Posts Tagged ‘witnessing’

A Witness in Desperation and Hope


Sunday, June 18th, 2017

Second Sunday After Pentecost, June 18, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” [Matthew 9:36]

Here’s a saying that has been proven to be true over the years: The more things change, the more they are discovered to remain the same. This is especially true when we look at human nature, particularly that part of human nature that directly involves God, faith, and the church.
In our Old testament reading (Exodus 19:2-8) God promises the people of Israel that if they commit to obeying His voice (His Word) and keep His covenant (the Law) He will always look to them as His treasured possession among all of the nations on earth. He promised them that they, the people of faith, would be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. And how did the people answer? They said “Yes, we promise.” And what did the people do time and time again? They broke their promise, their holy covenant with the Lord… they sinned.

These children of Abraham deserved to be punished for their sin; they deserved damnation, and yet time and time again, in great compassion, God forgave them. Their hope in times of weakness, disobedience, and suffering was always in their Creator God’s compassion. This morning, I declare to you that both the plight and the hope of the Old Testament saints is also the plight and hope of the New Testament church; it is our plight and hope.

God is our only hope.

Although we have been given many blessings in our lives we often forget them and grumble against God in times of testing. And when we grumble we betray our God of compassion and put His mercy and grace to the test. When we fear that God has rejected us because of our sinfulness or lack of faith, we put Him to the test. All of this simply proves that we have rejected God’s covenant of mercy and we are seeking to find salvation on our own. But while we were helpless Christ died for us.

Although we have been chosen as his children through faith in Christ, by the washing of water and the Word in Holy Baptism, although we are continuously promised that each time we sin, we will find forgiveness by turning to Christ alone, we still grumble, disobey, and tend to live our lives as one who doubts these promises. It is in these times that God reminds us in His Word that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And because Christ died for our sins upon the cross, we are justified before God as holy and sinless, even though we have failed. By His death and resurrection we are saved!

But if we doubt God’s love for us as the godless do during times of suffering, sickness and disease, we will be tempted to see God as an enemy rather than a friend. If we will but become comfortable in God’s Kingdom as one who does not belong yet through Christ always belongs, we will receive God’s compassion in times of suffering and shame. If we will simply remember that while we were yet enemies of God, Christ died for us, well, then we will know true peace.

Through the work of God and through no contribution of your own, you are each here this morning because you have heard the proclamation of the Gospel. It is a Gospel that calls you to turn to Christ alone and be saved because the Kingdom of God is upon you! This is the very message that has transformed you and taken you out of the kingdom of fearful, disobedient grumblers and secures you in God’s Kingdom of grace.

You have been saved for a purpose. [Matthew 9:35–10:8]

You have not been put into God’s Kingdom to simply observe like a spectator at a sporting event, but rather you are in the field of battle to make a difference.

Since you are in God’s Kingdom it is wise that you understand just who you are facing in the kingdom you formally served. Your contenders in this kingdom of darkness are all those who will not turn to Christ alone. And along with them stand “every disease and infirmity” together with the “unclean spirits” who empower your opponents and seek to destroy your Christian faith.

Would it surprise you to know that the key to defeating those engaged in this battle against you is compassion? Yes, you are to see those who belittle you, disrespect you, and even hate you because of your Christian faith as lost and fearful sheep in need of a true Shepherd. Now this may seem strange to you, because in an earthly battle, showing compassion to an enemy dedicated to your utter destruction can mean death and defeat, but this is not an earthly battle. We battle against spiritual forces; powers and principalities. In this battle it is Christ’s compassion that upsets the opposition. That is the “good news” of the kingdom. Jesus’ authority, his clout to provide complete victory, is the curious upside-down power of a crucified Messiah and all the un-powerhouse terms that go with that, starting with “compassion.”

Matthew’s whole gospel can be read as the story of Jesus establishing authority over every enemy by putting himself under them all.

In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus called together His disciples and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles that is the godless, lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you (my disciples). Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (like me), and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” This dear friends is the mindset of a warrior within the Kingdom of God. It is the hinge text that defines our battle plan. These are Jesus’ own words about the authority model that He passes on to you his people. He continues to rule His Kingdom as we His disciples exercise the same upside-down authority in our everyday lives.

That brings us to the second item in the text that may come as a surprise.  It is every disciple (even you) who are given the marching order or commission to: “Go … and  proclaim as you go, saying ‘The kingdom of God is at hand,’ ” at hand, of course, here in Jesus.

If you recall, last week we heard the “Great Commission” given to all of the church. This week’s Gospel lesson occurred many months before that Great Commission was given. It was a commission given to the Apostles only. It was meant for them to experience and learn to trust the authority of Jesus, which is really the authority of God. The authority of God is needed for a warrior who fights in Christ’s kingdom. A short time after this sending out of the twelve, Jesus would also send out seventy two of his disciples with essentially the same commission. [Luke 10:1-23] When they came back they were amazed that even the demons were subjected to this authority. But Jesus warned them not to concentrate on the defeat of demons, but to be thankful that their names were written in the Book of life; they were to be amazed that God’s compassion found a way to transfer them into His eternal kingdom of grace and forgiveness.

And now in the Great Commission, God speaks to you the Laity. While you may not have been called to preach in a pulpit, you have been called to proclaim and witness to the coming of the Kingdom of God through the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins by faith in Jesus name, person, and work. So…

For those who tend to become bogged down in fear, worry, and even disobedient grumbling, Jesus demonstrates His compassion for you by inviting you to become proclaimers and witness of His compassion and Kingdom, by teaching you to find comfort and rest in His kingdom. But He does not invite you to be idle in your rest, He also invites you to allow Him to use you who have been saved by His Compassion by demonstrating that same compassion to others who also need to hear of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Your assignment then is to “go and proclaim as (you) go.” That means that wherever you go, Jesus has engaged you in the battle of proclaiming and witnessing God’s forgiving love. What should you tell them? Why not tell them of your own struggles with grumbling, disobedience, fear, and worry. Why not tell them that in spite of all of your failings and sins, you have discovered a saving God in Jesus Christ who always forgives. Why not tell them that you have discovered a Saving God who loved you just the way you were, yet He loved you too much to leave you in that condition. Why not tell them of a Savior who has given your life meaning by bringing you into His church, where your life has been given both a purpose and the strength to follow that purpose?

Dear saints, Who is in charge of your life? If you can say by faith, unconditionally that Christ is in charge, then He will do just that, He will take charge of your life when you go out from this place, and He will remind always to “confess him before people.” This then is how God works; He works through you and me, when we extend his compassionate kingdom to others by bringing his compassionate Word of repentance and forgiveness out into a world where there are other words demanding preeminence and in a place where other lords seem to be in charge. But when people trust that Word from Christ that you proclaim and offer them, behold the Kingdom has come. Just as on the cross Jesus “took charge” by the power of powerlessness, so in the weakness of our confessed words he does the same.

