Posts Tagged ‘Stewardship’

Give to Caesar What’s Caesar’s and…

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

20th Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 22nd, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 22:15-22

Our text for this morning is one that is very familiar with many of you. “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” [Matthew 22:21b] I’m sure that you’ll all agree with me that the one thing our modern day Caesar wants the most from us is our money! Oh they’re going to get it, you can be sure of that, after all their name is all over “your” money… even though it’s in your pocket right now, it isn’t really yours, it’s Caesar’s, and he’s just letting you use it!

In this political season there’s a lot of talk about the best way to take our money and then the best way to spend it. In our political system here in the U.S., we are assured that we have a say in how this decision will be made; we have elections and the person or the party with the best ideas in how to collect and spend our money will supposedly be the one elected. But in the end, no matter who is elected we are always reminded that it never really was our money. We are reminded that the golden rule of any form of government is, “He who makes and distributes the currency, makes up the rules.”

But if we would just remember that our money really belongs to someone else, life sure would have a lot more peace and contentment in it. Like the old folks use to say back home, “Money will buy ya a nice dog, but only love will make him wag his tail and be your friend!”

In our gospel lesson this morning we discover something else about money… it can be a trap, even when you use it to trap someone else!

We meet Jesus teaching in the temple and it is the week of His passion; in other words He is only days away from His suffering and death. He knows this; He knows what is waiting for Him, so this is His last attempt to bring faith to an evil self-serving nation. He is teaching in the temple for good reason; it is the very heart of their identity as a people called by God to relate to Him in love and trust and then reflect that relationship to other people… other nations. He has just finished condemning the religious leaders as phonies, imposters. The word I used last week was posers! And now they’re flaming hot with anger and thinking only of revenge; they want to trap Jesus with His own words so that they can arrest Him and turn Him over to Caesar for execution.

The Pharisees went off away from the others and devised a way to trap Jesus. Jesus own words will be coaxed out of Him and they will be words of treason! Once that was done, with the members of the Herodian political party as witnesses, the governor will quickly arrest Jesus. So the Pharisees picked some of their youngest and brightest disciples and taught them what and how to ask Jesus. So while Jesus is teaching, this group of strangers approaches Him and begins to ape the words of admiration and praise that their teachers taught them: “Teacher, we know that you are (the real deal and that you) teach the way of God truthfully, and (we know that) you don’t care about anyone’s opinion (of you, because you’re) not (fooled) by appearances.”

Now stop and think about that for a moment. If they really believed that, would they have said what they just said? After all weren’t they just doing the very thing they said Jesus could see through? If only they had eyes of faith to see that they were actually talking to God! Well so much for that; the puppets had to ask the question that the puppet masters put into their mouths. So here it is: “Tell us, then… Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Now remember, because of their lack of faith they do not see God in Jesus. To them there is nothing divine about Him; he is just a man who’s causing troubles with the status quo; He’s rockin’ the boat and they want Him thrown out so that they will continue to have smooth sailing. But Jesus is God and He sees the evil intent in their hearts, so He says to them: “Why are you putting me to the test you hypocrites? (You who say one thing with your mouth but then you do the evil that is in your hearts. You don’t really want to hear God’s powerful Word and allow that Word to change you. You are in it for the money! You are here to just keep getting richer while God’s Kingdom suffers at your hands and His people pay for your greed!) Show me the coin for the tax.” And out of their own pockets comes the very thing they supposedly hate… Caesar’s money; money that undeniably belongs to Caesar, because it has his name and his face on it! So Jesus asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is (on) this?” And the answer they gave not only reveals their hypocrisy but Jesus divine wisdom. “And they (answered) “(It’s) Caesar’s.” (And Jesus) said to them, “(Then give back to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar), and to God the things that are God’s.” Scripture says that they were amazed at Jesus answer; they marveled at the wisdom in His Words, but they would not let that wisdom change them. Why? Because they were hypocritical impostors that didn’t care one bit about being rich in the Kingdom of God; they only cared about becoming rich in the kingdom of men!

The funny thing about money is that it will buy you a bed, but not sleep. It will buy you books, but not brains. It will give you a beautiful house, but not a home. It can afford medicine, but it can’t give you good health. It will bring you amusement, but not happiness. It can buy a beautifully hand carved crucifix, but not the Savior who hung upon it! No, to have the things that money can’t buy, we have to be resting in God’s mercy and forgiveness, and that rest can only come through Jesus Christ!

When the Pharisees presented a coin to Jesus, He pointed out the image of Caesar.

By doing this He’s presenting the reality that each of us lives simultaneously in two kingdoms: the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God. He was teaching them and us that just as the coin was created in the image of Caesar, we are created in the image of God. This means that every thing on earth and every part of our bodies, even the smallest of thoughts in our minds, belong to God!

Now there may be some here this morning that are like those disciples of the Pharisees; they’ve given God their mind but their heart is far away from Him. Some may have given Him their heart, but they’re unwilling to truly hear and learn from the Word, because they have their own way of thinking about how God’s Kingdom should be built. Some may be willing to give their muscles, but unwilling to bring their bodies consistently to worship and Bible study! Many give God 1 or 2 hours a week of their time, but God wants all 168 hours of every week! Some consistently give God about 2% of their income, thinking that someday they’ll reach the 10% goal, when in reality it all belongs to God, even if Caesar’s image is on it!

It becomes so easy for us to forget that God is actually with us in this sinful society when all around us evil greed and injustice seems to control everything. But just a few short days after the occurrence of our gospel reading, Jesus would be standing before Pontius Pilate, teaching him this very truth. There before Pilate, Jesus stands beaten and bloody, and Pilate asks Him if He realizes that he has the power to free Him or execute Him. And to this Jesus Words ring in our ears with the truth about the kingdom of men: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” [John 19:11] And here is the meat of Jesus teaching for us this morning: While the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God are two separate kingdoms, they both are ultimately controlled by God!

In God’s Kingdom of grace we are changed… we are recreated so that we can be in God’s presence even while living in the kingdom of man. God’s Word gives and teaches us and eternal righteousness of the heart so that through us and the sharing of the gospel, others may know of God’s mercy and love and be drawn into His Kingdom of Grace also. But God’s Kingdom does not destroy or take over the kingdom of men, instead it enters into individual families, communities, and governments it and changes them by changing the people who live in them.

What is the change that the gospel brings into these various groups that make up the kingdom of man? It brings a realization of God’s presence! As individuals, families, communities, and governments begin to realize that everything they do is not only seen by God, but ultimately judged by Him, God’s Kingdom is breaking in and His way of love, forgiveness, and mercy begins to be seen in how all of these groups serve each other. Individuals begin to give of their time, talent, and treasure in a way that honors God and helps build His Kingdom. Families begin to work, live, and worship together in a way that is pleasing to God! Communities begin to care for the weakest and poorest members in a way that reminds them that they aren’t alone! And governments remember that they are there to serve first the will of their Creator, and then address the needs of their constituents.

Now I know that all of this can seem a bit ideal, and that is because it is ideal!

It’s a picture of the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of men! It is what was happening that day in the temple when Jesus was teaching the people about God’s love as the Pharisees were demonstrating men’s greed! Jesus, God in human flesh came to His people that day to plead with them one last time to repent. He asked them to turn to Him and walk to the cross; a place where God’s own blood would be spilled for them as a payment for their sins. He asked them to follow Him by faith and see a better way; a way that trusts in God even when it seems that evil has won the day. He asks them and He asks us today to hear His Words of forgiveness spoken for those evil men that persecuted and crucified Him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” And He shouts so all can hear God’s proclamation of victory, even you and me today: “It is finished!” Your debt is paid in full! I your God have broken into your reality; I came to you myself and became your Savior, your Brother, and Friend!

So there you have Jesus teaching. It is not as simple as the simple minded hypocrites like to make it. Living in two Kingdoms at the same time never is easy. One kingdom says the rich should keep getting richer so that they can provide for the poor, and the other kingdom says you will always have the haves and have-nots, the question is what is it that they have or don’t have? Do you have Jesus? Is he the most important thing in life to you? Are you resting in the Kingdom of God knowing that Jesus is with you while you’re waiting and working in the kingdom of man, or is the Kingdom of God something that you will take seriously someday, just not this day?

I’ll close with this story. A businessman had an angel come to visit him, and the angel promised him that God would grant one wish. The man asked for a copy of the Wall Street Journal, with the stock market quotes for one year in the future. As he was studying the future prices on the stock exchanges, he became excited at the certainty of acquiring even more wealth, wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But then he glanced across the newspaper page, only to see his own picture in the obituary column. Suddenly, all of his current and future wealth meant nothing to him. He fell on his knees and confessed before God his sinfulness and his lack of faith and trust in Jesus gift of eternal life. How do you think that man spent his wealth from that point on?

And now dear friends, God grants the same blessing to you. He tells you now, that one day, perhaps soon you will die! Knowing that will you turn to Jesus? Will you rest in what God has done for you upon the cross and within your baptism? Will you allow the Kingdom of God to transform you and work within you, and then use the time, talents, and money that God has given to you to break into the kingdom of man? Will you be satisfied with what you have and use it to help those who don’t know Jesus have peace with God? I pray that God will enable each of us to do this very thing. And I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Get Smart!

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

Ninth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 24th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”  [Luke 16:9]

Many people tend to be shocked and even confused by the parable of the unfaithful steward.  The story is about a man who was wasting his employer’s goods, and when he got caught and given his termination notice, he was smart enough to make his unemployed life better.  And how did he do this?  By wasting even more of his employer’s goods and then dragging other debtors down with him by cooking the books and then ultimately hearing his employer say that he had acted wisely.

So wait… is Jesus actually asking us to be like this?  Well no not really, but in a way… yes!  You see…

In order to understand this parable, we need to first understand that not all of Jesus parables are alike.

