Posts Tagged ‘Sanctification’

Don’t Cross-out the Cross!

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 3, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]

One of my favorite shows on TV is the “Myth Busters”. So following that shows premiss that some things that we accept as true are simply false, We are going to debunk a couple of myths in Christianity. What is a myth? Well, it’s a little bit like an Old Wives’ Tale. A wives’ tale is s traditional belief or a societal myth that’s often founded in superstition. Here are a few to try on for size: If you swallow your gum it will sit in your stomach and turn into a hair ball! No not true. Gum passes out the digestive track like everything else! How about this one: If you eat water melon and drink milk you will get a poison in your system and it could kill you! Sorry, you might get a belly ache but it won’t kill you! Here’s one more myth that you mothers won’t like me debunking: If you go outside in the cold with a wet head, you will catch a terrible cold! Sorry Moms, that isn’t true either. No matter how much you protest, science has known for some time that colds are caused by germs that enter our bodies through our mouths!

This morning we are going to debunk a couple more myths about our Christian faith. These are myths that were created in a sinful world by sinful people. The first myth says that your Christian faith will protect you from harm, misfortune, poverty, and even sickness! Now this sounds good; we might even get in line to learn about this kind of Christianity, but if we did, we’d be falling into a trap!

Now the second myth about our faith says that what Christ did on the cross was a good start for us, but we have to reinforce that work of His with our own suffering and sacrifice; No pain, no gain! The folks that follow this myth really set aside Jesus suffering as perfect, and they believe they’ve got to add to it in order to please and angry God! But now Jesus takes this “no pain, no gain” mentality and He turns it on its head! Jesus says, without MY pain you can have no gain. Follow me to have eternal life, but as you follow me, you too will know pain!

So where did we receive our call to follow Jesus and live under His cross?

Well through His Word of course! It was His Word that spoke to many of our parents long ago, teaching them the need to bring us to the life giving waters of baptism. And it was that same Word that latter grabbed a hold of each of us and convicted us of our sin and our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is the Word of God that mysteriously and lovingly speaks to our hearts after we confess our sins and convinces us that we are forgiven. And it is the same Word that somehow creates the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood along with the bread and wine at our Lord’s Table, all so that we can know and experience forgiveness of sins!

It is this same Word that speaks to us now and says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24] Now why did Jesus speak this word about following Him and the need to pick up our cross? Because He knows that we like Peter want to follow the easy way; the myths of this world. But these myths were created first by the prince of this world the devil and they’re spread by the sinful people who have been trapped by his lies and myths.

In our gospel reading this morning Jesus began to teach his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die for each of them, even for you and me! And what was Peter’s reaction to this discovery? Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him with these words, “Far be it from you Lord!” That’s just not going to happen (and I’ll make sure of it)! And how did the Son of God, the Savior of the world respond? He rebuked Peter, or maybe a better way to put this is that He rebuked the sin in Peter and the cause of that sin; He rebuked the father of all lies, Satan Himself! [Matthew 16:21-23]

Jesus knew that voice and the temptations that it brings; He recognized the devil and his ministry of lies which promises glory without sacrifice! He encountered that same voice out in the wilderness on a forty day fast. That voice tempted Jesus with food, power, and glory! And how did Jesus defeat the devil? With the same Word he now speaks to Peter: “Get behind me Satan!” And after Jesus rebukes the devil, He speaks and teaches both Peter and us with these Words of life, He says: “You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Now what did Jesus mean by that? He meant that Peter wanted to follow the way of the devil and not the way of God!

Friends, the truth is that each of us are a lot more like Peter than we care to admit. Let me show you what I mean.

The word that Jesus used, which our Bible translates as hindrance is really the Greek word skandalon. It’s where we get our English word scandal. A skandalon is the little stick that holds the mouth of a trap open. Trappers will use some kind of bait that is irresistible to the prey they’re hunting and place it at the skandalon. And when the prey goes for the bait, they trip the skandalon and… SMACK! The trap springs shut trapping and killing the prey. So Jesus is telling Peter that his plan and idea to cross out the cross is actually that kind of trap! First it was a trap for Jesus; but Jesus is God, and far too wise to be tempted away from the cross. But it is also a trap for Peter and it is a trap for us.

Peter like us, wanted things the easy way. He wanted a life of ease and a cushy ministry. He wanted a Savior that would be a champion who would defeat the devil and create a Christian government here on earth! He wanted fame, fortune, and glory now, not later! How would he follow a dead Savior?

So what are some of the scandalons in our lives? Well let’s be honest, each of us wants the same thing! We want a great high paying job, a beautiful or handsome spouse, obedient children, a nice home and car, lots of bling, and we want it now! We might even reason that because we are children of the Living God, called out of darkness into light, forgiven of all of our sins, we deserve a prosperous life, free of pain, suffering, sorrow and poverty! So when God’s Word talks about suffering, we might not say it out loud but we think it, “Far be it Lord!” So what are we tempted to do? We’re tempted to go off in search for a different message; a message about prosperity and glory! We look for a message with less cross and suffering and more prosperity and glory; a message that tells us that we can have heaven here on earth! But if we follow this way of thinking, we are following the way of the devil. If we follow this way of thinking we are crossing out the cross and Jesus saving work upon it; we are following the way of glory or the scandalon of the devil!

So what does Jesus want for us? Well, He wants the same things for us that we want, He just wants them in a different way; He wants them through the way of the cross! You see, Jesus was committed to the cross, because it was the only way that salvation could be won for Peter and for us. Jesus committed Himself to the cross because He knew the will of His Father; a Heavenly Father who sent Him to suffer and die as the Savior of the world. He knew the reason for His gruesome death… “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory;” a glory that was first with us in the beginning. He knew that the only way that this glory could be recovered for us was if He was willing to pay for our salvation with His very life. So, He came to do that very thing. He came to give His life as a ransom for us (Matthew 2:28) and as a sacrifice for our sins! He was wounded for our transgressions, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquities of us all. [Isaiah 53:5-6] This was and is God’s love for us in action!

Jesus didn’t cross out the cross and neither will we when we see our lost sinful condition and by faith turn to that cross for forgiveness!

As we follow Jesus we must take up our own cross!

Again Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me!” Now don’t confuse Jesus cross with our cross. The truth is that only Jesus’ cross, His suffering and death can and does save sinners like us. So then what is this cross that Jesus wants us to take up? Well, it is a pattern for our whole lives! Our cross is all of the suffering, trouble, and hardships that will come to us because we are His followers. Whoever would follow Jesus Christ must follow His example. They must live to please God and give all that they have to bring His kingdom to every sinner. Whoever follows Jesus must be willing to deny themselves and live to please God. To deny, simply means to turn away from someone or something. In this case, God wants us to turn away from our old sinful nature and turn to Him. Every day He wants us to refuse to be associated in anyway with our old sinful nature and desires that were drowned in our baptisms. He wants us to live a life that disowns our old sinful identity and lives to only please our Savior Jesus!

The cross meant suffering for Jesus and it means suffering for us, but it is suffering for a purpose; suffering for a hope! We lose our lives so that we can gain them. If we refuse to die to our old sinful desires and embrace the ways of glory we are turning away from our only source of help and hope, the cross of Jesus! But if we receive and live out our new nature of sacrifice for God and our neighbor we are gaining not just the promise of a new and glorious eternal life, but the ability, the faith to live out this temporary life of suffering.

Young people, if you are ridiculed and unpopular because of your Christian faith you have God’s promise that you are blessed in God’s heavenly kingdom. Older people, if your Christian convictions cost you money and promotion at work, your cross is to keep on following Jesus, keep on fighting until you get the victory… eternal rest and joy in God’s Heavenly Kingdom. Parents and grandparents, God knows your pain for a child that seems to have walked away from their faith in Jesus and His cross! Through His Word He gives you faith to hold on and know that a change is coming; He gives you faith to keep praying for them. Dear saints, if there is a certain sin that seems to keep tempting you and it is a sin that you keep falling to, do not give up your fight to defeat it under the cross of Jesus. Struggle to remember that even that sin has been forgiven at Jesus cross.

The truth is for all of us, whatever crosses we have, we have them only because we are followers of Jesus and His cross! And as we follow Jesus and live out our cross, we are also exalting His name with the sweet song of alleluia!

Dear friends, as we fight the temptation to cross-out the cross of Jesus, God is strengthening our faith. We fight the temptation to cross out the cross by looking to Jesus alone who suffered and died for us in order to show God’s deep love for us! As we follow Him He is always urging us to continue taking up our cross and follow Him until the day He calls us home to a place that He has prepared for us in heaven!

