Posts Tagged ‘Suffering’

The Fortress Awaits!

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

Lent 1 (A), March 9, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” [John 20:31]

I chose our text this morning as a guide for examining the message that’s communicated in all three of our readings.  What is that message?  God wants good for His children; He wants you to have a “good” and eternal life in and with Him!

How could God who alone is good, desire any thing but good for us?  In the first two chapters of Genesis we learn all about God’s goodness.  Each time He completed a stage of creation we hear… and it was good!  Like the comforting purr of a kitten the word good is repeated over and over.  But on the sixth day, the last day of creation, God created something good that would reflect His goodness and love to the rest of creation, but it also would give the devil an opportunity to strike out at God.  “God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” [Genesis 1:26]

“And God said (to Adam and Eve), “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.  You shall have them for food.  And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of lie, I have given every green plant for food.” [Genesis 1:29, 30]

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Genesis 2:15-17]

The Garden of Eden, Paradise, eternal life with God the creator, the land of milk and honey, was a perfect place for perfect people.  All of God’s good creation existed within His perfection; it was the perfect picture of peace.  When God created man is His image, in essence He was creating a people who also had the power to create; that is man was created as a rational being who could conceive an idea and then work towards its conception and completion.  Man alone was the one creature that God gave full charge over the rest of creation.  In essence, God was telling Adam and Eve that they would be His ambassadors to the rest of creation. All of creation was their’s to manage and put to use; all except one tree, “the tree of Knowledge of good and evil.”  That tree was to represent God’s presence or authority over man and the creation that He had given them to be stewards over.

Now we must not misunderstand the significance of this one tree.  It was not as if God created man and then said, “I’m leaving, but that tree will remind you of my love and the good times we had together.”  No, God was no absentee father and man was not a latch key kid!  After all, scripture clearly says that man and God walked together in the garden in the coolness of the day, and man was not afraid.  Man knew God and loved Him.  The tree instead represented the otherness of God.  It reminded man that while they were as god to creation, they were not God!

Martin Luther called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “Adam’s Altar”.  I like that idea.  There at the tree Adam and Eve could return to God the true worship He was due as an act of obedience.  But this was just the opportunity that the devil would exploit.  You see, Satan was craftier than all of creation, including man!  The devil, disguised as a serpent began to craft innocent questions in order to create thoughts that then caused doubts in the minds of Adam and Eve, doubts in regards to the truthfulness of God’s Word.  “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”

How Eve should have answered the devil was, “No, God never said that.  Why do you question His Word?”  But instead, Eve replied the truth of God’s command, but then she added a little something to it.  “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the garden.’” But now listen to what she added, ‘neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  Now, Eve has demonstrated her weak spot so to speak, the kink in her full armor of God.  I believe that she was attracted by the beauty and splendor of the fruit.  And the rest as they say is history, the history of the fall of all of creation.  But where pray tell was her husband?  He, who was her spiritual head, was right there with her and never once did he intervene by rebuking the attack of the devil.

So there you have it, the loss of paradise.  A perfect home for perfect people, enjoying the love of a perfect Father, undone by a carefully crafted lie, “You will not surely die.”  Now Adam and Eve knew shame.  Their shame was not their nakedness but the nakedness of their sin before their perfect Father.  They no longer went out to meet their Creator God joyfully, but hid as he approached.  They knew that their loving Creator-Father had now become their judge!  And once found out, neither of them accepted responsibility for their sin, but instead they began making excuses and shifted blame to each other and even onto God Himself!

But Satan’s trick and our sin would not win the day.  God’s love would not let them go; He would not give them up.  God would not abandon them in their guilt.  He would send a Savior who would come and crush the power of sin and the devil forever.

“You ask who this may be?  The Lord of hosts is He, Christ Jesus mighty Lord, God’s only Son adored.  He holds the field victorious.”  [LSB 657 vs. 2b]

In our Gospel reading, Jesus the Son of God and the Son of man performs perfectly the task that Adam could not accomplish; He defeats the devil.  Armed with only the Word of God, Jesus led by the Spirit of God entered the wilderness to right the wrong of Adam and undo the sin of our first parents.  His victory over the devil using only the true Word of God is also our victory, as He sends the devil running.  His righteousness becomes our righteousness by faith.  Just as in the garden, the battle being fought is really over obedience to God’s will, which is communicated in His Word.

As Satan addressed Jesus, he used the same tricks that Eve fell to.  Through deception, He attempted to plant doubts and half-truths, and then finally blatant lies in order to attack and already weakened Jesus.  But this was Jesus, the Christ, and the Son of God who enters the fray as your Champion.  Notice the decisive and bold stand that Jesus takes in our place: “Be gone, Satan!”  For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”

Dear friends, the truth is that all of Satan’s attacks were meant to deter Jesus from His Divine appointment to become our Savior.  The devil tried every trick in the book to prevent Jesus from doing what Adam could not.  And now, the devil tries the same thing against us.  Think of how most temptations still come to us today: “If you are really God’s forgiven child then why do you still struggle with guilt and sin?  If you are truly a Christian, blessed by God, why are you experiencing all of this trouble, pain, and loss?”

Dear friends, Jesus knows what it is like to fight off questions about God’s truthfulness, which undermine the message about His forgiving love.  He knows how the devil tempts us to take short cuts as a way of getting to our treasured goal.  He knows what we all go through in those tough times of life when our baptism seems so long ago and far away.  He knows what is like to doubt the trustworthiness of our Heavenly Father.  And that is why Jesus wielded the sword of God’s Word against the devil.  He did it to crush him and send him running in defeat, a defeat for you!

“Though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot over power us.  Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage.  His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!  One little word subdues him.” [LSB 657 Vs. 3]

What is that little Word?  Jesus!  God Saves!  It is the name of Jesus that is your fortress.  Blessed is the name of the Lord.  The name of the Lord is a strong tower.  The righteous run into it, (that is they cling to their Savior Jesus by faith), and are safe. [Proverbs 18:10]

Through Jesus alone, the pattern of death begun by Adam is over. [Romans 5:12–19] Jesus is that seed of the woman who would smash the head of our enemies: sin, death, and the devil.  Upon the cross, that ancient serpent shrieked when he heard the last Words of our Savior: “It is finished.  Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  For Jesus, these are Words of victory, but for us, they are words that bring faith.  Words that assure us the battle is over and won!

Just as Adam’s one sin led to death for all of mankind, so also Christ’s obedient death and then resurrection, brought justification and new life to all who are baptized in His name and continually flee to the fortress of His Word and His cross in repentance and receive God’s forgiving love.

What an unspeakable gift God has given us through Jesus Christ!  It is literally paradise restored.  As God’s new people sealed by baptism into Christ, we can once again walk with God without fear.  We can look forward to the day when we die in faith and are welcomed back to Eden restored, where our Savior has gone to prepare a place just for us.

But for now we live and walk by faith.  And as we live, it’s God’s will that we would drink up every one of His promises that declare, “He who began the good work in us” will complete it through the new and greater Adam, Jesus Christ.  We declare boldly by faith to our enemies, that no one, not even the devils can snatch us out of the Father’s hand or the Son’s abundant gift of grace.

“God’s Word forever shall abide.  No thanks to foes, who fear it; for God Himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.  Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.  The Kingdom’s ours forever!” [LSB 657 vs.4]

So follow Jesus. The fortress awaits and paradise is restored!  AMEN!

Welcome, Now Listen!

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

The Transfiguration of our Lord (A), March 2, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” [Matthew 17:5b]

These are powerful words that either thunder from God’s Holy Mountain as an “or else” statement, or they are the sweet melodies of comfort, taking the promises of God’s mercy and presence directly into our hearts, as a mother would sing a lullaby to her child.  How you take these words will determine how this mornings message works within your soul.  The disciples and Holy Apostles of Jesus found themselves in a similar situation just a few weeks before Jesus’ transfiguration.

While in the district of Caesera Philippi, which was near the Syrian border, Jesus asked His disciples a simple question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  That is, who do they say Jesus is?  Now the disciples gave Jesus different answers as they had heard them spoken among the people.  When they had finished, Jesus asked the real question: “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:13-18]  Then Jesus strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ.  “(And) from that time (on) Jesus began to show His disciple that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  (But) Peter took Him aside and began to (scold) Him, saying “Far be it from you, Lord!  (That) shall never happen to you.”  (Then) Jesus turned (around) and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man( that is, the things of this world).”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me (that is if you want to truly be my disciple), let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:19-24]  After those Words, Jesus encouraged them with these mysterious Words.  “For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of the Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done (in faith).  Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom.” [Matthew 16:27, 28]

This morning, God wants you to see the truth about Jesus; it is a truth that only His Holy Spirit can reveal to you.  He wants you to declare and believe along with Peter and the whole church, “(Jesus is) the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  But He also wants you to see the absolute necessity of His suffering death and His resurrection.  He wants you to allow both your declaration of faith and your new life through His death and resurrection to lead you out into a world dark and dead in sin with no fear.  But Jesus knows, like Peter, you will have both doubts and fears; He knows that the devil will attempt to take your eyes off of His path, which is the painful way of the cross, so just as He rebuked Satan for Peter, He does the same for you.  And with Satan defeated and your eyes back on Jesus He says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”  Now let’s get into our gospel reading (Matthew 17:1-8).