Some of Jesus’ parables teach us to “go and do likewise,” or to copy the example we are given, as in the case of the Good Samaritan or the tax collector who humbled himself in the temple by confessing his sinfulness.  But Jesus does not always use this type of teaching within His parables.  You see, Jesus finds the illustrations for His stories in everyday life and then He sketches everyday people exactly as they are within His stories.  Think of the man who found a treasure in the field of another person and then acted deceptively in order to secure both the field and the treasure for himself.  And then, there’s the parable of the persistent widow and the judge who loved neither God nor man.

What we should remember is that Jesus uses these examples of everyday people from a sinful fallen world of His day, to illuminate something that should also take place in the lives of Christians as they seek to further the spreading of God’s kingdom through the proclamation of the Gospel. So Jesus is saying that it’s not a matter of acting like these characters, but of grasping the motivation behind the action, and then applying that wisdom to our own lives and our relationship with God.

In this instance Jesus praises the man because he had acted wisely.  So where was his wisdom?

The man knew that he had no way of escape.  He had no illusions.  He knew that he was going to be fired, and then become unemployed and homeless.  And because of this reality he was certain what he needed to do to ensure his security.

But people who confess to be Christians sometimes do just the opposite.  They know that this broken world is not all that there is; they know that something eternal and supremely greater follows this sinful existence.  Yet they harbor the illusion that some things aren’t  really as big of a deal as God’s Word and the preacher make them out to be, and in the end, they tell themselves that everything will be ok.  And so they procrastinate.  They put off dealing with the eternal consequences that come with persistently ignoring God’s warning.  They continue to live a sinful life that they know will put their own salvation in jeopardy.  They refuse to acknowledge that in regards to their salvation it is a matter of dead seriousness and that one day soon, they will stand before God’s judgment in everything.  And so the wisdom found in our Epistle lesson becomes a dreadful warning: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” [1 Corinthians 10:12]

Dear friends, it is God’s desire that true Wisdom, which comes through Christ alone would dwell in you the baptized richly.  For you see, this is the only way that we can make sense of this parable.  In verse 9, Jesus gives us the key to this wisdom when He says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth.”  What is this unrighteous wealth?

The unrighteous wealth is any thing of value that we acquire in this sinful world.  And that includes all of your time, talent, and treasures.  Treasures includes all of your money and worldly possessions.  Here God’s wisdom alone allows us to see things here in our lives as He sees them, as they really are.  Here, God’s wisdom is teaching us that it is useless for us to claim the eternal life of a baptized child of God, if we are still trying to hide, horde, or exclude some of our stuff from His control and use. You see, there is no room for compromise; you cannot be both a friend of God and of the world.  You can’t serve two masters; you just can’t!  It will be a futile exercise if you try to withhold some of your worldly possessions from the sight and knowledge of God.  This kind of thinking and action, will only lead to the loss of your eternal, true life along with all of the treasures that you never really were able to keep any how.  In another parable that Jesus told, this type of person is called “You fool!”

A fool is someone who will not receive the LORD as their lamp in the darkness of this sinful world.   You can’t receive this kind of wisdom through any course of study or the granting of a degree from some ivory tower university.  This kind of wisdom comes only from God and only through experience, the experience of knowing and trusting in His Word.

In His Word and in the experiences of your life, God proves Himself to be true and perfect.  “This God—His way is perfect; the Word of the LORD proves true (as you live your life trusting in the promises of His Word and the presence of His Spirit in all aspects of your life).  He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.” [2 Samuel 22:31]

So in order to correctly understand Jesus’ parable today, we must concentrate on one point, and that is the illustration of the dishonest or unrighteous manager or steward. This man, as Jesus portrays him, is only one of the uncountable number of sinful people who have come and gone in this sinful world.  We could say that he is typical of everyone who does not know or care to know their true Master, Creator, and Savior. So within His parable, Jesus is holding up this man before our eyes today, and He wants us, the baptized Christians to see what a completed unrighteous person looks like; He wants us to see in this man his complete confidence in the resources of this sinful world, and then He wants to inspire us to do the complete opposite with those same worldly goods.

When Jesus opens our eyes to see this necessity, He has then helped us to see our own fully developed righteousness, or an opposite mindset that sees all treasures of this world as being simply a means to help build and further the Kingdom of God within a fallen and sinful world. He opens our eyes to understand that…

That which is wise and right before God often looks like foolishness to the world.

To live in order to serve; to know that one is simply a steward who does not have any real ownership over stuff; to risk persecution and ridicule; to dare to trust in God in all danger, and at last choosing to suffer martyrdom rather than being unfaithful to God—all this friends seems like foolishness to the world.  But really this way of thinking and living implies wisdom, realism, and a true sense of right and wrong, “For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off, when God takes away his life?” [Job 27:8]

This morning, Jesus says to us, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”  Jesus has now shown us how the people of this sinful world use their time, talent and treasure to make friends and even greater security for themselves.  And now, He orders us to do the same thing but to make our use of these things to do the very opposite.

Let’s recap what Jesus is really saying:  The unrighteous or unsaved people of this world are stewards or managers, and we are too; they are entrusted with property and assets—so are we; the things the unsaved collect and use are really unrighteous and meaningless to God and His offer of salvation—and so are the things we have; the unsaved world makes friends with their stuff—and so should we; the lives of the unsaved comes to and end, and so do our lives.

You see friends, Jesus is allowing us to see that our lives run in a parallel with the unsaved of this world, that is, until in a flash, both the lives of the unsaved and the saved meet very different ends.  It is at the time of death that these parallel lives are no longer parallel, but suddenly they go in completely different directions.

And it all hinges on the friends that they made.

The lives of the saved, of the good and righteous stewards burst off into eternal dwellings; into a place prepared for them by their true friends, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Three friends yes, but One God!  You see, it is God alone who is your one and only true friend.  And it is Jesus alone who has promised you that He has gone ahead of you to prepare a place in the paradise He has both restored and prepared for you!

Dear friends, to the world our lives may seem no better than their own, in fact they could make a good case that they are better off.  They strive to live in luxury and many times they will actually achieve that goal by living for themselves and taking advantage of everything this world has to offer, even other people.  But we know a truth that they will never know unless they allow God to change them as He has changed us through the truth of His Word and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

To those who are perishing, the cross of Jesus is foolishness.  To those who are dying in their sins and place their hope only in the things of this world, baptism is foolish because it is simply water and some words.  To those who hunger for something greater than themselves and think that the treasures of this world will satisfy their hunger, the Lord’s supper is simply a small bite of stale bread and a sip of simple wine.  But to we who are being saved by faith and grace that comes to us through the message and power of the cross of Jesus, these things are the very wisdom of God.  For we know, that it is the very power of God that brings eternal life.  And we know that it is the Word of God that distinguishes baptism from a mere washing; it is the Word that distinguishes the Lord’s Supper from a mere snack and constitutes both of these as sacraments that give faith to believe in the forgiveness that they offer.

This morning, Jesus implores each of us to get smart; to receive the Wisdom of God just as He offers it.  He asks you to see that everything in this world is temporary and will pass away.  He asks you to see that these things here are simply tools that you are to use to further the proclamation of His kingdom to the unsaved so that they too may experience God’s love and forgiveness and look forward to a place prepared for them also in God’s heaven.  If you have been led to see this truth and agree with it then you too have become wise.  I pray that this is so for you, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

On Cleaving and Clinging

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

Pentecost 25B, November 15, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:24, 25]

Growing up as a Christian I heard a lot of talk and teaching about cleaving and clinging.  I was taught in Sunday school that I must cleave, or split away from the naughty way and always search out the good way.  I was taught that I must “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” [Matthew 7:13, 14]

Now, I was taught that this meant that I must leave my sinful life and cling to Jesus and the road to salvation.  The only problem with this teaching is that no one ever told me how to do this, and no one bothered to tell me that in Holy Baptism, I was already on the narrow road of salvation; Jesus had already found me and given me the new, forgiven life.

This morning, we will look at what means God uses to both keep us on that narrow way and help others to find it also, and then, we’ll learn to trust in Jesus alone.  And to do this, we will simply allow God’s Word to speak to us and teach us how He draws us to Himself, and then secures us in His love.  And then we will learn how God uses we, who are clinging to Jesus, to draw others who are still trapped within a life of guilt and separated from God’s love.

First, as a way of refreshing our memories, let’s define God’s love, or Agápē love. It is God’s own love for creation, for you and me; a love that is intelligent (He knows all of the facts about you and still loves you) and works to bring about new purpose and new life for you and within you.  It is God’s Agápē love that saw the world and all of mankind from the very beginning as sinful, defiled, and lost in darkness, and yet it was this Agápē love that moved God to act in such a way that His act of love would save every last sinful person who was willing to be saved.  To accomplish this mission of salvation centered in Agápē love, God the Father called upon His Son to make a way, a path, or a road back to Paradise.

God sent His Son Jesus to us as one of us, so that He could be our true High Priest. There were priests before Christ came to us, very many of them who were called upon to serve under the old covenant of the law; they were called to do a monotonous service, “offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” [Hebrews 10:11] But God sent His Son and named Him Jesus (God saves).  The very name was to indicate the mission that this God-child, born of the Virgin Mary was sent on.  He would grow to become the God-man, the only One who could live a perfect life, and then out of love for sinners, by way of Pontius Pilate offer His life upon the cross in exchange, or as payment for our imperfections… for our hideous sins.

Prior to Christ our Great High Priest, the high priest of the old covenant was the only one who could pass through the curtain that separated sinners, all sinners, from the holy of holies, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Mercy Seat.  All of these were physical representations of a spiritual reality, and a real place and position, which was simply beyond the reach and beyond the comprehension of sinful mankind.

