Posts Tagged ‘Sanctity of Life’

Sunday, January 21st, 2018
3rd Sunday in Epiphany B, January 21, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Mark 11:4-20

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“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” [Mark 1:15]

What does a traveling preacher with a divine call and one of the most sinful cities known to man have in common? Both were separated from God because of their sins, and both heard God’s invitation to turn to Him for forgiveness and faith, and they did; both are examples of repentance!

Many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah.

God ordered him to go to one of Israel’s arch enemies and announce the need to repent or be destroyed. Jonah threw a fit; he didn’t want them to repent, he wanted them to be destroyed, so he booked passage on the nearest freight ship intending to get as far away from Nineveh as possible. Why? Because he knew the LORD “is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” In other words, he knew that if his enemy repented God would even love and forgive them! Isn’t that something? At the expense of his own salvation, Jonah refused to play a part in bringing salvation to an entire city.

Well, eventually Jonah did repent, but it took the help of an angry boat crew who threw him overboard and the God directed presence of a big fish or whale, that swallowed him and safely spit him up at the shores of the very place he was trying to run from… Nineveh! Through God’s work in the circumstances of Jonah’s life, Jonah was put back on course for Nineveh and salvation; he returned to the call and will of God.

Now if you think that was miraculous, what about the entire city of Nineveh repenting? That’s huge! Christians throughout our nation have been praying for that to happen right here in the good old US of A, and well, it hasn’t happened yet! Abortion is still legal, even though God say’s it is an evil abomination. So if we as a nation haven’t repented yet, then what happened to save Nineveh? Well, it was the very same thing that caused Jonah to repent; the Word and work of God.

The people of Nineveh heard the Word of God, both the law and the gospel. The law was the Word of truth that the Living God was angry with their sin and about to destroy their entire city. The gospel was the truth that this same living God was giving them 40 days to repent, to turn and confess their sinfulness and receive mercy and forgiveness. Through both the law and the gospel, God created faith in a city full of faithless hearts. In the darkness of sin, He created a city of light! Could that happen in this country? Could we ever repent of the sin of abortion? Yes, but only through the work of God causing us to repent and turn to His forgiving love!

So what is repentance?

Really it’s a person’s pain over their sins and a turning of faith to a God who will show mercy and forgiveness. It’s realizing that everything that you’ve done apart from God and faith in Him, is nothing but evil and darkness. Everything?! Yes, everything! God’s Word confirms it, listen: “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one!” [Romans 3:10—12]

Do you understand what that means? It means that no matter how hard you try to change your life, to become a better person, you will never succeed in pleasing God! Why? Because God can see into your heart; he knows that whatever you do or try to do will be self-serving; that is you will only be trying to save your own skin! Just as it didn’t matter if the whole city of Nineveh voted and decided to take care of the poor with their vast amount of wealth, God was still going to destroy not just the city but everyone who lived in it! Even if they decided to never make war again, and even if they freed every one of the slaves from every country they ever conquered, God was going to destroy them, unless… unless they confessed that they deserved His punishment and acknowledged that the true and Living God was the only one who could save them.

But this work of repentance, this one work that was pleasing to God was impossible for them to do, unless… unless God desired it to happen. And here is the miracle, God did desire that very thing, so he created faith in the hearts of all of those sinful people through the preaching of Jonah; He created faith so they could see the truth about their sins and turn to the LORD who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. When they turned to God’s forgiving heart He relented from bringing down punishment for their many sins.

Now, there are some here this morning who are in the very same predicament as the people of Nineveh.

You’ve been living a lie; you’ve been telling yourself that if you try real hard to live a good life, God will see that and help you to be better. But like I said, that’s a lie. You have to see, like the people of Nineveh had to see that you can’t do better; you can never get rid of all of the evil that is in your heart. You can’t erase all of the sins you’ve committed and you can’t prevent the sins you’re going to commit. So what are you going to do? Nothing but the only good work that God counts as righteous; you must by faith turn to God and confess that He is right and you are wrong. You must call out to God for mercy and pardon and do what He tells you!

And that friends is the obstacle you can never overcome unless God wills it; unless He creates faith within your heart to see this narrow doorway into His kingdom of forgiveness and peace. It’s like the little boy who got His hand stuck in His mother’s expensive vase. His parents tried everything to free him; they tried soap, cooking oil, lard, even engine grease, but nothing worked. Reluctantly, the father went to the garage to get a hammer to break this expensive vase. It was then, when the boy asked one simple question that changed everything: “Dad, would it help if I let go of the quarter I dropped into the vase?”

And that is what some of you need to do this morning. You need to let go of your own efforts to please God and do the one and only thing that will please God… you must trust Him. You need to hear Him speaking to you this morning and let go of the ways of this sinful world and turn to His forgiving heart and be freed, changed, forgiven, and loved! You need to agree with God that you can’t change yourself, and that your only hope is for you to allow Him to change you!

In our gospel lesson this morning, God’s only means of salvation is made to stand right in front of us and speak the only Word’s that will make us right with God!

“The time is fulfilled” Jesus said, “and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” What time is he speaking of? The time when God will bring both judgment and salvation. The time that everyone, including the evil city of Nineveh was waiting for… the time of God’s final work; God’s solution to sin. It is the time to repent and believe. Believe in what? Well, the better question is: Believe in Who? You see the what and the who are the very same thing. Believe in the good news of God’s forgiving love; believe in the Living Word of God Who is telling you that through Him alone, God will forgive you and save you from your many sins! Believe in Jesus Christ!

As Jesus spoke to the people in Galilee, He not only proclaimed God’s forgiveness, He demonstrated it. Standing before them was God in human flesh; their only means of forgiveness and salvation. What must they do to be saved? The very same thing we must do; hear the Words of eternal life and receive them. Repent and believe. Even now, God is working within our hearts to provide faith, faith to receive this message and live. Jesus is inviting you to let go of your past and to receive your future.

