Posts Tagged ‘Salvation’

Who Then Can Be Saved?

Sunday, October 14th, 2018

Pentecost 20B
October 14, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”

Our text this morning is the ultimate question.  If a rich young religious leader who did an excellent job at keeping God’s law had the same chance of getting into heaven as a camel has walking through the eye of a needle, then who can be saved.

I’m reminded of a couple of oldie but goodies songs that kind of say the same thing: “So Close and Yet So Far” And the Johnny Mathis song, “Too much, too little too late.” The rich young ruler was so close to heaven and yet so far, and if he had not met Jesus and heard the gospel, he would have worked and tried to please God for nothing.  The proof of that is in his question and how he received Jesus answer.  “How do I get to heaven?”  And to that Jesus says, “Sell everything you’ve got, give the money to the poor, and then come on and follow me.”

There’s your answer young man; and if Jesus says it’s the way for you, well then, you can take that to the bank!

A Sunday school teacher was examining her pupils after a series of lessons on God’s omnipotence.  She asked, “Is there anything God can’t do?”  There was an appropriate silence in the room.  Finally, one young boy raised his hand.  The teacher, disappointed that the young boy still didn’t learn the point of the lesson, asked somewhat in a disappointed tone, “Just what is it that God can’t do?”  “Well,” replied the boy, “He can’t please everybody.”

Maybe a better way of saying that, is that Jesus knows a way that should please everyone, but most folks think they know more than Him, so they strike off to please themselves in a way that seems right to them, but in the end… well it just leads to judgment and death.

Throughout our lives God is consistently calling out to us.

He’s asking us to take a truthful look into our hearts and admit that our transgressions are many, and our sins are great. But we don’t want to see those things.  He wants us to see that we live in an evil time, and that there is evil all around us.  He’s telling us to seek good, and not evil so we will live; He’s telling us to hate evil, love good, and then spend our lives not just loving God’s goodness, but also working to spread it throughout our community. [Amos 5:6-15]

Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?  Yet, while we might agree with the plan, secretly, within our hearts, we can’t accept it, because it requires a complete surrender of everything that we have come to believe is important and necessary in this life.  The truth is, money, fame, prestige, and possessions are the things that society has taught us to seek and trust in.

Unfortunately, this will always be the way we live or lives unless God’s Word intervenes and gives us a new perspective;

Before the rich young ruler asked Jesus the million dollar question, he said something that caused Jesus to begin teaching with His own question.  The young man in complete sincerity ran up to Jesus, knelt down before Him and said, “Hello good teacher.”  

Now I want you to understand what the young man means when he calls Jesus good.  He means that he respects Jesus; he admires Him, because He is wiser and better than him. And it’s because of this perception of his, that he came to Jesus with a question that he’d been wrestling with for years: “What must I do to be saved?”

And what is Jesus response?  ‘Why are you calling me good?  You know that in our tradition, we never call anyone good but God, right?  So what is the reason you call me good?  You are struggling with a great concern; you want to go to heaven, but you don’t quiet know how to guarantee your place, right?  Now stop right there and remember, you called me good, on your own.  So, if I am truly good, then hear what I am about to say.’

‘You know the commandments that relate to your neighbor; those in your family and community, right?  Just do them.’  And the rich young ruler said to Jesus, “Teacher, all of those commandments I have kept from my youth.”  And what did Jesus do next?  Did He give Him a theological teaching on the inherit sinfulness of the human heart?  No, instead He looked at the young man and He loved him.  He knew that he was sincere in his belief that he was living a God pleasing life.  The problem wasn’t in His sincerity but in the reality.  While everyone looking at this young man on the outside would agree that he was living an exemplary life, Jesus who is God and looks into the heart, looked and saw judgment and pain.  Jesus knew that this young man had been duped by the world into thinking that doing your best is what pleases God instead of trusting your best with God.

So Jesus helps the young man see what his real god is; that which he trusts in the most.  Jesus says, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”

Jesus was trying to get the young man to see that the one thing needful that he lacked was a real relationship with His Creator.  He was moving the young man to realize that he lacked an intimacy with God that can only come through trust in Jesus, the Son of God. 

Today, Jesus also wants you to accept His perfect life and death as the only way to make you right with God. He wants you to see Himself as God’s perfect gift of forgiveness and then trust in that gift above all things.

There’s an old hymn titled “Trust and Obey,” and the first verse goes like this: “When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds on our way! While we do His good will, He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey.The major problem I see with those words is that there are many moments in our lives when we don’t trust and obey. It’s at times like those that we need to remember that Jesus loves us; that through His love for us, God forgives us. If we can remember that truth, then we will continually be drawn back to Him and learn to trust in His presence and work in our lives; then we’ll be ok. Trust and ok. I like those words much better. If we can just keep learning to trust God’s care for us then everything will be OK.  There is no other way.  But that kind of trust in the true God is impossible if you are already trusting in something else before Jesus.

“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.”  

The truth is friends, the real reason that the rich young ruler, and you and I have such a hard time receiving Jesus Words this morning is because when He speaks He is messing with our value system.  I mean, let’s be honest here; we all like to believe that what we have is ours, because we earned it; we worked hard for it.  We all like to look at our stuff, as proof of our success and indicators of God’s approval and blessing in our lives.  And now Jesus is telling us that our “stuff” may not be a blessing at all.

What is it that really matters in life?  If it isn’t money and possessions; if it isn’t financial security, then what?  This morning, God wants you to connect with the only One who is Good!  The rich young ruler was speaking to Him, and you do too!  Maybe like that rich young man, you also are asking God what the secret to eternal life is.  How can I know for sure that I am saved?  Well, like that young man, once you hear Jesus speak and you listen, you have what God calls the beginning of wisdom unto salvation… forgiveness of sins!

