Posts Tagged ‘Salvation’

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!

Who Is My Neighbor?

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 21st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9]

Isn’t that the way we normally live our lives; the way we normally respond to situations that seem to lead us to act for the benefit of others rather that passing them by and doing nothing.  It’s the way we justify not doing something; the way we naturally react to all the various people in our lives; people like coworkers and acquaintances.  Isn’t it true that we find it easier to show friendliness and do good towards a few chosen people in our lives; people who we know will reciprocate with equal friendliness?  But toward the majority of people whom we meet during the day, we usually do exactly as the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable did; we pass them by without more than a passing thought.

But in contrast, the Scriptures teach us that next to the great commandment to love God with our whole heart, body, mind, and soul, we are to  “Love our neighbor as ourselves.”  With such a broad, high, and demanding command as this, it isn’t unusual to find ourselves asking along with the lawyer in our gospel lesson (Luke 10:23-37)…

Who then is my neighbor, if I’m to love my neighbor as myself?

Jesus answered that question by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan who traveling alone one day happened to meet a man he could help.  In that moment, this suffering, dying man next to him became his neighbor.  You see, my neighbor, your neighbor is every person that we come in contact with, a person to whom we can do either harm or good towards.

Our neighbor can be a person who is close to us in the sense of proximity, or close to us in the sense that we have a God given ability to render immediate help.  The Jews were prone to limit their definition of who their neighbor was, to someone who was first and foremost part of their own people, and especially part of their own family.  In regards to how they would treat the others, they had a mindset that pretty much guided them, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But Jesus teaches that even the person who is unknown or indifferent or even repulsive to us becomes our neighbor as soon as we have dealings with them.

Does this seem like a difficult concept to embrace?  I would not be surprised if you answered yes, because the truth is, by nature,  all of us are lousy neighbors.

The belief that every fellow man is my neighbor is based in the truth that we are all so closely related to each other because of our fallen and sinful nature.  But…

All of us have also, been created by God to be His children and to relate to Him through faith.  In reality, we all have the same Creator-Father; we have all been redeemed by the same Savior, the Son of God.  And if we are baptized, we are even more closely related in that we have all been chosen to receive the same spiritual home, a place where we will all eternally live together as members of the same family.

The unknown people that we pass by during the day while we are walking or driving are also our brothers and sisters “for whom Christ died.” [Romans 12:5]  We are members of the same body, joined together by God Himself, so “that the members may have the same care for one another.”  We are to love the others just as much as we love ourselves.

In the Hawaiian language, there is a beautiful word that has multiple meanings and it is Aloha.  It can mean hello or goodbye. It also means love’ abiding love and affection.  With that in mind let me sing to you a bit of a song written by Larry Rivera titled “Aloha Begins With Me.”  I like to think of it as the “Good Samaritan Song.”  Aloha Begins with me.  Aloha begins with me.  Aloha begins with me.  When I walk down to the street, I will smile to all I meet and say Aloha!  When I drive on down to town and the traffic is slowing down, I smile and say Aloha!  In this country of many races we are blessed with all God’s graces.  So let every creature that has breath sing His praise.

Contrary to the spirit of Aloha or the type of love the Bible calls agape love, the truth is that we are usually pretty much concerned only about ourselves and not about sharing aloha with others.  But if we could only see just how closely we are related, actually one with another, wouldn’t we treat them just a little differently? “For no man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it.” [Matthew 7:12]  The simplest explanation of our obligation to love our neighbor was given by our Lord when He said: “As you wish that men would do to you, do the same to them.” [Luke 6:31]

The person who loves God is a person who truly understands who he is before a perfect and righteous God.  This kind of person understands just how deep God’s love for he or she runs, and then through this understanding of true agape love, aloha, they’re given a new ability from God, to approach other people with this new kind of love.  This love is given to us to be shared with both relatives and acquaintances as well as all those we encounter as we journey through life together.  But this kind of love, this agape love can only come through a true Christian faith; it is something that can only be received from God as a gift.  And after God gives this gift of love and faith, this person, these true Christians can say that they  “both love God and know Him.”

God is love, and to live in a right relationship with God through faith in Christ means to not only have His love residing and abiding in our hearts but it also means that it radiates from within and goes out to others as well.  The person who does not love his brother whom he has seen, can’t love God who he has not seen.  Everyone who loves the parent loves the child.

No one can force us to love.  The only way for us to receive the love of God is when He showers it upon us and in us through His means of grace.  When this happens, then we can love as He first loved us.  This morning, Jesus through His story about the Good Samaritan has done just that; He’s showered us with faith and grace.

In His story we should understand two important things: First, who the person robbed and dying in the ditch is and second, who the Good Samaritan is.

You like the lawyer testing Jesus, are in fact the injured traveler, who has been left to die alone in the ditch.  You were beaten by your enemies the day you were conceived; they left you robbed and in the grip of death the day you were born.  There was nothing you could do to save your self.  Even other people, important people in your lives are helpless to save you; and even if they could help they wouldn’t because they too were left alone and dying in their own ditch of sin and death.  They too, need the Good Neighbor.  But Jesus story does not stop there.  Next He tells you about a “Good Samaritan.”

A Samaritan was a class of people who were hated by the Jews.  To call a Samaritan good would be blasphemous to the ears of a Jew.  So you can understand the insult intended when the Pharisees out of frustration called Jesus a Samaritan simply because they could not trap Him and brand Him as a sinner.  They said that He was a Samaritan possessed by a demon.  Yes, Jesus says, “I am the “Good Samaritan.”  I am the only one who can be a good neighbor; the only One who has the true aloha spirit.  I alone have come to you, picked you out of the ditch, anointed your wounds with the gospel, and took both you and your burdens upon my self and carried you to be cleansed in the waters of baptism, and fed the Father’s Manna from Heaven, which is my Word, my body, and my blood.  I am your champion who not only rescued you from your true enemies, but I also destroyed them for you.  Now sin, death, and the devil can never harm you again.

But Jesus is also your good neighbor because He willingly took your place in the ditch; He allowed your enemies to beat, rob, and kill Him, upon the cross.  But it was His life to lay down for you, and He gladly did it, just so He could take it back up again.  He rose from the dead so you could see that because He has overcome death and the grave, so too shall you.

How can we become “good” neighbors?  Only by receiving and being transformed by God’s mercy as given through His Son, Jesus Christ.   Legalists who like to cross-examine Jesus Word and make it say a more palatable message, like the lawyer who confronted Jesus, still make no progress today towards appeasing their guilty conscience and satisfying the Law of God.  They never will have peace until they recognize that they are the man half dead and Jesus is the one who does mercy as their true neighbor. The lawyer says, “I will act to love my neighbor as myself; tell me who he is.” But Jesus answers, “You can’t act, because you are dead. You need someone to love you, show mercy to you, heal you, pay for you, give you lodging, and revive you. I am the only one who does those things, but I am also the one you despise because I love to be with sinners, but in fact I am the one who fulfills the Law, who embodies it, and brings God’s mercy. I am your good neighbor and will give you the gifts of mercy, healing, and life. As I live in you, you will have life and will do mercy—not motivated by laws and definitions, but animated by my love.”

I pray that each of us will continue to allow Jesus to deliver us from the ditch of sin, heal us, and strengthen and guide us as we go out allowing Jesus to be the good neighbor through us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN.

