produce.

But sometimes you plant something that just doesn’t turn out to be what you expected it to be; it either never takes root or it grows in a wild way that you did not desire, and you know that if you don’t do something about it, it will ruin the entire garden. So with those kinds of disasters, what is a gardener to do? You uproot it and start over!

Yes, gardening is a lot of work, but God warned our first parents, Adam and Eve of this sad truth after they fell to sin. Listen: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:17-9] But God promised the faithful descendants of Adam and Eve, that one day He would send a Savior, who would first deliver them from their sins, and then He would also, through this coming Savior bring them back to Eden, the real “Promised Land!”

And that is the situation that the prophet Isaiah speaking for God, is describing in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 5:1-7) this morning.

The children of Israel, descendants of faithful Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been resting in God’s vineyard, the promised land for many long years now. And when they first arrived there, they were told that it would be a land of milk and honey; in other words, God would provide all that they needed to live right and peaceably with Him, each other, and within the land itself. All that they needed to do was trust in the promise of the coming Savior and then follow God’s commandments, which were to be a hedge of protection for them, and a wall that would separate them from the godless nations that surrounded them. But…

They began to develop a national pride that caused them to not only look down on other nations but they also forgot about their God who actually planted them there. There God was the One who prepared the Promised Land for them; He was the One who dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted them there as His choice vines. He set up the watchtower, which was their form of worship of the One True God, and He was the One through the use of the Law and Gospel, worked within them to put to death their old sinful nature, and bring to life their new circumcised nature, a faithful nature, which waited patiently for the coming Savior.

And as they continued to live as if God did not matter, God took notice. He sent many prophets and judges who spoke Words of warning and Words of encouragement, so that the people would remember the true God and then see their sinful need for a Savior. But they would not take notice; they would not yield!

So now O church, judge between God and His vineyard. What more was there for Him to do for His vineyard? He looked for a yield of grapes, that is works produced by faith in the coming Savior and the promised return to Eden, but He found only wild grapes, works that glorified man and not their God. Well there was one more thing that God would do; He would send His Son!

In our Gospel reading (Matthew 21:33-46), Jesus tells another story about a vineyard.

It is a story told to the same sort of religious leaders that Isaiah was speaking to in our Old Testament lesson. A man planted a garden and rented it out to tenants. But when the owner sent servants (prophets of God) to collect the rent, the tenants killed the servants. In exasperation, he sent his son (His Only begotten Son), and they killed him. Jesus asked his hearers what the owner would do, and the crowd answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” (21:41).

You see friends, this morning’s readings aren’t really about vineyards or gardening at all, instead they’re about the people of God, ancient Israel and you and me today. It’s a warning that we must not become wild in our nature, but remain people of faith; faith in the Savior promised long ago who has now come, and faith that one day very soon, He will come again to bring us once and for all back to Eden, the true Promised Land.

We may be tempted to ask God why He chose to place those disobedient people into His vineyard, knowing that they would be wild grapes and produce only bloodshed and outcries, but then we would have to ask Him also, why he brought us into His new vineyard, Christ’s church. You see, today you and I are supposed to be God’s pleasant planting; we too are suppose to produce fruits, good works of righteousness, but many times we don’t; instead we produce wild grapes; fruit that glorifies ourselves and not God. So why does God even bother to plant? Because He loves His vineyard, His garden; God loves you!

The church, which for now is our promised land, is God’s planting, His vineyard. It is easy to forget that this isn’t our church, but His. And it is even easier to forget that it is God who does the real work within us and through us. Like preparing a vineyard or garden, He plants us in Holy Baptism and then lovingly tends to our growth through His means of grace; His teaching, preaching, and Holy Supper. It is His work within us that shapes us and prunes us into the very image of His Son, who was killed by the former tenants so that He would rise from that death and fulfill the promise of the coming Savior who would bring us one day back to the final promised land, the Kingdom of Heaven, which is Eden restored!

You see friends, this pleasant planting of the Lord we call the church is for now, as we wait, our promised land; it is where God provides for our needs, and prunes and tends to our growth. All of this work of God is centered in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ who died, rose, and gives us His Holy Spirit. Jesus assures us of this when He says, “I an the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15: 1, 5]

And here we are abiding; simultaneously resting and working within the promised land we call the church, and knowing full well that by God’s grace we will one day enter the final Promised Land. And as we wait, we have two missions to fulfill. The first is to grow in faith everyday as we are planted in the church, and the second is to seek out and bring other wild grapes into God’s vineyard through His Son Jesus Christ.

Today I would like to call your attention to a very fruitful ministry within the LCMS, and it is the Lutheran Women’s Ministry League, or more simply called the LWML. It is an organization that has over the many years proven to be a very fruitful portion of God’s vineyard; a portion that continues over and over again to bear much fruit. Through the collection of mites and their faithful service in mission, these faithful ladies not only wait for the return of their Lord, but they serve Him in their waiting with gladness and zeal. They freely recognize that all of the hard work that they perform throughout the world is possible only because it is their Savior Jesus Christ, who is working in them and through them.

This morning, let us recognize and thank God for theses faithful ladies of the LWML, because they are living proof that God still does marvelous things within His vineyard. Where the ladies serve with gladness, the oil of gladness begins to impact those parts of the vine that they are attached to. Where once a congregation may have been wild or shriveled and old lacking fruit, when the LWML is revived within that congregation, a new spirit of service, as a result of the Spirit of Christ begins to reshape that congregation. This is why we should always celebrate and support the LWML Ministry. We are not celebrating the ladies who serve, but rather the Savior God within them that proves to all of us that God is still doing great and marvelous things around us, and that He wishes to call each of us into that mission so that He can do great and marvelous things within us and through us too!

While I understand that many who love gardening believe that they are closest to God when they are in their garden, I believe, no I know that we are really closest to God, nearest to His heart, when we are in His church. His presence among us through His means of grace moves our hearts to be thankful beyond words because He has made us a part of His pleasant planting through Jesus Christ. It is then that each of us will be moved to serve the Lord with gladness! AMEN!

Who Do You Say He Is?

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

First Sunday of Advent-HL,
November 27th, 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

“And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.” [Jeremiah 23:6b]

img_0040Who do you say Jesus is? This maybe the most important question you could be asked, and it is critical that you not only know the answer, but that you believe it. Today, many people love to give an answer that they feel comfortable with; an answer that won’t offend and offers hope in a way that they feel will be most appreciated. But God will not allow you to be comfortable with any answer but His own. Jesus is not simply your source of strength in trying times; Jesus is not your illustration to prove a political point; Jesus is not your last resource in desperate times. You see, Jesus alone is your only source of righteousness before God the Father; Jesus is our righteousness.

This morning, if you say that Jesus is your King, well very good, but what do you mean by that?

You see, He is more that just someone great who rules over your life. He is more than “your” king. By His birth He is the Son of David, and the people who called out to Him in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 21:1-9), were correct in acknowledging Him as their true King. But He is oh so much more that the King of the Jews.