Then what about our doing good?  Doesn’t that count for something?  Well, the truth is that all of our own righteousness, our good deeds are simply like soiled rags before God, because we still have our sinful nature clinging to us.  And while we continue deceiving ourselves, thinking that we can please God by good behavior, Jesus looks at us and He loves us.  He loves us and dies for us upon the cross.  And from the cross He says follow me.  I have done all things good; all things good for you.  I am your treasure; your true wealth.

So who can be saved if there is nothing we can do to please God?  All can be saved.  All of us have been promised that salvation is ours for the taking, if we will just trust in God’s way; trust then ok.  All things are possible with God.  God alone is greater than our fears and our worries.  In His Word He gives us great treasures that make us rich.  In His Word He gives us Jesus and His righteousness.  By Jesus poverty we are made rich.

In God’s time, at just the right time Jesus died for the world.  

Jesus who emptied Himself and gave up His life on the cross, was also raised from the dead for you.  And in Jesus alone you have life, an abundant life and the promise of eternal peace and happiness.

This morning, Jesus is asking you to be vulnerable before God.  “Come and follow me,” He says.  Amos cries out to us this morning that we should “Seek the Lord and live,” but the truth is, we don’t have to go far to seek Him this morning, because He’s already sought us and found us.  In the cross, God is revealed; more than that, the depth of God’s love is shown to us.  In the cross, God demonstrates the truth that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us..

Jesus who loved the young man loves you as well.  He declared you forgiven when He splashed water over you on the day you were baptized.  You are being transformed even now, as God’s Word of grace is spoken to you.  You eat the bread of life, you drink the cup of salvation and He tells you again and again that your sins are forgiven.  Through it all you experience God’s loving purpose for you as revealed in the cross of Jesus.

I would like to think that eventually the rich young ruler understood that what he had to offer God on his own, was too much of too little.  I would like to think that he realized this before it was too late.  I trust that each of us has learned to place our own security on Christ, the solid rock.

Through Jesus and His cross, through the waters of our own baptism, we discover that a camel really can go through the eye of a needle; we really can be saved. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. On Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

How’s Your Heart?

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

Lent 5 B, March 18, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 
92114

Click here for audio of this message

So how’s your heart? Have you been getting regular checkups? Are you eating heart healthy food? Getting regular exercise? Do you take your medications as prescribed by your doctor? Good!

So how’s your spiritual heart? Are you paying even closer attention to it?

You should you know, because that heart will be around a lot longer than your physical one. The physical heart will eventually fail from sickness or old age, but your spiritual heart, the essence of who you are, will last for eternity. Your Great Physician, the one who created your bodies, has prescribed medicine and treatments to care for your spiritual hearts as well. If you follow His care and then rest in His work, well you are absolutely guaranteed to have a blessed eternity. Listen: “For this is the covenant that I will make with (them)… declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.” [Jeremiah 31:33-34]

So there is God’s prescription for you; a new covenant! But why do we need a new covenant? Well, its because the old one can’t save you! Why; is there something wrong with it? Well no; its just that sin-sick people, people like us tend to misuse it; we want to use it in ways God never intended. You see, in our sin-sick condition we don’t want to believe that we have spiritual heart disease.

The people in the prophet Jeremiah’s time didn’t want to believe that either! In fact, every time God tried to treat His people’s disease of sin with His Word, they came up with all kinds of excuses to avoid getting the treatments. And if they didn’t like the message, why they would just attack God’s prophets, who were kind of like His spiritual paramedics. So like a child throwing a tantrum in the doctor’s office before receiving an injection, they refused to listen.

We aren’t much better today really. It’s getting harder and harder to even mention God’s name in public without someone being offended and trying to silence God’s wisdom.

Did you hear about what happened to the Christian fraternity and sorority on the campus of SDSU several years ago? They had a very simple code of conduct based on God’s Law; a set of rules that you must agree with in order to be a member. They required all perspective members to sign a pledge promising to avoid sex outside of marriage and agree that marriage is as God defines it; that is its between a man and a woman. Well, as you may have guessed, the state of California determined that they were discriminatory and not eligible for any of the state’s support that all of the other fraternities or sororities receive. Well both the fraternity and sorority sued in federal court and lost. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to even hear their case. So what does this case tell us? Well, you can’t force people to live God pleasing and moral lives. No, I’m afraid that before God’s forgiveness can be received and followed we need something more than rules and pledges in our lives; we need something new and powerful that doesn’t depend on us.

Like the true and faithful children of Abraham in the prophet Jeremiah’s time, we’ve also discovered that on our own we can’t keep God’s law and rules of conduct. We’ve all learned by experience that the old covenant, can never bring us God’s peace and salvation.

Today, God wants us to admit that try as we might, we will never please Him by being good.

God wants us to see that on our own, we are by nature sinful and unclean. We love to look at the trouble in our neighbor’s life and feel superior, while ignoring the big problems and sin that dominates our own lives. This is why we need a new covenant; a new prescription from God. In truth we need a new heart. So this morning, God is telling us that right now, He’s doing that very thing, and He does this work through the new covenant.

This new covenant is “not like the old covenant (He) made with (our) forefathers.” It contains no laws, rules, or regulations that have to be kept. It has no exclusive priesthood that limits the right of who may approach God. In fact, this new covenant invites everyone, regardless of nationality, to believe in God’s love and presence with each one personally. It sets aside ethnic, racial, and other man-made boundaries. The prescription or invitation of the new covenant is for the entire world. This new covenant invites everyone to worship the Lord in spirit and truth—“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” This is God’s miracle of conversion or new life. How does He deal with our old diseased hearts? He rips them out in baptism and replaces them with new hearts. With these new hearts, we see God’s holy and perfect righteousness and instead of being afraid, we call out to Him through the work and presence of the Holy Spirit, with the words, “Abba, Father.” We no longer look at God as angry and threatening, instead we see His forgiving love! This change in heart is something that the old covenant could never give to us.

