Posts Tagged ‘truth’

Traditions!

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

Pentecost 14B
August 26, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark-Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

The play, or movie, “Fiddler on the Roof” is a classic story about a Jewish-Russian family in the early 1900’s, just before the great revolution in Russia.

It’s one of those stories you don’t forget. One thing the story does is that it gives you a feeling for the Jewish love of tradition.  The Jews, especially the Orthodox Jews, have a very prideful sense of history.  They love their traditions. They love their festivals. They love their rituals.  Of all the people on earth, the Jews are some of the most tradition loving people that we know of.

The main characters are Tevye, the old, bumbling Jewish patriarch, and a poor farmer; his wife, Golda, the resilient Jewish mother; and their five lovely daughters, three of whom needed to be married.  The plot of the story is the marrying-off of these three daughters.  So Tevye and Golda employ a matchmaker to match their three daughters to prospective husbands.  The twist is the girls don’t want to use the matchmaker; they want to choose their own husbands based on love.  Those old traditions are beginning to crumble.  

Can you imagine? People actually wanting to choose their own mates and marrying for love, that’s unheard of for the times! Their traditions are changing!

 

In the opening scene, Tevye tries to explain their traditions, he says:

“…In our little village of Anatevka, you might say everyone of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. 

You may ask, ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word, TRADITION!”

Tevye goes on to explain, “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years… we have traditions for everything: how to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God.

You may ask: How did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you… I don’t know, but it’s a tradition! And, because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”

Oh really Tevye?  “Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do?”  

Is tradition really such a clear indicator of God’s will? Is tradition even a good thing?  You may not think so after listening to Jesus in our Gospel lesson today. Jesus seems pretty set against tradition. 

Listen again to what Jesus says. First, He calls the Pharisees “hypocrites” and then He rebukes them, saying, “You have let go of the commandment of God and you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” Then He said to them, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” He goes on to say, “You nullify the Word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”

It sounds like Jesus is thumbing His nose at tradition.

So, if that’s the case, if tradition is bad, then what should we do about this in the Church today? Some might say we need to get rid of our traditions. Many “new age” churches are doing just that. Some churches have rid their sanctuaries of any crucifixes or any crosses; they’re afraid it might turn people off.  They say let’s get rid of the liturgy. We don’t need our pastors to wear these hot robes. Let’s get rid of the organ and these old hymns we sing. Oh, and let’s stop making the sign of the cross.  Many would say these things are old and boring, and a lot of it is just way too Catholic.  Many of these people would point to today’s text in Mark, chapter 7, to support their case. 

But many of these things are something our good pastor would refer to as “adiaphora,” How many of you have heard him use that phrase?   Adiaphora are those things that are neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture. You’re not commanded to make the sign of the cross to remember your baptism. You’re not commanded to use the liturgy as laid out in the Lutheran Service Book. You don’t have to worship in this style. And, you don’t have to do any of these things to gain salvation.

But what was it that Jesus was really objecting to? Was Jesus attacking the tradition or was there something more to the story?

Let’s see what the Bible says and we’ll allow Scripture to speak for Scripture.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Himself kept many of the Hebrew traditions. 

  • Jesus went up to Jerusalem for annual pilgrimages and festivals 
  • Jesus regularly attended synagogue – the Gospels state “as it was His custom”
    • As did many of the apostles after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection
    • Custom is another word for tradition

So it appears Jesus was not completely against “traditions.”

The word “tradition” means “something that is handed down from one generation to the next.”  It could be a traditional teaching or it could be a traditional practice. But the teaching or the practice is neither good nor bad simply because it has been handed down as a tradition.  There are other factors that come into play.

St. Paul uses the word “tradition” many times in a positive sense. In his first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 11, Paul said, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” Here Paul is talking about good worship practices. A little later in this same chapter Paul says, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…” Paul said, ‘This is what I passed on to you.’ That’s tradition!

Likewise, in 1 Corinthians, in chapter 15, Paul writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved… [Paul says again] for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”

Does that sound familiar? They should. Paul’s words – the tradition that he passed on -found its way into the church’s creeds. Those creeds have now become tradition within the worship of the church.

Paul is speaking of passing on that which has been received. And this “tradition” reminds people they are saved and this “tradition” gives hope to those that want to be saved! Tradition does this when the teaching or the practice passed along is one that is centered in the Word of God, the teaching and work of Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. This is tradition in the good sense.

There are many passages throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament, commending tradition, and yet, Jesus speaks against it in our text today. Why? 

We’ve established it’s not tradition in itself that is bad, but the reason behind the tradition, what is being honored in the tradition, and why it’s being done that Jesus calls into question in today’s Gospel lesson.  Jesus wasn’t attacking tradition; He was attacking the Pharisees’ for the heart in which they did the traditions and for sticking to their traditions despite the obvious contradiction to God’s Word.

The primary lesson for today raises the question of conflict between the will of God in the lives and performance of his people, and how those people actually interpret and follow God’s will. 

The Pharisees and scribes wanted to know why Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands in accordance with the traditions of the elders. They were serious about their question – for the Jews there is a huge distinction between the clean and the unclean – a sharp religious distinction that was established by God. There were “unclean” people – for example a woman after childbirth, a leper, or a Gentile (a non-believer). And Jewish people became unclean if they had any contact with any of these people. The type of contact was hard to avoid in a crowded marketplace like it explained in our lesson, so by deduction, everyone coming from the marketplace was considered indirectly “unclean” through mere contact with others. To compensate for this, the tradition of the elders spelled out the rules and procedures to restore oneself to a state religious cleanliness, such as the washing of one’s hands, body and clothing; this was not done for hygienic purity (to actually get clean), but more for the way the hands were washed which was purely for the sake of ceremonial purity. 