This morning, we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord.  We see whom those few are that would not taste death before they saw the “Son of Man in the glory of the Father.”

There on the mountaintop, Peter, James, and John were allowed to see who Jesus was… God Almighty.  There on the mountain top Jesus the Son of Living God is shining with all of His divine glory “like the sun.”  And there appearing with Him in a holy conversation are Moses and Elijah.  The disciples needed no introduction, because God’s Spirit was present and working within their hearts.  Both of these long departed men of God were national heroes to the Jews, and they collectively represented all that was good in being one who has been chosen, called, and protected by God Himself, as a Father protects and a mother comforts their own dear children.  Moses was the great lawgiver.  The Law was God’s way of protecting His children by creating a hedge around them, which would deliver them from their enemies both physical and spiritual.  And Elijah, he represented all of the prophets, which God had sent to remind His people that the Messiah, their Savior would soon come by breaking into our reality and delivering the long awaited salvation from their real enemies, which were sin, death, and the devil!

Please remember this: While Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking it was only Jesus who was shining in glory.  Any shining that came from the other two was simply the light of the Son of God reflecting off them, much like the moon can not generate its own light but only reflect the light of the sun.

Now in the middle of this moment when both heaven and earth become one, a time when most people would be still and silent, Peter can not help but declare, “Lord, its good that we’re here!”  Peter, Peter, what are you doing?  That was a divine A-B conversation between God and the Law and Prophets.  The only part you play in that conversation is “C” so SEE your way out of it!  But he doesn’t; in fact he makes it worse, well for us he makes it better when he asks: “if you want, I’ll make three shelters here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” [Matthew 17:4]

Now here is what I mean when I say that He makes it better.  Just when Peter asked that ridiculous question, Moses and Elijah vanished, making it clear that the center of attention are not Moses and Elijah. A shining cloud surrounded that mountaintop and the voice of God the Father speaks just as He had spoken at the Jordan on the day of Jesus baptism; He says, “This One is my beloved Son, in who I am well pleased.”

Did you hear those Words?  He said this One; not Moses, not Elijah, but Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God!  He is the One who will fulfill all of Israel’s hopes in their waiting for the coming Messiah; He is the One who unlocks the meaning of all of God’s Word.  This is the One who will forgive the sins of the world and make all people who will follow Jesus, children of the Living God!  And what does the Voice of God the Father tell them to do next?  “Listen to Him!”  Listen to Him and see only Jesus.

This was enough to knock the three disciples to the ground hiding their faces from the glory of God.  They were terrified, because no one can see God and live; yet there they still were on that mountain alone with Jesus and still living!  And in the middle of their fears, Jesus the Son of God and son of Mary, their friend and brother and now clearly their God, taps them on the shoulder and says: “Knock it off!”  No, I mean He says, “Get up and stop being afraid.”  Come on I’m still here with you.  Follow me.  You know where we have to go, and you should understand by now that it will be all right.  I am not just a simple carpenter; I am not just your teacher, brother and friend.  I AM your God, the Son of the Father.  So follow me. Pick up your cross and come down from this Mountaintop Epiphany and follow me into real life and real death ; first my own suffering and death and then yours; first my resurrection and ascension into heaven, and then yours.  But we do not want to follow, do we?  Following Jesus means…

Fear.  Fear of things like betrayal, humiliation, suffering, and death.  Let me speak into your hearts some of those things that bring betrayal, humiliation, suffering, and death, and then let me speak Words of faith, hope, and comfort.  Words of victory over all of things that hound us and cause us to doubt, stumble, and fear.  (ILLUSTRATIONS: Please listen to the audio.) To those of you who have been stuck on that mountain top for years, Jesus is tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “Quit being afraid.  Follow me out into real life and know freedom.”

This morning, through the Word of God, empowered and defined by the Holy Spirit through other portions of God’s Word and yet spoken and written by sinful yet redeemed men, you have been given freedom.  You have heard the eyewitness account of God’s real presence in our world.  You have heard how easily He breaks into your reality with the means He alone chooses.  And now, through that same Word of God and the gift of faith, you too have become in essence, “eye witnesses”.  You have been shown through the Word of God His “Majestic Glory.”  You have also heard with your own ears, this is my beloved Son, with Who I am well pleased.”

You have all of the prophetic Word more fully confirmed than all those who were called “children of Abraham” before the coming of the Messiah.  They had only the promise of the coming, but you have the fulfillment of the promise, Jesus Christ!  As St. Peter says, “You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  That is until the fulfillment of your baptismal promise is complete and you finally arrive within the House of the Father and reside in the place that Jesus has gone to personally prepare for you!

You can trust these Words dear children, because they are not simply the fanciful writings of sinful yet hopeful men; they are the very Word of God to bring courage and cheer to your heart.  Know this and remember it always, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along (and led) by the Holy Spirit (of God).” [2 Peter 1:16-21]

This morning, God welcomes you like He always does as we gather around His Word and Sacraments.  He welcomes you with the Words, listen and believe.  It’s in that Word that He reminds you that in your baptism you have been sprinkled with a blood far superior to that of animals; you have been forever washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God.  In His Word, He invites you to His table to “Take eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins.”  God wants you to receive all that is in His Living Word, which is Jesus Christ and then have faith.  Get up and go.  Go out into a world of darkness where there is real suffering and pain; real inequities and unfairness.  A world that appears to still be under the bondage of sin, death, and Satan.  But know that Jesus has overcome this world.  Follow Him and the way of the cross, because the way of glory has not yet fully arrived, but it will soon be yours eternally.  It will be a time, no an eternity, where you will never again know pain and sorrow; a time when all your tears will be wiped dry.

Now, may you turn only to Jesus, who alone can sustain you as you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him!  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Equal Footing

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

17th Sunday in Pentecost B, September 23, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. [Mark 9:35b]

These words are hard to receive because they are hard to understand; they are hard to understand because they frighten us by  demanding that we put the needs of others above our own needs.  We are afraid to do this because it requires us to die to ourselves and  live for Christ; they demand that we allow Christ to live within us and teach us.

These words are hard to receive because in them Jesus gives us wisdom from above; a wisdom that is completely opposite to the  wisdom of the world.  This morning Jesus is teaching us that the way to make it big, the way to be first is by receiving those who are  smaller than us.

How do we receive those who are little?  Well, in our gospel reading (Mark 9:30-37),what example did Jesus use to teach His disciples?  That’s right a little child.  He scooped up a small child and placed it smack dab in the middle of the room so that all eyes would be  focused on that little one.  And then, He simply said that “Whoever receives one (such as this child) in My name receives Me, and  whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.” [vs. 37]

So, look at the least and discover your way to be first.  To receive the most, take the smallest.

Why did Jesus use a child to illustrate His teaching?  Well, because children were not given much attention back then.  You know the saying, “Children are to be seen and not heard!”  So by elevating small children and their small understanding of the world around them, Jesus is making a point that we must always be ready to receive people who may indeed be below us in not just age but also maturity and status.  But this receiving business isn’t simply opening your arms and taking an infant so you can admire and coddle them.  No, it is more than just a receiving blanket; Jesus wants you to take responsibility for the nurturing and mentoring of that one who is beneath you.

Think of the young couple who has just received their infant.  The father says, “We just had a baby,” even though it was the mother who gave birth.  The father gladly receives the baby from the nurse and coddles him and beams with pride.  But soon he gives the baby back to the nurse so he can make the necessary phone calls and hand out the obligatory cigars.

When mother and child come home, the proud daddy learns the art of diapering and feeding and promises his wife that they are in this together.  But after a few days, maybe even after a few hours, as B.B. King sang, “The Thrill is Gone!”  When the baby cries at 2:00 a.m. the father lies in bed pretending to be asleep and waits for his wife to get up.  Or, When the diaper contains a surprise that is obvious by the smell, he yells “Dear can you…?”

What happened?  Why is it only the mother who must bear the burden?  Because only the mother has taken to heart the words that to receive the child, that is to care for the child no matter the cost, is to receive Jesus!