So how did God do this mighty work? By showing us Jesus, His own Son upon the cross. In God’s Word, we see Jesus there upon the cross, high and lifted up as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. Through Jesus’ obedience and death we see the once-and-for-all sacrifice that pleases God and removes the guilt of sin from the entire world. He offered Himself freely; He willingly shed His blood so that all of us could be saved from our sins and given a new heart.

Now there is nothing that can prevent anyone, including you from knowing the forgiving love of Jesus Christ. When Jesus shouted from the cross “It is finished” he said those words for you.

This new covenant Word of God was sealed upon your very flesh in the waters of your baptism.

It really does not matter whether you can remember the day you were washed clean or not, because it was God’s work and not yours or any other person. In your baptism God took the sacrifice of Jesus blood, blood shed for the entire world as payment of their sins and He made it your personal payment. In your baptism God sealed you and gave to you His very Spirit and the forgiveness for all of your sins. But that is not all… He also gave to you the gift of faith to believe in this new covenant. In your baptism, the Words God spoke by the prophet Jeremiah come true: “No longer will a man teach his neighbor… saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me.”
We know Him through both the gift of faith and the promise of forgiveness that was given to us in our baptism. In both the cross and the baptismal waters, you hear God’s continuing Word of promise for each of you: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

But the work of the new covenant does not stop at the baptismal font. Every day God feeds us with His Word; a word that can be read, spoken, and declared. He calls us to His table and shares the meal of the new covenant within Holy Communion. In this meal He draws us to Himself and feeds us His supreme gift; with the bread, we receive His body given on the cross; with the wine He gives us His own blood poured out upon that same cross.

Within each of these sacred gifts, God gives us complete forgiveness, and He removes all doubts about His love for us. With these gifts He comes to us personally and works within us, strengthening our new hearts; hearts that beat to please Him. When we keep God’s law and do what is right, we glorify and please Him!

When we fail, when we sin He wants us to confess these failures and turn to Him for forgiveness.

This is the rhythm of living in God’s Kingdom of Grace; this is the rhythm of our new hearts beating within us. It is a life that God wants us to demonstrate to others.

Now, it might seem dangerous following Jesus and sharing God’s forgiving love with your neighbor; it might make you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable to shame and ridicule. But if you will follow Jesus and the path of sacrificial love that He walked, after a while you will begin to grow in faith and learn to rest in the protecting presence of the Holy Spirit.

Before we close our message this morning, I want you to look up; look up at the ceiling of this church. Do you see how high those lights are? I would say that they are about 45 feet at the highest point. How do you think those bulbs get changed? That’s right; someone has to climb up there on a ladder, and that someone will probably be Dennis and me. The first time I went up there, I was pretty afraid. Each rung of the ladder created more fear, but I went up because it had to be done. Once I got up to the top, I felt every wiggle and jiggle of the ladder. But something happened as I began to work; I became comfortable with the height because I was comfortable with the strength of the ladder, so comfortable in fact that I had to be reminded to be careful because it’s a long way down!

Well, that’s sort of like our walk of faith. God has given us a new heart and a new covenant to live out and to share. He’s assured us that if we trust in His strong presence and work within us, then we will be alright. It might seem a little scary at first as you begin to share God’s forgiving love and Word with your neighbor. But once you start walking with God and letting Him work within you, your fear will leave and God’s peace will take its place and you will be amazed at the good He can do through you!

Just as Jesus obediently walked to Jerusalem, He wants us to allow Him to lead our new hearts governed by a new covenant. He wants us to go out into this world of sin and share His forgiving love and Word with others. It can seem intimidating and even a bit threatening, but remember you have a new heart beating within you… and that heart is saying, “You’re not alone… not alone… not alone… not alone!”

Dead Man Walking!

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

Lent 4 B, March 18, 2012
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 
92114

Click here for audio of this message

In our Old Testament lesson (Numbers 21:4-9), God invites us to imagine being there at Mt. Hor, under attack from thousands of poisonous snakes, and knowing that God is really the one who is punishing you for your despicable, sinful life. The Hebrews that day were essentially dead men and women walking, and that’s who we are without Jesus; sadly, that’s who many people still are today; Dead men walking.

You see, God can’t allow sinners to just walk away from their sin and sinners can’t help but to sin.

It’s in our broken nature to sin by choosing to satisfy our wants and desires over the desires of our God and our neighbor. We’re broken; fallen in sin, and because of that, we have to pay. On the day we die, unless God works for us, that will be our judgment day.
People who die outside of faith in Jesus, not only die in the flesh but they also die in the spirit, eternally and painfully separated from God’s love and the love of others. That’s what spiritual death is. Sin does this.

So what are the sins that we’re guilty of? Well the very same ones we heard mentioned in our Old Testament reading. We grumble against God by complaining about our lives. We let the circumstances of our life overshadow the presence of our creator God who is with us in the midst of our troubles.

Throughout this world there are still plenty of dead men and women walking who look down upon God’s means of grace, His real presence with them. They don’t discern His spirit in His Word, a Word that is right now being preached to you.

People outside of faith in Jesus find it impossible to believe that God can promise to take simple water and wash away a person’s sins. They laugh at the idea that a pastor can speak forgiveness from God, and they completely dismiss Jesus’ real presence in, with, and under the bread and wine.
Because of these many sins, God’s Word does not bring comfort, but instead it bites them like a fiery serpent. God’s Word calls these folks sons and daughters of disobedience. These are the people who are more comfortable following the desires of their flesh than the will of God. In other words, they are controlled by the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in this sinful world instead of the Holy Spirit.

That is the painful truth about everyone out side of faith in Jesus Christ. They are lost in a world of sin controlled by the father of sin, the devil. They are dead men and women walking, and all of them are a breath away from judgment day. Whether it be poisonous snakes, a car accident, disease, sickness, or death from old age, eventually they’re all gonna pay!