Listen to this poem by Theodore Brennan and see if it doesn’t describe your life and your heart as well: “I looked upon a farm one day, that once I use to own; The barn had fallen to the ground, the fields were overgrown. The house in which my children grew, where we had lived for years—I turned to see it broken down, and brushed aside the tears. I looked upon my soul that day to find it too had grown, with thorns and nettles everywhere, the seed(s) neglect had sown. The years had passed while I had cared for things of lesser worth; the things of Heaven I let go while minding things of earth. To Christ I turned with bitter tears, and cried, “O Lord forgive! I haven’t much time left for Thee, not many years to live. The wasted years forever gone, the days I can’t recall; if I could live those days again, I’d make Him Lord of all!”

Friends, if that is how you feel, then God is working a mighty work in your heart right now. That pain you feel over your wasted life, your sinful life is called contrition. Now the only thing left for you to do is hear God’s gospel Word and receive His forgiveness. You are forgiven! Leave those feelings of regret behind and turn to Jesus Christ and live. You see, it’s not about what you feel, or even how you felt in the past, instead it’s about what God says to you now… you are forgiven through Jesus Christ!

You know, we’re all a lot like Jonah when you think about it. We have been forgiven and loved by God. We’ve been washed clean in the waters of our baptism, and yet we can get caught up in our own anger and disappointments to the point where we can no longer see Jesus upon the cross crucified for us. We can sometimes get to a place where we no longer see the miraculous life giving work God did for us in our baptism.

And now, here is Jesus standing before us in His Word, saying to even we life-long Christians, “Repent and believe.” Put to death that old angry and sinful nature that was drowned in your baptism and turn to God’s forgiving love; a love which can only be yours by turning to Jesus. That was the only work that the people of Nineveh could do that pleased God and it is the only work that we as Christians can do.

When you let go of how you feel, and grab onto Jesus and His Word and believe that He alone is your source of hope and salvation, something amazing begins to happen… you begin to change. The good things that you use to wish you could do but failed become the very things you can do. And as you do these good things, God begins to give you right feelings to replace your old feelings of guilt, anger, and disappointment. He gives you a feeling of peace and satisfaction, as you realize that it isn’t you doing these good things, but God doing them in you and through you! That’s the message that saved all of Nineveh from their sins, it’s the message that’s saving you, and it’s the message that can save even our great nation from the sins of abortion and many others. All it takes is turning to God in repentance and receiving His forgiving love as we forget the sins of the past and embrace God’s will.

So you see, it really isn’t about what you feel, but it’s about what you know. And what is it that you know? In God there is forgiveness; there is new life when you receive Jesus’ work upon the cross, His suffering, death, and resurrection, as your only source of hope and peace in this life and the life to come. I pray that you will hear Jesus message of repentance and not just believe it but share it with your neighbors. I pray that you will let this forgiveness of God cause you to be salt and light, as you continue to speak the things of God even to your elected officials, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

What Are You Seeking?

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Epiphany 2A, January 15, 2017
Sanctity of Life Sunday
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

WMLTThis morning, Jesus turns to each of us and asks us, “What are you seeking?” [John1:38] I know that you are seeking something, because that is the fate of us all. We are born into this life seeking something greater and stronger than ourselves. And within this natural state of seeking, this world that surrounds us and desires to mold us gladly tells us what we should seek. And what is it that we are told to seek? Something, anything that makes us happy, fulfills us, and gives us a sense of self worth.

When we are born we simply seek food in our bellies and a dry diaper. As we become a little older we seek to learn and know as much a we can about our family, school, and neighborhood. And still we grow, and our desires, the things we seek grow as well. We desire to be popular; to fit in. We may discover things like academics, sports, music, alcohol, drugs, sex, and status fit the bill, and still we seek something more; always seeking and never really knowing what it is that will fulfill us. Why is that? Because…

We have a big problem that keeps getting in our way… sin! 

Because of our sin, we do not love as we should, and we do not fear God as we must.  You could say that as well intentioned as we may be, by nature we are sinful and unclean; we are disobedient to the core!  We seek things that please ourselves and not God or others. So what is the solution?

We must be overtaken by the true obedient servant of God; that is the Son of God must come to us, redeem us and teach us every day what it means to be redeemed, that is saved from our sins.

In our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 49:1-7), we are allowed to enter into a conversation between God the Father and the Son of God, who for us men and for our salvation, came to us as Jesus Christ, to be one of us in order to save us from our sins, and teach us what obedience to the will of God is.

So many people will willingly confess Jesus Christ as their Savior and God, but moments later, they’ll go about living their lives as they see fit, and not how God demands.  They will jump on board of whatever social idea is popular, just to avoid being singled out and being forced to defend their faith and the truth of God’s Word.

Today is national Right to Life Sunday.  You have a wonderful hand-out that you can take home and read, and perhaps consider supporting with your time, talent, or treasure.  It is a cause that is Biblical and clear.  Life begins at conception.  But that is not what society says.  And what do they say?  Well, the truth is they can’t agree when life begins.  So instead of having a real discussion on the matter, a discussion that we Christians want to be part of, they simply cite a Supreme Court ruling (Roe v. Wade), and they claim that the unborn child is part of the pregnant woman’s body, just as her breasts are part of her body.  And just as we’ve see recently in the news, that there are women of high profile and great wealth who are having their breasts surgically removed because of a high propensity to acquire breast cancer, so we too, see women aborting their pregnancy because there is an even higher propensity that these children if born, will change their lives forever.  We all know the arguments for having an abortion, so there is no need to bring them up this morning.  No, what we need to hear is what God thinks about these unborn children.  So what does He say?

