Posts Tagged ‘Theology of the Cross’

Forgetting What Lies Behind

Sunday, April 7th, 2019

Lent 5-C
April 7, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 3:13b]

Perhaps you’ve seen a commercial on T.V. by J.G. Wentworth offering to help with structured law suit settlements. In each variation of the commercial, an average person shouts out, “It’s my money and I want it now!” They were playing on the inherit desire of the average person for instant gratification.

Unfortunately, they weren’t far off the mark.  We Americans do demand to have things immediately, and as Frank Sinatra sang, we want to do things our way.  We demand it from our politicians, from our auto manufactures, our computers, our schools, and I’m afraid even from our Creator!  But this morning, God wants us to know that our faith life is not like J.G. Wentworth’s commercial or Frank Sinatra’s song .  If we want life instantly our way, well then, we can’t have it God’s way!

This morning, we will be talking about our faith and our Christian life… God’s way.  This morning God is telling us to forget about our past… our former way of thinking and doing things.  He is saying, “Don’t consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” [Isaiah 43:18-19]   If you don’t perceive it, maybe it’s because you haven’t let go of your past?  Maybe you want to have your cake and eat it too?  Maybe you want the blessings of a relationship with God and not the change He is bringing into your life?  Maybe, just maybe, you want salvation on your terms and not God’s?  If so, then God wants you to know that you are deceiving yourself and the truth is not in you!

In our Epistle lesson this morning, St. Paul say’s that he “counts everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as (his) Lord!”  

He also says that for (Christ’s) sake, (he) has suffered the loss of all things, (and what’s more) he count(s) them as rubbish, in order that (he) may gain Christ and be found in him.”  [Philippians 3:8]  Wow!  Those are strong words.  I know personally, that there are several people here this morning who know what it means to lose everything.  One moment you were on the top of the world and the next…bang…the world is on top of you!  Everything you loved and cherished was stripped away.  Or was it?  You’re here this morning aren’t you?  So Paul would tell you that the most important thing you can ever have, the most important thing you’ll ever need is still yours.  That most needful thing is of course Jesus Christ!  

But Paul still has more to tell us.  He still has his heart set on something deeper… something that gets to the core of the matter.  Listen: He says I lost everything that was important to me so that I would be presented to God “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” [v. 9] But why was he stripped of everything?  Paul answers that question as well, “(So) that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” [vs. 10-11]

What was Paul stripped of?  Well, it was something that left no room for God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness… it was his own view of goodness and success; it was his self righteousness!  Paul back then was named Saul; he was a religious leader… he was a teacher of God’s Law.  He went to the finest schools and hung out with the most influential people.  He was living life his way!  He thought though, that he was living a life that pleased God.  He was teaching others how to do the same, and punishing others who refused to follow his example.  We could say that Saul was pleased with his life… he was having things his way!  But he forgot something very important… there is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it leads only to death… eternal separation from the very God he thought he was serving. [Proverbs 14:12]

Saul didn’t need to have things his way, but God’s way!  So on a dusty road to Damascus, which he was traveling on to find and punish Jews who believed Jesus was their Lord, he instead found Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ… Him crucified and resurrected.  In a flash of bright light, he was blinded and heard the voice of the Living God speak these words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And Saul said, “Who are you, Lord?” And (the voice) said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” [Acts 9:4]

Just like that, Saul was converted.  The super religious Jewish teacher Saul became a humbled blind Christian named Paul.  “So what?” you say.  “It’s only a name change and a change of religion.  What’s the big deal?”  The big deal friends, is that now he became the hunted instead of the hunter.  He was now a Christian… hated by the world, but loved by God!  Now He knew Jesus Christ as He truly was… the living Son of God!  Now he knew Him as His Lord and Savior.  Paul would tell you that he found an inward possession that was more precious than everything he lost.  What was that inward possession?  It was the forgiveness of all of his sins.  Paul was forced to admit what he always knew… all of his self righteousness was like filthy rags before his creator.  All of his hope in pleasing God through religion was useless.  

On that dusty road, he had only one hope, to throw himself at the feet of the living God and call out for mercy and forgiveness!  And miracle of all miracles… God forgave him through the very person he helped kill and was now persecuting… he was forgiven through Jesus Christ!  

Paul was a wanted man.  

He lost his home, his family, all of his possessions, his prestige and his standing within the community.  Paul lost everything, but he counted all that he lost as garbage compared to what he gained.  What did he gain?  Well he got his eye sight back but that was nothing compared to the surpassing knowledge of God through Jesus Christ.  The one thing he searched for all of his life, the one thing that eluded him in all his searching was now his… peace with God!  Paul now knew a God that loved him and spoke to him as a friend and as a brother.  Paul’s most prized possession was now given to him as a gift from God; forgiveness of all of his sins—past present and future—were now his through Christ’s work upon the cross.  Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, were now Paul’s suffering, death and resurrection!

Friends, the great purpose of Paul’s loss of all his worldly wealth in an instant was done in order to make him gain Christ, and through Christ in an instant, be given true righteousness.  In that very moment, Paul was allowed to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  For Paul, meeting and knowing Jesus unto salvation was immediate and dramatic.  His conversion was instantaneous!  

For all of us, our conversion was also instantaneous and for many of us, it happened within the waters of our baptism, but knowing Jesus has not been nearly as dramatic.  For most of us it has been continuous and gradual.  We’ve found that the longer we know him the deeper our understanding of God becomes.  

But we’re also like Paul in this way; we have a choice, we can either receive the change that God’s holiness brings in our lives or we can persecute Jesus.  

 “Persecute Jesus!  What do you mean?”  I mean friends, if you are not allowing God to steadily change you, to recreate you into His image more and more each day, then you are insisting on having things right now your way, and your way is not His way!  

If you are insisting that each day be some kind of award system for the good things you’ve done, then you are fighting against the very work of God that is happening within you now but will be rewarded latter in glory with Christ!  This is God’s truth!  Don’t you perceive it?  You either want things your way or God’s way.  Either you are a friend of the world or a friend of God’s.  You either want to be covered with the admiration and respect of people or the grace of Jesus Christ!  This morning, God is asking you, “Which will it be?!”

Do you know what God wants from you?  He wants you to look to the cross of Jesus and see the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin and then grasp Christ’s love and passion and never let it go!  He wants you to trust Him no matter what’s happening in your life.  He wants you to be filled with the new life He gave you in the waters of your baptism and be transformed with new spiritual power and abilities.  He wants you to hold on to this new life until it is time for the final grasp… when your eyes are closed on this earth for the last time. Then, on that day, He wants you to wake up and be with your Savior Jesus Christ forever!  God has you in His hand, but do you have Him in yours?

Dear friends, please don’t misunderstand what this grabbing hold of Christ means.  Your salvation is not up to you… everything you need to be assured of eternal life with God has been given to you within the waters of your baptism.  God indeed has hold of you; that is His active hold on you, but do you have Him?  You see there is also our passive grabbing hold of God.  We grab a hold of God in His means of Grace.  God gives us His Holy Word, our baptism, and His Holy Supper so that when trials, temptations, sin, sickness, and tragedy strike we will be strong enough to hold on; strong enough to know that our redeemer, our Savior, and our God lives and loves us.  He gives you these wonderful means of grace so that you can forget the past and the ways of the world and rest in the truth that He is always holding onto you… always loving you.  He gives you these things so that you can press on towards the goal… eternal life with Jesus Christ your brother; your Savior and your closest friend… even more than that your living and loving God!  I pray that you will hunger for His means of grace and hold onto Him, because He is holding onto you! 

 

Precious Lord… Forgive Me!

Sunday, March 24th, 2019

Lent 3-C
March 24, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:5

Perhaps the most painful question Christians and non-Christians a-like whisper and sometimes scream into the ear of God in the dark of the night is “Why?”  Why does He allow the massacre of Christians in places like Africa, the Middle East, and the Philippines over and over again?  In 1993, why didn’t God protect those two young boys Charlie Keever and Jonathan Sellers who were killed in the South Bay, and why as we’ve heard in the news lately, does it seem like the killer keeps avoiding the prescribed course of justice? 

Why is there evil in the world if God is good and almighty?  This really is the ultimate question that sinful man most wants answered! We encounter variations of this question throughout our daily lives and it most often comes to us like this: Why did my sister die so young?  Why does God allow cancer? Why did I lose my job just before my pension was vested?   Why can’t I find the right person to spend the rest of my life with?   

“What did I do to deserve this?” we cry out, as we keep noticing that people without an apparent faith in Christ seem to be living a happy life!   

Jesus’ disciples posed a similar question to him more than once. 

On one occasion, His disciples wanted to know whether the man who had been born blind had brought his condition upon himself or whether his parents were at fault because of their sin. To this question, Jesus assured them that God had a purpose in the man’s blindness.  What was that purpose?  To that question and to all of its variations, Jesus remained silent.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus takes the same approach, as He addresses two tragedies that seemed to swallow up a lot of people in an unfair way.  Some of His disciples had just reported that Pilate’s police had murdered some Galileans while they were worshiping God and offering their sacrifices.  Jesus used this incident to meet the obvious question: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were guiltier than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Jesus refused to answer the question. Instead, he used these incidents to call for something much more important… Jesus called for repentance. He rejected the assumption that great evil falls only upon evil people. “No,” Jesus said. They were not the worst of the worst; those Galileans had not sinned more than their fellow Galileans. That kind of question misses the point. The only point that Jesus wanted them to see in the midst of those tragedies was each person’s need for personal repentance.  (Luke 13:1–5). He wanted each person then and each of us today, to turn away from our sins and turn to God’s mercy and say “Precious Lord… forgive me!”

