Posts Tagged ‘Sanctification’

Great is Our God!

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So do you not know? Have you not heard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

Baptism of Our Lord B, January 7, 2017
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Romans 6:1-11 and Mark 1:4-11

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“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” [Mark 1:9]

Every year the church celebrates the baptism of our Lord, and every year we answer a simple question: “Why was Jesus baptized?”  This year we will rephrase the question a little differently, “Why was Jesus baptized for you?”

Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan River to be washed.

That is what the word baptize literally means; it is a washing.  Whether you splash, sprinkle, or immerse, you are washing or baptizing.  So what kind of washing is baptism?  Well for each of us, baptism is a spiritual washing, where the old creature within us is drowned every day.  We learn from personal experience that we need to drown that old sinful nature every day, because, well it sins every day.  But there’s another part of living out our baptism, and that is turning to Jesus every day for forgiveness and renewal.  In this way of God, every day our new identity, a new person rises up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  Or as St. Paul puts it in our Epistle reading, “We were buried with Christ through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we, too, are to walk in a new life.” [Romans 6:4]

But what sins did Jesus need washed away?  None, He was, is, and always will be Holy, perfect, and righteous.  But in His baptism, He announced publicly, for the first time, that He who knew no sin, had come to become sin for us… for you!  So, in a sense, when He entered the waters of the Jordan he was clean, but when He left, He was drenched and soaked with not just your sins, but indeed the sins of the world. 

In exchange for your sins, Jesus would spend the next three years of His life obediently walking to the cross, where He would suffer and die.  On Good Friday, every one of your sins that He took upon Himself would be paid for with His very life.  Think about that, all of your sins have been locked within the only place that God refuses to see, the tomb of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ! 

But the tomb isn’t where Jesus work for you ends, no it ends in His resurrection!  In His resurrection, His rising from the dead, Jesus won eternal life for all sinners; He created a way back to paradise!  This is what we might call a happy exchange.

Now I know that for many of you this is the very best news you could hear, but for others this is just foolishness! 

For some they would call this exchange a ridiculous exchange, because to them, it’s just foolish!  And that’s always the way it is for those who are just fine with their sin or struggling to make up for their sinfulness in their own way.  They refuse to acknowledge that God’s ways are right and their ways are not just wrong, they’re evil! 

They can’t understand that when God chooses to use the simple things that are foolish and weak in the world’s eyes, He does it to shame sinners (1 Corinthians 1:18-30); He chooses to shame them so that they might see their sin-filled and lost condition, and then receive God’s gift of life as a happy exchange.  He wants everyone to see that the life and death of Jesus reveals both the ultimate love of God for sinners and His eternal punishment for those who will not turn to Jesus as the only cure for their sin.  It’s God’s will that each and every sinner would see that while foolish men did their best to put Christ away in the tomb, He came back to life so that He could free even them from their existence as a sinner.  He came back to give them and us new life!

So what is it that prevents so many people from embracing this happy exchange?  Well, certainly it’s their sin, but it’s also our sinful society.  If there’s one thing that this old world teaches us, it’s that there are always strings attached; nothing is as good as it sounds; there is always a catch!

That’s what a young wife and mother thought back in 1997, when a woman called her home and said that she had won a brand new Ford, Mustang convertible.  Upon hearing the good news, the lucky winner answered, “I didn’t enter any contest and I’m not interested!”   She hung up the phone and told her husband that it was a salesperson with another come-on trying to sell a car.  Well a few seconds later, the phone rang again and this time the husband answered.  The woman on the other end said quickly and nervously, “Sir, please don’t hang up; I know you didn’t enter a contest but you really won a car.”  The husband asked, “And just how did we win?”  She began to explain that several months ago, his wife applied for a Von’s shopping card, and every time she used it to get the “Von’s discount” she was entered into the contest to win a car.  She also explained that there was nothing they needed to do, but simply show up at the nearest Von’s store to get their certificate and instructions on how to redeem it for a new Mustang.  Wow!  The family became loyal Von’s shoppers after that.

In a way, that is what this happy exchange is like.  You didn’t do anything to enter and win eternal life, God just put your name in those waters at the Jordan; God had you soaked into Jesus’ very flesh.  On Good Friday, Jesus had your name on His mind and in his heart as he suffered and died upon the cross, and on Easter Sunday He proclaimed you and the whole world as the winners!  But announcing this gift to the whole world and assuring you of this gift personally are two different things, aren’t they?  If you don’t hear about the victory, how can you claim it?  So God has to notify you personally, and He does this very thing through the preaching and sharing of His Word! 