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, we see a couple of things right off the bat: God calls children from the womb and God knows them by name; they are His servants.

Now, some may be thinking, “Hold on just a minute there pastor; that Old Testament lesson is talking about Jesus, the Son of God.” 

And to that, I will say, “Congratulations, you are one step closer to seeing things God’s way.”  Yes, that scripture is about the Servant of God, the Son of God, but it is also about Jesus, the Son of Mary.  Born of a woman and suffered on this earth as all of us know suffering and pain.  Why is that important?  Remember that I told you that because of our sin, one of our biggest problems is disobedience?  Well, Jesus did not have that problem; He was obedient even at the expense of His life. And it is this same Jesus who asks you once again, “What is it you are seeking?”

Now to help us understand what we really are seeking, Jesus as the Obedient Servant in our Old Testament lesson says, “Listen” and the next Words He speaks are “pay attention.”  Who is the Son of God talking to?  He is talking to everyone who is far away from God.  He is talking to us because we have a sin problem!  Aside from the call He received within the womb of His mother, He tells you how His flesh was created; it was created to give witness to God through the words of His mouth.  Words that were like sharpened swords.  Have you ever heard the saying, “The truth hurts?”  God’s truth, which is the Law is suppose to hurt!  In fact, it is suppose to kill.  You are suppose to hear what God says about sin and agree that He is right and that you and society are wrong, and then God wants you to hear and receive His solution to your sin problem.

The solution of course is God’s obedient servant Jesus Christ, who exchanges His obedience for your disobedience.  To the world, this Servant of God was on a fool’s errand.  And as proof they will point you to the servants own words in verse 4: “I have labored in vain (that is for no purpose); I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity”.  That is what the world believes, and for a moment that is how Jesus felt as He hung upon the cross between to criminals and experienced for the first time in eternity His separation from the Father and the Spirit.  So painful was the separation that He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  But Jesus knew why He was forsaken; He was forsaken for you.  His cry should rightly be your cry, because of your great sins and your continued disobedience.  But shortly after His cry of fear and pain, we hear Him speak the gospel, the hope of sinners and gentiles.  “It is finished.” Their debt of sin has been paid in full. “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

Here, in this moment of death, Jesus the Christ, points your eyes of faith to God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and He shows you what you must seek.  And then He calls for you to look upon His agony and death and see Him as the Father’s only Son, your Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”  But why?

So that you would understand these next words from our Old Testament reading: “What is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.  And now the Lord says—He who formed me in the womb to be His servant to bring Jacob back to Him and gather Israel to Himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—He says, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant (and only) restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles (that is all disobedient sinners) that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

So Jesus “descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

Now, hear a Word that is simultaneously both Law and Gospel.  You will be judged!  If you find your peace and happiness in this willfully sinful world, which is outside of the Obedient Servant’s grace, you will know only eternal damnation, that is separation from God forever.  But because your eyes of faith are continually fixed upon the cross of Jesus, the Servant who alone is obedient, even unto death, you are saved.  You are judged one with Jesus.

Jesus is your light, your source of hope and peace with God because He alone has taken away your sins, and in your baptism He has washed you clean and made you right with God the Father, His Father and now yours.  Jesus is your Redeemer.  You who were once sold into sin as it’s slave are free.  You, who once knew only eternal misery because of your bondage, now know by faith that the sinless Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, has even taken away your sin.  Because of the Lamb of God, the Obedient Servant, you now have peace with God.  You lack nothing!

Just a Jesus invited the first apostles to follow Him with the Words, “Come and see,” so too, you have been called out of darkness into the wonderful gospel light of grace.  As God ensured that you would hear and keep on hearing the message of the Gospel, which alone is the light for all gentiles, He now asks you to throw in with that work.  He has called you to be a witness.  A witness is nothing more than one who reports what He has experienced.  He speaks the truth, even if the truth hurts, but He speaks the truth in love.

Yes, we are all witnesses, but we are also ambassadors.  We are to speak the message that God declares to the gentiles who are lost in sin.  What is that message?  Repent, that is turn to God and know His forgiving love.  Know that there is no sin so great that God can not nor will not forgive through His grace, which is yours through Jesus Christ, if you will not reject it.

This grace, this fullness of life is for all people, even the unborn; and mystery of mysteries, even for the unborn who have been aborted and their mothers who still grieve over that decision.  God knows each of us, even in our darkest moments, even in our mother’s womb.  He knows and He loves us all with an abundant love through Jesus Christ.  None of us deserve this love, and none of us will ever be able to live up to the standard of this love, but it does not mean we won’t try.  When we look at the birth, life, and death of Jesus, the Son of God, we can also see our lives knitted right into His.  We remember that the Lord looks beyond appearances, and He asks us to do the same.  As we listen to or read His Word, He tells us always about His Obedient Servant who was despised and abhorred by society.  And He tells us that His servant was also our Servant, and His service has become ours.  He reminds us that things are not what they seem to be.

Today Christ’s church faces frustration and what appears to be failure. 

Our membership declines and society is more hostile than ever to those who speak God’s truth.  All of our witnessing and effort seems to be done in vain.  We know that we are not innocent in regards to blame; things we have done and even the many things we have left undone have contributed greatly to the apparent failure of the church.  We have not been that city on a hill, that bright light unto the gentiles.  Yet, we are reminded that just as we are, we lack nothing in regards to God’s gifts of grace, which are ours through God’s Obedient Servant, because we are the body of Christ!
Together, we testify to God’s salvation as His wounded and scarred body, which is often rejected and scorned.  But we know that our labor, the giving of our time, talent, and treasure is not in vain.  We know that just as God the Father was faithful to His servant Jesus and raised Him from the dead, so too we live and bear witness to this gospel hope for us in Christ alone.

