Posts Tagged ‘Theology of the Cross’

Kingdom Sowing and Kingdom Reaping

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, July 16, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

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

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

This story is about God in this way.

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

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

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

And now this is where you come in…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cross We Bear!

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, July 2, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message


“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]

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! That was really the message that our great Declaration of Independence was declaring long ago in 1776. So then why did Jesus, the Prince of Peace 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? Well, 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 independence from the condemnation of sin and dependence on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus brings these things first within us and then around us. So this morning we will be learning how to die and how 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 who 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 through the Law we can never keep. 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 the cross of Jesus, which is 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 (Jeremiah 28:5-9), 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 instead turn to and 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.” [Mark 8:38]

No dear friends, you cannot ignore God’s Word! He makes it clear, that there is no other way to please Him accept through His Son, 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, a 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, again 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.” [John 14:27]

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 declare our independence from the ways of this sinful world, and then declare our dependence on Jesus and His cross. 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!

Be Ye Holy!


Sunday, May 14th, 2017

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

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

You are holy!

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

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

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

What are those spiritual sacrifices?

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

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

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

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

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

We are holy!

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

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

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

So, be ye holy!

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

Salvation Through a Dying Shepherd!

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

Easter 4A, April 30, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree (on the cross) that we might die (that is cease to exist) to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds (by His suffering and death upon the cross) you have been healed.” [1 Peter 2:24] Jesus, our Good Shepherd laid down His life for us and now, He is calling out to us this morning to follow Him! We should follow Him, because we are His sheep; we hear His voice and we follow. The Jews, children of Abraham were His sheep by blood, but they refused to hear His voice; they refused to follow Him as children of faith. Their teachers would not enter by the door, simply because Jesus claimed to be the door, and so they would not (and will not) follow His voice. Instead, they beat Him and hung Him on the cross, hoping to silence the very voice that would save them. But what they meant for evil God used for good, our good. You see, by the same suffering of the whip and cross God brought salvation, healing from sins, and complete forgiveness. This is the true healing that Jesus wounds, His stripes provide. We who are gathered here are a fellowship, a congregation of healed and forgiven sinners simply because our Good Shepherd laid down His life and then took it back up again for wandering sheep such as us. Once we were lost sheep, but now we are called found sheep!

Another way to speak of the church, this fellowship of believers is to call it a sheep pen!

When Jesus used this metaphor in our gospel reading (John 10:1-10), He was of course speaking of His holy church, His body which is made up of true Christians. I trust that by faith in your Good Shepherd, you have heard His voice in His Holy Word and Sacraments and you are resting in His flock!

Let me ask you a question, how did you get into this pen that contains Christ’s flock? Was it because you are wise and prudent? Was it because you wanted to simply cover all of the bases concerning the afterlife, so you simply entered just to be on the safe side? Maybe you just followed your parents, family, or friends here and you have learned to be comfortable among the other sheep? If so, I am afraid that you may not be a true part of Christ’s flock. Now don’t misunderstand me, I am not making a judgment in regards to your eternal salvation, only your Good Shepherd can do that, but I am only speaking a word of caution along with a prayer that you will one day, hopefully soon, hear your true Good Shepherd call out to you and then surrender to His leading. In the meantime you may rest if that’s what you seek, but remember your time of waiting is growing short.

Time is running out, both for sinners and this sinful world. Soon our Good Shepherd will return to save His little lambs, and then He will call out to all who refuse to be His, and then cast them away with these Words, “Away from me! I never knew you!” And then they will find themselves in complete darkness where there will be only eternal misery and pain!

But if you are here because you heard His voice through His Word and you followed, then by His stripes you are healed! If you are here because in His Law you heard your Shepherd call out to you and prove that you were lost in your sins, and then you heard in His gospel promise that He found you and forgave you, healed you of your many sins, well then you are found and you are certainly part of His flock!

You see, Christ’s church, our congregation is a fellowship of lost and hurting sheep; sheep who were once lost but now found; sheep who finally find themselves following the Good Shepherd’s voice.

Here in this fellowship we who have been found, have also found peace and joy, but we still know pain and suffering. We are hurting people who are sometimes raw with emotion and pain. We still experience sickness, pain, disappointment, fear, and hard times. It’s alright to admit that; we all go through it. Our Good Shepherd knows and we readily admit that we either right now or in the past have been raw and beaten up by life, and we are also willing to testify to others that because we have turned to hear our Good Shepherd’s voice, we now rest safely in this fellowship with Him and other raw and hurting sheep of His flock; we have found rest!

The truth is friends, we live in a world that is full of raw people; they’re all around us! Have you ever wondered how many people in our community are struggling with sins like lust, alcohol and drug abuse, anger and rage?

Think for a moment and consider just how many people have been or are victims of these terrible things we call sin! Do you think they will ever find help with their raw human needs, needs that surround us every day? They will, if they hear the voice of “their” Good Shepherd! How will they hear? They will hear through the bleating of fellow raw and hurting sheep! They will hear through you!

We are our Good Shepherd’s flock, sheep of His pasture and pen!

We cannot afford as a church to simply live out a “business as usual” mindset when so many raw and hurting people are dying without Jesus Christ! What is a business as usual mindset? It is thinking that the church, the flock of Jesus Christ exists only for the sheep of His pasture. It’s thinking that the business of the church, the mission of the flock is to hold Sunday services, which satisfies only the needs of the flock. A business as usual congregation thinks that people who are part of the Good Shepherd’s flock are anyone who speaks like them, dresses like them, or worships like them. These kinds of congregations are only living to die, and soon they will do just that! But as the Good Shepherd’s flock, we know that we do not exist for our own glory and comfort, but instead we exist for God’s glory. And we know that God is glorified when other lost sheep are brought into the flock and the flock grows by adding more and more hurting and raw sheep to its number!

The truth is friends, only churches that are serious about rescuing the lost and hurting sheep will survive and make a difference… and friends that must be us! It must be us because it is God’s will! How can we remain a flock, a congregation that pleases our Good Shepherd? By continuing to be a healing fellowship where hundreds, maybe even thousands of lost and raw sheep can find rest and a home of forgiveness and healing. How do we do this? By following our Good Shepherd’s example; we must learn to trace His example and make it our life’s calling and passion. Listen to St. Peter’s words in our Epistle lesson again: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you and example, so that you might follow in His steps.”[1 Peter 2:21] Let me illustrate this point with a couple of examples.