Did they get it?  Probably not, and that is why Jesus began to tell the parable about the fig tree within the vineyard.  In this story, Jesus was making the analogy that the city of Jerusalem was like the fig tree… fruitless and close to being “chopped down” so that something else… something that would bear fruit could be planted.  After the parable, do you think they said, “Ah… yes I see, I am the fig tree!  I better confess my sin and then turn to God’s mercy.  Let me confess my sinfulness and seek His forgiving love!”  No, they did not!  In fact the proof that they did not or would not understand lies in the truth that they crucified their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  And because of this, they have been chopped down, and a new tree, one that will bear fruit has been planted in its place… that new tree is of course the Church.  It is you and me!

So now, these words of Jesus are being spoken to us.  Are you different than the Jewish nation?  Will you listen?  Will you repent and bear fruit?  That is the question God wants you to concentrate on this morning and each morning that he allows you to live.  He wants you to know that through Jesus Christ, He has given you His grace, His undeserved kindness.  And because of Jesus, God is continually caring for you just as He did in the parable of the fig tree.  He is tilling the soil of your heart and applying good fertilizer through His Word and Sacraments.  Do you recognize that you have been placed in the most favored position… you have been adopted as sons and daughters of the most high God!  Will you be fruitful or will you prevent His grace from changing you?  Will you bring to nothing, everything that Jesus has provided for you?  Will you turn your back on His passion for you… on His suffering and death for you?!  

Can you really do that?  Yes, He will allow you to reject His gift of love, but by doing that, you are sealing your own doom!  Will you really do that or will you repent?

In this world, even in the life of Christians, we are surrounded by countless sins, sins that God expects us to acknowledge and deplore with true and sincere repentance.  

He wants us to hear His cry within the gospel, “Repent and trust in Christ alone!”  He delivers these Words of both His Law and His Gospel to us so that we will be delivered from eternal destruction. 

This isn’t a new message, in fact it was the first sermon preached in paradise, when God cursed Adam and Eve after their fall from grace.  But after their fall, He immediately gave them complete forgiveness of their sin, and the promise of a future Savior, the son of Adam who is also the very Son of God! 

Repent and believe!  This has always been God’s Word to sinful men and women!  This is the sum of all of God’s Word and it is the message that He wants us to receive as long as we are alive in this world!  God wants each of us to read His Word, the entire Bible and hear this message come alive on each page.  He wants us to read all of the testimonies concerning His anger against sin, concerning personal and public tragedies, concerning all of the warnings about eternal punishments, and  He wants us to hear these Words and repent; He wants us to turn away from our sin and our certain punishment of death, and then turn to the death of Jesus. Why?  Why must we turn from our sin and see Jesus death upon the cross?  Because dear friends, Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross is the clearest possible proof concerning God’s anger and hatred against sin! 

God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to hang upon the cross in the most violent manner so that you would know just how serious your sin is!  The death of Jesus isn’t just something for you to read about and consider like some book or movie … God wants it to scare the hunger for sin and Hell right out of you!  He wants you to see how serious His wrath against sin is.  He wants you to know beyond any doubt how serious, enormous, and indescribable your sin is.  He wants you to know that the only way you can be rescued from your sin is if the Son of God intercedes for you and is made a victim for you!  If you can see all of this and if you can agree with God that your sin is a huge problem, then repent!

Dear friends, God wants each of us to see ourselves in the words of our Epistle lesson this morning.  He wants us to see our own sinful lust as being identical to the Hebrews who rejected God’s law regarding sexual relations between a man and woman, within the structure of marriage.  He wants us to see ourselves within the story of those who continually tested Him by questioning His actions and His will!  He wants us to see that we are similar to those who murmured and complained about Him instead of trusting in Him and receiving from Him.  He wants us to see all of this within our own hearts and then confess these sins and turn away from them.

But still there is wickedness and suffering all around, isn’t there?  And maybe this is causing you to still struggle with the “why” of evil!  

Why does God allow such evil to flourish in this world?  And to this God answers, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”  And we ask, “Precious Lord, why won’t you answer my question?  Why won’t you tell me why there is evil?  And to this God says to each of us, “Because I care most about your love for me… I want you to trust me… trust that I am caring for you always!  You are who I suffered and died for!  You are the fig tree that I have planted within my vineyard, and you are the one that will give me fruit.  Turn back, repent from your own evil ways and love and obey me!  

Dear friends, the Father has planted you within His church.  He is nourishing you and tilling the soil of your heart so that you will bear much fruit.  What is that fruit?  It is the fruit of repentance; fruit that is called righteousness.  Fruit that trusts in Christ alone… fruit that does not lust after the riches and power of this world, but instead remains focused on what Christ has done for you.  Jesus is your fruit, and you can only find this fruit upon the tree of woe.  It is the sweet fruit of Golgotha…it is the fruit of righteousness unto eternal life!  “Take and eat” Jesus says, “This is my body!  Take and drink… this is my blood.”  Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your many sins and then rest in the truth that God forgives you; He still loves you and He still loves the world!

“But Lord” you cry out, “I am afraid that because of all this evil only a few will be saved?  I am afraid for my loved ones who will not repent!”  And Christ answers us by saying, “Friend, let me worry about that.  As for you, strive to enter through the narrow door.  Worry first about your relationship with Me and my gospel, only then will you be able to recognize and fight your own sin.”  

Dear friends, let God worry about the whys in life; you have enough to do just loving Him!  If you occupy yourself with this work, then when tragedy and suffering strike, you will be comforted and strengthened by Christ’s presence within you.  Only then will you begin to understand that true wisdom and comfort are not found in answering the why(s) but the HOW!

I pray that each of us will continue to grow in faith and be comforted by God’s love through Christ Jesus.  AMEN

Tempted!

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

Lent 1C
March 10, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2a)

In a Hollywood depiction of the events during Joseph’s stay in Egypt, Potiphar’s wife tried her best to seduce him.  No matter what temptations she threw at him, he resisted.  Suddenly, out of frustration she ripped off her skirt and threw it over the statue of a pagan god.  “Now the gods will not see,” she said, thinking that her control over Joseph was complete.  And to this, Joseph replies, “But MY God sees!”

Facing life with Jesus as your Lord means walking down the same path He walked; it means facing the same temptations that He conquered all before a God who is all seeing!  For those of us who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, temptation often causes us a lot of distress, or as it is described in the book of Deuteronomy, we experience afflictions and even oppressions. [Deut. 26:7]  This morning, God’s Word assures us that He hears our cries for help and that He is near us… but He also assures us that in the end, because of Christ’s work upon the cross for us, we will not be put to shame! [Rom. 10:11b]

Have you ever felt like all of the forces of evil seemed to be pressing in against you?  

Well, imagine how Jesus must have felt… 40 days of tempting and testing.  No company… not even a stranger to speak to, and oh yes… no food!  He was tired, alone, and hungry, and on top of all of that, Satan himself appeared and was trying everything He could do to get Jesus to sin!  But Jesus, being both man and the Son of God was familiar with the ways of Satan.  He was there when Satan attacked Adam and Eve and led both of them and all of humanity into the captivity of sin.  He instructed Cain, before He killed His brother Able to fight the temptation of self pity with these words, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  Temptation seeks to test our resolve, our faith in God’s love, and even our motives for loving and worshiping Him. 

Isn’t it strange that temptation seems to always be the strongest just when we feel the strongest?  What I mean is, just when we feel like our walk of faith is finally going well… BAMB we are tested!  Many times temptation will attack us right after we leave church… or maybe even in church!  Where does this temptation come from?

Well there are three different sources of temptation that we need to be on the alert for if we are to become its master.  They are: the devil, our own desires and the ways of the world.  

The first and second temptation comes directly from the devil and from within ourselves.  

The devils are masters in the art of manipulation.  They will attack us where we are most vulnerable and susceptible.  Listen to how Eve, the mother of us all was deceived and you can see what I mean: “(The devil in the form of a serpent) said to (Eve), “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate… ” [Gen 3:1-6b]     

Did you notice how the devil attacked?  He used three weaknesses that Eve had in order to tempt her into sin.  They were her ignorance of God’s Word, her desire to possess things of beauty that were not hers, and her hunger to  know the mysteries of God.  First, God never said that Adam and Eve couldn’t touch the fruit, but instead He said that they couldn’t eat it.  Listen to God’s actual Words: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  If Eve had been more familiar… more intimate with God’s Word she would not have given the devil an opportunity to twist the meaning of God’s Word!  The second and third weakness of Eve is presented in these words: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.”  Oh dear Eve, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” [James 4:7b-8]  It is easy to find ourselves wondering what kind of tempting thoughts were going through Eve’s mind.  She must have thought, “God is love huh?  Well according to this serpent, He doesn’t love me enough to let me enjoy this pleasing fruit!  I wonder what else He’s holding back?  I’ll just take a bite and find out!”  

Now before we begin to be hyper-critical of Eve, let’s remember what God’s Word says about temptation, and how it attacks each of us: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” [1 Cor. 10:13]

Does this mean that Eve could have defeated the temptations of the devil and prevented the entire human race from falling into sin?  Absolutely!  Remember that both her and Adam were created perfect!  What we need to learn from this is that our biggest temptations always come from the devils and from within our own hearts.  