This is why Christ’s kingdom desires all of His disciples to be engaged and “proclaiming as we go.” And where do we go? We go into thousands of places where the pastor alone could not go or ever hope to get to. These places that you go to are the very places that God has authorized you His warriors to enter and break every chain and claim of destructive spirits, and take away the power of every disease and infirmity. In this way, God answers the second petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come.” He answers this request by sending forth workers into the harvest field; He sends you. May God continue to lead you as you go, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

Holy Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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


Click here for audio of this message

“Whoever desires to be saved must above all, hold the “universal” Christian faith.  And the “universal” Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [vs. 1-3 of the Athanasian Creed]

God is one.  There is only one God.  The one God has always existed from eternity as one God—and He always will!  God alone is eternal.  And to this, your Muslim, Mormon, and Jehovah Witness neighbors would say a loud AMEN!

Does it surprise you to know that the folks from these other religions will appeal to this very truth and then attempt to draw you away from your Christian faith? 

You see, in addition to confessing that God is one, our neighbors from these other religions also know that we Christians similarly confess something that they can’t agree with; we confess that God is love, in fact we say that love is the very essence of God.  Now your neighbors from these other religions will never deny that God loves but they will deny that this love is the essence of God.  Why is that?

Because, they will claim that if God can’t be God unless He loves someone, then God can’t be God without someone to love.  So how can an eternal-almighty God be dependent upon His creation in order for Him to be God?  They will tell you that although God does love, love can’t be God’s essence, because He is dependent on no one.  But this kind of faulty thinking about the One True God isn’t any better than the beliefs that come from people who worship many gods.  You see, there’s no difference between having one idol and half a dozen idols.  Idols are idols.  The god of these other religions is an idol.  The true God is one, but the mere acknowledgement of this fact doesn’t mean a person is worshiping the One true God.  You see, the One true God is also united within Trinity.  The only God who exists is the Triune God.  And any god who isn’t triune is not God because a god who is not triune cannot be love, and God is love.

Dear friends, please do not ever let any devil lead you away from this truth because it is crucial to your very salvation.  If God wasn’t love then he would not have suffered and died upon the cross for you!

The love of God is not an attribute that makes Him dependent on us. 

It is the eternally defining attribute of God that defines His very essence as God in regards to His relationship shared between the three persons within the One Godhead.  When we say God is love we are also saying that God could not be love unless He was Triune.  You see, there’s an eternal unity of love between the Father who begets and sends His unique Son who is begotten.  This eternal unity of divine love exists as well between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is sent from both of them. But as I said in the children’s message, this is far too high for us to grasp.  You see, how God relates within Himself is far too much for us to comprehend.  After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature!

While completely understanding God is far above us, we can know about Him by paying attention to what He has already revealed about Himself.  We know from scripture that the Father has begotten His unique Son on many occasions.  It was the Son and two angels who visited Abraham outside of Sodom and Gomorra to warn Abraham of the pending destruction of the two cities, so that His nephew Lot might be saved.  It was the God the Son begotten by the Father who took on the form of a burning bush so that Moses might behold some of the Lord’s glory and receive God’s Law that would teach Israel and the people of faith how to relate rightly to a Holy and loving God.  There are many more instances throughout scripture that demonstrate that God the Father begets or sends the One of a kind Son in order to accomplish the purpose of God, but for us, the best example is found in the Gospel of John: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]

Do you hear in those words how the Son is now forever begotten in human flesh yet He still possesses eternal glory, grace and truth.  Do you understand how together the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit?  It was God the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters in the very beginning of creation. He was sent by the Father and the Son, and together they created the heavens and the earth; He was sent by these Words: “”Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. [Genesis 1:1-4]  Like a marvelous symphony God’s Word’s of Love spoke forth creation and goodness.  It was an eternal love generated and sent from the heart of the One true God who has always revealed Himself in three persons.

But we must always remember that we can’t divide the person’s from the One True God or else we will lose His essence, which is love.  What do I mean by this? Well you see…

While it is the Father who begets His unique Son on Mission, and it is the unique Son who is begotten but not created, and it is the Holy Spirit who is sent together by the Father and the Son, there are not three God’s but One.

As One, the three persons in the God-head created everything together; together with one mind and one heart of love.  The divine mystery of God’s triune nature is this: As One they have always existed and since God does not change they will always be One in glory and majesty.  There is only One Uncreated, Eternal, and Almighty God.  When we pray to our Lord in heaven we don’t pray to three Lords, but rather we pray to one Lord because the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Three persons united eternally in One essence of love, which is God!

After all of this, I think that we all now agree that God’s ways are far above our ability to understand, so why am I talking about an eternal relationship of love into which you and I could never find our way?  Because…

God has created a way; He has brought His love to us!  In so doing He has established fellowship with us.  But in order to enjoy all of the benefits of this relationship (eternal grace, mercy, and peace with God and each other), we must also faithfully believe that God the Son was begotten, that is He alone, took on our human flesh.  He did this not because He needed to, but rather He did it because He is God, a God Who loves.  We will understand this truth if we can see how badly we need God’s love. You see…

We are the ones in need! 

We need God to come to us.  Although God’s voice declared all that He had made was good, it was our own sinfulness that has forever turned good into evil.  Think now, in the privacy of your own hearts, who among us has not thought or done evil already this morning?!  Isn’t it true that without help we could never stand before a perfect and righteous God!  There is not a single thing that we can do to save ourselves…we need God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.  And yet the punishment for sin is death, and that is precisely what it will take to pay for our sinfulness.  But as a true champion, our Redeemer God came to us begotten in our own flesh, and He paid for our sins Himself.  The entire God came to us.  Our creator wrapped Himself in creation, because only He could change our hopeless situation.

Listen to how God’s Word proclaims this mystery of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” [Colossians 1:15-20]

So why do I say that in Christ all of God came to us?  Because if you remember, we can never divide the essence of God; God always acts as one because He is one!  Now I know that once again, this is far above any of us to understand, but we must believe this truth because it is how God has revealed Himself.  Let me offer a crude representation that Martin Luther once referenced, and see if it might make this a bit easier to receive:
Before a wedding, there were three women in the dressing room putting a dress on the bride, who was one of the three and she participated as well with putting on the dress. We could say that all three were dressing her; and yet only one is being put in the dress. In a similar way, we see that all three Persons, as one God, created the one humanity, clothed the Son in this unique, one of a kind existence, and united it with His person, so that only the Son became man, and not the Father or the Holy Spirit, yet because God is One and not three, the Son who from the time of His birth as Jesus would now eternally be fully God and fully man.

Friends, it was this same Jesus who lived the sinless life on our behalf.  It was this same Jesus who allowed Himself to be put to death by sinful men.  He did not have to do this but rather He chose to suffer and die for us, because God is love.  Please hear me, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,(because it was your sins that compelled God out of love to suffer and die for you.  But be of good cheer), God (has) raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” [Acts 2:23-24]  By His stripes you have been healed.  By His suffering and death you have been released from the eternal punishment for your many sins!  By God’s love you have been saved!

At your baptism God’s work of re-creation was activated for you. 

