Posts Tagged ‘Theology of the Cross’

Is It Well With Your Soul?

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 17, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” [Genesis 50:19, 20]]

These words from our Old Testament reading are the words of a Kingdom builder; they’re the Words of the Lord of the Kingdom of God, which are simply being spoken by a subject of the King. They are Words of restoration and peace; they are Words of forgiveness. They are Words that make all things well with our souls! With all of this being true, then why do we find it so hard to speak them? Why is it such a battle to say, “I forgive you”?

Surely we have reasons, good reasons not to trust some people; not to forgive them. I would not put a convicted embezzler in charge of our church bank account, would you? Would you want a convicted child molester teaching your kids at Sunday school? Of course not, but does that also mean that we should withhold forgiveness, love, and restoration from them?

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we encounter Joseph, a man who had every reason to be bitter, hold a grudge and get revenge.

His own brothers threw him in a well in the middle of the desert and then sold him to slave dealers. But Joseph experienced something that changed him forever; he experienced God’s presence and God’s protection. In the home where he served as a slave, he eventually became the head slave and had complete freedom to run the entire home and its business. But trouble always seems to follow people who know they worship and are led by a merciful and loving God, and Joseph was no exception. Very soon he was falsely accused by the wife of the lord of the very home he was serving in. Bam! Joseph’s life was turned upside down again. Once again he was falsely imprisoned, but this time it wasn’t in a well but in a real prison! But Joseph knew that he wasn’t in that prison alone; he knew that the God of mercy was with Him and where ever God is, all is well with the soul of a child of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Once more God would prove to Joseph that He was a God who makes a way out of no way; He would prove that He was a God who never leaves or forsakes His little ones who serve in His Kingdom; Joseph was given the keys to the prison and allowed to run it! But that’s not all is it? No, eventually it became known to the Pharaoh that Joseph was a man of God who could interpret dreams. So as a result of one meeting with Joseph who spoke the Word of God truthfully, Joseph was made second in command in all of Egypt.

And now before him stands his brothers who did unthinkable evil against him; they were standing before the second most powerful person in the world. So this was Joseph’s chance to make things right; to right the wrongs that were done to him. And what does he do? He makes things right; right in the Kingdom of God! He offers forgiveness and restoration. But why… how? Because that is how the Kingdom of God operates! You see, the Kingdom of God makes a way out of no way. In a earthly kingdom where only death and punishment reign supreme, God’s Kingdom brings life and forgiveness. Out of fear and danger God assures His child that all is indeed well with his soul!

Do you think that Joseph had questions about the sincerity of his brother’s confession of sin? Sure, but having questions, having doubts isn’t what is important here, it’s where you take those questions and doubts. As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, Joseph immediately gave these things to God and He forgave all of them. It’s as if he was saying to them, “If God’s forgiven you, who am I to do anything differently? Don’t you see that what you meant for evil against me, God in His wonderful counsel has turned into something marvelous in our sight. He’s not only frustrated your evil plan, but He’s used it to bring abundant life and blessing for both me and you!” And that is always how things work in the Kingdom of God. You see, as citizens of God’s Kingdom of grace, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

So we see, in this way God causes good to result from evil, not that He wants us to do evil, but in His goodness He can take even our great wickedness and turn it into good. It’s God’s nature to forgive a fearful and sobbing sinner who is begging Him for mercy. And this is the very lesson that Jesus was trying to get Peter to understand; it’s the lesson He wants each of us to go home with this morning.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 18:21-35) Peter asked Jesus how many times he should keep forgiving someone for something they do against him over and over.

Now, the Jewish teachers said that three times is enough to satisfy the mercy of God, so that the justice of God could take over. So Peter took that number and multiplied it by 2 and threw in one more for good measure and answered his own question with a question: “Seven times?” Now don’t be too hard on Peter, because from a human standpoint, a flawed and sinful standpoint Peter did pretty well. Even our own society today would call that excessive and a bit naïve. You know the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me!”