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” [Hebrews 10:12]  This single sacrifice is both the very definition of Agápē love and the source of our salvation and our own expression of God’s Agápē love.  Through the sacrifice of His body and the spilling of His blood, Christ has brought into completion both our rebirth and our perfection.  Through God’s Agápē love, Christ has paid for the sins of the world, but more importantly, His passion, His payment, included your sins.

“By a single offering He has perfected for (eternity) those (of us) who are being sanctified (that is perfected in His holiness.  And so that you will be convinced of this truth), the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us.” [Hebrews 10:14, 15]  Within His Word and throughout your life, as you cling to Jesus, the Living Word, God demonstrates that He has put His law on your heart and He has written His Word in your mind.  And then He says, through Christ your High Priest, “I will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more.” [Hebrews 10:17]

Here is a truth worth remembering: God draws all sinners to Himself only through the Cross of Christ and His chosen means of grace.

It is through God’s means of grace where all of the Agápē love of the Father becomes yours personally, through the work and sacrifice of your Great High Priest Jesus Christ.  Through the blood of Christ, the entrance into the true Holy of Holies is open for you in connection with that blood, and it shall never be closed to you.  Jesus made a way, a very narrow way back to Paradise for all sinners.  It is narrow because it excludes all other ways.  It is a way, because you follow it every day; it is a living way, because the very veil that you must pass through is through Christ’s flesh.  The Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself is the living way, the truth, and the only source of eternal life.  In the old covenant or the old way, only the high priest himself could enter the holy of holies by way of the great veil or curtain, but this new way is for all of us; each of us are to use Jesus’ flesh as the great means of entry.

The crucified Christ is our entrance into both the holy of holies and the very mercy seat of God.  Jesus reminds us of this truth with these words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]  This morning Jesus holds out His hand to each of you and makes sure you understand all of this as He says, “My blood.  My body.  No other means.  I am the veil that separates sinful men from God the Father.  To get to the Father you must pass through me.”

So how may one enter through Christ our great veil and curtain?  We must continue to draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” [Hebrews 10:22]  Dear friends, we are drawn by God, that is we are pulled away from our sinful lives and into God’s Agápē love through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Through the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Great High Priest, His very body and blood are the only method of payment the Father will accept as atonement for our sins.  So, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8)  But how are we to draw near to God?

We draw near to God with a clean heart; with a pure conscience.  How?  With our hearts sprinkled clean by the blood of Christ and our bodies washed clean with the pure water of Holy Baptism.  And what is it that makes the water pure?  Nothing but the life giving, life changing, Agápē making Word of God.  Through His means of grace, God gives us both rebirth and continual forgiveness of all sins.  And through these gifts we are given a new way to love God and each other; we are given Agápē love; the love of intellect and purpose.  A love that finds it’s definition in the cross of Christ; a love that compels us to bear our own cross of sacrifice and the giving of our selves to our neighbor.

“(So) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:23-25]

How do we continually leave our sinful past and cling to Christ? How can we receive the strength and ability to continually love God with all of our heart and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves?

By holding fast to our confession of faith. By hearing the Word of God often and receiving the blessed assurance of complete forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.  By remembering our baptism and all that it represents.  By gathering each week to confess our sins together before God, and then quickly being assured that through Christ we are forgiven and loved.  By allowing God’s Word read, declared, and preached to sustain our faith and to increase within our hearts a hunger for a deeper relationship of Agápē love with our Heavenly Father.

And then, as faith and love lead us, we are to approach the mercy seat of God, take our place around this altar and receive the very body and blood that continues the Father’s work of Agápē love within us.

And now we must follow this work of Christ that God does within us to a new place.  There is no longer a need to continually focus on only our hearts when God has promised to do such a great work within them.  But now, God asks us to be concerned out of Agápē love, for the countless hearts around us; people lost in darkness and sin that God wants us to focus on.  But how?

By being a living representation of the very Agápē love that saved us; by encouraging “one another, and all the more as we see the Day (of judgment) drawing near.”

In these words, God is telling us that our time is both short and precious; He is inciting us, by the leading of His Spirit and the gift of Agápē love to cling to Christ alone, to come alive, and to help bring new birth and forgiveness to others.

Dear friends, our faith and God’s Agápē love that comes out of us are living, busy, active, and powerful things.  Martin Luther once said that faith and love do not ask “whether good works are to be done; but before the question is even asked, it has (already done) them and is always engaged in doing (those good works).” [C. Tr 941, 10]

Brothers and sisters, we need to meet weekly within this communion of saints,  because from within this very place, out of God’s Divine Service for us, we are continually filled with both faith and God’s Agápē Love, which then sends us out offering and performing good works for Christ’s church and our neighbor.

But because our human nature is constituted in such a way that we would rather be around and deal with those who are only good and perfect, and then neglect and ignore those who are imperfect and hard to love—because of this sinful tendency within us, we notice that those who are weaker cause those who are more perfect to be haughty, spiteful, judging, selfish and unloving while, on the other hand, those who are more perfect, more mature in their faith, cause those who are weaker to envy and be disrespectful.  This is why not only this epistle focuses in on our relationship with other saints, but indeed all of the epistles do the same as a way of warning and countering this evil, so that divisions and false teaching can not arise in Christ’s church.

So how can we avoid these terrible things and live our lives in a way that pleases our Great High Priest and Savior, Jesus Christ?  By leaving these things, confessing these things, and then by clinging to Christ alone; by turning to His cross and seeing atonement, and then turning to the Font and seeing new life.

When these things are active in our lives, it will be God’s Agápē love within us and around us that will bring peace and a strong witness to our community, the very people that need to know Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

This, therefore, is the Christian love that we cling to; it is the Agápē love that is shown to those who are contemptible and unworthy of love; this, Christian love that dwells within each of you, is the kindness that is given to those who are evil and ungrateful. For this is what God did for us; and we, too, are commanded to love as He loves.

Dear friends, broken people are messy, time consuming, and very hard to love; love them anyhow because God chose to love you!  AMEN!

Living the Consecrated Life

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Pentecost 24B, November 8, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” [1 Kings 17:9]

For some of you here this morning, the scripture readings all point to one conclusion: The pastor is going be preaching on stewardship, or giving.  If that is the conclusion you reached, well you’re not entirely right, but you’re not entirely wrong either.  You see our message is on living, and not giving.

This morning, our message will speak God’s words of faithfulness, which will in turn cause our hearts to trust in His care for us.  And that in turn will lead us to live a life set apart to glorify God as we praise Him and serve our neighbor.  So, in a sense this is a stewardship message, that will move us to live a consecrated life for God, but not the kind of life that some so called “evangelist” might define it, with the  words “Name it and claim it” behind their message; no our message comes directly from the heart of God.  It’s He alone who speaks to  our hearts, not sinful men, and He alone gives us faith and courage to follow and believe what He says in His Word.

In our Old Testament reading (1 Kings 17:8-16), Elijah the prophet is given yet another test from God in trusting His Word and taking action that is born out of faith. The test from God isn’t meant to trap Elijah, but to prove to Him that God will always provide.  God will do what He says He will do.  But God’s testing of Elijah’s faith, or His strengthening of faith, didn’t stop there.  God also spoke to a poor widow woman who had a home and family, and no more resources to provide for it.  The world was in the middle of a famine and this poor woman only had enough flour to make one last meal for herself and her child.  She must have been wondering, “Is there a god, and if there is does that god really care?”

And this is exactly the place where the living God proves that He is real and He does provide for those who receive faith and trust Him.  Through Elijah, God would also test her faith.  God’s promise to her was simple: the bowl of flour and the jar of oil will not be exhausted until the famine is over.

When Elijah spoke the promise of God to the widow, she heard and believed.  She passed God’s test of new found faith by preparing the bread for Elijah.  The widow acted as though the flour and oil would last forever.  And that is the very essence of faith; the widow trusted God’s Word.  “Faith is being certain of what we do not see”. [Hebrews 11:1]

Does God still look for examples of that faith today?  Yes!  But how, how is that kind of faith even possible?  Only by the Word, the promises of God; only when the one being blessed by the promise of God is trusting in the promise.  What promise?  Well there are many great promises that God makes in His Word, but the greatest of them all for sinners like us, is the promise of complete and total forgiveness of sins.  Have you claimed that promise?  Are you truly trusting that God has done that for you?  If you have then it should completely redefine your life.  It should change you in the very core of who you are and why you are living in this sinful world.  Has it; has it really changed you?  Well, let’s put it to the test.

We just sang the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be” (LSB 783) right?  Do you really believe the Words we sang in vs. 5&6?   “Take my will and make it Thine, It shall be no longer mine; Take my heart, it is Thine own, It shall be Thy royal throne.  Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store; take myself and I will be ever, only all for Thee.”  If God were to ask you right now if the life that you were living is a good example of your appreciation for all He has done for you, and an accurate representation of your trust and love for Him, would you be embarrassed?  If you’re honest with yourself, I think you already know the answer.

Ok, I know the message is getting a little uncomfortable for us this morning; that always happens when the Law of God begins poking and probing into those secret and protected places.  And what does God want us to see in all of this poking and probing?  Well, the quality of our faith of course.  He is always looking to test our faith, so that He can strengthen it.

When Elijah was sent to the widow to be cared for, God was already preparing the widow’s heart to be God’s caregiver for Elijah. When the man of God came and spoke the words, “Do not fear” God was through those very Words giving faith and courage to the woman so she could hear what came next: “make for me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”

Now, those are challenging words, in fact they are impossible words for anyone on the brink of starvation.  It is an all or nothing proposition.  You would have to be a fool to believe those words, unless they were God’s Words.  You see God’s Word always provides faith to believe the promise within the Word.  What was the promise?  That she would never lack!  It was not Elijah saying that, but God speaking through a true prophet.  She knew who Elijah was; she knew he was the real deal.  So the question that God was asking her was not if she trusted Elijah, but if she trusted Him.  God’s Word provides faith and it provides courage; God’s Word and not the word of men.

