Posts Tagged ‘Sanctification’

Such Joy!

Sunday, May 19th, 2019

Easter 5-C
May 19, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22)

This morning, God’s Word teaches us about sorrow and joy.  We all know the bitter tears of sorrow.  What is sorrow?  Is it the absence of joy?  Well maybe; or just maybe it’s the feeling of being helpless and alone; the feeling that it’s you against the world!  But what happens when someone steps in to help us shoulder the burden were under?  We begin to feel a sense of relief… a sense of joy!  That’s what Jesus wants you to experience when He says, “Come unto me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  If you’ve experienced true forgiveness of sins through God’s Word and His Sacraments, then you know both rest and joy.

Friends, God doesn’t want you to feel like it’s you against the world, and He doesn’t want you to feel like it’s just you and Him against the world.  That’s why He’s called you into fellowship with other saints who have been saved by grace, through faith because of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  God the Father has called  you to be a part of the body of His Son, so that the other saints in His body can help you carry your burden and sorrows, as you help them carry theirs. 

But God doesn’t want you to think that it’s us against the world either.  He wants you to remember that your real enemy is the devil, not sinful people.  And to make this truth clear to you, think about where He sends you after you’ve been given both rest and joy;  He sends you right back out into the same sinful world that looks down upon you and your Lord.  He asks you to love those who belittle and demean you, even harm you, and He asks you to pray for them; He wants you to invite them to become part of His kingdom. 

In our gospel reading for today (John 16:12-22), we are shown a picture of confusion, worry and fear.   It’s the perfect illustration of “us against the world”!  

The disciples are gathered together in the upper room, just hours before our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus has washed their feet and said they must be servants.  He has revealed once and for all that He is God.  He has taught that He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are together God.  Three persons, yet one God.    Then He began talking about the world’s hatred towards Him and by proxy, for them.  But now comes the crushing blow; one of them will betray Him unto death and another will disown Him.  “How can this be?” they wondered.  “What am I going to do now?”

And to these fears, Jesus says: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” [v.12]   ‘Many things?  Oh Lord, if there anything like these other things, I don’t really care to hear them.’  But He continues, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me.  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”   In a little while, the disciples indeed shall feel alone in their grief.  They will be drowning in their own tears.  Their beloved Lord and master will die the death of a criminal upon a cross!  But the world… well that’s another thing.  It will rejoice and be glad in it!  

The devil, has worked his murderous plan upon the Author of Life and the world celebrates with unholy glee!  This is the “little while of sorrow” that Jesus spoke of.  But He also says “again a little while, and you will see me.”  Your sorrow will become joy!  And what was the source of their joy?  It was the Easter morning Resurrection!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  But in just a few short weeks He would leave them again when He ascends into heaven.  That’s why He reminded them and us that the Holy Spirit of God remains with us as our counselor, advocate and friend.  He reminds us that He has not left us as orphans.  No, we must never think that we are alone, because Jesus assures us that He remains with us in His Word and Sacraments through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And, He is within us and He is all around us through this  fellowship we have with each other!  “Lo, I am with you always” He says!

Dear friends Christ promises us that in this world we will experience both sorrow and joy; but He also assures us that He is still with us!  He comforts us with His Holy Word which is empowered by the Holy Spirit who lives within us!  He has washed us clean in the waters of our baptism… we are born again!  And He feeds us His very body and blood, through the bread and wine so that we may be continuously reminded that we are forgiven.  But He wants us to remember that we aren’t in this alone!  You see he has called us into His body, the church!  And together we learn to submit to His will, suffer and bear more than all other people.  We learn to take anything and everything the devil and this world can throw at us, because Jesus is still with us!  Who of us could have ever guessed in our youth that we would have gone through what we have gone through and are going through, with our faith in-tack?  

Let’s be honest friends, there is simply no way we could have made it through the troubles we’ve seen unless the Holy Spirit was guiding us!  He is called “the Spirit of truth” because in spite of what your sorrow and fears tell you, His message is always the same: “You are not alone!”  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the promises of the gospel breaks through our fears and feelings of defeat and abandonment, and He assures us that He is within us and around us!  Jesus lives within you and you are his child, his friend, and his brother.  What a joy to know that we are not alone!  God is with us and we are with Him together as His Church.  Can you see what a great joy it is to be part of His body, the Church?  Isn’t it a blessing to call the person next to you brother or sister?

But we still have sorrow, fears, and worry to contend with.  

So what do we do when trouble and sorrows surround us?  Well our sinful tendency is to huddle together and protect what we have instead of sharing it!  

Were a little bit like porcupines.  You know, the colder it gets outside, and the more we feel threatened, the more we huddle together; but the problem with that is, the closer we get to each other, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills.  So the deeper our sorrows and fears become the more we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own in to the freezing cold.  If we aren’t mindful of this, we could freeze to death in our loneliness!  That’s how congregations eventually die out.  Why does this happen?  Because we forget to let the Living Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit lead us and change us!

Dear friends, when we develop this “us against the world” mentality we have forgotten that God’s Spirit is ever with us and sending us out into the world.  Instead of seeing ourselves as a missional outpost that raises up, equips, and sends out ambassadors to seek and save the lost, we can become more like a fortress; digging in and protecting what God says we must share.  If a congregation remains in this fortress mentality they will become unresponsive to the working of the Holy Spirit.  They become so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good!  It’s as if they’ve draw a line in the sand and said, “This is us and that’s them!”  But who is them?  Well, “them” becomes anyone who doesn’t think, act, talk, or worship like us!  In our first reading this morning [Acts 11:1-18] Peter along with all of us, have been warned by the Holy Spirit not to look upon as unclean what God has both declared and made clean.  

Like Peter, when we put up our walls of protection thinking that we are fulfilling God’s will, we may just find ourselves fighting against the work of the Holy Spirit.  Now don’t get me wrong, certainly like St. Peter, each of us are called to protect God’s Holy Word and Sacraments.  We must preach, teach, and confess both the Law and the Gospel in its proper form.  Our doctrine is pure, and we must fight to keep it that way.  Our Sacraments are precious and we must never let anyone rob us of God’s work that is given to us through them.  And our liturgical form of worship is a gift from God, which finds its origin in the very first days of worship that were centered on God’s Divine Service through His living Word.  Certainly there is no reason to abandon it now.  But what about those things that are not central to our faith?  

May God protect us from becoming so fixated on our historical Western heritage that we block out all other cultures and heritages.  God forbid we call unclean and unholy what the Holy Spirit has sanctified and called clean!

So what is the only way to ensure that we are working with the Holy Spirit and not against Him?  

By keeping our hearts centered on the gospel.  If we remember that God so loved the world, even you and me, that He gave His only Son that so that we all who believe might have eternal life, we will easily move from worry, fear, and sorrow into the joy of salvation and eternal life!

Dear friends, God wants each of us to leave here this morning knowing that there is the promise of joy even in the middle of sorrow, fear, worry and pain. And until our hour comes to leave this veil of tears, I pray that we will not only rejoice in the hope of salvation, but that we will also learn to rejoice in God Himself and each of us who comprise the body of Christ.  If we will simply rest in Christ, then through His Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit we will learn that Jesus’ love and presence are greater than any circumstance in our lives.  That he is fully adequate for every situation in our lives, and that just as He has promised, He is with us guiding us through all the adverse circumstances, all the crushing disappointments, and all the heartaches of life, giving us the very thing He is after, faith, forgiveness and joy in His gift of salvation and eternal life!

So hold on dear saints!  The day is coming soon when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. [Revelation 21:3-4]  Amen and Amen!

Forgetting What Lies Behind

Sunday, April 7th, 2019

Lent 5-C
April 7, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 3:13b]

Perhaps you’ve seen a commercial on T.V. by J.G. Wentworth offering to help with structured law suit settlements. In each variation of the commercial, an average person shouts out, “It’s my money and I want it now!” They were playing on the inherit desire of the average person for instant gratification.