I would like to close our message with a story: There was once a monastery that raised monarch butterflies. One day a young monk watched a butterfly struggle for hours to free its self from its cocoon. Finally, the sympathetic monk could take no more. He began to help the butterfly be free by peeling away the cocoon. Once the butterfly was free, the monk expected it to spread its wings and fly away; instead it only clung to the stick that it was perched on and finally toppled over and died. An older monk watched with great interest, and approached the sad young monk and offered this wisdom. “Brother you tried to help the butterfly by removing its burden, but what you didn’t realize was that it is the struggle under the burden that brings strength and vitality to not just its wings, but to its entire existence. So by providing and easy way out you removed the very thing that would bring it life!”

Brothers and sisters, we have been given the gift of eternal life with God. It is ours now, but not yet. Until our time in this sinful world is through, God calls us to struggle in our faith. He asks us to follow the way of Jesus’ cross knowing that at the end of our earthly lives of struggle, there is an eternity of living in God’s glory waiting for us. He asks you to struggle, putting to death your sinful nature with the sure and certain hope that one day you will enter heaven! This is faith in action; it’s a faith that doesn’t cross out Jesus’s cross or our own. It’s a faith that comes along side of others who are struggling with their own cross and helps them shoulder the burden. It’s a faith that knows and declares that we are not alone in our struggle; we are in this struggle together, and Jesus is here with us promising that soon and very soon we will be going to see our King; our King who comes in glory to pour out the fullness of His gift of eternal life. It is a Kingdom that will richly compensate each of us for all of our own suffering and loss for His sake.

May God help each of us to continue having faith in this promise… in Jesus name… AMEN!

 

The Good Seed and the Solid Rock

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost-A, July 23, 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


“Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” [Matt. 13:30]
Let’s start our message this morning with a question! If O. J. Simpson or George Zimmerman were to walk through our doors next Sunday looking for a new church home, how would that make you feel? Now, I doubt I have to remind any of you who O J is especially considering the media coverage of His granted parole, but George Zimmerman’s story may have slipped your memory. George Zimmerman was almost the only name in the news several years ago! He is the young man who shot and killed an unarmed teenager in Florida several years ago, and his defense was based on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. After a lengthy and very public trial, he was found not guilty by a jury of his peers. In our judicial system that means that he like O J is an innocent man and he is to be afforded all of the rights that you enjoy! So, I’ll ask you again, if either of them showed up here at our church next week how would you feel? Would you accept and welcome them or would you judge them guilty of murder, and decide that they were a threat to this congregation?

This morning we will be talking about bad seed, judgment, and the Kingdom of Heaven! By the end of our message, it is God’s desire that you will let go of your fears about the evil that seems to threaten not just His Kingdom but our very salvation, and by faith trust in the completed work of Jesus Christ your solid rock of salvation!

In vs. 27 of our gospel reading (Matthew 13:24-43), Jesus portrays a common emotion that each of us feels when we encounter evil; surprise! Listen:

“And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, (didn’t you) sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?” With the explanation that Jesus latter gives, we know that the Master is Jesus, the field is the world, and the seed that grows wheat and weeds are both good and bad people, we might say along with the servants, “Hey, aren’t you all powerful Lord? Doesn’t Your Word always accomplish your will? Wasn’t it your intent that there be nothing but “good people” in your kingdom of sowing and reaping? Then what’s up?! What are these weeds doing flourishing among the wheat? Why are there so many evil people around and why are they so hard sometimes to distinguish from people of faith?”

And Jesus answers this question with a statement of fact: “An enemy has done this.” [vs. 28] In other words, He’s saying, “Your assumption is right; I did plant good seed, I do desire that all would be children of my Heavenly Kingdom, but we have an enemy who has been working from the beginning to turn a plentiful harvest into a disaster!” So here is a biblical truth for us to remember, “Whenever Christ “plants” true believers to bear fruit for His glory, Satan the enemy of the Church is always planting others who will oppose His work and prevent His harvest.

The first mention of these two seeds in the Bible can be found in the book of Genesis when God made a promise to man and the devil that the struggle of good and evil would continue for a long time until God would put a stopgap of to it! Listen: “He (the Savior of mankind) shall bruise your head, and you (Satan) shall bruise his heel.” [Gen. 3:15] And soon after in Genesis we are told that when Cain murdered his brother Abel, he started this struggle between good and evil within the hearts of all mankind! In the book of John, Jesus tells us that Cain was of the wicked one, a child of the devil!

So Cain represents “children of the devil” and Abel was the first saint to die in faith. This struggle still rages on today. We see it come alive for us in the New Testament and in our daily news! Satan’s seed opposed John the Baptist and did nothing when he was killed by Herod. They opposed the entire ministry of Jesus and asked to have Him crucified. At the cross, Satan bruised Christ’s heel, but Jesus the promised Savior of mankind crushed the devils head, which is Satan, and defeated the devils forever. But the battle rages on!

In the news we see, read, and hear about all kinds of evil around us. So we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments for comfort; we gather together as His good seed and comfort each other through prayer and the practice of forgiveness, but then we discover that the evil seed has somehow made it inside the church and we are shocked! But why are we shocked? Isn’t the common theme throughout scripture that those of us who relate to God by faith must live in this world but not be part of it? We are continually reminded that our true home that awaits us is the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! So then, when evil enters even into the church we shouldn’t be surprised; we must remember that there are really two churches, one that we can see and one that only God can see. We must trust that as the Master of His church, He WILL deal with the bad seed in His time and in His way! This is the answer that He gave to His servants in verse 28 when they asked, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” In other words, do you want us to pluck them out? And what was Jesus answer? “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up wheat along with them.”

What Jesus is telling us is that only He knows who ultimately will be judged evil and a seed of Satan, not us! Now this doesn’t mean that when evil and sin pops up in the church we can’t deal with it! Certainly God has given us complete instructions in Matthew 18 how we are to deal with evil and sin in our congregations, but the steps that we are to take aren’t meant to punish the offender, but rather to lead sinful members into repentance; that is to turn them away from the devil and to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness and restoration to God and us, and regenerate them back as good seed!

What we learned last week should still be fresh in our minds; the devil is always working to lead us away from Jesus.

If the Devil can do this, then He is confident that He will turn us into bad seed. He snatches the Word of God from our hearts, tries to smother our faith in the gospel with worldliness, or choke off our faith with persecution. Sometimes, maybe many times he is successful in turning good seed into bad, and when he does this he is able to plant false Christians wherever our Lord plants true children of faith.

I am sure that no one knew the secrets that Dennis Raider hid in his heart as they sat next to him every Sunday at Divine Service! Who is Dennis Raider? He was the congregational president of a Lutheran Church in Wichita Kansas, and he is now a convicted serial killer! He was charged and found guilty of killing 10 people! Ok, Lord, at least we can cross his name off of the heavenly roll call and judge him guilty of eternal punishment like the court has, right? And to this, Jesus says, “No! Let him grow until the harvest.”

But why? Well because only God knows the heart of a person, even sinful people like you and me and only He is capable of pronouncing the final judgment of eternal separation from His love and His kingdom. So in the meantime, we are to do the only thing we can do; continue to be good seed and trust in our Lord of the harvest!

As we gather around God’s Word and Sacrament we are to allow Him to care for us and protect us from others who might see hints of evil seed in us and want to pull us up too!

We do this when we recognize our sin, confess it before God and each other and turn to the Cross of Jesus Christ and be saved. As I said last week, this is the rhythm of a Kingdom lifestyle. It’s the heartbeat of the body of Christ made of good seed; not good seed by nature but good seed through the work of Jesus Christ! And as we are being daily recreated, protected, and nurtured we are called to stay awake! We must stay awake and protect our doctrine and watch how we live. We are called to live a life of faith that demonstrates God’s presence in a sinful world. But when we fall into a sleep of complacency, and fail to pay attention to the evil around us and within us as the church has done many times in the past, that’s when Satan works. He plants false teaching, false Christians, and false preachers, all so he can destroy the church from within! But ultimately thank God, we must remember and trust that it is God’s Church, and He alone is able to protect it! It is His Kingdom, and He alone builds it and preserves it.