“But God (but God), being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and (God has) raised us up with (Christ) and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” [Ephesians 2:4-7]
I once was lost but now I’m found. I once was condemned and about to pay for my sins, but God, BUT GOD… He forgave the iniquity of my sins! If it had not been for God who made a way out of no way, all of us… would have been goners… dead men and women walking!

At Mt. Hor, the way out for the sinful Hebrews was a bronze serpent on a poll, high and lifted up so that everyone could see God’s remedy to their sin and the way He chose to remove their punishment. In that symbol came the promise of God to save and the faith to believe in that promise of salvation. And where there is faith in God’s promise of life, there is salvation… there is forgiveness of sins.

Today this same God calls out to you with the same mercy and grace.

Today, GOD is telling you that He has created a way to take away your sins.

Friends, the call of God’s Word does not direct you to look upon a serpent on a pole, but instead He desires that you look upon His Son high and lifted up upon a cross. Today, God’s Word promises that if you will see Jesus the very Son of God put on the cross for you, as a payment for your sins, you shall not die but live. You will not be a dead man walking, but a reborn, spiritual man or woman, who no longer has to pay for sin!
Oh it’s true, someone has to pay for your sins, and someone did; it was Jesus. He paid it with His very life, in order to show us the immeasurable riches of His Father’s grace; grace which He has given to you through His own suffering and death.

You know, we use the words, justice, mercy, and grace so much in the church, that sometimes I’m afraid those words lose their meaning. Listen to what these words mean and let the realization of the work of the cross hit you like a thunderbolt from heaven. Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you do not deserve.

Through Jesus death upon the cross, God’s justice was satisfied. You deserve to die for your many sins, but Jesus took your place. Through Jesus’ death upon the cross, God showed you mercy by not giving you what you deserve. Instead, He gave you what you don’t deserve, grace. He gave to you all of the riches of heaven, His riches at Christ’s expense through Jesus’ suffering and death.

In His Word, Jesus shows you the Father’s love for the whole world; “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) He shows you the death of His one and only Son. In His Word, He also gives you a wonderful gift called faith. Through this gift, God opens the eyes of your heart so you can believe that Jesus death is for you. By faith you can read His Word and know that God is speaking to you; He has made a way out of no way for you to enter into His forgiving love.

In His Word God allows you to see His real presence with you even in the worst circumstances of your life; in His Word you know that you are never alone. In His Word He has convinced you that He’s taken a simple thing like water and attached His promise of eternal life to it and washed away all of yours sins. So in essence, your baptism has taken the objective promise of the cross for the world and made it your personal gift.
In His Word you hear the absolution, the Word of forgiveness and you know that God is really talking to you; forgiving you! Because of His Word you take and eat and drink the bread and wine and you know that you are also receiving the very body and blood of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your many sins!

By faith you receive all of this and you know it is entirely a work of God. To think anything else would be ridiculous. To see yourself playing any part in your salvation would be absurd; it would be like telling a dead man to get up and walk. By faith, you know that only God can speak life in the midst of death; only God can make something out of nothing.

Friends, what do you put your hope and faith in?

If it’s anything but God you will be disappointed. Don’t you know that people will let you down every day, but God is always with you, and His love and mercy will never let you down.

her purse. No money was there; neither was her checkbook. As she was about to ask the clerk to put her things back, a gentle voice said, “Don’t worry. Today I want to treat you. Take your things with you; I’ll pay your bill.” Then the man wrote a check and paid for her merchandise and his own. A week passed by, and the woman came back to the store. The checker knew about the incident and recognized her. She approached the woman and whispered, “Ma’am, maybe you’d be interested to know. That gentleman from last week, well his check bounced! We still need to be paid for your groceries.”

What are you trusting in? Is it people? I’m telling you, eventually they’ll let you down. Are you trusting in your own goodness? I think we all know where that will get you, right? Listen, why go back to being that dead man walking when you can continue to follow and trust Jesus and His cross. I know that it is tempting to want to play a part in your salvation; but you just can’t. Your good works won’t do a thing for you at judgement time. But if it’s good works you want, then God says relax, He’s got you covered. Those good works will come naturally to you and through you as you continue to look to Jesus alone as your only solution to your sin and the attacks of those little serpents or devils that surround you. And as you continue to look to Jesus, you will begin to see God’s work in your life; good works that He’s already prepared for you to do. The only difference is, it will be Him doing them perfectly and not you doing them sinfully.

So just keep walking that way of faith. Keep following Jesus and His means of grace and know this, God has big plans for you as you keep trusting in His way. And if that old sinful nature of yours tries to lure you back to the old sinful way, well… just remind him or her that they’re a dead man walking; they have no future!

Selah… in Jesus name… Amen.

Great is Our God!

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

5th Sunday in Epiphany B, February 4, 2017
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

Click here for audio of this message

“Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”[Isaiah 40:1]

I don’t understand how people can say that they’re not sure there’s a God. I mean, where have they been all of their lives, living under a rock?! Just look around; are we to believe that all of this just happened by accident? And this is somewhat of a paraphrase of God’s question to unbelieving man through the prophet Isaiah. Listen again: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?”

The truth about God has always been available. But the human mind has been so darkened by sin that it can’t imagine God as He truly is. This morning, Isaiah pictures God as the Creator and Ruler of the world. God sits high above the created world as He stretches out the heavens as easily as someone might pitch a tent. God is not created but uncreated and eternal, without beginning and without end. He is separate and different from the world He created. He is holy, infinite, perfect, and changeless. To God, we are like a swarm of grasshoppers. Because of our sin, we are nothing like God. We are finite, temporal, imperfect, subject to change of every kind, and very mortal. What arrogance for finite creatures to fashion God in an image that they are comfortable with. If we want to know about God, we must humbly put our hands over our mouths and simply listen to what He tells us.