In His Law, God shows each of us clearly that we are sinful and in need of His work of recreation, and in His gospel He assures you that your sins really have been paid for through Jesus death.  And through this same gospel Word He promises that in your baptism you’ve received a new identity; you are a saint!  This morning God is reminding you that He has chosen you!  In your baptism, He took that very Word of salvation and applied it to you in the washing of the water and the Word!  Jesus died for you, have you received it?  Even now, God is equipping you to open your heart and receive His gift; to receive His promise that through Christ Jesus you are saved!

Now some people will think that this offer from God is just foolish, and they’ll want to hang up on God’s offer, and that will be the end of it.  And others, well they’ll be wondering how it can be that simple.  They will doubt and want to hang onto their old life, but that’s only because they can’t see the beauty and the love in God’s offer. 

Listen friends, God wants you to give to Him all of your sins, the things your ashamed of; He wants your hurts and disappointments too.

He wants all of the pain that people in your life have caused you.  He wants the bitterness from your broken marriage and the misery of your past and present addictions.  He wants to take away the emptiness you feel from the loss of a loved one. He wants the fear and worry that consumes you as you struggle to find a way to feed your family and pay your bills.  How does He do all of this?  By teaching you to rest in your relationship of love with Him that comes through the washing of the water and His Word.

In Jesus baptism, He points us to our own baptism.  In Jesus, all wrongs are made right, and death is left behind for life.  Through the cross and the waters of our own baptism, Jesus is asking each of us to follow Him.  He’s asking us to follow Him in faith and trust that all things will work for our good, simply because we’re resting in His work and trusting in God’s love for us!  In this happy exchange, Jesus takes our old sinful nature and He crucifies it on the cross; He drowns it in the waters of our own baptism and He seals it away in the tomb.  And all that He asks of us is that we rest in and trust this work that was done for us!

Last week, I asked a very simple question several times throughout our message, and it was this: “Who are you?”  Well this morning, I would like to answer that question again, so that you will see the need to receive and rest in this happy exchange.  You are God’s own child through the work of Jesus Christ alone, and that identity was given to you in your baptism.  In baptism you were joined in Christ’s death, where He buried your old sinful nature once and for all.  So quit digging up the bones of that old no good sinner!  Instead of digging him up and letting him take the joy out of your salvation, spit on his grave and remind him that he’s dead.  And then remind yourself that not only were you joined in death with Jesus you were also joined with Him in life.  In your baptism Jesus raised you to a new life, a new identity.  Christ victory over sin, death, and the devil is your victory!  Your old sinful nature, your old life and sins were crucified with Jesus once and for all in your Baptism.  So because that old nature is dead, it’s no longer that nature living but Jesus nature; your new nature.  And that new nature by faith simply rests in Jesus and follows His nature, as God’s Word reshapes you into the very image of His Son!

Dear friends, in Christ you are all winners if you will but receive the gifts Jesus gives to you.  What gifts does Jesus give?  Well first and foremost He gives you forgiveness of all your sins, past, present, and future.  But He also gives you faith to receive this gift everyday as you fight to put to death your old sinful nature.  Every day, God’s Word reminds us that not only did our sinful nature die on the day of our baptism, but with God’s Spirit we are taught to put it to death every day for the rest of our lives as we follow Jesus in the crucified life, where we live out our baptism.  This is the result of Jesus living in us and among us. 

Listen friends, when the world, the devil, and our own conscience accuse us of being weak, inconsistent and ineffective; when we begin to doubt God’s gift of forgiveness and peace, let’s allow His Word and the family of God to pick us back up in forgiveness, and together let’s loudly proclaim to the devil and this sinful world, “I am baptized into Christ!”  So you see, it’s not about you, it’s about the finished work of Jesus on the cross for you.  To God be the glory for the great things He has done for us and in us through Jesus Christ… AMEN!

Rejoice, Give Thanks and Pray!

Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Third Sunday in Advent-B, December 17, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Isiah 61:1-11

“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 His work as the Son of God. But do not diminish the importance of the prophet Isaiah, all other prophets, including 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.

God 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]. And as others see God completing this work in you, as you live a life centered in thanks and praise to God, others will see and be amazed.

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 daily 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 know 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, Homelessness?)
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 life 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!

Don’t Cross-out the Cross!

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 3, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Good Seed and the Solid Rock

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost-A, July 23, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kingdom Sowing and Kingdom Reaping

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, July 16, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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

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

This story is about God in this way.

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

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

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

And now this is where you come in…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Ye Holy!

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

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

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 and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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

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!