But there is a third source of temptation, and it comes to us from within this sinful world, specifically it comes by an exaggerated sense of self and a desire for material things.  Listen to how St. Paul sums up this truth in his letter to Timothy: “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. [Timothy 6:6-10]

So what are we to do?  How can we find rescue and relief from this oppressive temptation?  We turn to God and His Holy Word!  We turn to our God who sees all of our afflictions, toil, and the oppressions of the devil, and we let His Holy Word save us, teach us, and guide us.  We turn to our Savior, Jesus Christ who faced all of these same temptations and defeated them in our place, for us!  In fact, let’s do that right now… let’s let Jesus, the living Word of God demonstrate these truths for us in our gospel lesson.

Jesus, as our Champion faces Satan in our place and for our good.

Satan, seeing Jesus tired, alone, and hungry pounces upon Him like a roaring lion seeking to devour Him, and he says, “Prove you are a Son of God.  You’re hungry right?  Well serve yourself up some hot nourishing bread!  Just turn one of the stones into bread; you can do it easily … remember who you are Son of God!”  But Jesus answers back and says, “No Satan.  God’s Word has a better answer for me.  Let me take you to Deuteronomy 8:3, where we are taught that the Father has something a lot more substantial in mind for us than simple bread.  He promises that He will supply all of our needs.  He knows what I really need right now and He is supplying me with something a lot more satisfying than bread.  I need power from Him to enter into my ministry of proclaiming the gospel.  He is giving me what He knows I need, not what you would like to trick me into thinking I need.  I will listen to the Father and serve Him… not my own appetite!”

Having failed at the first test, Satan now begins the second one: “Ok, Son of God, you and I both know that in order  to take this kingdom from me and transfer all of these pathetic people from my kingdom of sin into your kingdom of  grace you are going to have to suffer greatly for them.  But let me save you all of the pain, anguish, and humiliation… let me just give it to you.  See, come up here and look down below.  What do you see?  You see everything don’t you?  Every kingdom and every power and authority on earth, right?  Well it’s all mine, and I can give it to anyone I want, so I choose to give it to you!  Oh, but there’s just one little thing you need to do for me… it’s nothing really… just quickly bow your knee to me, just a slight bend and I’ll give it all to you.  Once you do that, you can go back to being the obedient Son of God to your beloved Heavenly Father.”  

What a tempting trade off!  If it was one of us, perhaps we would say that the end justifies the means.  What’s wrong with just a moment of false worship for full time, eternal authority over the world?  But, this kind of thinking reveals something much deeper than convenience… it shows our devotion to our own self-interest and a hunger for personal power.  It shows our willingness to abandon God and to follow Satan’s path, a path that never leads to God.

But how does Jesus answer?  He responds, “The Bible has a better answer.  Deuteronomy 6:13 says that we are to worship God and no one else.  That means that every moment of our time is to be devoted to the worship and service of God the Father.  Sorry Satan, but that means there is no time left for you!  I’m going to do things the Father’s way, even if it leads to the cross, my suffering, and my death!  I will listen to God’s Word not you!

So now comes the third and final test.  

Satan says to our Lord: “Hey Son of God!  Why don’t you show the world who you really are?  Prove to them once and for all that you are Your Father’s Son!  Let the Father serve you for once, after all you are Co-equal and Co-eternal to Him and the Spirit!  Come on, let’s go to the temple and I’ll show you how to get what’s coming to you.  Look down there below on the holy city.  See all of those tiny—insignificant people down there?  They’ll come running to you quicker than you can blink an eye if they see you throw yourself off the wall and survive.  The Father’s Word says you can do it!  Listen to Psalm 91: “For He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.  On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” [vs. 11-12]  I am certain the Father will save you.  I’ll bet you won’t even stub a toe!  Why I’ll bet He’ll rescue you in midair.  Everyone will see it and fall at your feet and your mission will be accomplished!”

And to this Jesus answers:  “Satan, you sure know how to take God’s Word out of context and twist its meaning to suit your purpose!  Go back to the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 6 and read this Word: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test!”  You are a tempter, the one who puts God and His children to the test!  And what did it get you?  You were thrown out of heaven and stripped of your heavenly glory and your name!  God is not a tempter and He is never to be tempted!  I will trust the Father and do things His way!  Your way is slick and easy.  It might make great marketing sense but there is just one problem… it is not God’s way!  No thanks!  I will serve the Father and never ask Him to serve me.  Worshiping God isn’t a negotiation… give me this and I’ll give you that.  No, worshiping God is total devotion, no matter the cost!  I’ll follow Him even to the cross… to my death so that these “little” people that you harass and torture will have comfort and hope!  I’ll be obedient unto death, so that they will know that they have a champion… one who fights with them and beside them!  And, then I will ensure that these Words of mine are preserved for eternity so that when they hear them they will have faith… faith in my Father’s compassion and faith in my passion for them!  This is how I will save them!

Dear friends, Jesus is your champion!  He has walked among and conquered the temptations of the devil and this world!  But more importantly, He has walked the way of the cross, the way of suffering and death for you!  He did this so that you would not lose hope in the middle of your own trials and temptations.  He followed the way of the cross so that you would have the strength to overcome the many temptations of life.  But if you fall to temptation, He wants you to remember that He chose the way of the cross so that you would know the way back to God… through the message of the Gospel, which is the message of forgiveness, even for you. You are forgiven!  

In your baptism, Jesus, the Son of God spoke this truth to Satan regarding you: “Be gone Satan!  This one is loved by my Father and saved by my grace!”  But He also speaks to you… He speaks the word of the gospel, God’s forgiveness and love.  He speaks all of these things so that you may be assured of eternal life and so that you can resist the devil and order Him to flee!  Resist him by declaring, “I am baptized into Christ!  And in that holy washing of water and God’s Word of forgiveness, I have been sealed as His child forever in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… AMEN!”

Christ Alone

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019

Transfiguration Sunday
March 3, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” (Luke 9:36a)

When I was a boy, I use to think that Lent was, well… depressing!  I dreaded going to Wednesday evening services.  Advent on the other hand was exciting… Christmas and all of the presents were just around the corner.  I wanted the high points of Advent and Christmas worship, the mountaintop experience, not the valleys of Lent!  Boy I had it wrong!  Do you ever find yourself looking only for the “highs” and avoiding the “lows”? But the truth is friends; we can’t avoid the “lows” because they are part of life.  In our Gospel reading this morning, the Apostles were probably feeling a little confused and depressed because Jesus had recently told them about his impending suffering and death upon the cross.  His disciples were afraid, and they were confused!  Perhaps Jesus saw that Peter, James and John needed a glimpse of heaven in order to make it through everything that was about to happen. And ever since, His church has also closed the season of Epiphany (or kicked off Lent) on the mountaintop of the Transfiguration.

So why are we here this morning? 

Are we here to close off the season of Epiphany with a big bang, just as we started it at Jesus’ Baptism? Do we need a big high in order to carry us through the dark valley until we finally arrive at Easter? If you think about it, we could ask the same question about every Sunday. Do we go to church in order to get away from the real world? Or do we go to God’s Divine Service so that through us, God can make something good happen when we return to the “real” world on Monday?

Now that sounds a little “other worldly” doesn’t it?  It makes our time on Sunday’s sound sort of “not of this world”? And that is the point of the Transfiguration story. It’s a real life account about a “not of this world” event. It was the kind of event that left two apostles speechless and another one speaking nonsense. It was so much “not of this world” that it’s recorded in all three of the Gospel accounts.  And each one of them ended with the need to leave the mountaintop experience with Jesus and re-enter “real life” with Him as well.

This morning, we learn that the world of mountaintop experiences is not enough to carry us through. Jesus and His disciples had to live in the real world, and so do we!  But Jesus knew that the experience was necessary for His innermost circle of apostles and because it is recorded for us in scripture, He is telling us that it is important for us as well!  Peter, James, and John needed to see His glory, and so do we!

What does it mean to see Jesus’ glory?  

Well I think our gospel lesson this morning gives us a pretty good picture of that.  Out of thin air, or maybe better put, out of the fog of prayer, appeared Moses and Elijah.  Our text says that they were talking to Jesus about His departure.  What departure?  Well His death upon the cross… his departure from this sinful world!  Why was that important?  Because it signified the fulfillment of all the promises that God had ever made about forgiveness and eternal life!  Those promises began way back in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15) when God first promised Adam and Eve that their descendant, the Messiah, would smash the head of the serpent (Satan), and rip away his ability to separate men and women from God’s love due to their sin!  But why Moses and Elijah?  Because they represented at the time all of God’s recorded Word, a Word which promised that their Savior was coming; a Savior Who would utterly destroy the power of sin, death, and the devil !  

Moses represented God’s Law which was given to Moses and the church to demonstrate that no one can find God’s love and presence outside of His mercy and forgiveness!  Through the Law, all of mankind  was to see that on their own, they are condemned to eternal death unless God intervenes!  And Elijah represents all of the prophets of God who continually warned God’s people that they were not keeping God’s Law, and frankly they didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping it!  But each of the prophets also promised something special, they promised that God’s means of rescue was coming to save them.  A messiah who was first promised to Adam and Eve would come and destroy Satan’s authority and release sinners from the captivity of sin and death if they would but wait in faith for the fulfillment of that promise, and trust in God’s forgiveness and love!