May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit keep us in this great epiphany hope, the mystery hidden for ages but now revealed through Christ Jesus our Lord… AMEN!

Mind Your Calling

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Epiphany 2-B, January 18, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.TLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

Have you ever had to deliver some bad news to someone?  Take just a moment to think about that question; maybe you’ve been a supervisor and you had to let someone go, or perhaps you were in a relationship that you felt was not God pleasing and you knew you had to cut it off before it developed into something sinful.  Now let me pose another question; have you ever been the recipient of some bad news?  Maybe from a doctor or a policeman?  How did you feel?

Well this morning’s message gives us not just examples of “bad news” but also good news.  We will use all three readings to look at God’s call to sinners such as us.  First in our Old Testament lesson (1 Samuel 3:1-20) we will see how God called and used a young boy named Samuel to give some bad news to his mentor and teacher Eli, and then in our Gospel lesson (John 1:43-51), we will see how Jesus’ call to Nathaniel used both the law and the gospel to bring faith, and finally we will look at our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), which will teach us how to apply all of God’s Word as we live out our lives within our calling as Christians within Christ’s church and our communities.

God equips those He calls. If you were the young boy Samuel, and you heard someone calling your name, do you think that you would immediately know that it was the Lord?  I don’t see how you could if you did not know what the Lord’s voice sounded like; if you didn’t know how to separate His voice from all of the other voices in this world.  That was Samuel’s challenge, and it is still ours today.

Samuel was called on three separate occasions during the night, and each time he went to the man that he loved and trusted, thinking that it was Eli who called him.  After the third incident, Eli who was Samuel’s teacher realized that Samuel was encountering the voice of God, and like any good teacher of the church, he instructed the boy to wait on the Lord to call again, and then simply respond to God with these words, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  And that is exactly what the boy did, and oh my, did the Lord ever speak.

It was a frightening message of God’s Law, which promised that the old priest Eli and his family would be punished because of Eli’s poor parenting and his son’s sins.  Now imagine if you were that young boy Samuel, would you want to tell the one you loved like a father that bit of bad news?  But Eli recognized that what God had told the boy was not pleasant, but he also knew that what ever God’s says is ultimately for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.  So Eli continues as the faithful teacher and says, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And (Eli) said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”

When Martin Luther was a student at the University of Erfurt, he found a copy of the Bible in the school library. As he paged through Scripture, he happened upon these very words.  When he came to the 10th verse, he began wishing that he could be like Samuel and hear the voice of God! But years latter after reading all of God’s Word, Luther discovered that on the pages of the Bible, God really does speak to all of us, just as he once spoke to Samuel.  Like Samuel, Luther, and countless others, when we read God’s Word, we too hear Him speak.  And when we hear, we are to simply say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  We are to listen and agree that God is right and we are wrong.

In Samuel’s and Luther’s day, “the word of the Lord was rare,” and so it is in ours as well.  People have little interest in hearing what God has to say. And because of that, “there are not many visions.”

No greater judgment can fall upon a nation of people than when God’s Word and voice become rare. When people do not appreciate the gospel, God often takes it from them. Do you understand that by your repeated neglect of God’s Word you can bring about a famine of God’s Word?  Will you hear Him speak even more today?  If so, then let us examine…

The Call of Nathaniel. In Nathaniel’s call wee see both God’s Law and the good news of the Gospel.  “Come and see!”  All who have tasted and seen that the Lord’s goodness is truly present and given through Jesus Christ, will agree that those are the sweet invitation of the gospel.  Andrew and Peter knew of that goodness because another great teacher of the church, John the Baptist informed them.  And Jesus desired that Nathaniel would know the sweetness of this invitation too.  So Andrew, overwhelmed with joy seeks out Nathaniel and says,  “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, (the Messiah) Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  And how does Nathaniel respond?  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Have you ever tried to share you faith with someone, only to have him or her ridicule you for it?  They throw up one barrier after another to avoid the real issue behind the invitation of faith.  Why?  Because if your witness is true, then there really is a God who knows all things, and if that is true then that means I’ve been found out; it means I will have to change the way I think and the way I live.

So how did Andrew respond to Nathaniel’s challenge to his witness of Jesus?  He simply said, “Come and see.”  And wonder of wonders Nathaniel did that very thing!

What we must remember is that our gospel invitation to others is really the Lord’s call through us.  It is a call to come and experience both God’s truth in the Law, which shows us our sins, and His truth of the gospel, which shows us that our sins have been pardoned; taken away as far as the east is from the west.

When Jesus saw Nathaniel and the others approaching He said to the men, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.”  Now I don’t know how you read this, but I kind of hear sarcasm in the voice of Jesus; sarcasm directed at Nathaniel’s earlier sarcastic question that asked, “Can any thing good come from Nazareth.”  I think that Nathaniel picked up on that sarcasm too, and that is why he asked, “How do you know me?”  And to that, Jesus answers: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Whoa!  Don’t you kind of wonder what it was that Nathaniel now knows by faith that Jesus saw him doing?  Was it something done in private that he would have been embarrassed to have been seen doing in public?  Maybe, we don’t know, but what ever it was it so rattled Nathaniel that he quickly replied, “Rabbi, you (really) are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

And just like that, another sinner is brought into the Kingdom of Grace by faith; faith which came by the hearing of the Word of God, the message from and about Jesus Christ.  Now if that was all we had in or message this morning, I suppose that would be enough, but that is not all of our message.  Jesus is still speaking to both Nathaniel and us, and He says, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  In other Word’s, “Because you heard my Word and it both smashed your prideful heart and then rebuilt it in hope, you think you have heard and seen enough, but the truth is brother you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Wait until you see me high and lifted up on the cross, suffering and dying for the sins of the world.  Wait until you discover that after three days dead, my tomb is empty and I have come back to life to teach you even more mysteries.  Wait until I give you the power and authority to do the very same thing when you speak my Word and apply it with simple elements like water, wine, and bread.  Wait until you realize that just as I died and was resurrected, so too will you and all others who hear my Word.” And this is what we call…

The work or the call of Christs church. But some may counter that the work or mission of the church is happening in a much different world than ever before.  They will say that there are challenges that face us today that the apostles or even Luther did not have to encounter.  And to that I will simply present our Epistle reading and say… really?

