Posts Tagged ‘Waiting’

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost-A, August 28, 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


“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” [Isaiah 51:1]

Have you ever heard someone say something like this before? “I’m not going to sit idly by and watch this happen. Someone has to do something. Things can’t go on like this!” Maybe those words communicate your feelings about current events. Just consider this last month’s headlines, and how the effected you, and I think you will understand. Now, if none of the current headlines has raised your anxiety, how about something a little closer to home; something like: Why don’t your children go to church any more? How about your current health problems or the health problem of someone you love or are close to? I guess I could ask you to conjure up thoughts about any issue you’ve faced this month that seems to be sucking the very joy out of your Christian walk of faith?

To all of these concerns and many others like them, God has the solution. This morning He says, “Listen to Me and watch for me!” Listen and look with faith and hear and see what I have done yesterday in the past, what I am doing today in the present, and then you will know what I will do tomorrow in your future!

In our gospel reading (Matthew 16:13-20) Jesus asked his disciples then as He asks us today a very simple question: “Who do you say that I am.” He wants all people to seriously consider what we believe about Him. Is He truly Emmanuel, God with us in our lives or was He just another great teacher and healer. Now because you all have proclaimed by faith that Jesus is your Lord, I assume that each of you know and declare that Jesus is God. Peter knew it, and he confessed as much with these Words: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And (to Peter then and we today) Jesus answered, “Blessed are you! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, on this rock (that is upon your confession of faith in God your Rock), I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:17, 18]

This morning, I your pastor declare to you, that God, in the persons of Father, Son, and Spirit does not change; that is what he was yesterday, He still is today and will be forever. Who is God? He is Emmanuel; God with you and God for you. To understand this we look back at Who God was in the past. We follow our roots of faith backwards in time to understand who we are today, and who we will be tomorrow.

So let’s look at the great works of…

The God of Yesterday:

This morning, even though you have doubts, fears and worries, God calls you His children; He calls you, those “who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD.” Many times we don’t see triumph and victory in our walk of faith; we tend to focus on our troubles and apparent defeats, even when we truly are trying to please the Lord. The faithful Jews who were taken away in exile from their native land felt the very same; they too had no sense of glory or victory. Their homeland stood in ruins; they weren’t given any hope from their captors that they would ever return, but God spoke hope. Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke certain promises that if received by faith would give the people hope; they would one day return to their homeland.

You see the promise of hope God spoke through Isaiah, was based on the promise of hope that He spoke long before to Abraham and Sara, and before he spoke that promise to them, He declared it to Adam and Eve, in the beginning. Though they started out as two individuals, they would be united in faith and multiplied in number comparable to the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the beach. From them, God promised to build not just a physical nation, but also a spiritual one; one that had faith in their God, who was their Creator, Provider, Redeemer, and Friend.

Since the first gospel promise given to Adam and Eve about the coming Messiah/Savior who would take away their sins and bring them back to Paradise, God’s faithful children have struggled with feelings of discouragement and hopelessness, just as Father Abraham and Sarah did; just as those held captive in Babylon did. We like them have discovered that even though we are pursuing righteousness and trying to live a God pleasing life, we don’t see that many victories. At best, we seem to have only fleeting moments of happiness, but then we often fall prey to guilt, fear, and doubt. We are reminded that on our own, we truly are sinful and unclean; our sinful nature frustrates us to no end. We wish we could take it off like a change of dirty clothes, but we can’t! It is part of us and it continues to plague us every day.

Like the Jews held in captivity in Babylon, we too need a Word of comfort and reassurance, and that is why God next encourages us to look, listen, and live in what He is doing for us today! He wants us to know that He is…

The God of Today:

This morning, God calls out to you who pursue righteousness, and He says: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.” This morning, God’s Word of hope, His promise connected to the very first promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and Sarah comes to you and it declares that today for you, this promise is fulfilled. “Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the Light of the world. [John 8:12] And He is “the light (that) no darkness can overcome.” [John 1:5]

You have been chiseled out from Him and by Him, and the proof is your proclamation of faith. It is as true for you today as it was for Peter then. Jesus is our Rock and there is no other Rock but Him, because Jesus is God. We know this is fact because God’s law of righteousness, that is His work and Word of Salvation declares this truth to us. By faith in our Rock, His Word tells us to see beyond the past; beyond the prophets and the promises of yesterday and see the fulfillment of His promises in your life today. See the work of the cross of Jesus Christ, where His passion for all sinful mankind moved Him out of love to die for the sins of the world, and then allow your Rock to show you where you were first dug out.

In your baptism, Christ’s work for the world upon the cross, was made as atonement for you personally; there you died with Christ but you also rose with Him as a child of the Rock. There you took your place along with Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Peter and the Apostles, and the countless children of faith that have gone before you, and you have been given divine strength to wait and trust in what God is doing both for you and through you. What is that work?

Well, this morning He declares that His “righteousness draws near, (His) salvation has gone out, and (His) arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for (Him), and for His (mighty) arm (of salvation) they wait.” [Isaiah 51:5] For some, God’s judgment is something to fear, but for you who wait by faith it is something to be anticipated with joy. You are part of the Rock; you cling to Jesus Christ and trust in Him alone. But as you wait, you may become impatient and feel that the injustices that happen in this world must be dealt with. Again you may feel that God no longer cares about what is happening here. But that is far from the truth.

You see, “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but (instead, He) is patient toward (sinful men and women), not wishing that any should perish (in the coming judgment), but that all should reach repentance (and salvation).” [2 Peter 3:9] Remember, that His salvation has gone out, and it is for all people who will turn to and trust in their Rock, Jesus Christ. So…

Look to the God of Tomorrow.

“Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but (God’s) salvation will be forever, and (His) righteousness will never be dismayed.” [Isaiah 51:6] While we still struggle with a spirit of impatience in the midst of tribulation and suffering, these Words offer us God’s solution. Look up to your Rock in Heaven; by faith see Jesus Christ as your Champion and know that soon and very soon His work of judgment and salvation will be accomplished once and for all. The very heavens above and the earth you stand upon will vanish like smoke and all evil, both spirits and people on that day will be judged and punished. But you dear saints, you must never allow this tomorrow of judgment to discourage, distress or disappoint you, because God’s salvation, His law of righteousness has enveloped you and it protects you.

Who do we say that Jesus is? Alleluia, Jesus is our Rock! He brought us out of the miry clay, and He placed our feet on the Rock to stay.

Therefor with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify His glorious name, evermore praising Him and saying: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabbath adored; Heaven and earth with full acclaim shout the glory of Your name. We the church sing hosanna in the highest, we sing hosanna to our Rock… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and let the church say… AMEN!

What Is This Hidden Treasure?

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost-A, July 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 her for audio of this message

The central theme in all of our reading is found in Jesus’ statement in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 13:44-52), “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” So, this morning’s message will explore that statement by answering three questions, which I believe are central for living the life of a Christian in the kingdom of Heaven, here and now. But to answer these questions, you will need to be equipped and well trained by the Word of God. So without further discussion, here are the questions: 1. How should every Christian treat the Word of God? 2. How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day? 3. Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

Are we ready to get into God’s message for us this morning? Good, let’s go…

How should every Christian treat the Word of God?

This week, God’s Word is compared to the most valuable treasure you could find; it was compared to the most valuable pearl that a person could cultivate, so valuable that you would give up every thing to posses it. “Do you feel this way about your Bible and the Word of God?” And I think that if we average Christians were to answer that question truthfully, the answer is “No!” But why is that?

I believe that I can speak for not just myself, but also for many of you when I say that we truly do love Jesus and His Word. Ok, so then why don’t we also have that kind of excitement when we open His book? The answer is of course, because we do not understand just how extraordinary that Word truly is. Isn’t it true that most of you have at least two or three Bibles in your home? Isn’t it also true that most of you grew up in a home that had that many, if not more Bibles in your home? Didn’t most of you grow up going to church and Sunday School, and didn’t you spend your formative years handling that Word? So is it possible that both time and commonality have diminished your estimation of that Word?

This morning, Jesus tells us two stories or metaphors that are meant to correct our misconception of both God’s Word and His Kingdom; He speaks about a hidden treasure and a chance encounter with a “pearl of great price (or value).” When we hear these stories, we think about incidents where people have accidentally found large sums of money, and after waiting for the owner to come forward, they are told by the authorities that because no one came forward to claim the money, it is theirs to keep. Or maybe we think of those lucky ones who struck it big by winning millions of dollars after playing the lottery. But this story is different, isn’t it? The men in both stories had to spend everything they had just to get their hands on the treasure, and once they did, their lives were forever changed for the good. I don’t know of too many incidences where lottery winners were impacted for the good; usually their money created a whole bunch of problems they never had before. But Jesus’ story about the man who bought the field to get at the hidden treasure is different. Why? Well to answer that, we must understand the metaphor; the field represents one thing, and the treasure represents another.

In order to improve our estimation of God’s Word, let’s consider the field as a representation of our Bibles.

And within those Bibles, this field that most people take for granted is the greatest treasure you could ever receive, it is knowing intimately the very Son of God, Jesus Christ. You see your Bibles are not given to you by God as some instruction manual that helps you live your life, but instead every page of your Bibles shows you two things, your need for a Savior and who that Savior is.