Earlier I referred to the phony evangelists and preachers who are known as the word of faith preachers.  Some of them use the slogan, “Name it and claim it!”  Or as I like to say, “Blab it and grab it!”  When they speak about seed money and sowing for blessings of wealth and prosperity, they really mean it; the only problem is that they’re talking about their own wealth and prosperity and not yours!  They aren’t preaching the gospel of forgiveness but the gospel of redistribution of wealth, from your hand to theirs.  These are the type of phonies that Jesus was talking about in our gospel reading this morning (Mark 12:38-44), listen: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers.”

Today, we might say beware of the prosperity preachers, who like to walk around in Armani suits wearing Rolex watches, expensive jewelry, living in lush million dollar homes, and driving around in a new Mercedes Benz.  You know who they are don’t you?  Where ever they go they want everyone in the community to notice them.  They are the ones who will use wonderful sounding prayers intended to manipulate you and take your last penny, with the promise that God will bless you.  Baloney!  Jesus says that those kind of phony preachers will receive great condemnation!  He tells you that for a reason; He wants you to take your heart and eyes off of the promises of men and instead focus on the promises of God.

After Jesus condemned the scribes, He called His disciples to His side, and He asked them to look at a poor widow who was putting a penny in the offering. After the widow deposited her offering, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Like the widow in our Old Testament reading, God worked within the heart of this widow with the penny to give everything and then trust in His care and blessing.  It was God who did that and not sinful man.  Why did God ask them to give everything?  So that He could be praised, not so the preacher or even the giver could be admired.  What was the reward for the widow’s giving?  Stronger faith; faith to know and experience God’s care and love, even in the middle of hard times.

Now at this point, many of us are asking ourselves this question, “Could I do that; could I give everything if God asked me to?”  The answer is simple; yes you could if God willed it!  But the truth is friends; the kingdom of God does not rest upon your obedience or lack of it.  God doesn’t need your time, talent, or treasure to build His kingdom, but He does invite you to use those things and be a partner in seeing that kingdom grow.  Why?  Because all that you have is from God; it’s a trust from Him, a tool that God wants to use to test and strengthen your faith.  But faith in what?  Faith in God’s faithfulness; faith in His forgiving heart, which speaks to you forgiveness of sins… the gospel of Jesus Christ!

It was Jesus, the Son of God who appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin (your sin), by sacrificing Himself upon the cross.  And just as it is appointed for (each of us) to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sin of many (yes, even your sins dear baptized, He) will appear a second time, not to deal with or punish our sins, but to save we redeemed and baptized sinners, who completely trust in His life, death, and resurrection as being done for us and in us, as we are eagerly waiting for Him to come again to bring us into paradise restored. [Hebrews 9:26b-28]

How much of our time, talent, and treasure does God ask us to give to Him?  All of it, everything we have, but when we realize this truth, He also takes away the fear of not being able to call it our own.  You see, He gives it right back to us, and then He asks us to hold onto it for Him, as a trust; something that has been consecrated, that is, it has been set apart as holy, and it is to be used in service to our Lord Jesus Christ and our neighbor.  God asks us to be responsible with our lives and to use them to further the spread of the good news about Jesus Christ and His Kingdom of grace.  He asks us to hold onto our treasure with an open hand so that He can take of it as He sees fit.

How much should you give?  I do not know; that is between you and God, but I do know this, you don’t decide to become a steward after you have a good job.  No, Christian stewardship demands that we take good care of our time talent and treasure, what ever it is, simply because we have been commissioned by Jesus to manage those things, how ever much or little of those things we have right now, and we do it simply for God’s glory and the spreading of His kingdom of grace one forgiven sinner at a time.

You see, we are all stewards; the only question is whether we are good stewards or bad ones.  I know that God is always testing our faith so that we will get better and better at trusting Him and believing that all we have is His alone, a trust from God to us.  May He continue to give us faith to believe this truth and also faith to embrace a consecrated life, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Are You In Business for God?

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 18C, September 22nd, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

The song you just heard, “For the Love of Money” by the OJ’s will give you a mental hook  to hang our message on.  It is a play on the old saying, “Money isn’t evil, only the love of  money is!”  Why is that?  Well, it is a First Commandment issue; “You shall have no other  god.  In other words, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Maybe some of you have read the title of our message this morning, “Are you in business  for God,” and you’ve already decided to tune out, thinking that you’re about to hear  another stewardship message.  Or maybe because you don’t own a business or because you  aren’t in business, you have decided that this message isn’t for you.  I submit to you that if  you have money, earn money, or use money you are in business; you are either in the  business of living and working for yourself or for the Kingdom of God. In other words, no  matter what station of life we find ourselves in, each of us are in the gospel business.

In each of your callings, you are first and foremost God’s steward of grace, or another way to say this is, you work for God—you are His businessman or woman.  Now a person in business has no business being in business just to make money. And that brings us to the danger that everyone in business faces; we face the danger of making money, or the pursuit of making money our god. Whenever we make a decision in favor of our pursuit of making money at the expense of God’s will, we have made money our god for that moment.

This morning, in all of our readings God confronts us with two world views: One is rooted firmly in the kingdom of man, and the other in the Kingdom of God.  In all areas of our lives, God desires to be first, especially in areas that involve money and possessions.

One of the greatest lies of the devil is that we should not mix Christianity and business, when the truth is, our business, whatever it might be, should not only be inseparable from our Christian faith, it should be directed by it. Money and possessions either complement or oppose God’s Kingdom of Grace.

In our Old Testament reading (Amos 8:4–7), God declares first, that He sees those who are in great need.  He is aware of their suffering in poverty.  But He also wants us to know that He sees the secret actions of other people, people who have the power to alleviate the suffering of the poor, but do nothing!  He knows what they do and why they do it.

God is saying that He looks down upon men, and He see’s both groups attending worship; one group has come to call out to Him for relief from their suffering.  Mixed together with their petitions and prayers for help, they also offer up praises to Him not only for what He has already done, but for what He will do in the future, simply because they know that God hears and loves His children.  The other group of people who attend worship gather for another reason.  They are there as a pretense, with a secret desire to appear godly in front of others so that they may continue to make friends and influence the right people.  Why?  Well, because it’s good for business… the business of making money.  They sit in church and watch the clock, and they can’t wait for God’s Divine Service to end so that they can get back out into the real world to further their kingdom.  But beware, you who think that God does not see or know, because He has “sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds (or their pretend worship).” [v.7]

Does that message sound sharp to you?  Jesus preached a similar message to the Pharisees who were listening to Him teach His disciples in our Gospel reading (Luke 16:1-15).  They, who were so often chasing after money and prestige, were confronted with a harsh truth, which declares “You can not serve God and money.”  One will be your God and the other your tormentor.

In our Gospel reading, (Luke 16:1–15), Jesus was speaking a message of reassurance and comfort.  “God knows your hearts”, He sees and knows your hardships.  He sees you struggling to put food on your table and care for your children.  God cares and He will provide, and you are blessed because you have put your trust in His love and mercy.  “But” says Jesus, “the people of the world are different!”

Now many of us have read and heard read the story about the unrighteous steward many times.  Unfortunately, this parable has been given so many different meanings that it’s very mention can cause grown men to cry like a baby, and bring fear and confusion to not just those in the pews who listen, but to the preacher who must teach and declare as well.  So I offer you a very simple way to receive these words, this parable of our Lord.

Jesus is speaking to two different groups; His disciples and His declared enemies, the Pharisees.  His disciples are led by faith and realize all that they are and all that they have to sustain them comes from the heart of a merciful God.  He is a God that not only has given them a new heart that loves the Kingdom of God, but He is also a God of grace that continues to protect their hearts and increase their faith as they daily learn to rest in His Kingdom.  The other group, who are the Pharisees, are there for other reasons.  They have no interest in becoming a disciple of Jesus or entering into His kingdom of grace.

So in my mind, I can see Jesus looking directly at the Pharisees and telling His story about the unrighteous steward.  The point that Jesus wants His disciples to receive is that even the worst of sinners, like those faithless Pharisees know how to be wise with their time, talent, and treasure, to further their own security and increase their personal happiness.  Now that being true, shouldn’t you who live primarily in God’s Kingdom of grace do the same?  Shouldn’t we as righteous stewards ask our selves the same question as the unrighteous steward: “What shall I do?”  What shall I do in order to rest in the security of God’s greater Kingdom of Grace?

Jesus makes a wonderful point and He turns it into a challenge for us; He says, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.  (So) I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails (and it will when you die) they may receive you into eternal dwellings.”

Let’s be clear, Jesus is not scolding His disciples for being “less” shrewd than worldly people, He is simply pointing out how adept worldly people are at looking out for themselves and their own security in this world.  It is as if He silently asks, “What can we learn from this?”

What we can learn is that our money is not for our own use but for the use of working with God to help others, influence hearts, and prepare others to receive the Word of God unto eternal life just as we have.  When we use our unrighteous wealth, that is wealth of this world for a righteous cause, which is to further the gospel, we can rest assured that our Triune God is pleased and we will one day join Him in His eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

So how do we know that we are a righteous steward and not an unrighteous one?  And that dear friends is the very questions that allows the gospel, the good news about forgiveness of sins to take away all of our fears and bring in exchange eternal hope and comfort.  How can you know that you are secure in God’s kingdom?  Because He has given you His Son, Jesus Christ, and with Him He has also given you a new heart; a heart of faith that rests in His promises of mercy.  You have been given a strong and empty hand of faith that simply reaches out and clings to Jesus, the very Son of God, and by that strength of faith you shall never tire of holding onto Him alone.