Words Are Important

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Twelfth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 14th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” [Matthew 12:37]

This is the word of Jesus.  It sounds dreadful, and we can understand why there were times when after the disciples heard Jesus teach and preach they responded with the question, “Who then can be saved?” [Matthew 19:25]

Why are our words so important?  And if they’re so important, why do we so often say so many things that we don’t really mean?  Well Jesus teaches that “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” [Luke 6:45]  Since every tree is known by its fruits, our thoughtless, angry, empty, and noisy words should then reveal the real condition of our hearts.  And to make sure that we understand this truth, Jesus also said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” [Matthew 12:36]

But thank God we are not limited to only our words; thank God there is a Word much bigger and powerful than any and all Words we will ever speak.  Thank God Jesus also says, “With man salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible; (Matthew 19:26) all things that begin not with the word of men but with the Word of God like this…

“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.  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.

Here is the very point that God wants us to understand: on our own we are broken; our words and our good intentions accomplish nothing.  That is the primary function of the law, of the Ten Commandments; to show us 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 is true, 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 remember that with God all things are possible; so that you will be led to call out to God for His healing balm!  The healing balm of God, 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 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; 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.   We need to receive that Word like the man in our gospel lesson (Mark 7:31-37) who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  He knew of no grand possibility of being made whole; he only knew that his friends brought him to Jesus as a broken man and that Jesus desired to make him whole.

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 Son of God!  If you go off looking for help from other means, then you are trying to make yourself right with God by your own code of conduct, and because of that, 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 doesn’t ask you to do a thing, but instead, it teaches you to accept and receive God’s perfect and complete 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 we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and 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; 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]  So the simple thing we must do is be in the Word of God and call out to Him.

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.  Why?  Because to them, the Law is like a mirror, and they don’t like what they see in that mirror!  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.  Even 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, and famine, we are lost without God’s Word of Law and Gospel speaking death to our sinful flesh and then recreating new and eternal life within us.

(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 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!  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 just 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 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 then, 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 God’s church, even our little church here.

Through faith in Christ we are covered by the righteousness of Christ, to be Christ’s many ambassadors.  Through the Word of God spoken by men, we have been given a new heart from which we can bring out things that are good and pleasing to God. [2 Corinthians 5:17]  Something new has been created within us, a good tree that can bring and bear good fruit.  This new fruit that comes from within our new hearts will bear witness on judgment day that the tree God planted within us was good.  But it is not for the sake of the good fruit that you are granted forgiveness and eternal life.  There is still enough left of the old sinful flesh that we need to pray day-by-day, “Forgive us our trespasses.”  But for the sake of Christ we are now “not under law, but under grace.” [Romans 6:14]

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 through 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; His cross and empty tomb; His church and His means of grace; and the cherished time we spend alone in that Word and the time we spend together as the communion of saints!  May God continue to give us ears and a heart to hear and believe this message!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

On Little Sins and Big Sins


Sunday, February 21st, 2016

2nd Sunday in Lent-HL, February 21st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

People often find it easy to make a distinction between little sins and great sins.  I suppose that is to be expected because we all know that there are some sins that are pure scandal.  There’s always particularly bad people that all respectable people avoid and condemn.  It has always been this way; even in the time of Jesus.  Maybe you’ve heard this saying before, “There are little sins and big sins.  Your sins are big and mine are little.”  As humorous as that is, there is a degree of truth to that saying; truth that is, in how we like to judge our own sins.

Speaking of truth, here’s one, Jesus never classified sins.  Instead, He stressed that all sins were evil and enough to disqualify sinners from entering the Kingdom of God, and yet He showed His love for sinners by eating with tax collectors and prostitutes; by answering the prayer of a Canaanite woman, who in the eyes of the Jews, was the equivalent of a wild feral dog.

In our message this morning, we must remember three things: 1. People who seem to be living pure and decent lives may not be as pure in God’s eyes as you think. 2. There are no sins so great that they can’t be forgiven by grace and through faith in Christ. 3. There are no sins so little that they don’t need to be forgiven in the name of Jesus.

People who seem to be living pure and decent lives may not be as pure in God’s eyes as you think. That is to say, just because someone seems to be living a blameless life according to a moral code, doesn’t mean that they have that same standing before God.  You see, God looks within the heart of sinners.  Those things that seem perfectly fine in the sight of men can many times be offensive to God.

When we say that God looks within the hearts of sinners, what we mean is that He looks to see if a sinner is in agony, sorrowing over their sins, any and all sins.  To bring sorrow to sinners, God determined long ago to use that portion of His Word we call the Law of God, which demands that men and women live holy and perfect lives as God is holy and perfect.  When the Law shows us how we fail to do that, then the Law of God is empowered by the Holy Spirit to become as a mirror to sinners.  This mirror of God shows sinners how utterly hideous they are on account of their sins, and then it shows them how lost within the grasp of the devil they are.  At this point, the point of despair, the Word of God then becomes like a brutal hammer that deliberately crushes all of the self reliance out of sinners.  When this happens, it is God’s will that the sinner would cry out to Him for mercy.

This cry for mercy then, is the only prayer that God will hear from a sinner who is not one of Jesus little lambs; it is a prayer that catches the ear of God so to speak, and through this cry of mercy, the heart of the sinner is being prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the gospel, that is the sinful heart has become fertile soil to receive a gospel seed that will grow, bloom, and bear much fruit.  This is then a picture of a sinner who has been prepared to hear the good news of a Champion, the Savior of the world Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is willing to be their Savior as well.

So the truth is that there can be no acknowledgment of sin by a sinner out side of the convicting power of God’s Law, and there can be no forgiveness out side of the Gospel Word, which is the message about forgiveness of sins completely through Jesus Christ alone.  But here is another truth worth remembering…

There are no sins so great that they cannot be forgiven by faith in Jesus. The penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) is a classic example of this, and also the Canaanite woman in our gospel lesson. [Matthew 15:21–28]

Sins are a mysterious thing, even for Christian folks.  Sins have a tendency of clinging to us.  Even after we’ve heard the gospel, and received the sweet absolution of our Lord, many times those sins still seem to hound us.  Why do you suppose that is?  Could it be that we lack faith in God’s promise to forgive?  Or could it be that the devil or someone controlled by the devil has convinced us that some particular sin that we’ve committed just might be to big for grace to pardon; to terrible to be forgiven?  The truth is, even those great sins that seem to linger in our minds like the smell of death, they have to be released when this Gospel message is declared, “Believe in Jesus Christ, and all will be forgiven.”

All sinners, even baptized and redeemed sinners like you and me, we have this sinful tendency to want to do something, anything that will pay for our sins; like I said, that too is a sin.  It’s a sin because it sets aside the blood of Christ that was poured out to cover our sins, and treats it as if it’s nothing.  It sets aside the gift of God’s love that was poured out into our hearts in Holy Baptism, and calls that insufficient.

But God’s Word gives each of us the ability to put to death these sinful thoughts and desires, listen: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.  Through Christ Jesus we have access to the Father.” [Romans 5:1-2]  You see, God wants you to believe in the work of Jesus, that is He desires that you receive that work as a certainty that your sins, all of them are forgiven on account of Christ, the atoning sacrifice, “who God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement for YOU. [Romans 3:25]  And even more amazing, this promise of forgiveness from God becomes effective for you, when you place all of your faith in the mercy of God as poured out for you through Christ.  In other words, this atoning sacrifice for sin, was and is done for you by Christ who is your Great High Priest, simply so that you can approach God in prayer with great confidence.  Not confidence in your own works, but confidence in the work of Christ alone! [Hebrews 4:14-16]

In other words, God works to empty our hearts of all self righteousness, so that He can enlarge them and fill them with faith and love that can come only through the ministry and work of Christ alone.  So, I hope by now you can see that…

There are no sins so little that they do not need to be forgiven in the name of Jesus.