When I was a child, I wanted to learn how to draw portraits. I tried and tried, but my portraits always looked like… well they looked like a little child drew them. Then one day, I found some tracing paper in my father’s desk. I put that paper over a picture of my great grandmother, and I began to trace every shape and feature that made up her face. When I removed the tracing paper from the portrait I discovered that I had a perfect outline of the face, but it lacked dimension and depth. So I began to add shading and definition the best I could. Now when I was done, my mother saw the picture and commented on what a good job I had done, and how it resembled someone, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. “Its grandma” I responded, somewhat disappointed as I showed her the portrait I was copying! “Oh, of course it is” she replied. “Now I can see that. What a nice picture” she said!

Every day we follow the example of our Savior, walking the same way He did. We deal with the same disappointments and pain caused by raw and hurting people that He dealt with. At first we are just tracing His image, kind of going through the motions, but soon our faith deepens and our confidence in His voice strengthens, and we begin to add depth and nuances to our walk of faith that begin to look more like Jesus. And if people aren’t quite sure what to make of our lives, we will simply point out who our Good Shepherd is and why we are following Him. In that way, our lives will become attractive to others.
And speaking of following, let me close with one last story.

When I was a young Border Patrol Agent, I was assigned to work with a living legend in the Border Patrol. He was famous for following sign or evidence that is left behind by a person. In essence he became a master in the art of tracking. One night I was assigned to go with him to downtown San Diego and meet up with San Diego Police officers who were looking for some gang members that killed a San Diego police officer. I knew nothing about the art of tracking, so he told me to stay out of the way and simply follow him and learn. I stayed very close to him, as he explained what he was doing and what he was looking for, finding, and following! It took a very long time, and I was cold and hungry, but He said that we must keep going. After several hours, to my amazement, he moved a piece of plywood lying in the back yard of a residence, and found empty shell casings. After another hour, under a pile of trash he discovered the weapon that was used to kill the officer. Our job was over; the police officers took over, and later that night on the news I heard that they had arrested three gang members for the murder of that police officer.

The point of this story is this friends, we are to follow the way that Jesus went. We are to watch and learn. It is a way that was full of pain and sorrow; it was the way of the cross. As we follow our Good Shepherd we too will know pain, suffering, sickness, sorrow, and even death. But we will encounter all of these things with the confidence of knowing that we are being taught by our Master, and it is by His stripes, by His wounds we are forgiven and healed of all of our sins, and as an added blessing, we are assured that God loves us and will never leave us. We are assured that because Christ has risen, so shall we. We are assured that as we are tracing our Masters portrait and looking more like Him every day, one day we shall be just like Him! Because we hear His voice in His Word we are assured that just as He has overcome the grave so shall we!

But we also must understand that just as we were once found lost, hurting, and raw, Jesus wants to do the same thing for others within our community through us! How will he do this? The same way He did it for you, through His voice, through the living Word of God that is read every day and that will also live in them!

So when you leave this place of worship this morning knowing that you are forgiven and loved, don’t just live a life that only looks forward to next Sunday, but live a life that follows your Good Shepherd Jesus Christ Monday through Saturday, practicing the lessons that He teaches you each Sunday. And when you follow Him, be prepared. He is seeking out people who do not want to be found; not to punish them but to offer them pardon and forgiveness! In this way, you are like I was long ago following behind that living legend looking for the bad guys. You must stay out of the way with your prejudices and self-interests and simply learn from the master; you must learn that even those “raw” people who are straying away like sheep, are called to return to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls, Jesus Christ! May God equip us to do this very thing, as we live lives that declare, Christ has risen, He has risen indeed!

The Resurrection is the Gospel

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Easter 2A, April 23, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” [1 Peter 1:8]

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! When those words of joy were first spoken, they declared a truth; it was a truth that took all of Christ’s disciples, including the apostles by complete surprise. Jesus had warned them; He prepared them over and over again that He would come back. He had made it clear that it was His life to lay down into death and it was His to raise back up again, but all of them missed the meaning of His promise. But who would have understood? The truth is, in this life people just don’t come back from the dead. Isn’t it true, that there seems to be nothing as permanent as death?

I believe that our common experience tells us that…

Death is simply inescapable.

But Jesus Christ did rise from the dead. His power over death was declared over and over again throughout the Old Testament, and His resurrection is the very reason we have the New Testament; it’s the reason we have the Christian Church, and presumably, it’s the reason you are here this morning.

The day Jesus rose from the dead, He proved that He had power over sin, death, and the devil.

Easter Day took all of Jesus’ disciples by surprise, and it became the focus of their lives and the center of their thinking; it defined how they lived, and how they died. It became the very center of their beings. Christ had escaped death and brought new hope for the world and new life for those who would trust His cross and the message of the empty tomb.

To St. Peter, Jesus’ resurrection was life changing. You can hear his joyful exclamation of it’s effect on him in the opening words of our Epistle lesson [1 Peter 1:3-9]: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”.

Imagine with me, that Jesus has allowed St. Peter to return from the dead for just an hour simply to tell his story one more time, in the flesh. Now imagine that we’ve been allowed to ask him any thing. Maybe we might ask him why the resurrection was so central in all of his writings. Now let’s allow him to answer that question and tell his story.

“Well, to understand why the resurrection is so important to me, you’d have to remember just who I was before Jesus rose from the dead; you’d have to remember the terrible things that I did.”

“I guess you could say that I was the spokesman for the other disciples. I was with Jesus from the beginning when He called me away from the family fishing business. I dropped everything and followed Him. Oh, how I loved the fact that the Holy Spirit first spoke through me, in order to declare that Jesus was the Christ, the very Son of God. Later, I even bragged that if all of the others left Him, I never would. Then when Jesus really needed me, I the great Peter let Him down! On the night when Jesus was betrayed and arrested, I the strong and dependable Peter denied Jesus three times, and I ran away and hid for fear of loosing my own life, just as Jesus warned I would.”