Peter, James, and John needed to see these two Old Testament Saints surrounded by Jesus’ glory because it meant that the promise was about to be fulfilled.  It meant that He didn’t come to simply rescue them from the temporary tyranny of a Caesar, but from the eternal tormenting of sin, death, and the devil!  The cavalry had arrived, and the counter attack was about to begin; not against an invading and occupying government of men, but against the spiritual and eternal occupation and captivity of evil!

Jesus knew that they must see His glory so that they could tell others about that glory… so that those who heard would have faith and know that God who is faithful had not left them alone to struggle against their enemies!  Jesus knew that they must see His glory so that when they saw Him suffering in great agony upon the cross, they would not lose hope; so that when He lay in the belly of the earth for three days they would not be afraid; and so that when He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven they would know that they were not alone!  He was still with them in His glory!

Jesus wanted them to understand once and for all that His glory has always been His and always shall be.  Yes He walked and talked with them, as one of them, but He never stopped being God… He never stopped being their Redeemer.  It was His glory; it was His to reveal or not to reveal as He desired.  They must have asked themselves as He hung upon the cross in agony and humiliation: “Why don’t you reveal your glory?  What are you doing?  You don’t have to do this!”  And to these thoughts, Jesus quietly reassures their fears and ours… “It is my glory.  Have faith.  Trust me and know that I will reveal my glory according to my own will and in my own means.  Accept my means of grace, and you will see my glory; the promise fulfilled… the promise of your salvation!”  

This is why they must see His glory, but none of this would make sense until He conquered sin and death once and for all.  None of it would make sense until they witnessed His resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven!

We too, must see His glory.  

Just like the apostles, we also need to learn to let go of our own sinful thoughts that get in the way of God’s work of salvation within our own hearts.  We need to admit that there is nothing we can do to please God or make things right with Him.  So to see Jesus’ glory is to first see our own sin… to see how hopeless we are without His rescue. To see His glory is to admit that we too are being held in bondage by the very same enemies that conquered and destroyed all men and women since the fall of Adam and Eve!  And second, if we are to see Jesus’ glory, we must see Him for who He really is for us personally… He is our only means of salvation… our only means of eternal life.  He is God our Savior!

And how does He save us?  How does He show us His glory?  This friends is the best part of all, He does it in an “out of this world” way… He does it according to His means and according to His will!  He does it with Words, His Holy Word’s, and He does it with simple elements; a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.  The same God that spoke the world into existence speaks new life into you with the sweet words of the gospel… “You are forgiven!”  And with that same simple Word He takes even simpler things like water, bread, and wine, and He not only gives you forgiveness but the ability to believe in that forgiveness as well!  Dear friends, hear this good news and hear it well… You are forgiven!  You are loved by God!  Do you receive this message?  Will you let it change you?  

So now, let all God’s people say AMEN!  Can I get a witness?!?   Peter had it right; the mountain top is good!  

Hey, let’s stay with this feeling as long as we can!  Peter wanted to do just that… he wanted to pitch a few tents so that the experience would last, so that his little glimpse into heaven would continue. But then He heard the voice of God speak, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!”  And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone…. alone with Peter, James, and John, just as He will be alone with you when you leave this sanctuary.  And just as He led the three down the mountaintop into the “real” world where real life is happening, He is leading you out into that same world.  A world that is still being held captive by sin, death, and the devil.  A broken world that is still living in fear and stressed out with the worries of this life!  

On Monday morning, you will find yourself in enemy territory… behind enemy lines, but have no fear Jesus is with you.  His glory remains upon you, even within you because you have been forgiven and saved by His Holy Word, washed clean by His Holy baptismal waters, and nourished by His very body and blood within His supper, and all of this was done for a purpose.  So that you may bring others into His presence, into His glory here in this very sanctuary so that they too may say by faith, “Master, it is good that we are here!” Amen.

Loving Like Jesus

Sunday, February 24th, 2019

Epiphany 7-C
February 124, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” [Luke 6:27-30]

Wow! That’s some kind of “crazy love right”? Love is beautiful! Love is messy! Love makes the world go ‘round. There are more songs written about love than any other topic. People will tell you that love is what makes us unique from all other creatures. But this morning Jesus is telling us that what we think love is, is not the kind of love He’s given us or wants us to demonstrate to this unbelieving world. If you settle for the kind of love that the world thinks is good, then you don’t yet know God’s love. You say, “Well I really love my family and close friends”, and to that Jesus says, “If you just love those who love you, so what, even sinners who won’t receive me as the Son of God and their Savior do that.” If you counter that deficiency by saying, “But I always try to do good for them, even when it is a sacrifice.” Jesus responds, “So what, even the worst of sinners will do good for people they know and like.” And to that you say, “But Lord, I’m a giving person and I try to give when ever I can.” And to that Jesus says, “Is that right? Well even judged and condemned sinners say the same thing.”

So what is going on here? If we are no better than those who don’t know Jesus, how can we be sure that God loves us and saves us? Well let’s look at the rest of our gospel lesson and try to understand what Jesus is saying and also offering us this morning.

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” [Luke 6:31]

A person of this world, that is a person without Jesus sees these words as a challenge or a goal. It hears them as the Golden Rule, you know… “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This worldly person considers the golden rule and says, “You know, I like that rule; I’ve tried to follow it most of my life, and for the most part I’ve done pretty good with it. But sometimes, considering the people I’m dealing with, there are exceptions. With some people, the rule, my rule is either avoid them or “Do unto them before they do unto me.”

For people of this world and even for Christians who have allowed this world to cloud their judgment, this “Golden Rule” has become a bronze suggestion. And instead of feeling guilt when they cannot love the way Jesus asks us to love, they congratulate themselves for a good try. They no longer see the perfection of God in His Word or in their life, instead they see it as an unreachable goal but worthy of keeping as a standard. When they do this they’ve downgraded Jesus as simply another lifestyle coach.

These worldly people are easy to spot and their just as easy to mix with. And when we mix with them long enough, we can get lost in the midst of them. But thank God Jesus promises in our Baptism, that He will never leave nor forsake us! Thank God that through the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us richly, we hear in both the Golden Rule and the rest of our Gospel lesson both the impossible perfection of God and the mercy, love, and forgiveness of God!

“Become merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” [Luke 6:36]

A Baptized child of God hears the Words of Jesus this morning, and recognizes the perfection of God; a perfection which can never be attained by sinful men and women like us. A baptized child of God has been taught to look at the things of this world and see them as they are, sinful and unclean. You see, our new baptized nature calls a thing what it is; it admits that on its own it could never truly possess and reflect the kind of love that Jesus is calling for, because in its nature, that is if left alone, it is sinful and unclean, left without hope or health. It knows that this kind of sacrificial love can only come as a gift from God. 

Through this message of Jesus Christ we are forced to see God’s perfection, and then we are moved to confess to Him that we have fallen short and deserve only His punishment. But in that same message, we are shown God’s mercy for the world. And through the cross of Jesus Christ we are moved to hope that this same mercy would be ours. In God’s Gospel of mercy and forgiveness, we hear the Words,  “God so loved the “world” that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” and we hope that these Words, this kind of love, mercy, and forgiveness would include us in the “whoever” part. And God in His love hears our cry for mercy and forgiveness and makes this gift of love personal, for you! God gives to you who turn to Him forgiveness. And now, that which was very public (for the world), has become very personal; you have become the whoever. He gives you this personal love and mercy in the waters of your baptism. 

To you who both believe and receive the gift of His Son Jesus, you have been born again by the mercy of God. Born again by the forgiveness of God. Born again through the cross of Jesus Christ. You have been recreated through the washing of the water and the Word. You have been saved, recreated solely through the work of God’s Holy Spirit. And now, God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus lives within you. You who are baptized have been transformed, are being transformed, and will be transformed by the renewing of your mind and heart. This new nature is called the baptismal life.

This new baptized nature of yours has been created through God’s forgiving love and shown to you in mercy for the sake of Jesus Christ. This forgiven nature of yours can’t help but love as Jesus loves; it can’t help but show mercy and forgiveness just at you were given these things. But there is just one problem, your old sinful nature is not quite dead yet. So your new nature must be encouraged with Words like…

“Give and it will be given to you.” [Luke 6:38]

In order for us to be filled with and express God’s forgiving love, we are encouraged every day to fight our sinful nature. We are asked to crucify it with Christ and to drown it in the waters of our own baptism. And as we fight this “good fight” we will come to know both victory and defeat. When the victories come, and they will, let us remember to thank God for His work of love, mercy and forgiveness within us and through us. And when defeats come, that is when we sin, let us be quick to confess this to God and then turn to Jesus and His cross where we are reminded constantly that through Him, God the Father has come to us in love, and in our Baptism He has forgiven us of all our sins and loves us eternally. This rhythm of life is called repentance and it alone produces divine love and forgiveness, which can only come through Christ.