So what is the Kingdom of God? Well, in Mark chapter 1, John the Baptist told us that the kingdom of God had come near; he announced that God was, through Jesus the Messiah, laying the foundation for His rule of grace within the hearts of sinful men and women. He does this through repentance and forgiveness of sins by faith in the completed work of Jesus and the gift of baptism. When what we would judge as bad seed accepts this work of God, then God declares even them fit for His Kingdom. So the work of the kingdom of God takes place in others in the same place it happens for us; in the heart! And since we cannot see into another person’s heart we trust in the only one who can; we trust in God the Father who created our bodies, God the Son who redeems our bodies and God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies our bodies.

So will OJ, George, Dennis, and countless others who appeared evil really be in heaven? Ultimately, we don’t know, only God does, but we do know that if they do enter the kingdom of heaven it will be through the same way that we do; it will be through confession, repentance, and forgiveness that can only come through Jesus Christ! Let’s remember that while the kingdom of Heaven is a place where we are promised to spend our eternity it is not the center of God’s message to us, Jesus is! On every page of our Bibles we are encouraged to center every aspect of our lives around CHRIST and His real presence with us and within us!

Now, as each of us thinks about death, it is natural that we will also think about judgment, and this can cause fear in us sometimes, because it is God alone who knows our hearts. But we must always remind ourselves and our brothers and sisters that we are now truly the good seed, that will be put into our Masters barn, that is into the Kingdom of Heaven only because Jesus was and is, and always shall be the Good Seed for us!

And when our struggle against evil and sin is over, “Then (we) the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of (our) Father. He who has ears (and eyes of faith), let him hear.” [Vs. 43] Let them hear that they are now the good seed, built on the Solid Rock, Jesus Christ! “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteousness; no merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus name. When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, His covenant and blood support me in the raging flood; when every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. When He shall come with trumpet sound, oh, may I then in Him be found, clothed in His righteousness alone, redeemed to stand before His throne! On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand!” [LSB Hymn 575] In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… AMEN!

Kingdom Sowing and Kingdom Reaping

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

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

Click her for audio of this message

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

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

This story is about God in this way.

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

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

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

And now this is where you come in…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Ye Holy!


Sunday, May 14th, 2017

Easter 5A, May 14, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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

Click here for audio of this message

This morning our message comes to us from our Epistle lesson (1 Peter 2:2-10), but before we can understand what God is saying to us through St. Peter we have to go back to the first chapter of the same epistle; specifically we want to go back and start with these words found in verses 15 and 16 in the first chapter. Listen: “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “(Be ye) holy, for I am holy.” Now is this law or gospel? Well the answer depends on who you are, or rather where you are with God. And just like our message this morning, we have to go backwards into our lives to get the answer.

In the beginning portion of our lesson, St. Peter says that we are like new born babies, longing for the pure spiritual milk that matures or grows us up into salvation. What is this milk?
Well, it is nothing other than the pure Word of God! The same Word that was given to you, perhaps long ago, within your baptism, and it is still given to you every day in your Bibles; that is God’s spiritual milk! In these things you have already experienced the Lord’s presence in your life; you have tasted the Lord!

So here is another question: Is He good? Do you like the flavor and the strength that He gives you in His Word? If you do, then St. Peter would tell you that you are Holy, so keep on being holy! How? By continually tasting the Lord and seeing that He is good through the studying of and resting in His Word and Sacraments! Keep hearing and reading that God so loved you that He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to suffer and die upon the cross for you! Why did He do this? So that you might be able to not only taste and see that the Lord is good, but so that you might have an abundant, full, and meaningful life!

As an infant hungers for the milk of its mother, so too do we need our Lord’s Word! And because of this spiritual milk, you are holy!

You are holy!

Listen, don’t worry about your past or even your future. Don’t worry about what you may have done or failed to do before, but concentrate on who you are today… you are holy! This isn’t something you need to do; if it was, you already know that you would be anything but holy; no this is entirely the work of God, and that is good, because in that way none of us can brag about what we did or do, instead we can give God all of the glory! And how do we give Him glory? Well Peter answers that question for us in verse 4, we keep coming to Him, a living stone rejected by men in the sight of God chosen and precious!

Who is this living stone? It is the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, and we keep coming to Him when we read His Word, gather to hear it preached, remember our baptism, and when we come to His Holy table to be served a meal of forgiveness! When we do these things we ourselves as St. Peter says in verse 5 are “like living stones being built up as a spiritual house.” Dear friends, this spiritual house is nothing less than the body of Christ, His holy gathered saints who are being preserved in a sinful time, in a sinful world as His own children!

You know one of the most interesting questions that Christians ask a pastor is this: “What are we going to be doing in heaven?” I smile at this question because in it I see the old sinful nature of this person fighting viciously to survive. The clue comes in one word that is contained in that question, “DO!” Do, do, do; that is always the desire of the old sinful nature that has been crucified with Christ, and drowned in the holy waters of baptism! No free lunches for that dead flesh; it wants to earn everything and be catered to as its reward! But dear saints, that is the wrong question to ask; instead we should learn to ask, “Who will I be in heaven?” And the answer is that you will be the same person in heaven that you are on earth; you will be Holy! Or as Peter continues to explain in verse 5, you will be what you are now, part of “a holy priesthood, offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ!”

What are those spiritual sacrifices?

Well, in Hebrews 13 we are told that through Christ we will, “keep offering up sacrifices of praise constantly to God, that is, the fruit of our lips confessing His name.” [Heb. 13:15] Then in Romans 12 we are invited to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, which is well pleasing to God.” [Rom 12:1] Then in the fourth chapter of Philippians we are told that our prayers and praise are a “sweet fragrance, a sacrifice acceptable and well pleasing to God.” And in the eighth chapter of Revelations we are told that the prayers of all of the saints, the holy children of God are already upon the golden altar before His throne! These sacrifices are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ because they are given in His name, for His honor and glory!

So you see, the very same things that you are empowered to do here in this sinful world are the things you will do there, accept here and now we do them imperfectly because we still live in a sinful world and struggle every day to put to death our sinful nature. Here we remember that everything we have is really God’s, even our money! So we give it eagerly and liberally along with our time and talent as a sacrifice of praise unto our God!

But why do we give ourselves to God? Because we are His holy ones who live in His kingdom, and everything we do is for Him! So we see, even now as we struggle against our old sinful nature we are holy, but not yet perfect; soon in heaven, when we finally are free of our sinful flesh we will experience what God has declared us to be; holy, perfect, and righteous! This is the work of God alone and it is marvelous in our sight! But for now, we simply continue becoming what He has said we are; we continue being holy! And how do we do that? By resting upon Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith! Or as St. Peter says, we as living stones learn to rest upon our Cornerstone.

A long time ago, there was a stone offered up by God and all men were asked to build upon this great stone as their cornerstone. God assured them that if they built upon this stone, they would have a house of worship that could never be moved. But the builders examined that stone, and collectively and continually rejected it as inferior! They had other stones that could better serve “their” purposes for building.
So the stone of God sat discarded for centuries, rejected and even afflicted by the sinful builders. Their great building was complete; it was a giant temple that was said to be the very inhabitation of God! Many people gathered to admire the temple and worship a god that they had created in their own image. But one day, God caused that rejected stone that should have been the corner stone, to come alive among them! The Living Stone warned the builders that their house was not pleasing to God and it would not stand the test that God was bringing. He implored them to abandon their house of worship and build a new one upon Him! He explained to them that only by aligning all of the other stones upon Himself and using the mortar of faith would they be able to find a structure pleasing enough to God so that He would allow His Spirit to live among them!

Dear friends, Jesus is the Cornerstone that was rejected by a people who were once God’s people but no longer! Not only did God reject them as a people, but He destroyed their temple of worship; He destroyed it because it was built on a stone called pride. But in its place, He raised up a new temple, a temple of living stones held together by faith in the true Cornerstone, Jesus Christ! We are His building, a holy temple, called out of darkness to light; we are His people, holy nation of holy people! We are living by faith and not by sight. We are holy because we are resting upon the Holy Living Stone, Jesus Christ!

We are holy!

And as Peter says in verse 9, we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession! We, His holy ones are like Him our Prophet, Priest, and King! We are prophets, each of us because we are to speak His Word; we are priests because each of us are called to offer our entire selves as a living sacrifice unto God. And we are kings because we are children of our Holy King, the living God!
Now it would be a terrible mistake if we were to think that after being given so much as holy children of the living God we could just sit back and take it all in; just contemplate our honor and our excellence! No, it would be more than a mistake it would be a sin if we did that! We were not created to be still and be served; we were created to be ever active and becoming what God created us to be. And what is that? We are to be His ambassadors, his witnesses sent into the darkness of sin to speak light and salvation! We are to announce the fame of the One who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light! We are to offer up our spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ! As living stones, we are to be used to ever build and expand the Kingdom of God! We are kingdom builders!