God’s treasure, which is the message of His Son Jesus the Christ, is indeed hidden, but it is intended to be found by you dear Christians. Others hunt for this treasure everywhere, but you have found it; you found it with very little effort. You see, God didn’t hide His treasure in a far off place in some philosophical realm where no one could even come near it, but instead he hid it in a common, lowly place, where it could be found by anyone who did not feel that the location of the treasure was beneath them because of their personal wisdom, pride, or self-sufficient attitude.

Now, let’s talk about this wonderful treasure that’s hidden within the field; within our Bibles. The treasure is so great that the men in Jesus’ stories sold everything just to obtain it. But they did not just sell all that they have, they sold it joyfully! And when they finally obtain the treasure they rejoice, but not in their poverty but in their new found wealth!

The point of Jesus story is this: The Kingdom of Heaven has come to sinful men, and it comes in the Son of God who is also the son of man. If there is anything at all that is standing in the way of you being drawn deeper and closer to Jesus, then that thing must be done away with so that you will be sure to obtain this great treasure, which is Jesus Himself. If you truly understand this message, then Jesus says that you are like a “scribe (or a teacher of God’s Word), who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven, and you will bring out of (your) treasure (things that are) new and (things that are) old.” In other words, through your discovery of the hidden treasure in both the old and new testaments, which is Jesus Christ, you have gotten your heart filled with all kinds of spiritual knowledge from the kingdom and the King, and you will be equipped to use it when it is needed.

Now, let’s add another dimension to Jesus metaphor, by allowing our Old Testament lesson (Deuteronomy 7:6–9) to guide us into our next question.

How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day?

Well, let’s allow God to answer Himself, listen: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Friends, do you hear that? You did not choose God, He chose you! You did not find Jesus and the forgiveness of sins that is yours through Jesus on your own; no, Jesus found you!

Do you understand what this does to Jesus’s stories; to His metaphors? It completely turns it around. Let me show you what I mean. Since it is Jesus who finds you, then the field becomes the sinful world, and the man who sells all that He has, is none other than Jesus Christ. And you know what that makes you, don’t you? You are the treasure! Upon the cross, all of God gave great wealth to obtain you as His very own, but only the Son of God, Jesus Christ who is the son of Mary, gave all of His life to redeem you from sin, death, and the devil.

God the Father redeemed you through the life blood of His Son; He redeemed you from the curse of sin. But the reason He did this for you has nothing to do with anything that is unique or good about you, but instead it was because of His love and the blood of His Son Jesus, that you have been set free!

Listen friends, God is so serious about this truth, that He even swore it in an oath to our spiritual fathers long ago. He swore to Abraham to bless his seed and to bring blessing to the nations through his seed. [Genesis 22:16-18] But that oath includes blessings for us as well. It was kept, and still is being kept, through Christ’s work upon the cross. So, know this today, that it is those of (us by) faith who are the (true) sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you (that is in your faith), shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith, (that is those of us who have been found by Jesus and are resting and trusting in Him), are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” [Galatians 3:7]

Now, doesn’t that make you want to rest in God’s calling of faith? Doesn’t that allow you to realize that it is He who began the good work in you that will complete it? But you may ask, “How do I know that God has really began that good work of salvation within me? Where can I turn for assurance that I am really His great treasure, and He is mine? Well, why not turn to the very place that He began that good work in you… return to your baptism where He marked you and sealed you as His very own! And that takes us to our final question to be answered.

Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

Jesus answers that question in one last metaphor, when He says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matthew 13:47-50]

Friends, let me ask you a question, that if answered by faith, will also tell you whether you should be afraid of the final judgment. Are you a good fish or a bad one? Now before you answer, remember that you are Jesus’s own pearl of great price, and you are His valued hidden treasure. He bought you with His own life-blood. Do you believe that? If you say yes, then why in the world would He ever allow you to be called bad?

But don’t just stop acquiring the wealth of God’s Word there, let St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (Romans 8:28-39) give you a little more data to base your answer on, listen: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” [v.28] “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” [vs.31-34] Friends, that’s called a hypothetical question, and you are to enthusiastically answer it like this, “No one!” No one can accuse you of being damned and lost to judgment, because, “Christ died for you! But more than that, He also rose from the dead for you.” In His dying and rising, He shows you what is a done deal; a deal that was accomplished for you within the waters of your baptism. Your old sinful nature was put to death, and your new baptismal nature that will one day rise up with a new resurrected body is not only how God sees you but, it is also how you are to view yourself!

You are a good fish, who has been caught in the gospel net of the church. In all aspects of that net, you receive the hidden treasure of God, the message of Jesus Christ. And within that message, which comes to you in both Word and Sacrament, you have discovered that you are God’s valuable and hidden treasure. But, you are not hidden from God, you are waiting and resting within the gospel net, which is the church, along with many other fish; some are good and some are bad, but this morning Jesus says that is not your concern to worry over, you are simply to rest in the most blessed Word and will of God.

While it is tempting to worry about many things as we wait here for Christ’s return, we have been assured that God’s day of reckoning , that is the time of making all things right has not yet come. As we wait, we also trust and follow Jesus as His very own disciples. We wait both as people who have found a great treasure and, we wait for Jesus who will come to this world, and claim and acquire us has His own treasured possession. Even though our life in Jesus and His life with us remains hidden now within His Word and Sacraments, we can trust in the great and final work that Christ has done for us.

When we trust in this work, and in this Word, we are indeed like disciples who are able to not only draw out wisdom from a great treasure store, but we become wisdom in action. And that wisdom sees the wonderful faith, faith giving Word of God as great treasure indeed, and then it learns to trust and rest as part of that treasure. AMEN!

Witnessing Jesus

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Easter 7-HL, May 8th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Here’s a truth that each of us must understand this morning before a single word of gospel hope is declared: Living out our Christian faith, let alone witnessing to it, would be impossible unless God the Holy Spirit was powerfully working within us and among us through His chosen means of grace.  But once the Holy Spirit enters our lives and our hearts, living out our lives becomes a whole different experience.  With the Holy Spirit, the church armed with the Word of God and Christ’s Sacraments (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), is equipped as a body and as individuals who are part of that body are sent forth to witness to God’s presence in both our lives and indeed the entire world.

This last Wednesday the universal church celebrated the high and holy day of Christ’s Ascension. As we think about that day this Sunday, we also can’t help but put our selves in the shoes of the disciples.

In addition to awe and wonder as the they witnessed their Lord ascend into heaven from the Mt. of Olives, they also must have been dealing with a sense of fear and worry: “Now what are we suppose to do?”

When the disciples went back to the upper room, back to their normal lives, they perhaps knew more about Jesus than any other people in the whole world would ever know.  So it is fair to say that if Christianity had simply been a matter of knowing Jesus and His teachings and then living by that knowledge, then they could have started to preach and witness about His Kingdom of Grace immediately.  But instead, they were instructed by Jesus to wait patiently in an attitude of prayer and supplication until the gift of the Holy Spirit was given.

So what was it they were lacking?

The disciples lacked the very thing that Jesus promised to give them… the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s think about that for a moment; think about the work that God had prepared for them to accomplish.  They had been given the responsibility to witness about Jesus.  They’d been with Him from the beginning.  They had seen it all and had been taught by the Lord Himself.  Above all, they were witnesses to both His resurrection and His ascension.  But the truth they were to proclaim was also an insurmountable challenge for mere followers of Jesus.  You see…

The man they were to bear witness to had been executed as a blasphemer and a troublemaker.  And what’s more, they too, were promised by Jesus Himself that they could expect to be met with the same violent resistance.  Hadn’t Jesus told them many times that they would be persecuted; that the disciple was not above his teacher? Jesus even said that if they had called the master Beelzebub, what would they do to the servants?  But along with these truths of coming trial and tribulation, Jesus also implied that when the time of testing arrived they were to confidently stand their ground and not fear those who can destroy the body but not their souls.  By now, they must have been thinking, “Easier said than done!”

So now safe and secure in the upper room, their task must have seemed to be impossible.  They were to go out amongst the same people who crucified Jesus and preach and witness that the Man they killed was not only the Messiah but in fact, He was their only hope for eternal life.  And so we can see why the disciples must have felt alone and afraid; their task was to break through the wall of impenitence and hatred that even the Lord’s own words would not shatter.

But there’s still more they had to consider.  Through out all of their living out and proclaiming Christ, they were also called to preserve the purity of the message.  They had to preserve the unity of the church, stick together even when there was no Master among them, and they must preach the gospel even though there was no one with them physically to counsel with.  All of this demanded more than mere human powers could supply.  But Jesus had never expected them to fulfill their responsibilities alone.  God Himself would fulfill the task with them.  He would clothe them with power from on high.  He would open the way for the Word by convicting men of sin and of righteousness.  He would give His messengers a power and a wisdom, which would overcome their enemies.  He would lead them in all of God’s own truth.  He would preserve the vision of Christ living and untarnished.  He would Himself speak through their tongues and words.  And …

To accomplish this miraculous task, Christ would gather is little lambs into one body, His body the church, and He would do it all through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Through the church, God would gather His eternal and spiritual Israel, His faithful saints.  He would gather them from all the nations and ethnicities throughout the world and bring each of them into their own country the church, which would be for them a foretaste of their eternal Home in Paradise, a place that had been prepared for them by Jesus Himself.