Unfortunately, they weren’t far off the mark.  We Americans do demand to have things immediately, and as Frank Sinatra sang, we want to do things our way.  We demand it from our politicians, from our auto manufactures, our computers, our schools, and I’m afraid even from our Creator!  But this morning, God wants us to know that our faith life is not like J.G. Wentworth’s commercial or Frank Sinatra’s song .  If we want life instantly our way, well then, we can’t have it God’s way!

This morning, we will be talking about our faith and our Christian life… God’s way.  This morning God is telling us to forget about our past… our former way of thinking and doing things.  He is saying, “Don’t consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” [Isaiah 43:18-19]   If you don’t perceive it, maybe it’s because you haven’t let go of your past?  Maybe you want to have your cake and eat it too?  Maybe you want the blessings of a relationship with God and not the change He is bringing into your life?  Maybe, just maybe, you want salvation on your terms and not God’s?  If so, then God wants you to know that you are deceiving yourself and the truth is not in you!

In our Epistle lesson this morning, St. Paul say’s that he “counts everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as (his) Lord!”  

He also says that for (Christ’s) sake, (he) has suffered the loss of all things, (and what’s more) he count(s) them as rubbish, in order that (he) may gain Christ and be found in him.”  [Philippians 3:8]  Wow!  Those are strong words.  I know personally, that there are several people here this morning who know what it means to lose everything.  One moment you were on the top of the world and the next…bang…the world is on top of you!  Everything you loved and cherished was stripped away.  Or was it?  You’re here this morning aren’t you?  So Paul would tell you that the most important thing you can ever have, the most important thing you’ll ever need is still yours.  That most needful thing is of course Jesus Christ!  

But Paul still has more to tell us.  He still has his heart set on something deeper… something that gets to the core of the matter.  Listen: He says I lost everything that was important to me so that I would be presented to God “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” [v. 9] But why was he stripped of everything?  Paul answers that question as well, “(So) that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” [vs. 10-11]

What was Paul stripped of?  Well, it was something that left no room for God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness… it was his own view of goodness and success; it was his self righteousness!  Paul back then was named Saul; he was a religious leader… he was a teacher of God’s Law.  He went to the finest schools and hung out with the most influential people.  He was living life his way!  He thought though, that he was living a life that pleased God.  He was teaching others how to do the same, and punishing others who refused to follow his example.  We could say that Saul was pleased with his life… he was having things his way!  But he forgot something very important… there is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it leads only to death… eternal separation from the very God he thought he was serving. [Proverbs 14:12]

Saul didn’t need to have things his way, but God’s way!  So on a dusty road to Damascus, which he was traveling on to find and punish Jews who believed Jesus was their Lord, he instead found Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ… Him crucified and resurrected.  In a flash of bright light, he was blinded and heard the voice of the Living God speak these words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And Saul said, “Who are you, Lord?” And (the voice) said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” [Acts 9:4]

Just like that, Saul was converted.  The super religious Jewish teacher Saul became a humbled blind Christian named Paul.  “So what?” you say.  “It’s only a name change and a change of religion.  What’s the big deal?”  The big deal friends, is that now he became the hunted instead of the hunter.  He was now a Christian… hated by the world, but loved by God!  Now He knew Jesus Christ as He truly was… the living Son of God!  Now he knew Him as His Lord and Savior.  Paul would tell you that he found an inward possession that was more precious than everything he lost.  What was that inward possession?  It was the forgiveness of all of his sins.  Paul was forced to admit what he always knew… all of his self righteousness was like filthy rags before his creator.  All of his hope in pleasing God through religion was useless.  

On that dusty road, he had only one hope, to throw himself at the feet of the living God and call out for mercy and forgiveness!  And miracle of all miracles… God forgave him through the very person he helped kill and was now persecuting… he was forgiven through Jesus Christ!  

Paul was a wanted man.  

He lost his home, his family, all of his possessions, his prestige and his standing within the community.  Paul lost everything, but he counted all that he lost as garbage compared to what he gained.  What did he gain?  Well he got his eye sight back but that was nothing compared to the surpassing knowledge of God through Jesus Christ.  The one thing he searched for all of his life, the one thing that eluded him in all his searching was now his… peace with God!  Paul now knew a God that loved him and spoke to him as a friend and as a brother.  Paul’s most prized possession was now given to him as a gift from God; forgiveness of all of his sins—past present and future—were now his through Christ’s work upon the cross.  Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, were now Paul’s suffering, death and resurrection!

Friends, the great purpose of Paul’s loss of all his worldly wealth in an instant was done in order to make him gain Christ, and through Christ in an instant, be given true righteousness.  In that very moment, Paul was allowed to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  For Paul, meeting and knowing Jesus unto salvation was immediate and dramatic.  His conversion was instantaneous!  

For all of us, our conversion was also instantaneous and for many of us, it happened within the waters of our baptism, but knowing Jesus has not been nearly as dramatic.  For most of us it has been continuous and gradual.  We’ve found that the longer we know him the deeper our understanding of God becomes.  

But we’re also like Paul in this way; we have a choice, we can either receive the change that God’s holiness brings in our lives or we can persecute Jesus.  

 “Persecute Jesus!  What do you mean?”  I mean friends, if you are not allowing God to steadily change you, to recreate you into His image more and more each day, then you are insisting on having things right now your way, and your way is not His way!  

If you are insisting that each day be some kind of award system for the good things you’ve done, then you are fighting against the very work of God that is happening within you now but will be rewarded latter in glory with Christ!  This is God’s truth!  Don’t you perceive it?  You either want things your way or God’s way.  Either you are a friend of the world or a friend of God’s.  You either want to be covered with the admiration and respect of people or the grace of Jesus Christ!  This morning, God is asking you, “Which will it be?!”

Do you know what God wants from you?  He wants you to look to the cross of Jesus and see the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin and then grasp Christ’s love and passion and never let it go!  He wants you to trust Him no matter what’s happening in your life.  He wants you to be filled with the new life He gave you in the waters of your baptism and be transformed with new spiritual power and abilities.  He wants you to hold on to this new life until it is time for the final grasp… when your eyes are closed on this earth for the last time. Then, on that day, He wants you to wake up and be with your Savior Jesus Christ forever!  God has you in His hand, but do you have Him in yours?

Dear friends, please don’t misunderstand what this grabbing hold of Christ means.  Your salvation is not up to you… everything you need to be assured of eternal life with God has been given to you within the waters of your baptism.  God indeed has hold of you; that is His active hold on you, but do you have Him?  You see there is also our passive grabbing hold of God.  We grab a hold of God in His means of Grace.  God gives us His Holy Word, our baptism, and His Holy Supper so that when trials, temptations, sin, sickness, and tragedy strike we will be strong enough to hold on; strong enough to know that our redeemer, our Savior, and our God lives and loves us.  He gives you these wonderful means of grace so that you can forget the past and the ways of the world and rest in the truth that He is always holding onto you… always loving you.  He gives you these things so that you can press on towards the goal… eternal life with Jesus Christ your brother; your Savior and your closest friend… even more than that your living and loving God!  I pray that you will hunger for His means of grace and hold onto Him, because He is holding onto you! 

 

Christ Alone

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019

Transfiguration Sunday
March 3, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” (Luke 9:36a)

When I was a boy, I use to think that Lent was, well… depressing!  I dreaded going to Wednesday evening services.  Advent on the other hand was exciting… Christmas and all of the presents were just around the corner.  I wanted the high points of Advent and Christmas worship, the mountaintop experience, not the valleys of Lent!  Boy I had it wrong!  Do you ever find yourself looking only for the “highs” and avoiding the “lows”? But the truth is friends; we can’t avoid the “lows” because they are part of life.  In our Gospel reading this morning, the Apostles were probably feeling a little confused and depressed because Jesus had recently told them about his impending suffering and death upon the cross.  His disciples were afraid, and they were confused!  Perhaps Jesus saw that Peter, James and John needed a glimpse of heaven in order to make it through everything that was about to happen. And ever since, His church has also closed the season of Epiphany (or kicked off Lent) on the mountaintop of the Transfiguration.

So why are we here this morning? 