St. Paul wrote this letter in an attempt to correct both the thinking and the teaching of a church in Corinth that seemed bogged down in a philosophy of libertinism.  All things were permissible as long as you have Christ.  Many scholars believe that the good Christians of Corinth grabbed one of Paul’s teachings, which stated that Christians were free of the condemnation of the Law of God and ran with it; they ran to the obvious conclusion… any thing goes!

Does anything go?  Is your body simply an amusement park that you can use as you see fit?  Is flesh, human flesh really unimportant when compared to our eternal destiny?  Paul answers with a resounding, no!  What you do with your body matters to God, because the body, that is human life belongs to Him alone.

On this Sunday that we celebrate the sanctity of human life, we do so in the midst of these Words of Paul: The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?

Of course you know this, but the world outside of this sanctuary does not.  They do not see that a very young child like Samuel can be used in a very powerful way by God.  They do not understand that there is a God who sees everything we do, and yet he still loves us, forgives us, and calls us to faith in His Son who died that they might have life.

All around us are people who live very promiscuous lives that seem to be centered around sex, drugs, and … well you get the point.  They do not realize that their bodies are not their own, but rather they are the Lord’s, bought with a dear price; with His very life blood.  In what ever station we find life it is the Lord’s.  Whether that life is unborn, very young, very old, healthy, or gravely ill, our bodies, each and everyone of them belong to the Lord!  Life is a gift of God, and it ceases to live and move and find it’s being in this world only when God calls it to the next eternal one.

The gift of sex between a man and a woman is given liberally and freely by God within the relationship of husband and wife, so that if it is God’s will, an even greater gift can be given, the gift of life!  This is God’s will and it is the teaching of His Holy Word.  The church is not to alter it nor remove it, but like all other messages of God we are to receive it even if it is unpopular; even if there is a part of us, that does not agree with it.  We are simply to admit that God is right and we are wrong.  But this is not as easy as some may think; it is not easy because our culture will not receive this message.  They will call us bigoted and unloving.  And when this is done, we demonstrate the exact opposite.  We accept them as they are and we love them enough to continue calling them to repentance and faith through the same Word of God that called out to Samuel, the people of Corinth, and Nathaniel and each of the apostles.

God’s Word is never easy to share; it is not easy because it confronts men and women in the midst of their sins.  But it becomes easy after sinful men allow God to work through His Word, and then agree with Him that they are dead and lost in their sinful choices; it becomes easy because it is then when the gospel can be spoken and heard, and new life through the forgiveness of sins can be given.

While it is true that God hates what today’s society calls recreational sex, because it is outside the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman who become one flesh, it is also true that He is slow to anger and quick to forgive when repentance and forgiveness is sought and given through Jesus Christ.  And when these sinful relationships create children out of wedlock, God does not declare the fruit unclean simply because the tree was.  God loves that child, and the proof is the very life it has been given.

And it is that gift of life that many times will create fear and worry in the hearts of the parents, and that fear can cause them to respond by compounding one sin with another, and so they choose abortion.  Abortion is the termination of life, and that is called killing, but killing another human is not the unforgivable sin; there is still room for grace.  And that dear Christians is both the call and the work of Christ’s church.  We are here to proclaim the gospel, the grace of God available to all sinners who will simply turn to Christ and trust in Him alone.  May we, each of us be busy about this work, inviting anyone who will respond to come and see; come and hear a message that will change them forever!  AMEN!

It’s Not What You Feel, But What You Know That Matters!

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

3rd Sunday in Epiphany B, January 22, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Mark 11:4-20

Click here for audio of this message

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” [Mark 1:15]

What does a traveling preacher with a divine call and one of the most sinful cities known to man have in common?  Both were separated from  God because of their sins, and both heard God’s invitation to turn to Him for forgiveness and faith, and they did; both are examples of  repentance!

Many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah.  God ordered him to go to one of Israel’s arch enemies and announce the need to repent or be  destroyed.  Jonah threw a fit; he didn’t want them to repent, he wanted them to be destroyed, so he booked passage on the nearest freight ship  intending to get as far away from Nineveh as possible.  Why?  Because he knew the LORD “is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and  abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”  In other words, he knew that if his enemy repented God would even love and forgive  them!  Isn’t that something?  At the expense of his own salvation, Jonah refused to play a part in bringing salvation to an entire city.

Well, eventually Jonah did repent, but it took the help of an angry boat crew who threw him overboard and the God  directed presence of a big  fish or whale, that swallowed him and safely spit him up at the shores of the very place he was trying to run from… Nineveh!  Through God’s  work in the circumstances of Jonah’s life, Jonah was put back on course for Nineveh and salvation; he returned to the call and will of God.

Now if you think that was miraculous, what about the entire city of Nineveh repenting?  That’s huge!  Christians throughout our nation have  been praying for that to happen right here in the good old US of A, and well, it hasn’t happened yet!  Abortion is still legal, even though God  say’s it is an evil abomination.  So if we as a nation haven’t repented yet, then what happened to save Nineveh?  Well, it was the very same thing that caused Jonah to repent; the Word and work of God.