Through the preaching of the Gospel of hope, the washing of Holy Baptism, and the sustenance of  spiritual food and drink received at the Lord’s Holy Table, Christ through the work and power of the Holy Spirit would create and sustain His dear saints.  That is by the grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes from God through the Word of God Jesus Christ, God the Father would created, gather and send out His children of faith through the power and direction of God the Holy Spirit to speak to and gather even more redeemed sinners into the Christian faith.

All of this is taking place even today by God through you and me, by the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  You see…

Christianity is not simply knowing about Jesus and following Him.

Our Christian faith, and indeed our entire lives is something that can only be experienced where God is at work in the presence and person of the Holy Spirit.  For the disciples this was a daily experience.  That’s why they spoke of witnessing together with one heart and mind through the Holy Spirit; that’s why they could insist that they and the Holy Spirit acted together, as they walked in the Spirit and by the Spirit.

God the Holy Spirit promises us today just as He promised the disciples who witnessed Jesus ascension long ago, that as He has changed our hard and unbelieving hearts and sustains new life and faith within us, He desires to do the very same thing with those we come in contact with as we share with them the story of Jesus and His victory over sin, death, and the devil.  A victory that was accomplished through His passion and death upon the cross, the empty tomb of His resurrection, and His return to the right hand of the Father through His ascension.

Dear friends, Christ did not want you to be trapped by ignorance of the hard times that lay ahead for the church, His church.  He clearly described the resistance that we would face as together we witness to the “one thing needful” for salvation… faith in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  If we try to go about the calling of Jesus to seek and save the lost on our own with a different message, we will only discover failure and misery.  But if we go out living our lives within the various vocations we find ourselves in, we will find both success and joy in our calling to be witnesses to the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus.

Our task and calling today as both individuals and members of the universal body of Christ is to spread the knowledge of Jesus.  Not to declare a message that makes us comfortable or will make our neighbors comfortable, but the truth that Christ died for sinners of which you and I are the chiefs of, and so are they that we witness Christ to.  Not only does God want to be a part of our sometimes-mundane lives, but He wants to be a part of our neighbors’ lives too.  He wants to offer His gift of salvation to others through us.

No wonder we talk about joy in the Holy Spirit.  What a tremendous reason to be alive in this world today.  What a tremendous reason to look forward to what every tomorrow holds.  God wants to use you… He wants to work through you… He wants to show Himself to other people both here in this place of worship and in your life as you lead them only and always to Christ alone; as you declare the Easter message: “Christ has risen, indeed!  AMEN!”

All Dressed Up and…

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

Easter 4-HL, April 17th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Would you agree with me, that it is never easy waiting for something you really desire?  Here’s a truth that we should really think about this morning: We all desire an end to sickness, disease, violence, hatred and prejudice.  And we all know that as long as we live in this sin-soaked world, these things will never end.  Further, we all know that the only way to be free of those things is to leave this world; we have to die.

By now some of you are saying, “No thanks, I’ll wait.”  But some of you are thinking, “Yes, that would be fine by me; the sooner the better.  I just want the Lord to take me home.”

A Christian may have many reasons for wanting to leave this world.

Scripture and our own life experiences seem to bear witness to this truth.  St. Paul perhaps put it best, when he said that he would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord Jesus.  [2 Corinthians 5:8]   But where would our understanding of God’s grace and the beautiful gift of faith be if God had taken Paul home too early?

Every day through our understanding brought through God’s Word, we are made more and more aware of a sinful reality that is at work in our bodies; a law that convicts us of the sin that lies within our flesh.  Isn’t it true that the more we understand our sinful tendency to do things we know are wrong, the more we wish to be free from this reality?  Do you understand that your baptized, born again nature is at war with the desires of your sinful flesh?  Isn’t it true that you have one nature that urges you to serve the Lord and another that urges you to serve your own wants and desires.  The truth is, we have the desire to do what is right, but when it comes to fulfilling that desire, we sometimes seem to be in a sort of holding pattern.

None of us is ever exempt from this daily struggle between the spirit and the flesh.  And it is not simply an internal struggle of weakness versus strength, or cowardice versus bravery, no, we are also dealing with this sinful world and all the spiritual powers and principalities that seek to destroy both our own souls and the work of God for us and among us; in other words, these forces are dead set on attacking us in such a way that even our faith and hope in God will be crushed and destroyed.

We are reminded in our Old Testament lesson (Lamentations 3:22-33) that all trials and tribulations are allowed to come to us in accordance with God’s will; in other words, their final purpose is meant to strengthen our faith in Him, and so we must bear them with patient submission.

We are to see all things that seek to separate us from the love of God through the lens of Christ’s own suffering upon the cross.  In other words, we are to see them as mere inconveniences, because nothing can diminish the saving power of Christ’s cross for you.

Even when those things or people seem to be an enemy much stronger than us, we must remember that our Lord has already defeated them through His life given upon the cross.  So, although our enemies, whether they be spiritual powers and principalities, or physical people who are simply being used as tools of the devil may seem more powerful that us, we must remember that God has allowed these attacks to come our way, and since they are ultimately under the control of Jesus and His cross, we must look at them as simply annoyances and futile, evil persecution that in the end will amount to nothing.

We are called by St. Peter in our Epistle lesson (1 Peter 2:11-20) to remember that we are simply sojourners and exiles in this world.  Our job then is not to win battles but we’re called to trust God and resist the enemy.  Our task then is to remain faithful to our Lord’s call of repentance and to daily receive His forgiveness of sins through His Son Jesus Christ, as citizens of His kingdom of grace.

In His Word, God continually promises us, His children of faith, both forgiveness and new life.  He promises us that His same divine love that saved us from our sins will also keep us and protect us from the evil that surrounds us, even if that evil may be within our own flesh.  As members of God’s kingdom and joint heirs with the Son of God, we saints are called to simply and quietly wait for the Lord; to wait for Him to decide when our day will be when we will depart this place where we are foreigners and move to our new home where are true citizenship lies; a place where we will inherit the riches of Christ’s kingdom; riches that we’re told we already possess here in this place but are not yet utilizing in their fullest sense.  And so we do that very thing, but as we wait, we do so with a holy purpose.

So now, let’s talk about why it is not the right time for you “to go home and be with the Lord.”

You see, it is God who has determined that we should still be living here in this world.  He has a purpose for our being here.  Before us there are “good works which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” [Ephesians 2:10]  In other words, God knows something of your purpose in life that you do not.  God has already both equipped and prepared you to accomplish things that must take place in accordance with His will; things that perhaps He will use to help someone understand Christ’s passion upon the cross and the truth and implication of His resurrection for them.

As the Lord gives us life, we are helped to believe that He wants us here for His purpose.  Even when all of our physical powers fail us, we are still able to contribute in a God pleasing way; we’re able to pray for others, prayer that God both commands and blesses, so that others may be blessed and strengthened in response to our prayers.

So it isn’t a bad thing when a mother wishes to live long enough among her children so that she may help them to grow in their Christian faith.  And likewise, it isn’t wrong for a man to pray for longer life because he feels he still hasn’t fulfilled his life’s work that God has called him to perform.

You see, it is these very works, which God has both clothed and equipped you to do long ago within in the waters of your baptism.  In your baptism, God called you to be a witness of His grace and mercy to others so that they too might experience that same thing.  Even if others mistreat you and speak badly of you, your life and how you live it will be a testimony to them of God’s work and presence in their lives.  And when God moves them to see this truth, He will also move them to see the ultimate truth:  They are sinful and lost for eternity unless they seek the same God of mercy who has saved you!

We Christians are called to remain faithful and serve God and our neighbor at the very place where God has placed us.  As we serve, God is ever working to ensure that we are able to withstand all kinds of mistreatment and neglect from those who live among us, simply because we find our value and worth not in them but solely in the Word and promises of God.

When the day comes when God will finally call us home, we will go thankfully through the gates of eternal life and into the joy of the Lord that is waiting for us in paradise.  But until that time, God’s time, we know that we haven’t been  dressed up with out a purpose and with no where to go.  Our purpose is to serve our resurrected Savior Jesus Christ, and we go where ever He has determined.  And as we go, we also wait.  We wait for the Lord’s will and we live equipped by Him to carry out what ever His purpose is for us in this foreign land.

St. Paul writes: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.”  [Philippians 1:21-25]  May God move our hearts to live each moment of our lives with this very mindset as we testify to all who will receive our message, that “Christ has risen, indeed!”  In Jesus name… AMEN!

The Cross Is Love

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 12A, August 31, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

NOTE: The congregation has just listened to this little ditty from Hee-Haw: Gloom, Despair, and Agony On Me!  Click here to listen.

Many of you here this morning most likely immediately recognized the song we just heard as one of the many ditties made famous from the 1970’s Variety Show, Hee-Haw!  And in your minds eye, you probably saw 5 or 6 men sitting down together in bib over-halls, wearing straw hats, with moon shine jugs in their hands, complaining about how terrible their lives are.  Now as funny as that idea is to us, it also is steeped in historical truth in our own lives and the lives of faithful men and women who went before us.