So now learn the lesson about how things work in God’s Kingdom. “Jesus said to (Peter), “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Now that’s excessive! But the number isn’t the point of Jesus teaching, it’s the attitude or the spirit. Jesus is teaching us that the new nature of a baptized child of God is the type of nature that doesn’t keep count. Even if you did count how many times someone kept sinning against you, isn’t it true that you would lose count long before you got to 490?

So the nature of a citizen in God’s Kingdom simply does as Joseph did, He gives it to God and trusts that all things will work together for the good that God has determined.

Joseph learned to trust God and so did Peter.

They learned that even when it seems that things are at their worse, God is still present and in control! Each of us must learn this as well, and God has made sure that we can do this very thing. He did it by breaking into our existence, into our history through one event that has rendered everyone subject to One Judge… Jesus Christ Himself! The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has led not only the past, but it has shaped the present and it will determine the future. Joseph trusted in the coming Savior along with every other citizen of Heaven that came before and after Him. And when the Son of God took on our flesh and broke into our present and our future, the words of Joseph become the Words of Jesus: “As for you and your sinful ways, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Through my suffering and death your sins have been wiped clean. My death brought you life! Will you rest in this gift or reject it?)”

Today friends, we who are baptized into Christ Jesus can confidently say “I am a citizen of heaven. I was saved by Christ’s death on the cross, and through that work of the cross, forgiveness of sins was given to me in my baptism! I haven’t refused that forgiveness and I still pray for it every day. Daily through the power of God’s Word, I continue to see the sin that is still within me, but through that same Word I am given the promise of forgiveness and the ability to fight and destroy that sin, as I turn to Jesus and His cross for forgiveness! Every day I see the unthankful forgiven sinner within me holding grudges and planning revenge against my brother who sins against me, but I take this nature and I drown it in the waters of my baptism; I crucify it upon the cross of Jesus! Every day I fight to allow God to love my brothers and sisters through me even when they sin against me. I do this not because they deserve it but because God has done and always will do this very thing for me!” This dear friends is the life of a child who lives in the Kingdom of God.

Now I could end here and we would have a wonderful message about forgiving our brothers and sisters, but then you wouldn’t have God’s entire message. In order to complete our message, we must import one more bit of scripture. In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus has one more group of people that we must learn to love and forgive… our enemies! “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” [Matthew 5:43-45]

Now this can be a hard lesson for all of us to accept, especially on the heels of the sixteenth year anniversary of the September 11 attack against our nation by Muslim terrorists, and yet God is asking us to not only accept His will but to fulfill it! Here the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ gives us a command; we must love those who hate us and attack us. We must pray for the ability to forgive them and also pray that they would turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration. This kind of love can exist only in the Kingdom of God; indeed it is the very thing that separates it from all other kingdoms. Now don’t misunderstand, God isn’t asking you to put your arm around your enemy; He knows that we have reason not to trust them or like them. But He is asking you to be filled with the love of Jesus and let Him do this work within you! This is a higher form of love that can only come from God. It’s the kind of love that says “I know that I will never like a murderous terrorist, or a criminal who may have robbed me or threatened my life; I can’t like a false and lying, slanderous person who has attacked my character over and over again; but I can by the grace of Jesus Christ love them all; I can see what’s wrong with them and follow God’s Spirit within me and work to do them good. I can pray that God will free them from their vicious ways just as He has done and is doing for me!”

Is living in the Kingdom of God easy? No, of course not! It requires the same things that Joseph had and that Peter received. It requires faith and trust in a God who promises that all things will work together for the good for those who love Him and trust in His calling and purpose! Will you struggle with this command to forgive? Yes! Will you fail sometimes and fall back into a spirit and mindset of the world, probably so! You will also be tempted in times of tragedy to think that God has abandoned you, but you must remember, its God’s presence and mercy; it’s His forgiveness for you that will carry you through until the end and deliver you safely into His Kingdom!
Let me tell you the story of Horatio G. Spafford. He was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago with a lovely family — a wife, Anna, and five children. However, they were not strangers to tears and tragedy. Their young son died with pneumonia in 1871, and in that same year, much of their business was lost in the great Chicago fire. Yet, God in His mercy and kindness allowed the business to flourish once more.