The truth is, each idle word that we speak in anger, jealousy, or pride, is liable for God’s judgment, and it has to be accounted for.  [Matthew 5:22-28]  Our “little” stinging remarks, our lustful looks, our eagerness to be noticed when we do something good, our stubborn unwillingness to forgive—all these things are under the judgment of God until they are included in the forgiveness which we find in Jesus Christ, through faith in Him alone.  That forgiveness includes small and great sins, conscious and unconscious sins, those sins that have tortured us for years, and those that we have forgotten long ago.

Like Jacob in our Old Testament lesson, God wants us to be grieved by these sins, because they separate us from His love.  And then God wants those sins, all of them, to move our hearts to call out to Him in prayer, in Jesus name seeking the forgiveness and change that only He can bring.  Jacob was struggling with God in earnest prayer. This struggle involved a spiritual striving with God for his blessing, which is God’s gift of grace, but it also involved a physical struggle as well. Jacob’s opponent, referred to as “the man,” later identified himself as actually being God.

Jacob’s wrestling with God continued all night long, until with merely a touch, God threw Jacob’s hip socket out of joint. Now Jacob couldn’t continue the painful struggle any longer; so God was telling Jacob to cease striving and simply trust Him and surrendered to His will.  And what did Jacob do?  He threw his arms around God and held on to him. And when God said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak” He was delighted to hear Jacob’s answer, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” You see, God didn’t want Jacob (and he doesn’t want us either) to be timid with him. He wants to give us great victories, especially over things like sin.  Like Jacob, we are simply to be humble and call out to God in prayer.

Jacob clung in faith to God and to God’s promise, and he received the blessing he desired.  Listen: “What is your name?” the Lord asked him, not because he had forgotten but because he wanted to remind Jacob that his name meant “heal grabber” or cheater.  Jacob was known as a sinner who took unfair advantage of his rival. But that old name no longer fit this man, and so God gave him a new one. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

No longer would Jacob rely on his own cleverness to overcome anyone who opposed him. Instead, he would put his trust in God’s promises of blessing and forgiveness. He had learned to lean on God; to trust Him.

Each of us needs to learn and remember this as well.  We so often need to be reminded that in and of ourselves we have no strength, no power with God or man. Our only strength, like Jacob’s, lies in our holding firmly to what God has promised.  When we desire to live out that truth, God reminds us that in our baptism, like Jacob, we too were blessed with a new name; we were called Christian.

You know the truth is, sometimes it can feel like God’s angry with us; as if He were our opponent. Each of us has known times in our lives when we were unable to feel God’s mercy, as if He was only showing us His angry face. Jacob felt that way, but he held on to God even when God seemed like his enemy, and because of his tenacity, Jacob won a blessing. We will have that same experience too, when by faith we learn to say, “My Savior Jesus, I will not let you go unless you bless me and teach me to live out your sweet gift of forgiveness, which you won for me upon your cross and then gave to me in my baptism.”  And wonders upon wonders, He does that very thing as He daily reinforces our faith when we hear and study His Word, and receive His Holy meal at His altar.”

May God continue to forgive all of our sins, big and small, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Christ Is-Not Your Role Model!

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

1st Sunday in Lent-HL, February 14h, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” [Hebrews 4:15]

Jesus Christ, the Son of God is not your mentor nor your role model, but rather He is your Champion.  This morning we must fight to put aside all of the “Bumper Sticker” theology that we are bombarded with, and then concentrate on the central message of scripture: Jesus Christ, the Son of God has come to save sinners, of which, I am the chief of.

So, instead of making WWJD (What would Jesus do?) your mantra, let’s allow God to replace it with WHJD (What has Jesus done?).

Our text this morning sets the theme of our message: “The temptation of Christ.”  The Epistle lesson declares who Jesus is for you; He is your High Priest who is able to sympathize with you regarding the temptations you are confronted with, because He also was tempted, but He did not sin.  This is what Jesus has done for you; He conquered sin; He conquered Satan, and He conquered death, and He did it all for you!

Our gospel lesson joins Jesus after His baptism, as  He is being led by the Spirit of God out into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights. Why?  Because He is our Champion.  He must make right what the first Adam got wrong.  He must do perfectly what God’s people Israel did so sinfully, as they also were led for 40 years in the wilderness of sin.  God tested Israel, but their sins collectively and individually led them astray, time and time again.  So, in their place, it is God’s will that Jesus, His true SON, be tempted, so that both the devil and the sinful world would know that He alone is The One Who does overcome Satan, in the place of and for the sake of God’s baptized Children of faith… For you.

The First Temptation-Have you ever asked yourself why Jesus’ first temptation was centered on hunger?  Well remember, He is making right what we sinful people have gotten wrong so often.  And the ultimate “getting it wrong” is recorded for us in the 16th Chapter of Exodus when the people became hungry in the wilderness and they began to murmur against God.  Why they even declared that it would have been better for them if they would have died in Egypt as slaves, rather than dying of hunger in the wilderness.  Instead of praying to God and asking Him to give them food, they complained.  And as we know, even manna from heaven wasn’t able to quiet their grumbling spirit.

So now, here is Jesus, God’s Son, led out into the wilderness on a personal fast of 40 days and nights.  The entire time He is being harassed and tempted by the devil.  And when the time allotted for the fast is almost over, Jesus is tempted with hunger.  Unlike Israel who failed the test by not trusting in God, Jesus does not fail; He can not fail, because He has come to be your Champion.

So, when the devil tempts Jesus to prove He is a son of God, by commanding the stones to become bread, Jesus proves to the Devil that He is THE SON of God, by speaking the Word of God that sustains Him, even in His hunger: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Why do you think Jesus chose those Words to silence the devil?  Because they ARE the Word of God, specifically that Word found in Deuteronomy 8:3 thatGod spoke through Moses to chaste the sinful Israelites..  You see, Jesus knows full well what Israel failed to get right, and unlike Israel, the true Israel, Jesus the Son of God lives according to the divine Word.  Jesus’ life and relationship to God the Father comes completely from what God provides, and especially from what God speaks.

The Second Temptation-happens after Satan takes Jesus to a high location, either in, or near the temple compound, and challenges Him to throw Himself off of the ledge to prove that God will save Him as a Father saves a Son. And to this challenge, Jesus once again turns to Scripture, and says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”  Here Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, which refers to the Israelites grumbling against Moses and God because they were thirsty.  Specifically, they declared their disdain for God with this question: “Is the Lord among us or not?” [Ex 17:7]

Now back to Jesus’ temptation, what we must understand is just what Satan is trying to tempt Jesus to do; he wants Jesus to test whether God’s power is available to protect and save him, just as the people of Israel put God to the test, by demanding that He prove His power and His status by providing water to quench their thirst. But Jesus will doubt neither His Father’s promise nor His power. He will not deviate from his Father’s ways.  Jesus has no need to learn whether God’s power and purposes are guiding him.

The Third Temptation-In this final temptation, Jesus will remedy the core cause of all sin that both Israel and sinful mankind have always been guilty of… false worship.  From the very beginning of its identity as a nation, when God led his collective sons Israel up out of Egypt into the desert, they struggled to remain loyal to God and worship Him alone, having no other gods before him (Ex 20:2–3). In Exodus 32, the incident with the golden calf at the foot of Sinai showed the nation’s apostasy, and demonstrated the subsequent consistent history of Israel in their new homeland.