Are we here to close off the season of Epiphany with a big bang, just as we started it at Jesus’ Baptism? Do we need a big high in order to carry us through the dark valley until we finally arrive at Easter? If you think about it, we could ask the same question about every Sunday. Do we go to church in order to get away from the real world? Or do we go to God’s Divine Service so that through us, God can make something good happen when we return to the “real” world on Monday?

Now that sounds a little “other worldly” doesn’t it?  It makes our time on Sunday’s sound sort of “not of this world”? And that is the point of the Transfiguration story. It’s a real life account about a “not of this world” event. It was the kind of event that left two apostles speechless and another one speaking nonsense. It was so much “not of this world” that it’s recorded in all three of the Gospel accounts.  And each one of them ended with the need to leave the mountaintop experience with Jesus and re-enter “real life” with Him as well.

This morning, we learn that the world of mountaintop experiences is not enough to carry us through. Jesus and His disciples had to live in the real world, and so do we!  But Jesus knew that the experience was necessary for His innermost circle of apostles and because it is recorded for us in scripture, He is telling us that it is important for us as well!  Peter, James, and John needed to see His glory, and so do we!

What does it mean to see Jesus’ glory?  

Well I think our gospel lesson this morning gives us a pretty good picture of that.  Out of thin air, or maybe better put, out of the fog of prayer, appeared Moses and Elijah.  Our text says that they were talking to Jesus about His departure.  What departure?  Well His death upon the cross… his departure from this sinful world!  Why was that important?  Because it signified the fulfillment of all the promises that God had ever made about forgiveness and eternal life!  Those promises began way back in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15) when God first promised Adam and Eve that their descendant, the Messiah, would smash the head of the serpent (Satan), and rip away his ability to separate men and women from God’s love due to their sin!  But why Moses and Elijah?  Because they represented at the time all of God’s recorded Word, a Word which promised that their Savior was coming; a Savior Who would utterly destroy the power of sin, death, and the devil !  

Moses represented God’s Law which was given to Moses and the church to demonstrate that no one can find God’s love and presence outside of His mercy and forgiveness!  Through the Law, all of mankind  was to see that on their own, they are condemned to eternal death unless God intervenes!  And Elijah represents all of the prophets of God who continually warned God’s people that they were not keeping God’s Law, and frankly they didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping it!  But each of the prophets also promised something special, they promised that God’s means of rescue was coming to save them.  A messiah who was first promised to Adam and Eve would come and destroy Satan’s authority and release sinners from the captivity of sin and death if they would but wait in faith for the fulfillment of that promise, and trust in God’s forgiveness and love!

Peter, James, and John needed to see these two Old Testament Saints surrounded by Jesus’ glory because it meant that the promise was about to be fulfilled.  It meant that He didn’t come to simply rescue them from the temporary tyranny of a Caesar, but from the eternal tormenting of sin, death, and the devil!  The cavalry had arrived, and the counter attack was about to begin; not against an invading and occupying government of men, but against the spiritual and eternal occupation and captivity of evil!

Jesus knew that they must see His glory so that they could tell others about that glory… so that those who heard would have faith and know that God who is faithful had not left them alone to struggle against their enemies!  Jesus knew that they must see His glory so that when they saw Him suffering in great agony upon the cross, they would not lose hope; so that when He lay in the belly of the earth for three days they would not be afraid; and so that when He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven they would know that they were not alone!  He was still with them in His glory!

Jesus wanted them to understand once and for all that His glory has always been His and always shall be.  Yes He walked and talked with them, as one of them, but He never stopped being God… He never stopped being their Redeemer.  It was His glory; it was His to reveal or not to reveal as He desired.  They must have asked themselves as He hung upon the cross in agony and humiliation: “Why don’t you reveal your glory?  What are you doing?  You don’t have to do this!”  And to these thoughts, Jesus quietly reassures their fears and ours… “It is my glory.  Have faith.  Trust me and know that I will reveal my glory according to my own will and in my own means.  Accept my means of grace, and you will see my glory; the promise fulfilled… the promise of your salvation!”  

This is why they must see His glory, but none of this would make sense until He conquered sin and death once and for all.  None of it would make sense until they witnessed His resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven!

We too, must see His glory.  

Just like the apostles, we also need to learn to let go of our own sinful thoughts that get in the way of God’s work of salvation within our own hearts.  We need to admit that there is nothing we can do to please God or make things right with Him.  So to see Jesus’ glory is to first see our own sin… to see how hopeless we are without His rescue. To see His glory is to admit that we too are being held in bondage by the very same enemies that conquered and destroyed all men and women since the fall of Adam and Eve!  And second, if we are to see Jesus’ glory, we must see Him for who He really is for us personally… He is our only means of salvation… our only means of eternal life.  He is God our Savior!

And how does He save us?  How does He show us His glory?  This friends is the best part of all, He does it in an “out of this world” way… He does it according to His means and according to His will!  He does it with Words, His Holy Word’s, and He does it with simple elements; a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.  The same God that spoke the world into existence speaks new life into you with the sweet words of the gospel… “You are forgiven!”  And with that same simple Word He takes even simpler things like water, bread, and wine, and He not only gives you forgiveness but the ability to believe in that forgiveness as well!  Dear friends, hear this good news and hear it well… You are forgiven!  You are loved by God!  Do you receive this message?  Will you let it change you?  

So now, let all God’s people say AMEN!  Can I get a witness?!?   Peter had it right; the mountain top is good!  

Hey, let’s stay with this feeling as long as we can!  Peter wanted to do just that… he wanted to pitch a few tents so that the experience would last, so that his little glimpse into heaven would continue. But then He heard the voice of God speak, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!”  And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone…. alone with Peter, James, and John, just as He will be alone with you when you leave this sanctuary.  And just as He led the three down the mountaintop into the “real” world where real life is happening, He is leading you out into that same world.  A world that is still being held captive by sin, death, and the devil.  A broken world that is still living in fear and stressed out with the worries of this life!  

On Monday morning, you will find yourself in enemy territory… behind enemy lines, but have no fear Jesus is with you.  His glory remains upon you, even within you because you have been forgiven and saved by His Holy Word, washed clean by His Holy baptismal waters, and nourished by His very body and blood within His supper, and all of this was done for a purpose.  So that you may bring others into His presence, into His glory here in this very sanctuary so that they too may say by faith, “Master, it is good that we are here!” Amen.

The Way of Love!

Sunday, February 3rd, 2019

Epiphany 4-C
February 3, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

A woman was injured when a trolly derailed and veered onto a portion of the stations platform where she was standing. She was caught beneath one of the cars. The police sent for a crane to lift the car off her body. While waiting for the crane, a crowd of people gathered out of curiosity.
    One man pushed through the crowd, crawled beneath the car that had been derailed and was teetering precariously, and said to her, “Take my hand.” As she took his hand, he began to pray for her, and she felt warmth and courage. This calmed her and prevented her from going into shock.
    After the crane arrived and the woman was released, she said, “I never thought an outstretched hand could mean so much.”

We all love to hear heroic, self sacrificing stories like this one because they communicate some of the best qualities of love that people can display.  We celebrate this type of “self sacrificing” love when we hear about it, and God agrees… we should celebrate!  And yet, God doesn’t want you to just admire and celebrate this type of love, He insists that it should be alive and central within each of us!  He wants you to be a doer not just an admirer!  Listen to how Jesus uses love to sum up all of the 10 Commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” [Matthew 22:37–40]

This morning dear friends, God is stretching out His hand to you in this sinful world and He wants you to grab onto Him through His Word.  He wants His Word to change you and rearrange you so that this type of self giving even self sacrificing love WILL be natural within you.  He has already begun this great work within your heart through your Holy baptism, and now he wants to continue that work.  Listen to the Words God gave to St. Paul and let His Spirit work within you.  

Love is patient and kind: A better word I think for patience is “longsuffering”.  Love is long-suffering and kind!  This world we live in is full of evil people; dare I say there are even evil people in Christ’s church.  When evil confronts us, when a Christian brother or sister deliberately sins against us, our society advises, “Pay them back!”  But God’s Word says, “No!  Because you are to love me, you must then let that love step in and take over.  Don’t pay evil for evil, instead love your enemy; pray for them.  Don’t follow your natural instinct because it is sinful, instead suffer long, and be kind to that person.”