He is a king indeed, and there is none other like Him; He has a kingdom that is not of this world, and it is the type of Kingship that will last forever. The subjects of other kings must humbly come to them, but this King comes to His subjects, humbly seated upon a donkey. Other kings draw all of their income from their subjects, but this King gives all that He has and is to a people who do not seek Him, nor do they care to know Him as He truly is.

This King has a proper title that also defines His person; He is the Christ. Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Mashiach, which we translate as Messiah. Both words mean “the Anointed One,” or if you prefer “the Crowned One,” or better yet, “the King.” It was the Jewish name for the Lord who God had promised through the prophets. It was upon His shoulders that the government would rest, and His Kingdom would be established and upheld “with righteousness for this time forth and forevermore.”

When the people shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13), this was a tribute to the Messiah of God. The church today offers the same tribute to our Lord today, on this first Sunday in Advent, and also on Palm Sunday. The lessons for this Sunday say the same as our own Hosanna: Jesus is the Christ, He is God’s Messiah, the Promised One that will come again, our King, the Lord of the whole creation. He alone is our righteousness!

“So you are a king?” Pilate asked. And Jesus answered: “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world.” It was no accident that Jesus was born of the lineage of David, of royal blood. And yet He was not Just a descendant of royalty. He himself says to the Pharisees that even David called Him Lord. This King existed in the time of David, and even before Abraham was, and He is Lord over all. All of history before and after His birth had its goal in Him. Since humankind has risen in defiance of God, God has planned this way—the only possible way of salvation for His children. In the fullness of time God sent His Son. All of the long preparation of Israel has its meaning only because it pointed forward and prepared the way for Christ.

Through the entrance of Christ into the world something decisive took place in history. And it is a this place that every human being is forced to make a decision. To answer the one great question: Who do you say that He is? We can either confess with St. Peter that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God or we can scoff at the question and turn down God’s great invitation to turn to this Christ and His cross for eternal life.

The enemies of Jesus felt that this was a place where commitment was called for. Their chief accusation against Him was: He claims to be the Messiah, a king. For a long time they did their level best to avoid the question of who Jesus is. When they were face to face with the power of His mighty acts they declared that He was in league with the devil and that He practiced sorcery. Finally the high priest asked a direct question: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And when Jesus answered that He was, they condemned Him to death. [Mark 14:61] They really had only two choices, the same choices we have; either they must acclaim Him as King and Messiah, or they must declare that He was a liar and a blasphemer. The high priest chose the latter rather than the former. Which do you choose? They would not submit to the power of Jesus, will you?

How you make your choice depends on if you see Jesus as your only source of righteousness; that is if you see Him as the only way you can be acceptable before a perfect and mighty God.

This morning, the psalmist (Psalm 24), asks us a very important question: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” And before we can have time to formulate an answer, He gives it to us: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” Is there any hope for you; can you accomplish these things? Did you know that it is God’s deepest desire for you that you will? God is so serious about having you ascend to His place reserved for you, this paradise restored, that He encourages you with these promised blessings once you arrive: “He (who ascends) will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Is God speaking to you? Yes, He is. Listen: “Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” The time is now, and the generation is yours, and all you must do is seek Him in the way He can be found.

This morning, God declares to you that if you can not boldly declare that you are the person who can stand before Him with out guilt or fear, if you are not the person with clean hands and someone who has no deceit in them, then you are almost ready to ascend the holy hill of the Lord. All that you lack is God’s provision to be righteous before Him. And now, hear the good news: Jesus is that provision’ Jesus is your King and source of righteousness.

Jesus is called the King of glory because he is true God and because he has defeated all the enemies of God’s people. He came in glory when he entered the world as a baby, born to die for our sins, but his glory was concealed, except to the eyes of faith. Many of the people of Israel did not recognize Christ’s glory when he came, and they still refuse to welcome him today. When Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he received a royal welcome, but it was superficial and short-lived—yet he will not be deprived of the honor due him.

When the psalmist urges the gates of Jerusalem to open wide so that the King may enter, he is really inviting all of God’s people to welcome their King with joy when he comes. Jesus comes in glory now through the gospel, and we welcome him with joy when we receive that Word in faith. Jesus’ glory will be more openly displayed when he comes to judge the world. When Jesus returns, the angels will gather all believers so that all of us can welcome him. [1 Thessalonians 4:14] When Jesus returns in glory, He will receive from his people a royal welcome that will last forever.

But how do you know that you are counted as one of His people? Because you have been baptized in His name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And because of this work of God, you have both a desire and an ability given through the Word of God to not only know this King, but to be numbered as one of His beloved. In Holy Baptism, you put on Christ, or rather, He was put on you. On that day the Holy Spirit of God began to dwell in you richly. And now God, invites you to daily “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh, (or) to gratify its desires.” [Romans 13:14] That is everyday, you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life that glorifies and pleases God.

In holy baptism Jesus brings you into His rule of righteousness.

The effect of His rule of righteousness is promised to be dramatic. Judah would be saved; Israel would dwell in safety. These are pictures of confidence, certainty, and peace. Such security and well-being are conveyed along with the righteousness of Christ, the forgiveness of sins given to every repentant baptized sinner. This picture describes the peace that the work of Christ brings to the believing child of God. The believer has peace because of the final word of Christ’s promise.

The cause of their peace and its guarantee, its true character, are revealed by the name that the Lord gives to the Messiah: The Lord Our Righteousness. This is the whole gospel, the whole message of Scripture, summed up in a few precious words. The Lord himself is our righteousness. For that to be true, the Lord himself must have become one of us, having taken all that we are upon himself.

These words point us to the Christmas miracle of the incarnation, the Word of God made human flesh. But they also point to that most comforting truth: not only is the Messiah righteous in himself, but through his perfect life of obedience, His suffering and death and rising to life, He won for us justification and reconciliation with God, through the forgiveness of sins. What He is and what He has done, he has done for us, and it is given to us a gift, the gift of righteousness, a righteousness that we could never have gained for ourselves. Here is the way that allows you to ascend God’s Holy hill; here is the door that opens paradise and keeps it open: The Lord is our righteousness; yes, the Lord is my righteousness; the Lord is your righteousness. What He did, He did for you. And this is what He gives to you in holy baptism: He has made you His own. This is your certainty, your hope, your confidence: the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself for you.

Now that you know God’s only answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”, it is time for you to answer for yourself. What God has spoken and done here today is for your own eternal salvation; that is, your eternal salvations depends on the answer that you give. And so Christ asks you here and now: “But who do you say that I am?” [Mark 16:15]

Living in the Promised Land

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (A), September 28, 2014

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

Click here for audio of this message

“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” [Isaiah 5:1]

And let the church say Amen!  Amen to the reign of our beloved Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen to life in His vineyard, the church.  But most of us south of Temecula don’t really understand the nature of a vineyard, do we?  I understand that producing grapes is a lot of work, and yet it is completely foreign to me.  So, let’s talk about gardens instead.