True believers, true holy ones of God can’t keep still; they simply must speak out with their mouths, time, talent, and treasure, because that is what we were created for! This is our calling as holy members of God’s royal priesthood. We are here and not in heaven right now because God has invited us to accompany Jesus on His mission!

We are to go out into the darkness and bring light! We are to go out to people who are trapped in the darkness of sin, and bring salvation to them. Who are these people? They are the very ones who rejected the great Cornerstone, Jesus Christ! God sends us who once were not a people, stones, which were once cold and dead but now alive, sheep once without a shepherd but now sheep in His pasture to seek, find, and bring salvation to others who are far from God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Right now, in their current condition, they are non-people in God’s eyes, but our great Cornerstone is still calling out to them; there is still time if they will turn to Him! If they will turn to Christ they are promised that they will be a real people, part of God’s holy people, and He will be their King, Savior, Protector, Provider, and God!

So, be ye holy!

Be all that God has called you to be! Rest upon your Cornerstone, Jesus the Christ, the living Word of God, but then be living and always serving Him by proclaiming the wonderful works of God. Tell those lost what He has done for you; tell them how He alone saved you from sin, death, and the devil! And then gather again in this house of worship to celebrate and receive every gift that our Living Cornerstone has to give to us! May God continue to strengthen us for this wonderful mission that He has set before us as we go forth proclaiming, Christ has risen, He has risen indeed.” I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

How’s Your Heart?

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 12, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

IMG_0640This morning the Words of Jesus are a continuation of His Sermon that we have listened to the last two weeks. If you recall last week He informed us that we are both the salt and light of the world, and this week He demonstrates what that salt and light will look like. His Word comes to us like a scalpel in the hand of a renowned surgeon. Make no mistake, while these Words are spiritual in nature they are nonetheless real and they are God’s own truth. So the surgery that Jesus will perform on each of us will be spiritual in nature and the focus of that surgery will be our very hearts! But like any great surgeon, Jesus wants us to understand the nature of our disease; if left untreated it is eternally fatal. And to help us see the need for this surgery Jesus speaks some strong words to demonstrate to us that our physical hearts are diseased and in fact, already dead!

Our message this morning is still part of Jesus proclamation that in spite of our battle with Sin, through our faith in Him we are both forgiven and blessed.

So within our baptized reality of complete forgiveness, the procedure Jesus is performing this morning is simply corrective surgery because we’ve already been given a new heart and assured of our place in Jesus’ Heavenly Kingdom. But, if you haven’t yet entered the Kingdom of God through your confession of sin and hopelessness, you will find this whole procedure worrisome, frightful, and intimidating.

You have two choices, you can push away the hand that will skillfully wield the scalpel and cancel the surgery, or you can take a deep breath of the Word of God and allow God to have His way with you. What is this surgery? To be honest, it’s nothing less than a heart transplant. Jesus wants to remove your diseased heart of stone and replace it with a healthy heart… His own heart! Now you can refuse to allow our Great Physician to perform this procedure and choose death, or you can choose to simply let go of your own self-centered interest and allow Jesus to give you new and eternal life.

Now I know that for all of us, this will be an uncomfortable time in Jesus’ spiritual OR, but we must remember who it is that is caring for us. He promises that if we will simply trust Him, and let His Word work within us, we will be eternally changed and rearranged. Well, are we ready? Then let’s let the Master do His work!

Listen as Jesus picks up His scalpel, which is His Word.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” [Matt. 5:21-22] Now, what we need to keep in mind in this entire message is that there is a common thread that connects all of Jesus teaching.

If we stay with our analogy of heart disease, then we can see Jesus directing our attention to one of the proofs that we have a diseased heart. He does this by showing us how we incorrectly look at the 5th Commandment. Just like the people in Jesus time, we too have a very narrow interpretation of murder. Generally we think of it as raising our hand against our neighbor in a way that ends in violence and death. Images of Charlie Manson, Ted Bundy and John Gardner come to mind. But Jesus says, “No, that’s too narrow.” OK, so let’s include drive-by shootings, terrorism, and domestic violence in the mix. “No” says Jesus, “your still to narrow.” Ok, so we will include unjust actions by police officers that take a life, or an unjust war! And to this Jesus says, “No you still do not understand that this is a matter of the heart. What the heart feels and thinks is what gives birth to sin. If you are angry with your Christian brother or sister, or even your neighbor, and if you will not let go of that anger you are guilty of murder!”

“You see” says Jesus, “your anger at first is hidden away in your heart. You think that no one can see it, but I can. I know what will happen if you don’t get rid of it; if you don’t let me cut it out. It will turn to bitterness, which will overflow into hurtful words, that may then result in some type of action on your part. I see all of this, and I am warning you that if you don’t let me cut this disease out, you will die eternally and end up in Hell!”

Now each of us may be tempted to think that Jesus is speaking of a procedure that we can put off until later. Certainly He doesn’t have to perform this work right now?! And to this Jesus says: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” What does Jesus mean by this? Is He telling me that I should get up right now and confess my sin to my brother and sister? What if my brother or sister that I have sinned against is right now in this very sanctuary? Am I supposed to interrupt the sermon and approach them? Well maybe not, but by no means should you approach our Lord’s Holy Table and eat and drink forgiveness if you are unable to confess your sin to the one you have hurt or are unable to forgive the one that hurt you. By the work of the Holy Spirit, you must be willing to forgive as Jesus has forgiven you!

Now some of us may have heard the wisdom in these words, we may have seen the need for a new and changed heart, but we want to have time to consider the ramifications of just what such a radical procedure will mean. So, we will want to put it off until the right time. And to this procrastinating Jesus brings the spiritual urgency of His Words into our physical reality with more teaching: “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” [Vs. 25-26]

Here is where our spiritual and physical realities combine. Here Jesus is assuring us that if we damage our relationship with our neighbor and do not take steps to repair that damage, it will also have an eternal effect on our relationship with Him! “So” He says, “do everything that is within your power to live in peace with your neighbor, especially with fellow believers!”

OK, that part of the surgery is complete, so now let’s move onto the next procedure.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’”

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” [Vs. 27-30]

Wait, what? Who’s the surgeon here anyways? Why does Jesus want us to remove our eye and cut off our hand? Well haven’t you ever heard someone say, “I can’t help it, I just have a wondering eye.” Or when it comes to stealing they might say, “I just have sticky fingers.” So Jesus is saying, “Go ahead and pluck and cut, cut and pluck until there’s nothing left to remove! Or” He says, “you can just let me finish this surgery on your heart, which is the real cause of all of your problems!”

Friends, here Jesus is showing us once again that the root of all our sins can be found in the terminal condition of our hearts. If we want to be free of sin, even the sin of adultery, we must first admit that we have that disease within us. And to make this confession easier for us, Jesus has shown us that just thinking impure sexual thoughts is the same as carrying them out. Looking at impure material on the internet and fantasizing about it and looking at a person of the opposite sex and imagining any contact outside of neighborly love is the same thing as actually performing the sinful act! So who is guilty of such adultery? All of us! What is the cure for such a propensity to sin? A new heart! And that’s just what Jesus has done for us and is doing for us.

Well, we’ve reached the final portion of our surgery. And very soon we’ll be in the recovery room. But Jesus has just one more major procedure to perform. Listen:

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” [Vs. 31-32]

Now I know for a fact that this part of the surgery is perhaps the hardest and most difficult portion to sit through. Divorce has become so acceptable in our society that we no longer think of it as a sin. We can actually be tempted to tell our Great Physician that this is an antiquated procedure and it has no place in a modern society. We might be tempted to quote to Him all of the reasons why divorce is needed. We might be tempted to begin to rise off of the operating table and tell Him were done! And to this Jesus gently pushes us back down onto the table and says, “Remember, you are baptized, forgiven of all sin, but I say to you friend that unless your divorce was caused by unfaithfulness you have already committed adultery. So lay back down and let me finish! Hear what I will tell you now and confess that I am right and you are wrong. Divorce is sin. It shatters the lives of both parties as well as the innocent children and family members that are part of that relationship. From now on, do not divorce. Instead, be faithful to your marriage vows and love and serve one another as if you are loving and serving me.”

Now our Lord is finishing the surgery, and He closes the incision with these Words: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. [Vs. 37] And when you say you will do something simply do it!”

How do we feel now? Well like how we would feel after any major surgery, we are groggy and sore.