So for the Pharisees, these “man-made” traditions were seen as necessary. You had to wash your hands at certain times and in a certain way before you could eat. But this specific tradition was not something that was commanded by God. It was a tradition that was created by the elders. Jesus made the point that these traditions were not absolute as though they were coming from God.

Secondly, these traditions were seen as meritorious, that is, by doing these things you were somehow earning your salvation, or at least contributing toward it.  This was another thing wrong with these traditions; the idea that if you did these things, and followed the traditions you were taught, that somehow you were piling up points with God.  

Don’t we all devise our own reasons in an attempt to justify ourselves and our actions before God? Don’t we all use our traditions to appear more pious before others so that when we come across people that do things differently, the way we do them is always right. 

This is exactly what Jesus meant, this kind of attitude, Jesus describes as an effort to “honor God with our lips.” When we do our traditions in an effort to secure God’s confirmation, or at least our own confirmation, that we’re OK with our values and ideas and we refuse to open our hearts to His changing, invigorating Spirit. We want God to say “Amen” to us and our actions rather than speaking and living our “Amen” to His will.

The truth is, we are all broken people in a broken world and we as sinners cannot keep God’s commandments, let alone all the extra traditions men have added on.

So, when man-made tradition is taught as being absolutely necessary, when it is done in order to earn merit before God, or when it is used to take precedence over God’s clear Word and commandments, then that kind of tradition is definitely wrong. That is what Jesus condemns and that is what we should condemn as well.

But that is not the case with many of the good traditions that we have here in the church. Those traditions we would be wise to keep and pass on to the next generation. For example, included among those good traditions would be the Creeds. In the Creeds we have the teaching of the apostles, passed on for centuries in the church, and preserved for us in a concise, memorable form. The Creeds pass on the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, which we have received, and in which we stand, and by which we are saved. 

What tradition could be better than the Nicene Creed, for instance, which teaches us of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven . . . and was crucified also for us,” and who “rose again according to the Scriptures,” and so on?

You see, that is the Gospel itself, which is what the apostles preached, and which is what we believe, and which is what delivers to us all the saving benefits of Jesus Christ. Our works won’t gain us entry into heaven. Our hands, like the disciples, are defiled with sin, and all the hand washing, and all our self-chosen works cannot and will not get that stain out. Only the blood of Jesus, God’s own Son, will do that. And it does! Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all our sins. The washing God does in Holy Baptism applies the forgiveness that Christ won for us on the cross. This is the Gospel! And this Gospel has been passed on to us in Word and Sacrament; this Gospel delivers all the salvation that we need. This is the value of tradition in the good sense. This is what we should preserve and pass on the next generation.

And so our liturgy, the Lutheran Church’s historic liturgical form, handed down and shaped over many centuries – yes, the structure and texts of the Divine Service, which we have and use every Sunday, the hymns and the organ music – this is something worth preserving and passing on. The church’s liturgy has stood the test of time. The liturgy both expresses and teaches the beautiful Gospel of Jesus Christ better than anything else that some individual could come up with on his own from week to week. So there’s no need to throw out the liturgy. It’s better to learn and use it and to do it well. It’s a good tradition that we have received.  The liturgy is what makes us Lutheran, not what makes us Christian.  And lest we forget, we are Christians by faith and Lutherans by practice. It does good to remind us of who we are and Who’s we are!

Our friend Tevye would tell us, “Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” Well, not exactly. If our traditions get in the way of the Word of God, then no, the traditions of the elders are bad. But when tradition serves the Word of God, to help pass along the one and only saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we can say – and sing out without shame: “Tradition!”

May the Peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do!

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

13th Sunday in Pentecost B, August 26, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh  joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” [Isaiah 29:18, 19]

Today is the day, which this prophesy speaks of!  Today, you hear the Word of God, the Words of His book and you are called out of your gloom and  darkness so that your blind eyes may see!  You who were once weak are filled with the power of God, and your joy is fresh and new every morning.    And why do you hear and see?  Why is your joy in the Lord refreshed every morning?  So that you will praise your Holy God!

Now if I were to ask you how you will praise the Lord, you might say in song and words of acclamation.  That is how we usually think of praise; in fact  the Book of Psalms is full of examples of God’s people being directed to sing praises to their God.  But if all we are giving is lip service and not changed  lives, I’m afraid we are like a mighty tree in the forest that is overlooked and disregarded every year by the lumber jacks.  There is good reason that  the lumberjacks pass over the biggest and oldest trees; you see, many of them are hollow and dead on the inside.  They’re fit only to provide a home  for raccoons and owls.  While they appear to be strong on the outside, they are dead and rotten on the inside.

Maybe you prefer another example of what lip-service religion is like.  How about this… it’s like a father who complains about the amount of time his  family spends in front of the television. His children watch cartoons and neglect their school work. His wife prefers soap operas to housework. His  solution? He’s going to cancel their cable service… as soon as baseball season is over.  The truth is, we are all prone to live our lives as hypocrites.    We say one thing and do another.  “Do as I say” we may tell our children and grandchildren, “and not as I do!”