To be a “son” is to have only one “Father.”  Israel, was a failure at this relationship. But the One who stands in their place, the true Son who comes to make right what we get wrong, does not fail. Satan shows the glories of the world’s kingdoms to Jesus and promises to give them all to him if Jesus will “fall down and worship” Him. It is as if He is saying, “Imagine Jesus, a bloodless cross.  No suffering, pain, passion, or agony; I will give it all to you right now if you will just bend your knee ever so slightly to me!”  And once again, Jesus prevails over everything in life; over all things that oppose the Kingdom of God.  How does He do this?  He refers Satan back to Moses’ words to Israel found in Deuteronomy 6:13: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him alone.”

As the people of Israel were poised to enter the promised land, Moses warned them with those very words, but they did not take his words to heart and make them their own. And so now, Jesus is poised to “enter our sinful land,” in order to begin his ministry of salvation in and for Israel, and as God’s perfect and perfectly obedient Son, he makes Moses’ (and God’s) words his own.

This morning in God’s Word, we have been shown how Satan tried to get Jesus to misunderstand or contradict what it meant for him to live out his mission as God’s Son. In other words, it is a question of grasping His identity.

So it is also the very same challenge for we who are living out this Christian life of temptation and struggle against sin. You see, our Gospel lesson does not so much teach disciples that they should “find the right Bible verse with which to combat temptations.” Rather, as Jesus’ disciples we are being shown that we can learn to recognize Satan’s temptations as attacks on our identity as children of God, and also what it means to live out that identity within this sinful world as we live out our vocations.

Temptations are an inescapable part of our lives.  We know that these temptations don’t come from God, for God cannot be tempted with evil and He Himself tempts no one. [James 1:13]  But ever since the fall of mankind it just isn’t possible for us to avoid being tempted.  “For it is necessary that temptations come,” says Jesus. [Matthew 18:7]

So where do these temptations come from?  Well…

Temptations come partly from outside of ourselves.  The tempter is a reality.  His strategy is always that of awakening our doubt toward God, making us uncertain that God is seeking our best, and trying to make us imagine that we would be happier if we took our destiny into our own hands.  This is the strategy he used with Adam and Eve, and it’s also the strategy he used with Jesus when he tried to lure Him to use His power for His own purposes.

But temptations also come from within our own hearts, and the tempter always has a secret ally within that secret place, and it’s us.  You see, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” [James 1:14]

The best weapon in the hour of temptation is still the Word of God. Since it is the strategy of the tempter to try to make us think that our own human thoughts and not God’s thoughts will provide the way out, the best defense against this strategy is found in the simple Words: “It is written.”  It was with these Words that Jesus Himself conquered the tempter.  Therefore the Bible calls the Word of God the sword of the Spirit. [Ephesians 6:17]  It is an essential part of the armor that is necessary to “be able to withstand the evil day.” Concerning those who build their faith on emotion and feelings, it is written that they “in time of temptation (will) fall away.” [Luke 8:13]

To withstand temptation a Christian must watch and pray.  It is important to be careful not to take these temptations lightly or with a sense of false confidence, because this attitude will cause us to willingly enter into times and places that will become triggers for our temptations.  A Christian must not give the devil an opportunity.

But there are also temptations, which are inescapable; they’re simply part of living in a sinful world.  When these temptations come, we must fight that grumbling spirit that will come too, and we must trust God that He is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted above our capacity to endure.  “With temptation He will also provide the way of escape.” [1 Corinthians 10:13] Christ Himself was “tempted as we are, yet without sinning. [Hebrews 4:15]  Therefore, He can assist us: “because He Himself has suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted.” [Hebrews 2:17]  Because of this, we can  “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, (so) that we may receive mercy and find grace to help (us) in (our) time of need.”

So to trust in Christ, in His mercy and His power, is to take hold of the shield of faith, and with that shield of faith you can use it to quench all of the flaming darts of temptation that the evil one will throw your way. [Ephesians 6:16]  We who hold fast to Christ will be able to “count it all joy” when we meet all kinds of temptations, since if we stand in Christ against the test, it will produce “steadfastness… that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” [James 1:2-4]

What would Jesus do?  It doesn’t really matter, you aren’t Him; you’re a sinner in need of a Savior.  What has Jesus done?  Well now, that’s a better question.  He saved sinners; He saved you!  He saved you and He wants you to know from God’s Word who you are and how that identity as God’s baptized, adopted son or daughter is to live out your life in this sinful world.  In that sense, even as He wins the victory, Jesus the Son of God prepares you for the battle. Just as the Spirit was with Jesus as He entered the wilderness of temptation and spiritual warfare with the evil one, so the Spirit of God is with you, Jesus’ disciples as you serve and follow your Champion.  AMEN!

Beware of the Bloodless Cross!

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

Quinquagesima Sunday, February 7th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”” [Isaiah 35:3, 4]

This morning, I declare a message of hope for you who see a need for that hope, which comes by way of a suffering and bloody Savior; for those who see the cross as not only an emblem of suffering and shame but also as a means of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.  But I also come proclaiming a warning for those who do not see the bloody and violent cross and death as enough to assure sinners of eternal life; for those who down play the bitter suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, and feel that through their own actions they must add something to the passion of Christ in order to be assured that they will be forgiven and receive eternal life.  Those who will not receive all that this Cross of Christ brings are refusing the very means of salvation that God is offering them.

The truth is that people, all people, really do not understand the power of the cross. They will not receive it on their own because to them, it just does not make sense; it seems too easy.

Instinctively, each of us knows that we have a real issue with sin; sins that we wrestle with that if others knew just how ugly those sins within us were, the sins we keep hidden so well with a veneer of self-righteousness; if they knew, they would be repulsed and turn away from us, or at least never look at us the same.  Now, you may not want to admit that to me or anyone else, you may want to deny that truth publicly, but remember this sin issue isn’t about anyone else; it’s about where you stand before God.  It is God who speaks to your heart right now; and it is His Holy Spirit that is confirming to you this very moment that on your own, you are nothing but a rag-a-muffin; a broken misfit that has become an expert at pretending.

Because of this truth about each of us, we are tempted to hear only the harsh words of our text this morning and then be filled with worry and fear that the cross of Christ may not be enough for us.  Listen: Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with His recompense, the punishment of sin.

And there is the problem with a sinner who under-values the cross of Christ; there is the problem with a bloodless cross.  We have concentrated so much on the sins that separate us from a loving God that we loose sight of the power of God unto salvation.  We forget that throughout His Word, God has assured us that He doesn’t want to terrify or threaten any one.  We forget that He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.  This morning, God reminds us that He is much more interested in bringing you forgiveness, hope, and life.  So hear the gospel and the gift of faith that will allow you to see God rightly, in love and mercy.

This morning, Jesus Christ, your Savior prepares you for your Lenten journey that is about to begin this Ash Wednesday. He says to you, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.  And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” [Luke 18:31-33]

All of this and so much more is Christ’s passion for sinners, rag-a-muffins like us.  Our great sins have to be dealt with; God has no choice.  The punishment we deserve is great, so great in fact if it is enacted upon us we will perish with no hope of ever being right with God.  Flogging, humiliation, and death are just the beginning of the things our sins deserve and demand.

But listen to our Saviors Words again; He said that “everything written about the Son of Man (that is the Messiah) by the prophets will be accomplished.”  What things?  Well, the chastisement or punishment of God for the sins of the whole world.  But pay attention to that little word “accomplished”, because it is the same verb Jesus shouted from the cross just before He died.  “It is accomplished, it’s finished, (their debt, your debt, our debts) are paid in full!”

