Posts Tagged ‘Sanctification’

Be Ye Holy!


Sunday, May 14th, 2017

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

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

You are holy!

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

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

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

What are those spiritual sacrifices?

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

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

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

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

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

We are holy!

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

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

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

So, be ye holy!

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

How’s Your Heart?

Monday, February 13th, 2017

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fight The Good Fight!


Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 2nd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

What is saving faith?

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

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

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

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

And Jesus knows.  Listen…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put off your old self!

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

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

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

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

So what is it that our faith must fight?

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Becoming a Christian

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But does Jesus really make no demands on us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The joy of salvation!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Marriage and Families

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let God Dress You!


Sunday, August 30th, 2015

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Agape You!

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Walking In The Light

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

12th Sunday in Pentecost-B, August 16, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” [Ephesians 5:15, 16]

What does it mean to walk in the light?  Well, the audio clip from our Service of Light liturgy that we just heard answers that question: “Jesus Christ is the Light of the World.”  So to walk in the light is to walk with Jesus and to be led by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

In or Old Testament lesson (Proverbs 9:1–10), the Light of Christ is personified as lady Wisdom, who has built her house with seven pillars.  The pillars represent the support of a structure, in this case the church, and the number seven signifies the completeness or sufficiency of God.

Wouldn’t you agree that one of life’s more enjoyable moments is when we get together with friends and family for a dinner? The Bible reminds us that there is a more important spiritual feast more needful than any physical food we can eat here on earth: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Wisdom invites us to feast on God’s Word—by going to church, attending Bible classes, reading and sharing the Word at home and with friends.

This morning, Wisdom is announcing that Her house of prayer and Worship is ready; God’s Divine Service is for all who respond.  She calls out from the highest point in the city, because God is not trying to hide His invitation. Wisdom also sends out her maids. These Words can’t help but remind us of Jesus’ parable of the king’s invitation to the wedding banquet for his son (Matthew 22:1–14). He sent out servants to invite people in. Both the maids and the servants might represent God’s ambassadors, both pastors and laypeople who go out with the glorious gospel invitation to anyone and everyone.

But to accept wisdom’s invitation, we must first admit that we need it, that we are among the “simple” and “those who lack judgment” (verse 4). Then we also need to follow through and taste of the banquet—“eat my food and drink the wine” (verse 5). “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves,” writes James. “Do what it says” (James 1:22). All this begins to take place in our lives when the Holy Spirit through the gift of faith shows us that we are sinners in need of Divine forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  But what of those who are invited, but refuse to attend?

The Mockers are also invited. Wisdom has called out and made appeals, prepared her house, and shown to all who come in what she has to offer. Now we see the two possible responses to that appeal—wisdom is either accepted or ignored.

The mocker rejects God’s wisdom. He belittles it and insults it. He calls it a crutch for the weak or foolishness or a waste of time. Jesus used a striking picture to illustrate this: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). In ancient Israel the unclean street dogs were nothing but scavengers. Pigs were unclean animals. Some wicked people simply will not listen to God’s Word. They despise it, mock it, trample all over it.

Moreover, a mocker will hate you for offering him constructive criticism. Don’t even bother trying, says Solomon.  Of course, we can’t prejudge anyone to be a mocker. Let’s not excuse ourselves from witnessing to others simply because some will reject it.  Sad to say, most people do reject wisdom’s invitation. Returning to Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast, the Lord ended the parable on this note: “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).

Who are the mockers of the faith?  I offer simply three examples, but wisdom tells us that there are many more that could be used as an illustration.

Think of the married man who begins to look at internet pornography, and sees nothing wrong with it.  Society and science claim that it is normal and natural for a man to have an active libido.  But Proverbs 5:18-23 in very intimate detail, encourages a man to remember the bride of his youth and not to chase after other beauty.  But this man, this married man is intent on getting what he wants, so he ignores God, embraces the world, and so becomes a mocker of God.

Think about the homeless man on the street that is of sound mind and was raised within a loving Christian family.  How did he get to such a low place?  Because he listened to the voice of folly and not of wisdom.  It started out with what society would call harmless recreational use of drugs.  But then one day he was introduced to Methamphetamine (Chrystal, Ice).  One hit was all it took, and from that point on he began his relentless race down into the rabbit hole chasing the dragon; longing to recreate the original high, that will never be.  He exchanged the truth for a lie; the Holy Spirit for and evil spirit.  Countless family and friends find him and plead with him to come off the streets and get help, but he refuses.  Why?  Because he has become a mocker of God.  He will not listen to the mighty voice of Wisdom, which pleads, “Do not get intoxicated with anything, for that is wickedness, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

And now finally think of the social butterfly, whose life is all about enjoying ever minute of that life.  They may even agree that it was God who gave them the gift of life, but they are so busy pursuing happiness that they very seldom take time out to thank Him for that gift.  Attending Sunday’s Divine Service or Bible Study is simply an inconvenience and a wasted opportunity to enjoy even more of what life has to offer.  These lost souls also are mockers of God.