In both our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 29:11-19) and our Gospel lesson (Mark 7:1-13) this is the warning that God gave to both the people then and us today.  In essence, God is calling us out; out of darkness and into light… His light!

People in darkness think that they are hidden from God; they think that God doesn’t see them.  They believe that they can hide their true intentions and actions from an all-knowing God.  That’s what Adam and Eve thought after their sin, when they tried to hide both their location and their nakedness from God.  The truth is, their sin and our sin is a darkness that doesn’t hide us from God, it hides God from us!  In essence, sin makes our hearts hollow and foolish.

If God was a master potter and you were His clay, wouldn’t it be foolish if after He made you into a beautiful pot or vase, you told Him that He made a mistake when He made you, because you were suppose to be a bowl.  Or worse yet, wouldn’t it be foolish if you denied the existence and workmanship of the Potter?  And when we live our lives as if God does not see or know what we do, that is precisely what we are doing.  The clay, you and I are nothing without the Potter who created us.  How foolish we are to deny the presences and attention of our Creator!  And yet we do precisely that!

What is sin if not an individual’s claim to be superior to the Lord of heaven?  When God tells us “Don’t” the heart of a sinner says, “I am free do to whatever I want, as long as it isn’t illegal.” When God in His Word tells us over and over again that “By grace you are saved through faith,” the heart of a sinner says, “I earn my way.  I will make a life and a future for myself!”

You see, sin turns everything, and I mean everything upside down.  The heart of a sinner doesn’t want God sticking His nose into its business.  It doesn’t want free and faith-filled grace; it doesn’t want a God that sends Jesus to be our Savior.  Instead, it fights that grace and demands a god who didn’t die on a cross and then invite us to die with Him!  Instead of a graceful and loving God of mercy, it wants a god that accepts good intentions and overlooks failures, foolishness, and perversions.

It isn’t hard to imagine Jesus, in our gospel reading, just throwing His arms up in the air and saying to the Pharisees, saying to the hypocrites, “You just don’t get it!”  They didn’t get and many times, neither do we.  We forget that our lives aren’t about what we say or about what we do, instead they’re centered on who we are, or who we are solely because of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ!

We too, many times don’t get it.  What we do get is paying our own way.  We understand that earning the right to speak is expected and accepted.  We understand if someone tells us that we need to clean up our act before we ever think of coming to God.  And to that God says, “You just don’t get it!”

But we do understand that our outward show of religion is expected if we are to be accepted by those who are considered religious.  We are willing to offer everything to God as Corban (Mark 7:9-13), while leaving nothing to care for the needs of our parents.  We will gladly put them away in nursing homes and let the government take care of them.

It’s true, many times we don’t get it, and that’s why we don’t like to look inside ourselves where only hollowness and rotting death can be found.  Those things like selfishness, envy, pride, slander, and foolishness are too painful to look at, because they remind us that on our own we are very, very far from God!  They remind us that we have nothing to offer God accept our sin.  Do you get it now?  Outside of God’s grace, we are nothing and we have nothing that can give us hope.  And this condition of hopelessness is exactly where God wants us this morning so that He can speak hope into us; so that He can open our ears to hear and our eyes to see.

In our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 5:22-33), God’s Word shows us Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.  Like the potter and clay illustration in our Old Testament lesson, Paul gives us another illustration; he shows us that we are the bride, and Jesus the Son of God is our groom; He is our head and heart.  He shows us that in our baptisms, in the washing of the water and Word we have been recreated and cleansed so that He might present each of us to His Father as a part of His body, holy and without blemish. [Vs. 26]  In this new baptismal nature of ours, God is showing us who we are because of Jesus, but He is also asking us to look honestly within ourselves and see the things that don’t belong to our new nature, and allow God to remove them.  St. Paul illustrates this beautifully for us within the context of a marriage.

You dear baptized friends are not under judgment, you are under grace. Your marriage or future marriage has now been compared to Christ and His church. Jesus sacrificed Himself so that His bride, the church could live, and now He asks us to do the same!

What wife would not happily honor and submit to a husband who loves her more than himself?  What wife would not honor her man as he is living out his baptism, and struggling every day to put to death his old sinful nature?  If a man will do that to please the Lord, he will certainly sacrifice himself and his own selfish needs for his wife’s happiness!

And what husband would not want a woman who willingly allows her husband to be the spiritual leader, provider, and protector of his family? Any Christian husband would love to have a wife who humbly worships her God and puts the needs of her husband above her own.

And yet who of us can honestly say that we are that kind of man or that kind of woman?  If we are honest, we will admit that we all fall short.  And because of our struggle to put to death our sinful flesh, the world may see this an call us hypocrites.  But we are not hypocrites like the Pharisees or those who have no faith.  No, we know that our hope is found only in Jesus and His sacrifice upon the cross for us.  His victory has become ours, and because of this wonderful truth we submit and we sacrifice for each other just as our Lord has done for us!  Through Jesus Christ, we are assured that one day we will have complete victory over our sin, because God’s Spirit is within us; fighting for us.

In our baptism, we have been given a new identity; we are the Lord’s beloved.  On the day of our baptism we were washed clean and set apart as holy!  And now, each day we are reminded that Jesus and His cross, the source of God’s forgiving love are always with us; we are reminded that not only will God always love us, but He is continually reshaping us into a new image; a holy vessel. Each day, we are reminded that He indeed is the Potter and we are His clay!