Gardening, for many of you is a very satisfying and relaxing endeavor.  Your efforts are rewarded with beautiful flowers, plants, and produce.  But gardening is also a lot of work.  Many of us who worked these last two months to finish the rose garden on the east side of the sanctuary and the Polynesian garden on the west side of the garden can attest to that truth.  Many of us men have had sore backs days after working in those gardens.  We would almost swear to the truth that we perspired gallons of sweat and developed blisters larger than any we have ever had.  And yet, there outside of the windows of our sanctuary are the beautiful gardens, and they will be even more beautiful next year, God willing.

But sometimes you plant something that just doesn’t turn out to be what you expected it to be; it either never takes root or it grows in a wild way that you did not desire, and you know that if you don’t do something about it, it will ruin the entire garden.  So with those kinds of disasters, what is a gardener to do?  You uproot it and start over!

Yes, gardening is a lot of work, but God warned our first parents, Adam and Eve of this sad truth after they fell to sin.  Listen:  “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:17-9]  But God promised the faithful descendants of Adam and Eve, that one day He would send a Savior, who would first deliver them from their sins, and then He would also, through this coming Savior bring them back to Eden, the real “Promised Land!”

And that is the situation that the prophet Isaiah speaking for God, is describing in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 5:1-7) this morning.

The children of Israel, descendants of faithful Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been resting in God’s vineyard, the promised land for many long years now.  And when they first arrived there, they were told that it would be a land of milk and honey; in other words, God would provide all that they needed to live right and peaceably with Him, each other, and within the land itself.  All that they needed to do was trust in the promise of the coming Savior and then follow God’s commandments, which were to be a hedge of protection for them, and a wall that would separate them from the godless nations that surrounded them.  But…

They began to develop a national pride that caused them to not only look down on other nations but they also forgot about their God who actually planted them there.  There God was the One who prepared the Promised Land for them; He was the One who dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted them there as His choice vines.  He set up the watchtower, which was their form of worship of the One True God, and He was the One through the use of the Law and Gospel, worked within them to put to death their old sinful nature, and bring to life their new circumcised nature, a faithful nature, which waited patiently for the coming Savior.

And as they continued to live as if God did not matter, God took notice.  He sent many prophets and judges who spoke Words of warning and Words of encouragement, so that the people would remember the true God and then see their sinful need for a Savior.  But they would not take notice; they would not yield!

So now O church, judge between God and His vineyard.  What more was there for Him to do for His vineyard?  He looked for a yield of grapes, that is works produced by faith in the coming Savior and the promised return to Eden, but He found only wild grapes, works that glorified man and not their God.  Well there was one more thing that God would do; He would send His Son!

In our Gospel reading (Matthew 21:33-46), Jesus tells another story about a vineyard.  It is a story told to the same sort of religious leaders that Isaiah was speaking to in our Old Testament lesson.  A man planted a garden and rented it out to tenants. But when the owner sent servants (prophets of God) to collect the rent, the tenants killed the servants. In exasperation, he sent his son (His Only begotten Son), and they killed him. Jesus asked his hearers what the owner would do, and the crowd answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” (21:41). Looking for grapes, precious grapes, the owner instead got wild grapes, and on top of that, they killed his son too.

You see friends, this morning’s readings aren’t really about vineyards or gardening at all, instead they’re about the people of God, ancient Israel and you and me today.  It’s a warning that we must not become wild in our nature, but remain people of faith; faith in the Savior promised long ago who has come, and faith that one day very soon, He will come again to bring us once and for all back to Eden, the true Promised Land.

We may be tempted to ask God why He chose to place those disobedient people into His vineyard, knowing that they would be wild grapes and produce only bloodshed and outcries, but then we would have to ask Him also, why he brought us into His new vineyard, Christ’s church.  You see, today you and I are supposed to be God’s pleasant planting; we too are suppose to produce fruits, good works of righteousness, but many times we don’t; instead we produce wild grapes.  So why does God plant?  Because He loves His vineyard, His garden; God loves you!

The church, which for now is our promised land, is God’s planting, His vineyard.  It is easy to forget that this isn’t our church, but His.  And it is even easier to forget that it is God who does the real work within us and through us.  Like preparing a vineyard or garden, He plants us in Holy Baptism and then lovingly tends to our growth through His means of grace; His teaching, preaching, and Holy Supper.  It is His work within us that shapes us and prunes us into the very image of His Son, who was killed by the former tenants so that He would rise from that death and fulfill the promise of the coming Savior who would bring us one day back to the final promised land, the Kingdom of Heaven, which is Eden restored!

You see friends, this pleasant planting of the Lord we call the church is for now, as we wait, our promised land; it is where God provides for our needs, and prunes and tends to our growth.  All of this work of God is centered in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ who died, rose, and gives us His Holy Spirit.  Jesus assures us of this when He says, “I an the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15: 1, 5]

And here we are abiding; simultaneously resting and working within the promised land we call the church, and knowing full well that by God’s grace we will one day enter the final Promised Land.  And as we wait, we have two missions to fulfill.  The first is to grow in faith everyday as we are planted in the church, and the second is to seek out and bring other wild grapes into God’s vineyard through His Son Jesus Christ.

Today is LWML Sunday.  It is a day that we celebrate a very fruitful portion of God’s vineyard; a portion that continues over and over again to bear much fruit.  Through the collection of mites and their faithful service in mission, these faithful ladies not only wait for the return of their Lord, but they serve Him in their waiting with gladness and zeal.  They freely recognize that all of the hard work that they perform throughout the world is possible only because it is their Savior Jesus Christ, who is working in them and through them.

This morning, we recognize the ladies of the LWML because they are living proof that God still does marvelous things within His vineyard.  Where the ladies serve with gladness, the oil of gladness begins to impact those parts of the vine that they are attached to.  Where once a congregation may have been wild or shriveled and old lacking fruit, when the LWML is revived within that congregation, a new spirit of service, as a result of the Spirit of Christ begins to reshape that congregation.  This is why we celebrate the LWML this morning.  We are not celebrating the ladies who serve, but the Savior God within them that proves to all of us that God is still doing great and marvelous things around us, and that He wishes to call each of us into that mission so that He can do great and marvelous things within us and through us!

While I understand that many who love gardening believe that they are closest to God when they are in their garden, I believe, no I know that we are really closest to God, nearest to His heart, when we are in His church.  His presence among us through His means of grace moves our hearts to be thankful beyond words because He has made us a part of His pleasant planting through Jesus Christ.  It is then that each of us will be moved to serve the Lord with gladness!  AMEN!

The Cross!


Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 3A, June 29, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” [Matthew 10:38]

What does it mean to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?  This morning we will explore that very question by looking at both our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 28:5-9) and our Gospel lesson (Matthew 10:34-42).  But before we get started let me share a more contemporary example of a man that both identified his cross and even bore it with great strength and dignity.