But a wise man or woman isn’t like that. They gladly receive Wisdom’s invitation; they see a need for forgiveness, and they are open to the correction of God’s Word. By God’s grace, they have not been overcome by pride, and they still are not “above” rebuke, because they know that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  It is the key to Walking as a Child of the Light, Jesus Christ the light of the world which no darkness can overcome.

Children of The Light are you who will not allow the world to deceive you with empty words; words that are empty because they contradict the Word of God.  You will not follow the folly of the world because you know that it is the path of disobedience, which leads only to the wrath of God.  You too at one time, walked the path of disobedience, of darkness and folly.

But for you, Jesus Christ has overcome that darkness and placed you on the path of light and righteousness. In holy baptism, you were born into that light, the Light of the Lord, which no darkness can overcome.  It is this light alone that holds you secure within the kingdom of grace.  This light is all of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through the work of Jesus Christ.  It is a powerful light; a light that gives eternal life. As children of light you walk with your path illuminated by the Wisdom of God.  Being children of The Light, you cannot help but let your light shine in good works for the glory of God.  You were created in rebirth through the washing of the water and the word for this very purpose.  These good works are the very rays of light that shine forth and demonstrate to others just whose child you are.

Because you belong to the Light of the world, you walk within the wisdom of God.  You do not follow the opinion of the majority simply because they disagree with God.  In matters of eternal life and how you live your life, the majority does not rule, God does!

For we Christians who struggle to be Children of the Light, perhaps our greatest temptation is to revert back to the way of darkness.

We live in the midst of people who seem to make it their life’s ambition to cut themselves and others off from the light of God. Try telling them that darkness cannot produce fruit, and they will tell you metaphorically that they’ve developed an appetite for mushrooms, and hang around them long enough and you too will begin to desire that dark fruit!

As we interact and witness to these children of darkness we must remind them and ourselves that those who cut themselves off from Christ can never produce good works that will please God. Even the best works, which the world would call “good,” are sin. Association with darkness is clearly harmful, even detrimental to the Christian. How often do we take part in the unfruitful deeds of darkness? How often do we find ourselves doing shameful things when we cut ourselves off from the light, Jesus Christ, and from our fellow believers? In his first epistle, John says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1:7). Our fellowship with the Lord Jesus, and our fellowship with one another, is clearly important in our walk as children of the light.

Walking together as children of light is a critical witness to the light, Jesus Christ, in this world of darkness. Together we are strong, not easily tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, not easily pulled back into the darkness. First and foremost, in Christian love, our duty is to expose the deeds of darkness done by our own brothers and sisters in the faith. We confront one another in our sin, always with the goal of winning our brother or sister over and proclaiming Christ’s forgiveness.

Secondly, walking as children of light, we expose the deeds of darkness in the world. As the light of Christ shines upon the ungodly, we see the true nature of their deeds—death. It is our prayer that as the light of Christ shines on them, their eyes may be opened to this as well.

This morning, Wisdom calls.  The Light of the World has been revealed and it invites you to step into the path that it has shown, the path of wisdom unto eternal life. To enter into that wisdom, to have that insight, can make all the difference in the world concerning our attitudes and actions. Life depends not on our own wise or foolish efforts, but on the eternal wisdom of God who directs all things toward himself through his Son, Jesus Christ.  Wisdom said, “Come eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.” And in that eating, she promised life, if we will leave simple-ness and walk in the way of Christ.

Our Lord is more specific in our Gospel lesson (John 6:51–69), when he speaks of real life bound up with eating the flesh of the Son of man and drinking his blood.  Without it, there is no real life, only the illusion of life.

The very life of Christ in us depends on our taking Christ into ourselves…not just mentally, not just “turning our heart and life over to him,” but eating and drinking that which he offers — Himself.