In our world today, there are many who do not know Jesus.  When God brings them to us as individuals or as a congregation, they come with all kinds of selfish and sinful habits and ambitions.  They will be demanding of your time to the point of bitter jealousy.  They will exhibit selfish ambition and all kinds of vile practices; in essence, they bring with them the wisdom of this world; a wisdom that says only the strong and the best will survive.  If this worldly wisdom is allowed to remain within them they will bring disorder both to your individual lives and to our congregation.  So what are we to do?  Are we to send them away packing?  Are we to chastise them and demand conformity?  Well what did Jesus say?  We are to receive them as you receive a child; you are to receive them as a parent receives their infant.  You are to nurture and teach them; you are to take responsibility and serve them.  By this type of receiving you are receiving Jesus Himself.  Receive others as you would have others do unto you.  This is what James calls the “meekness of wisdom” in our Epistle reading. [James 3:13-4:10]

We are afraid of this teaching because its wisdom is the very opposite of what we learn in this sinful world we live in.  Here, in God’s Word, we learn that trying to be the greatest, that is to be first through selfish ambition, is to live outside of Jesus name; it is to be an enemy of God’s truth and an opponent to God’s wisdom from above.  That dear friends is not only wrong and sinful, “but it is earthly, unspiritual, (and) demonic.”

But we are afraid to hear this teaching, to receive it for another reason; it demands that we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

This morning, Jesus teaches us that as we “receive one” (such as a child in His name, we can expect to be treated as Jesus was treated; we can expect to be “delivered up into the hands of men.”

This was the second time that Jesus proclaimed to His disciples that He would soon suffer and die by the hands of sinful men so that He could save them.  While it was true that the disciples did not understand how that was a good thing, they also knew that it did not sound like the gospel.  They did not understand because they were still thinking with worldly wisdom and not with wisdom from above.   In their minds, suffering equals bad and comfort equals good!

We understand that also.  We seldom take risks for strangers because we all know that it can come back to bite us in the butt.  No good deed goes unpunished.  But in our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 11:18-20), Jeremiah understood this feeling.  He knew that by receiving and teaching sinful strangers he was opening himself up to a world of trouble.  The very ones that he was sent to save with the Word of God were the ones that would plot against him; they devised schemes saying “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” [vs. 20]

Jeremiah understood that it wasn’t really him who they were attacking but the Word of God.  It was the Word that they wanted silenced; a Word that pointed out their sin and their love of more sin.  Jeremiah understood, and if he could be here this morning, he would point you to one greater than he; one who is the true Suffering Servant that the sinners then and sinners today want to silence.

This morning, Jesus shows us that He is the greater Jeremiah, as He turns the prophets prayer of, “O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon (my enemies) for to you have I committed my cause [vs. 20], into “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And Jesus shows us how to be greatest by being least as He shows us how to trust God even in death with these Words, “Father, into Your hand I commend my spirit.”

Do you want to be great in the eyes of God even as the world thinks you are the least?  Then trust in and protect the truth of the gospel.  We trust in the truth of a gospel that points us to a Suffering Savior.  We trust in the truth which declares, that His suffering and death for our sins is the only way to please a righteous God.  We trust in the truth, which proclaims that His death upon the cross for a world of sinners was truly our own death when God’s forgiving love washed us and recreated us in the waters of our baptism.

And when we trust in this truth for us we are moved by the Spirit of God within us and our new baptismal nature to share that same message with others.  We share the message with others, because Jesus loves those little ones who are lost in sin.  He loves them however we find them; even if they are infants or elderly.  He loves them and calls all of them into the washing of the water and the Word.  He wants all of them to be washed clean and be received in the blanket of God’s forgiving love.

This is the message that calls each of us to die to sin and turn to Jesus for life.  It is a message of least and greatest.  It is a message that teaches each of us every day to die to ourselves and live for Christ.  It teaches that the way to be the greatest is to serve others so that Christ can be great among us.

This is the equal footing that we all stand upon.  We equally can’t understand this message of suffering and death, but we trust it and we let it come alive within us.  Each of us are equally afraid of this message, but we draw strength and courage from it as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments.  Together, we equally see ourselves in a lowly and humble way; as empty vessels that God wants to fill with His divine grace and forgiving love.  And when God fills us equally, something interesting happens as we stand upon the equal footing with both young and old, mature and immature Christians; each of us discovers that our equal footing is really our true and solid foundation… Jesus Christ!  In Christ, or on Christ each of us are elevated high above this sinful world and the punishment that awaits it.  May God continue to give each of you more grace as you oppose the devil and your own sinful flesh; may God give each of you more grace as you cleanse your hands and your hearts.  May God give you more grace as you humble yourselves before the Lord, and then may your mourning be turned to joy as He alone exalts you unto eternal life… in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Power of God’s Love!

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, September 16, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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NOTE: Only the scriptures and some main points are available for this message.  For the entire message please listen, using the audio link above.


Romans 12:
9-21

 (Vs. 9) “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”    Right from the beginning St. Paul is making it clear to us that everything that follows is centered in love.  But this kind of love is different from the kind that we naturally show others; it’s the kind of love that is the ultimate fruit of God’s love for us.  It is the kind of love that gives you faith to believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. 

 (Vs.10-13)Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

  (Vs. 14-16) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”  Do these words sound familiar?  They should, because they are a paraphrase of Jesus’ own Words: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and “bless those who curse you.” [Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-28]  Think of Jesus last words upon the cross before he died, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  I know what you’re thinking: “Well sure, He was the Son of God, of course He could bless and forgive.  No man could do that could they?”  Well what about Stephen, who opened his mouth in a blessing upon those who were stoning him to death?  Do you remember the last words that he uttered? “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)

  (Vs. 17-20) “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There is no question that the man who does us evil ought to be paid back with the exact proportion. This is God’s own principle, and Paul isn’t ignoring that. But if God applied only that principle to us, where would we be?  And that is the point, without God’s grace through Jesus Christ we would be damned along with our worst enemy.  Friends, it is God’s work alone that saved us, and we should do everything to glorify Him and bring honor to His presence in our lives by living a life that demonstrates that same grace.   

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, the summary of all of this can be found in Paul’s last words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God demonstrated this principle for us long ago, when He sent His only Son to die for you upon the cross.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!  Just as Jesus prayed for us long ago upon the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” so too, we must pray for those who hurt us.  We need to pray and ask God for love as we try to show kindness to our enemies. Will they take advantage of us? Will they hate us even more? Only the Lord knows. Our task is not to protect ourselves but to obey the Lord and leave the results with Him.  Friends, even if our enemy refuses God’s love, we will still have experienced the love of God in our own hearts and we will grow in His grace.

The Cross We Bear!

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Second Sunday in Pentecost, June 26, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” [Matt. 10:38-39]

INTRODUCTION: You know throughout our Bible there is one message that God continually offers to His people who relate to Him by faith, and that is peace.  In Hebrew, the word for peace is Shalom!  What that word actually means is wholeness.  If you are whole, that is if you are all that God originally created you to be, you will have peace.  And that is the one thing that all people of every race, ethnicity, and religion have in common; we are all searching for wholeness; for peace!  So then why did the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the world say, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [Matt. 10:34]  Why did he say that in order to find our life we must lose our life?  The answer of course can only be found in the cross; it can only be found in the death of Jesus Christ and the example of living to die that He gave to us.

 The cross of Jesus Christ does bring wholeness and life, but it also brings conflict, turmoil and death; it brings these things first within us and then around us.  So this morning we will be learning how do die to live.  We will learn how death brings life to ourselves first and then we will learn how dying brings death and life to those around us!

In our Epistle lesson (Rom. 7:1-13) St. Paul confronts us with these words of life and death: “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.  For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.  But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” [vs. 4-6]

 What Paul is talking about is how we become whole, or how we are recreated to have peace within ourselves; God’s peace that not only gives us peace with Him, but peace with our neighbor.  He wants us to first understand that we were set free from the Law; a law that demands that we do this or that to please God, but then offers us no way to actually do what it demands be done!  He does this by pointing us to the death of Jesus upon the cross.  When Christ died upon the cross He set us free to be people of God; free to know peace and wholeness.  But in order to receive this peace we need to see the need to die alongside of Jesus Christ; only those of us who are connected with Jesus in His death, can experience the peace and wholeness that His resurrection brings.  The death of Jesus Christ can only free those are willing to put all of their hopes of peace and wholeness in that death of Jesus.  There is no room for any other method or technique.  Doing your best to please God and find happiness won’t work; there is simply nothing you can do but surrender to your complete helplessness and trust instead in what Jesus’ death provides for you.  This is what dying to yourself means.