But the best news comes in the last sentence he spoke, listen: “And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”  You see friends, the passion of Christ, His suffering and shame, the bloody cross, was God’s way of taking away the sins of the world, even your many sins so that you could once again have the hope of being right with God the Father, your Creator.  But you must continue to follow Christ from the bloody cross to the tomb, which for us is an empty tomb because, “He has risen, indeed.”  Alleluia, Christ is risen.

And it is this gift of the empty tomb that He gives to each of us by way of the bloody cross, within the waters of our own baptism.

But was it really necessary for Christ to die on the Cross? Well, His own disciples wondered about that too.  His death seemed like a ridiculous proposition to them; in fact, it was a real stumbling block for them as they saw Him dying on the cross and then dead in the tomb.  So, the first thing that Jesus had to do was open their blind spiritual eyes and give them eyes of faith so that God’s truth would become their truth.  After His resurrection and as He traveled with some of His disciples on the way to Emmaus, Jesus began to do this very thing by asking them this question.  “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” [Luke 24:26]

Well, wasn’t it necessary, so that you too, could follow Him into glory as well?

Yes, but why did you have to suffer and die Lord?

And to that question, Holy Scripture gives us God’s own answer: “Jesus should die… to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” [John 11:51]  The family of man, which God had created, had become lost to the Father.  All of them, all of us had sinned and had lost the image and likeness of God.  Man could not win it back by himself.  You see friends, the nature of God contains both holiness and love.  This holy love is like a burning and all consuming fire on all that is sinful and unclean.  This holy love reaches out its arms to sinful mankind and seeks to embrace and gather them.  And our natural response as sinners to this love is to say: “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…!” [Isaiah 6:5]  “Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire of God?”  [Isaiah 33:14]

So here, for sinners such as us, is the conundrum of sin: God can’t change His nature.  If He did, He would then no longer be God, because God never changes.  And God can’t overlook our sin.  He can’t even tolerate the slightest hint of it in His kingdom.

But God can redeem it.  And this means that its guilt and penalty must be paid for and taken away.  Through God’s act of redemption, His righteousness remains intact.  His holiness and love can once again surround men and women that He created in His image.  The sinner can become one with God once again.

But that kind of atonement could never be completed by sinners like us, because even our best of sin stained works are like filthy rags before God.  On our own, we have nothing but filth to offer up to God.  So…

It was for this reason that God sent His Son to be the sacrifice and payment for our sins.  Friends, that is the ultimate evidence of the love of God.  Jesus says: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus had to be lifted up on the cross, so that He could draw all men to Himself.  He suffered death for our sins.

Think about this: The righteous man suffered for the unrighteous ungodly sinners in order that He might lead them back to His Father.  Upon Him, our chastisement was laid, which would make us whole again.  By His stripes we are healed.

The talk of a crucified Savior and a bloody cross, was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  And it’s still considered ridiculous by all kinds of religious sinners today.  Their faith is centered in their attempts to be good and not in the bloody cross of Christ.  But to God, this bloody cross, the agonizing death of His Son, is the only way He offers to us to be saved; it’s a way that we can play no part in.  And so, this bloody cross, this tree of death, this precious Gospel remains for us still, the power of God unto salvation, for all who will believe.

Kyrie.  Lord, Son of David, have mercy.

Go now with eyes to see, your faith in this Jesus, this bloody cross of His has saved you.  AMEN!

It’s a Powerful Word!

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Sexagesima Sunday, January 31st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

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“And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As Jesus said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”” [Luke 8:8]

This morning, each of us gathers as both the soil for God’s Word, and fellow sowers of His Word.  Each of us gathers needing to hear Jesus speak, so that together we may obtain an abundant harvest.  So, what kind of soil are you?  Or another way to ask this question is, “Do you have, do you desire to have ears of faith that will hear God speak to you this morning?”  And then what kind of seed are you sowing?  Do you know of it’s power and purity?  Do you know, really know what it is able to do?

God’s Word is indeed powerful, but to the world it seems like a very small and insignificant thing; “After all” they say, “it is only words!”

And yet, it’s these very Words, which Jesus speaks to proclaim the mystery of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus spoke in parables, which to the outsiders were only words.  But to the apostles and disciples who walked with Jesus, those Words were the very source of hope and eternal life.

Some people stopped and listened to the Words of Jesus; they found a temporary diversion from the drudgery of daily life, but when He was finished speaking, they gathered their things and went back about living their lives, unaffected and unchanged by the Word.  But for those who remained at Jesus side, something else was given to them; they received the gift of faith.  To them, another Word was spoken; a deeper Word was given that both maintained the mystery of the Kingdom of God, yet assured them that they were a part of that mystery; a part of that Kingdom.

Why did this Word of Jesus seem to only grab a hold of so few?  What was there about these folks that separated them from the others?  Well, they were the good soil that Jesus talked about; not on their own or through their own doing, but rather they were changed from bad soil into good soil simply by grace and their felt need for that grace.  In their weakness, they knew that Jesus had the Word of life that would make them strong.  We might even say that these Disciples of Christ were even moved to brag about their weakness in order to point out God’s power, glory, and His wonderful gift of grace.

In Jesus’ story, He gave four examples of hearts that His Words would fall upon.  In His story, He compared those hearers and their hearts to soil and His Words to seeds being sown.

In His first example, Jesus speaks of hearts that are already shutoff from the power of His Word.  These hearts, Jesus compares to soil on a hardened foot path that can not receive the Word, due to lack of tilling or preparation, so the seed simply sits on top of the hardened soil.  But then Jesus adds an antagonist to the story; he adds birds.  These birds He tells us, are an example of Satan and the devils who do their very best to snatch away the seed of God’s Word, before the soil realizes what it is.  These devils use things like logic and philosophy and competing religions to make the Word of God seem impotent or no different than any other word.  They will even try to convince you that the true preachers and teachers are simply ignorant and selfish men who only want to make a living out of deceiving the masses.

The second example of soil is a rocky one; a thin veneer of soil that simply covers rock and gravel.  The Seed is received and even begins to sprout, but because of the lack of depth in the soil it can’t take root.  This soil, Jesus says are the hearts that gladly hear the Word of God and rejoice in that Word, but after leaving the presence of the Word, they are overcome by the temptations of a sinful lifestyle, so they go right back to a Godless life, unchanged by the power of the Word.

The third example of soil are those areas where the thorn bushes and bramble were not thoroughly uprooted in the plowing phase of planting.  As the seed grew, it was choked out of life from the thorns and brambles.  This soil represents those who hear the Word, become changed and renewed by the Word, but as life happens and responsibilities increase and the promise of wealth and happiness call, those hearers forget their first love and chase after created things and give up their desire to know deeply both the Creator and the mystery of His Kingdom.

And the fourth example of soil are we who simply trust in the seed to both recreate and renew our hearts as we are daily and weekly watered and nurtured by God’s Word and Sacraments.

It is God’s desire that everyone will allow Him to recreate our hearts into fruitful soil that gladly allows it’s weakness to be turned into God’s strength for His glory.  It is God’s will that each of us will see a need for His grace and mercy; that we will see that grace and mercy displayed for the world to see in the weakness of the cross.  He desires that you this morning, will remember that His grace and mercy were showered upon you and made yours completely in the waters of your Baptism.  It is God’s will that you will understand the true and utter power of His Word that is for you!

The power of God’s Word is the very thing that makes it different from all other words.