There at the font, all of the benefits of Christ’s suffering and death were given to you.  The old sinful man or woman that was your identity at birth has now been put to death through His same Word of creation that was spoken “In The Beginning”.

This re-creation of life from death is now yours because of God’s own suffering and death through Christ Jesus!  Dear friends, do you see what a wonderful gift of love is now yours?  You have been freed from your former body of death and you have been given a new life.  Embrace and cherish this gift.  Live out this new life with certainty that it is yours!

As wonderful as this new life is and as sinful and undeserving as we may be, we must not doubt that this gift is ours, because it was given out of God’s love.  And yet when the troubles of life creep in, we do doubt, we can lose hope, and that is why Jesus hasn’t left us alone in life as orphans.  He promises that He and the Father are still with us in love, because He has sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son, because God is One!

It is the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to hunger for hearing and studying God’s Word.  It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to remember God’s saving love when we remember our own baptism.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates a hunger within us to gather at the Lord’s Table where we receive His very body and blood when we eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates in us a clean heart, which in turn moves us to come to God in prayer, asking first for forgiveness and then for all the desires of our heart, with the assurance that God hears us and answers us according to His will.

Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is united for eternity with the Father and the Son, and together they lead us by faith so that they may strengthen and grow God’s Church.  The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son propels all believers out into our community, armed with His Word and Sacraments, personal witness and Christian living in order “to convince the world concerning sin and righteousness.”
So Jesus says to yo this morning…

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I Jesus your Lord have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:19, 20]

Next Sunday we will look at this Great Commission of Jesus a little closer, and the why and how behind it, as He sends each of us out into the mission field. But until then, let us pray to the Lord of the harvest for love, peace, and wisdom.

Let us pray: “O Lord, teach us to love our neighbor as you love us, and lead on O Lord; make us one in missionary zeal as you are One—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  In Jesus name…AMEN!

The King’s Herald and Messenger

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

Advent 2-C, December 6, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

SORRY, NO AUDIO FOR THIS MESSAGE.

How do you feel about unannounced guests arriving at your home? I think most of us would agree that it usually is not a good thing!  If it’s a good friend or family member, well, ok—come as you are and we’ll take you as we are. But what if someone rather special—say your boss, the media, or maybe your pastor just showed up out of no where with no warning?

Sometimes, in the time of our Old Testament reading, leaders—and kings—would arrived unannounced; they wanted to surprise their subjects so that they could discover the truth. I think we would all agree that announced visits by anyone are always preferred.

Finally, two things are worth noting in relation to our text today. First, we need to understand the important role that messengers or heralds played; they were the individuals who announced the coming of the king.  And then we need to understand what it usually meant for the king himself to come visit his people.

Our Old Testament text this morning [Malachi 3:1-7a] begins like this, “Look, I am about to send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” [Mal 3:1]

Messengers were an important part of the way that the ancient world communicated. Long before the Internet and email, long before CNN or telephone and telegraph, even before the pony express, it was the feet of messengers that brought the important news. And the news was generally good. If it was bad, well, it wasn’t worth reporting, and the king usually didn’t want you to know about it any how. Of course, sometimes the news was not what people wanted to hear, and that’s where we get the old saying: “don’t kill the messenger.”

So we can say that the messenger came to “prepare the way” for the king. The Old Testament prophets used this image to prepare the people for the coming – not just of any king, like David or Hezekiah, but for the great and glorious “once and for all” King Who was yet to come.

Today we consider the words of Malachi, whose name itself means “my messenger.” You see, the prophets were also the “messengers of God” who not only prepared the way but also communicated the message from the King of the kingdom of God to His people of faith.

So in a sense Malachi is serving as a herald in announcing that another herald after him, would announce the coming of the king.

So now that we’ve been warned, how do we prepare? Both Isaiah and Malachi use language that describes clearing the road: getting rid of obstacles. Isaiah actually talks about a highway, like a superhighway that would provide smooth travel for the King; no traffic lights, no CalTrans construction, nothing in the way. But it was God who actually did the preparation, through his servants. The people were to simply anticipate the coming of their King.

And that brings us to a question that will lead us to the second important understanding: What did it mean for the king to come? Again, we need to think about this question with an Old Testament mindset. Kings marched home to their capital city in a victory parade; that’s just what kings did. Do you remember from last weeks message the close relation between the king and his city? This morning we think about the king himself coming home to his royal city. The grand processional included a good deal of pomp and circumstance. He was to be recognized and honored for whatever victories, conquests, and spoils of the nations that he was bringing with him. It was all about the king, and he did not come unannounced.

But did you catch the subtle little word in our text, “suddenly.” The whole point of this passage is about the messenger who’s only job was to prepare the way, and about people who were “seeking” their kingly lord. You would think they would be well prepared. Yet when “the Lord” comes, he comes suddenly.

So, dear saints, what are you expecting, now that the herald has announced the coming of the king? Victory? Triumph? The spoils of a conquering king shared with his people—or if not shared, then at least trickled down from rich to poor?

In Malachi’s day the people were expecting God to come and finally fix the problems of an unjust world.

They thought that the kingdom of God should be doing better than it was.  To them, God seemed to have somehow lost His vigor and power over the nations in the last few waning centuries.  So the people were waiting, they were wanting for something greater to happen. They had witnessed a lack of good leadership in their kings, and even the devotion of the people seemed to be dying or dead.   And now the priests were losing their edge, taking any old sacrifice as long as it came with money to fund the temple or grease the palms of the priests. Many people had lost their trust in the way of God, and they were just going through the motions; if the priests simply did the ritual, they thought they’d be fine, no matter how they chose to live their lives, attended to their marriages, families, and vocations. The way they looked at things, was that God was certainly big enough to accept a wide variety of spiritual practices and conduct!

But “suddenly” the whole scene seems to shift from a joyous occasion to pending gloom here in our text. The eager expectation of the coming king is met by the sudden and striking question: “who can endure the day of his coming?” Something seems terribly wrong here. The king was supposed to bring the wealth of the nations, whether gained justly or not, to his kingdom. The enemies were the ones who should be punished for practicing injustice; they knew nothing about good and evil, but these heralds are saying that the punishment would begin right here within the king’s  kingdom! And those who wanted justice – well, they were going to get it. And those who thought God should reward their self-­‐‑asserted goodness in a better way, well, they are going to realize that they’re not as good as they thought they were. And those who thought that God should punish evil, well, they are going to find out that the evil they want punished is a lot closer to them than they thought; it’s within their own hearts!

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap” (this was long before ivory was 99.44% pure and gentle!). And he will purify the sons of Levi, yes starting first with the corrupt priests and leaders, but then moving on to the common folk and their weak and pathetic sacrifices and offerings.

And you see, this is really a good thing! It might not be what we expected, or even what we wanted, but it is what was truly needed. “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord—purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean!” (Ps 51:10, 7).

What could be worse than thinking you’re doing all the right things, when you’re not? What is worse than telling God how to be King, when he is King, and you are not? Do we want to be clean or just “blessed” in our mess?