Paul illustrates this in a wonderful way by comparing us to a married woman.  He says that “a married woman is bound by the law (that is the 6th commandment that calls adultery a sin, as long as that married woman’s husband still lives), but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage (and is free to marry again without fear of sin).  (So), she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive.  But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.” [vs. 1-3]

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been freed from our oppressive dependence on the law; we no longer need to try to be something we never could be.  What is it that we were trying to be?  We were trying to be whole; we were trying on our own to have peace with God.  But as long as we are counting on the efforts of our sinful flesh that could never happen.  So Jesus solves that dilemma for us by His death.  He died the death that we should die to satisfy our inability to fulfill the law; this is a death that frees us from the law so that we may seek a new means to find wholeness and peace with God.  His death frees us from our dependence on fulfilling the law perfectly so that we might belong to Him!  In keeping with Paul’s illustration of marriage, Jesus frees us from the tyranny of our first marriage so that we can be remarried to Him; then and only then can we truly be whole and know peace.  But our old sinful nature does not want to go away that easily.  It fights to live; not only that, it fights to destroy our faith and satisfaction in God’s means of wholeness and peace.  When faith comes alive within our hearts through the means of God’s Word, our sinful nature continually seeks to find ways to defeat it and turn us back to the law, or our own ability to live a good life, as an alternative way of earning God’s love and wholeness.  What is the solution?  We must put to death, every day our old sinful nature.  We must learn to die so that we can live!  This is our internal cross that we must die upon every day.  But if we’re left to do this on our own, we’ll be in no better condition than we were when we were under the law.  On our own, we can never have faith to trust in Jesus and His cross.  That is why God provides this faith for us.  How does He do this?  By living within us! 

In our baptism we were sealed as God’s own possession through His means, the water and His Word.  In our baptism, the Holy Spirit actually took up residence within us.  Daily, we are asked to embrace God’s Spirit within us by turning to His leading presence and dying to our own sinful desires.  So the Holy Spirit is our actual teacher, who teaches us to die every day, and God’s Word is the text book that He teaches through!  But this is more than just a teaching; it’s a relationship of love, trust, wholeness, and peace with God that continues everyday of our lives until we leave this sinful world and our own sinful flesh behind.  But this dying to self doesn’t just happen internally; you see we must also learn to die to the things and concerns that are around us.

In our Old Testament lesson, we are introduced to the prophet Jeremiah.  He was a man familiar with sorrows and woes.  In fact, he is often called the “weeping” prophet, because so many of the messages that the Lord asked him to declare caused him to weep for his fellow Jews.  He was hated by most of them, because many of his messages from God were unpopular.  In fact, on several occasions he was thrown into prison and threatened with death if he returned.  What was the message that Jeremiah brought from the Lord?  Repent!  Don’t trust in a worldly way of finding wholeness and peace with God, but trust in the Lord’s Means of wholeness.  Turn away from a mindset that says happiness can be found in the comfort of wealth and the security of earthly friends, and instead trust in the Lord’s plan.  That was the last message that the Jews wanted to hear; they wanted Jeremiah to sit down and shut up!  So poor Jeremiah spent most of his time away from his people, and he only returned when he had another painful message from God.  We might say that Jeremiah would be completely at home singing that old African American spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long, long ways from home.”  What Jeremiah discovered is what we need to learn too: Each of us must take up our cross and follow Jesus. 

For Jeremiah, the cross that he was to take up was simply to declare God’s Word and place all of his faith in that Word, and that is the cross that we must take up as well.  Like Jeremiah, we too live in dangerous times.  There is terror all around.  In a time of extreme tolerance, where all life styles and philosophies are said to be equal, we Christians are the only ones being told to sit down and shut up!  But like Jeremiah, God says we can’t do that!  “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  No dear friends, you cannot ignore God’s Word!  He makes it clear, that there is no other way to please God accept through Christ Jesus!  There is a way that seems right to a society but in the end it only leads to death.  Thus says the Lord, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”” [Matt. 10:37] 

The truth is friends, in a society that continuously teaches personal gain and material riches, we are to proclaim another message, “Jesus is the only way to wholeness!”  In a society that advances the message, “If it makes you feel good, just do it!” we proclaim instead, “Seek the Lord while He may be found!”  Even in many churches today, this message of extreme tolerance and acceptance like in the day of Jeremiah has replaced the Law and Gospel message of God.  Itchy ears long to hear that their walk with God will be an easy and happy road; they don’t want to hear about sacrifice and pain; they don’t want to hear that they must die to live.  When things go wrong they blame God, and then quickly begin shopping for a new message that will satisfy their greedy hearts and bring them peace.  But what kind of peace do they really want?  Do they want worldly peace or heavenly peace?  Concerning peace here, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” [Matt. 10:34-36] 

Dear friends, these Words of Jesus are Words of peace.  Jesus gives them to us so that we will have peace, but to hear them we must receive them by faith.  We must by faith die to what we want and receive what God desires to give to us.  And what is He giving?  Peace!  It’s a wholeness that is always centered in Christ’s faithfulness to provide for everything we need, therefore it is a spiritual peace.  The peace He gives is completely opposite of the kind of peace the world wants from Him and you.  Listen to His voice speaking to your heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

CONCLUSION:  Friends let’s not walk in worry and fear.  Let’s not worry about lost relationships if we don’t endorse someone’s behavior.  Instead let’s simply follow our Lord wherever He leads.  Sometimes the road will be easy and sometimes it will be hard, but always Jesus will be walking right beside us.  And now, may that true peace of God, a wholeness which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and may that wholeness enable you to bear the cross joyfully, following Him where ever He leads you… In Jesus name… AMEN!

“We May Touch What May Not Be Touched!”

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 22, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 This morning, God calls us to touch what others may not touch; He calls us to enter into an eternal place of rest, peace, and joy that others have been barred from entering.  We have come to listen to the inerrant Word of God, to remember our baptism, feast at His table, and simply receive these things and believe that through them we have peace with God.  And as we come and receive, we know that there are still others who out-right refuse to hear this Word or they will hear it and then change it so that it agrees with their sinful way of life.

This morning friends, God is assuring us that that through His simple yet holy means of grace, we have a God who loves us and will never do us any harm.  By faith in God’s promise of forgiveness and love, we know that we can only come to Him by entering through the narrow way of the cross and repentance.

I. Yes, because of faith in the cross of Jesus Christ, we know that we are saints, but we also know that we are at the same time sinners.  We know that like the disciple in our gospel reading, our sinful flesh wants to look into things that are not for us to know.  We want to ask questions that God has not provided the answer to; we want to know if our family, friends, and neighbors will be saved.  The disciple showed this sinfulness when he asked Jesus, “Will those who are saved be few?”  What he was really asking and saying to our Lord was, “Lord, will only the few of us who are following you enter into heaven with you?  That doesn’t seem fair!”  Either way we ask the question, Jesus is telling us that we are asking the wrong question.  He’s telling us that He won’t answer that kind of general and academic question.  He wants us to ask the right question.  What’s the right question?  Well the right question is this, “How can I be saved?”  He telling you not to worry about your family, friends, and neighbors salvation, that’s God’s job; instead Jesus wants you to worry about your own relationship with Him.   

“But how?” we ask, and Jesus answers us this way, “You must strive to enter through the narrow door.”  What is the narrow door?  It is the cross and repentance.  Through the cross we are assured that we have a God who is for us and not against us.  Through the cross and the living Word of God, Jesus promises you that by His suffering and death He has assured you of eternal life and the forgiveness of sin.  And then by that same Word He gives you the gift of faith to live out this forgiveness.  Through His cross, Jesus then leads you to your own cross of suffering and shame which is found in a life of repentance.

Repentance simply means rejecting the desires of our sinful flesh and then struggling to live a life that is in line with God’s will.  Repentance means turning away from the world and turning to the Cross of Jesus Christ.  As we said last week, each of us has been called to be a theologian of the cross.  We are to call a thing what it truly is.  If God’s Word says that something is sin then so do we, regardless of what our society or even our own logic tells us. We know that we are called to reject the sinful self-glorifying ways of the world.  When we turn from this theology of glory and turn to a theology of the cross we are living a life of repentance!

II. This morning, our epistle lesson tells us that this life under the cross is a struggle.  It requires God’s discipline and even our own self-discipline.  It requires discipline that hurts.  The originals readers of this letter to the Hebrews were Christian Jews living in Rome who were taught the good news about Jesus Christ.  They eagerly received Christ as their Lord and Savior.  They desired to live under grace at all costs; at least that’s what they told themselves.  You see when they became targets of animosity and persecution from non-believing Jews, one by one they left the message of God’s unmerited love through Jesus Christ and they began to sink back into their old way of following the law of Moses in order to please God.  Their Christianity became wimpy, weak, and lame.  It became a theology of glory.  They were following the age old mantra of every sinful society, “Go along to get along!  Roll with the flow!”