The people of Nineveh heard the Word of God, both the law and the gospel.  The law was the Word of truth that the Living God was angry with their sin and about to destroy their entire city.  The gospel was the truth that this same living God was giving them 40 days to repent, to turn and confess their sinfulness and receive mercy and forgiveness.  Through both the law and the gospel, God created faith in a city full of faithless hearts.  In the darkness of sin, He created a city of light!  Could that happen in this country?  Could we ever repent of the sin of abortion?  Yes, but only through the work of God causing us to repent and turn to His forgiving love!

So what is repentance?  Really it’s a person’s pain over their sins and a turning of faith to a God who will show mercy and forgiveness.  It’s realizing that everything that you’ve done apart from God and faith in Him, is nothing but evil and darkness.  Everything?!  Yes, everything!  God’s Word confirms it, listen:  “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one!” [Romans 3:10—12]

Do you understand what that means?  It means that no matter how hard you try to change your life, to become a better person, you will never succeed in pleasing God!  Why?  Because God can see into your heart; he knows that whatever you do or try to do will be self-serving; that is you will only be trying to save your own skin!  Just as it didn’t matter if the whole city of Nineveh voted and decided to take care of the poor with their vast amount of wealth, God was still going to destroy not just the city but everyone who lived in it!  Even if they decided to never make war again, and even if they freed every one of the slaves from every country they ever conquered, God was going to destroy them, unless… unless they confessed that they deserved His punishment and acknowledged that the true and Living God was the only one who could save them.  But this work of repentance, this one work that was pleasing to God was impossible for them to do, unless… unless God desired it to happen.  And here is the miracle, God did desire that very thing, so he created faith in the hearts of all of those sinful people through the preaching of Jonah; He created faith  so they could see the truth about their sins and turn to the LORD who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  When they turned to God’s forgiving heart He relented from bringing down punishment for their many sins.

Now, there are some here this morning who are in the very same predicament as the people of Nineveh.  You’ve been living a lie; you’ve been telling yourself that if you try real hard to live a good life, God will see that and help you to be better.  But like I said, that’s a lie.  You have to see, like the people of Nineveh had to see that you can’t do better; you can never get rid of all of the evil that is in your heart.  You can’t erase all of the sins you’ve committed and you can’t prevent the sins you’re going to commit.  So what are you going to do?  Nothing but the only good work that God counts as righteous; you must by faith turn to God and confess that He is right and you are wrong.  You must call out to God for mercy and pardon and do what He tells you!

And that friends is the obstacle you can never overcome unless God wills it; unless He creates faith within your heart to see this narrow doorway into His kingdom of forgiveness and peace.  It’s like the little boy who got His hand stuck in His mother’s expensive vase.  His parents tried everything to free him; they tried soap, cooking oil, lard, even engine grease, but nothing worked.  Reluctantly, the father went to the garage to get a hammer to break this expensive vase.  It was then, when the boy asked one simple question that changed everything: “Dad, would it help if I let go of the quarter I dropped into the vase?”

And that is what some of you need to do this morning.  You need to let go of your own efforts to please God and do the one and only thing that will; you need to hear Him speaking to you this morning and let go of the ways of this sinful world and turn to His forgiving heart and be freed, changed, forgiven, and loved!  You need to agree with God that you can’t change yourself, and that your only hope is for you to allow Him to change you!

In our gospel lesson this morning, God’s only means of salvation is made to stand right in front of us and speak the only Word’s that will make us right with God!  “The time is fulfilled” Jesus said, “and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.”  What time is he speaking of?  The time when God will bring both judgment and salvation.  The time that everyone, including the evil city of Nineveh was waiting for… the time of God’s final work; God’s solution to sin.  It is the time to repent and believe.  Believe in what?  Well, the better question is: Believe in Who?  You see the what and the who are the very same thing.  Believe in the good news of God’s forgiving love; believe in the Living Word of God Who is telling you that through Him alone, God will forgive you and save you from your many sins!  Believe in Jesus Christ!

As Jesus spoke to the people in Galilee, He not only proclaimed God’s forgiveness, He demonstrated it.  Standing before them was God in human flesh; their only means of forgiveness and salvation.  What must they do to be saved?  The very same thing we must do; hear the Words of eternal life and receive them.  Repent and believe.  Even now, God is working within our hearts to provide faith, faith to receive this message and live.  Jesus is inviting you to let go of your past and to receive your future.

Listen to this poem by Theodore Brennan and see if it doesn’t describe your life and your heart as well: “I looked upon a farm one day, that once I use to own; The barn had fallen to the ground, the fields were overgrown.  The house in which my children grew, where we had lived for years—I turned to see it broken down, and brushed aside the tears.  I looked upon my soul that day to find it too had grown, with thorns and nettles everywhere, the seed(s) neglect had sown.  The years had passed while I had cared for things of lesser worth; the things of Heaven I let go while minding things of earth.  To Christ I turned with bitter tears, and cried, “O Lord forgive!  I haven’t much time left for Thee, not many years to live.  The wasted years forever gone, the days I can’t recall; if I could live those days again, I’d make Him Lord of all!”

Friends, if that is how you feel, then God is working a mighty work in your heart right now.  That pain you feel over your wasted life, your sinful life is called contrition.  Now the only thing left for you to do is hear God’s gospel Word and receive His forgiveness.  You are forgiven!  Leave those feelings of regret behind and turn to Jesus Christ and live.  You see, it’s not about what you feel, or even how you felt in the past, instead it’s about what God says to you now… you are forgiven through Jesus Christ!

You know, we’re all a lot like Jonah when you think about it.  We have been forgiven and loved by God.  We’ve been washed clean in the waters of our baptism, and yet we can get caught up in our own anger and disappointments to the point where we can no longer see Jesus upon the cross crucified for us.  We can sometimes get to a place where we no longer see the miraculous life giving work God did for us in our baptism.