Dear friends, because of God’s continued work in our lives, we are taught every day to die to our selfish and sinful desires. We are being taught to die to selfish needs and live to serve God and our neighbor. We do this as we remember our baptism. We do this by remembering that Jesus loved us and the whole church, and He proved it by giving Himself up for us upon the cross, so that He might sanctify us through the cleansing of the waters of our baptisms. Through simple water and God’s Word he saved us, so that He might present us to Himself as holy and perfect, without a single blemish. Jesus did this for us… He did this for you. He suffered and died so that you would know the forgiveness of God, and then be able to rest in that forgiveness and reflect it to others!

Are we hypocrites?  We are if we deny God’s continued work of recreation and forgiveness; we are if we pretend that God either doesn’t see or doesn’t care.  But because we confess our sin to Him, He is always faithful to forgive it and continue His work of recreation.  May He who began this good work within you complete it in the day of Jesus Christ!  AMEN.

Come to be Faith-filled!

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Easter Sunday B, April 8, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Why are you here?  I mean really, what was your reason for coming?  That’s a fair question, and it really doesn’t have a right or wrong answer. For those of you who are here faithfully every week, I know why you have come.  You’ve come to hear God’s Word and experience the forgiving love of your resurrected Lord.  That’s why you come every week.  But others may have come for other reasons; valid and important reasons.  Here are some of those reasons I’ve heard over he years: I’ve come to be with family;  It is our tradition to go to church on the important days like Christmas and Easter; or, I’m here because I was invited to come.

While I don’t know your personal reason for being here, I do know why God wants you here; He wants you here to hear His Word and to receive His gift of faith… He wants you to believe in the Easter miracle.  God wants you to know that “Christ is Risen!”  And once you know this truth, then He wants you to keep coming back to His house of worship often and be filled with faith; in other words, He wants you to be faith-filled!

This morning, Christians around the world gather together to hear about a miracle that has saved the world.  We gather to receive the gift of  Easter hope.  We gather together around the very same proclaimed Word of God and the same Sacraments that the ancient Christian church has received since the very first Easter celebration.  These are Christ’s gifts to His church and to you, gifts which bring you free and complete salvation centered entirely upon Christ’s death and resurrection.

As part of Christ’s church, each of us have one thing in common, we are sinners; sinners gathered around a new covenant; a new promise of forgiveness from God, as were Mary, the apostles and all of the disciples who were there with Jesus that first Easter morning.  Each of them, as us today were confronted with the good news.  The good news of course is that Christ not only suffered and died to pay for the sins of the world, but He also rose from the dead!  Christ is risen!

Let’s look again at the hymn we just sang, “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain” (LSB 487).  This hymn is a wonderful example of how our powerful Christian faith has been nourished since that first Easter Sunday.  It’s a Faith that comes to us through God’s Word about the risen Christ.  Let’s hear this good news proclaimed again in the 4th verse: “For today among His own Christ appeared, bestowing His deep peace, which ever-more passes human knowing.  Neither could the gates of death nor the tombs dark portal, nor the watchers, nor the seal hold Him as a mortal.”

This is the message of Easter.  Christ our King, our brother and Savior came to us as our champion and through the cross and the empty tomb defeated sin, your sin.  But that’s not all, He also defeated death, and your greatest enemy of all, the devil.  He set you free from bondage just as He set the Hebrews free from their bondage of slavery in Egypt long ago.

Jesus’ death and resurrection has freed the entire world from sin and death.  Jesus death upon the cross and His resurrection gives hope to people, be they yellow, black, white, rich, poor, straight, gay, single, married, old, and young.  But in order for Jesus’ gift of eternal life to become your gift,  it must become personal; it must become your good news!  And God does this very thing through His Word and the waters of your baptism.

In your baptism, God draws you into the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic faith.  In your baptism, God allows you to glimpse by faith, the deliverance of your soul from bondage to sin and deliverance into a promised land of eternity where all of your sins are forgiven.  If you will simply agree with God that you have sinned against Him, and then turn to Him for forgiveness; if you will confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus alone is your Lord you will be saved from this bondage.

Through the miracle of God’s mighty Word attached to the water each of us by faith, can see our Old Testament lesson come alive in our own lives.  Through the triumphant victory won by Jesus our Lord we have been delivered from the oppression of our old masters, sin, death, and Satan.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our salvation is secure and our future is certain if we will just rest and trust in Jesus alone!

We heard in our Old Testament Reading (Exodus 15:1-11), about the people of Israel being delivered from Pharaoh’s army through the waters of the Red Sea.  God, through His might parted that sea so that His people could pass through the water, from one side of bondage and death , to the other side where freedom and a new life waited for them.  And as God’s children of faith passed through the waters, their enemies pursued them.  But the same mighty power of God that saved with water also destroyed his people’s enemies with water, by allowing it to fall back upon them.  This is like what happened to you in the waters of your own baptism.  God called you through the water by His Word and brought you out of your bondage to sin, death, and the devil, and with that same water, He put to death those enemies, and then brought you into eternal life with Him.

So together with all of God’s saints we can proclaim our faith as individuals and as part of a large whole, the church of Jesus Christ.  Listen to this truth as its proclaimed in the first and second verses of our sermon hymn: “Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness!  God has brought His Israel into joy from sadness.  Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters; led them with un-moistened foot through the Red Sea waters.  Tis the spring of souls today: Christ has burst His prison and from three days sleep in death as a sun has risen; All the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying from His light, to whom is given laud and praise undying.” [LSB 487:1-2]

This is the Easter hope, the very truth that God wants you to be filled with not just this Easter day, but every day for the rest of your lives.  He wants you to see that your salvation, your eternal life and happiness is all His work through the life and death of His Son Jesus Christ, and the power of His saving Word.