Wisdom said, “Turn in here.” To make the change from simple-ness to wisdom, people have to change the direction they’re going. Well, in Christ Jesus, our God changed the direction in which humanity was going. The cross and empty tomb were the simple foolishness with which God has confounded the wise. God is so down to earth in his Son, that many could neither see nor believe that God would act in such a way.  Insight comes when we take the simple action of God and take the simple words of Jesus in faith: ‘This is my Body. This is my Blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” In those words, in this action, is bound up all that God did for us ragamuffins and scoffers in sending the Christ, in having Him teach us, in having Him die, in raising Him on the third day, in receiving Him into the heavenly realms to rule and reign over us. But it happens here…when we turn in and sit at the table.  AMEN!

The Lord Will Make You a House!

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Advent-B, December 21, 2014

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

Click here for audio of this message.

The song you just heard is of course the theme song from the T.V. show Cheers, and it is meant to be a mental hook for you to hang our message upon.  We really do want to be where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad we came.  Wouldn’t you like to be in that place where you can see that all of our troubles are really just the same, and that they all find resolution and are replaced with peace through the same means.  Well congratulations, you’ve arrived in that place; a house that the Lord has built for you and me.  Now I admit, that this place here has its issues; it has its problems, but nonetheless it is a place that the Lord has built; it is a place where He truly has called you and knows your name.  And because He knows your name, we all know you too; we know you and each other in the peace and love of Christ.

Now before you let your emotions get the best of you and you begin to feel let down, let me say that this place with all of its flaws, is just temporary, and it will soon be replaced by an eternal place that will renew your mind and free your soul to be all that God has created you to be.  But you’ll have to wait in this place for a while until God calls you to your new home.  So relax, take a load off of both your feet and heart and let me share God’s Word with you this morning.

In our Old Testament lesson this morning (2 Samuel 7:1–16), we see King David also longing for a place of peace; a sanctuary where God’s people would collectively and eternally know God’s house as a special place where God would forever reside with His people.  David wanted to build a temple, a house of God that would glorify God forever.  And God heard the heart of David, and He knew David was a man after His own heart, and He was pleased with David.  So God sent the prophet Nathan to David and said, “Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” [2 Samuel 7:4-7]

Here God is reminding David and us, that His name and His eminence are glorified with or without our help, after all He is the creator of us all.  Here God wants us to set our hearts on an important truth: It was and still is His work to teach us Who He is and how His name will be glorified among us.  This is the very reason that God traveled with His people in a tent, moving from place to place.  You see, the tent and the sanctuary that rested within it, were reminders that God is always with His children as their protector and redeemer.

And now God speaks this Word of remembrance to David, to both calm His fears and strengthen His faith: “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you.”  Here, God is asking David and us to look back at our lives and see the many twists and turns that have brought us here thus far and proclaim, “If it had not been for the Lord, I would be…!”

Here is one way that we can glorify God’s presence and eminence; by remembering His work and presence in our past.

But God must still speak faith and hope into both David’s heart and ours; He must not only remind  us of His work in the past but the work He promises to do in the future: “And I will make for you (David) a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.”

What is this undefined and continuous work that the Lord will perform to make David’s name greater than all other names on earth.  How will God create a place for His children of faith and plant them so securely that nothing may move nor destroy neither them nor their place?  But more than this, where will this place, which is both the house of David and the house of God be located at?

Certainly, we can read in God’s Word that the temple of the Lord would years latter be built by Solomon, the son of David.  Is this the house and the seed of David that God speaks of?  At first sight, yes, God kept His promise through David’s son Solomon.  But verse 16 of our reading warns us that God’s building and providential presence and care did not stop with Solomon nor the great temple that he built.  Listen: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ”. In other words, it will be eternal.

If it’s only through Solomon that the promise of God is fulfilled, then in the famous words of the Apollo mission, “Houston, we have a problem.”  And the problem is this, Solomon is dead and the bloodline of David is lost.  Further, the temple of Solomon was destroyed long ago, and the second temple of Herod was also obliterated as well.  Now what?  Now, God shows all of us through Whom and how this promise of providing a place and home for each of us is ultimately fulfilled.

In our gospel reading (Luke 1:26–38)we begin to understand how this prophecy is finally fulfilled: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”

Make no mistake, the angel Gabriel is speaking to both Mary and all of us this morning; he is explaining in the clearest and most simplest way how God will ultimately fulfill His promise made to both David and us; a promise of providing a home, a place for us where God both knows our name, and cares for us eternally.  God will raise up a physical son of David who is also the eternal Son of God.  All of this prophecy would occur without any help from men, and it will occur whether they wish to receive this mighty champion or not.  The name of this God-child explains both His person and His work.  He is called Jesus, which means, “the One through whom Jehovah brings salvation;” for it is this Jesus who will save His people from their sins. [Matthew 1:22]

This exalted Savior God, born of the virgin Mary, who is of the bloodline of David, is the fulfillment of the promise that God first made long ago to Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the garden of Eden.  The seed of the woman would now complete the promised work of God that would bring God’s children of faith back to the promise land of Eden now restored.  An eternal abode, where men and women may once again walk with God in the cool of the day in peace.