For a moment, let’s allow our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 45:3–15) to illustrate this truth. Remember Joseph has been through a lot.   He was sold.  He was accused of sleeping with another man’s wife…and he did not.  He was put in jail. He was almost forgotten about….but through it all God did not forget about him.   In the sight of God, we are all on a level playing field.   God does not forget about us.  God does not forsake us.  His eye is always on the sparrow and He’s always watching out for us. When he reveals Himself to his brothers now…they are probably trembling in their sandals.   Joseph has made it to the top.   Joseph is at the top, but not because of Joseph, but rather this is God’s doing.  Joseph said, God sent me here.  Joseph acknowledged  that he was where he was, he had what he had, he was blessed as he was, because it was God who had brought him through all that he had been through.  He wasn’t mad at his brothers, though we certainly would understand if he was. He was not getting even with his brothers, he was not judging his brothers because of the wrong that they had done.  Perhaps he remembered the “silver rule”, which says that two wrongs don’t make a right?  If someone else is wrong, don’t join them in their wrongness.  Wrong is wrong….no matter who is doing it or saying it.    I think I remember hearing  somebody said, “When they go low, we go high?”

You know friends, our life in Christ is so much more than keeping the Golden Rule or the Silver Rule, isn’t it? In our Gospel lesson Jesus isn’t just telling us that if we follow His rules precisely we’ll be saved, because even our combined best “good deeds” can’t even put a dent in our personal debt of sin, let alone humanity’s sin. If doing our best to keep rules was all that was needed to overcome humanity’s ills, there wouldn’t have needed to be a cross to provide lasting forgiveness. 

Ultimately, we can’t please God by being good, only Jesus can do that. But, Jesus is inviting us to receive the goodness that He has paid for; to receive it in faith and to let it work within us. He’s asking us to hand over the grudges, the hurts, the sins to Him and let Him remove them through the power of His forgiveness. He’s asking you to receive His mercy by grace so that He can unleash the power of His forgiving love through your life to others. That’s God at work in Jesus’ love and passion through Christians like us; encouraging us to give to others as He has given so much to us.

Listen, God knows forgiveness is difficult. He knows that it takes courage and strength to offer mercy where it is undeserved. God the Father paid the highest price for our sins by sending His only begotten Son Jesus to an undeserving, gruesome death. But he also wants us to live out the truth that Jesus rose from the dead so that we would know that one day so shall we. But in the mean time Jesus invites us to live as He lives, bringing one forgiven sinner at a time the love and mercy of God through the forgiveness of sins. Through the work of Christ, God has wiped your slate clean so that he has restored His relationship of love with us. And now he asks you to become a minister of reconciliation to all who have ever hurt you. He longs to overwhelm you with his love and mercy to the degree that offering others mercy and love comes from a place of overflow rather than your own strength. He longs to fill you with courage and perspective so that you can forgive those who need a glimpse of God’s forgiving love and mercy, unearned and given only through Jesus Christ. AMEN.

The Word Became Flesh!


Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

Advent 4-C
December 23, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” [John 1:1-3]

Just when we think we have God all figured out, He comes out of left field and does something we never even considered. How many times have you encountered what you thought was a hopeless situation, only to have the whole thing turned around?  Oh we of little faith!

The Jews knew that biting accusation all too well!  They were anxiously waiting for a warrior-king, a descendant of King David to come, who would make them a worldwide super power once again.  Oh their king came, a descendant of David certainly, but He didn’t come in a way they expected.  You see, there was no army carrying their king into battle; instead He was carried by a pregnant teenager who was about to give birth to their true king, God in human flesh.  Instead of defeating Rome and the Emperor, this King came to defeat sin, death, and the devil!

How did the Jews get so confused? 

Maybe they missed what God was doing because they concentrated on temporal things instead of eternal things.  Maybe they decided on concentrating on snippets of prophecy instead on the whole prophecy.  Maybe they used only portions of God’s Word, like those found in Micah, our Old Testament lesson this morning: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”  So far, that sounds like help is on the way.  Let’s see what else they may have read that gave them hope that their warrior-king was coming to fight for them.  How about this: “And He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.”  Well that sounds like a super power God for a super power nation, doesn’t it?

The problem was, they were only paying attention to the parts of God’s Word that they liked, and they were ignoring the parts of His Word that continuously reminded them that they were not living as God desired… they were not living as people of faith who trusted in, and patiently waited on their God to provide for them.  Listen to just a few of the many reminders God gave them: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” [Proverbs 21:2,3]

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. [Isaiah 1:11]

“But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” [Jeremiah 7:23-25]

Israel thought that by observing a few religious rules God would wink at their sin.  They thought they could hide the evil in their hearts by appeasing God with a few sacrifices.  But do you know what God calls someone who only listens to parts of His Word, while comfortably ignoring the other parts?  Lost and damned in their sins!

Friends, God’s Word always comes to us in two parts, the Law and the Gospel.  

When we only pick out the good news, the Word that speaks of God’s forgiving love, then we are sure to miss the way that He wants to bring us that good news… through our confession to Him that we are sinful.  We must be told by His Word that our hearts are sinful and we must admit it to Him before He will forgive.  His Word must show us that we are self-serving and prideful.  And by that same Word we must be convinced that the only way to know and experience God’s love is by confessing this truth.  If we do this as He asks, He in turn promises to make us self-giving and humble.  We must obey His call to confession and then admit our need for Him to change us before He will allow us to hear His Gospel Word of love and forgiveness.  

If we will not approach Him just as He desires, with a broken spirit and a contrite heart, then we, like the Jews will miss the true Gospel found in our reading from Micah: “Therefore He shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of His brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their peace.” [Micah 5:3-5]  

Like the Jews, all of mankind is lost unless we receive our Savior as He comes, as a baby; lowly and humble, through the womb of a teenaged virgin. 

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]  

Dear friends, the warrior king that the Jews waited so long for did come, but He didn’t come as they expected; that is He wasn’t the kind of king they looked for.  If they had only drawn more deeply into God’s whole Word, it would have been so clear.  Their great King David, a man after God’s own heart spoke to them clearly in Psalm 40 about what this greater king and Messiah would do, listen: “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but a body you have prepared for me.  Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” [Psalm 40:6-10 LXX]

In these very Words friends, God was telling Israel and the world today, that He is saving sinful man in a way that we would never expect.  He comes to us in our own flesh; because we could never on our own delight to do God’s will, so God sends His Living Word to us to do it for us.  Listen now to that same Psalm as explained by the writer of our Epistle lesson: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but you have now prepared a body for me; (hear the truth sinful children, God does) not delight in (your religious sacrifices)—in your burnt offerings and sin offerings (He takes) no pleasure. (But now Jesus says), ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in (their prophecies).”

 

Dear friends, when Jesus Christ, the Word which became flesh said that God neither desires nor takes pleasure in the sacrifices and offerings of the Jews, He is speaking to us as well.  He is saying that our attempts to please Him by being good, by doing our best are not what He is looking for in us.  If these were good enough, then what need would any of us have for a Savior? Why must God the Father prepare a body for God the Son?  My friends, so that He could do what we cannot; so that in our flesh He can obey God in our place! But friends, obedience wasn’t the only reason that Christ was given a body!  No, you see because of our many sins, something much costlier is required in order to make things right with God.  Willful sin has been committed on our part, and an acceptable sacrifice must be given… a life must be taken and blood must be spilled.  You see friends, Christ’s obedience is much greater than simply living a life that pleases God; His obedience also includes a sin offering, the offering of the very blood and life of God the Son.  This is the true and final sacrifice for sin, because it is the ultimate sacrifice, which according to prophecy, God desired to be made, and friends He made it for you!

Just think about the grandness of God’s love friends.  

Hear the words of our Savior as He speaks them for you… as He speaks them to you in a way to make it clear that He alone can save you from the sin that has entrapped you.  With you on His heart He loudly speaks: “No, he will not die.  No she will not pay.  Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God.  Send me in their place!”  In that spirit, the spirit of love for the Father and love for you, Jesus offered his life to the Father. It was that very same love that motivated him (John 4:34) and guided Him all the way to Calvary. What a great cost He has bought you with!  Think of Him wrestling in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane and you will begin to understand the cost.  Think of Him calling out alone upon the cross as the last of His life giving blood and the love of the Father left Him: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  

This Christmas friends, it is good to remember the manger and the infant lowly, but do not lose sight of the cross!  Remember the cross, because to remember it is to remember a truth that will change the way you worship and the way you live your life in service to God: Jesus was born to die for you!  

Friends, do you want to live a life that pleases God?  Well the first step in doing that is by remembering the gifts of forgiveness and new life, which He gave you within the waters of your baptism, and then confess to Him that you can’t live the life of perfection His law demands.  Confess your sinfulness to Him and then put His Law that terrifies you aside and hear the Gospel.  Hear the Good News that assures you that God does love you and He forgives you of all of your sins because of what Jesus has done for you.  Hear this good news often.  Come every week to this place of worship and let Him strengthen your faith and nourish your spirit.  Let Him change you from the inside out.  And as you do that, something new and different will happen, you will begin to find yourself becoming more and more like your Savior-King who died for you.  

And then friends, when God begins to look for your obedience in small things you will begin to find yourself saying: Here I am—Lord—I have come to do your will, O God.  Send me… use me!”  May the love of God through Christ Jesus move our hearts and minds to do this very thing…. I ask this in Jesus name…. AMEN!

How’s Your Heart?

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

Lent 5 B, March 18, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 
92114

Click here for audio of this message

So how’s your heart? Have you been getting regular checkups? Are you eating heart healthy food? Getting regular exercise? Do you take your medications as prescribed by your doctor? Good!

So how’s your spiritual heart? Are you paying even closer attention to it?