In our epistle reading (1 Timothy 2:1-6), Paul makes sure that we know what our hope is based upon.  It is in a Heavenly Father who desires for all people to be saved (v.4).  A God who sees the misery of His people; He is the God who sent His Son to them on a mission of mercy.  Jesus Christ, took on that mission and gave Himself (upon the cross) as a ransom for all. (v.6) It is this same Jesus, who alone is our mediator, the one Who brings peace in place of punishment for our cursed sins, because it is He alone who can by His life-blood, by His suffering and death pay for those sins.  And at just the right moment in time, God came to you and took this completed work of Jesus Christ and applied it towards your debt of sin in the waters of your baptism.  Your debt has been paid in full!

Now through the work of the only true righteous steward, you have complete access to the unlimited resources and riches of the very Kingdom of Heaven… you have complete forgiveness of sins!  There are no barriers between you and God.  Complete forgiveness of all your sins is yours!

In His life giving Word, God continually and intentionally takes us back to the day of our baptism, so that we will know that “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” [Revelation 7:10]  It is not contingent on what you have done or failed to do, but it is simply a gift of God, so that no one can boast! [Ephesians 2:8-9]  It was there, in the waters of your baptism where you were recreated into the image of His Son; the image of the truly righteous steward.

In His Word, God continually moves our eyes and hearts from our baptism to the drama that unfolds on His cross.  There at the cross, we see the sinful people in the crowd shouting “Crucify Him,” so that someone besides themselves would suffer and pay for the anger of Rome.  Herod and others were hoping for a magic show of some kind.  Pilot wanted a way out and the priests in attendance just wanted Jesus dead and gone.  And the executioners, well they just wanted it over so that they could get back to their lives.  So after they beat Him within an inch of His life, they shoved that massive crossbeam onto His shoulders and led Him to the Place of the Skull and promptly nailed Him to the wood.  And there hung the Son of God who was also the champion and Son of men, all because He gave Himself as a ransom for your sins.

But that is not the end of the story is it?  No, on the third day He rose from the dead and later ascended and returned to where He has always been, in the Kingdom of Heaven at the right hand of the Father.  And now, because He has returned to the Father, through the presence of His Holy Spirit who is ever with you, you and I have constant access to all of God’s treasures of grace; we are assured of His forgiving love and mercy.  You are saved!  So why would you ever want to live as if you have no hope?  Why would you want to live as if it is up to you to provide for your own security?

There is money and possessions all around us, but our love is not centered in those things, but for the God who provides all that we need in this life and the life to come.  May each of us continue to serve Him who first served and continues to serve us… Jesus Christ, the very Son of God.  AMEN!

It’s Time!

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 12C, August 12th, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” [Luke 12:35-37a]

Are you ready for Christ’s return?  He could come at any time.  Are you comfortable praying come Lord Jesus, come?  Do you really want Him to come now?  Some time ago, a person approached me  after Divine Service with this statement: “You know, I really wish you would quit preaching about how Jesus is coming back right soon.  And I also wish you would quit praying for Him to come  back soon.”  When I asked that person why we shouldn’t pray for His return, this is the answer I received: “Because there are a lot of things I still want to do, and now that my kids are grown and I  have the time and money to do them, every thing I planned for will be ruined, if Jesus comes back now!”

In our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 12:22-40), we are continuing our lesson from last week, when Jesus told us about the rich fool.  He was a fool, because he was rich in the things of this earth, but not rich in the things of God.  His new barns were over flowing with more than enough stuff to ensure an easy life on earth, but he had made no investment in the eternal life to come.  In other words, he was not ready for Christ’s return.  The person who was offended by my prayer, “Come Lord Jesus, come!” was also another example of someone who was not ready.  Are you ready?  Would it be alright with you if He came back right now?

Jesus calls the rich man who was not ready and the person offended by my prayer for Christ’s return a fool.  They were fools because their god was their stuff, and their own desires.  They lacked  faith in the great reward or prize that God promises to give to those who have faith.  What is faith?  Well, in our Epistle reading (Hebrews 11:1-16) we are told that “faith is the assurance of things  hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” [v. 1]  So what is it that you are hoping for?

Are you afraid of Christ’s return, or are you by faith believing that it will be as wonderful as He says it will be?  If you’re afraid, remember the Word of encouragement that God spoke to Abram in  our Old Testament reading (Genesis 15:1-6), because it is a Word for you as well: “Fear not, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” [v.1]

Jesus also speaks words of comfort to you; Words that are meant to take away your fear about His return and about the time you spend waiting and preparing for His return.  Listen: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

In those wonderful Words, we are first given courage, and then we are given instructions on how to live out courageous lives as we wait for Jesus to come back again.

You should not be afraid because you are one of Jesus little lambs; you are part of His flock, a person of faith that He loves dearly.  And because Jesus loves you, His Father, our Father in Heaven has prepared a great reward for you… a home; a place in heaven!  Now with this knowledge about Jesus return, whether it is on the last day of all creation or the day of your death; you are not given any reason for worry, because God is preparing a place for you!

Now, this information should give you great joy; peace with God’s plans for both you and the rest of creation.  And this gift of joy should be what determines how you live the rest of your life.  In other words, you should be able to see your stuff, your money and all of your possession as unimportant outside of how God wants you to use them for. You should be able to agree with God that they are His to give and take as He sees fit.  You should be willing to use them to spread the gospel and advance God’s kingdom as He leads you.  This is what Jesus means when He says that we should have purses, or bank accounts based in heaven not on earth.

If your stuff isn’t hoarded here on earth, like the stuff that belonged to the rich fool, then neither the rust of old age, the moth of disease, nor the thievery of death will have no effect on your stuff, because it is really God’s stuff being used as He determines.

Now be honest, do these Words make you feel any better about Christ’s return?  For many, I am afraid they do not.  And the reason for that lingering feeling of fear, is because you haven’t stayed dressed for action!

This morning Jesus tells us how he provides both faith to trust Him and peace in the certainty of knowing that everything will work out for your own good when He comes again.  Listen: Jesus says, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” [v. 35-37]

Remember the person who didn’t want me praying for Jesus to come soon?  That person saw Jesus return as the threat of the Law; as a kind of warning… “Jesus is coming soon… so beware!”  But Jesus wants you to receive these Words as assurance that He loves you and hasn’t forgotten about you.  He wants you to know that it’s “His job” to prepare you for His coming again.  He’s already dressed you for action in your baptism.  It was there that He clothed you with His own righteousness.  In those holy waters he applied to you personally, the precious fruit of the cross: righteousness and forgiveness of all sin.  In His Word, He constantly redresses you in these holy things by strengthening your faith; faith in Him and faith in the work that He is daily doing within you to recreate you into His image and prepare you for His return.   So when He comes at an unexpected hour, you will be surprised yes, but not afraid, because He will find you waiting in the strength that He has provided for you through His means of grace.

When He comes again you will really be blessed, but blessed only because He has assured that you are dressed for action; the action that is provided by a strong faith.  And when He comes again, the absurdity of the gospel will be revealed to each of you in all of its glory.  There in front of you, at His own banquet table, with all of the company of heaven gathered around, the Master becomes the servant.  As He saved you through His atoning death upon the cross, so too will He serve you at His own table; He serves you a meal of blessing and celebration.

So stay dressed for action.  Come often to His Divine Service, for it is the very means that God uses to fulfill His promise that no evil, neither spirit nor flesh can separate you from God’s love and protection.  Come often to His table of mercy here in this place to receive His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine where you receive more than a meal of forgiveness, but also a fore taste of the great banquet to come; a place where all the company of heaven will celebrate along with you.

It’s time dear friends.  It’s time to let Jesus change the way we see our lives here on earth, and it is time to allow Him to change the way we see our lives in eternity.  We are waiting for this great moment of Christ’s return together, not in fear or worry, but in joy.

Together we are waiting! Yes, patiently waiting! Till next steps made plain shall be; to hear, with the inner hearing, the Voice that will call for me.

Waiting! Yes, quietly waiting! No need for an anxious dread; shall He not assuredly guide me, Who gives me daily bread? Waiting! Yes, hopefully waiting!  With hope that needn’t grow dim; the Master has pledged to guide me, and my eyes are fixed on Him.

Waiting! Yes, expectantly waiting! Perhaps it may be today, that the Master will quickly open the gate to my future way. Waiting! Yes, trustfully waiting! I know, though I’ve waited long, that while He withholds His purpose, His waiting cannot be wrong.

Waiting! Yes, waiting, still waiting! The Master will not be late; He knows that I am waiting for Him to unlatch the gate.  (J. D. Smith)

“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” [Luke 12:35-37a]

Are you ready for Christ’s return?  He could come at any time.  Are you comfortable praying come Lord Jesus, come?  Do you really want Him to come now?  Some time ago, a person approached me after Divine Service with this statement: “You know, I really wish you would quit preaching about how Jesus is coming back right soon.  And I also wish you would quit praying for Him to come back soon.”  When I asked that person why we shouldn’t pray for His return, this is the answer I received: “Because there are a lot of things I still want to do, and now that my kids are grown and I have the time and money to do them, every thing I planned for will be ruined, if Jesus comes back now!”

Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus… Come!  Are you ready?  It’s time!  AMEN!

Claim it and Claim it!

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

24th Sunday in Pentecost B, November 11th, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“”And she went and did as Elijah said.  And she and her household ate for many days.” [1 Kings 17:15]  “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” [Mark 12:34]

This morning, our message is one of stewardship; not the way some pastor or a self-appointed “evangelist” might define it, with the  words “Name it and claim” it behind their message; no our message comes directly from the heart of God.  It’s He alone who speaks to  our hearts, not sinful men, and He alone gives us faith and courage to follow and believe what He says in His Word.