On May 13, 1940, Winston Churchill addressed the British parliament as he was about to become prime minister. Hitler’s troops had already invaded Poland, and they had just begun their Blitzkrieg advance into France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. War was crashing upon the world as Churchill stepped into leadership. And unlike so many politicians, Churchill did not promise a bright, optimistic future; he held out no hope of speedy victory or early peace. Instead, he electrified the parliament and unified his country with these famous but difficult words: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” No politician today would campaign on a slogan like that.  But Churchill was a truth teller.  He called a thing what it was.

In our Old Testament lesson, we see that very same honesty and sincerity from the prophet Jeremiah.  If you remember last weeks lesson, Jeremiah had confronted the leaders of Israel with a very sobering message: God was angry with the sin of the nation; they had embraced false worship practices and even foreign gods, and as a result God would soon punish the entire nation, by allowing it to be defeated in war and exiled into Babylon.

This was a hard message for Jeremiah to declare, and yet it was the very message of God.  What else can a true prophet of God do but declare the very Word that God has given?  So a true prophet, like a true Christian always speaks only as God has spoken; he calls out something for what it is; he calls a thing what it is, just as God does.

This truth telling was an unthinkable dilemma for the Israelites; could it be true?  Is God really against His own people?  Was He now taking the side of the godless Babylonians?  “Yes” declared the prophet Jeremiah, “on account of your unrepentant sin, you will pay the consequence of that sin.  But God will not abandon you; you will never be alone.  God desired that the leaders and all of the people repent, and turn to his mercy, and His forgiving love.”

But, hard messages from true men of God always leave room for false messages from false prophets.  In essence, it pays to tell the leaders and people of a nation what they want to hear.  The people name their desire and the prophet claims it.  And not only that, he assures the people that they too, may claim the promise of glory and comfort for themselves, all in the name of God!  And that is exactly what the false prophet Hananiah did.

When Jeremiah smashed the clay jar demonstrating how God would destroy the nation of Israel, Hananiah, the leaders of the nation, and the people were incensed.  But when Jeremiah next came among the people and the leaders wearing a wooden yoke, and declaring that just as the yoke was upon him, God would allow the Babylonians to place the yoke of slavery upon His people, Hananiah sensed his opportunity to ingratiate himself to the populace, and he sprung into action.  He snatched the yoke off of Jeremiah’s shoulders, smashing it to pieces, and declared, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon.” [Jeremiah 28:2, 3]

So Jeremiah prophesied times of pain and suffering, but God promised that in the midst of it, the people of faith still could find joy and assurance, because God was still with them; He promised current comfort and future blessing, in the midst of hard times.  But the false prophet Hananiah promised that not only was God with them now, but He would also give them blessing and glory in the near future, by defeating their enemies.

So which prophet do you think the people chose to follow?  Now, I know myself, and you know yourselves and the way all of our sinful neighbors are as well, right?  Had we been there, we would also have chosen the message of Hananiah.  We would have turned away from the path of pain and embraced the promised path of peace and glory.  To borrow the tone and expression of a certain law firm’s television commercial regarding structured settlements, “It’s our glory and we want it now!”

And to all of this confusion, Jesus speaks very clearly to us with these words from our gospel reading: ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  A sword?  Isn’t that a bit violent coming from Jesus?  Isn’t He the Son of God, the Prince of Peace who brings peace to all He greets?

Yes, all of that is true, indeed. But “upon the earth” takes in the world of sinful men, and the effect of Christ’s coming. That is to say that His mission among sinful men and women, is the opposite of “peace,” namely, He comes to make war; spiritual war against sinful flesh, which is exactly what the “sword” symbolizes.  So in this great contrast Jesus is saying that peace in the sense of harmony, which we hunger for is not what His presence brings to this sinful world, rather it brings a sword, or division among sinful men and women and those who repent by turning to Christ and those who refuse.  In other words, if Christ didn’t come to save the world from its sins, the earth would remain undisturbed and ignorant of its sins and guilt, until that is, the day of its doom; the day of judgment. But Christ did come to take away the immense sin and that guilt; He came to die upon a cross and make atonement, payment in full for all sin.

So, at once a real war results with the coming of this Prince of Peace, because perverted men and women still want to cling to their sins, that is they want peace and comfort, wealth and blessings now, without the cross, and without the pain and suffering.  So they fight Christ and His gospel.  They desire the resurrection without the cross.  They desire commitment and personal decision instead of the blessed promises and work of God that is given at the font in our individual baptisms.  And hear now a great truth, Christ foresaw this effect, even in us today, and He even willed it to be so.

This morning, Jesus says to us, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

What is your cross that you must bear?  It is the same cross that Jeremiah bore; it is confessing the very Word of God just as He gives it to us in Holy Scripture, without change.  It is calling a thing what it is; knowing and speaking to those things that are sinful and those things that are God pleasing and glorifying.  It is living for God’s glory and not for your own peace and comfort in this world, because you know that while the physical world of pain and sorrow is but for a moment, the joy and wealth of heaven that you will one day receive is eternal.

Jesus once said that “In the world you will have tribulation.” But then He also said, “take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  The tribulation that we face in this world when we cling to Christ alone will be conflict.  Conflict with our own sinful flesh, conflict with our neighbor, and even conflict with our own families.  When we stand for Christ we also stand against sin, and when we stand against sin we are by nature standing against those who cling to it rather than Christ.  If we shrink from our stand in Christ, that is if we reject the cross of confessing Him alone as Lord, we have then conversely taken the side of the false prophets and their theology that says we can have the glory that is reserved only for God and the saints in heaven, right now!  And if we do this, Jesus clearly says that we are not worthy of Him.

Dear friends, Christ is to be so precious to us that not even those we love will be able to draw us away from Him and His church.  No suffering or shame should ever be able to repel us from Him.

If this message has made you uncomfortable then allow it also to bring you peace and comfort with the promise of future and eternal glory.  This morning, Jesus says, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Jesus has paid for your sins upon the cross with His own life-blood.  He has defeated the devil, undone his deceptions, by unveiling his lies of promised glory in this world.  He has shown you the truth, and more than that He has given you His peace.  He has turned your eyes off of the promises of the world and demonstrated to you the certainty of the promises of your baptism; complete forgiveness of sins is yours forever, if you will but trust in Him alone.

Now while it is true that you receive all of this with a degree of tension, it is not so great a tension that God’s peace cannot overcome it.  The kingdom of God, the promises of His gospel, and the promise of his glory are yours right now, but they have not yet been revealed.  For now, for a little while you must hold on by faith, and trust that all things, even divisions between those closest to you will in the end, work together for your good.  And as we wait, we humbly follow our Lord and His wonderful cross, as we carry our own.  Like the people who Jeremiah preached to, we too must wait in exile, in a foreign land of sin, but we can take heart, because our Savior and His cross have overcome the world, and He promises to never leave us nor forsake us as we carry our own.  AMEN!

A Love Without End… AMEN!



Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 2A, June 22, 2014

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I want to start off our message with a quick question: “What is there in your life that you can show to others, which proves that God loves you?”  Many of us may be tempted to point others to blessings in our lives, such as the love of family, health, a good job, money in the bank, or something else that is good, which gives us comfort and peace.  But if that is how you measure God’s love for you, doesn’t that mean that Christians who do not have the love of family, good health, a good job, or money in the bank can not be certain of God’s love?  What about when the things you call blessings vanish and life is hard, does God still love you?

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, the prophet Jeremiah continually wrestled with thoughts like these.  He was a prophet not unlike the other prophets who went before him, in that he was called to declare a message from God that was not popular with the people of God; it was a message that spoke of God’s displeasure with His people’s sin.  It was a message that foretold of God’s discipline that was coming soon; a discipline that was meant to move sinners back to their forgiving God.

Like the other prophets, Jeremiah was directed to use symbolic acts, which accented both the message and the work that God was preparing to perform among and to His people.  Our text this morning (Jeremiah 20:7-13) follows on the heals of one of those symbolic acts.  Jeremiah had just smashed a clay jar in front of the leaders of Israel with the message that proclaimed that as he had smashed the clay jar, so too, would God smash the nation of Israel on account of their sins and their falling from faith.  How did they fall from their faith?  By allowing and following foreign worship practices among them, and even by embracing foreign gods.  Seven chapters later, Jeremiah would confront the civil and religious leaders by wearing a wooden yoke on his shoulders.  This act symbolized Israel’s political submission to the Babylonians; it foretold that just as Jeremiah was yoked like a beast of burden, so too would the Israelites be taken into Babylon in captivity, as slaves.  And when it happened, all of God’s people were to know that God alone, both allowed it and caused it to happen as His way to turn His people’s hearts back to His love and care.

But God’s message to His people is not just a message for the future, but also a message for the present; that is, it is a message for the here and now.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, God is telling all of His people to turn away from any hope that they have placed in their sinful leaders and foreign gods, which is both the reason and the source of “terror on every side.” Instead, they were to turn to Him alone as their source of comfort and assurance.

Now some may wonder, what kind of comfort and assurance can be found in a message that foretells of punishment?  And the answer is that even in the middle of hard times, God is promising His children that He is there with them; you are not alone nor abandoned!  But how are we similar to Jeremiah?  How can his lessoned learned help us?  Well let’s examine that question next.

We can imagine that Jeremiah’s message was a difficult one for him to share, right?  His message to those who continually reject God’s presence in their lives had to be one of bitterness and grief, bordering on despair.  Jeremiah had to be looking at his fellow countrymen and even family, and he had to be grieving.  Why?  Well, God’s forgiving love for him had changed him and filled him with a love for other sinners; a God given love.  In the end, Jeremiah’s grief was too much for him to carry.  Does this sound familiar?  Don’t we too have that same grief for children, parents, friends and neighbors who constantly seem to reject Jesus sacrifice upon the cross and the gift of grace that is given in Holy Baptism?

Like Jeremiah, we whose love is deep grieve deeply.  Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, we too grieve like Samuel, who mourned for King Saul who fell in death, separated from God’s love (1 Samuel 15:35).  Like Jeremiah, we too are prone to grieve like St. Paul, who would have wished himself cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his fellow Jews (Romans 9:2,3).  But I think that the best example that demonstrated and surpasses Jeremiah’s grief, is the grief of our Lord.  Jesus, the Son of God grieved when approaching Jerusalem, just before His death upon the cross, as He looked at it and wept, because it did not, and for many would not recognize Him as the only means of eternal happiness; the only way to approach a righteous God. [Luke 19:40-44]

Like Jesus, Jeremiah grieved because all of his preaching seemed to have failed to produce repentance or any kind of faith into the hearts of those he loved.  Try as he might, none of them seemed willing to receive the message of God’s punishment, but also a message of mercy and grace.  As he experienced the people’s growing and bitter opposition of the message God had tasked him to proclaim, he learned with great sorrow, that God’s law does not bring peace, but more wrath and punishment. [Romans 4:15]  He learned that the law of God drives unrepentant sinners deeper into sin and creates a  ferocious hatred for God.  Jeremiah learned to his sorrow, that for some people, even family members, the promise of God’s mercy, that is His forgiving love through the gospel, becomes the smell of death. [2 Corinthians 2:16]

In his struggle with grief, the prophet Jeremiah became angry with God, and accused God of tricking him.  Perhaps you too, have had that same experience with God; and experience that seems to befall you just because you love Jesus and His gift of grace, and feel compelled to share it with those you love, only to have them reject both the message and your love for them.  It hurts, right?  Maybe, you too like Jeremiah have complained to God that despite all of your witnessing and mentoring of Christ’s love, not one of your invitations to help others know Jesus like you do, has seemed to produce any results?  Maybe you have already experienced the reality that Jesus had predicted in our gospel lesson: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise agains parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my names sake.” [Matthew 10:21, 22a]

Now, while we may not be delivered over to death, to have a family member or loved one avoid you simply because you are a Christian, who can’t help but witness to Christ’s forgiving and life giving love, can be a pain that feels like death.  Jesus promises us that if we endure this pain and do not give up our hope in Him, we will be saved.  But how do we endure through what seems to be unendurable?  We pray and claim God’s promises of life and eternal hope!

Like Jeremiah, we too might be tempted to abandon our hope in God’s promises fulfilled in Christ, or we may be tempted to become a “closet Christian” and just keep our faith to ourselves.  But Jeremiah tells us that if we do that, we will just experience what he experienced when he tried to stop preaching.  He could not do it, because the Living Word of God within him overpowered him and compelled him to speak.  But that Living Word within him also compelled him to do something else; he was compelled to speak to God in prayer; to call out to God for help and strength.

You see, deep down Jeremiah knew that he was not alone.  The Living Word of God, who is the very Son of God attends and helps us just as He attended to and helped Jeremiah; He keeps His promise that He will never leave nor forsake us.  Just as the Lord was Jeremiah’s ever-present help in times of trouble, so too He is yours.  Our Lord would not allow Jeremiah to be overcome with evil or grief, and He will not allow you to slip away either.

Just as our Lord came quickly to help Jeremiah, He promises to respond to your cries for help as well.  Like Jeremiah, we not only may call out for help from God Himself, but He also promises to respond just as He did with Jeremiah.  And when God works within our spirits and we discover that we are not alone, we too will be moved to praise God through the work of the Gospel, that is the forgiveness of sins and the presence of God and declare: “Praise The Lord!  For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of the evildoers.”

Dear friends, how do we know that God loves us?  Because His Word tells us so.  No matter what life circumstances may communicate, God’s message in His Word is always one of love; a message that says you are not alone!

When you feel like giving up or taking a break from your faith, take a moment in prayer and ask God the Father to help you through His Word, to remember the depths of His love, not just for you, but for your family members, closest friends and neighbors.  Ask Him to help you remember His passion for sinners; a passion that is so deep that He sent His only Son to die for each and everyone of them.  And then continue to pray to the Heavenly Father who loves you for the ones you love; continue to point them to the cross of Jesus and the waters of Holy baptism, where they like you, may also experience the divine love without end… AMEN!