And now, here is Jesus standing before us in His Word, saying to even we life-long Christians, “Repent and believe.”  Put to death that old angry and sinful nature that was drowned in your baptism and turn to God’s forgiving love; a love which can only be yours by turning to Jesus.  That was the only work that the people of Nineveh could do that pleased God and it is the only work that we as Christians can do.

When you let go of how you feel, and grab onto Jesus and His Word and believe that He alone is your source of hope and salvation, something amazing begins to happen… you begin to change.  The good things that you use to wish you could do but failed become the very things you can do.  And as you do these good things, God begins to give you right feelings to replace your old feelings of guilt, anger, and disappointment.  He gives you a feeling of peace and satisfaction, as you realize that it isn’t you doing these good things, but God doing them in you and through you!  That’s the message that saved all of Nineveh from their sins, it’s the message that’s saving you, and it’s the message that can save even our great nation from the sins of abortion and many others.  All it takes is turning to God in repentance and receiving His forgiving love as we forget the sins of the past and embrace God’s will.

So you see, it really isn’t about what you feel, but it’s about what you know.  And what is it that you know?  In God there is forgiveness; there is new life when you receive Jesus’ work upon the cross, His suffering, death, and resurrection, as your only source of hope and peace in this life and the life to come.  I pray that you will hear Jesus message of repentance and not just believe it but share it with your neighbors.  I pray that you will let this forgiveness of God cause you to be salt and light, as you continue to speak the things of God even to your elected officials, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

I Will Not Keep Silent!

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Sanctity of Life Sunday, January 17, 2010
Click here for audio of this message
 

Grace, Mercy and Peace are yours, from God our Father and for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ!  AMEN

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness and her salvation as a burning torch.” [Isaiah 62:1]

INTRODUCTION:  A professor in a medical school once posed this medical situation — an ethical problem — to his students: “Here’s the family history: The father has syphilis. The mother has TB. They already have had four children. The first is blind. The second had died. The third is deaf. The fourth has TB. Now the mother is pregnant again.  So the parents have come to you for advice. They are willing to have an abortion, if you decide they should. What do you say?”

The students broke into small groups for “consultation.” All of the groups came back to report that they would recommend abortion.

“Congratulations,” the professor said, “You just took the life of Beethoven!”

Well that’s just a story pastor.  We live in the real world.  Ok, here’s a “real world” poll taken in New England, which revealed that, if parents were able to know these things in advance, 1 percent of them would abort a child on the basis of sex, 6 percent would abort a child likely to get Alzheimer’s disease, and an incredible 11 percent would abort a child predisposed to obesity.  In essence, they would abort many of us!

I.  Sin is sin.  God’s Word clearly identifies what is sinful and what is pleasing to Him.  There are no gray areas in God’s eyes, and yet we like to create these gray areas, don’t we?  We make the gray areas because we don’t like facing our own sinfulness.  Oh, and in case you think that claiming ignorance of God’s will might offer you some protection, listen to God answer you from the book of Proverbs: “If you say, “Surely we did not know this, “Does not He who weighs the heart consider it?  He who keeps your soul, does He not know it?  And will He not render to each man according to his deeds? [Proverbs 24:11-12]

Friends, we’ve been called by Jesus Christ, the living Word of God to be both His church and His voice of truth in this world of sin.  We are His prophets.  But before we can fulfill this role, we need to agree that God is right and we are wrong!  Now as your pastor, you have called me to speak and teach you that Word, so together we will hear His Word, be changed and strengthened by it, and then go out into our communities where we can be God’s salt and light.  Now here’s the fascinating part of this calling; if we are faithful, God assures us that to the world, we will be like a crown of beauty, a royal diadem in His hand.  In other words, we’ll bring Him glory here on earth!

Friends, if we are faithful in speaking for God to those we encounter, He promises that we will experience his blessings in a way that will change the very way we think and live.  In other words, God promises that through our obedience we will discover that we are not only precious in His sight, but we are in fact His delight.

II. But we have a slight problem; the enemy doesn’t want us to live out this new identity, so he’s set some traps in order to deceive us.  These traps come to us through the use of science and the sinful society we live in; a society that loves to call evil good and good evil.  But even if we successfully avoid these traps, the enemy still has one more trick up his sleeve; he intends to stop us by overwhelming us with so much opposition and anger that we’ll no longer see the good of speaking God’s truth to such an evil society.  In other words, he wants to demoralize us to the point where we just simply give up.  Now, this same tactic has been used by the enemy in the past with great success.  It’s called institutionalized sin—sins that have been accepted by our society as normal.  If you don’t believe this truth, just look back no farther than 150 years ago when the institution of slavery—the trafficking of human beings was considered normal.  And even after a bloody civil war that nearly destroyed our nation, that sin still remains and it is still trying to capture the hearts and minds of our children.  This hatred of others is a sin that places “self” as the ultimate authority, which in turn allows us to see some people as less than human.

Today we celebrate “Sanctity of Life” Sunday.  This is the day that we as a church have set aside to remind us that God has declared all human life precious in His sight; the unborn, born, and even those who are frail and near death.  But science and our society tell us something very different—they say that the unborn are merely potential life, and the old and frail are just a life that’s already been lived.  They would have us believe that neither can really be counted important.  But listen to God speak through the voice of the Psalmist and let the voice of our enemy the devil and this sinful society be silenced: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” [Psalm 139:13-18]   And if that’s not enough for you, listen to the living Word of God drive home the message through the Apostle Paul: “(Don’t) you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” [1 Corinthians 6:19-20] 

 Friends, you have heard God’s Word… you know that there are no gray areas.  Right is right and wrong is wrong.  Now God wants to send you out into this world as His burning torch of truth and salvation.  But you say, “Pastor what can I do?  It’s the law of the land; abortion is legal, right?”  Well do you have a mouth?  Then for the sake of the unborn and for the credibility of the church, speak out.  Use your mouth to change hearts and minds, and use your vote to change the law.  And all the while, God wants you to pray!  Pray for your leaders and pray for your neighbors, and then work against the enemies of God who joyfully lead others astray by convincing them to take a life through abortion.  Pray that God will change both their hearts and minds so that this evil will be erased from our society.  Listen to St. Paul’s advice; he says, ” First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” [1 Timothy 2:1-4]  Pray dear friends, pray and don’t grow weary of prayer.  Don’t give up in speaking the truth; don’t surrender in the fight.  Keep on doing what you know is right.  Listen to God’s Living Word, and then be decided in your heart that you will do what Jesus tells you!