The strong medicine of God’s Law has done its work within us. But now it’s time for the healing Word of His Gospel to do its work. Now we are reminded that we have already been forgiven and saved from our sins; we have already been given a new heart. This procedure, while painful was necessary in order to continue the transformation that Jesus began within us after we were recreated and washed clean in the waters of our baptism. Then and now, Jesus is asking us to live a life in agreement with God’s Word.

And when we live this kind of life, we are truly being salt and light in this sinful world; we choose to live a life that agrees with God’s Word. And as we live this kind of life, we know that our Heavenly Father is always working to perfect us and protect us from our greatest threat, and that is our own sins within us that seek to destroy our new heart, Jesus’ heart that He has placed within us.

So now we have a picture of what salt and light looks like. It is a picture of how we live with each other. Will we sin and fall short of God’s demand of perfection? Yes, we certainly will! And confronted with this reality we take our sin and shortcomings to Jesus and His cross. We repent and confess our sins of thought and attitude, word and deed, to God, asking forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, as we also ask our neighbor for forgiveness just as we stand ready to forgive them. And throughout or lives we constantly asking God to grant us faith to receive the strength of His Spirit Who always turns our hearts and minds towards Jesus our Great Physician, and His cross. Because we do this, God assures us that we will be at peace with Him and each other, loving with a true love, and serving each other as Christ Jesus continues to love and forgive us!

May you always live out this new heart and mind of Jesus. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…. AMEN!

Fight The Good Fight!


Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 2nd, 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

“Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven.” [Matthew 9:2]

These are the Words of Jesus, spoken for you this morning.  They’re Words that give great faith.  Our faith is what scripture says is the victory that over comes the world. [1 John 5:4]  But our faith is also a struggle.  Paul urges us to fight the good fight of faith. [1 Timothy 6:12]  And in this fight, we fight like an athlete who knows that only one can win the prize.  When St. Paul looked back upon his own life, he could declare that he had fought the good fight, he had finished the course, and had succeeded in keeping the faith; specifically, faith that saves.

What is saving faith?

Saving faith is the type of faith that trust only in what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for sinners like us who want to be saved from our sins.  Saving faith says, “I’ve got to get to Jesus!  No matter the cost, no matter the embarrassment; Jesus is the solution to my problem.”

Think of the paralytic and his four friends in our gospel lesson (Matthew 9:1-8); they were certain that if they could get to Jesus, well then, healing and restoration would be the result.  We don’t know much about this band of brothers, but we do know that there were five of them, and one of them was paralyzed and confined to a bed or stretcher of sorts.  The four who carried their friend must have loved him dearly to go through all of this trouble to help him get to Jesus.  But when they arrived the place was packed.  Now what?  Well, if they couldn’t go through the door or a window they would have to improvise, and improvise they did; they lowered him through a hole in the roof and down to the very feet of Jesus!

“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven.””  Wait… didn’t they come for a healing.  Didn’t these band of brothers want their number to be restored to five rather than four?  Yes they did, but Jesus knew something they did not; Jesus Christ the Son of God, very God of very God looked into the paralytic’s heart and saw guilt; great guilt.  He was sorrowing over his sinful life and the restoration that he needed ran so much deeper than just a physical healing.

Can you relate to that feeling?  Do you too know the burden of past sins and the fear of potential future ones?  If so, then you too desire something deeper than just a physical healing; you desire complete and total forgiveness and new life.

And Jesus knows.  Listen…

And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” [Matthew 9:3]

These men came from Jerusalem and Judea as well as from Galilee, and they came for one purpose, to keep track of Jesus and to gather evidence against him.  Now, Jesus had just claimed to be able to do what God alone can do; forgive sins.  In the futileness of their sinful minds, they could never think of Jesus as anything but a mere man, so when He claims to have the right and ability to forgive sins, in their minds, He was pretending to be God—to them, this was the very worst type of blasphemy.  Even this, Jesus knows.

Jesus, the very Son of God knows all things; he knows the sinful hearts of these men and He knows your heart, and He desires only to free them and us from our sinful nature so that by faith we all may be born again.  “(So) Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

Jesus has performed the one great act, forgiving the paralytic’s sins. The effect of this act is invisible: no one saw the sins piled up on the man’s soul, except Jesus.  And no man saw that mass of sin vanish from his soul with just a Word from Jesus. And now Jesus follows up this first act with a second one, he heals the paralytic. The effect of the second act is visible to all: they see the man rise, pick up his bed, and walk away not only freed of paralysis but forgiven and invited into eternal life, all this having been done in an instant. The act which the eyes are able to see verifies the other act which no eyes can see.

Jesus saving ministry of the gospel is still going on today.  He promises the church that He continues this ministry through contemporary disciples of every age.  So the church is always carrying out the work of baptizing and teaching, as Jesus abides with His church, which carries out those missional tasks. While it is true that the saving work of the church is completely a work of God, because the Son, who became a man calls others to follow him, He gives authority to His disciples to continue the in-breaking of the reign of God all the days until Christ returns. So God alone brings and gives this authority to save and recreate sinful people within the realm of men with the call to…

Put off your old self!

In our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 4:22-28), St. Paul calls upon all Christians to put off or put to death, once and for all the old sinful nature.  It is a final act but is repeated every day, in fact every moment of everyday because every day our old sinful nature still clings to the sinful life and its own desires.  This truth creates tension within us, because our baptized nature clings to and trust in Christ alone.  When we put on our new baptized, Christ-like nature, that is when we fight to do what is God pleasing, we can say that there truly is a war going on within us; a war of two natures and two desires.  We witness this as we discover that the sinful things we do not wish to do are the very things we seem to keep doing, and the Godly things we desire to do are the things that we struggle the most to accomplish.  Another way to say this is that we fight to be holy and righteous.

To be holy and righteous is to be like God; because He alone has these qualities.  Before the fall to sin, our first parents, Adam and Eve walked with God in peace and without fear.  They walked in holiness and righteousness; they did this because God gave them these qualities.

Holy baptism restores these qualities to you the baptized.  In the waters of your baptism, God imputed or recreated you to have these qualities as well.  In essence, He gave back to you what Adam and Eve had lost.  And now, everyday, He encourages you to become what He has already declared that you are… holy, perfect, and righteous.  We do this as we put away the old sinful nature of Adam so that the nature of the new Adam, the righteousness of Christ, comes alive within us.

We put the old Adam off by the active and effective power of grace. This power of grace doesn’t help us to do something, instead it recreates and renews us as we repent and believe that God with His divine power is in fact putting to death our old sinful nature.  For this reason we never say that our sinful nature is being converted or changed; it is not because it cannot be; it is not renewed—because it cannot be; it is replaced by the new nature solely through the a creative act of God as we fight to walk with Him and please Him in thought, Word, and deed.

So what is it that our faith must fight?

Obviously it is a struggle against the enemies of Christ, who themselves do not believe and seek to interfere with others who are coming to enter a life of faith.  The Bible speaks of these as “the world.”  From the very beginning the disciples of Jesus had to meet this kind of opposition head-on.  It could sometimes be like a mild form of skepticism: “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?” [John 1:46]  Or it might be a proud disdain: “We know that this man is a sinner.”  It could take place under the threat of imprisonment and even death.

But we encounter this resistance to faith within ourselves as well.  Just as our old nature neither can nor will obey the law of God, so neither can it believe.  It must be crucified with Jesus. [Galatians 5:4]  But just as it does not die here in our lifetime, so neither is it silent with its arguments against faith, and its nature remains as an enemy to God.

How, then, can it be possible that our faith can become so strong that it can overcome the world?  Well, it depends first and always upon whether it is a real faith, that is, a faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  This Jesus Christ is the One who died upon the cross and rose from the dead, forever defeating our true enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  So “Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” [1 John 5:5]  Jesus our Savior is the One who alone gives us real faith; faith that gives us the final victory over all enemies of God.

This faith is unconquerable, because it binds us to Christ Himself, that is, with Him who has overcome the world.  If we believe in Christ, then Christ dwells within us, and “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” [1 John 4:4]  You see, the victory does not depend on our faith but on Christ, to Whom our faith holds onto.  And so a struggling faith, a faith that feels itself weak can be so much stronger than a faith which feels itself strong because it relies on its experiences, its warmth, and its victories.  If God permits us to fail, then it may be that He wishes us to learn to rely entirely on Christ.