You Will Be Holy

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 23, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” [Leviticus 19:1, 2]

Does that bit of scripture from our Old Testament lesson make you nervous?  It could if you read it with a sinful heart, or if you didn’t understand what new life in Christ really means.  If that was the case, you would read it more like this: “You will be holy… or else!”  Now that can be terrifying because of who is speaking… the Holy God of the universe!   But as we said last week, that is not God’s will for you Christians.  He has given you a new heart; a heart that will hear those words in a different way; a way like this: “You will be holy because I who am holy, am with you always.  I am holy for you, so… be Holy!

The gospel song we just heard by the Highway QC’s encouraged us to live holy, or to be “Working on the Building.”  Or to paraphrase St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 3:10-23), discover how God gives us both warning and hope as we take caution in how we build upon the foundation of our lives, that is the source of our holiness, Jesus Christ! [1 Cor. 3:10, 11]

This morning, before I speak one Word about our Old Testament lesson, I want to assure that you little ones who belong to Jesus Christ receive these Words within the proper context; so I share with you this reminder from St. Paul: “You were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.” [1 Cor. 6:20]  The price of your salvation was the very lifeblood of Jesus, the Son of God.  The way you glorify God in your body is to be holy, that is you will live out the freedom that Christ’s sacrifice has brought you.

In verses 9 through 16 God shows us what holiness looks like in three places: The field; the community; and the courts.  It was meant to cover all aspects of life for the young nation of Israel as they prepared to enter the land promised them by God.  The Law of God represented the hedge of protection so to speak that He had set up for them so that they would not become enslaved again by the world, but instead remain holy as they lived to please Him.  Within each directive were two major premises that summed up all of God’s law: You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, body, and soul, and you shall love your neighbor as your self.  In other words, God was teaching them how to “work on their building” or, he was teaching them how to maintain their relationship of holiness with Him and each other.

In all of these prohibitions for the field, the community, and the courts, what God is saying is that people matter to Him, especially the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the down trodden.  And since they matter to Him, they must matter to us!  They were the ones that had neither land nor meaningful employment, which forced them to labor at the will of others as they attempted to scratch out just enough to provide for the basics of life.  To ensure that they were provided for, God’s Word established rules for those who had farms and vineyards; God established a simple way for those who had much to provide for those who had little; they must leave some of the bounty of their harvest for the poor.  When I lived in Louisiana many years ago, I observed this practice still being followed, as the poor went out with their large cloth bags to pick the cotton growing at the edge of the fields and at the fence lines so that they could then sell it and have money to care for their families.  What we Christians know today, is the very thing that Moses and his flock knew then, God cares about the poor and so should we!  But God also cares about those folks who can easily fall prey to others who are more cunning and self-centered.  These are the ones that trust that God will protect them through the holiness and love of others.  And that is where God’s Word takes us next…

The community!  Perhaps one of the most despicable things you will witness in our community is when others take advantage of those who can’t protect themselves.  I remember one incident where I witnessed children teasing and taking advantage of another child with Down’s Syndrome.  My natural reaction was to rush over to that child and protect him.  My second response was to scold the other children and teach them what it meant to fear and love God and love each other.  This is precisely what God is doing for us and to us in this portion of our reading, where He insists that living out His holiness will protect those who are deaf and the blind.  If we take this as a metaphor, then, God is directing us to apply His holiness to anyone who is weak and vulnerable.  This gives a whole new appreciation to the old illustration of the Boy Scout helping the old lady cross the street, while also carrying her groceries.

And Jesus says to us this morning: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” [Matt. 26:40]  So… “Do not steal.  Do not lie.  Do not deceive one another.  Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God.  Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him.  Do not hold back the wages of a hired man (or someone who is living hand to mouth) over night.  Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God.  I am the LORD.”

Well the final area of life addressed in our Old Testament lesson is ready for us to examine, and it is represented by the place where justice is found.  For the Israelites, that place was the council of the Elders.  They were both the municipal government and the court system.

Have you ever seen the statue that represents our legal system?  It is the image of the Roman goddess Justitia.  She stands blindfolded with weight scales in one hand and a sword resting in the other.  It is suppose to represent both our government and our legal system.  It is suppose to remind us that government and justice must serve and hand out justice equally; they are blind to status and influence, and empowered by God Himself to both protect and take vengeance against those who act contrary to the law.  But ask any victim of a crime who has not had justice served, and they will paint a different picture of lady Justice for you.  Their idea of that old Lady is a picture where she is peaking out of the blindfold, with scales tipped to favor the fortunate and influential, and a sword not at rest but poised to strike anyone who disagrees with her.

But God is not blind; He sees all things, and today He declares to those of us who go to the government or the courts for help, and to those who would misuse our system: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.  Do not go about spreading slander among your people.  Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life.  I am the LORD.”

Well, following the theme of building our lives and our community upon God’s holiness, we could say that it is time for the building inspector to come along and evaluate our building process thus far.

If your roof is leaking and the walls are caving in, it is a good bet that you have not been building according to God’s plan.  But conversely, if your roof appears water tight, and the walls are intact, it means nothing if your foundation is cracked!  And that takes us to the final area, which our Old Testament lesson addresses…

Our Hearts!  When God spoke the words of our Old Testament lesson to His people through Moses, it was a foretaste of the very Words Jesus would speak to the church, listen: “I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]  And, “Everyone who hears these Words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” [Matt. 7:24]  You see God always ties His people’s holiness to His Word that turns His people back to Him; back to His promise to save them through His Son, Jesus Christ!  Jesus alone is our foundation, our source of holiness, life, and salvation.  God attaches Himself to us through His means of grace.  The Word of God and the Sacraments feed and nourish us as surely as a vine feeds and nourishes the branches and as strong as a solid foundation supports the building!

Do you want to live a holy life?  Good then look to Jesus!  Look to Jesus upon the cross between two thieves, hear those who He came to save and die for hurl insults at Him and mock Him, and then hear Him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And then look within your own heart and find those corrupt, sinful things that do not belong in the vine and allow God’s Spirit to pluck them out.  Find any thing that will corrupt the foundation of Christ alone, and allow God to remove them.

Do you struggle with anger and the desire to take revenge?  Are you at times overwhelmed with the apparent unfairness of life?  Then again, look to Jesus.  Look to Jesus and remember that it is God alone who pays back evildoers.  Cyprian, one of the early church fathers in the 3rd Century said: “When a wrong is received, patience is to be maintained, and vengeance is to be left to God.”  Today, on the Sunday that we are about to gather for our potluck in remembrance of Black History Month, we remember also the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who lived out that same belief.  Within the crucible of pain and the path of the cross of Jesus, Dr. King also worked on his building as he continued by faith to follow His Lord.  He saw a day when all of God’s children regardless of their race or condition in life would be able to praise God in one voice saying… “Free at last; free at last.  Thank God almighty, free at last!”