Now the writer of this letter was telling the Hebrews to think about what they were really doing.  They were rejecting the cross and grace of Jesus Christ and turning to the glory of the sinful world, all so that they might have an easier life.  He was encouraging them to look at their sufferings in a different light with these words, “In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood (have you?).  And have you forgotten the (encouraging words) that address you as sons?” [Heb. 12:4,5a]  What the author of this letter was doing was reminding them how far they had fallen.  He was saying, “You are sons and daughters of the Most High God!  You are children of the King of the Universe; the Creator of All Things; your Redeemer and Savior Jesus Christ!  You have peace with God!  Are you really ready to abandon all of this?”  I know how they must have replied because I know how many in similar circumstance reply to me today.  They probably said something like this, “But pastor, that’s just our opinion or belief.  I’m not going to confront someone with an opinion.  Besides, it’s hard living a life of faith when I’m in the minority.  You don’t hear the words they call me or the mean and hateful way they treat me.  They call me ignorant and hateful.  We have our way of believing and they have theirs.  I simply am agreeing that my way is no better than theirs.”

And to this way of thinking, God replies, “Oh?  I thought that it was my way; the way of the cross?  Have you had to shed your own blood because of their evil treatment of you?  I did you know; and I did it for you!”  “But you are God” we reply.  And to that your Savior replies, “But look at how many martyrs shed their blood and gave their lives so that you would be able to hear my blessed Word and know a life of repentance and forgiveness.  Think of how much courage it took for them to obediently gather a congregation so that you would be able to receive the blessed sacraments of baptism and the holy supper.  What if those who went before you also decided to go with the flow, and to go along to get along?  Where would you be?”

III. This morning friends, this truth from God is also for us.  It is the same truth that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews was encouraging those Christian Jews to hold onto.  What is that truth?  It is the inerrant and complete Word of God.  The message that comes to us in Law and Gospel!  We are facing and enemy that wants us to water down God’s Holy Word.  They want us to call good the sinful ways that God is already called evil.  Oh its true, that following God’s inerrant Word and refusing to back down will bring hatred and yes, maybe even persecution, but we must remember that it’s hatred and persecution that God has allowed to come our way for His sake; for the sake of Jesus Christ!  God is using this persecution in a way that’s always correcting us; driving out the sin that is still in us, and drawing us closer to Him.  When we stand up for Him, He draws closer to us!  Listen, wouldn’t you do the same thing if someone was attacking the character of you earthly parents?  Shouldn’t we do even more for our Heavenly Father?!

Now, to the outside world, our suffering doesn’t look any different than the suffering of those who have rejected God’s plan of the cross and repentance, but to God we are His precious saints who are demonstrating to a sinful world His most valuable essence that He has given to us… holiness!  While holiness is what we are assured of when our race here on earth is over, it also the very thing that we are to work and suffer for while we are running the race.  And like an athlete that is training to receive the prize, we are always keeping our eyes on that great reward… peace with God!  In essence friends, we are partakers of God’s holiness now although it is true that perfect holiness will only be ours when we enter our rest in heaven.

Do you really want to throw this reality and promise away?  Do you really want to shrink away from the challenge of living out God’s will and speaking out His Word when called upon to give a witness?  If that is really your intention, then God wants you to know what the consequence will be.  You will not be allowed to enter the Holy City of Zion and the Assembly of Saints to which you have been called!  You will be told “You may not touch and you may not enter!”  And when you hear those words, you will say, ‘Lord, open to (me)’, then Jesus Himself will say, “I don’t know where you come from.”  “But Lord” you will say, I was baptized in your church.  I ate and drank at your Holy Table.  You taught me from your pulpit!  Don’t you remember?”  But Jesus will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from.  Depart from me, you worker of evil!”  And He will banish you eternally to a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth; a place where you will be able to see all of the blessings of heaven and all of the faithful saints who lived a life of repentance under the cross but never able to touch or to enter.  That is what is meant by the first being last.  For the last there is no reward; there is no prize!  The last will be those who lived as if they had faith but their real desire was to live a life of ease here on earth and in doing so they rejected a life of peace in heaven.

CONCLUSION: Dear saints, because you are resting in God’s grace through Jesus Christ and because you are struggling to remain faithful to His Word you are continually strengthened through His means of grace so that you will not fall out of faith.  Through His Word and Sacraments you are always assured that you already have peace with God and a place at His banquet table in heaven.  You have nothing to fear. And when you discover that you’ve sinned and fallen short of God’s will for you, don’t let that sin separate you from God’s love which is yours through Jesus Christ; instead God is simply calling you to repent, turn away from that sin and then turn to the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is a cross that calls you to follow your savior by faith and trust in Him even when others will ridicule you because of that faith.  This is your cross; this is your struggle, but it is also the very thing that assures you that you may touch those things which others cannot and you may enter where others have been barred.  We do this together as His church and  I pray that we will live out this truth, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Perfect Storm!

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

3rd Sunday of Pentecost, June 21, 2009

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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In October of 1991, the “Andrea Gail” left Gloucester, Mass. and headed for the fishing grounds of the North Atlantic. Two weeks later, an event took place that had never occurred in recorded history. A storm stronger than anything ever recorded hit the coast off of Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was called the “Perfect Storm” —because it was three storms combined into one, and it created an almost apocalyptic situation in the Atlantic Ocean.  Boats in the area encountered waves of 100 feet— the equivalent of a ten-story building. These storms are some of the strongest and most terrifying manifestations of nature’s strength.

JESUS DON’T YOU CARE THAT WE ARE DYING? Dear friends, our central problem isn’t the storms of life, but rather it’s our obsessive focus on the storms alone.  You see, it’s hard to remember that Jesus is in the boat with us when our attention is riveted on the waves outside and the water inside the boat.  Despair and fear develop rapidly when our energy is focused on survival.  Many times, those storms of life seem to be un-survivable — and that’s a fair perception; after all, one day, one of those storms, will be the one that carries us off to heaven.  Within this perspective of fear and despair it’s not easy to believe that God is on the job when the waves are in your face, and your boat is quickly filling with unwelcomed water!  

 

Sometimes, when we encounter these life storms, we can become like Job and his friends; we want to understand the storms. And so we ask, “God don’t you care that I’m in trouble?”  We desperately want to know “why”.  Why did I lose my job?  Why can’t I find a job?  Why did my love one die?  Why am I so sick? Why, why, WHY!?  We ask why because we hope that knowing the answer will calm our fear about the unknown, but our best efforts to understand the mysterious infinity of God’s Mind are continually frustrated by the feeble limits of our own human intellect.  To our whys, God answers us with His own question, HOW: “How can you the creature ever understand I your Creator?”  But this isn’t the answer we want to hear.  We want God to explain Himself.  So, our sinful nature loses sight of God’s love for us and we instead focus on our worry and fear.

 

 The truth is friends, God’s love and grace sounds good to all of us at first.  We will quickly trust in His love, but sadly, many Christians have stopped right there and they’ve never really let God’s presence in their lives penetrate and change them, so that the power of God’s love and grace can create a strong faith within them. Then, when the storms of life come, the littleness of their faith appears. And when this weak faith becomes evident, Jesus exclaims, “How cowardly you are!”

 

Jesus scolded the apostles for their fear.  He had the right to expect more from them.  But they had no right to be afraid even if Jesus wasn’t in the boat with them. Jesus had showed them so many times that as His disciples they were always in His Father’s care. They also should have known that even if they died in that storm, all things would have worked together for their own good because they were Jesus own!  Friends, like the disciples in the boat, we too have no promise that life’s dangers won’t result in our death just because we are Christ’s own. In the counsel of God it may be his will that we die, and if that is the case, then we will die with the great assurance that God’s love sends us what is best. God wants us to die in confidence and not in fear.  So in the middle of our storms of fear and worry, we too are encouraged to wake up the sleeping Savior within us and call to Him for faith and comfort.


To all of these fears and worries, Jesus says, “PEACE BE STILL!”
  Isn’t it amazing that those lifelong fishermen in the boat with Jesus, men who made their living on this very sea should wake up and call out to a land-loving carpenter for help?  They were completely at the end of their resources, skills that they had always taken great pride in; now they humbly threw themselves upon Jesus as their only source of hope. They didn’t care that he had never sailed a boat; they weren’t looking for human help but instead divine hope. They had abandoned all hope in human ability, and instead they placed their trust entirely into the divine hands of Jesus.  That was faith. But their terror, the resorting to Jesus only as their last hope, made their faith little, and that was in glaring contrast with the peace of Jesus who was at that very moment teaching them to rest in the Father’s love.  