A law enforcement chaplain was invited one evening to give the invocation at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration for a bunch of crusty old cops at a local cop bar. After the invocation, he sat down to share an Irish beer with the boys, and one of the cops shouted so all who could hear, “Hey Chappy! I say that there is no God; so what do you have to say about that?!” The chaplain walked up to him, calmly laid his hand on his shoulder, and said, “Friend, what you just said is nothing new. In fact, the Bible said the same thing over 2,000 years ago.” The cop replied, “I never knew that the Bible made such a statement.” The chaplain replied, “Yep, Psalm 14, verse 1, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” But there’s a big difference between that fool and you. You see, the fool is modest enough to say it in the privacy of his own heart; he wasn’t so foolish as to go screaming it out in a tavern!”

Why is it so hard for people to see the existence of God?

I mean, it’s not like He’s hidden himself so that we wouldn’t know to look for Him! He’s revealed Himself from the beginning. He talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, and after they sinned, He continued to speak to them, and when He did, He promised that a Savior would come and destroy their sin and the devil who introduced it! He spoke to Noah before and after the destructive flood, and promised something similar. He used Moses to speak His holy and perfect Word to the people, so that they would know that not only was God with them, but He was protecting them. God made sure that Moses and all of the other writers of Holy Scripture recorded His Word, and not the sinful imaginings of their own minds. God inspired them, by giving them the words they were to write so that we could know Him and have faith in His love and care for us. The apostle Paul makes this very point when he writes, “We speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the (Holy) Spirit. [1 Cor. 2:13]

All that a person needs to do is look at everything that’s around them, and they can’t help but know that something, or someone had to create it.

Let me share another story with you that will illustrate the foolishness of a creator-less reality. An astrology professor constructed a small but elegant and precise model of the universe. As the students came into the classroom, one by one they commented on how beautiful and intricate it was. One student asked the professor who made it? The professor said, “No one, it just happened.” The students became confused and a little angry when time and time again the professor responded, “No one made this. It just happened, so quit asking.” Finally the professor replied “If you can leave this class and look at nature all around you, and still believe that it just happened, then why can’t you believe that this precise piece of work just happened without a creator?”

And that’s really what people want today; they want a creator-less society. They want all of the good things that creation has to offer, but they don’t want the creator behind them. For these opponents of God, it’s really pointless to try to convince them that there’s a God by using the Bible, because God’s Word is far above them. If they can’t see God in His creation, how do you expect them to see Him in His Word? So the prophet Isaiah starts at that very point. He is essentially saying, “How do you think all of this came to be?” The smarty pants atheists will say along with the popular sit-com, “It all started with the big bang!” Ok, then what created the energy that caused the big bang? At this simple question, all of their collective I.Q.’s stand silent. But we of course know the answer. God did, of course, but God didn’t just make our universe and our world and then leave us to contend for ourselves. He is still here taking care of our world; He’s taking care of you!

Now at this point, you might see an atheist become somewhat enlightened and become an agnostic, and they’ll admit to a creator but not to a Creator who actually cares about every thing that’s happening in creation. They’ll want to create God out of their own sinful imaginings; very often they’ll turn Him into some sort of absentee slum lord, who leaves us to fend for ourselves and maintain creation on our own. And to those who question God’s presence and care (by the way, we call that providence), to those people, God replies in His Word this morning: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Why do we say that God isn’t really active in my life; He’s just kind of left me here alone to grope in the dark and make sense of this messed up world.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” And, this is where God moves us from what we see to what we hear; He moves us from things that are created to His eternal Word.

Now it’s true that God’s Word tells us that everything we are going through is our own fault. It’s our fault because of our sin and other people’s sins. And that same Word teaches us that that’s precisely why we are always witnessing one crisis and tragedy after another. But God’s Word also promises us that we aren’t alone in the tragedies of life, and that one day in the twinkling of an eye, the promised Savior will right all wrongs. So without His Word, when the tragedies come, we will fail to see Him with us and we’ll most likely resort to finding comfort and protection on our own.

An artist asked a friend to come to his studio and see his latest painting. When he arrived, he was taken into a dark room and told to sit and wait. After 15 minutes, the artist finally arrived and brought his friend into the studio. Before the man left, the artist said laughingly, “I suppose you thought I was a little rude and strange by making you wait so long in the dark?” “Yes I did,” replied his friend. “Well,” said the artist, “I knew that if you came right into my studio with the glare of the street in your eyes, you wouldn’t be able to appreciate all of the fine coloring that was used in my painting; so I left you there until the glare had worn out of your eyes.”

Many times, when we are going through hard times, even tragic times, the glare of all of the pain in this sinful world can interfere with us sensing and seeing God’s presence, that is promised to never leave us. It may seem as though He’s not with us, or that He doesn’t care, but in reality, He’s just giving our hearts and minds time to transition from a physical reality to a spiritual one. This was true for every person in the Old Testament that God points out to us as models of faith. God cared for Jacob, He blessed him, and protected him. But in the middle of his tragedy and fears it appeared as though God had left him alone. But God had not left him! God appeared in the middle of his struggle, and then changed his name to Israel. God appeared to Noah and Moses in the middle of their struggles, and then He promised them that a Savior was coming who would make all things new and perfect.

The prophet Isaiah, who God used to write our Old Testament lesson, experienced something very similar. He was hated and despised by all of the important people of Israel, because he spoke a hard prophecy about God’s anger, but interspersed with these prophecies of punishment, God also had him repeat over and over that their Savior was coming and through His suffering and death, God’s Servant would bring His grace and peace to all of creation through the forgiveness of sins.

So do you not know? Have you not heard?