So that which gives us faith in Christ is the power of His person and His Word.  So if we want to exercise and strengthen our faith we must be careful not to neglect God’s Word and Sacraments, and never think that we can get along without them.  We who gather each Lord’s day are those who it may be said of: “The Word of God dwells in you,” [Colossians 3:1]. We are called, “(Those) who have overcome the evil one.” [1 John 2:14]

Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, help us we pray to remember these truths and then by faith, cling to Christ alone.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

On Becoming a Christian

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But does Jesus really make no demands on us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The joy of salvation!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Marriage and Families

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

19th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 7, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

Each of you who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are promised a seat at our Lord’s banquet table; you’ve even been promised a mansion in heaven.  Or like I taught the children in their message this morning, by abiding or resting in Jesus, you’ve been given a ticket on the heavenly train to glory.  So, are you going?  Will you be there in glory?

God’s Word promises that you will be there if you trust in that promise; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; He wants you to rest in everything that He has done for you in this life and the life to come.  Is that enough for you, or do you need more?

In our epistle reading this morning (Hebrews 2:1-13), God warns His little ones, He warns us, that if we don’t continually grab ahold of His promises about our blessed assurance, we might begin to drift away from our seat at the banquet table; we might begin to want to find another way to our heavenly home.  So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises?  Well it could be, if we allow ourselves to trust in anything for salvation other than the work and the promises of God!

Why do you think we have times when we feel like our lives lack meaning and purpose?  Could it be because we’ve taken our eyes off of God’s promises?!  Why is it that when trouble comes our way, often times we become afraid and filled with doubt?  Could it be, we’ve lost sight of Jesus and His real presence in our lives?  Why is it that when fear and doubt come, we begin to lose that joy in knowing that we really do have a place prepared just for us in heaven?  Could it be, we have begun to judge success by what we do and not by what God has done for us!

The truth is we all fall short of God’s will for us here; we all fall short of His perfection, but we still want so badly to please Him; to earn His love and respect.  But it’s also true that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will fail.  And yet we still try to earn our place in heaven by what we do.

This morning the theme in both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons seems to be marriage and family. In both of these readings, God is showing us His perfect will and how far short we fall from that perfection.

So then why do we still think that on our own we can be a good husband or a good wife, a good parent or child?  Because we have a sin problem, and our sinful nature won’t let us see the impossibility of change; it won’t let us see that on our own, we are without hope.  And so, even though we know that we fall short of pleasing God, our sinful desire to be independent would have us believe that we can bridge this gap by our own efforts.  So we are deceived into thinking that if we just try a little harder, then our marriages will be repaired and our families will be God pleasing.

This kind of thinking is not only dangerous, it is darn right destructive.  It’s harmful to ourselves and to those we love.  You see, when we think that action and effort are enough to please God and restore joy in our lives and our relationships with others, we have abandoned God’s promises of help and hope.  We’ve exchanged the hope of the gospel for the demands of the Law; a Law that will settle for nothing short of perfection!

Now please listen; I’m not telling you that we shouldn’t try harder to be better, what I am saying is that you can’t even try harder in a God pleasing way, if God is not the source of both your strength and your goodness.  Without God’s grace, we are just trusting in His Law that demands we do good, but then gives us no power or ability to do that good thing.

People who are trusting in the law are easy to spot.  They are the ones who struggle and strive but never really see any lasting improvement in their lives.

Life guards on our San Diego beaches say that the biggest danger to swimmers are the many rip-tides that are present off our shores.  They say that swimmers caught in a rip tide are also easy to spot.  They are the ones who swim and swim, yet they aren’t moving.  They aren’t moving because they aren’t strong enough to defeat the current.

Sadly, each of us can get caught up in the riptides of life.  We tell ourselves that if we just try harder, everything will be alright.  And when we become exhausted at trying to fix our marriages or our other relationships, we become discouraged and maybe afraid that God is angry at us because we aren’t spiritual enough.  So what do we do?  We look for another way to maximize our effort; we read another book or take another course.  We try new techniques and try to be nicer and more attentive.

Maybe, we hear about a Christian who seems to have everything going for them, so we try to find out their secret or technique to happiness.  And if we hear that they get up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to spend more time with God in prayer and Bible study, we resolve to do that too, even though we aren’t a morning person.  And what do you think the result will be for us?  We will probably still be frustrated, but now we’ll also be dazed, confused, groggy and grumpy all day because we didn’t get enough sleep.  And now with inadequate sleep, our marriage is worse and the people we love are avoiding us!

Now at this point, you would think that we would admit failure and try things God’s way, right?  Nope!  Instead, we’ll tell ourselves that because we’re exhausted and miserable, this must be what God wants us to do.  It must be spiritual!  So we keep it up for a few weeks or maybe even a few months, but eventually our discipline will break down, and we’ll abandon this latest technique towards building a better marriage, and a stronger family.  You know what comes next don’t you?  Guilt!  And after enough guilt we’ll simply move onto the next program or buy another book with 10 easy steps towards fulfillment.

Eventually, we will just give up; we simply won’t have the energy to try anymore.  And then what?  We learn to fake it.  We think that we can bridge the gap to heaven by acting like we’re alright, even though everything within us and around us is screaming in our ears that we aren’t ok.  But we keep up the image; we speak as if we had deeper spiritual experiences than we really have.  Our hearts become cold, and we speak as though our sin bothers us more than it really does.  We pray as though our voice is throbbing with deep emotion that isn’t really there.  Why we might even join in a game of spiritual musical chairs, always searching for a different church or ministry that will provide the magic key.  Some people go from one movement to another, continually rededicating their lives to the Lord, only to fall away again and again.  And if this continues, God is warning us that eventually we will secretly give up.  Oh, we’ll still hope that there’s a place for us in heaven, but between now and the day we die, we’ll spend the rest of our lives disappointed and not even trying to change.

So what’s the answer?  Where is the hope?  What is it that can break us free from these riptides of life?  It certainly isn’t greater resolve or another program; no I think that we need to follow the example of the mothers and babies in our gospel lesson to get our answer!

We need to let go and let God’s power take over our lives; we need to get to Jesus! Listen: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

The Pharisees didn’t really see a need to hear from Jesus.  Instead, they wanted Jesus to sit around with them simply talking about the best technique, the most God pleasing program that would free people from the condemnation of the law; in this case they were arguing about divorce.  But Jesus wouldn’t let them do that; instead He told them that they didn’t have a problem in choosing the best strategy, they had a problem with their hearts.  They were sinful.  They needed a new heart, and that was something only Jesus could give them.

The apostles didn’t have the problem of being with Jesus; they had constant access to God’s recreating presence; they were with Jesus all of the time.  No, their problem was their desire to control Jesus; they wanted to limit His audience, and the people who also got to be with Him.  They really wanted Jesus to themselves and they wanted Him to minister to others in a way they thought was best.  So they forbid the mothers from bringing their children to Jesus.  But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that.  He was angry and He let it show!  He told them that not only should they quit standing in the way of these little ones getting to Him, but that if they did not become like one of those babies, they would never get into heaven!  In other words, they too needed a new heart; they needed to turn to God confessing their helplessness, sin, and total dependence on His care!

The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t break free of the rip tide of our sins; we can’t ever bridge the gap to eternal life by our own efforts. We discover that we can never earn God’s love and forgiveness.  We discover that God will always work the way He desires and not the way we want Him to work; we discover that we must become like a child and realize that this kind of love can only come by grace.  A child knows that salvation is a gift; it’s simply something that is given to him; it’s something that he trusts in because it comes from Jesus.  That is why Jesus loves to use little children as his teaching aids.

What is God’s plan for you, your marriage, family, and life?  Well try this on for size; He doesn’t want you to trust in your own abilities or your self-improvement plans, but instead learn to rest and trust in what He has done for you through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, concerning your forgiveness, there is no place for self-improvement because that would negate the need for the cross.  In the cross, God takes you away from your plan of salvation and He shows you His.  He shows you His Son who suffered and died for every sinner that ever lived.  But He also makes it very personal by taking you to the waters of your baptism.  In your baptism He promises that you have been recreated and restored; He promises that in His Word, in His promises you can grab ahold of them, trust them and then watch as He continually renews you and changes you.  In His promises, He tells you of a Paradise restored that is waiting for you on the day the Lord calls you home.

The mothers in our gospel reading knew what you also know but often forget.  If you can just get to Jesus and stay with Him, there is new life and hope in abundance!  In the Word of God, Jesus speaks to you, to your marriages, to your families; He speaks Words of forgiveness and hope.  Even if you have been marked by divorce or a family tragedy, Jesus promises that this is not what defines you or condemns you; instead, He speaks forgiveness and new life as He continually invites you into His plan of salvation for you; and in this plan, He promises to give you a new and abundant life.  In the middle of the riptides of life, Jesus promises that if you simply quit struggling and let Him take over, He will pull you through.