 

This morning dear friends, God wants us to see that one of the ways to see our faith matured is to simply lose confidence in our own strength, and then learn to rely completely on Jesus’ real presence in our lives. That was the lesson that Job learned, when God challenged him to explain the universe and life: ” ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? … Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding’ ” (38:2, 4). How could Job and how can we ever come close to real knowledge if we don’t first see how God has all things under his control, including the boundaries of the great deep (v. 11)?

 

This morning friends, at this very moment God wants to strengthen your faith with the gospel… with the good news.  He wants to take away your fear and worry so that you can rest in His love.  But before you can receive this good news, He says to you, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

Whether we come to God with weak faith or strong faith, He wants us to know that whenever we cry out to Him from the storms of life, He hears us. Many years ago, graffiti was found on the walls of a bombed out cellar in Cologne, Germany, and its message illustrates our constant hope in God: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.  I believe in love even when I feel it not.  I believe in God even when he is silent.”  Dear friends God does hear you.  And He answers you with the living Words of Jesus Christ!

 

WHY ARE YOU AFRAID?  HAVE YOU NO FAITH?   For most of us, when we hear this question we tend to think of it as God’s Law accusing us of not trusting in Him, but this question of Jesus should also be heard as the gospel when we remember who is speaking. This is the Christ who has climbed into the boat with us and endured the storms for us. He is the one who has died for all and was raised again for us! It’s not just the wind and sea, but also death and hell that obey him.

 

Through His completed work for us upon the cross we are a new creation; through His Word and sacraments we are able to trust in His real presence with us when our own storms over power us. Through His presence, our little faith becomes strong faith.  Because of him we don’t ever have to fear the storms of life again, for we know that through Him, God the Father is for us and not against us. Even our own sin is unable to snatch us from Christ’s grasp, and no storm of life can rip us away from his love. The waters of your own baptism have splashed your faces with far more power than all of the world’s storms combined. Because the love of Christ controls us we can trust in God’s kind heart, and through His love for us, all of our fears can be erased.

 

Dear friends, in response to our cry, “Don’t you care that I am in trouble?” God doesn’t offer us understanding, but instead he offers precious promises. He who said ‘Thus far and no farther” to the surging waves of the angry seas, says to us, “Fear not, for I am with you always.”  He assures us that he knows what we can’t understand, and He is able to handle what we can’t.  

The story is told of a young art student, who was asked by his professor to paint a picture of perfect peace. So he began to do just that. As time was drawing near for his task to be completed his professor made his rounds in the class. And as he approached the young man he was surprised at what he saw. You see the young man had painted storm clouds, war, sickness, and death. But in the middle of it all was this tree, and on one of its branches was a little bird with its wings spread wide, and it looked as if this bird was singing. So his professor scratched his head and said I thought the assignment was to paint perfect peace. And the young man responded by saying “I did.” He went on to say “You see the little bird was at peace with his surroundings because he believed in Christ’s promise that he would not put more on him than he could bear. Unlike some of us, this little bird knew that at any time the God he serves was able to fill his tiny wings with a wind from on high and he could fly away to a better place, a perfect place that was prepared especially for him!”

Today friends, Jesus calls us to go with Him in the boat.  There will be storms, but He will always be in the boat with us as we pass through the storms.  While He is with us He is teaching us to trust Him and have faith—Faith in the Fathers love!  Oh yes, there will be times when it will seem as though God is silent; as if Jesus is sleeping, but fear not little lambs, even though He appears to sleep, He’s with you in the boat.  Take comfort friends, because the one who sleeps is also the one who never sleeps.  He is the God-man.  He has permitted the storms to come your way so that you may know and trust your Savior deeper than you could ever imagine.  But one day your very last life storm will come, and that will be the perfect storm, because it will come to take you to your perfect home where all storms will cease; and this will be according to the perfect love of your Heavenly Father and your Savior and friend, Jesus Christ.

PRAYER: “O God our Defender, there are right now storms raging around us and within us, and they are causing us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us all from unbelief, unbelief that tries so hard to separate us from your eternal love.  We ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Power of God’s Love!

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Sixteenth Sunday in Pentecost, August 31st, 2008

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
” [Romans 12:12]

 

INTRODUCTION: Why would anyone set out to suffer and die?  Why would anyone choose humiliation over triumph?  To the world this is a ridiculous concept!  That’s why in our gospel reading, when Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed Peter answered, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  The other disciples must have been thinking, “Good for you Peter!  This can’t happen to the one we love.  How can a suffering, humiliated, or worse yet, a dead Mesiah save us!”  But to this, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Poor Peter, just days before this our Lord had praised him as being the model confessor of the church, because he confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  How could someone who seemed to have everything so right, now be so terribly wrong?  Our Lord answers that question so that we can see the error: “You aren’t looking at things from God’s plan, but from the plans of men!”  Well what’s the difference?  Both ways of thinking identify Jesus as the Savior, right?  Well yes, but the difference is in the kind of Savior!  Peter and the others wanted to glory in victory now!  They wanted a majestic conqueror—one that would by the power and might of man make all things right in the world.  They were appalled when Jesus said it was necessary for him to suffer and die.  They were so appalled that they missed the part that came next—the gospel!  “On the third day I will be raised from the dead!” 

 

The truth is friends, God’s love is always demonstrated as sacrificial love, and that is why Jesus said that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Without the self-sacrifice of Jesus, there would be no victory over sin death and the devil; without self sacrifice there can be no power in love.  And for us, if we want to truly live a life transformed by the “Power of God’s love” we must pick up our cross, and follow Jesus in the way of sacrificial love.  This is the truth that we will explore this morning in our Epistle lesson.  Please take out your Bibles and turn with me to Romans Chapter 12.

 

(Vs. 9) “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”    Right from the beginning of our Epistle lesson this morning, Paul is making it clear to us that everything that follows is centered in love.  But this kind of love is not your run of the mill, here today gone tomorrow kind of love; you know the kind I mean don’t you?  The kind of love that is ablaze with passion on the wedding day, but cold as ice on the 5th anniversary of that wedding night.  No this is the kind of love that is the ultimate fruit of God’s love for us.  It is the kind of love that gives you faith to believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior because “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son on the cross so that you would be saved!”  This isn’t the fake kind of Hollywood love, no this is the giving kind of love.  It gives everything it has so that the person receiving it knows they are loved.  With this kind of love, God chose to love you a sinner, and with this kind of love, as we will see latter, we are enabled to choose to love our enemies.  This is real love.  This love isn’t just words, but its action and truth! [1 Jn. 3:18]  So how do we demonstrate this genuine kind of love? “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”  Hate everything evil and sinful and be permanently stuck to everything that’s good!

 

ILLUS: Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this truth is to illustrate its opposite.  Within our own community, just a couple miles down Imperial Avenue, you will be in neighborhoods that are plagued by drugs of all kinds, including the worst drug of all, Crystal Methamphetamine.  Hundreds of our neighbors are addicted to a drug that contains, phosphorus, methylamine, acetone, chloroform, iodine, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, lithium, ether, and muriatic acid.   When all of this is mixed together and cooked, it creates a crude version of Methamphetamine, and when smoked or snorted it produces an intoxicating euphoria that causes one to feel that everything is good and right in the world.  Friends, the truth is for these poor souls, nothing is right!  Any one of those ingredients alone can cause death.  These poor people have learned to love the very thing that is killing them, and they hate anyone that comes between them and their drug.  How many families have been destroyed because of this drug?  How many lives have been lost?  Yet these poor souls have become addicted to it!  They are living out the opposite mindset that Paul is asking us to live out.  When Paul says that we should hold fast to what is good, he means that we should be permanently stuck to it!  We should be addicted to what is good, and we know that there is no one or nothing good but God Himself!  Friends, we hate illegal drugs because they are evil and because we love God!  Now because we love God, we find ourselves hating anything and everything that separates anyone from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus!  Now Paul will show us how this type of love will work in our church.