You should you know, because that heart will be around a lot longer than your physical one. The physical heart will eventually fail from sickness or old age, but your spiritual heart, the essence of who you are, will last for eternity. Your Great Physician, the one who created your bodies, has prescribed medicine and treatments to care for your spiritual hearts as well. If you follow His care and then rest in His work, well you are absolutely guaranteed to have a blessed eternity. Listen: “For this is the covenant that I will make with (them)… declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.” [Jeremiah 31:33-34]

So there is God’s prescription for you; a new covenant! But why do we need a new covenant? Well, its because the old one can’t save you! Why; is there something wrong with it? Well no; its just that sin-sick people, people like us tend to misuse it; we want to use it in ways God never intended. You see, in our sin-sick condition we don’t want to believe that we have spiritual heart disease.

The people in the prophet Jeremiah’s time didn’t want to believe that either! In fact, every time God tried to treat His people’s disease of sin with His Word, they came up with all kinds of excuses to avoid getting the treatments. And if they didn’t like the message, why they would just attack God’s prophets, who were kind of like His spiritual paramedics. So like a child throwing a tantrum in the doctor’s office before receiving an injection, they refused to listen.

We aren’t much better today really. It’s getting harder and harder to even mention God’s name in public without someone being offended and trying to silence God’s wisdom.

Did you hear about what happened to the Christian fraternity and sorority on the campus of SDSU several years ago? They had a very simple code of conduct based on God’s Law; a set of rules that you must agree with in order to be a member. They required all perspective members to sign a pledge promising to avoid sex outside of marriage and agree that marriage is as God defines it; that is its between a man and a woman. Well, as you may have guessed, the state of California determined that they were discriminatory and not eligible for any of the state’s support that all of the other fraternities or sororities receive. Well both the fraternity and sorority sued in federal court and lost. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to even hear their case. So what does this case tell us? Well, you can’t force people to live God pleasing and moral lives. No, I’m afraid that before God’s forgiveness can be received and followed we need something more than rules and pledges in our lives; we need something new and powerful that doesn’t depend on us.

Like the true and faithful children of Abraham in the prophet Jeremiah’s time, we’ve also discovered that on our own we can’t keep God’s law and rules of conduct. We’ve all learned by experience that the old covenant, can never bring us God’s peace and salvation.

Today, God wants us to admit that try as we might, we will never please Him by being good.

God wants us to see that on our own, we are by nature sinful and unclean. We love to look at the trouble in our neighbor’s life and feel superior, while ignoring the big problems and sin that dominates our own lives. This is why we need a new covenant; a new prescription from God. In truth we need a new heart. So this morning, God is telling us that right now, He’s doing that very thing, and He does this work through the new covenant.

This new covenant is “not like the old covenant (He) made with (our) forefathers.” It contains no laws, rules, or regulations that have to be kept. It has no exclusive priesthood that limits the right of who may approach God. In fact, this new covenant invites everyone, regardless of nationality, to believe in God’s love and presence with each one personally. It sets aside ethnic, racial, and other man-made boundaries. The prescription or invitation of the new covenant is for the entire world. This new covenant invites everyone to worship the Lord in spirit and truth—“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” This is God’s miracle of conversion or new life. How does He deal with our old diseased hearts? He rips them out in baptism and replaces them with new hearts. With these new hearts, we see God’s holy and perfect righteousness and instead of being afraid, we call out to Him through the work and presence of the Holy Spirit, with the words, “Abba, Father.” We no longer look at God as angry and threatening, instead we see His forgiving love! This change in heart is something that the old covenant could never give to us.

So how did God do this mighty work? By showing us Jesus, His own Son upon the cross. In God’s Word, we see Jesus there upon the cross, high and lifted up as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. Through Jesus’ obedience and death we see the once-and-for-all sacrifice that pleases God and removes the guilt of sin from the entire world. He offered Himself freely; He willingly shed His blood so that all of us could be saved from our sins and given a new heart.

Now there is nothing that can prevent anyone, including you from knowing the forgiving love of Jesus Christ. When Jesus shouted from the cross “It is finished” he said those words for you.

This new covenant Word of God was sealed upon your very flesh in the waters of your baptism.

It really does not matter whether you can remember the day you were washed clean or not, because it was God’s work and not yours or any other person. In your baptism God took the sacrifice of Jesus blood, blood shed for the entire world as payment of their sins and He made it your personal payment. In your baptism God sealed you and gave to you His very Spirit and the forgiveness for all of your sins. But that is not all… He also gave to you the gift of faith to believe in this new covenant. In your baptism, the Words God spoke by the prophet Jeremiah come true: “No longer will a man teach his neighbor… saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me.”
We know Him through both the gift of faith and the promise of forgiveness that was given to us in our baptism. In both the cross and the baptismal waters, you hear God’s continuing Word of promise for each of you: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

But the work of the new covenant does not stop at the baptismal font. Every day God feeds us with His Word; a word that can be read, spoken, and declared. He calls us to His table and shares the meal of the new covenant within Holy Communion. In this meal He draws us to Himself and feeds us His supreme gift; with the bread, we receive His body given on the cross; with the wine He gives us His own blood poured out upon that same cross.

Within each of these sacred gifts, God gives us complete forgiveness, and He removes all doubts about His love for us. With these gifts He comes to us personally and works within us, strengthening our new hearts; hearts that beat to please Him. When we keep God’s law and do what is right, we glorify and please Him!

When we fail, when we sin He wants us to confess these failures and turn to Him for forgiveness.

This is the rhythm of living in God’s Kingdom of Grace; this is the rhythm of our new hearts beating within us. It is a life that God wants us to demonstrate to others.

Now, it might seem dangerous following Jesus and sharing God’s forgiving love with your neighbor; it might make you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable to shame and ridicule. But if you will follow Jesus and the path of sacrificial love that He walked, after a while you will begin to grow in faith and learn to rest in the protecting presence of the Holy Spirit.

Before we close our message this morning, I want you to look up; look up at the ceiling of this church. Do you see how high those lights are? I would say that they are about 45 feet at the highest point. How do you think those bulbs get changed? That’s right; someone has to climb up there on a ladder, and that someone will probably be Dennis and me. The first time I went up there, I was pretty afraid. Each rung of the ladder created more fear, but I went up because it had to be done. Once I got up to the top, I felt every wiggle and jiggle of the ladder. But something happened as I began to work; I became comfortable with the height because I was comfortable with the strength of the ladder, so comfortable in fact that I had to be reminded to be careful because it’s a long way down!

Well, that’s sort of like our walk of faith. God has given us a new heart and a new covenant to live out and to share. He’s assured us that if we trust in His strong presence and work within us, then we will be alright. It might seem a little scary at first as you begin to share God’s forgiving love and Word with your neighbor. But once you start walking with God and letting Him work within you, your fear will leave and God’s peace will take its place and you will be amazed at the good He can do through you!

Just as Jesus obediently walked to Jerusalem, He wants us to allow Him to lead our new hearts governed by a new covenant. He wants us to go out into this world of sin and share His forgiving love and Word with others. It can seem intimidating and even a bit threatening, but remember you have a new heart beating within you… and that heart is saying, “You’re not alone… not alone… not alone… not alone!”

Dead Man Walking!

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

Lent 4 B, March 18, 2012
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 
92114

Click here for audio of this message

In our Old Testament lesson (Numbers 21:4-9), God invites us to imagine being there at Mt. Hor, under attack from thousands of poisonous snakes, and knowing that God is really the one who is punishing you for your despicable, sinful life. The Hebrews that day were essentially dead men and women walking, and that’s who we are without Jesus; sadly, that’s who many people still are today; Dead men walking.

You see, God can’t allow sinners to just walk away from their sin and sinners can’t help but to sin.

It’s in our broken nature to sin by choosing to satisfy our wants and desires over the desires of our God and our neighbor. We’re broken; fallen in sin, and because of that, we have to pay. On the day we die, unless God works for us, that will be our judgment day.
People who die outside of faith in Jesus, not only die in the flesh but they also die in the spirit, eternally and painfully separated from God’s love and the love of others. That’s what spiritual death is. Sin does this.

So what are the sins that we’re guilty of? Well the very same ones we heard mentioned in our Old Testament reading. We grumble against God by complaining about our lives. We let the circumstances of our life overshadow the presence of our creator God who is with us in the midst of our troubles.

Throughout this world there are still plenty of dead men and women walking who look down upon God’s means of grace, His real presence with them. They don’t discern His spirit in His Word, a Word that is right now being preached to you.

People outside of faith in Jesus find it impossible to believe that God can promise to take simple water and wash away a person’s sins. They laugh at the idea that a pastor can speak forgiveness from God, and they completely dismiss Jesus’ real presence in, with, and under the bread and wine.
Because of these many sins, God’s Word does not bring comfort, but instead it bites them like a fiery serpent. God’s Word calls these folks sons and daughters of disobedience. These are the people who are more comfortable following the desires of their flesh than the will of God. In other words, they are controlled by the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in this sinful world instead of the Holy Spirit.

That is the painful truth about everyone out side of faith in Jesus Christ. They are lost in a world of sin controlled by the father of sin, the devil. They are dead men and women walking, and all of them are a breath away from judgment day. Whether it be poisonous snakes, a car accident, disease, sickness, or death from old age, eventually they’re all gonna pay!

“But God (but God), being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and (God has) raised us up with (Christ) and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” [Ephesians 2:4-7]
I once was lost but now I’m found. I once was condemned and about to pay for my sins, but God, BUT GOD… He forgave the iniquity of my sins! If it had not been for God who made a way out of no way, all of us… would have been goners… dead men and women walking!