Yes, the King is coming, this Lord whom we are seeking. And He has a few surprises for us, and for everyone, when He comes. But he is not coming unannounced. John the Baptist made sure of that (actually it was God working behind the prophet, who was his messenger, remember, to prepare the way). John had some hard and harsh words to say, too, as we heard in this weeks Gospel reading. [Luke 3:1-14]

And just behind John came Jesus Himself, but he didn’t come like other kings; no, He came as the very Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. And it is this very truth that completely separates Jesus from all other types of kings and leaders. You see, the message that both John and Jesus brings isn’t about conquest and victory; it isn’t about distribution of wealth and physical blessings; it’s a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. If we are to have justice, then it will come by God’s mercy and through his grace. Our sins will be paid for, but not by you or me.

The Lord, whom we are seeking, came to his people. They wanted justice, and he gave them justice; he exposed their sin, yes, our sin, but then he let our justice be done and paid for by His own suffering and agony, as He, through His life-blood and death paid for our sins himself.

The Lord, whom we are seeking, came to his temple. At one point He even mimicked the king’s triumphant entry, but it was a parody; He came upon a donkey and not a steed; He came in a procession leading sinners and rag-a-muffins rather than the king’s parade accompanied by warriors. A procession that eventually continued down and out of the city He had entered, and then up a steep hill called Golgotha.  Why, you ask?  Because He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom, for YOU.

And then, but only then, came the victory parade: not into the city, but out of the tomb!  He came to those hiding in an upper room, scared of the world out there! And then, He went out to Galilee, back to Jerusalem, and sent His peculiar people of faith, His redeemed sinners and rag-a-muffins He calls Christians, out with a mission and message to herald his kingdom to the end of the earth.

And then he left, but He WILL come again. Will his return be unannounced? Certainly not!  God used Malachi, and then John, as his messengers, his heralds the first time Christ came. And now, God wants his coming to be announced again. We know he is coming, soon, even though it may well come “suddenly.” But he has announced it. And He asks us announce it, too.

Advent is a time of preparation, for the coming of the King has been announced. “Hark, the herald angels” we will be singing in another great announcement very soon. We are waiting for His arrival. It is the Lord that we are seeking. Our expectant hearts turn to the preparations at hand. Repent, for the kingdom of God is, indeed, at hand! AMEN.

God Is Love!

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“Whoever desires to be saved must above all, hold the “universal” Christian faith.  And the “universal” Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [vs. 1-3 of the Athanasian Creed]

God is one.  There is only one God.  The one God exists from eternity as one God.  God alone is eternal.  Would it surprise you to know that there are many other religions that will agree with you?  In fact, they will appeal to this very truth in an attempt to draw you away from your own Christian faith.

You see, in addition to confessing that God is one, we Christians also confess that God is love, in fact we say that love is the very essence of God.  Now these other religions will never deny that God loves but they won’t agree that love is the essence of who God is.  They will argue that although God loves, love can’t be His essence, because that would make Him dependent on someone, and God depends on no one.  But this kind of argument is false because it ignores the very essence of God.

The true God is indeed one, but just believing in this fact doesn’t mean a person is worshiping the true God; for you see, the one true God is also united within Trinity, and within His Triune nature God is love.  The only God who exists is the Triune God.  Any god who isn’t triune isn’t God because a god who isn’t triune can’t be love, and God is love.  Dear friends, please don’t ever let anyone lead you away from this truth because it is crucial to your very salvation.  If God wasn’t love then he wouldn’t have sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die upon the cross for you!

God’s love isn’t an attribute that makes Him dependent on us, but rather it’s an attribute that defines His very essence as God in regards to the relationship shared between the three persons within the One Godhead.

When we say God is love we are also saying that God could not be love unless He was Triune.  You see, there’s an eternal unity of love between the Father who begets and generates the Son who is begotten.  This eternal unity of divine love exists as well between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is sent from the two of them.  But as I told the children, this is far too high for us to grasp.  After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature!

Dear friends, while completely understanding God is far above us, we can know about Him by paying attention to what He has already revealed about Himself.  We know from scripture that the Father has generated or begotten the Son on many occasions.  It was the Son and two angels who visited Abraham outside of Sodom and Gomorra to warn Abraham of the pending destruction of the two cities, so that his nephew Lot might be saved.  It was God the Son generated by the Father who took on the form of a burning bush so that Moses might behold some of the Lord’s glory and receive God’s Law that would teach Israel how to relate rightly to a Holy and loving God.  And it was God the Son who appeared to Isaiah in heaven and out of love sent Him to preach repentance to Judah.

There are many more instances throughout scripture that demonstrate that God the Father generates or begets the Son in order to accomplish the purpose of God, but for us, the best example is found in John 1:And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]

Do you hear in those words how the Son is now forever generated or begotten in human flesh yet He still eternally possesses eternal glory, grace, and truth.  And together the Father and the Son send the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit.

It was God the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters in the very beginning of creation. He was sent by the Father and the Son, and together they created the heavens and the earth—He was with these Words: ““Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. [Genesis 1:1-4]  Like a marvelous symphony God’s Word’s of Love spoke forth creation and goodness.  It was an eternal love generated and sent from the heart of the One true God who has revealed Himself in three persons.  But we must not divide the person’s from the One True God or we will loose His essence, which is love.  What do I mean by this?  Well think of it this way: While it is the Father who generates or begets, and it is the Son who is begotten but not made, and it is the Holy Spirit who is sent together by the Father and the Son, there are not three God’s but One. As One, the three persons created everything that there is together.  The divine mystery of God’s triune nature is this: As One they have always existed, and since God does not change they will always be One in glory and majesty.  When we pray to our Lord in heaven we do not pray to three Lords, but rather we pray to one Lord because the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Three persons united eternally in One essence of love, which is God!  So why am I talking about an eternal relationship of love into which you and I could never find our way into?

Because friends, God has created a way—He has brought His love to us!  In so doing He has established fellowship with us.  But in order to enjoy all of the benefits of this relationship (eternal grace, mercy, and peace with God and each other), we must also faithfully believe that God the Son took on human flesh.  God did this not because He needed to, but rather He did it because He is love.  We are the ones in need!  We need God to come to us.

Although God’s voice declared that all that He had made in the beginning was good, it was our own sinfulness that forever turned good into evil.  In our natural condition, there is not a single thing that we can do to save ourselves…we need God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.  And yet the punishment for our own sin is death, eternal separation from God’s love.  But as a true champion, our saving God came to us in our own human flesh and paid for our sins Himself.  In Jesus Christ, all of God came to us.  Our Creator, out of His love for us, wrapped Himself in creation, because only He could remedy our hopeless situation.  Why do I say all of God came to us?  Because, remember, we can never divide the essence of God.  God always acts as one because He is one.

Friends, it was this same Jesus who lived a sinless life on our behalf.  It was this same Jesus who allowed Himself to be put to death by sinful men.  He did not have to do this but rather He chose to suffer and die for us, because God is love.  Please hear me, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,(because it was your sins that compelled God out of love to suffer and die for you.  But be of good cheer), God (has) raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” [Acts 2:23-24]  By His stripes you have been healed.  By His suffering and death you have been released from the eternal punishment for your many sins!  By God’s love you have been saved!