On Nov. 21, 1873, the French ocean liner, Ville du Havre was crossing the Atlantic from the U.S. to Europe with 313 passengers on board. Among the passengers were Mrs. Spafford and their four daughters. Although Mr. Spafford had planned to go with his family, he found it necessary to stay in Chicago to help solve an unexpected business problem. He told his wife he would join her and their children in Europe a few days later. His plan was to take another ship.

About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic, the Ville du Harve collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Suddenly, all of those on board were in grave danger. Anna hurriedly brought her four children to the deck. She knelt there with Annie, Margaret Lee, Bessie and Tanetta and prayed that God would spare them if that could be His will, or to make them willing to endure whatever awaited them.

Within approximately 12 minutes, the ship slipped beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the passengers including the four Spafford children.
A sailor, rowing a small boat over the spot where the ship went down, spotted a woman floating on a piece of the wreckage. It was Anna, still alive. He pulled her into the boat and they were picked up by another large vessel which, nine days later, landed them in Cardiff, Wales. From there she wired her husband a message which began, “Saved alone, what shall I do?”

Mr. Spafford booked passage on the next available ship and left to join his grieving wife. With the ship about four days out, the captain called Spafford to his cabin and told him they were over the place where his children went down.

According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” while on this journey.

Life is full of tragedy and betrayal. It is easy to give up hope, thinking that God has abandoned you in those times, or we can choose to believe by faith the promise of Jesus, that He will never leave nor forsake us; that all things do indeed work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. Will we give up or will we let God’s grace, forgiveness and restoration change us?

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Chorus:
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul

Don’t Cross-out the Cross!

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, September 3, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]

One of my favorite shows on TV is the “Myth Busters”. So following that shows premiss that some things that we accept as true are simply false, We are going to debunk a couple of myths in Christianity. What is a myth? Well, it’s a little bit like an Old Wives’ Tale. A wives’ tale is s traditional belief or a societal myth that’s often founded in superstition. Here are a few to try on for size: If you swallow your gum it will sit in your stomach and turn into a hair ball! No not true. Gum passes out the digestive track like everything else! How about this one: If you eat water melon and drink milk you will get a poison in your system and it could kill you! Sorry, you might get a belly ache but it won’t kill you! Here’s one more myth that you mothers won’t like me debunking: If you go outside in the cold with a wet head, you will catch a terrible cold! Sorry Moms, that isn’t true either. No matter how much you protest, science has known for some time that colds are caused by germs that enter our bodies through our mouths!

This morning we are going to debunk a couple more myths about our Christian faith. These are myths that were created in a sinful world by sinful people. The first myth says that your Christian faith will protect you from harm, misfortune, poverty, and even sickness! Now this sounds good; we might even get in line to learn about this kind of Christianity, but if we did, we’d be falling into a trap!

Now the second myth about our faith says that what Christ did on the cross was a good start for us, but we have to reinforce that work of His with our own suffering and sacrifice; No pain, no gain! The folks that follow this myth really set aside Jesus suffering as perfect, and they believe they’ve got to add to it in order to please and angry God! But now Jesus takes this “no pain, no gain” mentality and He turns it on its head! Jesus says, without MY pain you can have no gain. Follow me to have eternal life, but as you follow me, you too will know pain!

So where did we receive our call to follow Jesus and live under His cross?

Well through His Word of course! It was His Word that spoke to many of our parents long ago, teaching them the need to bring us to the life giving waters of baptism. And it was that same Word that latter grabbed a hold of each of us and convicted us of our sin and our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is the Word of God that mysteriously and lovingly speaks to our hearts after we confess our sins and convinces us that we are forgiven. And it is the same Word that somehow creates the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood along with the bread and wine at our Lord’s Table, all so that we can know and experience forgiveness of sins!

It is this same Word that speaks to us now and says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24] Now why did Jesus speak this word about following Him and the need to pick up our cross? Because He knows that we like Peter want to follow the easy way; the myths of this world. But these myths were created first by the prince of this world the devil and they’re spread by the sinful people who have been trapped by his lies and myths.