“Three times—I still feel sick to my stomach when I think about it—three times I the great Peter denied my Lord. I denied Him while He was getting ready to die for my sins. And while he hung there dying, John and the women were there with Him, but I did not have the stomach or the faith to watch it. You see, I had pinned all of my hopes on Jesus, and now He was dead. But even worse, instead of being thankful to God for being a part of Jesus’ life, I felt nothing but bitter shame and a sense that my entire life had been a complete waste of time and an utter failure.”

“But you can imagine how my life changed when the women came back from the tomb with the unbelievable news. Jesus was alive. He’s risen! At first I did not dare believe it, but then they spoke a message from the angels, and it changed everything. They said that Jesus told them to tell the disciples and Peter to meet Him in Galilee. Think about what those Words meant to me—and Peter! At that very moment, every doubt was erased from my worried mind and I not only believed that Jesus had defeated death, but that He truly was my God and my Savior! From that point on I was a changed man, I was forgiven, and the entire world had changed, and for the first time I knew that my eternal future was set and certain.”

At this point we might be tempted to ask Peter what he means, when he says that the entire world had changed, and that he knew that his eternal future was set and certain. Well, let’s let Peter answer us in his own words from verse 4 of our epistle reading: “(Friends, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been born again to a living hope) to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us.” This is a strong declaration of faith; it’s a God given faith that learns to acknowledge our sins of the past, but then by grace, that same gift of faith teaches us to let go of the past and then simply trust in the completed work of Jesus Christ; a completed work that has given us a new identity as one who is “born again” for an eternal life in heaven.

Our sinful flesh fights this truth, as it attempts to set our eyes on anything else other than Christ’s cross and empty tomb.

Isn’t it true that we would rather think about how Peter let Jesus down instead of how we ourselves have abandoned Him time and time again? Isn’t it easier to see the darkness of Peter’s regrets rather than looking at our own darkness? Just as Peter was tempted to go back into his old life of fishing rather than waiting on Jesus, haven’t we also been tempted to go back to our old sinful ways, in fact haven’t we actually done that many times?

And when we go back to our sinful ways, isn’t it true that like Peter, we too have felt that we were letting the best of who we were, that is our relationship with Jesus just slip away through our fingers? Doesn’t it become easier to feed on our failures, that is our sinful weakness rather than repent; turn to Jesus in confession of those failures? Don’t we too, at times feel like Jesus has abandoned us?

When our marriage fails, when our family ties are falling apart, when our financial base has seemingly been destroyed, when addiction rears it’s ugly ahead once again, or when death takes the very one we love the most, aren’t we too tempted to run from God and His Church, or lash out at Him in anger? But then like Peter, we too receive the call to come to the empty tomb, and then everything is changed. Jesus is alive, not dead. Jesus is with us in His Word and Sacraments, He has not left us as orphans. Mankind’s greatest enemies, your greatest enemies, sin, death, and the devil have been defeated and destroyed.

On the cross we see how our enemies were defeated. Jesus died to save sinners, all sinners. He died to take away Peter’s sins, and He died to take away your sins. Upon the cross, the Son of God Himself made full payment for our sins. But in the empty tomb, we see how the power of our enemies has forever been removed from our lives. The empty tomb proves to us who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, that when we were washed clean in the waters of our baptism, the empty tomb is also our reality. In our baptism Jesus resurrection becomes our resurrection. Death has been defeated and the dark wall that divides this life from our eternal life has been penetrated. Or, as St. Peter puts it in verses 4 and 5…

Our eternal destiny has been assured (as) “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for (us who have been baptized), (and) by God’s power (we) are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” What these Words declare to us is simply this, no lie of the devil and no attacks from this sinful world can jeopardize our salvation and our eternal home with Jesus, because nothing can put Jesus back into the grave and nothing can undo what God has done for you upon the cross and within the waters of your baptism. No enemy can cheat you out of your inheritance; it can’t be stolen or destroyed. It is being kept for you by the fact that Christ has risen!

Now we could end our message right here and most of us would go home happy and at peace, but some of us would not. Some of us still have questions. And I believe that the primary question that holds us back in sorrow and prevents us to leave in joy is this: “If Christ’s resurrection makes such a difference in our lives, and since the future holds such glory, and since Christ has overcome all of His enemies, then why is there so much suffering in this world? Why is there so much suffering in “MY” world?” Now to this question, let’s let St. Peter answer once again in verse 6 from our Epistle lesson…

“Yes it is true, we still experience pain and sorrow just as every other person does in this world, but for we Christians, these experiences are only temporary.”

“And while we go through these things, we keep rejoicing in the hope of our inheritance because the Holy Spirit reminds us that “though now for a little while we may have to suffer various trials, (this is necessary so) that the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold (may become evident to all), a faith, which though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

You see friends, Jesus is not only with you, through the Holy Spirit He is working in you. He is working to transform you everyday into what you will be for eternity, holy, perfect, and righteous. He is transforming your character. And like old Job, we may at times be asked to go through some times of testing so that others can see our faith in Jesus and the transforming power of the cross and the empty tomb. As Jesus allows us to enter into these times of testing He is also calling the attention of others to notice how we handle these times, but also how God brings us through them. And as we pass through these times, we prove to others that our love for God is not fleeting and we are not fair weathered friends of Jesus Christ, but we have been transformed forever unto eternal life.

The resurrection tells us that suffering, our suffering is only temporary. We can make it through those periods, because we are not alone. We can pass through it and not let it destroy us or take away our faith in Jesus Christ. Even if the suffering drives us to the very door of death, we know for certain that beyond that door our risen Lord Jesus Christ is waiting to receive us. We who have been baptized into the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, have been baptized into His death and into His resurrection. We who trust Him may loose a skirmish sometimes, that is we may fall into temptation and sin, but we are not defeated, because Jesus has won the war. Jesus’ resurrection tells us that suffering can never have the last word for those of us who belong to Him.

As we close our message this morning, I think that we should address one more challenge to living out our lives as baptized Christians, and it is this. We can read our Bibles, especially the stories about St. Peter and the others that were in Jesus’ inner circle and think, “I wish that I could have known Jesus and learned to love Him like they did.” And to that, I believe that St. Peter would say… “What do you mean youmwish?! You can. That’s the point of the resurrection. He lives now as certainly and as personally as He did then. You see Him by faith, which is the most precious gift of God that you could ever receive. Through the Word of God, all of it “has been written so that you would believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God” by faith. Listen friend, your vision of Jesus is more precious than mine. I believed in Him because He allowed me to be with Him for three years; He allowed me to touch, handle and eat with Him after His resurrection. But you believe because of the awesome power of God that has filled you through His supernatural gift of faith. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Dear friends, the resurrection of Jesus is the gospel.