I know, already we’ve been confronted with God’s Word in a way that really makes us uncomfortable, and yet that is the true meaning of what God demands from us within His commandments.  But our text this morning takes us even deeper; deeper to the point of despair.  Listen as God explains how we must love each other:

Love does not envy!  Another way to say that is, “Love does not speak or do evil out of jealousy!”  That green eyed monster called Jealousy is never happy with what it has, but it’s always eyeballing what someone else has and saying, “That should be mine.  I deserve that too!”  Why if we let it, that monster would trample over anything and anyone just to get what it wants.  But if you really love as God demands, you won’t let jealousy control you!

  

Love doesn’t boast or brag!  We know envy is wrong, and so, to combat it what do we do?  We brag about what we do have, knowing that these very words may lead others to become jealous!  So, love does not envy or boast! Not in words and not in actions!        

Love isn’t arrogant!  In other words, if you really love, you will not be “full of yourself” but full of God’s love for others; when your ego is bigger than your heart, someone will always get hurt.   

Love is not rude!  Another way to say this is, “Love never behaves improperly!”  True love is always concerned for what is right in God’s sight and then it goes out of its way not to offend others.  Paul uses this same word in other places when he talks about how people are shamefully and improperly led by their sexual desires.  If you really have love, then you will act properly!

Love doesn’t insist on its own way!  What this means friends, is that love is not self pleasing.  If you know others are watching you and will be offended by something you do or don’t do, don’t simply say, “Well I’m saved by grace so I can do or not do whatever I like!”  No friends, true love is always interested in the welfare of others!

Love isn’t irritable… it isn’t easily provoked into anger!  Well these words speak for themselves, so we’ll let them stand.  

Love isn’t resentful!  Or another way to say this is that love does not keep a list of wrongs on someone else.

Finally, love doesn’t rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth!  If we love friends, we will not keep silent when we see something happening that we know is wrong!  If we love, we will not let political correctness or peer pressure keep us from speaking the truth in love!  Wrong doing will hide the truth, but God’s love is displayed in His Word!

God’s Word… so full of love but so full of truth, and truth can be a hard pill to swallow!  God’s truthful Word comes to our sin like a bright search light searching for any threat to God’s perfect righteousness.  It shows us what we must discover…something we would rather not discover.  And when we see it, we try to pretend it isn’t there!


A wealthy old woman was at her city’s art museum, and she was intently staring at a framed image she had never seen before. She called to an employee and said, “Come here young man! What is the meaning of this awful picture you have displayed here?  I find the image shallow and revolting! What do you call it?” The employee answered without even the slightest expression, “That madam, is a mirror.” 

Dear friends, God’s Word is also a mirror. We may pick it up and read it simply to evaluate it with a critical eye, but in the end, we always find that we are the ones being evaluated. It shows us how we really look..  But if you are willing to force yourself to look, and if you will fight the urge to turn away, Jesus will show you a more excellent way!  He will step in front of your reflection and cover it with His own and say, “Let my reflection be yours!  Look at my image and then see your new reflection; a reflection that I gave to you within the waters of your baptism.  Look now at my love and let it change you!”

Well, let’s do just that.  Let’s look at the same list that describes perfect God-given love and see how Jesus did with it.  Let’s see what a marvelous reflection He’s exchanged for ours:

Love does not envy! Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” [Jn. 6:37-39]

Love does not boast or brag! As the all powerful Son of God hung upon the cross, “knowing that all was now finished, (He) said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” [Jn. 19:28]

Love is not arrogant! “But (He) made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” [Phil. 2:7]

Love is not rude!  “When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” [Jn. 18:22-23]

Love doesn’t insist on its own way!  “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent Me.” [Jn. 6:38]

Love isn’t irritable… it isn’t easily provoked into anger!  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem (Jesus said), the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” [Lk. 13:34]                   

Love isn’t resentful!  “And when they came to the place that is called (Golgotha) The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [Lk. 23:33-34]

Dear friends, Christ has really replaced your sinful reflection with His own.  

He has covered your “unrighteousness” with His righteousness; He did this long ago upon the cross… the tree of love and long-suffering.  He chose to be planted and crucified upon the hard rock called Golgotha so that by His pain, suffering, and death your hard rocky heart of sin might be smashed and rebuilt into a heart of love.  And all of this work was made yours in your baptism.  In your baptism, Jesus promised you that you are not alone!  Like the man in the story who crawled under the street car with the trapped and dying woman to hold her hand and encourage her to hang on, Jesus is with you!  He is reminding you that His love and long-suffering are now yours and He is encouraging you to take it.  This love friends, is a spiritual gift which moves your heart and hands to serve and become a Christ-like person for your neighbor.  True God given love dear friends, is the name not for the act of love, but for the heart that feels it!  This sinful world might be able to imitate the actions of love, but without Christ love implanted within their hearts, their work is simply as St. Paul says, “Like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  It is nothing!

This morning friends, if you find yourself falling short, go to the one who is long-suffering and patient, kind and loving!  Go to the only person who never fell to envy or pride!  Go to your brother, friend, and Lord, the one who is never arrogant or rude.  Go to Jesus Christ, who is also your God and your Savior.  Confess to Him how you’ve fallen short of His love and then hear His Words of forgiveness and restoration new and fresh!  

Believe that through His Word first given to you in the waters of Holy baptism you were born again.  Believe that through His Holy Meal you are allowed to hear, see, smell, touch, and taste forgiveness.  And then leave this place refreshed and forgiven for a purpose… you are to be Christ for your neighbor!  You are to be a person who lives for others!  

You will be this person, because He who began this good work in you long ago will complete it!  We pray this truth in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Word Became Flesh!


Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

Advent 4-C
December 23, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” [John 1:1-3]

Just when we think we have God all figured out, He comes out of left field and does something we never even considered. How many times have you encountered what you thought was a hopeless situation, only to have the whole thing turned around?  Oh we of little faith!

The Jews knew that biting accusation all too well!  They were anxiously waiting for a warrior-king, a descendant of King David to come, who would make them a worldwide super power once again.  Oh their king came, a descendant of David certainly, but He didn’t come in a way they expected.  You see, there was no army carrying their king into battle; instead He was carried by a pregnant teenager who was about to give birth to their true king, God in human flesh.  Instead of defeating Rome and the Emperor, this King came to defeat sin, death, and the devil!

How did the Jews get so confused? 

Maybe they missed what God was doing because they concentrated on temporal things instead of eternal things.  Maybe they decided on concentrating on snippets of prophecy instead on the whole prophecy.  Maybe they used only portions of God’s Word, like those found in Micah, our Old Testament lesson this morning: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”  So far, that sounds like help is on the way.  Let’s see what else they may have read that gave them hope that their warrior-king was coming to fight for them.  How about this: “And He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.”  Well that sounds like a super power God for a super power nation, doesn’t it?

The problem was, they were only paying attention to the parts of God’s Word that they liked, and they were ignoring the parts of His Word that continuously reminded them that they were not living as God desired… they were not living as people of faith who trusted in, and patiently waited on their God to provide for them.  Listen to just a few of the many reminders God gave them: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” [Proverbs 21:2,3]

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. [Isaiah 1:11]

“But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” [Jeremiah 7:23-25]

Israel thought that by observing a few religious rules God would wink at their sin.  They thought they could hide the evil in their hearts by appeasing God with a few sacrifices.  But do you know what God calls someone who only listens to parts of His Word, while comfortably ignoring the other parts?  Lost and damned in their sins!

Friends, God’s Word always comes to us in two parts, the Law and the Gospel.  

When we only pick out the good news, the Word that speaks of God’s forgiving love, then we are sure to miss the way that He wants to bring us that good news… through our confession to Him that we are sinful.  We must be told by His Word that our hearts are sinful and we must admit it to Him before He will forgive.  His Word must show us that we are self-serving and prideful.  And by that same Word we must be convinced that the only way to know and experience God’s love is by confessing this truth.  If we do this as He asks, He in turn promises to make us self-giving and humble.  We must obey His call to confession and then admit our need for Him to change us before He will allow us to hear His Gospel Word of love and forgiveness.  