At the baptismal font God’s work of re-creation was activated for you; there at the font, you were “Born Again!”  All of the benefits of Jesus’ suffering and death were given to you.  The old sinful man and woman that was your identity at birth has now been put to death through His same Word of creation that was spoken “In The Beginning.” This re-creation of life from death is now yours because of God’s own suffering and death through Christ Jesus!

Dear friends, do you see what a wonderful gift of love is now yours?  You have been freed from your former body of death and you have been given a new life.  Please, don’t take lightly what God has done for you.  Rather, embrace it and cherish this gift.  Live out this new life with certainty that it is yours.  We must not doubt that this gift is ours, because it was given out of God’s love.  And yet when the troubles of life creep in, we do doubt, and that is why Jesus has not left us alone in this life as orphans.  He promises that He and the Father are still with us in love, because He has sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son, because God is One!

It is the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to hunger for hearing and studying God’s Word.  It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to remember God’s saving love when we remember our own baptism.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates a hunger within us to gather at the Lord’s Table where we receive His very body and blood when we eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates in us a clean heart when we hear the sweet words of absolution, which in turn continually moves us to come to God in prayer, knowing by faith that He hears our confession and will always forgive and love us.

Dear friends, because God is One and God is love, and because we are called into fellowship with Him by love, then we are also called into the fellowship of His Mission to seek and save those that are lost and dying, separated from His love because of sin.  When we cry out in confession like Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a sinner, and I live in the midst of a society of sinners,” God in His love for us, through His Holy Spirit, touches our hearts with the Gospel, and says, “Behold, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” [Is. 6:4-8]  And by the work of the same Spirit, God speaks to our hearts and asks: “Whom shall I send, and who will go out to the world for us?”  And by the work of the same Spirit we are moved to respond, “Here am I!  Send me!” [Is. 6:8]

Note two remarkable truths. First, the Lord wants to send someone to speak for him. The question asked, “Whom shall I send?” is for the benefit of Isaiah. God wants to send a human to speak for him. God could have sent the seraphs who sang in the heavenly temple, but that isn’t His choice. Instead, God desires to send a creature limited not only by flesh and blood but also by sin. Isaiah had just confessed his sinfulness just as you have done, yet God wanted to send him.

The next amazing truth is the willingness of Isaiah. He responds without hesitation, “Here I am. Send me!” The same person who just a moment ago was terrified because of his sin is now exhibiting courage, and he gladly in embraces his call to go for the Holy One of Israel. What caused this transformation? The very same work that God wants to do in your heart; forgiveness and the realization that God wants to use us like He used Isaiah, produces the reply. Forgiveness has worked a miracle inside the prophet. Courage replaced fear. Willingness replaced a sense of unworthiness. God has worked this miracle “to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). And Isaiah volunteered without knowing anything about his call. He simply expressed his willingness to go no matter what tasks the Lord had in store for him.

Friends, the mission of the church is your mission!  It comes from the heart of the Father, and from the Son who is the very message of the mission. This message, which you have been given is nothing less than the good news about the incarnation, suffering and death of Jesus Christ for everyone.  The message is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  [John 3:16]

If the source of mission is God the Father and the message of the mission is God the Son, then what part does God the Holy Spirit play?  Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is the very power of God’s mission.  MISSION IS HOLY SPIRIT POWERED!

What this means for us is that God’s mission can’t fail because He is the very source, message and power of that mission.  God has invited you to work with Him in His mission.  For you see, God desires to use simple means to perform mighty miracles in order to confound the supposed wisdom of the devil and sinful men.

Along with His Word, God uses simple water, bread, and wine, and He chooses to use you and me!  He uses us when we speak His Word and give our witness to our neighbor.  And who is our neighbor?  Anyone that God puts in our daily lives!  Won’t you give it a try?  Won’t you tell others about your love for your One True God who exists in both Trinity and Unity?  Tell them how you were saved at the baptismal font.  Tell them how you grow in His Word every day, and how your faith is nourished here at His Holy table!  Why not invite a friend to come with you to church.  Don’t worry, you won’t be alone when you do these things…remember, you’re on a mission with the rest of us, and that mission is powered by the Holy Spirit!

Well this morning dear friends, we have learned that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united together as one in love; in love for each other and their love for us, and together they lead us by faith so that they may strengthen and grow God’s Church which is centered in His love.  And to this truth let’s bow our heads and pray:  “Teach us to love our neighbor dear Lord as you love us, and lead on O Lord, and let us be one in missionary zeal as you are always One—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  …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!

I See Dead People!



Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 6A, July 20, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ” [Matthew 13:28b-30]

The video clip that you’ve just watched is from the movie, “The Sixth Sense” starring Bruce Willis.  And the dialogue that specifically illustrates our message today, are these words: “I want to tell you my secret now.  I see dead people” says the boy to Malcolm, Bruce Willis’s character.  And Malcolm asks, “In your dreams?”  No the boy answers.  “While your awake” Malcolm asks?  “Yes” says the boy.  “Dead people, like in graves; in coffins” asks Malcolm?  “No” says the boy.  “Walking around like regular people.  They don’t see each other; they only see what they want to see.  They don’t know they’re dead.”  Malcolm asks, “How often do you see them?”  And the boy answers, “All the time.  They’re every where.”

In deed, there are walking dead all around us, and they do not know that they are dead; dead in their sins.  They think that they are alive and well; some will even tell you that they are blessed and hoping that they are living a God pleasing life.  They are so consumed with living their life style that not only do they not see each other, they can’t see God for who He really is.

In our gospel reading (Matthew 13: 24–30, 36–43) this is the situation that Jesus faces as He teaches the crowds; His listeners are dead in their sins and they don’t even know it; they don’t want to know.

Now it’s true that within the crowds of people, there were also true disciples of Jesus; they knew that through Him the Kingdom of God had broken out in their midst, so they clung to every Word that came out of Jesus mouth, but sadly, they were the small minority.

Most of the folks had come to see a miracle; just like people are drawn to the Side shows at carnivals today, they too were drawn to Jesus out of curiosity and the desire to see something mind blowing.  And among them were also the Pharisees.  They were the teachers who were suppose to help the folks know God, but most of them were just as dead in their sins as the people they were called to teach.  They could not see Jesus for who He really was, because they would not see that they were dead in their sins.  And because they could not admit this and find new and eternal life, they could not help turn the people’s eyes to God’s only source of salvation.  In essence most of the folks remained tightly trapped with in the bondage of death.