In our Old Testament lesson [Jeremiah 15:15–21], we find the prophet Jeremiah caught in the middle of a funk; a pity party so to speak.  And if we are honest, if we allow God to teach us this morning, we can see both our individual lives within that conversation between Jeremiah and God, an indeed our congregation.  Let me show you what I mean by that.

“Oh LORD, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors.  In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach.” Yes, of course He knows you, but do you truly understand what that means?  He knows all about you, both the good and the bad.  And as long as we’re talking about good, didn’t our Lord teach us that there is no one good except God?  So isn’t it fair to say that what ever goodness is in you, it is God’s goodness?  Well, I think you know where I am leading you with that thought, so for now let’s just agree to say, “Let’s not go there” ok?  Good, so let’s move on.

You have asked God to remember you and visit you, right?  Well that is a statement that operates under the false assumption that God has left you, or forgotten you; He has not!  Doesn’t His own Word assure you that He will never leave nor forsake you? So, if you can’t find God’s presence in your life, then granted someone moved out, but I assure you that it was not God!

Now, it’s what you say next that amazes me; you asked God to not only return to you but to take vengeance for you, against those you have named as “your” enemies; do I have that right?  But right after that you ask for His “forbearance” or rather, you ask for mercy for yourself.  Now, do you understand the duplicity in that request?  You are asking God to give you grace, an unconditional pardon for your sin, but for those who stand against you, you want Him to wipe out!  And as long as we are being honest here, if you have truly been serving God and not your own interests, and if you are experiencing turmoil in your life simply because you are a “good” Christian, aren’t your supposed enemies really attacking God and His expressed will through His Word; a Word that you are only repeating and living out?  Well, let’s move on…

Next you rightly state that His Words were found by you, and you ate them, and that His Words became a joy for you, in fact, how did you put it, oh yes, you said that they were the delight of your heart. Something strikes me as odd here.  Why are you talking in the past tense?  Am I to assume that the scripture, which states clearly that faith comes by hearing the Word of God, no longer is true for you.  Am I to understand that not only do you find God’s Word ineffective in your life, but in fact you no longer need the gift of faith that comes through that Word?  Now I am only asking because right after that, you said with a degree of pride I might add, that you are called by God’s name.

You say you are a Christian, right?  Because if that is true, then I will go back to the truth that I pointed out a moment ago, you are talking in the past tense; as if eating, drinking, and living out God’s Word is what you use to do.  Now, if you have given up your reliance on God’s Word, to claim that you are still a Christian is quite frankly a lie.  You see, God did not call you into faith out of the thin air and neither does He sustain faith that way, but instead He uses the means, or actual methods that He chooses, which exist in this world that we live in.  And His Chief Means of Grace is His Word.  It is called the chief means of grace because the other two are totally dependent on His Word.  Baptism is also His means of grace, but without HIS Word, it is just a washing.  The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, but without His Word it is just a snack.

Let me sum everything up for you. You didn’t sit in the company of blatant and public sinners and join in with them, because God’s Word was protecting you from the final result that comes from living under those things.  You weren’t ever voted most popular by that group, because God’s Word led you to live a life separate from their blatant sinful life style. You see don’t you, that God was using you for a higher purpose, right?  Ok, if you can see that then what you say next, or rather what you ask next, simply baffles me.  How did you put it?  Oh yes, “Why is my pain unceasing (and) my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” Do you hear yourself?  My pain.  My wound.  So, is this all about you now?  What happened to your belief and allegiance to your favorite Bible verse, John 3:16?  “What does that have to do with it?” you ask.  Good question.  Well, if  you believe that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” is true, then maybe this pain you feel, this wound you perceive has very little to do with you, but it is in fact something bigger, something very much beyond you?  Now we’ll flesh out that idea in just a moment, but there is one last thing you said that must be addressed by God Himself.

You said, and I quote, “Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” And to that God’s Word violently slaps you across the face and says… REPENT!  Turn away from your inward thinking, because it is not about you, and it never has been; it is about saving the world… every sinner that will turn to God’s only means of salvation.  If you turn to this one thing needful, then God will restore you; you will stand before HIM comforted and strengthened.  If you truly do consume His Word and allow it and only it to fill you, you will be able to speak precious promises of faith and not this kind of dribble, which in the end is worthless.  If you allow God to strengthen you, then all of these trials and tribulations that you have allowed to consume you and snatch your faith and joy away from you, will be of no threat to your relationship with the God who called you out of darkness into His light.  And that now takes us to the pain you feel and the wound that you say is incurable; it takes us to God’s only means of salvation for the world, and for you.  And that of course is…

The Cross of Jesus Christ. [Matthew 16:21–28]  God does indeed love this world of sinners very much, and that includes you.  He loves us all so much that He did the unthinkable, He sent His Son to live among us and die for us.  The Father gave His Son upon the cross; the cross of pain and unspeakable suffering.  Peter and the apostles didn’t understand, and I am afraid we still don’t understand the necessity of Christ’s death.  You see the incurable wound and unspeakable pain that we along with the prophet Jeremiah see as our own, are really those of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Through His Word you have been unexplainably intertwined with Him in a way, that His own identity becomes your identity.  By His stripes you have been healed.  Through His painful and atoning death upon the cross you have been saved.  By the washing of the water and His Word you have been cleansed through recreation.  Through His holy supper, at His table, you are refreshed and strengthened by His very body and blood.

From our perspective, looking back from today into yesterday, we can intellectually say a hardy amen to Christ passion and death upon the cross for us sinners.  Peter did not have our perspective.  He couldn’t see how a suffering Savior would help them in their time of need.  He wanted a Savior who would ride into Jerusalem as a conqueror and punish all the wrong doers right then and there. But that was not the mission that the Father Sent His Son to complete.  So when Peter had his heart set on a bloodless and “cross-less” way of salvation, Jesus responded to him in the same way He responded to Satan who tempted Him with the same offer in the desert, “Get behind me Satan.”  That is, “Get out of my presence with that talk of glory.”  Repent.

This morning, God’s Word calls each of us to turn to His cross, the place where He made atonement for the sins of the world.  It is there at the cross where we find not only Christ’s passion, suffering, and death, but we are also reminded in His Word, which recreated us within the waters of our baptism, that on the third day, He rose from the dead and ascended into His glory!  So…

If you wish to follow Christ into eternal life, He says to you this morning, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Do you hear the answer to your song of “gloom, despair, and agony?”  You must deny yourself completely; not just a part of yourself, some fault, some problem habit or desire, or some outward practice, but all of yourself.  You must die to your natural sinful tendency to protect your self-interests, which are things of this world and not the things of God.  A great illustration of this self-centered life style can be found in how Peter later disowned Jesus by saying, “I never knew the man (Jesus)!” But we are called to do the opposite; we are called by God to declare that we disown ourselves, completely. Now we aren’t talking about a self-denial in a self-righteous sense of the word but instead, a true conversion, a complete recreation of ourselves, the very thing that God declares was done for you in your baptism.

Your baptized new nature sees all the sin within you and all of the damnation and the death bound up in that sin and it instinctively turns away from it crying out to God for rescue and salvation through Jesus Christ alone. So, by a work of God alone through His Word, your sinful nature is cast out by you every day, and Christ has entered into your heart and stays as your eternal Lord and Savior.

So now, through the work of the cross and the washing of your own baptism, you live in this world, not for yourself, but for  Christ who died for you.  And the life you now live as one who has been crucified with Christ, is a resurrected life that daily dies to those old self-centered desires and rises up in new life to live to follow Christ where ever He leads, for His glory.

And as we follow Christ, everyday we are called to “take up our cross.”  And the cross that we bear, are those sufferings we experience because of our faithful connection to Christ. And what we find is that each of us as Christ’s disciples will have our share of suffering.

In our minds eye we see Christ, carrying his cross, leading the way with all of us disciples following behind Him, each bearing our own cross, like men and women being led away to be crucified.

But our journey does not end with suffering and death, just as that was not the end for Jesus Christ the Son of God.  Where He goes we follow; we follow through the suffering and like Him, our final destination ends in glory; it ends in God’s love for redeemed sinners.

Dear friends, even great men of faith like Jeremiah fall prey to doubt and despair. They are examples for us. If they fear, if they doubt, if they need encouragement, if they need admonition, if they need help, if they need the preaching of the law and the repeated assurance of the promises of God, how much more do we!

We may all expect to drink some of the same bitter cup as did the prophet Jeremiah. We all will need to be shocked out of our sinful stupor by God’s call to repentance. But with the Lord’s help we will find our way back to him, as did Jeremiah. From these experiences, both Jeremiah’s and ours, we are made more ready to be shining lights to others who also drift into the fog of gloom, despair, and agony. We have been there and have returned, so we may be able to help them return to God through Christ’s cross of love too.

The gospel promises of peace, comfort, and glory are not allusive nor is God’s Word a deceptive brook, as Jeremiah believed in the middle of fear and dark worry.  But rather, it is a glory that awaits each of you saints as you trod along following the footsteps of your Savior.  For sure there will be good times and bad times in this life.  But in the end, on the day we leave this veil of tears in a Christian death, we will discover the truth and certainty of Christ’s promise that was given to the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with Me in paradise!”  AMEN!

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  AMEN!