(Vs.10-13)Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Be devoted to one another with warm family affection and brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.  These words sound good; everyone wants that kind of love in our lives and in our church.  To Paul, this family-type devotion to one another is much more than friendship. It’s the type of love that involves commitment like that experienced in a good family.  When one person in a family is hurting, sick, or in trouble, all of the other family members rally around that person and help in any way possible.  This type of sacrificial, self giving love then is the fulfillment of “Honoring one another above ourselves”. When one of us is in trouble all of us respond.  But the truth is, this type of love can be a real inconvenient; it can even intrude into our personal lives at the worst moment, but this is God’s way, the way of sacrificial love.  It is God’s will that if one of us is in a time of testing, due to financial crisis, sickness, sorrow, or pain, rather than try to hide our tribulation, we should rather embrace the love and support of our church family,  and pray, waiting on God to supply our needs.  It is precisely during these moments when Christ’s church becomes the model of true love to the whole world.  This kind of love is a radical concept to the unbelieving world, but it is the only kind of love that matters to the church.  Paul says that the only way we can demonstrate this kind of love is if we are “fervent in spirit”. 

 

The actual Greek word that is translated fervent means “seething—be seething in spirit.”  Just as water and steam  violently bubbles and seeths out of a covered pot of boiling water, so too we are to be seething in the Spirit.  If you find yourself lacking that fervent, seething spirit,  Paul has just the way to obtain it—“Be constant in prayer!”  Through God’s Word we are given faith and empowered by a relationship of love that allows us to call our God and Creator, Father!  And because of this loving relationship, we are not only encouraged to bring to Him all of our own needs but the needs of others as well!    When we pray for a Christian brother or sister, God’s Spirit is active in our own hearts causing us to be seething in the spirit, so that He may love and care for that person through us, and when God is working through us it is not a chore to love someone, instead it becomes a blessing. 

 

ILLUS: Some years ago a Lutheran church in Oklahoma, divided. The split was so bad that one faction began a lawsuit to dispossess the other and claim the property for itself. The local newspapers picked up the story, and the locals followed what was happening with a lot of interest. The judge decided that it wouldn’t be a matter for the civil courts until the church authorities had made a ruling. After much discussion, the church authorities awarded the property to one of the two factions, and the losers withdrew and formed another church in the area.  Think about how different things would have been had those in that church followed Paul’s call to mutual commitment: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.   Be seething in the spirit!”  Now that we have an idea of what our love should look like inside of the Church, Paul brings everything together into one picture.  Here now comes the type of love we are to have everywhere.

 

(Vs. 14-16) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”  Do these words sound familiar?  They should, because they are a paraphrase of Jesus’ own Words: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and “bless those who curse you” )Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-28).  Think of Jesus last words upon the cross before he died, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  “Well He was the Son of God, of course He could bless and forgive.  No man could do that could they?”  Well what about Stephen, who opened his mouth in a blessing upon those who were stoning him to death?  Do you remember the last words that he uttered? “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)

 

Friends, the way of the world says that we should curse those who are unjustly persecuting us, but the Christian prays for bullies and tormentors.  Why?  So that they might repent, so that God might forgive them.  Bless, Paul says, and do not curse them, don’t speak evil against them behind their back, because it is never right to both bless and to curse at the same time.  No, instead, we Christians must model the same love that Jesus has loved us with.  When we follow the way of our Lord, we learn to “live in harmony with one another”. Oh yes, and Paul adds something else, “Do not be haughty, (that is prideful and stuck-up), but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.”  Just as you don’t like to be bullied or persecuted, be sure that you aren’t doing the same thing to others—by way of neglect or preferential treatment.

 

ILLUS: Have you ever heard of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. When he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Herbert Hoover in 1930 he moved to Washington, and transferred his church membership to a church there. It was the custom in that church to have all new members come forward during the morning service and be introduced to the congregation. On this particular day the first to be called was a Chinese laundryman named Ah Sing, who had moved to Washington from San Francisco and kept a laundry near the church. He stood at the far side of the pulpit. As others were called, they took positions at the extreme opposite side. When a dozen people had gathered, Ah Sing stood painfully alone. Then Chief Justice Hughes was called, and he significantly stood right next to the laundryman.  Friends, we are Christians, and we are to associate with everyone—the ordinary people, the unimportant, even the outcasts of society; even those who are being persecuted. If we can’t get along with one another, if we can’t be the champions for the oppressed in our own church, how can we ever face our enemies?  And that is precisely where Paul is taking us next…

 

(Vs. 17-20) “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There is no question that the man who does us evil ought to be paid back with the exact proportion. This is God’s own principle, and Paul isn’t ignoring that. But if God applied only that principle to us, where would we be?  And that is the point, without God’s grace through Jesus Christ we would be damned along with our worst enemy.  Friends, it is God’s work alone that saved us, and we should do everything to glorify Him and bring honor to His presence in our lives by living a life that demonstrates same grace.  Nothing that we do or say, should ever bring shame to our Lord and His gospel, and that is why Paul says, “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all”. To that same end, Paul tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” That would include peace with believers and nonbelievers, those in the church and outside of the church. You know friends, it takes two to fight, and if you as a believer aren’t seeking revenge, then there should be no long-lasting disruption of peace that involves you.

 

But what about justice?  To this Paul answers, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  Here is Paul’s answer. A juster hand than yours and mine is in control, and He will hand out the most perfect justice that is due to every unrepentant sinner. Friends, by choosing to not avenge ourselves, we aren’t abandoning justice, but rather we have chosen to trust God with the whole matter.  Remember friends, God saved you, and he doesn’t want anyone else to perish either.  So God is restraining his punishment with hope that your enemy will become you brother. So we wait; but while we wait, we aren’t just patiently endure mistreatment, no instead God wants us to seek to change our enemy, if possible, to bring him to repentance.  How?  By feeding him when he is hungry and giving him drink when he is thirsty!  These are only two of many possible examples, but they are good ones.  But why must we be nice to our enemy?  Paul answers that this way, “for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Or we could say that by being nice to him, we allow God’s Law to work within his heart, causing him shame, which will then hopefully cause him to repent of his sin and turn to the same source of love that saved us, Jesus Christ!

 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, the summary of all of this can be found in Paul’s won words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God demonstrated this principle for us long ago, when He sent His only Son to die for you upon the cross.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!  Just as Jesus prayed for us long ago upon the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” so too, we must pray for those who hurt us.  We need to pray and ask God for love as we try to show kindness to our enemies. Will they take advantage of us? Will they hate us even more? Only the Lord knows. Our task is not to protect ourselves but to obey the Lord and leave the results with Him.  Friends, even if our enemy refuses God’s love, we will still have experienced the love of God in our own hearts and we will grow in His grace.

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus!

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Seventh Sunday in Pentecost, June 29, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” [Matthew 10:38]

INTRODUCTION: The prophet Jeremiah was a man familiar with sorrows and woes.  In fact, he is often called the “weeping” prophet, because so many of the messages that the Lord gave him to declare caused him to weep for his fellow Jews.  Because most of his messages from God were unpopular, he was not well liked by his own people.  In fact, on several occasions he was thrown into prison and threatened with death if he returned.  What was the message that Jeremiah brought from the Lord?  Repent!  Turn away from a worldly way of thinking and trust in the Lord.  Turn away from a mindset that says happiness can be found in the comfort of wealth and the security of earthly friends, and instead trust in the Lord’s plan.  What was God’s plan?  Simply this: Don’t resist the invasion of your enemies from Babylon; in fact open the city gates of Jerusalem wide, and let them come in and conquer you.  But fear not, the Lord will go with you into captivity and you will be saved, just trust in God that all things will work out for you good.  Oh this did not sound good to the leaders, prophets and priests of Judah; this wasn’t what they wanted to hear.  They wanted to Jeremiah to sit down and shut up!  So Jeremiah spent most of his time away from his people, and he only returned when he had another message from God.  We might say that Jeremiah would be completely at home singing that old African American spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long, long ways from home.”  What Jeremiah discovered is what we will learn this morning, we all must…

I. Take up our cross and follow Jesus.  In our Old Testament reading, we join Jeremiah who was told to go back into Jerusalem once again and declare the Lord’s will that Jerusalem would be conquered and if they resisted, they it would only make things worse.  But this time, God was sending him to the leaders of Judah as a living sermon.  God told Jeremiah to build a yoke (a harness for oxen), made out of wood and leather and walk into the city wearing it.  He was to go to the leaders and declare, “If any nation will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar and put his neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord”. [Jer. 27:8]  The people of Judah must have roared in disbelief, “What kind of a message is this?  All of the other prophets are declaring victory over Babylon.  In fact, they say that our land will not only be free of the oppressor, but we will even be prosperous beyond our dreams!”  Jeremiah’s message was so opposite of all of the false prophets, that one of them named Hananiah ran up to Jeremiah, snatched the yoke off of his neck and broke it into pieces and declared the words they all wanted to hear: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.”  And to this, Jeremiah, the true prophet of God responded, “Amen!  May the Lord do so.”  Once again, Jeremiah was run out of town, rejected by his own people; scorned for being faithful to God’s will; hated by the very people God sent him to save.  Now at this point, we might think that old Jeremiah would have learn the lesson of the world, “If through persistence you still fail and everyone else disagrees with you, you must be wrong!”  But, Jeremiah wasn’t like everyone else.  Jeremiah had faith in God’s Word, so he wouldn’t back down.  Sometime later, the Lord sent Jeremiah back to Jerusalem with another message: “You have broken the wooden (yoke), but you have made in (it’s) place (a yoke) of iron.  Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have (now) put upon the neck of all these nations in an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.”