It’s the gospel because He assures you that soon enough you to will follow Him and rise from the dead. Your own resurrection will be like Jesus resurrection in that it will be the final act of God upon your old flesh which proves, that God loves you so much that He has done everything that needs to be done to save you. It’s no wonder that Peter declared, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The resurrection meant to him that we had a sure inheritance, encouragement in suffering, and the joy of constant friendship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.

For Peter the resurrection was an historical fact. He was there when it happened and it changed the history of sinful men and women. Christ is risen… that is history. Christ is risen for you… that is your part in history in the making that only you can witness to. Now go out and tell anyone who will listen this gospel message that includes them too… AMEN!

Kingdom, Power, and Glory!

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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

Click here for audio of the message

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” [Col. 3:3]

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! What a wonderful announcement for this sinful world to hear! We know why it is wonderful; we know why
it is good news; it is wonderful and good because through the work of Jesus Christ, God has defeated our archenemies, sin, death, and the devil! But to this unbelieving world what we call good and wonderful, they call foolish and a waste of time! They dismiss what we hold precious, the death, resurrection, and glorification of our Savior, and in its place they put the easter bunny and earth day?

We started what we call Holy Week with Palm Sunday.

On that day we recall the cheers of the jubilant crowd welcoming their King, our King with Hosannas and blessings to the one who comes in the name of our God! I wonder what our society would chant if Jesus came in our midst today? Maybe His handlers would have Him coming in waving to the crowd, kissing babies and pressing the flesh to that Frank Sinatra song, “The Best is Yet to Come.”

Yes, once again this consumer driven world we live in takes what we hold dearest, the very thing we need, and tramples it under their feet, replacing it with things we want! Why is that? Because dear friends, to get to Easter, to get to God’s Kingdom, Power, and Glory, you must pass through Good Friday, pain, suffering, and death! They can’t understand how God’s kingdom can come in such a low manner as that; they will never accept that idea until they have let go of their own idea of kingdom, power, and glory. That was the problem with the people of Jesus time and it is still the problem with our world today! In order to get to God they must first see and address their sins, and that is what Holy week and Easter Sunday are all about!

In Christ battle with sin, death, and the devil, Jesus appeared to be a victim. He was put to death as a criminal. He ruled as a King from a cross, with a crown of thorns and the broken scepter of a reed. “What kind of a king is this” a sinful world asks? Yes, He was a victim, but He was a victim in our place. Only by taking on the role of victim could be become the victor! Yes He was the one who was put to death for sinners, but He is also the one Who was raised to give those same sinners, you and me the righteousness of God! Yes they mocked him as a king with a crown of thorns, but He was a different kind of king than they were expecting. His central concern was the truth; a truth that He both proclaimed and fulfilled! But why? So that God’s kingdom, power, and glory would come among us and replace our own sinful ideas of kingdom, power, and glory! Through death upon the cross, Jesus leads His subjects of His kingdom from the cross through death into the exaltation of the royal triumph of the empty tomb.

But in order to get to the empty tomb; in order to experience the triumph of the resurrection, you must pass through the dark valley of death; death that is always the result of sin, our sins! This is the truth that the women on Easter morning discovered first, and then the apostles and disciples after them!

“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” [Matthew 28:1]

Dear friends this was no ordinary morning for the women in Jesus inner circle; no they weren’t on their way to the market to buy what they needed for breakfast; they were on their way to finish burying their King! Jesus who they were certain was the Messiah; a king who would live forever was now dead! All of their hopes and dreams seemed to be sealed away in that tomb with the body of Jesus! He was buried so quickly on Friday evening because the Sabbath was soon to start at sundown; and every good Jew knew that you couldn’t do any work on the Sabbath; not even burying your king! Well the Sabbath is over; the sun is now rising and it is a new day… Sunday to be exact. So off they went to finish the work that was started on Friday. Not only must they enter deeper into the dark valley of death, but they must smell and experience the decay of Him who they thought would not, no could not die!

Now, they arrive at the tomb of their king, “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.” [Matt. 28:2-4] Dear friends, don’t miss the significance of the earthquake! It is the same quaking that came after Jesus was put to death! It’s God’s expression of power after He confronts the evil plans of devils and men; plans that seek to replace His Kingdom, Power, and Glory with their own kingdom, power, and glory! The guards at the tomb knew that this was the power of God! Why else would they fall like dead men and shake like frightened children? What else can you do when you are an unrepentant sinner confronted by an angel of the Lord?

The women, no doubt were afraid as well. They were well within the deep, dark valley of death, but now they’ve encountered the unexplainable light of the Living God! “But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, (just) as he said (He would do). Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead!” [Matt. 28:5-7a] And there you have a perfect picture of God’s kingdom, glory, and power vs. the world’s kingdom, glory, and power! What the world meant for evil God turned into good! “They put (Jesus) to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and MADE HIM TO APPEAR! [Acts 10:39b, 40]

“So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” [Matt. 28:8-10]

 

He is risen!  Glory be to God on high… Jesus is risen indeed!

And what a greeting He gives to these wonderful Christian women! It is a shame that our translators chose such a boring word as “Greetings” to put in the mouth of Jesus. A more accurate translation of Jesus greeting is “Happiness and joy in their fullness are yours!” Amen and amen Jesus! You are alive! You are the living God; even death and the grave have no power over you! Your kingdom is not only greater than the devil and sinful men, but your power and glory can never be defeated or replaced! It’s no wonder that the women fell down and worshiped Him! But Jesus has something to tell them, and through them He also speaks to us. Listen: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” [vs. 10]

Do not be afraid! Behold I have made all things new; I have defeated my enemies and I have brought you back into my Father’s Kingdom of power and glory! Now go and tell my brothers, those who have believed my Word; those who were heavily burdened by sin and fear; those who turned to me for rest. Tell them I am alive and just as I promised I will never leave nor forsake them!