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 11A, August 24, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” [Isaiah 51:1]

Have you ever heard someone say something like this before?  “I’m not going to sit idly by and watch this happen.  Someone has to do something.  Things can’t go on like this!”  Maybe those words communicate your feelings about current events.  Let’s take a brief overview of just the last month’s headlines: The Ebola virus is killing thousands of people in west Africa; there seems to be no end to the violence in that small town of Ferguson, Illinois, due to a police shooting and racial inequalities; one of our brave Marines seems to be rotting away in a Mexican Prison for accidentally crossing the border with three personal and registered firearms; ISIS is killing Christians simply because of their faith… some are even being buried alive or hung on a cross like Jesus; and an American reporter in Syria was beheaded simply because he was an American.  Now, if none of these current issues have raised your anxiety, how about something more personal; something like: Why don’t your children go to church any more?  How about your current health problems or other personal problems that seem to be sucking the very joy out of your Christian walk of faith?

To all of these concerns and any others like them, God has the solution.  This morning He says, “Listen to Me and watch for me!”  Listen and look with faith and hear and see what I have done yesterday in the past, what I am doing today in the present, and then you will know what I will do tomorrow in your future!

In our gospel reading (Matthew 16:13-20) Jesus asked his disciples then as He asks us today a very simple question: “Who do you say that I am.”  He wants all people to seriously consider what we believe about Him.  Is He truly Emmanuel, God with us or was He just a great teacher and healer.  Now because you all have proclaimed by faith that Jesus is your Lord, I assume that each of you know and declare that Jesus is God.  Peter knew it, and he confessed as much with these Words: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And (to Peter then and we today) Jesus answered, “Blessed are you! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, on this rock (that is upon your faith in God your Rock), I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:17, 18]

This morning, I your pastor declare to you, that God, in the persons of Father, Son, and Spirit does not change; that is what he was yesterday, He still is today and will be forever.  Who is God?  He is Emmanuel; God with you and God for you.  To understand this we look back at Who God was in the past.  We follow our roots of faith backwards in time to understand who we are today, and who we will be tomorrow.

The God of Yesterday: This morning, even though you have doubts, fears and worries, God calls you His children; He calls you, those “who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD.”  Many times we don’t see triumph and victory in our walk of faith; we tend to focus on our troubles and apparent defeats, even when we truly are trying to please the Lord.  The faithful Jews who were taken away in exile from their native land felt the very same; they too had no sense of glory or victory.  Their homeland stood in ruins; they weren’t given any hope from their captors that they would ever return, but God spoke hope.  Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke certain promises that if received by faith would give the people hope; they would one day return.

You see the promise of hope God spoke through Isaiah, was based on the promise of hope that He spoke long ago to Abraham and Sarah.  Though they started out as two individuals, they would be united in faith and multiplied in number comparable to the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the beach.  From them, God promised to build not just a physical nation, but also a spiritual one; one that had faith in their God, who was their Creator, Provider, Redeemer, and Friend.

Since the first gospel promise given to Adam and Eve about the coming Messiah/Savior who would take away their sins and bring them back to Paradise, God’s faithful children have struggled with feelings of discouragement and hopelessness, just as Father Abraham and Sarah did; just as those held captive in Babylon did.  We like them have discovered that even though we are pursuing righteousness and trying to live a God pleasing life, we don’t see that many victories.  At best, we seem to have only fleeting moments of happiness, but then we often fall prey to guilt, fear, and doubt.  We are reminded that on our own, we truly are sinful and unclean; our sinful nature frustrates us to no end.  We wish we could take it off like a change of dirty work clothes, but we can’t!  It is part of us and it continues to plague us every day.  Like the Jews held in captivity in Babylon, we too need a Word of comfort and reassurance, and that is why God next encourages us to look, listen, and live in what He is doing for us today!

The God of Today: This morning, God calls out to you who pursue righteousness, and He says: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.”  This morning, God’s Word of hope, His promise connected to the very first promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and Sarah comes to you and it declares that today for you, this promise is fulfilled.  “Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the Light of the world. [John 8:12]  And it is “the light (that) no darkness can overcome.” [John 1:5]

You have been hewn from Him and by Him, and the proof is your proclamation of faith.  It is as true for you today as it was for Peter then.  Jesus is our Rock and there is no other Rock but Him, because Jesus is God.  We know this is fact because God’s law of righteousness, that is His work and Word of Salvation declares this truth to us.  By faith in our Rock, His Word tells us to see beyond the past; beyond the prophets and the promises of yesterday and see the fulfillment of His promises in your life today.  See the work of the cross of Jesus Christ, where His passion for all sinful mankind moved Him out of love to die for the sins of the world, and then allow your Rock to show you where you were first dug out.

In your baptism, Christ’s work for the world upon the cross, was made as atonement for you personally; there you died with Christ but you also rose with Him as a child of the Rock.  There you took your place along with Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Peter and the Apostles, and the countless children of faith that have gone before you, and you have been given divine strength to wait and trust in what God is doing both for you and through you.  What is that work?

Well, this morning He declares that His “righteousness draws near, (His) salvation has gone out, and (His) arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for (Him), and for His (mighty) arm (of salvation) they wait.” [Isaiah 51:5]  For some, God’s judgment is something to fear, but for you who wait by faith it is something to be anticipated with joy.  You are part of the Rock; you cling to Jesus Christ and trust in Him alone.  But as you wait, you may become impatient and feel that the injustices that happen in this world must be dealt with.  Again you may feel that God no longer cares about what is happening here.  But that is far from the truth.  You see, “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but (instead, He) is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish (in the coming judgment), but that all should reach repentance (and salvation).” [2 Peter 3:9]  Remember, that His salvation has gone out, and it is for all people who will turn to and trust in their Rock, Jesus Christ.  So…

Look to the God of Tomorrow. “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but (God’s) salvation will be forever, and (His) righteousness will never be dismayed.” [Isaiah 51:6]  While we still struggle with a spirit of impatience in the midst of tribulation and suffering, these Words offer us God’s solution.  Look up to your Rock in Heaven; by faith see Jesus Christ as your Champion and know that soon and very soon His work of judgment and salvation will be accomplished once and for all.  The very heavens above and the earth you stand upon with vanish like smoke and all evil, both spirits and people on that day will be judged and punished.  But you dear saints, you must never allow this tomorrow of judgment to discourage, distress or disappoint you, because God’s salvation, His law of righteousness has  enveloped you and it protects you.

Who do we say that Jesus is?  Alleluia, Jesus is our Rock!  He brought us out of the miry clay, and He placed our feet on the Rock to stay.  Therefor with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify His glorious name, evermore praising Him and saying: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabbath adored; Heaven and earth with full acclaim shout the glory of Your name.  We the church sing hosanna in the highest, we sing hosanna to our Rock… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and let the church say… AMEN!

Are You Listening?

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 8A, August 3, 2014

NOTE: The congregation first watched this very short video before hearing the Message.
We ask that you too watch this video before listening to or reading the message by clicking here.


Click here for audio of this message

“Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” [Isaiah 55:3]

This morning, God’s Word has invited you to come to His house and listen to His Word, and here you are!  Yes you’re here, but have you been listening?  Are you listening?   I hope you are, because our message is one that brings and sustains life; real life.  That is something only God can give, and He gives it in only one way.  Death on the other hand is something that you do not need to look for; you don’t need to ask for it, because it has already found you, and now it is just biding it’s time, waiting for the moment that has already been determined as your time.

One thing that is common with most PowerPoint presentations shown at many problem solving think tanks is the way they start out.  The lead slide will usually start out with stating “The Problem” to be overcome, and then the next slide will ask, “How Did We Get Here?” and then somewhere in the presentation will be a slide that initiates the presenters proposal, under the heading, “The Solution”.  And then finally, the presentation also includes “Words of Encouragement,” meant to move us to embrace the Solution.  So, why don’t we follow that format and see where it takes us.

I. The Problem: It is self evident, isn’t it?  The problem is we are all going to die!  Death literally is all around us, hounding every moment of our lives.  It has been that way ever since Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden.  Eden, a perfect place created for perfect people.  A place where there was no sickness or disease; no turmoil, suffering, and of course no death.  But something happened, didn’t it?  God’s people exchanged God’s truth for the devils lie.  So in came sin and death.  “Like taxes” we say, “death is unavoidable.”  It calls out to all of creation like a vendor at an open-air market saying, “Come here and sample my wares.  Don’t walk away from me; you know eventually I will claim you as a consumer, so why not enjoy your wait?”  All of us hear the siren call of death; people young and old, rich and poor, from celebrity to the homeless, from the president to the average Joe, we all must respond to death’s call; give him his due so to speak.

God’s people of faith are no different, are they?  We too hear that siren call, don’t we?  In our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah also comments on deaths call when he asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”   And that’s a good question isn’t it?  Why do we do things that are not God pleasing; why do we do them so easily?  And that takes us to our next question…

II. How Did We Get Here? Well, the answer to that was the same reason given in our explanation of the problem.  The same problem that Adam and Eve created is still our problem today.  We still have a desire to exchange God’s truth for the devil’s lies.  We still want to live in paradise, but under our own terms and rules.  Why is that?  Because we still live under the stain of original sin; it is in our very DNA so to speak.  We still hear the call of the devil inviting us to buy those things that are not life giving or sustaining; we still seek to satisfy our body but not our soul.  “Come and buy,” says the devil.  “But why” we ask?  And his answer is, “To make life a little more enjoyable with the little bit of time and life you have.”  And to our sinful minds, that sounds reasonable.  And to justify our purchase of those things, ideas, and life-styles that are not God pleasing, we tell ourselves “After all, nothing lasts forever.  You only live once, so I might as well enjoy it.”  And the devil laughs quietly and says, “Come, my child.  Come and live life according to your own terms, and you will experience life like you’ve never known it.”