And yet when we leave this place, we’ll be tempted by a sinful society to see ourselves as more enlightened than those ancient people that made up the first church.  Our society will tell us that their science and technology is far superior to our antiquated Christian faith.  They will tell us that we are not in a position to judge anyone, but instead we must accept and empower all people and celebrate our great differences.

This morning, God wants you to see that there are only two differences that He cares about, and they are life and death!  There are only two kinds of people, forgiven and unforgiven!  In our Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 5:6-8), St. Paul warns us about looking down on God’s Word and truth and approving of what He calls sin.  He says, “Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.  For (Jesus) Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the (Easter) festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

In your baptism, God separated you from the sin that will condemn the unbelieving world.  This morning He is telling each of us to continue living out that baptismal gift and turn away from that sin.  He is not asking you to judge others; that is His job and not ours.  Instead He is asking you to examine yourself; He’s warning each of us to quit boasting in the philosophy of enlightened minds and trust in His truth for us.

In your baptism you were made clean and sinless, so now he’s telling you to live that kind of life and quit embracing and celebrating sin; your own sin and other people’s sin.  He simply wants you to confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and then celebrate as one who is truly saved and loved by God!  This is the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth… Christ crucified and risen for you!

In our gospel lesson this morning, we encounter dear and faithful Mary, who physically walked and talked with Jesus on a day to day basis.  She witnessed so many miracles performed by Jesus.  But even her “enlightened” status was not enough for her to see and believe in her risen Lord.  You see, her own sinful nature prevented her from seeing Jesus that morning at the tomb.  It was only when her risen Lord spoke to her and called her by name that her doubts and fears were replaced with faith and joy!

Remember this hymn from your youth?  “I am Jesus little lamb, ever glad at heart I am.  For my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my need and well provides me.  Loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name.” {LSB 740]  Mary’s faith was rekindled when she heard the voice of her Lord.  She became faith-filled and excited about the resurrection of Jesus.  Mary was made alive again by the Word of her Savior God.  You too were made alive in your baptism.  It was there in those waters that Jesus called your name.  You are being made alive also this morning, because your resurrected Lord is calling you by name again; He’s calling you out from a society enlightened by sin and He is asking you to once again take your Christian faith seriously.  He calls you out of a faithless existence and He calls you back into His grace; His forgiving love.

And as His children called by faith, we gather together as one body and partake of the Easter feast of victory in His Holy Supper.  Just as it takes many individual kernels of wheat to be crushed into flour to make one loaf of bread, so we too this morning gather as one loaf in our proclamation of faith and our need of forgiveness.  We need to receive Christ body for the forgiveness of our sins.  And in this eating of His body, He gives us faith to see that He is mysteriously and really present in the bread.  And just as it took many grapes to lose their individual importance and become one drink of wine, so too are we all gathered this morning to receive the precious blood of our Lord and Savior in, with, and under the wine.  “Here (is) the true Paschal Lamb we see, whom God so freely gave us.  He died on the accursed tree—so strong His love—to save us.  See, His blood now marks our door; faith points to it; death passes o’er and Satan cannot harm us.  Alleluia!  Then let us feast this Easter day on Christ, the bread of heaven.  The Word of grace has purged away the old and evil leaven.  Christ alone our souls will feed; He is our meat and drink indeed.  Faith lives upon no other!  Alleluia!” [LSB 487:3,5]

We all know, truthfully how small and insignificant we are without Jesus; without the Easter truth. We know how faithless we can be without God’s work in our lives.  For those of us who are still being moved to walk with and trust in Jesus real presence in our lives, we can truly say that we find our strength and our meaning in Him and His Word.  It’s His Word that’s our shield and our strength.  It’s His Word that gives our lives purpose and meaning.  As we live our lives here among people who we love but who are dying without faith in Jesus, we can only wait and trust that God will do the same work within them that He is doing within us.  And as we wait, we remember that we are the Lord’s little lambs and His servants.  We hear Him call out to us and we follow.  He faithfully leads us and feeds us with His Word as we repeat only what He speaks to us.  We hear His voice and we trust in none other.  And that voice faithfully gathers us to this place so that we can come to be faith-filled.  Thanks be to God!  Christ is risen, He is risen indeed… Alleluia!!

What Is Truth?

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Reformation Sunday, October 31st, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message
 

What is truth? In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But what is the truth?  Well, our message this morning is truth!  It is the Word of God in Law and Gospel; it’s that Word, which sets people free!  Our truth this morning is the living Word of God, Jesus Christ who is with us this very moment giving us His truth. God the Father is a God of truth.  Christ is truth.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and He guides us into all truth.  Because God is truth, we must worship Him in truth; walk before Him in truth; serve Him in truth; rejoice in truth; speak to one another in truth, and meditate on His truth.  Those who are found without the truth are punished for their lack of it.  Because the truth is the Gospel, it can come only through Jesus Christ…and that’s the truth!  The truth is purifying, justifying and sanctifying.  In your baptism God clothed you with the truth; truth is your robe of righteousness.  Truth is abundantly and daily revealed to you who are loved and called according to His purpose and it always abides with you always.  God desires that the truth be acknowledged, believed, loved, and obeyed, and by His Spirit of Truth you are able to do this very thing!  This is most certainly true! 