The Savior has come; He alone has made all things right and new between you and God, even if what you see in this sinful world says the opposite! His living Word has declared that you are saved! In His Word, He has revealed to you that He is “the Lord,” Jehovah God, the God of free and faithful grace. He is Emmanuel, the God who is always with you. He was with you in the waters of your baptism, He is with you even now in His Word, and He is with you at His holy table, where He asks you to hear, smell, touch, taste, eat, and drink His presence and His forgiveness of all of your sins.

And yet, even though, by faith we believe that all of this is true, we still want to cry out angrily at God sometimes and say, “But life is too hard and it isn’t fair!” When those feelings arise, and they will, God wants you to see them for what they are, a lack of faith in His presence and the salvation that He’s provided for you through His Son, Jesus Christ. And this is exactly why He wants you to come here every Sunday for Divine Service. It is here, where we gather around His Word and Sacraments that He gives you faith to follow Jesus along the narrow way, the way of the cross.

The way of the cross is a way that will sap all of your physical and emotional strength, just as it did Our Lord. It’s the way that is lined with atheists, doubters, scoffers, and devils. Every one of them will tell you to abandon your faith in Jesus. But remember, you aren’t alone. Jesus walked that same narrow way when He declared that He had come to set the captives free. He walked it from the temple to Golgotha, the hill of the cross, where they crucified Him. And as He walked to the cross, they beat Him, spit upon Him, and ridiculed Him with harsh words: “He helped others, let Him help Himself. If you’re really the Son of God, save us and save yourself.”

Yes, the way of the cross is a hard way; it’s hard because it doesn’t look for glory in this life, but the life to come. The way of the cross is a hard way, because we can become discouraged and want to fall away. And so, to make sure that we don’t become discouraged and walk away, Jesus says “My grace is sufficient for you.”. Hear my Word and be filled with Living Water that will bubble up within you, and take and eat and drink my body and blood, which are real food and drink.

This life of a Christian, your life of faith is called the way of the cross, and it can only be maintained through God’s means of grace. We can only receive His strength if we will look beyond creation, beyond what we can see, hear, and touch, and then see Him by faith walking through our tragedies with us. It is a relationship of experience that comes when we constantly handle the things of God as His assurance that He’s really with us; caring for us and protecting us! In His Word, God answers our prayers of fear and worry with the proclamation that all of our tragedies, the attacks of the devils and sinful people are nothing before Him. Neither life, nor death, nor demons can separate us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus!

You are on the way of the cross, because you are following Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior. He said that in this life you will have troubles, but that does not mean that you are alone in those troubles. He is with you. He tells you that by faith, His grace lifts you up out of the temporary attacks of sin, death, and the devil so that you can soar in His eternal embrace of love and fulfillment. Just as the eagles ride the air currents as they stretch out their wings and soar, God promises you that He will be the wind beneath your wings of faith. Will you stumble and fall? Yes, but Jesus is at your side, lifting you up and dusting you off and saying, “Don’t stop. My strength is enough for you. When you are weak, I am strong.” This is God’s promise for our entire lives; all of our walking, running, and even our falling will end in a soar as we are continually filled with God’s boundless and tireless strength! What wonderful comfort for all of us who remember how great is our God!

May God help us to remember this lesson, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Do You Know Who He Is?

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did the people need a new message?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the abundant and eternal life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah.

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

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

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

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

So what is repentance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Ready To Celebrate The Rending?

Monday, December 4th, 2017

First Sunday in Advent-B, December 3, 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

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, and the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him. You meet Him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” [Isaiah 64:1-5A]

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem He knew that He and God the Father and Holy Spirit were going to rend, tear apart the existence of sinful men and women in just a few short days; He knew that He was riding to His death. It would be a death that would smash the head of Satan and rend the tyranny he had wielded against us. You see, not only would Jesus defeat the devil, but He would also defeat our sin and our death. And when He was crucified upon the cross, He drew His last breath to declare His victory with the Words, “It is finished.” A great illustration was performed by God to declare this absolute truth to sinners like you and me; the great temple curtain that hid the Holy of holies was torn into. This rending of that curtain declared for the first time that God had indeed kept His promise; the Messiah had come, and by the payment of His life blood had brought sinful men and women back into communion with their perfect Creator!

God had come down and “rended” the heavens other times in the past as well.

He came to meet sinful yet faithful men and women as they were. He answered the prayers of His people when they were in bondage in Egypt and caused great plagues to strike the land and its people until mighty Pharaoh let His people go! He parted the Red Sea so that they could escape on dry land, but then allowed the waters to recede and destroy the pursuing Egyptian army. He listened to the faithful prayer of King Hezekiah, and thwarted the Assyrian army that had amassed itself around Jerusalem by striking down thousands and thousands of Assyrian soldiers in their camp while they slept.

Faith, which is a gift of God turns to the Lord in prayer. Even when God seems shut away and silent in heaven, faith prays. The message that God desires us to take with us this morning is that even in ominous times, God wants His children of faith to call out to Him in prayer. He wants us to call out to Him,

“Our Father, our Redeemer from of old” (Isaiah 63:16), “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!”

These are the words of a believer—a child of faith who is facing difficult times, but still clinging to God’s promises of power and grace. For those who cry out like this, everything seems to be “out of whack” in this world; evil seems to be over powering good, and the devil seems to be stopping even God’s will. In times like this, when God’s enemies seem to be defying His rule and authority, the prophet Isaiah encourages all believers to call out to God to step in and correct this apparent imbalance. “O Lord, come quickly. Assert your power; protect and deliver your people. Destroy your enemies and the enemies of your people.”

But there is just one little problem. If we are honest, we too are many times found to be acting as if we are faithless; we too because of our sins, have been and will be again the enemies of God. We remember the God of old and His mighty deeds and we are afraid. We are afraid because we know that we too fall short of the qualification of joyfully working towards righteousness.

“Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (This is why) There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses Himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” [Isaiah 65:5B-7]

So what is the solution to our apparent inability to call out to God, to see and hear God in a righteous way? He must work once again in a way that this sinful world must never expect. He must do what we can not. He must come quickly to be our defender and our Savior. No one could have foretold of the mighty deeds God did in Egypt to free His people; no one could have foretold that God would rend the heaven and shake the mountains as He met Moses on the mountain top and spoke with Him. No one could have foretold that God would save Jerusalem by striking down the Assyrian army as they surrounded the remnant of Israel. And no one would have guessed that all of this was leading up to God’s greatest miracle for sinful men and women such as us.

Sinful men and women since the fall of Adam and Eve have been held in the cruel bondage of sin. Loving God and our neighbor as God demands is and was out of the question… it is beyond us. But God made a way out of no way. Who could have ever imagined that God would come to us in our own flesh, born of the Virgin Mary? Who would have guessed that God would bring us back to Himself by grace through faith, through the sacrifice of His own Son upon a wooden cross at Calvary? What human mind could have anticipated the empty tomb? Could anyone have anticipated that by faith in God’s Son and Servant Jesus Christ, that a man or woman could become an adopted child of God? But this is always how our mighty God acts.. He reveals His truths to humanity… His creation in a way that must forces all of creation to simply stand in awe and receive His gift of presence with thanksgiving and praise.

The wisdom of God’s gracious and powerful plan lies completely outside of our realm of understanding. If any man or woman is to understand and receive God’s work of redemption they must be given the ability to believe and receive it through the faith giving power of the Holy Spirit that comes to them through His proclaimed and fulfilled promises through the prophets and the evangelists of the New Testament. In other words, they must hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our Old Testament lesson, which is simply a prayer of the prophet Isaiah, we are drawn into God’s heart along with the prophet to call out to God in prayer and hold fast to the principle, which teaches that God always acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. But He only acts for those who know Him as Father, Savior, and Comforter. He acts for those who know that He is the potter and we are His clay; we are His creation.

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people. [Isaiah 64:8, 9]

Why should God even listen to our prayers, let alone respond to them? Because we are the clay, and He molds us after His will. We are the work of His hands.

Our disgusting sins are all that is needed to separate us from God’s love, but faith tells us of another way; it tells us that through His Son, Christ Jesus, God broke into our existence by rending the separation between time and eternity so that God and man may once again have communion. So that through the Son of God born of the Virgin Mary, we may turn to God by faith and trust in His gracious promises to both redeem and save us, and to remake us into the image of His Son. For many of you, you have been taught since your were children to both begin your prayers “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and then to always pray “in Jesus’ name.” Why do you suppose that is? It is because God has no reason to listen to any of us outside of the miraculous work of Jesus, the Son of God! We come to Him in the name of Jesus, who has shed His blood upon the cross to wash away our sins and cover us with His robe of righteousness. When we call upon and trust in the name of Jesus, God invites us to pray to Him as dear children ask their dear Father for those things that we need. We can pray with confidence and boldness because, in Jesus, God IS our dear Father.

As we enter into the season of Advent, may the peace of God allow your heart to boldly call out Him to come again through His Son and rend the heavens and make all things right and well for each of you, as you are transferred from the Kingdom of grace into the Kingdom of glory. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

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!

Is Salvation a Work of God Or Not?

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith Comes By…

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, August 13, 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

“But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:16-17]

If I were to summarize our message from God this morning in just a few words, I would say: We can’t have faith, saving faith that will never fail to please God, without God’s Word. It just can’t happen! You can have faith in many things, and it can be legitimate, built on experience, but ultimately the person or thing you have faith in will fail you. But in the Holy Scriptures, we are allowed to hear our perfect God speak to us. We hear Him speak because He gives us a gift called faith. By faith we are taught that God can can be trusted to accomplishing what His Word says He will do for us; namely He will save us from our sins.

So with God, not only do we have faith that is legitimate or justified, but we also have faith that justifies, or faith that saves us! You see, God’s Word is more than just a way He communicates with us, it is also a Word that creates and sustains us unlike man’s word which will eventually fail us.

“In the beginning was the Word.” [John 1:1] “And God said, ‘Let there be …’ and all that exists came into being—by the power of his Word.” [Genesis 1:3- 24]

God likes to talk because in His Word there is power! He began the world by talking it into existence. When Adam and Eve doubted his Word and hid from Him because of their guilt, God came to them in order to call them back into a relationship with Himself. [Genesis 3:9]

As a way to reclaim and restore his people, God has placed his power in our language as we speak His Word so that His gospel will lead people to trust in Him. So, we can say that God’s good news or the gospel, is the power He uses to save sinners, even you and me. [Romans 1:16] God’s good news brings us back into His grace and favor; the very thing we were first created to exist in. So this is why God loves to talk; because His message of forgiveness and new life brings us back into a right relationship with Him. And this “being made right” with God is given to us only through His Word, and only because we are allowed to receive His Word of promise through His gift of faith. [Romans 1:17]

And yet so many people still think that they can make things right with God in their own way. They see God’s 10 Commandments as suggestions or a loose code of conduct that they can adapt to fit their life style. They believe in this so strongly that they are willing to completely dismiss God’s gospel message.

Through the prophet Moses, God speaks to them this way: “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” [Deuteronomy 30:11-14]

Here Moses is speaking about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments [all of the commandments] shall live by them. But [a] righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down)  or “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” [Romans 10:5-8]

The point that God wants us to understand is that we are broken. We are trapped in our sin, and on our own we can never be right with God. If you know this in your heart and you agree with God, then you have experienced the work of God’s Law. It’s like a hammer that crushes us and it is like a sword that pierces our very souls, but it only does this work so that you will call out to God for His healing balm! And that healing balm, the forgiveness of sins is the work of the Gospel. The gospel tells us about God’s grace, His forgiving love through Jesus Christ. But why do some find it so hard to receive and believe in the gospel? Well the problem isn’t in God’s Word, the problem is in us; it is a problem of sin being in our hearts!