 III. In our gospel reading this morning, Mary, the mother of God the Son, Jesus Christ had a dilemma.  She was one of the matrons, or sponsors responsible for the smooth operation of a wedding party.  But the wine was running low, and the party was still jumping!  Now granted, when compared to other real life issues, running out of wine means very little in the large scheme of things, but at the time it was important to Mary.  She had doubts and fears; so where did she go?  She went to Jesus!  Now the fact that she went to Jesus isn’t that fascinating, after all, Jesus is her son, but what happened next would change everything.  It would change the way faithful people live and it would change the way faithful people think!

 Have you ever wondered why Jesus called His own mother “woman” instead of “mother”?  “Jesus?  Son?”  Mary called.  “They are almost out of wine,” she says.  And to this Jesus answers, “Woman, what does this have to do with (you and) me?  My hour (or my time) has not yet come.”  Here friends, Jesus mother turns to her son as she undoubtedly did so many times before, but this time it is different…it’s a critical moment where ordinary help won’t suffice.  She knew that Jesus had no money and as a stranger in this town he had no connections.  Yet they needed wine.  So why turn to Jesus?  Because friends, she never forgot that her son was also the Son of God, the Messiah… her Savior.  You see, in this small dilemma, ordinary help would fail; they had neither the time nor the means to get more wine, so Mary knew she must look for extraordinary help.  Mary didn’t need familial help, she needed divine hope.  And to give this hope, Jesus must first eternally change her relationship with Him. 

 Friends, when Jesus called His mother woman, He was declaring to her that His position as a dutiful son was eternally ended.  He was telling her that from that moment on He would be assuming a much higher position; one as Savior and Redeemer.  And this divine work can only be done on God’s terms and in God’s time, not hers and not ours.  Like Mary, we too must learn that if we really want divine hope and help, we must first recognize who Jesus really is.  It is Jesus, the Son of God, together with the Father, and the Holy Spirit alone who determine when and how God will miraculously intervene—even in hopeless situations!

 Friends, it was this first miraculous sign from Jesus—turning water into wine—that would forever direct both Mary and the entire church to ask and receive all things through Jesus Christ alone, and then simply and trust that He would act according to His time!  It is in Him alone that we are to place our trust.  And with this new truth, Mary has a new teaching to share with her assistants at the party and with us…

 “Do whatever He tells you.” [John 2:5b]  Do you understand what this means friends?  It means that we must do whatever God’s Word says.  What God’s Word calls good, we are to call good.  What He calls sinful and evil we are to say also.  In His Word alone, we are to live, breath, and find our existence and fulfillment.  Yet we still sin daily.  We sin against God and we sin against each other.  Since this is most certainly true, it is critical that we hear what comes next.  It there is anyone here this morning who has in the past had an abortion, assisted with or counseled for an abortion, performed an abortion, or has simply been indifferent to abortion, let God speak to your heart.  Let His Spirit convince you that abortion is a sin?  Has He shown you that it is your sin?  Are you sorry for this sin and all others that you have committed and do you sincerely repent of them?  Is it your intention to agree with God that this is an evil that must be defeated… that was defeated upon the cross of Jesus Christ?  Do you desire to be free of this evil now and for all eternity? 

Dear friends, because Jesus has defeated both the devil and all evil through His death upon the cross, and because He has given this victory to you through the washing of the water and the Word in your own baptism, hear the sweet words of the gospel, the forgiveness of your many sins.  You are forgiven!  You no longer need to live in shame and reproach.  Through God’s Holy work alone He has taken away your sorrow and shame and He has given you a new name…. you are called Christian.  You are a child of faith!  As a member of the Holy Christian Church you are now the beloved bride of Jesus Christ Himself!

Now dear saints, as the beloved bride of Christ, hear the words of mother Mary fresh and new… “Go, and do whatever our Lord tells you.”  What is He telling us?  Speak up for those who have no voice!  Call evil what it is!  Don’t be afraid of the ungodly, because they will soon have their punishment handed down to them.  Instead, speak up and speak out to those who will hear the Word of God and repent, just as you have.  Join your pastors and the whole church and preach Christ Himself and His Holy Word until He comes again to judge the living and the dead.  Do whatever God’s Word tells you because He is your salvation, and let politics and this sinful society be damned!

Let this world and our sinful society see our Holy God’s righteousness shine through each of us as individuals and as His church so that all may see us as justified and equipped by God for this battle—not with the laws of man but with the highest law there is… the Living Word of God!

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, do whatever Jesus tells you.  Repent and be baptized.  Repent and believe you’ve been forgiven and changed.  This is the message we are to speak to our neighbors and even to our elected leaders.  Let’s speak this message in our conversation and let’s speak it through the ballot box.  We will not be silent… because we cannot be silent.  Yes we’ll be ridiculed and marginalized, but as I said in the beginning of this message, we must speak out, because we are God’s crown of beauty and we are a holy and royal diadem in His hand.  We alone can bring Him glory, because we alone are called by a new name…. Christian!  Jesus we are yours… save us!  AMEN!