But one day, perhaps sooner than you think, you will hear another call; the call of death.  When his whispered invitation of “Come” is heard, you will not be able to resist, and then all that you labored for, all that you valued as important will be in vain.  But this morning, we hear another call; a better call, and that call is the solution to the problem of sin, death, and the devil.

III. The Solution: God’s voice calls out to us throughout scripture and here in the voice of the prophet Isaiah, “Come everyone who thirsts (for peace and righteousness; for an assurance of an existence without fear or worry; for an eternity where there will be no more sin, death, nor the devil), come to the waters (the holy washing of God’s Word, where all of your sins and the devils traps are removed); and he (even you right now) who has no money, come buy and eat!  Come buy wine and milk (and all of the best things in life) without money and without price.”

This morning dear friends, God issues His invitation to everyone, not just to his Old Testament people, but to all people who desperately need His blessings; all who want to get back to Eden, to paradise lost. Just as Jesus invited “all you who are weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28), so the Lord God invites “all you who are thirsty.” Sin and death make us tired of the rat race we call life here, but they also make us thirsty for God’s blessings.

Because of the work of the devil, God’s voice, His invitation to come can get lost in this open air market we call life.  If we are not listening, it can be drowned out by all those other messages that are hawking the devil’s products. If we are not careful, we might begin to think that Christ and His church are just another vendor in life, offering one of many opportunities to be happy.  But unlike the world’s version of milk and wine, God’s version will never spoil or run out. He has spiritual blessings to dispense to everyone who comes, and he has a fervent desire to share them with everyone. And here’s the best part, not only are God’s products different, but they are also free. This wonderful invitation clearly speaks of God’s grace. No human can offer God anything for his blessings.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 14:13–21), Jesus offered an inexhaustible supply of earthly food to a hungry mass of people so that they would listen to the spiritual message behind the miracle; a message that would save their souls.  Sadly, many people today, like the crowds then, can not see God’s solution to their sin problem, because they have set their eyes on those things that only satisfy the body and not the soul.  And the result is that they still hunger and thirst; they still have no assurance that the whisper of death can bring them no harm.

IV. A Word of Encouragement: This morning, God calls us out of this illusion of the devil, and He tells us to come and buy eternal life, without money.  How do you buy without money?  Well, we dare not think that we can purchase the gifts of God by our own effort. We all know that God’s gifts cannot be earned; they are gifts “without cost.” God calls us away from every effort to earn what only He can give. St. Paul said it best: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). There isn’t a thing of value that we could place on the scales of God that would weigh enough to buy forgiveness and eternal life! Only the work of the Servant of the Lord, who “was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5), could earn the gifts of God, which are the forgiveness of sins, freedom from the power of the devil, and eternal life. These are the gifts that God only offers by grace. It is our own sin and the tricks of the devil that cause us to think we can earn these priceless gifts through something we do.

This morning, God tells us that the solution to our problem can only be realized if we embrace His solution: “Listen to me” He says. Now keeping with the comparison of this sinful world with an open-air market, the idea of listening suggests that we would have to pay attention in order to hear what we must do. But here God tells us to listen to what He has done. Listen to what God has said and done in His everlasting covenant and His steadfast love for David. Here, God tells us that this covenant flows from His faithful love promised to David, which originated in the promise long ago to Adam and Eve, and was repeated to everyone who followed and would listen.

Throughout our Bibles, God promises that the Messiah would come.  And then finally God promises that our Savior would come from David’s line (2 Samuel 7:11–16). God was not under any obligation to make such a promise, but he did it out of His pure undeserved love. And once God promises something, He is always faithful and does what He said.

This Son of David, the Christ is none other than Jesus, the Son of God, born of Mary from within the lineage of David.  He brings completion to God’s promise to King David that He would be an eternal leader and witness of God’s steadfast love and mercy. Jesus is David’s greater Son, and He is The Witness to the nations declaring God’s undeserved love.

Our Savior came from heaven to earth to dwell with sinful men.  But He did more than just dwell with us; He came to set us free.  He came to be lifted high upon the cross so that “everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). And He has come to save more than just a small Jewish remnant returning from captivity in Babylon. He came to call people back to the paradise that was lost, but now restored.  He calls all nations to come to him—even strangers who did not know Him as the One true God. The words of the gospel now draw all sinners in, and those same Words give them the ability to listen to Jesus their Savior and receive all of the promises of God.

This morning all of us have been gathered by God’s Spirit to hear the only message that will destroy the power of the devil, remove our sins, and silence the song of death.  This morning this message is meant to give you peace where others experience worry and fear.  This morning, you are invited to listen to the very same message that God first spoke to your soul within the waters of Holy Baptism: Through faith in what Christ has done for you upon the cross, you are saved!  Through faith, you still hear the Words of eternal life and you find assurance and purpose.  Through faith you are invited to approach the Lord’s Table, and receive His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, and then experience spiritual nourishment, the likes of which the world could never give.

My prayer for each of you is that you would continue to come to this place often; continue to listen diligently and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in God’s rich spiritual food.  And I pray that you would allow your ear to really listen to the voice of God declared in His Word here in this place, and then continuously come to Jesus so that your soul may live.  And I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Hidden Treasure, Indeed!



Sunday, July 27th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 7A, July 27, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”” [Matthew 13:52]

The central theme in all of our reading is found in Jesus’s statement in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 13:44-52), “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”  So, this morning’s message will explore that statement by answering three questions, which I believe are central for living the life of a Christian in the kingdom of Heaven, here and now.  But to answer these questions, you will need to be equipped and well trained by the Word of God.  So without further discussion, here are the questions: 1. How should every Christian treat the Word of God?  2. How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day?  3. Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

Are we ready to get into God’s message for us this morning?  Good, let’s go…

How should the every Christian treat the Word of God? Well, I tipped my hand a bit when I showed that video clip ( Click here to watch the video ) during the Children’s Chat.  The caption under the video asks, “Do you feel this way about your Bible and the Word of God?”  And I think that if we average Christians were to answer that question truthfully, the answer is “No!”  But why is that?

I believe that I can speak for not just myself, but also for many of you when I say that we truly do love Jesus and His Word.  Ok, so then why don’t we also have that kind of excitement when we open His book?  The answer is of course, because we do not understand just how extraordinary that Word truly is.  Isn’t it true that most of you have at least two or three Bibles in your home?  Isn’t it also true that most of you grew up in a home that had that many, if not more Bibles in your home?  Didn’t most of you grow up going to church and Sunday School, and didn’t you spend your formative years handling that Word?  So is it possible that both time and commonality have diminished your estimation of that Word?

This morning, Jesus tells us two stories or metaphors that are meant to correct our misconception of both God’s Word and His Kingdom; He speaks about a hidden treasure and a chance encounter with a “pearl of great price (or value).”  When we hear these stories, we think about incidents where people have accidentally found large sums of money, and after waiting for the owner to come forward, they are told by the authorities that because no one came forward to claim the money, it is theirs to keep.  Or maybe we think of those lucky ones who struck it big by winning millions of dollars after playing the lottery.  But this story is different, isn’t it?  The men in both stories had to spend everything they had just to get their hands on the treasure, and once they did, their lives were forever changed for the good.  I don’t know of too many incidences where lottery winners were impacted for the good; usually their money created a whole bunch of problems they never had before.  But Jesus’ story about the man who bought the field to get at the hidden treasure is different.  Why?  Well to answer that, we must understand the metaphor; the field represents one thing, and the treasure represents another.

In order to improve our estimation of God’s Word, let’s consider the field as a representation of our Bibles.  And within those Bibles, this field that most people take for granted is the greatest treasure you could ever receive, it is knowing intimately the very Son of God, Jesus Christ.  You see your Bibles are not given to you by God as some instruction manual that helps you live your life, but instead every page of your Bibles shows you two things, your need for a Savior and who that Savior is.

God’s treasure, which is the message of His Son Jesus the Christ, is indeed hidden, but it is intended to be found by you dear Christians.  Others hunt for this treasure everywhere, but you have found it; you found it with very little effort.  You see, God didn’t hide His treasure in a far off place in some philosophical realm where no one could even come near it, but instead he hid it in a common, lowly place, where it could be found by anyone who did not feel that the location of the treasure was beneath them because of their personal wisdom, pride, or self-sufficient attitude.

Now, let’s talk about this wonderful treasure that’s hidden within the field; within our Bibles.  The treasure is so great that the men in Jesus’s stories sold everything just to obtain it.  But they did not just sell all that they have, they sold it joyfully!  And when they finally obtain the treasure they rejoice, but not in their poverty but in their new found wealth!