In our Old Testament reading (1 Kings 17:8-16), Elijah the prophet is given yet another test from God in trusting His Word and taking  action that is born out of faith.  The test from God isn’t meant to trap Elijah, but to prove to Him that God will always provide.  God will  do what He says He will do.  But God’s testing of faith, or His creating of faith, didn’t stop there.  God also spoke to a poor widow woman  who had a home and family, and no more resources to provide for it.  The world was in the middle of a famine and this poor woman  only had enough flour to make one last meal for herself and her child.  She must have been wondering, “Is there a god, and if there is  does that god really care?”

And this is exactly the place where the living God proves that He is real and He does provide for those who receive faith and trust Him.  Through Elijah, God would also test her faith.  God’s promise to her was simple: the bowl of flour and the jar of oil will not be exhausted until the famine is over.

When Elijah spoke the promise of God to the widow, she heard and believed.  She passed God’s test of new found faith by preparing the bread for Elijah.  The widow acted as though the flour and oil would last forever.  And that is the very essence of faith; the widow trusted God’s Word.  “Faith is being certain of what we do not see”. [Hebrews 11:1]

Does God still look for examples of that faith today?  Yes!  But how, how is that kind of faith even possible?  Only by the Word, the promises of God; only when the one being blessed by the promise of God is trusting in the promise.  What promise?  Well there are many great promises that God makes in His Word, but the greatest of them all for sinners like us, is the promise of complete and total forgiveness of sins.  Have you claimed that promise?  Are you truly trusting that God has done that for you?  If you have then it should completely redefine your life.  It should change you in the very core of who you are and why you are living in this sinful world.  Has it; has it really changed you?  Well, let’s put it to the test.

We just sang the hymn “We Give The But Thine Own” right?  Do you really believe the Words we sang? “We give Thee but Thine own, whate’er the gift may be; all that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.”   If God were to ask you right now if the amount that is in your giving envelope is a good example of how much you trust Him and love Him, would you be embarrassed?  If you’re honest with yourself, I think you already know the answer.

If you are a member here at Trinity, you are provided giving envelopes every year.  Do you ever read the different messages on each envelope?  Each message is designed to focus our hearts and minds on God’s forgiving love and then speak to our hearts as God helps us determine what to give.  This morning’s message on my envelope gets to the very heart of the question, “Why should I give more than a little to the church?”  Listen: The Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world—what a miraculous gift!  We praise Him through our gifts, which He uses to extend His kingdom.”  So how much is in your envelope this morning?  How much will you praise Him with?

Ok, I know the message is getting a little uncomfortable for us this morning; that always happens when the Law of God begins poking and probing into those secret and protected places.  And what does God want us to see in all of this poking and probing?  The quality of our faith.  He is always looking to test our faith, so that He can strengthen it.  And how does He do that?  Well, let me first tell you how He doesn’t do it; He surely doesn’t do it through worldly teachings and opinions.

When Elijah was sent to the widow to be cared for, God was already preparing the widows heart to be used by Him.  When the man of God came and spoke the words, “Do not fear” God was already giving faith and courage to the woman so she could hear what came next: “make for me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”  Now, those are challenging words, in fact they are impossible words for anyone on the brink of starvation.  It is an all or nothing proposition.  You would have to be a fool to believe those words, unless they were God’s Words.  You see God’s Word always provides faith to believe the promise within the Word.  What was the promise?  That she would never lack!  It was not Elijah saying that but God speaking through a true prophet.  She knew who Elijah was; she knew he was the real deal.  So the question that God was asking her was not if she trusted Elijah, but if she trusted Him.  God’s Word provides faith and it provides courage; God’s Word and not the word of men.

Earlier I referred to the phony evangelists and preachers who are known as the word of faith preachers.  Some of them use the slogan, “Name it and claim it!”  Or as I like to say, “Blab it and grab it!”  When they speak about seed money and sowing for blessings of wealth and prosperity, they really mean it; the only problem is that they’re talking about their own wealth and prosperity and not yours!  They aren’t preaching the gospel of forgiveness but the gospel of redistribution of wealth, from your hand to theirs.  These are the type of phonies that Jesus was talking about in our gospel reading this morning (Mark 12:38-44), listen: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers.”

Today, we might say beware of the prosperity preachers, who like to walk around in Armani suits wearing Rolex watches, expensive jewelry, living in lush million dollar homes, and driving around in a new Mercedes Benz.  You know who they are don’t you?  Where ever they go they want everyone in the community to notice them.  They are the ones who will use wonderful sounding prayers intended to manipulate you and take your last penny, with the promise that God will bless you.  Baloney!  Jesus says that those kind of phony preachers will receive great condemnation!  He tells you that for a reason; He wants you to take your heart and eyes off of the promises of men and instead focus on the promises of God.

After Jesus condemned the scribes He called His disciples to His side, and He asked them to look at a poor widow who was putting a penny in the offering.  After the widow deposited her offering, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Like the widow in our Old Testament reading, God worked within the heart of the widow with the penny to give everything and then trust in His care and blessing.  It was God who did that and not sinful man.  Why did God ask them to give everything?  So that He could be praised, not so the preacher or even the giver could be admired.  What was the reward for widows in their giving?  Stronger faith; faith to know and experience God’s care and love even in hard times.

Now, we’ve arrived at the conclusion of our message and many of us are asking ourselves this question, “Could I do that; could I give everything if God asked me to?”  The answer is simple; yes you could if God willed it!  But the truth is friends; the kingdom of God does not rest upon your obedience or lack of it.  God doesn’t need your time, talent, or treasure to build His kingdom, but He does invite you to use those things and be a partner in seeing that kingdom grow.  Why?  “Because all that you have is from God; it’s a trust from Him, a tool that God wants to use to test and strengthen your faith.  But faith in what?  Faith in God’s faithfulness; faith in His forgiving heart, which speaks to you forgiveness of sins… the gospel of Jesus Christ!

It was Jesus, the Son of God who “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin (your sin), by the sacrifice of Himself.  And just as it is appointed for (each of us) to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sin of many (yes, even your sins dear baptized, He) will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those (you and I), who are eagerly waiting for Him.” [Hebrews 9:26b-28]

How much does God ask us to give to Him?  All of it, everything we have, but when we realize this truth He also takes the fear of giving away.  You see, He gives it back to us and asks us to hold onto it as a trust from Him.  He asks us to hold onto it with an open hand so that He can take of our time, talent, and treasure as He sees fit.

How much should you give?  I do not know; that is between you and God, but I do know this, you don’t decide to become a steward of God’s gifts after your saved and you don’t decide to become a steward after you have a good job.  No Christian stewardship demands that we take good care of our time talent and treasure because we have been commissioned by Jesus to manage those things for God’s glory and the spreading of His kingdom of grace one forgiven sinner at a time.  You see, we are all stewards, the only question is whether we are good stewards or bad ones.  I know that God is always testing our faith so that we will get better and better at trusting Him and believing that all we have is His alone, a trust from God to us.  May He continue to give us faith to believe this… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Believe and Become!

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

21st Sunday in Pentecost B, October 21, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“”Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. [Hebrews 4:7]

The song I chose as a mental hook, “We Fall Down” is by Pastor Donnie McClurkin.  I want  to take some liberty with the words, and  change them just a little bit.  Listen:  “We fall down, Christ picks us up.  For a saint is just a sinner who fell down, and Christ picked up.   He picks us up again; get back up again; He picks us up again; get back up again.”  Or as they say in the Philippines, in their Tagalog  language, “Na mon, Na mon.”  Again and again.

Today, listen don’t worry about tomorrow or yesterday, but today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, but grab onto the  promises of His Word and get back up again and again!

Adam and Eve at first didn’t need the promise of forgiveness; they walked and talked with God in paradise.  But something happened;  sin happened and they lost access to both paradise and God.  But God wouldn’t let that separate Him from the people He created in His  image, so He did something to restore that image; He gave them mercy and grace, which in turn brought forgiveness and new life.  God  gave His promise that one day He would come to them and provide a Savior through the bloodline of the woman.  Adam and Eve fell in  sin, and God picked them up by giving them hope; He gave them the promise of a Savior, Jesus Christ, who would  pick them up!

Many years latter, the Hebrew people were in bondage and they cried out to God for help, and He heard them.  He reminded them of the promise He made concerning the coming Savior who would make all things new and right; He reminded them that they were a people of faith who should grab onto that promise.  So God sent them Moses, a type of savior, but not THE Savior.  Moses would lead them out of bondage and into a type of promise land, Canaan, but not THE Promised Land of Paradise.  But they began to grumble and complain.  They began to lose faith, and they sinned against God and their neighbors.  Their sin was serious; they would not repent of it and trust the promises of God.  So God punished them and they died in their sins.  But their children did  repent and believe, and God allowed them to enter Canaan.  They fell down, but the promises of God concerning their Savior lifted them back up.

Their faith in this promised Savior was the only way God would one day give them total rest… Sabbath rest!  And that one day came, and God kept His promise and came to them from their own bloodline.  Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God came to them in human flesh.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  And on the third day He rose from the dead and proclaimed Sabbath rest for all who believe.  Through His death and resurrection He gave complete forgiveness for all sins.  This good news was preached first to the Jews, and then to all who would listen and believe.  Many rejected and fell down, but some believed and Christ picked them up.

And now we read in our Epistle lesson (Hebrews 4:1-16), that some are again in danger of disbelief; of lack of faith in the promises of God.  Some of them then and some of us now were and are in danger, so Christ desires to pick us up; He wants us to grab onto the promise of forgiveness and get back up.

I know that some of you here may feel like it might be too late to get back up; you might think that God is growing tired of you.  Maybe you feel that you are no longer counted among the saints, and instead you’ve become an ain’t!  Well like the song said, a saint is just a sinner who fell down and Christ picked up.  So… get back up again.  Do you need help getting up?  Then let this message from God pick you up again.