And yet, Jesus still teaches them; He still speaks Words that offer and give eternal life.  He says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” [v. 43b]  But hear what?  Hear that through Jesus the Christ, God is acting and reigning in the midst of men and women who are dead in their trespasses, in such a way that He is bringing them new and eternal life.  But, God’s way of breaking in and reigning as Lord and Savior comes in a way that most people will not expect, in fact many even find it unsatisfying and unfulfilling.  So the message of “The Parable of the Weeds of the Field” that Jesus taught to the curious, was a message that said the Kingdom of God was with them right that moment, but not yet in the way that they might expect, or desire it.  But the message also communicated that very soon, in God’s time, things would be much different, but for right now, this humble teacher who is the Son of God in human flesh, is all that you get.

There are many people today who, like the folks in Jesus’s audience then, just don’t want to hear this message.  Why?  Because they don’t want to wait!  And the sad truth is, they are being led by teachers and preachers who don’t wont to wait either.  They are the ones who teach that you don’t have to wait; you can have the glory, power, and good times right now, if you just have faith; faith in what they are teaching that is.  This message is in complete opposition to Jesus message that guaranteed us that, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart” Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33]  So our hope is right now, yet it has been deferred for a little while until God acts.  Those of us who rest in this hope by faith, are the ones that Jesus calls “good seed!”  We are the wheat.  But planted right beside us are a whole different kind of plant; a weed called a “darnel”.  This kind of weed looks like wheat, but it is only a weed and not fit for anything but burning.  So here is the question that Jesus’ audience was to ask themselves and allow God to answer: “Am I good seed or bad seed?” If they had ears to hear and were listening, God’s law was meant to break down their pride and realize that apart from a miracle from God, they were bad seed.  Then and only then, would they be enabled to come to Jesus hungering for the gospel, the forgiveness of sins.

But I trust you saints who are gathered here this morning have already answered that question.  You have already received the painful blow of the law and have been restored by the healing balm of the gospel.  You know who Jesus is and you have become accustomed to waiting on God’s time.  You dear saints know all to well that the devil is alive and active in our midst; you too have even met some people that you would swear are “bad seed” or dead men walking.  And you may be tempted to root them out, but Jesus who is our Good Master within the parable says to us… “No, not yet!”  He tells you not only that you might inadvertently up root good wheat along with the weeds, but He says that the time to act is at harvest… that is the time of the final judgment.  That is the time when “the Son of Man will send His angels and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  But what are we to do until then?  We are to wait for our faithful and gracious God and His time.  We are to wait by faith, and it is in that faithful and grace-filled waiting that we “shine like the sun in the kingdom of (our) Father.”

And while we wait, God’s means of grace continues to strengthen both our faith and our resolve to agree with St. Paul in our epistle lesson (Roman 8:18-27) that our present suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (at the resurrection of all God’s saints who rest and trust in Christ alone).  But we do not wait alone, do we?  No, Saint Paul tells us that all of creation waits along with the church “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” which is the time of final judgment and then reward for all who are the true “good seed.”

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves (who have seen both the agony and the beauty of the cross; the place where God dealt with the sins of the world once and for all through the blood and sacrifice of His Son who is also the Son of man, Jesus Christ).  And through the Word of God, our eyes of faith have been turned from a life destined to be bad seed, and instead through the washing of the water and the powerful Word of God, we have been declared good seed!

So while we wait, we who have the first fruits of the Spirit (that is the gospel promises of God’s Word), we wait eagerly for the promised reward of our adoption as God’s sons; that is we wait for the redemption of our bodies, the resurrection of the dead and eternal life.  It is in this hope that we are saved!

And as we wait, God invites us to see just who we are resting and trusting in.

In our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 44:6-8), we hear these Words, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Dear friends, there is no God like the God of Scriptures.  He says that so wonderfully in these Words, “Apart from me there is no God.”  God does not desire that any of you should have any doubt of that truth; it was so important that God the Son Jesus Christ came to us Himself to make this truth undeniable.  And yet, sinful hearts still resist that truth.

So to quell all doubts, God has issued a challenge to those who trust in other gods and other messages that claim to be the gospel.  He challenges both the devil and those who teach and believe in a false gospel to match His abilities, specifically His power to care for His people who existed in the past and present, and to predict what will happen to His people in the future.  The God of Scriptures is a God of action.  He does all things for the benefit and the strengthening of faith for His people.  This morning God says, “If you are so wise and powerful you supposed lords and teachers, then do what I do; foretell your actions before they take place, and then allow each prediction that you claim has been fulfilled, to be verified!  Can any god created by sinful human imaginations, or can any false teacher of those gods do that?  No, dear friends, they all remain silent.

And yet your God dear church, is till acting on your behalf.  He is still creating and sustaining faith, which waits and trusts in Christ alone.  He alone assures you dear children that He can continue to care for you and sustain you as you wait for Him.  He assures you that He alone is your Rock; He alone has brought you out of the miry clay of your sins, and He alone will one day restore you in full glory.

This morning God’s mighty Word assures you not to be afraid or tremble.  In Jesus parable, you see that God agrees with our assessment that there are indeed dead people all around us, but it is not His will that they would remain dead in their sins, but that they would repent and like you, become good seed as they along with the church wait for the return of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the dead.

Yes, we are to wait a little while longer, but we are to focus our eyes not on the dead but on the Word of Life, Jesus Christ.  Alleluia, alleluia, Lord to whom else would we go?  You alone have the Words of eternal life.  Help us we pray with a strong faith that gives bold confidence and hope built alone on our King, the Lord Almighty, our Redeemer, the First and the Last.  He alone is our Rock, Jesus Christ… AMEN!

The Cross and the Yoke!

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 4A, July 6, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” [Matthew 11:28-30]

This morning, God has chosen to reveal a great and wondrous mystery to you… if you have been worn down by life, if your labors have seemed to zap you of strength and the joy of life, come to Christ and He will give you rest.  If you seem to be trapped by life circumstances and bad choices, come to Christ and He will give you rest.  But more than that He will set you free from the strongholds of your life and transfer you from a stronghold of hopelessness and death into a stronghold of joy and eternal life.

Are you ready to experience this?  Good, then all you need do is allow Jesus to place His yoke upon you; that is you must allow His life giving and life changing Word to transform and renew your mind, and then, you will have rest for your soul.

Now, before we get started remember this one bit of advice:  As you are listening do not allow the allure of the world to take your eyes off of Christ and His cross.  What ever the world may have in abundance will be forever lost, but what ever you may lose in this world because you follow Christ, that will be added to you in abundance on the day of Jesus Christ.  You can be sure of this, because Jesus Christ your Savior, your brother, and your God has assured it through “the blood of God’s covenant (His promise) with you.”  He has, He is, and He will set you free!

The invitation: This morning, Jesus shows you that the yoke that He places on you and the cross that you are given are in fact one and the same.  Now people who have set their hopes and hearts on the promises of this world and our sinful society will at once cringe and turn away from this kind of talk; they will say, “Why would I want to follow a Savior who only promises me hardship and pain?”  But that is a defective question; it is disingenuous.  Jesus does not promise only pain.  Pain is something that everyone experiences in this world; it goes hand in hand with the disappointments of sin.  So pain is always a reality in life, along with the fact that people and life will always disappoint you, but God will never disappoint.  What ever He promises you, He seals it as fact with the great AMEN, which is the very lifeblood of His Son Jesus Christ and His cross.