I. In order to help us know what the truth is, let’s briefly discuss what the truth isn’t.  In the early 16th century, a young German monk named Martin Luther desperately wanted to know the truth about God.  The church taught him since he was a child that God was an angry God, who relentlessly kept track of each and every person’s sins, patiently waiting for the moment of judgment so that He could punish their sins!  Luther was taught that if there was any hope for him at all it would come through the traditions and teachings of the Church.  Luther was also taught that through a prescribed series of religious exercises, he and the rest of humanity may be able to find favor in God’s eyes.  But Luther soon found himself in a dilemma; how was he to know if he performed enough religious exercises to please God?  So in response to his desire to “know the truth” the young monk was sent to Wittenberg to attend Seminary and to become a priest.  It was during his study of God’s Word, that He discovered the truth that set Him free, and that truth was found in the very Epistle lesson we heard read this morning: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. [Rom. 3:21-25,28]  

These words, these living Words were the very truth that Martin Luther knew to be the key that explained all of God’s Word.  For years, he lived under the tyranny of God’s Law alone, but he discovered that God’s Law was only half of God’s truth, because you see, it lacked God’s Grace, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So now armed with the whole truth of God’s Word, this young monk became consumed by the word of God!  He could not stop reading and studying.  And as he read, he was changed.  He quickly began to see the folly of sinners who placed their trust in the church or their own good works.  

ILLUS: If Luther were here this morning, he would tell us this about the devils lies and God’s truth: The devil wants us to look at God and see Him as one who is angry with us and out to punish us when we sin.  He is encouraged when we ask ourselves, “Why is God punishing me?” because this type of thinking is what he uses to get us to abandon our faith.  But if we see God this way, then we don’t see Him correctly, but instead “we’re looking at him as if a dark storm cloud has been drawn across His face.  God’s Word tells us that if we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love; and to see God in faith is to look upon His friendly heart.”
    “So when the Devil throws your sins in your face so that you will abandon your faith, and when he declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it?  For I know one who suffered, died, and paid for my sins; His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God and where He is there I shall be also.”

II. So what is truth?
  Jesus graciously answers this question for us with these words, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [Jn. 8:31-32]  Friends, the word of Jesus is the truth because it is the Word of God.  It is the Word alone that brings spirit and life; without the Word there is only spiritual death.  The only way to know God is through the Word, and if we want to live in truth we must live in the Word.  Jesus said, “If you remain in me, and my words I will remain in you.”  Whether we are babies in the faith or the most honored elder of the congregation, we are all equally held safe by the same power of God’s Word.  It is this truth, this Word that holds us within the true faith.  This relationship of faith can only come from the Word and it can only be retained through a continual reliance on that same Word, through which the blessed power of truth and faith are given to each of us.  So the truth dear friends, is found in living out God’s Word and sharing that truth with others.  No one who rejects God’s truth can ever find saving faith.  No one who refuses to be led by God’s Word can expect to hold on to it.  God’s Word must have its way with us or it will not live within us.   

III. But what is the purpose of truth?  Well Jesus answers this question pretty well when He says, “and the truth shall set you free.”   If it is only truth that sets us free, then we can surmise that without truth we are in bondage…we are slaves.  But slaves to what, or to whom?  This was the question of the unbelieving Jews who were mixed in with the newly converted Christians when they said: “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” [vs. 33]  Can you hear the pride and sarcasm in their voices?  It’s like they’re saying, “If the truth you’re speaking about is only good for slaves, then don’t bother us with it…WE ARE Abraham’s children and we have no master except God Himself!  We have rules that we follow that God Himself gave to us.  And by following these rules we will appease God’s anger and find salvation!  And to this, Jesus, the Living Word of God, gives them more truth: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  He says to the Pharisees and he says to us, “So how are you doing with keeping God’s rules?  Have you ever broke one?  Have you ever sinned?  Of course you have, and you will continue to sin…You are a slave to sin…you are in captivity of it and there is nothing you can do to save yourself!”  

Friends, Jesus is asking us to understand and believe that everyone of us who does what is sin is enslaved by it and can never on our own break away from it.  We are, without question trapped in spiritual soul slavery, and that is the worst kind of slavery you can ever be captivated by.  He is asking us to accept the fact that we do sin in thought, word, or action every day, every hour, and even every moment.  If God were to put us on trial, our very own conscience would be the best witness against us.  So what are we to do?  Nothing…nothing but confess that there is nothing we can do, and then we rest in our own helplessness and receive the help of God.  What is that help?  Well it’s His truth, the true and Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  He is your champion who speaks God’s grace to you:  ‘Friend, even though you are guilty of many sins, I forgive.  Even though you have ignored my presence in your life and refused to enter into a relationship of trust with me, I shall show your mercy and love.  By the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ you are forgiven.  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” 

ILLUS: At a certain seminary in Chicago there’s an outdoor gathering in the summer where modern thinkers can come and lecture. On this day each attendee is encouraged to bring a lunch to be eaten outdoors in a grassy picnic area. One year the school invited a modern religious scholar who spoke for two and a-half hours trying to prove that the resurrection of Jesus was false. He quoted scholar after scholar and book after book. He concluded that since there was no historical evidence proving the resurrection then it must not be the truth.  He said that the faith of orthodox Christians was based on groundless, emotional mumbo-jumbo, because it relied on a relationship with a risen Jesus, who, in fact, never rose from the dead in any literal sense. He then asked a stunned crowd if there were any questions.