What was bad news for the wandering wilderness generation turns out to be good news for us.  You see, we learn that all of those who died in the wilderness, an entire generation of Hebrews, didn’t have to die; they could have repented, and trusted in the promises of God.  God would have lifted them up again, but they would not let Him, so they died in their sins, and the next generation made it to the promise land of Canaan.  But Canaan wasn’t the place where God would give them true Sabbath.  Canaan was just a shadow of the spiritual place and goal that God set before them in the promise of His Word.

Dear friends, that promise is still ours to grab onto, just as it was theirs.  It remains in force as an offer of peace with God; all any have ever needed to do was rest in the offer and receive the Savior who is promised in the Word of God.

Since countless men and women that went before us refused to trust in the promise of the Savior and died in their sins, forever cut off from paradise, then let us approach God and His promises with fear and trembling.  Otherwise we too may fail to reach our goal of paradise and peace with God.

The promises of God are the good news; the gospel about Jesus Christ.  Just as the promise came to those before us, it comes to us now… today!  The message they heard didn’t help them in the least, because they lacked faith in it.  You see, faith is the glue that sticks you to God and the hope of His promises fulfilled for you.  Faith is what gives you Jesus when you fall; the same Jesus who gladly calls you not just friend but brother.  He is the same Jesus who picks you up again and again.

By faith, God promises and gives to you Jesus, your true Sabbath rest.  By faith, we who believe in Jesus enter that Sabbath rest immediately at baptism.  And by faith, we walk in that Sabbath rest until we enter forever into God’s peace in paradise.  Since we have that rest and will forever experience that rest, shouldn’t we do everything to stay in that rest?  Shouldn’t we put all of our attention on protecting our relationship with Jesus?

How?  How do we protect that relationship?  By staying in the Word of God.  A Word that is sharper than a double edged sword.  It is the Word of God and not our money, things, or prestige that offers peace and delivers it.  The Word of God alone looks intently into our souls and shows us the sin that we hide so well from others, and then it offers us forgiveness and new life.  All that God asks of us that we trust Him; He asks that we hear Him speak to our hearts in His Word and simply believe.

It is the Word of God alone that strips you naked and vulnerable before your creator, and then offers to take your shame and cover it with the glory of Jesus Christ; the same glory that our parents, Adam and Eve once had but lost; but then had again when they placed their faith and trust in the promise of a Savior who would make all things new again.

In our gospel lesson, you heard again about the difficulty of a rich man getting into heaven.  In fact it is about as possible for a rich man trusting in his riches to get into heaven as it is for a Camel to pass through the eye of a needle.  In the middle ages a story was told about a gate in Jerusalem called the eye of the needle.  It was so narrow that a man or woman had to enter on foot, without a camel, horse, or weapons.  This design was intentional so that the city would be protected from invading warriors.

Whether that story is true or not is immaterial, but the illustration is perfect.  God wants you to place everything you trust in at the foot of the cross.  He wants you to come empty and naked to the waters of your baptism, where He clothes you with the righteousness of His own Son, Jesus Christ.  He wants you to trust Him with your time, talent, and treasure, so that He can give you the wealth of His kingdom.  In essence, He wants you to enter heaven through the narrow way… Jesus Christ alone.  And to make sure we trust in Christ alone so that a sinner becomes a saint, He speaks these Words of assurance to you.

Today, not tomorrow but today, if you are hearing His voice do not harden your hearts but enter into rest.  Turn to Jesus, the Son of God, your Compassionate High Priest.  Grab onto Him and let Him pick you up again and again.  Hold fast to your confession of faith that in Jesus alone you have peace with God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and Earth.  Because, you don’t have a High Priest in Jesus Christ who is unable to sympathize with your weakness, but instead you have your Savior and God who was born of the Virgin Mary just as you were born.  He suffered, not just in His death but in this life.  He faced all of the same tragedies and heartaches that you face, but He faced them perfectly, without sin, for you!  For you, He suffered, died, and was buried, FOR YOU, FOR YOU.  Let those words ring in your ears; let them soak into your heart and mind.  Jesus fell down; He let them put Him down, but then by His own power, the power of God He got up!  He got up so that you would trust Him and allow Him to pick you up, again and again, until the final day when He takes you up to your promised rest in paradise.

So be bold and grab onto the promises of God that were first given to you within the waters of your baptism.  Be bold and approach His table of grace where you dine on His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Be bold, believe, and become the saint that Christ picks up.  Boldly believe and become all that God proclaims for you, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

20th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 14, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to Him, Then who can be saved?”  [Mark 10:17-27]

That’s the million dollar question, pardon the pun.  If that rich dude who did a pretty fair job at keeping the law had the same chance of getting into heaven as a camel walking through the eye of a needle, then who can be saved.

Now, I chose the song “So Close and Yet So Far” as our mental hook to put the message on.  I could have also chose the Johnny Mathis song with the same title as our message, “Too much, too little too late,” but I like the idea that the rich young ruler was so close to heaven and yet so far.  The proof of that is in his question and how he received Jesus answer.  “How do I get to heaven?”  And to that Jesus says, “Sell everything you’ve got, give the money to the poor, and then come on and follow me.”

There’s your answer young man; and if Jesus says it’s the way for you, well then, you can take that to the bank.  Oops, pardon the pun again!

A Sunday school teacher was examining her pupils after a series of lessons on God’s omnipotence.  She asked, “Is there anything God can’t do?”  There was an appropriate silence in the room.  Finally, one young boy raised his hand.  The teacher, disappointed that the young boy still did not learn the lesson’s point, asked somewhat in a disappointed tone, “Well, just what is it that God can’t do?”  “Well,” replied the boy, “He can’t please everybody.”

Maybe a better way of saying that, is that Jesus knows a way that should please everyone, but most folks think they know more than Him, so they strike off to please themselves in a way that seems right to them, but in the end… well it just leads to judgment and death.

Throughout our lives God is consistently calling out to us; He’s asking us to take a truthful look into our hearts and admit that our transgressions are many, and our sins are great. But we don’t want to see those things.  He wants us to see that we live in an evil time, and that there is evil all around us.  He’s telling us to seek good, and not evil so we will live; He’s telling us to hate evil, love good, and then spend our lives not just loving God’s goodness, but also working to spread it throughout our community. [Amos 5:6-15]

Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?  Yet, while we might agree with the plan, secretly, within our hearts, we can never accept that plan.  We can’t accept it, because it requires a complete surrender of everything that we have come to believe is important and necessary in this life.  The truth is, money, fame, prestige, and possessions are the things that society has taught us to seek and trust in.

Some years ago there appeared in the daily paper an account of two separate women.  One woman was a rich debutant who spent millions of dollars on clothes and possessions, including a bill for a $70,000 dress from Paris; the other woman, a modest Christian woman who once was rich, but now poor, admitted that she had given most of her millions to her church and various charities.  She was asked how she could so easily give away her estate and yet the other woman, could not do the same, and she replied, “Well, I guess it is a matter of taste—Paris gowns or heavenly crowns.”

Was giving her money away the key to pleasing God or was there something more that pleased her all powerful Creator.

Before the rich young ruler asked Jesus the million dollar question, he said something that caused Jesus to begin teaching with His own question.  The young man in complete sincerity ran up to Jesus, knelt down before Him and said, “Hello good teacher.”

Now I want you to understand what the young man means when he calls Jesus good.  It means that he respects Jesus; he admires Him, because He is wiser and better than him; or as my grandson Gabriel says, Jesus was “gooder” than him.  And because of this perception of his, He came to Jesus with a question that he’d been wrestling with for years: “What must I do to be saved?”

And what is Jesus response?  ‘Why are you calling me good?  You know that in our tradition, we never call anyone good but God, right?  So what is the reason you call me good?  You are struggling with a great concern; you want to go to heaven, but you don’t quiet know how to guarantee your place, right?  Now stop right there and remember, you called me good, on your own; that’s a description that you would usually only use for your Creator.  So, if I am truly good, then hear what I am about to say.’

‘You know the commandments that relate to your neighbor; those in your family and community, right?  Just do them.’  And the rich young ruler said to Him, “Teacher, all of those commandments I have kept from my youth.”  And what did Jesus do next?  Did He give Him a theological teaching on the inherit sinfulness of the human heart?  No, instead He looked at the young man and loved him.  He knew that this person was sincere in his belief that he was living a God pleasing life.  The problem wasn’t in His sincerity but in the reality.  While everyone looking at this young man on the outside would agree that he was living an exemplary life, Jesus who is God and looks into the heart, looked and saw judgment and pain.  Jesus knew that this young man had been duped by the world into thinking that doing your best is what pleases God instead of trusting your best with God.

So Jesus helps the young man see who his real God is; the one he really trusts in.  Jesus says, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”

What Jesus was trying to get the young man to see, was that the one thing needful that he lacked was a real relationship with His Creator.  He lacked an intimacy with God that can only come through trust; through God’s undeserved love and kindness, which is always a gift on God’s terms.  It’s always a free gift and never earned.

When I was a young man, my grandfather corrected me on a hymn I was singing.  The hymn was “Trust and obey.”  I was singing it like this, “Trust and OK”.  But now that I am older, I still like those words much better.  If I can just keep learning to trust God’s care for me and His plan for my life, then everything will be OK.  There is no other way.  But that kind of trust in the true God is impossible if you are already trusting in something else.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  The truth is friends, the real reason that the rich young ruler, and you and I have such a hard time receiving Jesus Words this morning is because when He speaks He is messing with our value system.  I mean, let’s be honest here; we all like to believe that what we have is ours, because we earned it; we worked hard for it.  We all like to look at our stuff, as proof of our success, and indicators of God’s approval and blessing in our lives.  And now Jesus is telling us that our “stuff” may not be a blessing at all.