At Mt. Hor, the way out for the sinful Hebrews was a bronze serpent on a poll, high and lifted up so that everyone could see God’s remedy to their sin and the way He chose to remove their punishment. In that symbol came the promise of God to save and the faith to believe in that promise of salvation. And where there is faith in God’s promise of life, there is salvation… there is forgiveness of sins.

Today this same God calls out to you with the same mercy and grace.

Today, GOD is telling you that He has created a way to take away your sins.

Friends, the call of God’s Word does not direct you to look upon a serpent on a pole, but instead He desires that you look upon His Son high and lifted up upon a cross. Today, God’s Word promises that if you will see Jesus the very Son of God put on the cross for you, as a payment for your sins, you shall not die but live. You will not be a dead man walking, but a reborn, spiritual man or woman, who no longer has to pay for sin!
Oh it’s true, someone has to pay for your sins, and someone did; it was Jesus. He paid it with His very life, in order to show us the immeasurable riches of His Father’s grace; grace which He has given to you through His own suffering and death.

You know, we use the words, justice, mercy, and grace so much in the church, that sometimes I’m afraid those words lose their meaning. Listen to what these words mean and let the realization of the work of the cross hit you like a thunderbolt from heaven. Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you do not deserve.

Through Jesus death upon the cross, God’s justice was satisfied. You deserve to die for your many sins, but Jesus took your place. Through Jesus’ death upon the cross, God showed you mercy by not giving you what you deserve. Instead, He gave you what you don’t deserve, grace. He gave to you all of the riches of heaven, His riches at Christ’s expense through Jesus’ suffering and death.

In His Word, Jesus shows you the Father’s love for the whole world; “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) He shows you the death of His one and only Son. In His Word, He also gives you a wonderful gift called faith. Through this gift, God opens the eyes of your heart so you can believe that Jesus death is for you. By faith you can read His Word and know that God is speaking to you; He has made a way out of no way for you to enter into His forgiving love.

In His Word God allows you to see His real presence with you even in the worst circumstances of your life; in His Word you know that you are never alone. In His Word He has convinced you that He’s taken a simple thing like water and attached His promise of eternal life to it and washed away all of yours sins. So in essence, your baptism has taken the objective promise of the cross for the world and made it your personal gift.
In His Word you hear the absolution, the Word of forgiveness and you know that God is really talking to you; forgiving you! Because of His Word you take and eat and drink the bread and wine and you know that you are also receiving the very body and blood of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your many sins!

By faith you receive all of this and you know it is entirely a work of God. To think anything else would be ridiculous. To see yourself playing any part in your salvation would be absurd; it would be like telling a dead man to get up and walk. By faith, you know that only God can speak life in the midst of death; only God can make something out of nothing.

Friends, what do you put your hope and faith in?

If it’s anything but God you will be disappointed. Don’t you know that people will let you down every day, but God is always with you, and His love and mercy will never let you down.

her purse. No money was there; neither was her checkbook. As she was about to ask the clerk to put her things back, a gentle voice said, “Don’t worry. Today I want to treat you. Take your things with you; I’ll pay your bill.” Then the man wrote a check and paid for her merchandise and his own. A week passed by, and the woman came back to the store. The checker knew about the incident and recognized her. She approached the woman and whispered, “Ma’am, maybe you’d be interested to know. That gentleman from last week, well his check bounced! We still need to be paid for your groceries.”

What are you trusting in? Is it people? I’m telling you, eventually they’ll let you down. Are you trusting in your own goodness? I think we all know where that will get you, right? Listen, why go back to being that dead man walking when you can continue to follow and trust Jesus and His cross. I know that it is tempting to want to play a part in your salvation; but you just can’t. Your good works won’t do a thing for you at judgement time. But if it’s good works you want, then God says relax, He’s got you covered. Those good works will come naturally to you and through you as you continue to look to Jesus alone as your only solution to your sin and the attacks of those little serpents or devils that surround you. And as you continue to look to Jesus, you will begin to see God’s work in your life; good works that He’s already prepared for you to do. The only difference is, it will be Him doing them perfectly and not you doing them sinfully.

So just keep walking that way of faith. Keep following Jesus and His means of grace and know this, God has big plans for you as you keep trusting in His way. And if that old sinful nature of yours tries to lure you back to the old sinful way, well… just remind him or her that they’re a dead man walking; they have no future!

Selah… in Jesus name… Amen.

It’s Not About You…It’s About the Cross!

Sunday, March 4th, 2018

Lent 3 B, March 4, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 
92114

Click here for audio of this message

“For the word of the cross is a scandal to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18]

We Americans are no strangers to scandal, and we know a scandal when we see it. Just look at current affairs within our nation; whether it involves a politician, a Hollywood star, a sports figure, or even a church leader, scandals are, unfortunately, a common part of our society. Whether the Scandal involves shameful, distasteful, offensive behavior, or something that’s legally wrong and causing general public outrage, scandals in this day and age are common. That being the case, why would St. Paul refer to the cross of Christ as scandal or folly?

Our text this morning confronts the scandal of the Christian faith. God’s Word makes it clear that to this sinful world, the cross is a scandal, a stumbling block. St. Paul makes that clear in our text. Listen to the Word’s of our text again and hear this truth ring out: “For the word of the cross is a scandal to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18]

St. Paul was writing to the church in Corinth, which was smack dab in the center of a Roman climate that was engulfed in “godless morality.” The city was known for its depravity. The poor members of the congregation were tempted to either look the other way, or allow themselves to become comfortable in that climate of depravity while they waited patiently for Jesus to come again (1 Cor 1:7). And I’m afraid, from God’s point of view, we Christian Americans are in a very similar place today.

We Christians who are trying to hold onto our faith in the middle of this scandalous society can sometimes find ourselves looking the other way, or maybe we find ourselves questioning God for allowing all of this evil to not just live among us, but to even thrive. When God seems silent in times like these, we discover the truth that His ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are they even like ours. We aren’t even in the same neighborhood. I mean, we’re worried about preserving our body and He’s working on saving our souls. We dream of a pay raise and He wants us to dream on the raising of the dead. We work hard to avoid pain and seek peace and God uses pain to bring peace. “I’m going to live before I die,” we say, and He says, “Die so you can live.” We love things that rust, He loves what endures. We rejoice in our successes and He rejoices at our confessions.

Our thoughts are not like God’s thoughts and our ways are not like His ways.

God has a different agenda. He dwells in a different dimension. But through the gift of faith, we can see through Christ’s eyes and see the cross of Jesus, which the world calls foolish, scandalous, and through it we can see God’s love for sinners like us.

Instead of being intrigued by the power and wisdom of the world, the cross captivates us with the power and wisdom of God as shown through Christ’s suffering and death…that is until we forget that God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts; if that happens, well.. we’ll begin to think like the world.

Dear friends, God knows how easy it is for you to slip into that mindset. He knows what a strong temptation it is for you to follow the pack and eventually have your eyes turned from Your Creator and instead look to that which is created as your source of wisdom and strength. That is why he has repeated so many times that He will destroy the wisdom of the world. Listen to just a few of the ways God states this very thing: Through the prophet Isaiah He says, “therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish”. [Isa. 29:14 ] In the book of Job, God says that, “He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. (And) He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.” [Job 5:12, 13] And through the prophet Jeremiah God says, “The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the Word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” [Jer. 8:9]

And how does God do all of this? Well, He does just as the prophet Jeremiah said, He does it through His Word; through the Law and Gospel.

God’s Law comes to us under two tables of stone that can never be broken.

One table demands that we must love God with all of our heart and mind, and the other demands that we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This foolish world thinks they can do this through careful living and their best effort.

The business owners in our gospel lesson surely thought that they were honoring the first table of God’s Law by providing goods and services that the Jewish worshipers would need to worship once they entered the temple. They bought their permit to do business and began to sell livestock and birds that would be needed for private and corporate sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. There was one problem though…they forgot that they were already in God’s temple. You see, they set up shop in the court of the gentiles. This was a place where non-Jews who were in the process of learning about God went to pray and learn more about their new faith; now they had to worship God in a stock yard.

These same business owners also must have thought that they were fulfilling the second table of the Law by offering a service to their neighbors who needed to change their money into temple currency. There was one problem with that, they were charging outrageous exchange rates that God’s Law called usury!

Every time the unbelieving wise and powerful of this world thinks they are doing pretty well, God’s Law breaks in like a mirror and shows them their true condition…they are ugly sinners! Every time they feel pleased with themselves, God’s Law barges in and overturns their tables of comfort and deceit, and demands, “Take these things away!” “What things Lord,” they may ask? To which His Law responds, “Your self-righteous, and self sufficient attitude!” “But Lord” they reply, “we have done our very best”. And to that he takes the whip of His Holy Law and drives them from His presence.

Dear friends, when God’s Law terrifies the sinful unbelieving world, they run from Him just as the merchants fled from Jesus that fateful day in the temple. Just as the merchants were forced by the Son of God to run out of the sanctuary, so sinful unbelievers today run from their Holy and all-powerful Creator. So what can be done to free our society from this awful terror? The same thing that must be done for us; instead of running from Jesus and His law, we must run to Jesus and His forgiving and loving heart. We must turn to the very thing that dying sinners laugh at and belittle…

We must turn to the cross and our crucified and resurrected Savior Jesus Christ!