After about 30 seconds, an old, dark skinned preacher with a head of short-cropped, white hair stood up in the back of the crowd.  “Excuse me sir,” he said, “I got one question.”  Now all eyes were turned toward him. He reached into his sack lunch and pulled out an apple and began eating it.  “Sir” he said while crunching his apple.  “My question is a simple one.  Now, I ain’t never read them books you read and I can’t recite the Scriptures in the original Greek like you can.  I don’t know nothin’ about them other fellas you keep quotin, but…” Now he  finished the apple. “All I wanna know is, this apple I just ate, was it sour or sweet?”

The scholar paused for a moment and answered in exemplary scholarly fashion: “I cannot possibly answer that question, for I haven’t tasted your apple.”  The white-haired preacher dropped the core of his apple into his crumpled paper bag, looked up at the scholar and said calmly, “And neither have you tasted my Jesus.”

The 1,000 plus in attendance could not contain themselves as they erupted with applause and cheers. The scholar thanked his audience and promptly left the platform. Have you tasted Jesus?  

CONCLUSION: Friends, I believe that each of us must answer that question.  It’s really an old question; it’s one that can only be answered yes or no.  How do we taste the Lord?  By faith!  How do we acquire this faith?  By being in the Word of God.  So tasting the Lord is being in His Word.  Tasting the Lord is believing in His Word.  Either you believe or you don’t.  But be warned, you can’t pick and choose which parts you believe and which parts you don’t.  It comes as a whole; both the Law and the gospel!  It’s like that old preacher’s apple, you gotta taste it and eat the whole thing in order to know the sweetness of its truth! 

Let me close with a portion of truth this morning, a portion of Psalm 34: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!  I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.  This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.  Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” [Psalm 34:1-8a]  May each of us taste and know by faith that the Lord is good!  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost… AMEN!

What Is Truth?

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Twenty Fourth Sunday in Pentecost, October 26, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message.

 What is truth? In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But what is the truth?  Well, our message this morning is truth!  It is the Word of God in Law and Gospel it’s that Word, which sets people free!  Our truth this morning is the living Word of God, Jesus Christ who is with us this very moment giving us His truth. God the Father is a God of truth.  Christ is truth.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and He guides us into all truth.  Because God is truth, we must worship Him in truth; walk before Him in truth; serve Him in truth; rejoice in truth; speak to one another in truth, and meditate on His truth.  Those who are found without the truth are punished for their lack of it.  Because the truth is the Gospel, it can come only through Jesus Christ…this is the truth!  The truth is purifying, justifying and sanctifying.  In your baptism God clothed you with the truth; truth is your robe of righteousness.  Truth is abundantly and daily revealed to you who are loved and called according to His purpose and it always abides with you always.  God desires that the truth be acknowledged, believed, loved, and obeyed, and by His Spirit of Truth you are able to do this very thing!  This is most certainly true!

What is not the truth? In order to help us know what the truth is, let’s briefly discuss what the truth is not.  In the early 16th century, a young German monk named Martin Luther desperately wanted to know the truth about God.  He had learned all of his life that God was an angry God, who relentlessly kept track of each and every person’s sins, patiently waiting for the moment of judgment so that He could punish these transgressions!  Luther was taught that if there was any hope for him at all it would come through the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.  Luther was also taught that through a prescribed series of religious exercises, he and the rest of humanity may be able to find favor in God’s eyes by trusting in God’s mercy.  But Luther soon found himself in a dilemma; how was he to know if he performed enough religious exercises to please God?  In response to his desire to “know the truth” the young monk was sent to Wittenberg to attend Seminary and to become a priest.  It was during his study of God’s Word, that He discovered the truth that set Him free, and that truth was found in the very Epistle lesson we heard read this morning: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. [Rom. 3:21-25,28] 

These words, these living Words were the very truth that Martin Luther knew to be the key that explained all of God’s Word.  For years, he lived under the tyranny of God’s Law alone, but he discovered that God’s Law was only half of God’s truth, because you see, it lacked God’s Grace, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Now armed with the whole truth of God’s Word, this young monk became consumed by the word of God!  He could not stop reading and studying.  And as he read, he was changed.  He quickly began to see the folly of sinners who placed their trust in their own good works.  ILLUS: If Luther were here this morning, he would tell us this about the devils lies and God’s truth: The devil wants us to look at God and see Him as one who is angry with us and out to punish us when we sin.  He is encouraged when we ask ourselves, “Why is God punishing me?” because this type of thinking is what he uses to get us to abandon our faith.  But if we see God this way, then we don’t see Him correctly, but instead “we’re looking at him as if a dark storm cloud has been drawn across His face.  God’s Word tells us that if we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love; and to see God in faith is to look upon His friendly heart.”
    “So when the Devil throws your sins in your face so that you will abandon your faith, and when he declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it?  For I know one who suffered, died, and paid for my sins; His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God and where He is there I shall be also.”