Dear friends, do not miss that wonderful description that Jesus uses to describe His apostles and disciples. He calls them brothers! Those who deserted Him at the cross out of fear; Peter who denied Him three times; we who have chased after the kingdom, power, and glory of this sinful world, Jesus calls brothers! With this simple word, Jesus brings all of His disciples, even you and me deep into His heart as His most dearest and closest relatives. In this one word, Jesus gives us all of His forgiving love and at the same time He also gives us the highest honor we could ever receive. If Jesus is our brother, what more could we ever need? Brothers in the flesh possess everything together; they have one Father and one inheritance. So we have a common possession of everything that belongs to Christ! And what is that possession? It is the Kingdom, Power, and Glory of God! All of this is what Jesus gained on that great resurrection day for Himself, but He has also given it to you!

You are Christ’s brothers and sisters because He has freed you from your sins and the kingdom of the devil! In His resurrection, Jesus defeated all of these things and now He invites you to rest in this truth. Jesus entered into death in order to triumph over it and reclaim you as His brother. His resurrection causes you who trust in this work to rest in it and remain steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in joy because of the completed work of Jesus Christ! As He gives you the fruits of His resurrection through your baptism, you are now walking and growing in a new life that He has created for you! In this new life, He stands alongside of you as you struggle against your enemy the devil, and your old sinful flesh. But you must never become discouraged, because you have been raised with Christ from the dead in your baptism, but more than that, you have been hidden away with Him. And because you are hidden, the devil and the sinful world can’t see what you see by faith, so they laugh at you and they attack you trying to move you into the same place they exist… fear and doubt! Oh let them rage on all they like; they can’t harm you because you are not only protected from them, you are hidden away, out of their reach!

Christ, who was their victim is now your Victor, and He has come back from the grave for you. You are His most prized possession and He delivers you to His Father into a Kingdom of Power and Glory! Yes friends, Christ has risen… He has risen indeed!

Jesus Is The Rock Who Cleaves For You!


Monday, March 20th, 2017

Lent 3 (A), March 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

IMG_0088“Is the Lord among us or not?” That’s perhaps the most common question both sinners and saints ask the church. Maybe you’ve asked that question before as well? Is He with us or are we simply left on our own to fend for ourselves? So, let’s settle that question right now, this morning.

“Is the Lord among us or not?”

That is the very question the Israelites asked Moses as they grew thirsty in a land of rocks and sand. Did the Lord really lead us out here or was it you, Moses? Did you bring us out here to die of thirst?
Oh how quickly they have forgotten how miraculously powerful the Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt land! Oh how conveniently they’ve dismissed the Lord’s ever-present cloud by day and pillar by night. Oh how easily they have dismissed the Lord’s continuous care, through the mysterious feeding of the manna and quail.

Who here this morning can blame Moses one bit for crying out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people?” as they had stones at the ready, just waiting to stone him to death! But the Lord was listening; He was in control; He was more than pleased to show His people once again, that He indeed was with them.

Oh how quickly the Israelites forgot, and oh how quickly we too forget. How easily we too forget or dismiss the proof of our Lord and His presence with us all of these years. Think back, for many not so long ago, where you can truly say that “If it had not been for the Lord, I would have…” well, you can fill in the blank.

The people back then forgot that they were following the God that not only makes the water, but He actually is in, with, and under the water. And so do we. They actually grumbled against their God who provided for their needs through the mask of Moses, and so do we, as we dismiss the majority of the pastor’s words as simply the wisdom of a gifted communicator. When we forget our many blessings that we have received regularly here in this house of worship and outside of this place, we too are forgetting the God who is behind those wonderful gifts.

God was not absent then and He is not absent now; He would not allow His people under the leadership of Moses to live as if there is no God leading them, and He will not allow us to live that way either. God had a plan then, and He still has a plan today. God’s children of faith are to be a light in a world dark with sin. Through the promised Savior God’s plan is to open wide His store-house of blessings and through His children of faith, bless the entire world as well. But nowhere did God ever promise that our trek out of our bondage of sin would be painless and easy. God has promised us nothing in this life except the privilege of experiencing His forgiving love and glory.

In our Old Testament lesson, we read that God had Moses and some of the elders pass before the vast company of the grumbling Israelites, displaying the staff that parted the water, and there in front of those stiff necked people, He directed Moses to strike a certain Rock. Moses did as he was told, and out from the cleft rock came a gush of living and refreshing water!

What kind of rock was this, and just what kind of water was it?

If we will for but a moment, simply dismiss any scientific explanation about the origin of the water, and instead allow God’s Word to explain it’s source, we can then wonderfully see the God who is not only in, with, and under the water, but also the God who is the source of it.

But the source came from the rock, didn’t it?! Yes, that’s right, but again, let’s not put to much effort into understanding the how of the water, but instead let Holy Scripture tell us the Who and the why of it. What scripture is that? How about this information from St. Paul: “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. [1 Corinthians 10:1–4]

The Savior-God showered His grace on his people Israel by means of this rock in the desert, just as God has blessed us in Christ beyond all that we sinful creatures deserve. “Nevertheless,” Paul continues, “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall (be careful that you are not by choice, choosing to plant your feet of faith on some other foundation than the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ)! No temptation has seized you except what is common to all people. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (that is He will not allow you to fall completely away from the Rock of your salvation). But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (as you stand upon the Rock)” (verses 5, 11–13).

That way out friends is the Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself who sought you out and found you in your sins, while you were still an unredeemed condemned enemy of God, and He suffered and died for you, by placing you and your wretched condition upon His very existence! Make no mistake, God found you and not the other way around. He alone has cleft for you and incorporated your very existence upon His own.

In your baptism, Jesus came to you through simple water. But how?

Again, like the water from the rock, do not be concerned with the how, but the Who and why of it. Jesus, all of Jesus was and is in the water of your baptism. When I say all of Jesus, I truly mean all of Him. Jesus who was fully man and fully God was there within the font when each of you were baptized. All of “Jesus the man” had to be there, because only real blood can pay for real sins. Only real suffering and finally death can free a sinner from the price of sin. But then again, only all of God can have complete victory over sin, death, and the devil. Only all of God can raise a dead sinner into a living saint.