In a few short days we will gather again on Christmas Eve to celebrate and renew our joy centered around the birth of the God-child Jesus the Christ, through Whom alone comes the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring each of us home to a place that guarantees us an eternal peace with Him and each other.  And today, as we prepare and wait for our earthly celebration, we are led by faith to look past the earthly and perishable temple of Solomon and see the remaining and still standing presence of the eternal fulfillment of the promise.  God’s dwelling with men of faith did not cease at the destruction of the earthly temple in Jerusalem, but it has been realized and continues today and forever, in an amazing way through the coming of Jesus Christ, in Whom Jehovah came to be with His people.

He has come to us as our God who is the Logos, the very Word of God, who made our human flesh and our redeemed nature His eternal dwelling place.  God did all of this through the eternal glory of His only begotten Son.  We were reminded of this truth, when Jesus our Champion and Savior proclaimed in truth and in the power of God to those that planned to crucify Him, “Destroy this temple (the temple of His body), and in three days I will build it up again” (John 2:19). It is with this building up of the temple destroyed by the Jews, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that the complete and essential fulfillment of our promise of eternal life begins. And this promise continues through the temporary earthly body of Christ, which is the Christian church, which will one day soon, in God’s time be transferred into God’s Kingdom of Glory, where each of us will continue dwelling eternally with the Father and Son through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, who for now resides within each of the hearts of you who believe, that is have faith in the promises of God. [John 14:23; 1 Cor. 6:19]

But for now, we wait in these temporary temples made of flesh, as we gather together across the face of the earth in buildings made of wood and stone.  But we gather together always as the church of Jesus Christ, which is first and always, essentially a spiritual house of God, composed of living stones [1 Tim. 3:15, 1 Pet. 2:5; 2 Cor. 6:16, Heb. 3:6] And as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments, we are reminded that it is the promise of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ that gives us the ability to both wait and proclaim to all who will listen, “If it had not been for the Lord, I would be completely cut off from life and left hopeless.”

This morning, after hearing all of this work of God, His Holy Spirit continues to draw us deeper and deeper into a right relationship with Him through faith in His Son Jesus.  And as He leads us to reflect His love and forgiveness to our neighbors, even in times where love and forgiveness are the last thing we feel like offering, we will be moved like Mary to simply say, ““Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Can you be this strong?  Will you cooperate with the work of His Spirit?  Yes, you can and you will, if you will but remember the rest of the promise yet to be fulfilled.  The promise of Jesus that speaks these Words of comfort to you: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [John 14:1-3] A place of peace, a house prepared just for you by Jesus Himself; a place where God and everyone else knows your name and are glad you came.  AMEN!

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… AMEN!

Rejoice, Pray, and Give Thanks!

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

Third Sunday in Advent-B, December 14, 2014

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

Click here for audio of this message.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Isaiah 61:1]

You dear Christians know these Words well, don’t you?  Of course you do; it was your Lord who read them in the synagogue and added these additional gospel Words: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4:21]  In other Words, Jesus is telling us that this prophecy spoken first by Isaiah is ultimately fulfilled by the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  But do not diminish the importance of the prophet Isaiah, all other prophets, John the Baptist, the holy Apostles, and all faithful preachers and proclaimers of God’s Word, including this humble preacher who stands before you.

My earnest prayer is that God would train each of our hearts to hear His Word when faithfully proclaimed and know by faith that the preacher’s Words are really in fact God’s Word, and that the man addressing you is to be received as a scholar from God.  Speaking through the mouth of the preacher is not simply the voice of a thousand angels but Christ Himself declaring that God is present to bring into your hearts a message of true and lasting forgiveness of sins.  He is speaking to repair hearts that have been broken by other’s sin, to free you from the condemnation of the Law of God, and to free you from the accusations of guilt that come from your own conscience.  In other Words, this is your season of blessing and good favor from God Himself!

Isn’t this the one message that we sinners long to hear?  Isn’t it true that with out the work of Christ that sets us free from our sin and guilt, we in fact remain imprisoned by our own passions and lust for something that never seems to  complete us or fulfill us?  Don’t we all really just yearn to hear God say, “Your sins are forgiven”?  And this dear friends is exactly the message that God is bringing to you this morning.  You are forgiven!  If you will receive this message and work of Christ, then you will find that your ashes of failure have been replaced with the oil of gladness instead of mourning.  And instead of walking around like old “Sad Sack” in your dark and lonely attire, God has in fact clothed you in Christ’s own robe of righteousness, which for you is to be a garment of praise unto your God and Savior.