If we will not approach Him just as He desires, with a broken spirit and a contrite heart, then we, like the Jews will miss the true Gospel found in our reading from Micah: “Therefore He shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of His brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their peace.” [Micah 5:3-5]  

Like the Jews, all of mankind is lost unless we receive our Savior as He comes, as a baby; lowly and humble, through the womb of a teenaged virgin. 

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]  

Dear friends, the warrior king that the Jews waited so long for did come, but He didn’t come as they expected; that is He wasn’t the kind of king they looked for.  If they had only drawn more deeply into God’s whole Word, it would have been so clear.  Their great King David, a man after God’s own heart spoke to them clearly in Psalm 40 about what this greater king and Messiah would do, listen: “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but a body you have prepared for me.  Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” [Psalm 40:6-10 LXX]

In these very Words friends, God was telling Israel and the world today, that He is saving sinful man in a way that we would never expect.  He comes to us in our own flesh; because we could never on our own delight to do God’s will, so God sends His Living Word to us to do it for us.  Listen now to that same Psalm as explained by the writer of our Epistle lesson: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but you have now prepared a body for me; (hear the truth sinful children, God does) not delight in (your religious sacrifices)—in your burnt offerings and sin offerings (He takes) no pleasure. (But now Jesus says), ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in (their prophecies).”

 

Dear friends, when Jesus Christ, the Word which became flesh said that God neither desires nor takes pleasure in the sacrifices and offerings of the Jews, He is speaking to us as well.  He is saying that our attempts to please Him by being good, by doing our best are not what He is looking for in us.  If these were good enough, then what need would any of us have for a Savior? Why must God the Father prepare a body for God the Son?  My friends, so that He could do what we cannot; so that in our flesh He can obey God in our place! But friends, obedience wasn’t the only reason that Christ was given a body!  No, you see because of our many sins, something much costlier is required in order to make things right with God.  Willful sin has been committed on our part, and an acceptable sacrifice must be given… a life must be taken and blood must be spilled.  You see friends, Christ’s obedience is much greater than simply living a life that pleases God; His obedience also includes a sin offering, the offering of the very blood and life of God the Son.  This is the true and final sacrifice for sin, because it is the ultimate sacrifice, which according to prophecy, God desired to be made, and friends He made it for you!

Just think about the grandness of God’s love friends.  

Hear the words of our Savior as He speaks them for you… as He speaks them to you in a way to make it clear that He alone can save you from the sin that has entrapped you.  With you on His heart He loudly speaks: “No, he will not die.  No she will not pay.  Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God.  Send me in their place!”  In that spirit, the spirit of love for the Father and love for you, Jesus offered his life to the Father. It was that very same love that motivated him (John 4:34) and guided Him all the way to Calvary. What a great cost He has bought you with!  Think of Him wrestling in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane and you will begin to understand the cost.  Think of Him calling out alone upon the cross as the last of His life giving blood and the love of the Father left Him: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  

This Christmas friends, it is good to remember the manger and the infant lowly, but do not lose sight of the cross!  Remember the cross, because to remember it is to remember a truth that will change the way you worship and the way you live your life in service to God: Jesus was born to die for you!  

Friends, do you want to live a life that pleases God?  Well the first step in doing that is by remembering the gifts of forgiveness and new life, which He gave you within the waters of your baptism, and then confess to Him that you can’t live the life of perfection His law demands.  Confess your sinfulness to Him and then put His Law that terrifies you aside and hear the Gospel.  Hear the Good News that assures you that God does love you and He forgives you of all of your sins because of what Jesus has done for you.  Hear this good news often.  Come every week to this place of worship and let Him strengthen your faith and nourish your spirit.  Let Him change you from the inside out.  And as you do that, something new and different will happen, you will begin to find yourself becoming more and more like your Savior-King who died for you.  

And then friends, when God begins to look for your obedience in small things you will begin to find yourself saying: Here I am—Lord—I have come to do your will, O God.  Send me… use me!”  May the love of God through Christ Jesus move our hearts and minds to do this very thing…. I ask this in Jesus name…. AMEN!

Childlike Faith

Sunday, October 7th, 2018

Pentecost 19B
October 7, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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, who trust in God’s Word like a little child, are promised a place in Paradise, or another way to say that is you have a mansion in heaven or a seat at our Lord’s banquet table, which has been prepared just for you by Jesus Himself. So, are you ready?  Will you be there in glory?

God’s Word promises that you will be; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; God wants you to rest in everything that Jesus Christ 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 you and me 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 think that there’s another way to get to our heavenly home.  So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises?  It is if we are trusting in something other than the work and the promises of Jesus Christ!

Why do we have times when we feel like our life lacks meaning and purpose?  It’s because we’ve taken our eyes off of God’s promises!  Why is it that sometimes when trouble comes our way we become afraid and filled with doubt?  It’s because we’ve lost sight of Jesus and His real presence in our lives!  Why is it that when fear and doubt come, we may begin to lose that joy in knowing that we really do have a place prepared just for us in heaven?  It’s because we have begun to judge success by what we do and not 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 we fall short of that perfection.  So then why do we still think that on our own we can be God pleasing husbands, wives, parents or children?  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.  And because of this sin problem, 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!

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 easy to spot too.  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 with 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.  

Now at some 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, we must be doing 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 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 this awful cycle of disappointment and death?  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 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 wanted to sit around 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; 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 that problem; 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 needed a simple child like faith and then with that faith, they must turn to God confessing their helplessness and total dependence on His care, just like a baby!

The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t ever bridge the gap that sin creates by turning to 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?  That you would not trust in your own abilities or your self-improvement plans, but instead learn to rest 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 onto them, trust them and then watch as He continually renews you and changes you.  

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.  

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 that same grace flows out of you and into your families, your relationships and our community.  In essence, God wants you to be amazed at how His Spirit will transform your life, your family, and our community.

So will you be there, at the banquet in heaven?  Yes by grace alone!  But listen, God doesn’t want you to just be satisfied with just your seat, 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 and AMEN!

Salt Is Good!

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

Pentecost 18B
September 30, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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Our text this morning is the 50th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Salt is good, but it if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? [Mark 9:38-50]


What is the kingdom of God?  Where is the kingdom of God?  These are a couple of questions I want you to keep in the front of your minds as we receive God’s message this morning.  At first, the apostles thought that the Kingdom of God would be a brand new world order, where Jesus would rule, destroy the reign of Cesar and the Roman Empire, and make all things right.  They wanted the Kingdom of God now, and they wanted it according to their estimation.  In their minds, it was Jesus and them against the world!  But Jesus had other ideas.  He always does…He is God.  Where the apostles saw the kingdom of God consisting in a select few, Jesus has other ideas: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he wasn’t one of us.”  Again, Jesus had other plans… “Don’t stop him” he said.  “Don’t you see that anyone who does a mighty work in my name will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Listen, the one who is not against us is for us.”  

And there you have it…the kingdom of God is a lot bigger than we think.  So some might say this is proof that denominational differences are unimportant—as long as your heart is in the right place.  Right?  Well, let’s keep reading and see if Jesus agrees with that.  

Do you remember the child Jesus took into His arms in our gospel reading last week?  Well, this is a discussion that continues that teaching.  The child is still in His arms, and now He looks at His disciples and says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  

So what causes children to sin?  What causes adult Christians with a simple faith, like the stranger that was casting out demons to sin?  In both examples it is a lack of knowing and understanding God’s Word, both the Law and the gospel.  How can you help protect the young and the simple?  Teach them biblical truths…good doctrine.  Teach them that there aren’t many ways to the kingdom of Heaven.  Teach them that God doesn’t require any work from us before He will give us Jesus’ kingdom of Heaven.  Without faith in the true gospel, a faith that clings to Jesus alone friends, you cannot be saved.  In fact, bad doctrine can actually give us the opposite of salvation…it can lead to damnation… an eternity in hell!

What is hell?  