Supposed Wise and intelligent men and women who focus on only this physical world can not accept this promise of God’s blessing, because they can not accept the cross; not Jesus’s cross or their own.  They are filled with their own ideas, and so God finds them already filled and satisfied, and He can give them nothing.  They are those who say, “The idea of God is dead.” But you who gather this morning, are to be like infants, because you realize that you lack everything; you know that on your own you are empty and the world and society cannot fill you.  You are the poor that mourn and are meek; you hunger and thirst for righteousness.  You who have nothing will one day, on the day of Christ be given everything by God. [Matthew 5:3-6; Philippians 3:8]  You are those who can declare with certainty that, “God is not dead.  For I have tasted His presence and He is good!”

Dear friends, please know that this invitation is universal; that is it is for everyone, everyone who is willing to come like an infant and depend on the care and promises of our Heavenly Father.  Each of you who have responded to the invitation, must now also hear of the intent of God.  God the Father desires to place upon you the yoke of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Yoke: If you find yourself drawn to Jesus with His invitation to come to Him for rest, then you have experienced the desire and power of God to draw all men unto His Son for eternal life. [John 12:31, 32] And it is that same power of God that will allow you to receive and live under the yoke of His Son that is placed upon your shoulders.  That yoke that He places upon you is faith to believe that God alone is your ever-present help; He alone is able to complete the good work of salvation and eternal life within you; and He alone will never leave nor forsake you.  The yoke that is placed upon you is meant to disconnect you from the load of guilt and fear of sin, death, and the devil, which the world gives, and instead place upon you the yoke that His Word alone places upon you; a Word that connects you to Jesus Christ. It is a yoke that always involves a strong declaration of faith in God’s presence and work in your life.  When we live under the yoke of God, we can declare happily, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him,” I also believe that in His Word and the message of the cross, God has called me to His Son, and He alone enables me to follow the way of the cross.

So what is the way of the cross?  It is the only way to find real rest; rest for this present life and the eternal one to come.  It is knowing that through the cross alone, you have a God who is for you and not against you.  It is knowing that you are God’s true child and an heir to the kingdom of heaven. [John 1:12-13; Galatians 3:26; Romans 8:17]  It is the assurance that your rest is even attended to and protected by holy angels. [Hebrews 1:14]

On the other hand, as we live our lives of faith, we acknowledge as God’s children that the high dignity of being a Christian is not fulfilled in this world; that is it is not displayed in a way that sinful flesh can understand.  Rather, the same humility and lowliness that was displayed in the life of Jesus Christ should also be displayed in a Christian’s earthly life.  And this imitation of our Lord, this bearing the burdens that God through our lives places upon us or allows to be placed upon us, is called the cross of a Christian.

Now those who reject Christ and His cross also have burdens and sorrows, but only the sufferings of Christians are called a cross.  What you dear Christian suffer as a Christian, as you live out your faith in Christ alone in this sinful world, that only can be called a cross of God.  If you follow Christ and confess the Gospel of Christ crucified, who is a stumbling block to the religious and an offense to the educated elite, you WILL receive the same treatment from the world that Christ and His dear saints before you received.

You have by faith through holy baptism, been forever connected to the cross of Jesus Christ; that is the burden He has placed upon you and it is also your own cross.  Your cross then is to be forever bound together with the Christian faith and the Church.  This is most certainly true, so true that who ever refuses to bear this cross of faith should no longer claim to be a Christian.

So, how should we view this cross that is ours to carry? Well, the truth is that if left on our own, our sinful flesh would consider this cross-bearing a burden to heavy to carry.  By your sinful nature, you are led to think that when the world mistreats you and you suffer because of your faith and desire to worship God as He leads you, you are not receiving what you should as God’s own child; as an heir to eternal life.  You may even be tempted to think that God has forgotten you or that He is against you.  But this way of thinking is a trick of the devil, and unless those kinds of thoughts are defeated and destroyed, you run the danger of loosing your faith and abandoning your eternal home in heaven. [Luke 8:13]

The only way to combat this faulty view is through God’s own means of grace.  The Word alone is able to create in us a new and clean heart; a heart that by faith understands that all things work together for our own good, because we love God and are called according to His purpose and not ours.  Scripture alone instructs us that we should not neglect the meeting of the saints, that is God’s Divine service in this place because it is there that He fills us with His gifts of faith, peace, and hope.  Scripture further instruct us that when we suffer because of our confession of faith in Christ by Word and works, the cross is for us a great testimony of the Holy Spirit’s power and work in our lives.  That is, how we live under our cross is a divine testimony to the world and the devil that we are not of this world; we belong to Christ.  Or, as St. Peter has said, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” [1 Peter 4:14]

So then, what is the purpose of the cross?  How does the cross benefit us? The cross in its simplest form is God’s way of leading Christians through this sinful world into eternal life; it is how God brings you to the place that Jesus has gone to prepare for you. [John 14:3]  It is the very thing that gives strength and proves true the words of scripture, which declare that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”  But those same scriptures also bring us strength and a proper perspective to our cross, by saying that, He who “raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present (us) to himself. [2 Corinthians 4:14]  And, that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” [2 Corinthians 4:17]

But how can we have the strength to bear our cross? God’s Word teaches us that the strength to bear the cross comes entirely from His assurance that all of our sins are truly forgiven and we have already been given eternal life.  It is only you dear Christian who can experience the promise of God’s glory in a time of trouble; it is only you who will not perish in times of danger, suffering, sickness, fear, and pain.  It is only you who will bear it because the very promise of Christ empowers your faith.  What promise is that?  The assurance that His “yoke is easy and His burden is light.”

Dear friends, what can be lighter than a burden that unburdens sinful and fearful hearts?  What is lighter than a yoke that bears the bearer of a cross?  Hear this dear Christians, Christ’s burden does not oppress, threaten, or demand a thing from you.  In fact it makes the load light and itself bears the burden along with those of us who are under the load.

Perhaps there is no greater load to carry than the load of sins past, present, and future.  “Come unto me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest.”  That is He removes that burden of sin, so that you may continue to live your life by faith in what He did for the entire world upon the cross, and for the gift that He gave to you in Holy Baptism.  You are free, forgiven, and equipped for a purpose.  That purpose is to glorify God in thought, word, and work.  On one hand you struggle under the cross of acknowledging your sin and you say along with St. Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” [v. 19]  “(Oh) wretched (person) that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  But then also with St. Paul, the truth you declare and the life you live in service to God and your neighbor declares, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [vs. 24, 25]

Dear friends, God does not want to attack or torment us, but the devil does, and he cannot stand your dependence on God’s Word and your faith in Christ.  There is nothing he hates more than our faith in God’s Word. It is only the Word of God that exposes him, and leaves him nowhere to hide. The more you are in God’s Word, the more the devil will attack you.  He will use your friends, family, employer, and even the government as tools to trick you into abandoning the promises of God and the gifts of hope and strength that God gives to you in His Divine Service here at Christ’s church.  But be of good courage and do not give an inch, because Christ fights for you, and His very Word assures you that Christ and His cross have overcome your enemies, your own grievous sins, even your own death, and especially the devil.  AMEN!