Ok, to satisfy those of you who still want to know the how behind the water, here it is. God does it through the rock of ages, Jesus Christ, who by the power of the Spirit of God is in, with, and under the water of your Holy Baptism by the power of His Holy Word; a Word that promises salvation; a Word that promises that all of God is always with you! And all of this He does through a living water that is a bath for sinners and a cool and refreshing drink for saints who are struggling to pass through this wilderness of sin.

The bath is needed if we want to be regarded as one of God’s children of faith. It is the only means that He has provided that will truly wash us clean and remove our sins. But it is also the very source of refreshment that will forever quench our thirst for God’s righteous presence and protection in our lives. Holy Water is the very resource that will turn us again and again to our Savior, who declared to the sinful woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” [John 4:14]

And yet, how often do we who have been washed clean by this holy bath, refreshed by this living water grumble and complain about God’s way of dealing with us. Oh how easy we forget the God who is in, with, and under the water, and how easy we forget that through Christ, we are never disconnected from God! How easy we forget His plan for us to be His light of forgiving love in a world darkened with sin, so that the world will see the Rock of ages cleft for them too, and know once and for all that there is a God among them!

“Sir,” we must say every day to our Lord, as the Samaritan woman did, “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.” [John 4:15] We must say everyday, “Lord, help me live in, with, and under this spiritual water, and protect me when I thirst for other sources of refreshment offered by the devil and this sin-darkened world.”

Dear friends, like the Israelites following God through the leadership of Moses, we too are traveling through a desert of sin. We to will know pain and suffering along our journey. It will be tempting to grumble against God and those who lead us through the proclamation of His Word, but God is not absent in these times of testing; He is not hiding some master plan from you that you know nothing about! The master plan is first and foremost your salvation through the cross of Jesus and the washing of His water and Word. And next, that plan is for you to listen and follow Him out into our community that is dying of thirst. They need to know about the God-man Jesus Christ who knows everything about them, and yet still loves them!

Dear saints, let’s learn from the mistakes of the people of Israel and not allow Satan to draw us into a spirit of grumbling and complaining, which is really a sign of unbelief. Instead, let’s keep our eyes on the Rock of Ages, the Author and Perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ. He is the God who is among us as our Rock and our Living Water; He is the One who has cleaved Himself wide open so that we to may fit within His own body, the church. AMEN!

Living Beyond the Mountain Top

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday A, February 26, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”” [Matthew 17:1]

Transfiguration-Cal-34-Mar1Have you ever had something happen to you, which was so profound that it seemed to change how you look at everything in your life? Peter, James, and John did, but to understand their experience correctly, we need to look at their recent experiences with Jesus.

In the last couple of years, they experienced one miracle after another.

They must have felt like they were on top of the world. And then, out of nowhere, Jesus started talking about denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him into suffering and death! Why, He even said that if they wanted to save their lives they must first lose them. Then He said that even He would need to suffer and die at the hands of sinful men in order to fulfill the will of the Father.

Now to Peter, that sounded like crazy talk, and he didn’t want to listen to anymore of that doom and gloom, so he took Jesus aside and tried to enlighten Him on how he thought a Messiah should speak. But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that; that was the devil speaking not Peter, so Jesus rebuked Peter with the often-quoted words, “Get behind me Satan.” He said that Peter was seeking the way of the world, and not the way of God!

Peter and the other apostles must have been thinking, “What’s going on here? This isn’t what I signed up for! What happened to all of our visions of glory that come with ‘walking and talking with our minds stayed on Jesus’ the Messiah?” You see, they wanted more of the glory, fame, and high life, but Jesus was telling them that instead of living large and in-charge, they would need to experience shame, suffering, and death. And then out of nowhere, Jesus gave them this little bit of information to think about: “Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come in power.” [Mark 9:1]

So now, six days later there is Peter along with James, and John, up on a mountaintop, watching Jesus pray and seeing the kingdom of God enveloping them in power.

God’s power and glory always comes through His Living Word and many times Jesus, the Living Word, comes when we least expect Him.

It was getting late and they were tired; their eyes got heavy when all of a sudden, boom! It was as if all of the light in the world was pouring out of Jesus and the two visitors that suddenly appeared. And they weren’t just any visitors either; they were Moses and Elijah!

The three earth bound apostles were overwhelmed with the experience. The other gospels tell us that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were speaking about Jesus death, resurrection, and the day He would leave this sinful world, but Peter skipped right over those Words. All he seemed to care about was the glory! He must have thought, “Now this is the kind of Messiah I signed up to follow!” So with a mixture of fear and excitement (after all he was standing in the presence of God and the two greatest heroes of faith that ever lived), Peter interrupts Jesus’ discussion with these deep and insightful words: “(Hey, a) Lord, it is (a)good (thing) that we’re here (with you).” Do you want me to pitch a few tents for you and your guests?

I call that a Cool Hand Luke moment; you know… “What we have here, is a failure to communicate.”

With all of the responses someone should or could have had, maybe something like Alleluia, why in the world did Peter ruin that divine moment with such a stupid statement and question? Because many times when it comes to listening to God, we have a listening problem.

KGO talk radio in San Francisco once conducted a call-in poll. Ron Owens invited listeners to express their opinion. Thirty-five percent said yes, 33 percent said no and 32 percent were undecided. One listener, aghast at the large number of undecideds, protested, “It’s this sort of apathy that’s ruining America.”

The only problem with all these responses was that the radio station had never posed a question. It’s not apathy that is getting most of us in trouble – it is shooting our mouths off and shouting our lungs out over things that we know nothing about.
After Peter’s “Cool-Hand Luke” moment, God allowed a thick cloud to appear, and it suddenly swept Moses and Elijah away. Why? Because God was making sure that they both heard Him speak, and that they also understood why He spoke.

Aren’t we a lot like those apostles too?

We love it when we come to church and we get to sing our favorite hymn or spiritual. We love it when the preacher is talking about heaven and what a time will have there with no more suffering, pain, sickness, and death, but as soon as the message starts showing us where we fall short or what God expects from us, we tune it out.

We love to be entertained for about an hour, but as soon as the service starts cutting into our Sunday afternoon plans we get fidgety, and then irritated! Or maybe, we love the fellowship and coffee but get bored with the liturgy and ritual! You see, like Peter we say that it’s good to be here in church, but only if it meets our desires; as soon as worship time gets personal we become nervous and hope that it ends soon.