The point of Jesus story is this: The Kingdom of Heaven has come to sinful men, and it comes in the Son of God who is also the son of man.  If there is anything at all that is standing in the way of you being drawn deeper and closer to Jesus, then that thing must be done away with so that you will be sure to obtain this great treasure, which is Jesus Himself.  If you truly understand this message, then Jesus says that you are like a “scribe (or a teacher of God’s Word), who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven, and you will bring out of (your) treasure (things that are) new and (things that are) old.”  In other words, through your discovery of the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price Jesus Christ, you have gotten your heart filled with all kinds of spiritual knowledge from the kingdom and the King, and you will be equipped to use it when it is needed.

Now, let’s add another dimension to Jesus metaphor, by allowing our Old Testament lesson (Deuteronomy 7:6–9) to guide us into our next question.

How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day? Well, let’s allow God to answer Himself, listen: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”  Friends, do you hear that?  You did not choose God, He chose you!  You did not find Jesus and the forgiveness of sins that is yours through Jesus on your own; no, Jesus found you!

Do you understand what this does to Jesus’s stories; to His metaphors?  It turns them upside down.  If you can accept this understanding, then the field is this sinful world, and the man who sells all that He has, is none other than Jesus Christ.  And you know what that makes you, don’t you?  You are the treasure!  Upon the cross, all of God gave great wealth to obtain you as His very own, but only the Son of God, Jesus Christ who is the son of Mary, gave all of His life to redeem you from sin, death, and the devil.

God the Father redeemed you through the life blood of His Son; He redeemed you from the curse of sin.  But the reason He did this for you has nothing to do with anything that is unique or good about you, but instead it was through His love, with His Son’s blood as the very ransom that freed you!

God is so serious about this truth, that He has swore it in an oath that He made to our spiritual fathers long ago.  He swore to Abraham to bless his seed and to bring blessing to the nations through his seed. [Genesis 22:16-18]  But that oath includes blessings for us as well.  It was kept, and still is being kept, through Christ’s work upon the cross.  So, know this today, that it is those of (us by) faith who are the (true) sons of Abraham.  And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you (that is in your faith), shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith, (that is those of us who have been found by Jesus and are resting and trusting in Him), are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” [Galatians 3:7]

Now, doesn’t that make you want to rest in God’s calling of faith?  Doesn’t that allow you to realize that it is He who began the good work in you that will complete it?  But you may ask, “How do I know that God has really began that good work of salvation within me?  Where can I turn for assurance that I am really His great treasure, and He is mine?  Well, why not turn to the very place that He began that good work in you… return to your baptism where He marked you and sealed you as His very own!  And that takes us to our final question to be answered.

Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment? Jesus answers that question in one last metaphor, when He says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.  So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matthew 13:47-50]

Friends, let me ask you a question, that if answered by faith, will also tell you whether you should be afraid of the final judgment.  Are you a good fish or a bad one?  Now before you answer, remember that you are Jesus’s own pearl of great price, and you are His valued hidden treasure.  He bought you with His own life-blood.  Do you believe that?  If you say yes, then why in the world would He ever allow you to be called bad?

But don’t just stop acquiring the wealth of God’s Word there, let St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (Romans 8:28-39) give you a little more data to base your answer on, listen: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” [v.28]  “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” [vs.31-34]  Friends, that’s called a hypothetical question, and you are to enthusiastically answer it like this, “No one!”  No one can accuse you of being damned and lost to judgment, because, “Christ died for you!  But more than that, He also rose from the dead for you.”  In His dying and rising, He shows you what is a done deal; a deal that was accomplished for you within the waters of your baptism.  Your old sinful nature was put to death, and your new baptismal nature that will one day rise up with a new resurrected body is not only how God sees you but, it is also how you are to view yourself!

You are a good fish, who has been caught in the gospel net of the church.  In all aspects of that net, you receive the hidden treasure of God, the message of Jesus Christ.  And within that message, which comes to you in both Word and Sacrament, you have discovered that you are God’s valuable and hidden treasure.  But, you are not hidden from God, you are waiting and resting within the gospel net, which is the church, along with many other fish; some are good and some are bad, but this morning Jesus says that is not your concern to worry over, you are simply to rest in the most blessed Word and will of God.

While it is tempting to worry about many things as we wait here for Christ’s return, we have been assured that God’s day of reckoning , that is the time of making all things right has not yet come.  As we wait, we also trust and follow Jesus as His very own disciples.  We wait both as people who have found a great treasure and, we wait for Jesus who will come to this world, and claim and acquire us has His own treasured possession.  Even though our life in Jesus and His life with us remains hidden now within His Word and Sacraments, we can trust in the great and final work that Christ has done for us.

When we trust in this work, and in this Word, we are indeed like disciples who are able to not only draw out wisdom from a great treasure store, but we become wisdom in action.  And that wisdom sees the wonderful faith, faith giving Word of God as great treasure indeed, and then it learns to trust and rest as part of that treasure.  AMEN!

Behold the Kingdom of God!

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

4th Sunday in Advent B, December 18th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

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As 2011 is coming to a close, there’s a lot to be thankful for, but there were also a lot of things that we might like to forget, and think of as a bad nightmare.  For instance, we are told that the peak in the foreclosures has not yet been experienced.  There are a lot of good people out there who will continue to lose their homes in 2012.

What started out as the American dream, has turned into an American nightmare.  I have personally met a lot of those good people who’ve lost their homes.  They’ve showed up in record numbers here at our church seeking help in our food pantry and our free community breakfast.  Each one, to the person tells the same story.  Their dream turned to a nightmare when they or someone in their household lost their job in the recession, and then were unable to find a new one.  As time went by, they were forced to choose between eating or paying the mortgage, they chose to eat, and so began the slow and steady decline to foreclosure!

Who’s to blame?  Is it the fault of the homeowner for buying more home than they could afford?  Perhaps.  Is it the fault of the mortgage broker and the banks, writing loans that they knew the perspective buyer couldn’t afford?  Maybe.  Or is it God’s fault?  God’s fault, why would I say that?  Well because more than a few of the people I’ve met have wondered out loud to me, why God allowed this to happen.  They wonder if God was trying to teach them something.

So is it God’s fault?  No, it was their decision to borrow or to give.  They were the ones taking the chance, hoping that God would bless their decision after-the-fact.  This is somewhat similar to the decision King David made, when he decided to build a house, a temple for God.

Since the time of Moses, the Hebrew people toted around the tabernacle of the Lord.  Although vast amounts of earthly wealth were used to create the tabernacle, it was still nothing more than a series of tents.  And now King David had just finished building his palace in Jerusalem, when he realized that the Lord’s Ark of the Covenant was still living in a tent.  So David gets an idea that he’s sure will please God: “I will build the Lord a beautiful temple!”  Now that he had the idea, David wanted to make sure that it would be blessed by God, so he found the Lord’s prophet Nathan and told him about his plan.  And what did the prophet say?  “Go (and) do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”  The only problem with this is, no one bothered to ask God what He wanted done!

So what did God want?  Well he wanted a home, but not one that David would build; He wanted a home that He would build Himself and establish by His own strength.  And this is where we discover that God’s no isn’t a bad thing, but a blessed thing.  It is the promise that something greater than we could ever imagine or think would be given in its place!

Now eventually, God did allow a house or temple to be built in order to worship Him, but it would not be a temple that could hold Him.  After all, He is God and He is present everywhere.  So while David’s son Solomon would be allowed to build, it would not be the building that would fulfill the Words of promise that came from God Himself.  Listen: “Say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, In all of the places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I (ever) speak a Word with (anyone), saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”  (Now) the Lord declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.  And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.  Your throne shall be established forever.’”

Do you hear God’s “no” in those Words?  But do you also hear His “just wait” in those Words as well?  So what happened?  Well David’s son, King Solomon was allowed to build a house for the Lord, and after Solomon there were a few more from David’s family who sat upon David’s throne, but like all earthly reigns, it came to an end.  And yet God said that David’s house and kingdom would remain forever.  Did God foreclose on the mortgage to David’s reign and throne?  No!  God is not a man that He should change His mind, and He’s not like a bank that He should foreclose.  Behold the Kingdom of God.  A kingdom that comes after God’s no and in the middle of His just wait!

“And the angel said to (Mary), “Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” [Luke 1:30-32]

Behold the mystery of God’s Kingdom.  Sinful man thinks that he can take a dream and build something that will cause God to bless him; something that will contain the good pleasure of the Creator of the universe.  And God takes that desire and turns it on its head and makes something that will save sinful mankind from their bondage of thinking, living, and dreaming independent, apart from Him!

God used the temple in Jerusalem, a temple that expressed the dream of all people that one day their God and Creator would be pleased with them and live with them.  And through that earthly temple He pointed to an even greater temple;  a temple of human flesh, created by God and occupied by God.  He used our flesh, created in the womb of a virgin through the work of His Holy Spirit.  And then He sent His Son to forever live in that flesh so that God could live among His people.  Behold the mystery of God’s Kingdom!  That Creator moved into and lived among the created forever!  That which is all powerful took on the form of a humble servant.  That which can not contain God does in fact contain God; all of God!  The God Who is the creator of all, took on the form of man so that He could save sinful man!  The flesh of sinful men and women would forever be redeemed and inhabited by God!

Are there any dreams in your life that you’ve been holding onto, waiting  so long for God to respond to?  Have there been dreams that seem to have been lost or foreclosed by God?  Maybe what you thought was God’s final no was really His wait and see.  Maybe, you’ve been walking by faith for so long that you’ve lost track of where you came from and where you’re going?  Maybe you’ve lost sight of your final destination!