When God sows His Word out into this sinful world, it not only proclaims a message, but it also fulfills it.  In other words, God will do what He says He will do!  “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” [Isaiah 55:10, 11]

And this is how God’s power is revealed through His Word.  He did this very thing first in the creation of the world. [Genesis 1:30]  He spoke and it happened.  He commanded and it was done.  And since the creation of the world, He has been creating through His Word spoken by His chosen prophets.  God sends His Word out to “pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” [Jeremiah 1:10]

The same is true about the Words found within your Bibles.  It isn’t just a collection of teachings or a library of stories; it’s God speaking to you as you read; even those things that were written about and happened long ago, were written for your sake.  It has been written for your instruction.  In the very form that the Bible has been given to us, God meant it to be, so that His Word could be spoken and shared throughout the world for all generations.  The Bible declares to you, God’s desire for the world, for you as an individual, as “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.”  God sends His Word out against our sinful hard hearts as a fire, and as a hammer, that crushes rocky hearts into a powder.  It is living, and active, sharper than a two edged sword.  But when it strikes a broken heart, then the Word is Spirit and life.  It heals and regenerates, it turns the soil of our hearts from powdered rock to rich nutritious soil.  It is the power of God unto salvation.  And if you will allow yourself to be led by it, it will be a light unto your feet and a lamp upon your pathway.

But the Word does not work irresistibly.  Everyone of us are free to despise the Word and cast it aside.  But even then it is at work.  It hardens our hearts and finally, it brings judgment.

Dear friends, what Jesus Parable really give us is a final picture of sinful hearts that have been confronted with the Word of God. When each life is over, some will show a harvest, but many will not. Sadly, so many people will never let the Word in, some will never let it root, some will never let it grow up. God is showing this truth to us now as a warning, so that we will examine ourselves and discover how we are treating His Word now, before our lives here in this sinful world are finished. And while it’s true that no man or woman can change themselves, God by His grace has mercifully given to each of us His means of grace to change us all; trodden path, rocky places, and briar patches will all be turned into good soil through His Word alone.

You will need these means of grace and the power and change it brings, because God has invited each of you to also go out and broadcast, share, and sow His Word of eternal life to any and all He puts in your life, as you live out your lives being good soil and abundant in the life His “Good Seed” brings.

May God bless this planting and grant us an abundant harvest, in Jesus name… AMEN!

From Lesser to Greater

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

Easter 6B, May 10, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” [Acts 10:47]

This morning, I want to start out our message with a word of encouragement from me your pastor, to each of you who make up this congregation we call Trinity Lutheran Church.  You truly are a welcoming and loving bunch of saints, and your diversity proves that.  You are made up of Asian, African, African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Polynesian, wealthy, middle class, and poor.  You love each other equally and you are willing to offer up what you have to help each other when asked.  You seem to be following God’s example… you are not a respecter of persons.

All that being said, may I suggest that we take what our first reading (Acts 10:34-48) has to heart, and see if we might still have room to grow, both as individuals and as a congregation?  Good, let’s get started.

Another way to rephrase Peter’s question, would be like this: “Does anyone see what God is doing differently than me?  I see Him saying that He wants to save all people, regardless of who they are or what they are; regardless of what they’ve done or what they haven’t done?”

Did you notice that no one disagreed with Peter?  Now, don’t dismiss this fact because it is very relevant to what God is doing both in our reading and within our community today.  You see, prior to this day, God was seen as a national God, or a God of the Jews.  The Jews believed this, and it tended to steer them towards looking down on other folks; people who were not a part of their nation.  Peter was of this same mindset to an extent; he couldn’t help but be that way because he had been mistakenly taught this mindset from childhood.

But prior to our reading, in Acts 10:1-33, we discover that God had prepared Peter for a shift in his thinking through a vision.  In his vision from God, Peter was shown a great sheet that came out of heaven with all kinds of un-kosher creatures; you know creepy crawly things.  And in the vision, God said, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.  But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”

Now prior to Peter’s vision, a gentile Roman Centurion who feared God but did not yet know him also had a vision.  And in his vision he was told by an angel to go to the home where Peter was staying and invite him to his home to share the gospel.  And obedient to God’s command, Cornelius sent his men to find Peter and ask him to come and speak.  The next day when Peter arrived at the home, Cornelius welcomed Peter, and Peter proclaimed these wonderful words: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

And then Peter said a prayer, opened his moth and he began to preach this sermon: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

To those Jewish Christians who were accompanying Peter, and had not the privilege of the vision, this all must have seemed very odd, and out of order.  They must have been thinking, “These are Roman gentiles and not Jews; why is Peter preaching to them our gospel?”

Before they had time to object, and before Peter could even finish his sermon, the Holy Spirit acted in a way that would make God’s desire clear to everyone there and everyone who would hear about this day: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

No one that day attempted to prevent these people, who were foreign to God’s holy people from becoming part of Christ’s body; from becoming part of the church.  The gift of speaking in foreign languages was the same work of the Spirit that was done with the apostles and disciples earlier on that first Christian Pentecost.  In other words, God was telling Peter and all of the Jewish Christians that these gentiles, and all people of the earth are equal to the Jewish people; equal in their sins and equal in their need for a Savior.

The blood of Jesus was poured out for not just the sins of the Jews, but for the world, and the waters of Holy Baptism is for all sinners who have been crushed by God’s perfection as demonstrated through His Law and desire forgiveness of sins, and to be born anew, recreated through the washing of the water and the Word!

Would you look around this sanctuary please and tell me what is missing, or should I say who is missing? (Pause) Where are the young people?  Where are the children and young adults?  Oh, we have had plenty of the young people come to visit; we’ve even baptized at least a dozen of them in the last few years, but where have they gone to?  Do you know?  If you don’t know where they’ve gone to, do you know why they left?  Could it be that they left because they didn’t feel that there was a place for them here?  Could it be that we have been so impressed with our diversity in regards to race, ethnicity, and economic standard that we were beginning to feel like we have done all things well, and that there is no more room to grow?  Could it be that we have become a respecter of persons in regards to age?

The title of our message is, “From the lesser to the greater,” because that seems to always be how God works.  He takes the things that we may look down on and turns them into the very thing that brings His law to shame us with our sin of superiority and then shape us with the gospel, the forgiveness of that sin, with the challenge to go and sin no more.  In other words, God has taken that sin from us, so now we must identify it, mark it, and avoid it.

From the lesser to the greater for Peter meant, receiving a message from God about unclean food and then applying that message towards people he felt were unclean. For us today, from the lesser to the greater can be seen in our own lives and discovered within the lives of our neighbors, no matter their age.  We see this play out in our own salvation don’t we?  God moved each of us here this morning, at some time in our own lives from sinner to saint.  That is, within the waters of our own baptism He recreated us through the same word that created the universe, and He recreated us into His very own children.  But He didn’t stop there did He?  No, daily he moves us from repentance to forgiveness; from sin to salvation, and He does it through the same means that He uses to save others who are not yet a part of us; He does it through the proclamation of the gospel (the preached Word), Holy Baptism, and His Holy Communion where He feeds us His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.

All of these things, along with our own witness and conversation with our neighbors, points our hearts and minds back to the very same thing which equally saved us and continues to save us; we are taken back to the Word of God.

Did you notice a moment ago when I was listing God’s means of grace, or His means of giving us faith to believe and confess in the name of Jesus, I also included your own witness and conversation with our neighbors?  This is because we the church are to grab onto and utilize the Word of God in all of its forms.  In both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it is the Word of God along with the working of the Holy Spirit that brings faith to the one receiving these gifts.