Jesus compared Hell to the garbage dump right outside of the city of Jerusalem.  It was called the Gehenna.  There, trash fires were always burning as refuse was disposed of.  In essence, Jesus was saying, “Imagine that the Gehenna is like a picture of hell with one big difference.  Where the fires of Gehenna are temporary, in hell they are eternal.  Where maggots eat rotting flesh until the flesh is no more or the maggots die, in hell the fire never goes out, there is an endless supply of flesh, and the maggot never dies.  So what?  Well friends, the fire isn’t burning the demons that are in hell, and the maggots aren’t eating them either, because demons are spirit and they do not have flesh.  So who is burning, and who is being consumed?  People!  People who willing rejected God’s simple method of salvation—the cross of Jesus Christ!  People who refused to cling to Jesus alone and decided there was a better way to the kingdom of Heaven.  These are poor fools who decided that doctrine didn’t matter, and because of that they willingly set aside the kingdom of God and embraced a lie! What is hell?  

Scripture says Hell is a domain where people are eternally banished from the sight of God—eternally excluded from His love and the sweet communion with Jesus Christ.  To these damned souls, Jesus says “Depart from Me” [Matt. 25:41]; (and) “They shall be cast out into outer darkness.”  [Matt. 25:42]  

Friends, we were made for God; we were made to have communion with God.  That is the supreme joy and delight of man—that is the kingdom of God.  But sadly, many people reject the offer of peace with God the Father, because they reject the means to that peace…God the Son, Jesus Christ.  Through their own sinful choice they have embraced a state of damnation where they will experience intense agony of body and soul that scripture calls “tribulation and anguish” [Rom. 2:9], “being in torment” [Lk. 17:4], “tormented in flames” [Lk. 16:24], “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matt. 8:12; 13:50]  There in hell, those poor damned souls will see “the smoke of their torment ascending up forever and ever; and they (will) have no rest day or night. [Rev. 14:11]  Friends, think of the horror that awaits those poor souls… for an eternity they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” [Rev. 20:10], simply because they have rejected God’s only means to save them. 

You know, it doesn’t matter whether you believe that the fire of hell is real fire or a metaphor for unspeakable torment, the point is God doesn’t want you there; He wants you to escape the agony of hell.  It wasn’t designed for people created in His image—it was created for the rebellious and fallen angels…the devils.

So how do we make sure that we never go to hell? 

Well, before we actually answer that question, let’s allow Jesus to stress how important not going to Hell is: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter (eternal) life crippled than with two hands to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter (eternal) life lame than with two feet (and then) be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes (and) be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” [Mark 9:43-48] 

Does that sound crazy to you?  It should, it was meant to be absurd.  Jesus was addressing the mindset that people in that time had about sin.  They like many others in their day were trivializing their personal sins, much like people do today.  “I guess I can’t help steeling, I was born with itchy hands and sticky fingers.”  OK, cut them off!  “I can’t help looking at women that way, I must have been born with a wandering eye.”  OK, pluck it out!  “What do you mean?  I can’t” you say.  Friend, do you want to go to hell?  Well then get rid of the offending body part.  If you had diabetes, and your foot or leg was diseased you would let the doctor amputate it so you could live wouldn’t you?  Well…go ahead, cut it off and pluck it out.  Keep cutting and plucking until there is nothing left of your body!

Absurd and ridiculous isn’t it?  And that is the point Jesus is making.  Your hand, foot, eye, tongue, or any other body part is not to blame.  They can’t think independent of you!  Sinners like us today are to blame…sinners like us have a wicked heart, and there is only one cure for a wicked heart… IT MUST BE SALTED!

You must be salted with fire.  

In the time of Jesus, salt was both a preservative and an antiseptic. When someone had an infected wound they would pour salt on it.  It burned like fire, but that was good because it meant that there was still some life in the tissue that could be saved.  We must be salted too, because we carry with us dead tissue that must be removed.  

How are we salted?  With the Word of God!  God’s Law must be applied to our sin so that we will feel the fire and wrath of God.  We must know that we are sinful throughout every fiber of our being.  We must stand before God knowing that we deserve all of the punishments of hell.  We must be silenced and simply surrender to His perfection and Holiness!  That is the work and sting of God’s Law.  It is at this time, when the Law has had its way with us that we are moved to cry out to God, “Have mercy Lord!  Forgive me!”  

And then…then when we feel our very life slipping away, we must listen—we must listen to God’s mercy.  “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us. That we should be called the children of God.”   How are we made the children of God?  Through the salting of His Word.  And it is that Word that tells us about the cross—the cross where He allowed His Son Jesus Christ to willingly and in agony give up His life for those very same sins that condemn us.  And then by faith, we must hear His Son shout loudly from the cross, “IT IS FINISHED!”  “What is finished Lord” we ask?  “My Father’s anger for your many sins” He says.  “How” we ask? “Friend” he says, “the Father no longer sees your many sins because I have covered them with my precious blood.  The blood I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, your brother and friend shed for you.”  

Will you be salted?  Will you teach your children about this salt, this life saving Word of God that both terrifies and saves us?  This Word has been with you since your own baptism…will you grab onto it and live it out until your last breath is taken on this earth?  Will you remember that in your baptism God made you a mortal enemy of sin, death, and all the devils?  

Friends, think about what God has done for you through the cross of Jesus and the holy waters of your own Baptism.  You have become Satan’s mortal enemy and God’s own child.  How will you survive the constant attacks and temptations of Satan’s devils?  By being salted constantly with the Word of God.  

Now do you understand how important it is to always be in God’s Word?  Do you finally understand how important it is for parents to bring their children to church, Sunday School, and to read and share the Word of God with them?  Do you understand how important it is for you to live this kind of life that clings to God’s Word and Sacraments?  Do you understand that God’s kingdom can only be found at the cross?  Do you understand that the kingdom of God, Jesus’ kingdom was given to you in your baptism?  And do you understand that every time you hear the Word preached and taught, every time you come to His table of mercy, you are being reminded that you are even now part of that kingdom of God?

Friends, don’t lose your saltiness.  Seek this salt in your life always.  I pray that you do.  I pray that you will hunger for this salt, and be at peace…peace with God and peace with each other.  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Help For Our Unbelief!


Sunday, September 16th, 2018

Pentecost 17B
September 16, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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Our text this morning is the 24th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:14-29]

The Christian life is “a land of hills and valleys” isn’t it?  In one day, we can move from what seems like the glory of heaven to the attacks of hell. In our gospel lesson this morning, we join our Lord returning from the Mt. of Transfiguration, where 3 of the apostles were allowed to see Jesus in His heavenly glory; a glory that would once again be His forever. But, Jesus knew that He must first begin His painful walk to the cross—a cross where He would once and for all, free us from sin, death, and the attacks of the devil.  Jesus knew that He would do all of this through His own death.  So down the mountain they went as Jesus had his face set towards the cross.

As Jesus and His the apostles came down off the mountain and joined the other nine, they found them enveloped in a problem: they were unable to deliver a boy from demonic control, and the scribes were debating with them and perhaps even taunting them because of their failure. And the demon… well it was doing its best to destroy the boy.  As always, it was Jesus who would step in to solve the problem. 

So what happened?  What went wrong?  Jesus had given all of His disciples authority to cast out demons [Mark 6:7, 13], and yet their ministry to the boy was a failure. Well, there was no time to dwell on their failure because the desperate father was now begging Jesus to help.  Wouldn’t you if that was your child?  But that poor father was not even sure that Jesus could succeed; after all His disciples had failed.  That’s why he said, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us.” [Mark 9:22] 

But something interesting is learned here and it is this, the father was honest enough to admit that he was having trouble believing in Jesus, and he asked the Lord to help him believe.  

The main lesson of this miracle is that faith in Jesus alone gives us the power to overcome worry and the fear of sin, death, and the devil. But then why had the nine disciples failed? Well they failed because they were afraid and worried.  And why was the father successful in seeing his son healed by Jesus?  Because he was afraid and worried.  You see, both are examples of how fear and worry can either have a negative effect or a positive effect on your faith.  

The nine apostles were worried because things weren’t working out the way they understood Jesus had said they would.  