Dear friends, for Jeremiah, the cross that he was to take up was simply to declare God’s Word and place all of his faith in that Word, and that is the cross that we must take up as well.  Like Jeremiah, we too live in dangerous times.  There is terror all around.  In a time of extreme tolerance, where all life styles and philosophies are said to be equal, we Christians are the only ones being told to sit down and shut up!  But like Jeremiah, God says we can’t do that!  “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  No dear friends, you cannot ignore God’s Word!  He makes it clear, that there is no other way to please God accept through Christ Jesus!  There is a way that seems right to a society but in the end it only leads to death.  Thus says the Lord, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”” [Matt. 10:37] 

Dear friends, in a society that continuously teaches personal gain and material riches, we are to proclaim another message, “Jesus is the only way.  He is the only truth…He is true life!”  In a society that advances the message, “If it makes you feel good, just do it!” we proclaim instead, “Seek the Lord while He may be found!”  Even in many churches today, this message of extreme tolerance and acceptance like in the day of Jeremiah has replaced the Law and Gospel message of God.  Itchy ears long to hear that their walk with God will be an easy and happy road; they don’t want to hear about sacrifice and pain.  When things go wrong they blame God, and then quickly begin shopping for a new message that will satisfy their greedy hearts.  All around us, there is a limitless supply of glory preachers that will tell them just what they want to hear.  “God wants to bless you with riches”, they say!  “God wants you to be victorious in all your dealings in this world” they say.  “If you’re not happy then follow these Biblical steps and God will bless you with good health and wealth!”  But to this our Lord warns that the broad and easy way is a lie and it will not lead to the blessings you are seeking, but instead it leads to an iron yoke of pain and disappointment.  Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!'”

The narrow door that our Savior speaks of is the cross.  It is the way of faith; the kind of faith that clings to God’s Word and trust is his loving kindness, even if the circumstances in our lives are telling us to do the opposite.  The cross has always been an offense to men and women of this world, because it minimizes our own personal achievement and places faith in God’s grace through Jesus Christ above all other things.  Sadly, even some of our own family members and closest friends may be numbered among those who are seeking the broad and easy way of the world. Do you have a loved one who has left the faith of their youth?  Maybe you’ve tried everything you can think of to persuade them to return to the Lord?  Perhaps you’ve given up on them; when before you were always speaking about Jesus and His love, and now you don’t even bring it up because it only causes hurt feelings or even an argument.  Maybe they’ve even told you that if you don’t quit talking about the Church and Jesus they will no longer be a part of your life?  And so…you’ve quit.  Instead, you quietly listen to their get rich quick schemes, their plans of glory and pleasure and you just sort of nod.  And to this, Jesus quietly speaks to us this morning and says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  These are hard Words.  For some they may strike like a sword, swift and deep into your very heart.  And to this we may respond, “But Lord, I only want peace in my family.  Peace with my friends.”

II. What is peace?  What kind of peace are we seeking?  Are we seeking worldly peace or heavenly peace?  Concerning peace here, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” [Matt. 10:34-36]  “But Lord” we respond, “you are the prince of peace.  You promised your perfect peace that surpasses all understanding!”  And to this Jesus responds, yes but I also taught you to live by faith, and to trust in me.  Haven’t I taught you to pray to the Father like this, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  And “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  For “which one of you, if (your child) asks for bread, will give a stone (instead)? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  Dear children, even “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Dear friends, these Words are Words of peace.  Jesus gives them to us so that we will have peace, but to hear them we must receive them by faith.  We must believe that every one of God’s promises are true and sure, even when it seems the very opposite is true.  In regards to our children, we must learn to rest our hope and faith in the work God did for them in their baptism.  When worry and fear creeps in, we must surrender these things to our loving father who promises that “He who began the good work” (in our children) “will complete it in the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philipp. 1:6]  God desires that you go back to the confidence, which you once had many years ago, when you obediently by faith brought your child to the font to receive God’s gift of salvation through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  Cling to the promises that he made through the Water and the Word.  Don’t be afraid to remind your children, no matter how old they are, that each and every promise God has given them is still true!  Lay your fears there at the font and don’t be afraid to tell your children that you are still praying for them to come back to Jesus. 

Friends, Jesus does still give peace, but the peace He gives is always centered in His faithfulness, therefore it is a spiritual peace.  The peace He gives is completely opposite of the kind of peace the world wants from Him and you.  Listen to His voice speaking to your heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

CONCLUSION:  Friends let’s not walk in worry and fear.  Let’s not worry about lost relationships if we don’t endorse someone’s behavior.  Let’s not worry about carrying our cross and following Jesus.  Instead let’s simply   follow our Lord wherever He leads.  Sometimes the road will be easy and sometimes it will be hard, but always Jesus will be walking right beside us.  Instead, let’s learn to be a living version of the song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”: “Sometimes I’m up.  Sometimes I’m down.  Sometimes I’m level to the ground, but still I say glory hallelujah!” 

And now, may that true peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and may His peace enable you to bear the cross joyfully, following Him where ever He leads you… In Jesus name… AMEN!

Let’s Trust In The Invisible Things of God!

Friday, June 27th, 2008

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  (Romans 1:20-21)

This verse is often used to describe the “Hidden God”.  What is meant by the hidden God can be described in a question: “Why is God letting this happen to me?  Where is God in my suffering?”  These are fair questions and they can be answered in two different ways; one is the correct way and the other is, well…wrong!  One is scriptural and the other is not.  One answer comes from God and the other comes from man.

The wrong, unscriptural, human centered answer says that God does not want you to suffer, but because you have not followed His will, you are suffering.  God does not want you to be poor or sick, but because you lack faith and wisdom He cannot bless you.  God does not want you to have family problems, but because you have not allowed His Word to lead you, you are reaping what you have sowed.  You see, the wrong, unscriptural, human centered mind always starts with what is seen and looks to discover the unseen.  It starts from what is on earth and then looks to heaven.  It looks at the here and now and sees a future.  It is a cause and effect way of looking at life.  But the correct, scriptural, God centered answer always starts with the hidden God and it gives all questions over to Him.  Notice I did not say the unknown God.  While God may be hidden he is very much known, and we know Him through His Word, and His Word tells us these three things of particular interest:

1.  Through faith we know that God is blessing us through Christ Jesus even if we can’t see how: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” [Jn. 14:2]  “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. [Jer. 29:11]  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. [Prov. 3:5]  “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. [Prov. 29:25]

2.  Through Christ’s suffering we have been shown God’s love for us: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]  “And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” [Matt. 8:20]  “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Matt. 20:28]  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” [Luke 9:22]

3.  Through our own suffering we move closer to God and begin to see his love for us clearer: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” [Jn. 16:33] “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” [Re. 2:10] ” For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  [2 Cor. 12:10]

Friends, the correct scriptural answer to our “whys” must always starts at the cross; it always trusts in God’s love for us because of Christ’s suffering and death for us at the cross.  The cross tests everything!  And the way of the cross is love, not power; suffering, not achievement; humility, not glory; shame, not honor; foolishness and not wisdom.  Nothing is “worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed.” [Rom. 8:18]  For we know, that “we are God’s children now; it does not appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see his as he is.” [1 Jn. 3:2]  The best we can hope for in the here in now is the presence and comfort of Jesus, our dear Savior, who suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried for us!  He reveals to us the Father and His love, not great wealth and health, prosperous times and happy days.  No friends, the glory that we seek in the here in now is the faith that trusts in God’s glory, which will be made known to us in the future when we will see him “as he is.”  This glory will not be revealed through cause and effect but it will be revealed when the hidden God becomes the visible God.  But until that day, God is revealing Himself to us in the here and now through His living Word and Sacraments, and yes, even within our own suffering and weakness, because His cross assures us that we are fully understood and loved. 

Where is God in our suffering?  He is right at our side leading and guiding us through our darkest times so that we might testify to our neighbors, along with St. Paul, that even then in that darkest hour, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” [Rom. 8:26]  And because of this truth, we know that we have a Savior who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” [Heb. 13:5]

In Jesus name…AMEN!

Pastor Brian