In our gospel reading this morning Jesus began to teach his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die for each of them, even for you and me! And what was Peter’s reaction to this discovery? Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him with these words, “Far be it from you Lord!” That’s just not going to happen (and I’ll make sure of it)! And how did the Son of God, the Savior of the world respond? He rebuked Peter, or maybe a better way to put this is that He rebuked the sin in Peter and the cause of that sin; He rebuked the father of all lies, Satan Himself! [Matthew 16:21-23]

Jesus knew that voice and the temptations that it brings; He recognized the devil and his ministry of lies which promises glory without sacrifice! He encountered that same voice out in the wilderness on a forty day fast. That voice tempted Jesus with food, power, and glory! And how did Jesus defeat the devil? With the same Word he now speaks to Peter: “Get behind me Satan!” And after Jesus rebukes the devil, He speaks and teaches both Peter and us with these Words of life, He says: “You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Now what did Jesus mean by that? He meant that Peter wanted to follow the way of the devil and not the way of God!

Friends, the truth is that each of us are a lot more like Peter than we care to admit. Let me show you what I mean.

The word that Jesus used, which our Bible translates as hindrance is really the Greek word skandalon. It’s where we get our English word scandal. A skandalon is the little stick that holds the mouth of a trap open. Trappers will use some kind of bait that is irresistible to the prey they’re hunting and place it at the skandalon. And when the prey goes for the bait, they trip the skandalon and… SMACK! The trap springs shut trapping and killing the prey. So Jesus is telling Peter that his plan and idea to cross out the cross is actually that kind of trap! First it was a trap for Jesus; but Jesus is God, and far too wise to be tempted away from the cross. But it is also a trap for Peter and it is a trap for us.

Peter like us, wanted things the easy way. He wanted a life of ease and a cushy ministry. He wanted a Savior that would be a champion who would defeat the devil and create a Christian government here on earth! He wanted fame, fortune, and glory now, not later! How would he follow a dead Savior?

So what are some of the scandalons in our lives? Well let’s be honest, each of us wants the same thing! We want a great high paying job, a beautiful or handsome spouse, obedient children, a nice home and car, lots of bling, and we want it now! We might even reason that because we are children of the Living God, called out of darkness into light, forgiven of all of our sins, we deserve a prosperous life, free of pain, suffering, sorrow and poverty! So when God’s Word talks about suffering, we might not say it out loud but we think it, “Far be it Lord!” So what are we tempted to do? We’re tempted to go off in search for a different message; a message about prosperity and glory! We look for a message with less cross and suffering and more prosperity and glory; a message that tells us that we can have heaven here on earth! But if we follow this way of thinking, we are following the way of the devil. If we follow this way of thinking we are crossing out the cross and Jesus saving work upon it; we are following the way of glory or the scandalon of the devil!

So what does Jesus want for us? Well, He wants the same things for us that we want, He just wants them in a different way; He wants them through the way of the cross! You see, Jesus was committed to the cross, because it was the only way that salvation could be won for Peter and for us. Jesus committed Himself to the cross because He knew the will of His Father; a Heavenly Father who sent Him to suffer and die as the Savior of the world. He knew the reason for His gruesome death… “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory;” a glory that was first with us in the beginning. He knew that the only way that this glory could be recovered for us was if He was willing to pay for our salvation with His very life. So, He came to do that very thing. He came to give His life as a ransom for us (Matthew 2:28) and as a sacrifice for our sins! He was wounded for our transgressions, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquities of us all. [Isaiah 53:5-6] This was and is God’s love for us in action!

Jesus didn’t cross out the cross and neither will we when we see our lost sinful condition and by faith turn to that cross for forgiveness!

As we follow Jesus we must take up our own cross!

Again Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me!” Now don’t confuse Jesus cross with our cross. The truth is that only Jesus’ cross, His suffering and death can and does save sinners like us. So then what is this cross that Jesus wants us to take up? Well, it is a pattern for our whole lives! Our cross is all of the suffering, trouble, and hardships that will come to us because we are His followers. Whoever would follow Jesus Christ must follow His example. They must live to please God and give all that they have to bring His kingdom to every sinner. Whoever follows Jesus must be willing to deny themselves and live to please God. To deny, simply means to turn away from someone or something. In this case, God wants us to turn away from our old sinful nature and turn to Him. Every day He wants us to refuse to be associated in anyway with our old sinful nature and desires that were drowned in our baptisms. He wants us to live a life that disowns our old sinful identity and lives to only please our Savior Jesus!