Didn’t Jesus say that He had given them the authority to drive out demons? I can imagine them saying something like, “It worked before when He sent us out.  So why isn’t it working now?  Oh where is Jesus?  Why did he have to leave us alone like this?  What if He doesn’t come back soon?  Well if he doesn’t it won’t be our fault, after all, we’ve tried everything!”  Worry and panic began to take over.  But that wasn’t all; that demon was starting to get nasty with them, and to top it all off, those hypocrites called “the scribes” saw the whole thing and now they were ridiculing them.  OK, now their worry was giving way to fear. They must have been saying  “Oh where is Jesus?  Somebody do something…!”  And to this, the devil sneers and taunts and asks, “Where’s your faith?  Where’s your faith now?” 

Help was so close.  Jesus had taught them that with the faith the size of a mustard seed they could call out to God and if it was according to the Father’s will they could order a mountain to fall into the sea and it would! [Matt. 17:20]    Yet because of their fear and worry, they forgot that help was just a prayer away.  

Have you ever been there before?  So sure of yourself; so certain that you had everything under control and then– “BAMB!”… everything falls apart?  What the nine apostles forgot, and what we so very often forget, St. James gladly reminds us of in our epistle reading: “We all stumble in many ways.  And if anyone does not stumble in what he says (or in what he does), he is a perfect man…”  Oh how easily because of our pride, we forget that everything we have, our health, all of our talents, all of our gifts, and all of our finances are just a gift from God—every second of our lives are being guided by His loving hand.  And when things stop going the way we think they should go, when we’re done coasting downhill and seem to be stuck in the dark valley, we ask, “Where is God?  Why isn’t He here helping me?”

Friends, what do you do when you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis?  Well let me tell you what Jesus expects you to do.  Stop, remember God’s promise that He will never leave you, take a deep breath, relax, and then pray.  That’s what the disciples forgot to do, and so many times when tragedy strikes, that is also what we forget to do.  Why is that important?  Because prayer invites God into your dilemma and your small faith says, “Here Lord, take over.  I’m tired and ready to give up.  If you want this done please work through me and do it.”  The father of the boy told Jesus that His disciples didn’t have the strength to drive the demon out.  They did not have the strength because they didn’t ask for it.  So remember, stop and pray for God’s strength!

What the disciples forgot, the father of the demon possessed boy remembered.  

“Teacher, I’ve brought my son to you.”  Faith in Christ is compelled to bring its dilemmas and tragedies to Christ.  And when we bring these things to our Lord in faith, He asks us, “Do you believe I can help you?  Do you believe I will help you?  Remember, all things are possible for one who believes.”  It is at this point in our lives where little faith, small almost unobservable faith calls out in the same anguish as that father had for his only son, “I believe Lord; help my unbelief!  Teach me to believe….teach me to trust you.   You Lord Jesus Christ are my only source of hope!”

In these words friends, we hear pain; we hear worry and fear, but we also hear a confession.  “Forgive me for my unbelief O Lord, and help me to believe!”  Dear baptized friends, that is your confession—your confession when you know you should believe; you know you should believe, because of the many promises God has given you, you know you must believe, but for some reason your faith is very small, you are afraid, and you find it hard to believe.  Your privilege friend, as a baptized child of God, is that you can call out to Him and confess all of your sins, including the sin of doubt, and then know with a great certainty that He has heard your prayer.  

God wants you to know that not only does He forgive your doubt, but for the sake of your Savior Jesus Christ, He also gives you what you are asking for because He loves you and because what you are asking for is in keeping with His will.  Friends, the most important thing that God wants you to believe is that for Christ’s sake, you are forgiven of all your sins; forgiven unto eternal life!

But what if you pray and pray; what if you are always confessing your sins and you don’t feel peace—you just don’t feel comforted?  

What if you still feel fear and worry?  Does that mean that God isn’t listening to you?  No!!  Dear friends, faith—your faith is not based on how you feel, but on Jesus’ real presence in your life.  Just because one person feels peace and another still feels fear doesn’t mean that God is closer to one and farther from another.  God stands by all of His children…He stands by you!  

Listen friends, since faith is so important and vital to your spiritual well being don’t think for a moment that God wants you to remain captivated by your fear.  And don’t try to talk yourself out of your emotions, instead confess them to Him and then rest in His presence in your life.  You see, it’s the God of peace that will comfort you.  How?  By helping you to trust in His work in you!  Friends, through His Holy Spirit, God is moving your heart to turn away from your sin—to turn away from your lack of faith and turn to Him.  He wants you to look to Jesus Christ, the lamb who takes away the sin of the world—even the sin of doubt and fear, and then rest in Him by faith. That dear friends is big faith…very big faith!

So don’t be happy with only small faith, instead let the Lord grow your faith as you learn to rest in Christ’s love and then trust in His presence.  And you will need that big faith friends, because when you least expect it, the devil will attack your heart and try to take away that little faith.  When will this attack happen?  I can’t answer that for you, but I do know this, sooner or later we will all have our faith tested.  For sure, when it comes time for you to face your own death, or the death of a loved one, your faith will be tested!  And it’s at this time that you must already be trained to turn your eyes to God, because that is where we will all end our walk of faith.  This is the narrow gate, the straight path that our Lord taught us about. [Matt. 7:14]  God desires for all of us to joyfully walk down this path and then excitedly enter through that narrow gate into Paradise. 

How do you prepare for this journey?  By staying in God’s Word; by allowing the Holy Spirit to give you a hunger to read and hear it as often as possible.  You prepare for this journey by daily confessing your sins and knowing for certain that because of your baptism the sweet Words of absolution are really intended for you.  You prepare for this journey by feeding your hunger to know God’s love and forgiveness through the eating and drinking of His holy and true body and blood.  So receive all of these gifts of God, and then know by faith that He is truly giving you not just the forgiveness of your many sins, but a new life… an eternal life of joy and peace.

Dear friends, though our faith is weak, let us pray with great passion along with the apostles, “Lord increase our faith” and then let us pray along with the father of the demon possessed boy, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!”  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Saving Faith

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Pentecost 16B
September 9, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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Our text this morning is the 14th verse of our Epistle lesson.  And it comes to us in the form of a question: “What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?”

Indeed, that is the question, “Can that faith save him?”  Can someone who is without works find comfort in God’s gospel proclamation, like the one found in our OT lesson?  Listen, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”  James answers this question with a resounding NO!  Instead, James would say that a person who claims faith without works should hear this message more as Law instead of the gospel; perhaps more like this: “But say to those who have no anxious heart; who have no fear or dread because of their sinful hearts, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid!  Because the day of the Lord’s judgment is  approaching.”

What is faith?  

“Easy” you say, faith knows God through Jesus Christ, right?  Well…yes and no.  You see, if you know who God is, that is only a general kind of faith.  “But wait” you counter, I believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, that He suffered under Pontius Pilot, He was crucified, died, and was buried, and descended into Hell.  And I also believe that on the third day He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.”  Well, James would tell you that the devils believe that too, and yet they tremble with fear because they know that God’s judgment is coming very soon. [James 2:19]  “But wait Pastor” you say, “I know scripture pretty well, and didn’t Paul say, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”” [Rom. 10:17]?  Ah yes, an excellent proof text for reminding all of us how important it is to be in God’s Word every day.  But, you can bet the devils know that verse by heart, and many others as well.  What good does that do them?

Are you confused?  Well let me give an illustration on what kind of faith is not saving faith.  Let’s imagine that there is a policeman who is issued a bullet proof vest but he refuses to wear it because it is just too hot and bulky.  One day he is tragically shot in an area that the vest would have protected, and he dies.  Is the vest to blame for his death? No, of course not!  You see, the vest can offer no protection if it isn’t put on; if it doesn’t become part of his daily routine.  And that is the way it is with faith that can’t save you.  You can know the entire Bible and be an expert in Christian doctrine, but if you aren’t living in that faith and allowing it to lead you and change you, it can’t save you!  It’s what we call only a general faith.

But, if you know that Jesus suffered and died upon the cross for you—if you admit that He needed to suffer and die for you; that he descended into hell and rose from the dead for you; if you know that He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God to someday judge you not guilty of being a sinner, but holy, perfect and righteous because you trusted in Him, well then my friend… you have saving faith!  So you see friends, true saving faith grabs onto Jesus and what he provides and it makes Him its personal Savior.