Listen friends, God doesn’t want you to just be saved by grace but to live by it as well!  God’s plan is for your daily life to be guided, guarded, and energized by Jesus suffering and death for you!  He wants you to live in grace and then watch as it flows out of you and into your families, your relationships and even into our community.  In essence, God wants you to be amazed at how His Spirit will transform your life, your family, and our community.

In a few minutes you will hear me welcome you to the Lord’s Table.  Most of you will respond to receive Jesus body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine, simply because He invites you to be filled with His forgiveness of your many sins.  And one day, maybe sooner than you think the Lord’s eternal Banquet Table in Paradise will be the only table we are invited to sit at, because this earth bound altar will cease to exist.

So, will you be there, at the banquet in heaven?  Yes by grace alone!  But listen, God doesn’t want you to be satisfied with just your seat or just your mansion in heaven, He also wants you to go out and invite others to join you.  You can do that as you let His forgiving love live in you and pass through you.  You can do that as you invite others to come with you to this place of worship so that they too can experience the very same thing.  I pray that you will do this very thing… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Let God Dress You!


Sunday, August 30th, 2015

14th Sunday after Pentecost, August 30, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm!” [Ephesians 6:13]

The audio you’ve just heard will act as our mental hook to hang our message on; it is from the 1993 hit by Tom Petty, “I Won’t Back Down!”

There is a battle raging all around us; it is unseen but certainly not unfelt.  It is the classic battle of good vs. evil.  In this battle, God is protecting what is His.  He is protecting those little lambs of Jesus—those little lambs that He suffered and died for.  God is protecting you and me from Satan and the devils who are following a very simple game plan… they want you to back down from the Word and promises of God!  What we must remember though is that devils are evil cowards; they know that ultimately they have been beaten by the cross of Jesus Christ, so their goal is to take as many people as they can down with them into the dark and evil abyss for eternity.

Dear friends, the best target for devils to attack is an easy target… an unprotected target.  So they will quickly attack someone who is not centered in the grace of Jesus Christ…someone who is counting on something else for their protection other than the whole armor of God!

So this morning, as with every Lord’s Day, Christ through His Divine Service wants to dress you for action, so you won’t back down; so you will be able to withstand the enemy!

Evil is all around us. It is the unseen force that the devil uses to separate us from the Love of God, which is ours in and through Christ Jesus.  It is a spiritual force, an army if you will, that is well organized under the leadership of the devil.

A. St. Paul in our Epistle reading (Ephesians 6:10-20) breaks down this spiritual army of darkness into 4 divisions: Rulers, Authorities, Cosmic Powers, and Spiritual Forces of Evil.

If we were to put this in contemporary warfare terms we would say the Ruler is Satan Himself, and his Joint Chief of Staff or his generals are the Authorities, the Cosmic Powers would be those who control the Spiritual Weapons of Mass Destruction (culture norms that undermine the law of God), and the Spiritual Forces of Evil would be his foot soldiers.  Their concentrated goal is to ensure that we are so overcome with evil that we will simply surrender our lives to them and hope for the best.  In other words, their attacks are meant to “shock and awe” us to the point that individual Christians and the church at large become demoralized and back down!  Back down from what?  From the inerrant Word of God; from the truth that God is always right and that sinful men cannot be right without God’s will and guidance.

B. This battle isn’t something that is distant and doesn’t merit your immediate concern.  It is much closer than you think.  It is raging all around you.  Just watch the news on any given night and see how our community, our nation and our world are being divided and overrun by violence, crime, and hatred.  In fact, the enemy is so close that he is even battling within you!  But don’t take my word for it, listen to our Savior’s own Words found in our gospel lesson (Mark 7:14–23): “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these things come from within, and they defile a person.”  There you have it friends—the battle is not so distant after all, is it?

C. “Yes Pastor, but God’s Word says that I am saved…I am baptized!” Very good!  You see God’s work for what it is, a work of love and protection from anything that separates us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus!  Indeed you are right that your baptism is God’s assurance that He will never leave or forsake you.  And yet, the battle rages around us and within us.  Our old sinful nature loves to work against these precious baptismal promises.  It won’t admit that it has been crucified with Christ and drowned within the waters of Holy Baptism.  The singular goal of that sinful flesh and the powers of darkness that it clings to is to chip away at your faith a little at a time until you have lost your trust in Christ’s saving presence in your life.  But how?  By getting you to doubt the faithfulness of God’s Word.  This is the oldest trick the devils have, but it is still their greatest weapon.

D. Doubt is the weapon they used against Eve in the garden, when the devil asked her, “Did God really say?”

Eve’s error, her sin was not that she listened to the serpent, but that she did not silence him with the Word of God! One little Word from God and the devil would have fled.  One simple statement and he would’ve been defeated: “YES!” she should have said, “ Thus says the Lord our God, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” [Genesis 2:16-17]  If Eve had responded with the true Word of God, the serpent would have slithered back into his hole!  But Eve entered into a battle with the master deceiver without the whole armor of God!

Friends, Eve discovered this truth after her error, after her own husband abandoned his role as spiritual leader and joined in her sin.  If they, and those after them could speak to us this morning, they would be encouraging us right now to take up the whole armor of God and “Let God clothe us!”  What is this armor of God?  It is God’s own Word!

II. Friends, in your baptism, God has assured you that you are right now connected to His inexhaustible source of power, strength, and might. You are never to think of yourself as helpless and defeated.  You see, you have been joined together with a Lord who has conquered sin, death, and the devil.  He is the Stronger One who has defeated the strong one.  Because of your baptism, you are assured of a certain amount of power, but it needs to be augmented; it needs to be fed and trained.  This is done when we allow God to strengthen our relationship with Him through His Living Word.  It is through His Word that we are given daily strength to defeat our old sinful nature and silence all of the devils.  Through His Word, God assures us that He is always for us and never against us.  How do we acquire this Word?  Again, by putting on the whole armor of God!

III. All of the armor described by Paul is just a different application of being in God’s Word!

A. Let me give you 6 contemporary presentations that explain this armor.

#1 God’s Word is truth. Truth is always truth, but for it to be your truth you must experience it.  You must live it out.  “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” [John. 8:32]  But how do we know the truth?  By reading and hearing the Word of God.  We must make time and take time for our own private and personal study of God’s Word!

#2 Because many times, our personal study time leaves us with many questions, we discover that we need to be a part of an organized Bible Study group that will help us find answers and grow in the Lord.

#3 Liturgical worship is just another way that we take in the Word of God.  In our Lutheran worship, God speaks His Word to us and we speak and even sing it back to Him.

#4 In the Holy Sacraments, God’s Word speaks His forgiveness of our many sins to us, which then causes us to confess even more sins to Him, which then in turn moves Him to speak once again the gospel—the absolution for His Son’s sake.  In the sacraments the Word comes alive for us so that we can hear, see, touch, smell, and even taste forgiveness!

#5 When we memorize God’s Word, it becomes an offensive weapon that we can use to drive away the devil.

ILLUS: Luther said it best in our sermon hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” listen: “though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; They cannot over power us.  Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage.  His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!  One little word subdues him.”

What is this little word?  It is a verse of scripture that you have memorized for the sole purpose of silencing the devil!  There are many verses to choose from; the more you have the greater your courage.  Here are some good ones: “Baptism now saves you” [1 Peter. 3:21]. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” [Philippians. 4:13] “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Galatians. 2:20] “  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. [John. 6:68]  Anyone of these little words and many others WILL silence the devil, make him tremble, and flee for his life, because you are letting him know that you know, that Jesus destroyed his hold over you upon the cross.  And in your baptism this victory of Christ was made yours in a very real and personal way!

“But isn’t it hard to memorize scripture?” Not at all, in fact I’ll bet you already have a few simple words memorized.  If you have been singing and saying our liturgy, you already have quite a bit ready to use.  Dear friends, have your sword, the word of God ready and you will send the devil and the temptations of sin scurrying away like a whimpering puppy!

Finally, #6, the armor of God is with you when you allow God to put His gospel shoes on you; when you are simply living out your calling as a saved and redeemed child of God. When you live as a Christian parent, child, neighbor, policeman, lawyer, barber, or whatever other station of life you find yourself in, you are wearing your gospel shoes.  You are demonstrating and speaking the love of God to your neighbor.  You are witnessing the truth of John 3:16, which says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  We are to be this as individuals and we are to be this as a congregation.