There’s no magical power in any of these things that simply works by itself; it is all empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring faith to the one that is receiving.  The content of the Gospel contains and delivers God’s power for salvation as it creates faith and speaks to that faith.  Just as we struggle to avoid removing the speck from our neighbors eye while ignoring the log within our own, so too we often need a sermon, or a fellow believer to apply the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection to our own hurts and desires of comfort.

Young people today are hurting and aching for that gospel comfort, but they will unlikely find it by simply paging through their Bibles or listening to a 20-minute sermon.  They want to see that gospel hope in action; they want a guide or mentor who will teach them the personal truths of proclaiming and believing in the mystery of eternal life as it is revealed within the name of Jesus.

The voice of the gospel is a living voice, and it lives through each of us.  A sermon on Sunday is a great God ordained example of that Living voice of the Gospel, but if that is the only voice that young people are hearing, I am afraid that with what they face every day in this world darkened by sin, it may not be enough for them to over come the trials they are facing.  They need something more; they need you!

Young people need to be mentored; they need to be reminded by us that they are important to both God and the church.  Young people need mentors, surrogate Christian parents and Grandparents to come alongside them and remind them that what they know and believe of God matters.  They need to know that we older Christians are not that much different than them.  We too, have been moved from sinner to saint and we too struggle to live out the life of Christian while also fighting to put to death our old sinful natures.

While it is true that young people think, talk, and dress differently than we do, they have one thing that is the same: They desire to know God’s love and mercy.  They desire to know the mysteries of salvation that the church declares are theirs through faith in the name of Jesus Christ.  Will you please be that man or woman for the next young person that comes into our midst?

It is my prayer that we will all be aware through the help of God that He has called each of us to be conversing with others, even young people, and consoling them with God’s good news in Christ.  It is you God has chosen to teach these young people He brings into our midst about the abundant love He has lavished upon them through His means of grace that He so freely gives out right here at Trinity Lutheran Church.  I pray we will do this both as individuals and as a congregation for the glory of God and saving grace that calls us out of this lesser world of sin, into the greater glory of eternal life.  I ask this in Jesus name, Amen!

Our Vocation is Clear

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Easter 5B, May 3, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]

Some of you know that I love Cowboy movies, or as they are more properly called, Westerns.  I love the simplicity of the narrative and the development of the characters.  You have the good guys, the bad guys, and what I like to call the confused guys.  They are the ones, usually the town folks who don’t seem to be committed to anything other than survival, who show great potential, but they always seem inadequate for the task at hand.  And that task almost always in the best westerns is to standup to the bad guys; bad guys who today we might call bullies.

The bad guys in accordance with western genera, are inevitably made up of the rough and crude working class, but there always seems to be an upper class elite who is pulling the strings; intimidating the townsfolk into cowering and ignoring their criminal behavior, all so that the bad guys can have their way.  And within this tension enters the role of the good guy; the hero!

You know that the hero is ready to jump into action, when he says the magic words: “I can’t abide by that!”  What he is actually saying, is that to ignore the evil that is being done in front of him is contrary to his nature.  Or we might say that it is not in keeping with the good guy’s calling.  And what is that calling?  To abide in his nature… to be the good guy!

This morning, God’s Word reminds each of us what our calling or vocation is; we are called to abide in Jesus Christ, the true vine or source of life.  It reminds us that above all our other callings or stations in life, we are Christians; we are the good guys and gals of this world.  We are good, not because of anything that is unique to ourselves, but simply because we have been grafted as branches into the vine, the body of Christ.

Jesus says this in another way that perhaps we can understand: “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.” [Vs. 3]  You have been born again, created anew, cleansed and remade by the washing of the water and the Word.  These two cry out to you as the instruments of your salvation: The blood of Christ shed upon the cross for the sins of the world, and the water of your own baptism which made this gift truly yours personally in a way that ensures that you can and will abide within the body of Christ, His church.

In our first reading (Acts 8:26-40), we encounter one of the best demonstrations on how God ensures that all who desire to abide in Him, will do that very thing.  We meet an unnamed Ethiopian eunuch who is returning from his trip to Jerusalem.  Even though he remains unnamed, God wants you to understand that He was an important man within the nation of Ethiopia, because he was the queen’s own minister of finance.  And because he worked so closely with the queen and her family, as was the tradition back then he also voluntarily became a eunuch; that is through surgery, he became sexless.  But this important man was also something so much more in God’s eyes; he was a person being called unto salvation.  Just as he was surgically altered to serve the queen, God desired to spiritually alter him so that he could abide within the very body of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

But there was a problem, the good folks who also were called by the same Prince of Peace and who were the authority within the temple of God, were still locked into the old covenant of Moses.  It was this covenant that attempted to bind a gentile into fear and punishment by denying him the very thing that the Jews refused themselves when they crucified Jesus Christ, a relationship of grace and mercy with the Creator.

Now, on his way back from worshiping the One true God as a 2nd class citizen, with an expensive scroll in his possession, this man of faith who is seeking to know the One true God, is introduced to Him in a miraculous way.  As he is reading his scroll, God sends Philipp by order of an angel to meet this Ethiopian seeker and answer all of his questions; questions that should have been answered within the temple but were not.

Through the explanation of the Word of God and the introduction of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, this Ethiopian seeker is moved to plead for the greatest gift he would ever receive: ““See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [Vs. 37]  And just like that, this eunuch who through the old covenant of Moses was barred from abiding in God’s love was translated immediately into that love by being brought as a branch into the vine, the holy Christian church where he will continue to receive nurturing and teaching through the Word and Sacraments of Christ’s church.  In fact, the history of this ancient nation of Ethiopia teaches us that it was this eunuch who brought the gospel to their great nation.  He first shared that gospel with the Candace or the Queen, who was also baptized and from that point on the church began to flourish and grow, all because one man was called by God to abide in the body of Christ.

It is here in Christ’s church where we are nurtured and strengthened and told to abide.  It is here that we are forever reminded that we too are called to be good guys.  We are called to be loved and to love each other in return.  We are called to hear the truth and to speak the truth.  And this is the truth, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God took on our real flesh, He became one of us in order to save us; in order to die for this sins of the world, but most importantly He died for your sins personally, you dear saints who have been baptized.

Like the Ethiopian eunuch, you too were called and saved solely through the miraculous work of God’s Spirit; you were saved through the washing of the water and the word.  And you too were called to abide and grow, to learn and then go.  You go out back into the world of darkness and sin, just as the Ethiopian did.  But you are not of this world; you are a child of light and you too confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh! [1 John 4:2]  You are part of the Vine, the Body of Christ, because you have been cleansed, but you must be careful because you are going out into a world and kingdom of darkness.

Like the Ethiopian eunuch and like the early Christians that St. John speaks to in our epistle lesson (1 John 4:1-11) you will most certainly encounter the spirit of the antichrist.  You can find his unholy spirit everywhere.  He is the one who insist that either your abiding faith in Jesus Christ is false or it is insufficient to give you a full life.  They will preach and teach to you a different message that denies you salvation in Christ alone.  Whether it is science alone or Jesus plus works, make no mistake the false teachers are everywhere.  And also do not be misled, whether they admit it or not they are all tools of Satan, that great lion, that ravenous wolf, who only desires to take away your faith and claim you as his own!

The answer to this threat is simple… we must come out of them and gather together with other branches that are abiding in the vine.  Within the vine, the body of Christ His church we find both the love of God and the love of each other.  St. John says it this way: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the (payment) for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Beloved, the world can not love you because it is not part of the vine; it does not have the nourishing sap of the Son of God sent out to the branches that abide, that rest in God’s love.  They have not because they can not abide by this God who comes to us and dies for us!