For us dear Christians that time has already come upon us; we have been freed, but we still live in a world that is held in bondage to sin.  We still experience the sinfulness and unfairness of this fallen world, but we know that this is the very reason that we are still here!  We are here to display God’s holiness; to be salt and light in a dying world.  We are blessed for this moment and for this generation.  We are the baptized; we are the church, that great city on a hill that can not be hidden.  We are not under the Law but we follow the One who fulfilled it, Jesus Christ.  We are under His Law and that is the Law of love.  He is our very foundation and that foundation is love; love for God and mutual law for each other.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.”  And “By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” [Jn. 13:34, 35]  To love does not mean to simply wish well for others, but instead it means that we bear each others burdens, that is to bear what is burdensome to you, something you would rather not carry.  So as our sainted Dr. Martin Luther said, “A Christian must have broad shoulders and husky bones to carry the flesh, that is the weakness of the brethren.”  In other words, we need God’s holiness to be holy for each other; we need Jesus Christ!

Do you by the work of God have Jesus?  Will you with the help of God confess your need for Him always in your life?  Will you, also with the help of God value His Word and Sacraments as your very source of life and strength?  Do you long to hear His Word speak forgiveness to your heart, and do you see His church as the very embodiment of His presence in this dying world?  Good, then you are holy.  Now in Jesus name, go out and be holy!  AMEN!

Live Long and Prosper

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 19, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Last week, God’s Word invited us to live out our third choice, His choice, Jesus Christ.  Today we continue that journey, that choice of living everyday with God’s mercy and forgiving love which is ours through Christ’s death and resurrection as our baptismal identity.

This morning in our Old Testament lesson, God spoke through Moses to the people of Israel an urgent message of repentance, but He is also speaking to us, listen: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” [Deuteronomy 30:15-18]

So this morning, like the people of Israel, God gives us two choices: 1. Choose life in Me and you will live long and prosper, or; 2. Choose life in the world and you will surely perish.

What Israel could not have known yet, because God had not yet warned them through the prophets, was the truth that even though they were on their way to the promised land, they would sin against God by choosing the way of the world and they would be taken back into bondage through exile to foreign lands, and then, they would be given an opportunity to repent and once again know God’s grace, that is His mercy and forgiving love.  Then and only then, would they be able to live a life surrounded by God’s blessings and the daily choice to remain obedient to the will of God and His commandments.  If they would choose God’s way they would have something greater than a long life, they would have an eternal life.  But failure to receive all of God’s Word would most certainly result in death; that is eternal separation from God.

So we see, what God was really saying to the people of Israel and to us today is “Choose Me and you will be choosing a long, eternal, and prosperous life!  If you choose to stay with Me, I will always be with you just as I went with my people in the desert as a pillar of light by night and pillar of cloud by day.  I did that so you would know that I would never leave you or forsake you.  But not only was I with you, but I provided all that you needed to survive.  I gave you both food and drink.”  What Israel was to remember was that God chose them, they did not choose Him.  So now, all that He was asking them to do was rest in that choice; sadly many did not.  They did not choose God because they preferred to choose the way of the world.

Whenever Israel chose the way of the world, they were choosing sin; in essence they were declaring their independence from the God who not only created them, but redeemed them.  They chose death, evil, and the curse that went with death and evil… eternal separation from their only source of salvation.  Here is a trust worthy saying: When ever God’s children choose sin over Him and His gift of faith, which He has given to them, they also loose the ability to be obedient to His will, and then very quickly they will unite with their new masters, sin, death, and the devil.  If you reject God who creates life, then it only makes sense that you embrace death.

So what we discover is that choice is not something we do to get something we want, but something God has done and then invites us to rest in; something that gives purpose and meaning to life… and that something is the life of Jesus Christ.  Jesus life, death, and resurrection reminds us that we did not choose God, He chose us.

This morning, Jesus, the Son of God says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. [John 15:16-17]

Dear friends, I pray that you understand how blessed you are to be living in the time that you are living.  God does not speak to your through a burning bush, nor is He present with you in a pillar of fire or cloud.  He is with you now through His Son, Jesus Christ.  In His Word He speaks life into you.  By the power of His Spirit, God’s Word becomes strong and living within you.  In that Word you hear how God came to a sinful world that would not repent, that is they would not come to Him and choose life.  They would not choose Him so He came to them.  He came to them through His Son Jesus, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God made all things new!  But God did not just choose to save the world; He chose to save you personally.

In your baptism, God took the power of Christ’s death, a gift for the world and He applied it to you personally.  In your baptism, you have been saved from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil, and you have been told that your time of exile is over; that is your separation from God is over.  Now all that is left for you to do dear Christian is to continue following Jesus and His way, the way of the cross.

The way of the cross is the way of the baptized.  Martin Luther throughout His life encouraged Christians to embark on this journey every morning by rising out of bed, making the sign of the cross, and then saying, “I am baptized into Christ.”  That is your old sinful nature has been buried with Christ, and your new baptized nature has been resurrected with Him.  In other words you are reaffirming every morning that you choose life; you choose to live out God’s choice of life for you and then demonstrate that life to others that you will encounter throughout the day.

Just as Israel long ago was commanded to choose life so too are we.  By choosing life God means for us to choose to rest in His source to save us, Jesus Christ.  He is the source of both our choice and the purpose for the lives we live under this choice.  In other words, Jesus gives our lives meaning; He gives us the ability to live lives of faith and obedience to the will of God.  As Israel was invited to choose life, so are we.  With Jesus as the source of our life, we discover that our life has a purpose here on this earth.  And that purpose is to witness to God’s mercy and forgiving love.  We can do this because everyday we are experiencing it through God’s grace, which has become His gift to us through our baptism.  We choose life because He who was crucified and resurrected has assured us of the true life we have in Him.

Dear friends, you will not choose death because Jesus has destroyed death through the cross and the empty tomb.  You are not your own; you have been bought with a price.  You no longer live to please yourself, but your Father in Heaven.  Your life in Christ is now about caring for God and for your neighbor.  You choose life for yourself when you choose the will of God over your own will.  Your life will not be consumed with satisfying your own sinful desires but instead, you will become conscience of the will of God and the needs of your neighbor, and their greatest need is to know Jesus unto eternal life.

Everyday, we who call ourselves Christians are confronted with all kinds of choices as we live out our lives here in a dying world.  All to often, our sinful flesh over powers our new nature and caves into the world’s definition of choice.  We find ourselves picking and choosing the things that will benefit ourselves at the expense of pleasing God and helping out our neighbors within our community.  But choice within God’s definition of choice is not a matter of picking and choosing; it is a covenant term or a promise from God to us.  We know that those who refuse to receive God’s promise of life through Jesus Christ will only know death.  But we who are baptized, that is those of us who are saved by God’s grace through faith, choose to live out that baptismal grace every day.  We choose to continue to live out our lives in Christ, and we are assured of His presence and strength through out our lives in this world of exile.  We cling to the promise of Jesus that says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you”.