Now you may be wondering if all of this is true for you, and if so how it can be true.  And simply put, your answer is this: “It is the Lord Jesus work and it is marvelous in our sight!”  In your baptism, Christ planted you within His garden, within His kingdom to be a mighty oak of praise unto your God.  All who see you are to acknowledge you as the very offspring of God, a child who is highly favored and blessed.

You are here to rejoice in the Lord so that others will also be drawn into His year of favor and Kingdom of Grace.  But how?  The answer is in our Epistle reading (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24).

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”

Now, at first this might sound like just another demand of the Law of God; a demand that like all others is outside of our ability to complete.  You might hear it like this: Rejoice, don’t ever stop praying… ever, and don’t ever forget to say “thank you” to the Lord, or else!  But remember, God has sent me this morning to proclaim good news and to set you free from your fears of failure to measure up.  He has sent me to point out to you this part of the reading: “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Do you hear that?  It is God’s will, His desire that you be in a continuous spirit of prayer, that you offer up praise and rejoice in His presence, and that you be thankful in all things, and because it is His will for you He will make sure that you are able.  This morning it is my duty and privilege to proclaim to you that it is “He who began the good work in you  (who) will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:6]

Do you understand dear saints that it is not your responsibility to complete you in God’s holiness, but instead, it is the Lord’s work that completes you?  It is the work of the Holy Spirit, which since your baptism has dwelt in you richly in order to complete what was begun in your baptism.  And it is also the Holy Spirit’s work to ensure that you are in fact bearing the fruit of Christ’s cross.

From Christ’s passion upon the cross, your heart has been taken to the Font where you received that holy cleansing of the water and the Word, and from the Font, your hearts have been given the faith necessary to receive the Word of God as it comes directly from His heart and into yours.  And as this Word continues to sanctify, that is preserve you in faith and eternal life, you experience the work of the Holy Spirit, which gives you a spirit of joy.

Rejoicing in the Lord is a natural and consistent expression of one who has been forgiven much through Christ.  And because it is a work of the Holy Spirit, and not your own, it causes you to be filled with joy, a glad confidence in knowing that all things will work together for your good.  But the ugliness of this sinful world does its best to take our eyes of faith off of God’s own goodness through Christ, and for this reason, God has commanded you to call out to Him in prayer.

Prayer, that is the ability to speak directly to God at any given time, is a privilege given only to those who see a need for a Savior.   Those who scoff at the infant lowly, born in a manger and crucified upon the cross for the sins of the world, obviously see no need for a Savior; they have neither God’s ear nor heart when they pray.  Why?  Because prayer is a privilege given only to those who know that without Jesus, they are helpless and hopeless.  You see it is your ability to call out to God in prayer knowing that in Christ, you are never helpless and vulnerable, which empowers you to naturally produce another trait that God wills we Christians to have… a spirit of thankfulness.

Be thankful in all circumstances.  In other words be thankful in all things.  This does not mean that we are to be thankful for all things, because as we all no there is much evil in this world, but in the midst of the evil, we can be thankful that in Christ, all of God is right there with us. (Cancer, Illness, Addiction?)

One of the most difficult things that God’s Word asks us to do is to adjust to the many changes that happen in our lives.  But it becomes so much easier when we remember that He is right there with us in the midst of those changes.  And this is another reason why we must gather often to hear His Word proclaimed; we must be reminded constantly that because the God who delivered me from my sins through Christ is ever and always at work throughout life’s changes, then at the very least I can by faith be thankful to Him for the work He is doing to preserve me in the one true faith.

Thanksgiving, prayer, and rejoicing are God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  These three crisp words jump out at us not as a command, but as a description of the desire of God’s heart.  They are gifts of the Holy Spirit, that keep our hearts centered on the work of Christ’s cross and the promise of the resurrection, which is proclaimed through Christ’s empty tomb.  We must remind each other that because we are adopted children of God through Christ, we have been enable by God to live out holy lives and embrace the fullness of live that is ours by grace.  But even this too is a work of God, performed so that we might never quench the work of the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us until the day of Jesus Christ.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; that is may no nook or cranny of your life be left without the peace of God.  May He reign undisturbed in every portion of your being, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it, and it can be done in no other way.  AMEN!