Friends, when the unbelieving world ridicules you for your simple faith in Jesus Christ, do not be discouraged or disappointed; they are not ridiculing you but instead they are laughing at the very means that God has provided for you and them as the sole source of rescue from the house of slavery to sin and the terror of His Holy Perfect and Accusing Law…and that is the cross of Jesus Christ alone! People out side of Jesus Christ cannot understand how something so simple and repugnant can take away the terror of sin and ultimately death. They cannot understand why you as a Christian feel no terror in God’s Law. They cannot understand how you can be thankful in situations where they would experience only fear and worry. They can never understand these things unless through God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit they are given the gift of faith to see that Jesus is not only God’s best way of saving them, He is God’s only way!

God would have us remember that while the unbelieving world may look down on us as being simple minded and weak, we must never do the same to each other. We must not let the ways of the world divide us. We must learn to put aside any personal, political, cultural, or economic differences that we may have with each other and be of one mind and one heart. The mind and heart we must have must be that of Jesus Christ! And where is His mind and heart? It is with those very same people that belittle His cross; the place where He suffered and died for them. For this is the will of (the) Father, that none should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (So) that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.

There once was a reporter who went to an asylum for the criminally insane to gather information for a story. He was a bit surprised to find that there were only three guards to take care of a hundred inmates. He said to one of the guards, “Aren’t you afraid that the inmates will unite, overcome you, and escape?” The guard said, “No were not, you see lunatics never unite.”
Perhaps lunatics never unite, but spiritual lunatics do! This sinful, crazy world we live in is united against our Lord and what they perceive to be the scandal of the cross and the folly of our faith. They want to shut us up, because they feel if they can do that, then they have shut out the message of the cross.

Isn’t it time that we too united with the sole purpose of taking God’s message of the cross to a dying world? How can we do this and succeed when we are up against such a powerful force? Well, it’s not about you dear friends, it’s about the cross! You see, we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block and foolishness to (the unbelieving world), but to those of us who have responded to God’s call of faith, Christ crucified is the power and wisdom of God unto salvation!

May God continue to lead us through His Word and continually to His cross as our sole source of strength and wisdom. In Jesus name…AMEN!

 

Let Me See Your Peace!

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Lent 2 B, February 25, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA 
On the occasion of the closure of the Interim Pastoral Ministry 
At
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, California

Click here for audio of this message

Romans 5:1-11

Reformational Scripture for Tim Botts 2017 Reformation Calendar

Do you have peace? If you do, may I see it? Show me your peace!

This is really the silent, yet always present demand of our unbelieving community that surrounds us everywhere we go. They will quickly tell you that they aren’t really interested in hearing about your Savior Jesus Christ, but if believing in Him works for you, well then, they’re happy for you. Now, while they may not care to hear about what you believe, let me assure you that they are watching you; watching to see if what you believe makes a difference in how you live! They want to see how you’ll stand up under the pressures of life as compared to them and their circle of friends. In other words, does what you believe make a difference in who you are? And in order to evaluate your belief system they want to see your peace.

Now, whether we want to admit it or not, we Christians are prone to demand this same thing from God whenever troubles and tragedies strike our faith-filled and grace centered lives. It’s really a little rude and inconsiderate when we consider all that God has done to provide us with His peace throughout our lives!

Did you notice that I said His peace and not yours? That’s the way that it should be. The objective is first and then the subjective. That is always God’s way. In other words, you can’t know real peace without first having God’s peace!

The world teaches that peace is first personal and then corporate.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me! The problem with this kind of peace is that it is very self-centered and dependent on however you feel at any given moment. This is a strange idea, because it assumes that you live for yourself. Not that this is anything new, William Shakespeare said long ago, “To thine own self be true!” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it leads to a personal peace at the cost of other peoples’ peace.

In the 1940’s Three Stooges skit called “I’ll Never Heil Again” the boys dressed up as Axis leaders. As they started their war council meeting they chanted, “Peace, peace, we want peace.” And to this Moe who was dressed up as Hitler stood up and said, “Yes we want a piece of this, and a piece of that.” And that, I am afraid is always the cost of our individual peace… it comes at the expense of others. Like money, we can never have enough peace. So, our natural tendency is to surround ourselves with as much of whatever we think will bring that peace, at the exclusion many times of other people’s peace.

Since I first came to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church I’ve had two rules that have guided me: First, like a physician, I desired to do no harm; Second, I wanted to create an atmosphere through the proper preaching and teaching of God’s Word, both Law and Gospel, which would flood your lives and this parish with God’s peace.

God’s peace is Christ’s own peace. Listen to the Son of God offer and describe this peace: “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] So what is this peace that Jesus says He has given to us? Well we know it ISN’T the kind of selfish, self serving peace that the world wants, and we also know that it IS the kind of peace that brings comfort and security in times of trouble, division, and fear.

In verse 1 of our epistle reading, Paul shares these words: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” So the kind of peace that Jesus gives, which Paul is telling us we already have, begins first and always with faith that justifies or makes us right with God. Now knowing this, there are a couple of questions we must ask to completely understand this peace that comes from God By faith. The first question is, “Faith in Who?” The Who is Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God who is the Savior of the world. The second question is “Faith in what?” The what, is the completed work of Jesus Christ; His birth, His life, His suffering, and His death, His resurrection and ascension. In these things, which are recorded for us in Holy Scripture we are shown God’s work for us; a work that has taken away our sins, atoned for our evil and made us right with God! Or as Paul says it, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

Through Jesus we have been reconciled; made right with God. Through this work, God addresses the one great obstacle that separates us from His love, and that is our sin. He alone does what we could not do, and He does it through the atoning death of His Son.

In Jesus, God put forward His love for you by putting Jesus in your place; by having Him suffer and die for you, because of your sins. In God’s self-sacrifice He points your divided, troubled and sinful hearts to His solution for your sins, and His Word tells you to be reconciled; that is to be made right with Him and each other! In Jesus God assures us that we are reconciled; we are at peace with Him!

This proclamation of peace with God through Jesus Christ is the gospel!

If you will receive this truth by faith, then you will see God’s justice performed on the cross for you, and you will know peace! This is the blessed assurance that saves the worst of sinners and then recreates them and gives them not just peace, but the ability to live out that peace, and even experience it.

What is assurance? Well here’s the concise theological definition: It is the firm persuasion of faith that you are in a state of grace. In other words, by faith you know that no matter what may happen around you, it is well with your soul, because God is with you and for you. It’s the God-given ability to move from the cross of Jesus to the waters of your baptism and say with all certainty that “Jesus died for me!” It’s hearing the promises of God to the world, and knowing that all of those promises were given to you personally when you were washed clean with the water and the Word in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In other words, as St. Paul says in the fifth verse of our epistle lesson, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Why has God’s love been poured into your heart? So that you would know and experience His peace! But aren’t we now talking about feelings? Isn’t our salvation independent of feelings? Yes, that is the objective work of God’s gift, a gift to the world. But in your baptism it became very personal, very subjective. You see, your salvation is something that is done and complete, but it’s also something you experience as you live it out! Every day, come what may, Jesus is with you! He is with you in trials, trouble, and tribulation. Every day God asks you to experience His presence and then learn to rest in His comfort, care, and love for you and for HIS Church.
Many years ago one of the astronauts who walked on the moon was interviewed and asked, “What did you think about as you stood on the moon and looked back at the earth?” The astronaut replied, “I remembered how the spacecraft (that I had to go back home in) was built by the lowest bidder.”
We as Christians can rejoice that the work of our salvation didn’t go to the “lowest bidder” but was provided by an eternal and infallible God. There will never be any problems with His gift of salvation. Your salvation is as sure as the Creator of that salvation, Almighty God! And because it is sure, we can learn to trust in Him and not our current experiences or feelings. We know by faith, that not only do we have peace with God, but we’re gonna keep on having that peace. This peace, which now becomes very personal, becomes an experience that God delights in giving to us. An experience that reminds us that no matter what may or may not be happening in our lives, ultimately it is well and it will be well with our souls!
What does this experience of peace mean to you and me?
Well, if you remember earlier, I mentioned the challenge from our unbelieving neighbors who want to see our peace, which now we know is really God’s peace in action. This peace of God, which surpasses all of our understanding, not only keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, but it also directs our hearts and minds outward to the people who live in our community; people who are dying without knowing the peace of God, which comes only through the cross of Jesus Christ. As they see us weather the same storms of life they go through, and still be both able and ready to rejoice and praise God in the middle of those storms, they will begin to notice that we are neither giving up our hope nor our peace. They will discover what you already know; your suffering produces endurance and endurance produces a Christian character of faith and peace in the presence and work of God on earth and hope in the promise of an eternity in heaven.
All that’s left, is for you to give an answer to anyone who asks for the reason you have this great hope and peace. The reason is of course God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, who takes your faith and hope, and then assures you that no matter what you may be going through, no matter what you may be feeling, in the end it will be well with your souls; you will never be put to shame! This is your blessed assurance of peace with God and peace with each other!
Dear saints of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, no matter what circumstances overtake you, and no matter what fleeting emotions and feelings may come and go within your lives, you can know for certain that God’s love, which He has poured out within this parish and within your hearts, will enable you to not only sing but live out the truth that says, whatever is your lot, it is well with your souls!
Indeed, it IS well with YOUR soul. In Jesus name… Amen!