Well the question we might ask next is this, “What does faith look like?  Can you see that faith in action?”  Yes, most definitely.  You can see both general faith and saving faith in action, and you can easily tell them apart.  In our Epistle lesson [James. 2:14-18], James gives us a good illustration of general faith.

General faith sees a Christian brother or sister in trouble…in need of food and clothing and says, “I hope you find food, and I’ll pray you stay warm” and then walks away feeling good about themselves.  James asks us this morning, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  “What kind?” we ask.  Well, the kind of faith that is never seen in practical service towards God and neighbor.  Friends, the answer is no!  Any faith that doesn’t result in a changed heart… in a life that’s changed and desiring to do good for others, James says is really an empty faith.  

So you see friends, while it’s true that it’s faith alone that justifies, it is also true that justifying faith can never be alone… it can never be without works of love.  But saving faith, looks at its brother or sister in need, and because that saving faith is still holding on to Jesus, it is compelled to act.  As Christians who are led by the love of Christ, because of our saving faith, we are also compelled to help meet the needs of our neighbors as God provides.  St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians taught about this when he said, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all people, especially the needs of those who are of the household of faith.” [Gal. 6:10]  

Friends, when we serve our brothers and sisters in need, we can clearly hear Jesus reminding us with a smile, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it unto Me.” [Matt. 25:40] Friends, saving faith hears these words of Jesus, and it wants to always be working and serving others.  But saving faith doesn’t work because it thinks it will earn a reward, instead saving faith works because it is powered by the love of God through Christ Jesus and wants to please God.

Dear friends, we love Jesus because He first loved us and gave His life up for us.  Because He sacrificed Himself for us we find that we are also compelled by our saving faith to sacrifice ourselves for our neighbor as well.  When a Christian mother and father loves their child and teaches them about God’s love, and ensures that they are baptized, present at Sunday school, and latter confirmed, that is the love of saving faith being expressed in those Christian parents.  In fact, no matter what calling we find ourselves in whether it is parent, child, civil servant, employee, employer, student or teacher, if we serve our neighbor as Christ serves us, then my friends, that is saving faith in action.  

Well how do we know if we have saving faith?  

Friends, for the answer to this question let’s look at our gospel lesson this morning.  In the gospel we encounter Jesus healing a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  Listen: “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ef-fa-tha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” [Mark 7:33-35]   What a wonderful miracle!  Everyone who witnessed it agreed that it was most certainly a work of God.  The witnesses proclaimed, “He has done all things well.”  They concluded that Jesus could at any time give anyone who’s deaf the ability to hear and anyone who is speechless the ability to speak.  Did the crowd have saving faith? I don’t know.  They certainly were amazed, but yet, it wasn’t their ears that were given hearing and it wasn’t their mouth that was given speech.  But the man who was deaf and speechless, now that’s a different story.  How could He not have love for Jesus, the loving man that spoke ever so gently to him in a sign language that he could understand?  How could he not have been moved to trust Jesus in whatever He asked or told him?  Certainly he had to be moved to use his new voice to praise Jesus as the Savior, as his personal savior!

Dear friends, in your baptism, Jesus has done an even greater thing than this for you.  Through the water and the Word, He has opened your heart!  Through His Word, He has privately and in a very personal way taken you out of a sinful and dying world and secured you in His love.  Through the gift of faith, He has opened your ears so that you can hear His Word even the Word being preached right now and be changed!  Listen friends, your heart has been recreated so that it no longer fears God’s judgment, but instead it’s resting in His love.  By faith you are now able to live your life knowing that you have a God who through His Son Jesus, has forgiven all of your sins.  By faith friends, you now have a mouth that desires to share with others just how wonderfully God has demonstrated His love for you!  And by saving faith, you now have hands that are being moved to serve God out of love; not because they must serve but because they want to serve.  Your heart through saving faith wants to serve your neighbor here in this church, and there out in the community where there are thousands of people dying without knowing the life giving and life changing touch of the Savior of the world Jesus Christ.   

Dear friends, our faith, our saving faith, is a divine work that God does within us; it’s a work that changes us by killing the old self centered person and then daily replaces it with a personality of faith in action!  Your saving faith is a living, busy, and active faith that is mighty in the power of God.  Your saving faith doesn’t ask if there are any good works that must be done to be saved, but is already desiring to do the good out of love!  I pray that every day you fight to let this living and saving faith control you and lead you as you daily praise the Lord, in thought, word, and deed!  In Jesus name….AMEN!

Put It On

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

Pentecost 15B
September 2, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” [Ephesians 6:11]

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 the evil around us and the sin within us!  In regards to the evil around us, let me say this right off the bat, the devils are evil cowards.  They usually attack us when we are at our weakest, and that is usually when we are the furthest away spiritually from God. And when they attack us, they do it in away that will effect those people closest to and surrounding the person under attack. In physical warfare, we would call it collateral damage.  So the best target for devils is an unprotected target; 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!

Dear friends, 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.  St. Paul in our Epistle reading 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, 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 we are demoralized and give up!

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 is being 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: “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?  

Now I know some of you are thinking, “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 nor 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.  It 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.”” [Gen 2:16-17]  If Eve would have 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 her 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 “Put it on, put it on!”  What is this armor of God?  It is God’s own Word!

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 God every day desires to feed and sustain that power.  This is done when we allow Him 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!

All of the armor described by Paul is just a different application of being in God’s Word!  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 and live it out.  “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” [Jn. 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 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 forgiveness of sins 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.  Luther said it best in the 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 Pe. 3:21]. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Philip. 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.” [Gal. 2:20] “  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. [Jn. 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!  “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 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, plumber, 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 do this as individuals and we are to do this as a congregation.  

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.  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 for them. 

To complete our message this morning, we have one more thing to discuss… one more piece of armor and that is PRAYER!  As God’s Word is the power of victory over sin, death, and the devil, prayer is the energy that keeps us engaged in the battle!

Pray always, or as Paul says it elsewhere, be unceasing in prayer.  Now this doesn’t mean that we are always saying prayers, because Jesus Himself said that we are not heard for our “much speaking” [Matt. 6:7], but instead it means that we should always be in communion with the Lord. [1 Thess. 5:17]  In other words, we should keep the receiver off the hook and be in a constant attitude of prayer.  What should we pray for?  All things!  Whatever the Lord’s Spirit is leading us to pray, then that is what we should pray for.  Thank Him for little things and big things.  Thank Him for your spiritual leaders; for pastors, elders, spouse, parents, teachers, and the like.  And ask God to continue to bless them with great wisdom so they can continue to lead and become even better leaders.  Pray and ask Him to teach you how you can be a more effective witness to His love and forgiveness with your neighbor, and pray and ask Him to show you how you and our church can sacrificially serve our community.  Ask Him how you can help Trinity reach and teach the lost about God’s love through Jesus Christ, and then just jump in and give it a try.  Don’t wait for some miraculous sign…just get involved.  Remember, idle hands are the devils work shop!

Finally, sometimes we don’t know what to pray for, but we do feel the uncontrollable urge to do it.  When this feeling hits you, as soon as you are able, find a private place, fall on your knees or even on your face and simply cry out to the Lord!  Pray with groaning that only your deep and troubled spirit can understand.  Don’t worry about words, because the Holy Spirit who dwells within your heart knows what to ask for and what to say.  He will take your prayer before the Father in Heaven who will hear you because of His Son’s grace, and He will answer your prayer with just what your spirit needs.

So there you have it friends, the whole armor of God, His Word and your prayers.  You don’t have to look for it, because it has all been yours since your baptism.  Take it up, and put it on…wear it always.  Demonstrate its power to your neighbor so they will also one day want to have it as their own.  And remember, one day, in the darkest hour of your life, perhaps when death is close, hordes of devils will test your armor; they will try to cause you to loose hope, but don’t worry because you are in the hands of your loving Father who has saved you from all of your fears, even sin, death, and all of the devils.  May this be so always for each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!