So where are you right now?  You are in His Kingdom of Grace!  A Kingdom you neither built nor established.  A Kingdom where your God comes to you embodied in His Living Word and Sacraments.  You can see and hear these things, and you receive them but you can’t explain them.  They are a mystery to you, and yet within the mystery you know by faith that your God is really with you.  In these things you’re shown a crucifix like this one and told that our God who came to us in our flesh died for you, for your sins, and by faith you believe this.  In the waters of your baptism, you are told that you were given a life giving bath of simple water empowered by His Word and Spirit.  By faith you believe that not only is your Savior Jesus Christ really with you, but He will never leave or forsake you!  In the Lord’s Supper, you are given simple bread and wine and through His Living Word you are told and you believe that within those simple elements are Christ’s very body and blood; given for you and shed for you… for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  And within this meal God proves that it was He who began the good work of faith by coming to us in our flesh, dying for our sins, and inhabiting our souls through our baptism, who will complete that work, all while He and He alone is nourishing and strengthening your faith so that you can wait patiently to see God’s wait and see turn into an “I told you so!”

In our Old Testament lesson this morning there’s one important part left out of our reading, and it is David’s response by faith to God’s promise of building a house that will last forever.  Listen, because his response is amazing: “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?  And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant.  Is this your usual way of dealing with men?” [2 Samuel 7:18-19] The answer to David’s question is a resounding, yes!  This is always how God responds to His children whom He has called into His grace through Jesus Christ, by faith, through the power of His life giving Word!  God’s promise to build your house, to build your future is set on the solid foundation of His Holy Word.  You can’t afford this gift and you can’t earn it; but you can relax and celebrate it because God doesn’t foreclose.  While it’s true that He will allow you to walk away from this gift, He will never ever leave you nor forsake you!

So what is our response to all of this?  We simply cry out with the blessed virgin Mary and say, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.”  AMEN!

Behold Your God!

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

2nd Sunday in Advent B, December 4th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Isaiah 40:1-11

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What kind of God do we serve?  When we give a testimony about Him to our neighbors, what should we say?  Well listen to His own  Words and then behold your God: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her  warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

Not just once, “Comfort”, but twice, “Comfort, comfort.” So the Lord begins with a single repeated command; it’s a command to the  preacher of God’s Word, that would be me, and it’s a command to God’s ambassadors, that would be you. This command flows from the  mind of God, and God himself directed it to his messengers, messengers who will announce the good news of his love. God wants  everyone to hear this message. He claims all people as His own when He calls them, “my people.”  Think about that for a moment; after  all of our unfaithfulness, all our rebellion, all our sins, we are still his people. God remains our God; for us He is still faithful and  gracious, just as he promised to be: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and  faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6, 7).

What is our warfare?  It is our struggle to fulfill God’s Law.  It is realizing that because of our sin we can’t make things right with God.  But in order for our warfare to be over, in order to receive a double portion of God’s own comfort we will need to see our sin and want it removed; we need to hunger for His forgiveness; we need to receive it according to His terms and not ours.  Each of us must admit that we alone bear the responsibility for our hard life, the hard service that our life represents.  It was our own sin that separated us from God’s love and it is our insistence on atoning for that sin our own way that causes such warfare.

This morning God’s is asking each of us to agree with Him that all of our accomplishments, the things that we count as good are like grass and the beauty of wild flowers in a field.  The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it, when He calls us home.  Then all of our goodness vanishes as we stand before a perfect and holy God.

This was the message of John the Baptist as he lived his life proclaiming the way of the Lord; preparing the way of the Lord!

This morning, that same Word, that same message is crying out to us from the wilderness of our hearts: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Prepare the way of the Lord. To our sinful ears, this is a hard word to understand, because it sounds like God is asking us to do even more to earn His love; but that is exactly what He isn’t saying.  No, instead, He’s telling us that He will no longer let us do things our way.   To prepare the way of the Lord means to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s activity in us, so that He alone may be our source of help and pride; so that our lives and eternities will be one with His Son Jesus Christ. But how is this way prepared? What are the obstacles and obstructions we are to remove?  Nothing other than our own arrogance and pride. Those are the very things that prevent people from receiving the grace of Christ.

So how hard can it be?  Well to walk this way, you have to get onto God’s royal highway naked as a Jay bird!  You can’t travel with any merits of your own; you have to receive only the clothing that God provides!  You must be clothed only with His double gifts of grace and faith!  Your heart must agree with the psalmist and say: “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand,” (who could walk on your royal road to your royal kingdom)? “But with you there is forgiveness (there is grace and faith)” [Psalm 130:3]

Now, this is where all sinners equally stand at the edge of a cliff; they will either allow God to turn them away from certain death and see the beauty of God’s way, or they will ignore the way of the Lord all together and jump head-long into pride and an eternity of death.  Those who chose death hear the command to prepare the way of the Lord and say, “What more do you want me to do? I go to church every Sunday and I try to be good. What do you want from me now?” But what they fail to see is that if there is any doing to be done, it must be done by God.  They fail to see that the mountains and valleys that God wants leveled are in our own hearts.  Martin Luther said that the Mountains are saints, and valleys are sinners. As we stand before God all of us are the same without distinction, whether we are saints or sinners. In fact, you who are baptized are both at the same time!  This is the way of God; He levels the playing field.  But why? So that the gospel can be receive by everyone with the exact same assurance; God’s Word gives exactly what it promises… an eternal life of peace with God.  Before God all things must be leveled.

In God’s declaration of double comfort is the assurance that the Law has been fulfilled for us.  Our sin has been removed from us.  He is telling us that we have been set free from our sins, not by working and struggling but by the forgiveness that the Son of God, Jesus Christ provided for us through His suffering and death upon the cross. This is the continual message of God’s Word, which teaches deliverance from sins by forgiveness and grace; grace completely removed from anything we do or fail to do.  This is not the way of the world, but it is God’s way!  God’s way is the gospel, and the gospel doesn’t look backwards at the life we led, but it looks to Jesus Christ upon the cross Who and says, “Believe God, trust in God. For your faith receives forgiveness for sins.”

Faith is completely a gift from God.  It allows you to hear His Word and believe it.  It is a Word, which declares that you are no longer a slave to sin; you are no longer locked in the dungeon of fear and pain! Your hard service is over, not because you’ve earned it or because you’ve done your time and satisfied the law. No, your bondage is over because God has provided your release through his Son, Jesus Christ!

Jesus alone paid the debt, a debt caused by every twisted and perverted sin ever committed, even your sins!  Your debt has been paid off. Your sins are forgiven; they  were paid for by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

So as our reading says this morning, we have been paid double.  Not only have we been forgiven and promised to receive the blessing of an eternal life of peace with God, but we may also enjoy that blessing in the here and now, in this sinful world.  But you have been blessed to be a blessing to others.  How?  By speaking the gospel.  The gospel alone saves people from all sin.  It alone is what saved you, correct?  So the voice of God speaks to us this morning and says, Cry out!  You who have heard the good news and been freed from the bondage of your own sins, “lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, and do not be afraid; say to the people in your community, “Here is your God!”  See the Sovereign Lord born in a manger; see Him high and lifted up, crucified for you… for your sins.  He is the Sovereign Lord who is coming again with power and His arm rules for Him.  His arm is His Holy Word, and His reward and recompense is in the gospel for you.  Jesus died to save you!

Speak the gospel, and do not be afraid to give your witness, because that witness and the Word of God are the very power of God!  No one can become a Christian, no one can be saved unless they hear the Word of God and receive the gift of faith from God which comes through the hearing of His Word.

I’d like to close with a Christmas story that explains very nicely how God prepares us and puts us on His road of salvation.  It was Christmas almost Fifty years ago when a man named Rex was stationed in Korea as a young Marine lieutenant. His wife and new born daughter were home in the United States.

On Christmas morning the thermometer hovered around zero with several inches of snow covering the ground. Outdoor worship services were planned and Rex decided to attend out of respect and “to set a good example for the other men.” Nearly two hundred Marines turned out for the service. They sat on their helmets in the snow. They faced a small portable altar. The chaplains had no microphones, and the portable organ suffered from the extreme cold.

Something happened to Rex in that worship service. God broke into his life. He thought of all that was precious to him: home, his wife, his unseen infant child. In that moment as they tried to sing Christmas carols in the cold air he realized that knowing God does not depend on anything he has done or will do; it doesn’t depend on a building or nice clothes, instead knowing God is an act that God does in our hearts so that it can be celebrated and shared with others.” Far from home and loved ones, Rex realized that Christmas Day — in itself — is not important, but the faith it represents is.”

The truth is, God often breaks into our lives in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. He always does it through His Word and He does it through people speaking and sharing that Word.

Behold the mystery of your God; He comes to you in your own language!  Born as a baby in a manger; beaten and bloodied by the government and mocked with the words, “Behold your king!”  Crucified to silence Him, and now reigning with power and might!  Behold your God!  Behold the Lord God comes as your Savior who will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, (even you); he will carry (you) in his bosom, and gently lead to your eternal heavenly home.  Come Lord Jesus, come!  AMEN!