Now you might not interrupt the sermon or the readings with a foolish statement like Peter’s, but you too have your “Cool-Hand Luke” moments. For you, it happens the minute you tune out to what’s happening in Divine Service and tune into what you wish was happening. Peter wanted to silence the conversation and stay in the glory moment, and we aren’t any better. We love those mountaintop highs of worship, and if we could make it happen, that’s all we would ever experience.

Does that mean that emotion during worship is bad? No, not at all, but the good times aren’t suppose to be the center of why we worship. So what’s the solution?

Well, we just need to let Jesus be Jesus and then let Him do what He does. Do you see what I just did there? I took the emphasis off of you and me and put it on Jesus. That’s always the solution to most every thing, isn’t it? Yes church, we must remember that worship, our worship of God is simply our response to what He has done and is doing right now for us! This is what we call Divine Service; God’s service amongst and within us; His work of dealing with our sins as individuals and as a congregation.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Peter used his mountaintop experience and the Word of God he heard that day, as a way to guide both his life and ours’ every day as we live not on the mountain top but in the valleys.

The greatest growth in the apostle’s lives did not take place on the mountaintop, but instead it took place on the way to a garden and a rocky hill. The vision of Moses and Elijah is not what shaped the three, but instead it was the three years they spent with Jesus listening to His Word; the very Word that would predict His own betrayal and death; it would lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested and then to Golgotha where they witnessed their Savior’s death upon a cross. It was not Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration that impacted them eternally but instead, it was His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, which confirmed that “truly He was the Son of God” for them and for the world.

The day Jesus was crucified, that hill where they planted His cross became the highest mountain in the world, because it reached heaven for us. Jesus did not go up that hill to pray, but he did pray, he prayed for you: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” You see friends; the experience at the Mt. of Transfiguration is inferior to the experience at Calvary’s holy hill, because it is only at Calvary where you receive forgiveness of sins.

Peter and the boys missed the obvious. They were awed by Jesus’ glory, because He was their man, the Messiah who would be their champion by righting all wrongs. They were so excited about what they thought Jesus would do that they missed what God had already done. There standing with Jesus, were Moses and Elijah shining in the same glory as Jesus. Moses the great teacher who brought us God’s law, was listening to Jesus. Elijah, the great prophet who was taken up to heaven in bodily form, was listening too. What did it all mean? Only Jesus could explain it; and to make sure that they would one day understand, God’s Divine Service kicked into action again. Moses and Elijah disappeared within a dense cloud of God’s glory and the voice of the Father announced: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

How does our worship go wrong?

It happens when we shut down our hearts and minds to the message in exchange for the experience; when we allow Jesus Word to become secondary to the experience. How does God make things right? By taking our focus off of the experience and putting it back onto the Word, this Word: “Jesus is My beloved Son, my elected One; LISTEN TO HIM!”
The truth is, without the Word of God speaking to us, there can be no experience. What is the experience? Dying and living and living and dying. In the Word you hear God’s law make demands that you can never meet; this is a Word that terrifies you, because you are a sinner standing in the middle of God’s perfect and blinding glory, and the result is your death, the death of your glory.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, you hear about a loving God who came to you, to take away your sins; the result is new life, a life free of condemnation and full of God’s love. In this good news you are taught that Jesus walked the painful way to the cross for you; He suffered and died to pay for your sins. In His death He conquered not just your sin and the devil, but also your own death. In His death and resurrection, all things can be made new again, even you!

In your baptism, Jesus brought you into His glory by drowning and destroying your old sinful nature and by bringing you into the cloud of His divine presence. In your baptism He chose you and He cleansed you. And what He cleanses, He also molds and changes. What He molds, He fills. And what He fills, He uses. So now, you live! Every day you choose to live for God as you put to death your old sinful and self-serving nature; you live for God and you live for others!

When the light show is over and the glory cloud vanishes, there is no one but you and Jesus, but not the bright as the sun Jesus, but the flesh and blood Jesus. He’s the one who moves around in this world of sin, loving, suffering and dying for sinners. He’s the One who speaks to them and through His Word makes them saints. How does He do that? Through the proclamation of His church… through you and me!

Remember in our gospel reading when He told the three not to say a word to anyone about what they had seen until He had risen from the dead? Well that time has come and gone. In case you haven’t noticed, everyone who knows is telling anyone who doesn’t what Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension means… it means the forgiveness of all sins and eternal life! But you can only share that message if you are willing to come down off of the mountain top of worship and go out into the real world where there are real sinful and hurting people, dying without knowing Jesus. The exciting part about all of this is the fact that God wants to reach them through you!

So, until we meet again next Sunday for our next encounter with God’s divine service and our next foretaste of the glory to come, may He forever lead and guide you by the Word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior… AMEN!

The Way Towards a Strong and Prosperous Life


Monday, February 20th, 2017

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Loving-Our-Enemies-600x600This morning we continue our message from within Jesus Sermon from the Mount, and we’ll let these words confront us and comfort us: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48] Here’s a question that I want you to wait until the end of our message to answer: Is this the Law or Gospel? It’s my prayer that by the end of our message you will be able to answer this question, and that the answer will lead you in the way you live out the rest of your life.

In that question we must remember that Jesus’ primary goal isn’t to speak the law and condemn us as sinners, which we are, but instead He is leading our hearts to understand the will of God and our new identity as saints; people He is sending out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. [Vs. 13-16] Jesus wants us to see our need for living our lives in complete dependence on God’s love and care, which will then compel us to demonstrate or reflect that same love to our neighbors where ever we me meet them. And all of this is done within the tender balance of living a life of repentance and faith, which Jesus provided for us in the Beatitudes [Vs. 3-12], where He assured us of a life strong with blessings. When the reality of these blessing begin to control our very lives, we will begin to have an effect upon our community as salt and light. But we must always remember that our quest for completeness has nothing to do with entering or staying in the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has already given that to us!