Both God’s Law and the Gospel come to us through the same means; they come to us through the Word. It is the same Word that we are to take into our ears and into our mouths, and then into our hearts! Both Law and Gospel are essential for making us right with God. If we truly want a relationship of love and trust with our Creator, it can only come to us through God’s Word, both the Law and the Gospel; it’s like Frank Sinatra sang in that old-time favorite song, we can’t have one without the other. If we reject either one we are simply lost in our sins; separated from God for time and eternity. We need to hear both the Law and the Gospel if we are to be right with God. That’s what Paul was saying when he wrote: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven’ or ‘Who will descend into the abyss!” In other words, if God’s Law has taught you how sinful you are and how much He hates sin, good! Don’t panic and think that it’s some how up to you to make things right with Him; don’t feel abandoned by Him thinking that His love and forgiveness are beyond you; do not think that He has left you helpless and alone in your own sins! Because if you feel that way then you won’t hear the gospel; and without the gospel you are forever lost, because you’re rejecting His heart, which is the very means that He has provided to save you!

What is the Gospel? It is the Word of God that tells you that you have a God who has come to save you. You have a champion that has destroyed the power of sin, death, and the devil! You have a Savior and His name is Jesus Christ, the very Son of God! If you go off looking for help in any other means, then you are bringing Christ down from heaven where He has gone to prepare a place for you; a place that brings you back to God. If you insist on making yourself right with God by your own code of conduct then you are denying Christ’s death for you, and you’re in essence telling God, “No thanks Lord. I’ve got this!” If you do that then you can’t have a new and eternal life!

You see friends, Christianity is unlike any other religion. It is the only absolute and perfect religion because it alone uses God’s means of making sinners right with Him. It doesn’t ask you to do a thing, but instead, it teaches you to accept and receive God’s work for you through Jesus Christ—“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” [2 Corinthians 5:18–19] In other words, the Christian religion is absolutely perfect because it isn’t a moral code that teaches us how to earn forgiveness of sins, but instead it teaches us that through God’s Word of Law and Gospel we receive faith that recreates and sustains us while God reshapes us. All of this was given to us through Christ’s work upon the cross. There on the cross He was pierced and killed for our sins. By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed!

So what must we do to be saved?

Well, what does God’s Word say? It says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that I am proclaiming to you right now); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (or one class of person over another class of person); for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:8-13]

Sadly people today, will hear this Good News and still think that we Christians and our Bibles are narrow minded and bigoted. They will say how presumptuous it is of us to assume that we are the only ones that are right about God. They will point out that the great Creator God would never limit Himself to just the printed and spoken Word. They love to point to the marvels of the world we live in, the universe around us and our own history to prove that God can and does speak to men and women outside of His recorded Word. But the truth is, when people say something like that, what they are really trying to do is neutralize the Law of God and the need for a Savior who fulfills that law for them. Why? Because to them, the Law is like a mirror, and they don’t like what it is showing them! In the mirror of God’s Law they see the ugliness of their sin and they see the perfection that God demands!

Now while it is true that God does make use of creation and our history to communicate to us, He does this only to direct our attention to His Word, a Word which alone tells us of our need for our savior, Jesus Christ! The knowledge about sin and grace, can only come to us through God’s Word of Law and Gospel. It is through the Word alone that we are recreated back into God’s image! Without the preaching of Christ’s Word darkness still covers the world and our sinful hearts.

though our history shows that God speaks to us through the majesty of the heavens and the earth, even though God speaks to sinful man with a loud voice in earthquakes, war, famine and sickness, we are lost without God’s Word of Law and gospel speaking death to our sinful flesh and speaking and recreating new life to our new spirits.

(But)“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:14-17]

Isn’t it sad that so many people still reject The gospel! But this isn’t any thing new; even Isaiah lamented to God and wondered if he was preaching in vain. But God’s Word corrects this thinking; He corrects it by reminding us that the working of faith is His business. He reminds us that He gives faith only through His Word, and that Word teaches us that saving faith is always faith in the Word of Jesus Christ, faith in the external Word of the Gospel, which Christ commanded His Church to preach and to teach. [Mark 16:15–16; Romans 1:1–2]. This external Word is both the object of our faith and the means by which faith is created. This is why churches call pastors and it is why seminaries train and send them!

Now friends please listen to what I say next because it is very important. Any belief centered in anything that is not proclaimed in the Word of Christ as we have it through Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles (John 17:20), according to the Scriptures is a delusion and a product of the sinful human heart and mind. [1 Timothy 6:3–4; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5] And this is also why God expects you as His holy priests, to be His witnesses to those who don’t know Him through His Word; because He wants them to know that there is power in His Word… Power unto salvation!

Through the proclamation of the gospel, the preached Word of God is sent out to every corner of this sinful world, inviting sinful men and women to believe and rest in God’s Word of forgiveness. Through our witness as to how God’s Word has restored us, others can see Jesus living in and recreating us, and by God’s grace they will be moved to ask us about our faith. This then is a God given moment to invite them to look deeper into that Word by hearing it preached and taught in Christ’s church, even our little church here.

So you see, faith does grow out of hearing the Word of God. Through God’s Word, new life is created and protected by the giving and sustaining of faith. Now our faith might not always understand the mystery of how God can speak to us and through us by His Word and Sacraments, and faith won’t always be able to explain why God does what He does for sinners like us, but that’s alright, because you see, “faith is the assurance of things for which we hope for; it is the conviction of things that we don’t see. [Hebrews 11:1] So faith is simply hearing and resting in God’s message about Jesus Christ and then repeating that message to others as they demonstrate an interest in God! May God continue to give us ears and a heart to hear and believe this message! In Jesus name… AMEN!