The cross meant suffering for Jesus and it means suffering for us, but it is suffering for a purpose; suffering for a hope! We lose our lives so that we can gain them. If we refuse to die to our old sinful desires and embrace the ways of glory we are turning away from our only source of help and hope, the cross of Jesus! But if we receive and live out our new nature of sacrifice for God and our neighbor we are gaining not just the promise of a new and glorious eternal life, but the ability, the faith to live out this temporary life of suffering.

Young people, if you are ridiculed and unpopular because of your Christian faith you have God’s promise that you are blessed in God’s heavenly kingdom. Older people, if your Christian convictions cost you money and promotion at work, your cross is to keep on following Jesus, keep on fighting until you get the victory… eternal rest and joy in God’s Heavenly Kingdom. Parents and grandparents, God knows your pain for a child that seems to have walked away from their faith in Jesus and His cross! Through His Word He gives you faith to hold on and know that a change is coming; He gives you faith to keep praying for them. Dear saints, if there is a certain sin that seems to keep tempting you and it is a sin that you keep falling to, do not give up your fight to defeat it under the cross of Jesus. Struggle to remember that even that sin has been forgiven at Jesus cross.

The truth is for all of us, whatever crosses we have, we have them only because we are followers of Jesus and His cross! And as we follow Jesus and live out our cross, we are also exalting His name with the sweet song of alleluia!

Dear friends, as we fight the temptation to cross-out the cross of Jesus, God is strengthening our faith. We fight the temptation to cross out the cross by looking to Jesus alone who suffered and died for us in order to show God’s deep love for us! As we follow Him He is always urging us to continue taking up our cross and follow Him until the day He calls us home to a place that He has prepared for us in heaven!

I would like to close our message with a story: There was once a monastery that raised monarch butterflies. One day a young monk watched a butterfly struggle for hours to free its self from its cocoon. Finally, the sympathetic monk could take no more. He began to help the butterfly be free by peeling away the cocoon. Once the butterfly was free, the monk expected it to spread its wings and fly away; instead it only clung to the stick that it was perched on and finally toppled over and died. An older monk watched with great interest, and approached the sad young monk and offered this wisdom. “Brother you tried to help the butterfly by removing its burden, but what you didn’t realize was that it is the struggle under the burden that brings strength and vitality to not just its wings, but to its entire existence. So by providing and easy way out you removed the very thing that would bring it life!”

Brothers and sisters, we have been given the gift of eternal life with God. It is ours now, but not yet. Until our time in this sinful world is through, God calls us to struggle in our faith. He asks us to follow the way of Jesus’ cross knowing that at the end of our earthly lives of struggle, there is an eternity of living in God’s glory waiting for us. He asks you to struggle, putting to death your sinful nature with the sure and certain hope that one day you will enter heaven! This is faith in action; it’s a faith that doesn’t cross out Jesus’s cross or our own. It’s a faith that comes along side of others who are struggling with their own cross and helps them shoulder the burden. It’s a faith that knows and declares that we are not alone in our struggle; we are in this struggle together, and Jesus is here with us promising that soon and very soon we will be going to see our King; our King who comes in glory to pour out the fullness of His gift of eternal life. It is a Kingdom that will richly compensate each of us for all of our own suffering and loss for His sake.

May God help each of us to continue having faith in this promise… in Jesus name… AMEN!

 

Kingdom Sowing and Kingdom Reaping

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

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

Click her for audio of this message

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

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

This story is about God in this way.

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

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

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

And now this is where you come in…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cross We Bear!

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

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

Click here for audio of this message


“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” [Matt. 10:38-39]

You know throughout our Bible there is one message that God continually offers to His people who relate to Him by faith, and that is peace. In Hebrew, the word for peace is Shalom! What that word actually means is wholeness. If you are whole, that is if you are all that God originally created you to be, you will have peace. And that is the one thing that all people of every race, ethnicity, and religion have in common; we are all searching for wholeness; for peace! That was really the message that our great Declaration of Independence was declaring long ago in 1776. So then why did Jesus, the Prince of Peace say, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [Matt. 10:34] Why did he say that in order to find our life we must lose our life? Well, the answer of course can only be found in the cross; it can only be found in the death of Jesus Christ and the example of living to die that He gave to us.