Now resting in this promise of blessing, hear the perfect Law of God:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (Or if someone punches you, punch them back.) But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.” Lord, are you saying don’t fight back against anyone? “(Yes”, he says,) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” But Jesus isn’t done yet, He now takes it a step further: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” In other words, if part of a settlement to a law suit is your jacket, let them have your shirt also! “And if anyone (say like the government or someone else with power over you) forces you to go one mile (say to carry something), go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” [Vs. 38-41]

“But Lord…. but Lord! Do you know what that will mean to me? That’s not only foolish it’s also impossible!” And dear friends, that is the point. Living the kind of life that Jesus is leading us to is the foolishness of the cross… the impossibility of fulfilling God’s perfect law. Your “but Lord” should be enough to turn you away from any foolish ideas you might have that keeping God’s law is doable! It should be enough to not only turn you to God’s mercy and forgiveness, but keep you there as you learn to follow Jesus!

You see friends, Jesus wants us to understand that it isn’t God’s law that brings about true justice for us but it’s His love and mercy that does that! Now our Lord knows that this is the complete opposite of what the world calls common sense; it goes directly against our natural inclination. You know what I am referring to don’t you? “A tit for a tat! I’m going to make sure I get justice!” That’s the natural way of this sinful world! They think that the law will give them wholeness and security; but we must always remember that the left hand kingdom or the kingdom of God’s law can never bring about any real change; it only demands it. Instead, it is God’s way to provide justice by inviting His children to trust in His plan for them and then turn to Him in prayer. And when we rest in God’s plan of justice, He then asks us to absorb the evil attacks of our neighbor and let it die there! He is asking us not to live a life of revenge, but instead live a life of sacrificially turning the other cheek and trusting that God will repay!

What we must remember is that this is ultimately not about you and me, but it is about Jesus Christ! He is the one who truly did turn the other cheek when He was struck by the Sanhedrin. He truly did let them take both His tunic and His cloak as they rolled dice deciding who would keep them. He truly did pick up His cross and walk more than a mile to the ominous poverty of Golgotha; with the sins we placed on Him.
But we must not ever say or even think that because Jesus lived this life perfectly for us, we no longer need to!
No friends, just the opposite is true; what Jesus did for us, demonstrates for us what it means to love! He demonstrates to us the highest form of love… God’s own love; a love of intellect and choice. As God has loved us, so we are to love our neighbor.

This kind of love means that we will stand against evil not by taking a physical and reactionary stand against it but by submitting to the one who is evil; by absorbing the evil and not matching it with our own form of pay back. Why would we do this? Because of God’s mercy and love that has been given to us through Jesus Christ!

Now I know, when we hear these words, we want to close our ears; we don’t want to do it! We desperately look for another way to explain this hard teaching of Jesus, but the truth is friends there is no other way to explain it and no other way to follow Jesus; He always leads us to the cross!

This isn’t a new teaching friends, nor is it without those who truly understood it and lived out its truth.

Martin Luther understood it along with those who went before Him and became martyrs. Mohandas Gandhi and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also saw and lived out the beauty of this teaching, and they absorbed so much hate and evil that it eventually took their lives. Martin Luther King Jr. not only walked the way of the cross but He taught others to do the same, and because of that obedience, God brought about great change. He changed the injustice of hate not with the sword but with mercy and forgiveness, and this change is still in motion today!

Through Jesus we find true power and truth in the cross. And that truth is that you don’t overcome evil by violently standing against it but by turning the other cheek. But don’t mistake this turning of the cheek with weakness or tolerance! Nowhere does Jesus say to turn the other cheek and refuse to speak up for what is right; nowhere does He say not to protect and take on the cause of those who are being overcome by evil! As salt and light, we are to speak the truth, God’s truth in love; a kind of love that moves us to take the evil action of another upon ourselves; the kind of love that moves under the burden of the cross another is bearing and help them shoulder the load. We are to take all of the evil action upon ourselves and let it die there, never bringing it up again!

Do you want to learn to be obedient? Do you want to become what God has already said that you are… holy? Then follow Jesus to the cross and agree with this teaching and pursue it! This is the way of the cross!

So are you looking for a “how to” part of this sermon?

Good, then I have only one step for you to follow: turn to Jesus and His cross! How? Well you’ve already been given the heart of Jesus, so follow that heart; follow that love of God that has been put within you. Love your enemy; pray for him. You will be surprised just how much change and rearrangement God will do when your heart first agrees that He’s right and you’re wrong. Once you learn to admit this, then praying for your enemy isn’t really that difficult.
But why must we do this? Well, Jesus answers this question as well. Listen: “(You will do this) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” [vs. 45] But that sounds like some kind of works righteousness! Is it? Is Jesus saying that I must work at loving my enemies here on earth so that my Heavenly Father can reward me by making me His son or daughter? No, not at all!
Jesus is saying that when we are loving our enemies we are showing them the love of the Father; we are showing them that we ARE sons and daughters of the Father! Through our acts of love that find their source in the heart of Jesus we are showing everyone, including our enemies that our God is also their God; a God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” We are showing them that not only are God and His love real, but also His Law that threatens anyone who refuses to follow that love through Jesus Christ! We are showing them that the same God who saved and changed us wants to do the very same work within them.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors (or open sinners) do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” [Vs. 46-47] You see friends, Jesus is telling us that we are not to think that our Christianity is something nice that we share with those who are part of our congregation; He’s not saying that your Christian love is reserved for anyone else who calls themselves Christian; He’s not even saying that our Christian love should be shared with those who do nice things for us! We are called not to love just those who love us, but to love those who hate us! This is the way of the cross; this is the path Jesus traveled and invites us to travel with Him.

Listen to Jesus final Words upon the cross and let them lead and guide you. As he was dying upon the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Who did He pray forgiveness for? Was it for those who placed Him on the cross? Yes, He prayed for all those present, He even prayed for you, and He prayed for your enemy, because it was all of our sins that placed Him there! And as He prepared to take His last breath He shouted: “IT IS FINISHED… it is perfect… it is complete!” What is? God’s plan to remove the sins of the world, even your sins!

Jesus closes our teaching this morning with these words:

“You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Vs. 48] Is that Law or Gospel? I say that it is both! You must be complete as your Heavenly Father is complete. You must be finished and you must be complete; this is the true meaning of perfect. And that is what you are because Jesus has blessed you with His completion! Through the beatitudes or God’s pronouncement of blessing at the beginning of Jesus Sermon, He gives you the very thing that He now tells you that you must have… completion! What wonderful news! Now take this blessing of completion and live a strong and prosperous life… prosper for the Kingdom of Heaven is upon you! AMEN!

How’s Your Heart?

Monday, February 13th, 2017

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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