I pray that as you continue living out God’s choice you would know that eternal life is yours.  I pray that you would live a life of peace with God and peace with your neighbor.  I pray that you would live long and prosper, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Living Out the Third Choice

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 12, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

Our Gospel lesson declares a wonderful truth… “You are the salt of the earth… and “You are the light of the world.”  Who is?  You dear Christians, each and everyone of you who Christ has redeemed and washed clean in the waters of baptism.  How do you know that this is true?  Because you are living out God’s choice… the way He has chosen for you.

There are other choices you can live by, two of them to be exact, but they will not enable you to be salt and light for a decaying world darkened by sin.  Let’s look at those two choices first, and then we will look at God’s third choice.

On our own, when confronted with God’s demand of perfection we could, and many do as a matter of fact, minimize our sinfulness and say we’re doing our best.  But I’m afraid that our best, your best isn’t good enough.  “Oh yeah?  Who says?!”  Well, God says of course, within His Holy Law.  You see, the 10 Commandments aren’t the “10 Suggestions” or “10 Ideals;”  They are God’s commandments.  In other words, they are nonnegotiable; YOU MUST DO THEM TO LIVE!

Sinful, human tendency, our tendency when confronted by the harsh demands of God’s holy law is to negotiate with God; to point to the “good things” we’ve done in hopes that they will tip the balance of some divine scale in our favor.  This kind of choice is what Jesus called self-righteousness.  It’s the kind of false righteousness that the world celebrates but God deplores.  It’s the kind of righteousness that demands that God take notice of the good and religious things it does; its as if it is saying “Listen to me God!  Look at all I’ve done and take notice!” And to this, God hears and He has responded.  Listen to His answer in our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 58:3-9a): “Is not this the fast (the religion) that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness”. [Vs. 6-9]

So there is your answer from God.  He is saying, don’t tell me to notice you and the things you do, because that is exactly what I will do.  I have looked, I have taken notice and not only do I see the sinful things you do but I also see the things you have failed to do.

So now we see that we can’t get away from our sinfulness; we can’t deflect the harsh demand of God’s law and think that we can please Him by our “good deeds.”  So what are we to do?  And this question leads us to our second choice, which is…

Despair.  Thefreedictionary.com online, defines despair this way: To loose all hope; to be overcome by a sense of futility or defeat; a complete loss of hope.  The church has always defined despair as a complete abandonment of all hope of saving one’s soul and of having the means required towards that salvation.  It isn’t a passive state of mind, but rather it involves a positive act of the will where a person deliberately gives up any hope of ever pleasing God or attaining eternal life with Him.

A famous poem made movie, and even cartoon is that work of Dante Alighieri’s 14th Century work now known as Dante’s Inferno.  The poem takes place on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week when Dante finds himself on a journey into hell itself.  As Dante and his guide were entering Hell, they see an inscription on the gate of Hell, which says, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”  What is despair?  That condition of a person’s soul, which is consumed with the reality that all hope of being at peace with God is gone!  So on our own, it seems we only have two choices: self-righteousness that God says always fall short of his perfection, or despair.

But God says that both of these choices are false choices; that is, they are not God’s choice for you.  God’s will for you is that when confronted with your sin, your self-righteousness and despair you would turn to Him for forgiveness of sins, and then allow Him to transform your heart into a new heart that is loving, humble, generous, and kind.  And that transformation can only come when the Spirit of God works within it and provides God’s grace.  God’s grace… that is His undeserved forgiving love and kindness, which comes only through God’s choice, our third choice, Jesus Christ!

In or gospel reading, Jesus says this about the holy and perfect law of God, which many wish did not exist because of its impossible demands: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  You see Jesus is our third choice, because only the perfect Son of God had the ability to fulfill all of God’s Word completely and perfectly.  But He did not fulfill them for Himself; He did it for you!  He fulfilled them so that you would have a new kind of righteousness to exchange with your sinful self-righteousness.  He gives to you His own righteousness.

In your baptism God gave you the fruits of Christ’s own cross.  One of those fruits is the righteousness of Christ.  But He also gave you another fruit, which is the promise that He would never leave nor forsake you.  He promised that no one could snatch you out of God’s hand of salvation.  In other words, you don’t have to worry about abandoning all hope; you do not need to despair.  Why?  Because as Jesus hung upon the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mark 15:34]  Jesus experienced complete abandonment from God for you so that you never would.  He experienced it so that you need not ever despair.

So now, this very morning God has given you this third choice.  So what does this mean?  It means that we should fear and love God so that we continue to allow His Word to expose our hypocrisy and our audacity to think that we could earn His forgiveness and blessing, and then turn to and cling to His only choice, our third choice Jesus Christ.  It means that we will turn to that third choice as our only choice and allow it to transform how we live our lives.  By faith we commit ourselves with the help of God to trust in Him alone to provide all of life’s blessings that will influence how we live.  In other words we will speak as God speaks and not as the world desires.  Our words will be salt to a dying world, even though the world would rather have us be honey.  We will not simply go along with the latest sinful trend simply to avoid discomfort in this life.  But we will also be light in a dark world.  How?  By allowing God to both capture our hearts and then motivate our minds to do the good things that God calls true religion.

In verses 6 and 7 of our Old Testament reading, we are given an impressive list of what God calls true religion.  On our own, this list can seem overwhelming and even impossible; after all we are just one little light!  But God tells us not to despair, that is don’t hide your light under a basket, but put it on a stand, and let it shine so that others will see your good works and give glory not to you, but to your Father in Heaven.  And remember, you are not a lone ranger Christian; you are not alone.  You are part of the church that is, the body of Christ Himself.  Or as Jesus said, “You are a city on a hill, (and you the church) can not be hidden.”

The church collectively can fight to loosen the bonds of the devil and free those trapped in sin.  The church can bring both physical bread and spiritual bread to the hungry and thirsty, especially those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We do this as we are being salt and light.

At a Bible study one day, some young people were discussing what it means to be “the salt of the earth.” One young person observed that “Salt creates flavor.” Another observed that “Salt preserves things from decay.” But then a young Chinese Christian exchange student spoke out of an experience none of the others had thought of. She said, “Salt creates thirst.” There was a sudden hush in the room, because all of those young people were thinking: “Have I ever made anyone thirsty for the Lord Jesus Christ?”

How do we help people thirst for God?  We can’t on our own, but God can if we continue to live lives of faith and repentance, the very thing we were baptized to do.  We can if we demonstrate a trust in His Word even when things seem hopeless.  And when our little bit of salt and our little bit of light draws the attention of others, we can invite them to that city on a hill, our own little church and allow God’s Word to invite them to live out along with us, God’s third choice… eternal life through Jesus Christ!   I pray this for each of you, and this city on a hill, and I ask this in Jesus name… Amen!