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

In our Epistle lesson (Rom. 7:1-13) St. Paul confronts us with these words of life and death.

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

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

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

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

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

In our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 28:5-9), we are introduced to the prophet Jeremiah.

He was a man familiar with sorrows and woes. In fact, he is often called the “weeping” prophet, because so many of the messages that the Lord asked him to declare caused him to weep for his fellow Jews. He was hated by most of them, because many of his messages from God were unpopular. In fact, on several occasions he was thrown into prison and threatened with death if he returned. What was the message that Jeremiah brought from the Lord? Repent! Don’t trust in a worldly way of finding wholeness and peace with God, but instead turn to and trust in the Lord’s Means of wholeness. Turn away from a mindset that says happiness can be found in the comfort of wealth and the security of earthly friends, and instead trust in the Lord’s plan. That was the last message that the Jews wanted to hear; they wanted Jeremiah to sit down and shut up! So poor Jeremiah spent most of his time away from his people, and he only returned when he had another painful message from God. We might say that Jeremiah would be completely at home singing that old African American spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long, long ways from home.” What Jeremiah discovered is what we need to learn too: Each of us must take up our cross and follow Jesus.
For Jeremiah, the cross that he was to take up was simply to declare God’s Word and place all of his faith in that Word, and that is the cross that we must take up as well. Like Jeremiah, we too live in dangerous times. There is terror all around. In a time of extreme tolerance, where all life styles and philosophies are said to be equal, we Christians are the only ones being told to sit down and shut up! But like Jeremiah, God says we can’t do that! “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” [Mark 8:38]

No dear friends, you cannot ignore God’s Word! He makes it clear, that there is no other way to please Him accept through His Son, Christ Jesus! There is a way that seems right to a society but in the end it only leads to death. Thus says the Lord, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6] “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”” [Matt. 10:37]

The truth is friends, in a society that continuously teaches personal gain and material riches, we are to proclaim another message, “Jesus is the only way to wholeness!”

In a society that advances the message, “If it makes you feel good, just do it!” we proclaim instead, “Seek the Lord while He may be found!” Even in many churches today, a message of extreme tolerance and acceptance like in the day of Jeremiah has replaced the Law and Gospel message of God. Itchy ears long to hear that their walk with God will be an easy and happy road; they don’t want to hear about sacrifice and pain; they don’t want to hear that they must die to live. When things go wrong they blame God, and then quickly begin shopping for a new message that will satisfy their greedy hearts and bring them peace. But what kind of peace do they really want? Do they want worldly peace or heavenly peace? Concerning peace here, again Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” [Matt. 10:34-36]
Dear friends, these Words of Jesus are Words of peace. Jesus gives them to us so that we will have peace, but to hear them we must receive them by faith. We must by faith die to what we want and receive what God desires to give to us. And what is He giving? Peace! It’s a wholeness that is always centered in Christ’s faithfulness to provide for everything we need, therefore it is a spiritual peace. The peace He gives is completely opposite of the kind of peace the world wants from Him and you. Listen to His voice speaking to your heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27]

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

Be Ye Holy!


Sunday, May 14th, 2017

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

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

You are holy!

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

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

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

What are those spiritual sacrifices?

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

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

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

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

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

We are holy!

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

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

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

So, be ye holy!

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

Salvation Through a Dying Shepherd!

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Resurrection is the Gospel

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

I believe that our common experience tells us that…

Death is simply inescapable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear friends, the resurrection of Jesus is the gospel.

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

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

Kingdom, Power, and Glory!

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

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

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

Click here for audio of the message

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

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

We started what we call Holy Week with Palm Sunday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Is The Rock Who Cleaves For You!


Monday, March 20th, 2017

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

“Is the Lord among us or not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Beyond the Mountain Top

Monday, February 27th, 2017

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aren’t we a lot like those apostles too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does our worship go wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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