What is it that really matters in life?  If it isn’t money and possessions; if it isn’t financial security, then what?  This morning, Jesus wants you to connect with the only One who is Good!  The rich young ruler was speaking to Him, and you do too!  Maybe like that rich young man, you also are asking God what the secret to eternal life is.  How can I know for sure that I am saved?  Well, like that young man, once you hear God speak and you listen, you have what God calls the beginning of wisdom unto salvation.

Then what about our doing good?  Doesn’t that count for something?  Well, the truth is that all of our own righteousness, our good deeds are simply like soiled rags before God, because we still have our sinful nature clinging to us.  And while we continue deceiving ourselves, thinking that we can please God by good behavior, Jesus looks at us and He loves us.  He loves us and dies for us upon the cross.  And from the cross He says follow me.  I have done all things good; all things good for you.  I am your treasure; your true wealth.

So who can be saved if there is nothing we can do to please God?  All can be saved.  All of us have been promised that salvation is ours for the taking, if we will just trust in God’s way; trust then ok.  All things are possible with God.  God alone is greater than our fears and our worries.  In His Word He gives us great treasures that make us rich.  In His Word He gives us Jesus and His righteousness.  By Jesus poverty we are made rich.

In God’s time, at just the right time Jesus died for the world.  He who emptied Himself and gave up His life on the cross, was also raised from the dead.  And in Jesus alone we have life, an abundant life and the promise of eternal peace and happiness.

This morning, Jesus is asking us to be vulnerable before God.  “Come and follow me,” He says.  Amos cries out to us this morning that we should “Seek the Lord and live,” but the truth is, we don’t have to seek Him this morning, because He’s already sought us and found us.  In the cross, God is revealed; more than that, the depth of God’s love is shown to us.  In the cross, God demonstrates the truth that He will never leave you or forsake you.

Jesus who loved the young man loves us as well.  He has declared us forgiven as He splashes water over us.  We are transformed as God’s Word of grace is spoken to us.  We eat the bread of life, we drink the cup of salvation and He tells us again that our sins are forgiven.  Through it all we experience God’s loving purpose for us revealed in the cross of Jesus.

I would like to think that eventually the rich young ruler understood that what he had to offer God on His own, was too much of too little.  I would like to think that he realized this before it was too late.  I trust that each of us has learned to place our own security on Christ, the solid rock.

So too, each of us who have been transformed, have come to discover that the giving of our time, talent, and treasure, isn’t something we must do to receive God’s forgiving love, instead it is something we will do because we already have his forgiving love.  We’ve discovered that “hating evil and loving the good”, as Amos says, is the result of our relationship with God.  Selling possessions and giving up all, even life itself, is possible only in the light of Jesus sacrifice for us upon the cross.

Through Jesus and His cross, through the waters of our own baptism, we discover that a camel really can go through the eye of a needle; we really can be saved, on Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

Celebrate His Faithfulness!

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Fifth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 1, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” [Lamentations 3:25]

Waiting is always difficult.  We always want to find a way to eliminate it, or at least speed it up.  This is especially true when we’re waiting on  God to act, speak, or intervene.  May I be so bold as to say that “we” all can become impatient with God?  Could it be true, that in the middle  of our waiting we may even feel like God has abandoned us, and forced us to fend for ourselves?

The Apostle Paul knew that temptation to grumble about God’s perceived tardiness, which is why he wrote these Words to encourage the  church in Corinth: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck  down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8,9).

This was also God’s Word in our Old Testament Lesson (Lamentations 3:22-33) to His people of faith that were conquered and uprooted from their homeland.  They were stripped of every  material possession they had.  They lost their homes, possessions, and for some even their families.  To these poor souls, it seemed that they  could fall no lower.  They had no visible resources, either from within or without.  The whole world had declared them a lost nation.  But the unbelieving world did not know that they had one hidden and best resource left, and in truth it was their first and only true resource… they had the LORD!

Because of God’s great love for His children of faith, because of His great faithfulness, God’s people would survive; God would protect them and restore them.  His love for His children of faith always wins out.  Even when His children lose faith while they’re waiting, God is faithful and His love never fails!

God can’t help Himself; He always helps His children who He has loved with an everlasting love.  It was His love that fired His compassion to help his children back then, and it is His love that fires His compassion to help us and His church today.  And when we remember God’s love for us, our faith and resolve as a congregation and as His individual children are strengthened.  It is this remembering of His love and faithfulness that moves us to seek out Jesus and rest in His Word and promises.  It is this remembering that moves us to celebrate God’s faithfulness even when we are hard pressed, crushed, and perplexed!

In or gospel reading (Mark 5:21-43)  both Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood would have quickly testified that they too were hard pressed, crushed, and perplexed!  They must have both been wondering, “Why is this happening to me?”  Why is God allowing my little daughter to die so young?  Why has good allowed me to have this bleeding disease for so long and even blinded the eyes of the doctors so that they can’t cure me?

Jairus must have felt that all of his waiting for his daughter to be healed was for nothing.  Maybe he even felt betrayed by God.  After all he was the faithful leader of God’s people who gathered at the synagogue to hear God’s Word.  Jairus loved God’s children of faith with the love that the Father gave him to love with, so why wasn’t God responding with help?

The woman with the issue of blood also must have felt abandoned in her long wait for God’s cure.  Can you imagine, she waited twelve long years and went to physician after physician and no comfort or help was found?  She was now at the point of poverty, maybe even homelessness in her waiting, and still no cure or even a Word of promise and hope from God!

Maybe you know exactly how they were feeling.  Maybe you are going through that waiting period right now?  I know that we are as a congregation; we are waiting for God to send help to his children of faith who gather at Trinity Lutheran Church in San Diego.  Like the leader Jairus, we to have been faithful in our ministry of God’s Word and Sacrament.  We have been around since 1894, faithfully dispensing God’s law and gospel, baptizing and feeding His saints.  Why we can look back in the history of our congregation and see that at one time we were even directly responsible for planting several church’s here in San Diego.  We’ve been intentional in making our congregation multi-cultural and inclusive.  And here we sit; finances exhausted and our patience about at its end.  Why some of us are even talking about giving up and closing the doors!  I’ve heard it said several times, “Eventually we will just have to give everything to the Synod.  What else can we do?”

Well I’ll tell you what else we can do, both for our own lives and for the life of this congregation; we can find Jesus and go directly to Him!

That’s what both Jairus and the woman did in our gospel lesson.  Jairus, a man of prestige, a leader of God’s people threw himself down in the dirt at Jesus feet, and simply worshiped Him and called out for help.  “Kyrie!  Lord have mercy!”  The woman with the issue of blood did not even consider herself worthy of speaking to Jesus.  She felt that her bleeding made her an unclean sinner who shouldn’t even be out in public, yet she went out didn’t she?  She went out and found Jesus, and using the crowd of people to hide in, she got down on her hands and knees and simply reached out with her hand of faith to just touch the corner of Jesus garment.

And what was Jesus response to both of them.  “Do not fear, only believe. Your faith has made you well, made you whole.”  So what can we learn from all of this?  First, Jesus sees and knows all that is happening to you and to our congregation.  He hasn’t turned a blind eye to you or our problems.  Just as he knew how Jairus felt when they told him that his daughter was dead, He knows how we are feeling.  He knows our fears and our feelings of abandonment.  And so Jesus speaks the gospel, words of faith to Jairus and to us.  “Don’t be afraid.  Keep on believing.”

And to the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus called her out of hiding and insisted that she reveal herself in public.  When He did this, He was also revealing Himself to her; Jesus said,  “Your faith has made you well.  You are no longer a despised unclean sinner.  You are forgiven.  Your faith in me is what has saved you.  You reached out that empty hand of faith and I filled it with even more gifts.  Keep on believing and reaching out and I will keep on filling you!

This was Paul’s message to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).  They too, like Trinity were struggling within their poverty.  Their offerings had all but dried up so that to some it may appear that the work of God through the proclaimed Word of God might be dying along with their unpaid bills and salaries.  But Paul wanted to remind them that their true debt was a spiritual one.  And it had been paid in full by their Savior, the Son of God Jesus Christ.

Paul then directed their minds to a sister congregation in Macedonia.  They too had been stripped of most of their material wealth.  They too saw the tithes and offerings fall to almost useless proportions.  But still they gave.  They gave and gave to the point that Paul thought that it may be unhealthy for them to give anymore, so he asked them to stop.  But they begged Paul to let them continue giving.  Why?  Because they saw the truth in their giving; they were giving out of grace.  They were giving because it was the love of the Father, the gift of grace through faith in the Son Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit that was working in them to give.  They knew by faith that they could not out give God, so in essence they were afraid that if they quit giving God would no longer shower them with blessings.  What blessings?  Well I’m sure they were reaping all kinds of physical blessings; how else could they keep on giving?  But the true blessing to them was first the blessing of being forgiven and then the blessing of being part of the believing body of Jesus Christ; the blessings of being Christ’s church, with Jesus as both their head and heart.  And so they gave out of their poverty so that others could be helped and the preaching of the gospel maintained.

And that dear friends was Paul’s solution to the Corinthians lack of charity.  It wasn’t a command to give more or to even give at all; Paul didn’t say give until it hurts so that God will love you more and bless you.  No, Paul simply showed the Corinthians what happens when one heart and many hearts remember and celebrate the faithfulness of God as demonstrated by the coming and giving of His Son.

Turn your eyes to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.  Remember His suffering and death for you.  For you, for you, for you… let those words echo in your ears.  He became poor so that you could become rich.  He became weak so that you could become strong; strong in faith and strong in service.

How do we celebrate God’s faithfulness?  By turning our eyes of faith to Jesus.  We celebrate by opening our hands and hearts like Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood.  We wait on the LORD quietly to give and take as He sees fit.  We remember that God cannot fill a closed fist, but He can fill hands that are open and lifted high in prayer, giving freely and waiting to receive the abundant blessings from above.

May the Spirit of Christ move us to do this very thing… I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!