But you can and you will abide in Him.  And because you abide in Him, you cannot abide within the evil of this world.  You can not remain indifferent like the confused and fearful town folks in some Western story.  You must be the good guy because you abide in Him.  But take warning, from Jesus own words, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” [John 15:2]

Are you nervous about the sufficiency of your fruit?  Do you wonder if you will be taken away due to lack of fruit?  Then hear again the Word of Jesus the True Vine and abide and thrive: “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.”  So continue to abide in me and I will abide in you.

To abide in Christ is to be a fruit producer.  You cannot abide in Him and have no fruit, because His very life blood, the sap of the indwelling Holy Spirit resides in you.  And where the Holy Spirit is, is also His fruit.  What is this fruit?  Well God’s Word plainly tells us that “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” (Gal. 5:22, 23); “goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:9); These are “the peaceable fruit of righteousness,” (Heb. 12:11).

Dear saints as you abide here in God’s love, He alone is working through His Word and Sacraments to ensure that your love will abide in Jesus and grow more and more in the knowing that you are forgiven and protected from the judgment that awaits the world that will not abide in His Son.  It is here that you are taught and filled with the forgiving love of God through Christ Jesus so that you seek out and approve all things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and without offense to others until the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are already yours through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9–11).

Are you still worried that you do not have enough fruit?  Do not allow that worry to separate you from the nourishment found only in the vine, because it is there alone that fruit may come.  A branch may have only a small amount of fruit, but as long as it draws life from the vine, some of the fruit will be found, and God will bless it and multiply it.

Dear friends, you are one of the good guys, and because you abide within the True Vine you can not abide within the things of this world.  Even when the world overwhelms you, you must not allow your fears, worries, or doubts to sever you from Christ and His Church.  It is precisely at times such as these when you need the nourishment of the vine and the love of other branches the most.  AMEN!

Our Relentlessly Pursuing God

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

Easter 4B, April 26, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us”. [1 John 3:16a]

What a wonderful text for us to be blessed with this “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  It speaks of God’s love for each of us as demonstrated through the giving of His Son; a Son who willingly laid down His life for lost little sheep such as we.  But, that’s only half of the verse isn’t it?  The other half seems to set a different tone, and then it is followed up with two more verses that seem even more challenging, listen:  “and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” [1 John 3: 16b-18]

This morning, if we read these Words without remembering who our Good Shepherd is, we may look at Him in a different way; a way that will cause us to flee from Him, instead of running to Him.  This morning we will look at two pictures of God, or two ideas of Jesus and then with the help of the Holy Spirit we’ll allow God to adjust the vision of who He really is within our lives.

This morning you may be receiving Jesus’ Words in our gospel reading (John 10:11–18) like this: I am the relentless hound of God, and I will hunt you down until you lay down your life for your brothers; until you are willing to share all of your goods with a brother in need.  I will hound you and find you and force you to love with not just talk but with deeds!”

Do you sometimes struggle with the sins of your past and your many failures to measure up to what you feel God demands of you?  Do you sometimes feel that this Christian life we are asked to live out might just be too much for you to bear; that the risk of falling short of God’s expectations seems to be more of a certainty than a possibility?  If so, you are not alone in your feelings.

Around 1896, a celebrated English author by the name of Francis Thompson wrote what has been hailed as perhaps the greatest poem ever written in the English language; it was titled “The Hound of Heaven.”  It was revealed to be the story of the authors life; a life he spent running from God and pursuing the happiness of the world.  Thompson compared himself to a rabbit that had been flushed from its hiding place by a hunting dog, which caused him to embark on a life darting from one hiding place to another as the Hound of God relentlessly pursued him.

Listen to a bit of the poem and see if you can find yourself at times within his words: “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, down Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with un-hurrying chase, And unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat— and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet— “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

Can you feel the fear and the sense of despair within the author’s words?  Is that the picture of Jesus we have; as a pursuer, a great judge who will find us where ever we flee to either force us to “knuckle under” to his rule or be punished for our miserable failures in life?

Are we too, simply delaying the inevitable confrontation with our God and the coming to grips with our many failures to live up to the “Good Shepherd’s” standards?  Or do we have the picture skewed, and maybe we do not see Jesus rightly?

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  [John 10:14, 15]

After years of running, Francis Thompson finally met the real Jesus; he began to know Him as the Good Shepherd.  Listen to the words he puts in God’s mouth in the poem when God finally confronted him: “All which I took from thee I did but take, Not for thy harms, But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms. All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: “Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”

Dear friends, the point communicated in Thompson’s poem is also the message of all of Scripture:  If we choose to shut out God and His Good Shepherd, then we are shutting out our only true shelter and Provider. God is the source of all things safe and secure so whomever chooses to shut him out will be shut out of all good things; we won’t find the love we are seeking in the world because we have rejected it from God. God is saying to us this morning, “You choose to drive love away from thyself when you choose to separate thee from Me.”

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” [1 John 3: 19-22]

God is not the overbearing task master, who sends His Son out to hunt us down like runaway slaves, but instead God sees us as His little lambs who have wondered off into danger; He sends His Son out as our Good Shepherd, who has given His life upon the cross to defeat our true enemy the devil, who prowls like a hungry wolf seeking to devour us.  He drives off the hirelings, who are the false teachers, by feeding us here in this place of pasture and rest with the living water of His comforting Word of gospel truth, which is received, taught, and learned as the purest of doctrine.  (Psalm 23)

It is this truth, which reassures our hearts that God does not condemn us, but rather He came to us in His Son to live with us and then die for us.  But ultimately He wants us to see that He also rose for us from death so that we would not fear our own death.  And all that He asks of us is that we trust Him and walk with Him as He continues to teach us, protect us, and yes even seek us when we wonder off into trouble.

What is the commandment of God that can either bring fear or comfort to you who are Jesus’ little lambs? “This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

What do you believe in?  Does any thing outside of the name of Jesus even compare with the eternal love and mercy of God almighty?  Can anything within the world give you the assurance and then the continued reassurance that you are never abandoned or forgotten by your Creator like God’s Word and Sacraments can?  Has anyone in the world ever died for you?  Would you even want them to?  No, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]  He died for us to bring us back into God’s love, where we can daily experience safety, mercy, and peace.  And all we must do is rest, feed, and then follow Him, our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ as He teaches us to live a life of sacrifice and service to other lost little lambs who need to find their way back to their Savior.

I will close with a children’s bedtime story, I call “The Lamb Who Wanted to Be Lost.”

Once upon a time there was a little lamb who wanted to run away from home.  So, he said to his Good Shepherd who loved him very much, “I am running away.”  “If you run away,” said the Shepherd, “I will run after you.  For you are my little lamb.”  Then the little lamb told his shepherd that if he runs after him, he will become a fish and swim away from him.  And the Good Shepherd smiled and countered that he would simply become a fisherman and fish for him.  The little lamb then decided to become a rock on the top of a tall mountain, and so the Good Shepherd said that he would become a mountain climber.  After a rock, he decides to become a flower hidden in a large garden, and the Good Shepherd says that he will simply become a gardener.  Whatever the little lamb wanted to become to escape from his shepherd, he countered with a person or thing that would find him.  And so the story goes until the end, when the little lamb finds himself exhausted trying to come up with more ideas, and finally says, “Aw shucks, I might as well just stay where I am and be your little lamb.”

Well… AMEN!