So what is truth?  Jesus graciously answers this question for us with these words, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [Jn. 8:31-32]  Friends, the word of Jesus is the truth because it is the Word of God.  It is the Word alone that brings spirit and life…without the Word there is only spiritual death.  The only way to know God is through the Word, and if we want to live in truth we must live in the Word.  Jesus said, “If you remain in me, and my words I will remain in you.”  Whether we are babies in the faith or the most honored elder of the congregation, we are all equally held safe by the same power of God’s Word.  Young and old alike, we must all learn more and more of the Word’s precious truth.  It is this truth, this Word that holds us within the true faith.  This relationship of faith can only come from the Word and it can only be retained through a continual reliance on the living Word of God through which the blessed power of truth and faith are given.  The truth dear friends, is found in living out God’s Word and sharing that truth with others.  No one who rejects God’s truth can ever find saving faith.  No one who refuses to be led by God’s Word can expect to hold on to it.  God’s Word must have its way with us or it will not live within us. 

ILLUS: Over 1900 years ago, Jewish Zealots made a courageous stand, holding off an elite Roman legion for more than a year. Jerusalem was destroyed months earlier, and the mesa named Masada, was the site of the last pocket of Jewish resistance.  Come morning that, too, would change. The wooden walls were burning, and soon the Roman battering ram would begin again and make its final assault upon the weakened walls and gates.
   The leader of the 960 men, women and children who held the mesa gathered the men together, and shared the hopelessness of the morning’s coming battle. Defeat was certain, and it would come with slavery, the murder of the children and the aged, and the rape of the women. He urged one last act of defiance, one last act of freedom: “Let us choose death before we become slaves, and let’s go out of this world, with our children and our wives, in a state of freedom.”    With no other apparent avenues of honor left for them, the men of the garrison gathered their families, and together they took their own lives.  Their desire to live was not as great as their hatred of slavery.
   When the Romans burst through the walls in the morning, they were greeted with the silence of the dead. This story developed in the aftermath of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, just as Jesus, the living and true Word of God had predicted earlier. The prediction was fulfilled four decades after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  If only they would have listened to Jesus, the living Word of God…if only they would have understood that God’s Word is truth…

But what is the purpose of truth?  Well Jesus answers this question pretty well, “and the truth shall set you free.”   If it is only truth that sets us free, then we can surmise that without truth we are in bondage…we are slaves.  But slaves to what, or to whom?  This was the question of the unbelieving Jews who were mixed in with the newly converted Christians when they said: “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” [vs. 33]  Can you hear the pride and sarcasm in their voices?  It’s like they’re saying, “If the truth you’re speaking about is only good for slaves, then don’t bother us…WE ARE Abraham’s children, a royal nation of priests, and we have no master except God Himself!  We have rules that we follow that God Himself gave to us.  And by following these rules we will appease God’s anger and find salvation!  And to this, Jesus, the Living Word of God, gives them more truth: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  He says to the Pharisees and he says to us, “So how are you doing with keeping those rules?  Have you ever broke one?  Have you ever sinned?  Of course you have, and you will continue to sin…You are a slave to sin…you are in captivity of it and there is nothing you can do to save yourself! 

Friends, Jesus is asking us to understand and believe that everyone of us who does what is sin is enslaved by it and can never on our own break away from it.  We are, without question trapped in spiritual soul slavery, and that is the worst kind of slavery you can ever be captivated by.  He is asking us to accept the fact that we do sin in thought, word, or action daily, hourly, even every moment.  If God were to put us on trial, our very own conscience would be the best witness against us.  So what are we to do?  Nothing…nothing but confess that there is nothing we can do, and then we rest in our own helplessness and receive the help of God.  What is that help?  Well it’s His truth, the true and Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  He is your champion who speaks God’s grace to you:  ‘Friend, even though you are guilty of many sins, I forgive.  Even though you have ignored my presence in your life and refused to enter into a relationship of trust with me, I shall show your mercy and love.  By the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ you are forgiven.  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” ILLUS: Have you ever heard of Sojourner Truth? She was born a slave in 1797, and she died a freed woman in 1883.  She was an American abolitionist. In 1827 she and her entire family were freed from slavery and they moved to New York. In 1843, she said that she heard “a voice from Heaven,” and in response to that voice she began to travel in the North preaching freedom for all slaves. In the mid-1860’s, she moved to Washington, D.C., and began to help resettle ex-slaves.

She was quoted as saying: “When I left the house of bondage I left everything behind. I wanted to keep nothing of Egypt on me, and so I went to the Lord and asked him to give me a new name (Sojourner Truth).   I set up my banner, and then I sing, and then folks always comes up ’round me, and then … I tells em about Jesus.”  Sojourner Truth frequently began her messages by saying: ‘Children, I talk to God and God talks to me.”  One day at an abolitionist meeting in Boston, Frederick Douglass had spoken and said that the slaves had no hope except in their own strength and desire to fight for themselves. Sojourner Truth quietly asked him: “Frederick, is God dead?”

Friends, I believe that Sojourner Truth was asking not just Frederick Douglass but all of us: Do you think that God is not always present in this world and in your life working out His goodness in all things despite what things may appear in the present?  Sojourner Truth was proved right of course.  Shortly thereafter, human slavery was abolished in these United States.  But dear friends, a far more terrible form of slavery still exists today and it can be found right outside of the doors of this church.  You who have been freed from the slavery of sin, death, and the devil, have been called by God’s Word of truth to help free your neighbors…your neighbors who live in this very community.  The spirit of Sojourner Truth lives on today, because you see it is the voice of truth, the voice of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Like Sojourner, you are called to be a part of a holy nation of people, a nation of abolitionists, whose one mission is to declare the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  And when you speak God’s Word of peace to your neighbor, speak it as one who can truly say…. “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God almighty I’m free at last! 

May the peace of God, which supassess all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in His truth, for the sake of Jesus Christ….AMEN