B. It is my prayer that you are individually living out this calling everyday as God leads you in life.  It is my hope for this congregation that we will also be continually and intentionally looking for ways to engage our community in gospel conversations.  We can do this when we find ways to serve our neighbor and sacrificially love them as Christ first loved us.  Why?  So that they too may know how to obtain and put on the full armor of God.

CONCLUSION: But for this to be true for you as individual Christians and for Trinity as a congregation that is a part of the universal church, we must utilize what is perhaps our secret weapon… prayer!

You see, when we leave this house of worship, we may be tempted, due to the pressure of others, to subtract from the Word of God when ever it makes us or them uncomfortable. It is times like this that we must call out to Him so that He may respond with Divine strength that will both bolster our courage and silence our doubts.  We pray to Him and then He reminds us that while we may have left this house of worship, we have not left His presence or taken off the Armor that He has suited us with during the Divine service. And we must remember what we stand to lose if we back down; if we refuse to stand on God’s ground, which is life… abundant life!

Moses said God gives people his Word and commands “so that you may live.” The pathway to the only life worth living leads to God. “I have come,” Jesus said, “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

This dear friends is the will of God for us… it is why Jesus died for us.  It is God’s means to save us and then equip us to tell everyone what He has done, even for the entire world!  May you continue to allow God to dress you for battle, and may your feet continue to lead you out as His ambassador of peace within the victory of Jesus Christ…AMEN!

I Agape You!

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

13th Sunday in Pentecost-B, August 23, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).”

Of course those Words of our text are not directed at you the Baptized, are they?  Isn’t it true that in Holy Baptism you have been recreated into the image of Christ; has not God declared you holy, perfect, and righteous on account of Christ?  Certainly this is true, but then why oh why do we have so much trouble becoming what God has declared we are, shall become, and always shall be?  Because we do not understand!

If ever there was a text that proved just how shallow our understanding is and conversely, how deep and vast our misunderstanding is, our Epistle lesson this morning (Ephesians 5:22-33) must be that text. Right off the bat, half of us who are  married have probably been offended, listen: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

Are you offended by this? If you aren’t it is may be because you are soft peddling what this little word “submit” means, so let me give you the dictionary meaning: “To give over or yield to the power or authority of another.” Now to all of you ladies who are married, ever been married, or are contemplating marriage, remember two things if you would, please.  First, this is not your pastor declaring these Words, but God the Holy Spirit declaring them through Holy Scripture; so please direct your angst where it belongs.  Second, the ability to submit to your Christian husband finds its origin in a kind of love that is completely foreign to you; that is, its origins are from outside of you.  So, if you are bothered by these Words, there is a good chance that you really don’t understand what these words mean, but you will soon enough.

Ok, now that I have made half of you married folks uncomfortable and the other half probably feeling a bit smug, lets take a look at the other half of that text: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” [Vs. 25-28]  Again dear Christian husbands, like the wives before you, I want to remind you that this kind of love will never find its source from within your own heart.  To understand where this love comes from, we must look to Christ.  How much does Christ love the church; how much does He love you?  Does he just love you like a brother or close friend?  Does He love you because He is crazy mad in love with you, your smile, your personality, and well, you see where I’m going, don’t you?  No to both of things, but rather, Christ loves you this much (arms stretched out as if hanging on a cross).  So husbands here is how you must love your wives; enough to sacrifice yourself, your needs, and desires, so that your wife is always first.  You must love your wife enough to insist that even if her physical needs are being met, the most important needs, which are spiritual will be met by Christ through you and the church you dutifully bring her to, which declares and provides all of God’s Word, both His Law and the Gospel.  That means you will not only make sure she hears the gospel, which is the forgiveness of sins, but she will also experience the gospel from you!

Now for the rest of you who do not find yourselves within the station of Christian marriage, may I remind you of St. Paul’s Words from last week, which are found just before our assigned Epistle reading this morning?  Listen: And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. [Ephesians 5:18-21]

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ!  Another way to say this is how Paul explained it in his letter to the Church at Philippi: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” [Philippians 2:3, 4]

This Word from God today then demonstrates the conflict that exists between our will and God’s will; it shows us how badly when left on our own we fall short of God’s will, and how easily we justify our false interpretation of the Word to justify our actions or lack of action.  Isn’t that true; don’t we create our own rationalizations in an attempt to justify ourselves and our actions before God and the church?  Don’t we too, like the Pharisees prefer our tradition, culture, and religion over the expressed will of God?  Don’t we want to prove ourselves by these things, and thus demonstrate that others may have strayed from them, but we have not? While others may be in error and strayed from the boundaries of tradition, we love to think that we still possess the truth.  While others need to change and get right with God, we love to believe that we are are ok with Him.  But to your dear Savior Jesus Christ, this kind of an attitude is simply an effort to honor God with our lips. [Mark 7:1-13]

To Christ this kind of pride is a sin, because it tries to secure God’s pleasure and confirmation of our values and ideas without opening our hearts to His changing, invigorating Spirit.  We would rather have God say a hearty “amen” to our attitudes and actions rather than speaking and living out our own “amens” to His will.  Why is this?  Because we don’t understand…

What we do understand is paying our own way. We do understand earning the right to speak. We do understand making ourselves as presentable as possible, cleaning up our acts before we come to the altar or our prayer closet. We do understand all the pot washing, and hand washing, and utensil washing and all the rites of purification and penance by which we hope to atone for our sins — all those psychological, ritual exercises that we use to make up for our failures and our losses until we feel clean enough to go to God, or feel worthy of the love that he has for us.  We do understand nursing the wounds of a troubled conscience with all of our resolutions of amendments and promises to do better the next time.  But this only proves that…

We do not understand! What we do understand is our piety, like the Pharisees, which willingly offers everything to God as Corban (Mark 7:9-13), leaving nothing left to care for others.  We do not understand that giving to God means giving to others.  We do not understand!  But I’ll tell you something of…

What we do understand, and that is not wanting to look on the inside to our heart where all of our uncleanliness lies; things like selfishness and all evil thoughts; things like fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, wild living, laziness, envy, slander, jealousy, pride, and foolishness. What we do understand is that these are too painful to look at; too guilt-ridden to deal with; too fearful to admit, because they are so far from God, so what do we do with these evil things that live within us?  We put them away in a mental box, out of sight and out of mind.

This morning, what God offers each of us is the key that unlocks the mystery of those things we may not understand, and that key is the truth that we do not yet…

Understand the cross. It is the cross that teaches us to admit that although we have nothing to give to God, it is exactly enough with which we may come to him and be received by him. Like the Syrophoenician woman we are to come only looking for the crumbs and believing that they will be enough. She came, willing to pick up the crumbs, with nothing to offer, with no good reason why Jesus should help her — only believing that He could if he wanted to (Mark 7:24-30). We are to come like those friends of the paralytic who brought him on the stretcher and lowered him through the roof (Mark 2:1-5), we are to bring our desires for our loved ones with no thought of making payment. We, like the paralytic, who had nothing to offer but the belief that Jesus would take care of him, should offer only our need and our trust. Like those who brought the deaf mute (Mark 7:31-37) to Jesus that He might heal him, we have nothing to offer but the hope that he will help.

We have nothing to offer. What we do have here are only a few words, however well thought out. And through those few words God returns to us the Good News of grace and the faith which comes by hearing — we bring together only a hand full of lives, some not even liking the others, lives so often out of control that it seems impossible that they can remain in fellowship, but through the cross, God creates and maintains us as His beautiful bride, the Body of Christ, born of the Spirit and the water.

We do not understand how the cross could have effected all this, but it has; and it does every time we hear the absolution directly after our private and corporate confession of sin; it has every time we hear from this pulpit the proclamation of the Gospel.  We do not understand how the cross could have such a profound impact on how we treat our spouse and our brothers and sisters within the church, but it happens when we hear the meager words, and eat and drink the humble bread and wine, which for us by faith has become the very body and blood of Christ.

Although we may not truly understand all of this now, we believe that it is so by faith, and because of faith, we receive a wonderful gift as one who has been abnormally born, cleansed by the washing of the water with the Word, so that Christ might present us with the rest of His church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we with the church might be holy and without blemish.

Now with the gift of a new kind of love called Agape, we can finally begin to love as Christ loves us; we can and will submit to one another through the power of the Holy Spirit, who moves us to sacrifice our time, talent, and treasure to benefit someone besides ourselves, as Christ through us loves the church, our spouse, and the world through us.  May God continue to fill us with this heavenly gift, which unlocks the mystery of marriage, community, and paradise to each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!