The Cross!


Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 3A, June 29, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” [Matthew 10:38]

What does it mean to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?  This morning we will explore that very question by looking at both our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 28:5-9) and our Gospel lesson (Matthew 10:34-42).  But before we get started let me share a more contemporary example of a man that both identified his cross and even bore it with great strength and dignity.

On May 13, 1940, Winston Churchill addressed the British parliament as he was about to become prime minister. Hitler’s troops had already invaded Poland, and they had just begun their Blitzkrieg advance into France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. War was crashing upon the world as Churchill stepped into leadership. And unlike so many politicians, Churchill did not promise a bright, optimistic future; he held out no hope of speedy victory or early peace. Instead, he electrified the parliament and unified his country with these famous but difficult words: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” No politician today would campaign on a slogan like that.  But Churchill was a truth teller.  He called a thing what it was.

In our Old Testament lesson, we see that very same honesty and sincerity from the prophet Jeremiah.  If you remember last weeks lesson, Jeremiah had confronted the leaders of Israel with a very sobering message: God was angry with the sin of the nation; they had embraced false worship practices and even foreign gods, and as a result God would soon punish the entire nation, by allowing it to be defeated in war and exiled into Babylon.

This was a hard message for Jeremiah to declare, and yet it was the very message of God.  What else can a true prophet of God do but declare the very Word that God has given?  So a true prophet, like a true Christian always speaks only as God has spoken; he calls out something for what it is; he calls a thing what it is, just as God does.

This truth telling was an unthinkable dilemma for the Israelites; could it be true?  Is God really against His own people?  Was He now taking the side of the godless Babylonians?  “Yes” declared the prophet Jeremiah, “on account of your unrepentant sin, you will pay the consequence of that sin.  But God will not abandon you; you will never be alone.  God desired that the leaders and all of the people repent, and turn to his mercy, and His forgiving love.”

But, hard messages from true men of God always leave room for false messages from false prophets.  In essence, it pays to tell the leaders and people of a nation what they want to hear.  The people name their desire and the prophet claims it.  And not only that, he assures the people that they too, may claim the promise of glory and comfort for themselves, all in the name of God!  And that is exactly what the false prophet Hananiah did.

When Jeremiah smashed the clay jar demonstrating how God would destroy the nation of Israel, Hananiah, the leaders of the nation, and the people were incensed.  But when Jeremiah next came among the people and the leaders wearing a wooden yoke, and declaring that just as the yoke was upon him, God would allow the Babylonians to place the yoke of slavery upon His people, Hananiah sensed his opportunity to ingratiate himself to the populace, and he sprung into action.  He snatched the yoke off of Jeremiah’s shoulders, smashing it to pieces, and declared, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon.” [Jeremiah 28:2, 3]

So Jeremiah prophesied times of pain and suffering, but God promised that in the midst of it, the people of faith still could find joy and assurance, because God was still with them; He promised current comfort and future blessing, in the midst of hard times.  But the false prophet Hananiah promised that not only was God with them now, but He would also give them blessing and glory in the near future, by defeating their enemies.

So which prophet do you think the people chose to follow?  Now, I know myself, and you know yourselves and the way all of our sinful neighbors are as well, right?  Had we been there, we would also have chosen the message of Hananiah.  We would have turned away from the path of pain and embraced the promised path of peace and glory.  To borrow the tone and expression of a certain law firm’s television commercial regarding structured settlements, “It’s our glory and we want it now!”

And to all of this confusion, Jesus speaks very clearly to us with these words from our gospel reading: ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  A sword?  Isn’t that a bit violent coming from Jesus?  Isn’t He the Son of God, the Prince of Peace who brings peace to all He greets?

Yes, all of that is true, indeed. But “upon the earth” takes in the world of sinful men, and the effect of Christ’s coming. That is to say that His mission among sinful men and women, is the opposite of “peace,” namely, He comes to make war; spiritual war against sinful flesh, which is exactly what the “sword” symbolizes.  So in this great contrast Jesus is saying that peace in the sense of harmony, which we hunger for is not what His presence brings to this sinful world, rather it brings a sword, or division among sinful men and women and those who repent by turning to Christ and those who refuse.  In other words, if Christ didn’t come to save the world from its sins, the earth would remain undisturbed and ignorant of its sins and guilt, until that is, the day of its doom; the day of judgment. But Christ did come to take away the immense sin and that guilt; He came to die upon a cross and make atonement, payment in full for all sin.

So, at once a real war results with the coming of this Prince of Peace, because perverted men and women still want to cling to their sins, that is they want peace and comfort, wealth and blessings now, without the cross, and without the pain and suffering.  So they fight Christ and His gospel.  They desire the resurrection without the cross.  They desire commitment and personal decision instead of the blessed promises and work of God that is given at the font in our individual baptisms.  And hear now a great truth, Christ foresaw this effect, even in us today, and He even willed it to be so.

This morning, Jesus says to us, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

What is your cross that you must bear?  It is the same cross that Jeremiah bore; it is confessing the very Word of God just as He gives it to us in Holy Scripture, without change.  It is calling a thing what it is; knowing and speaking to those things that are sinful and those things that are God pleasing and glorifying.  It is living for God’s glory and not for your own peace and comfort in this world, because you know that while the physical world of pain and sorrow is but for a moment, the joy and wealth of heaven that you will one day receive is eternal.

Jesus once said that “In the world you will have tribulation.” But then He also said, “take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  The tribulation that we face in this world when we cling to Christ alone will be conflict.  Conflict with our own sinful flesh, conflict with our neighbor, and even conflict with our own families.  When we stand for Christ we also stand against sin, and when we stand against sin we are by nature standing against those who cling to it rather than Christ.  If we shrink from our stand in Christ, that is if we reject the cross of confessing Him alone as Lord, we have then conversely taken the side of the false prophets and their theology that says we can have the glory that is reserved only for God and the saints in heaven, right now!  And if we do this, Jesus clearly says that we are not worthy of Him.

Dear friends, Christ is to be so precious to us that not even those we love will be able to draw us away from Him and His church.  No suffering or shame should ever be able to repel us from Him.

If this message has made you uncomfortable then allow it also to bring you peace and comfort with the promise of future and eternal glory.  This morning, Jesus says, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Jesus has paid for your sins upon the cross with His own life-blood.  He has defeated the devil, undone his deceptions, by unveiling his lies of promised glory in this world.  He has shown you the truth, and more than that He has given you His peace.  He has turned your eyes off of the promises of the world and demonstrated to you the certainty of the promises of your baptism; complete forgiveness of sins is yours forever, if you will but trust in Him alone.

Now while it is true that you receive all of this with a degree of tension, it is not so great a tension that God’s peace cannot overcome it.  The kingdom of God, the promises of His gospel, and the promise of his glory are yours right now, but they have not yet been revealed.  For now, for a little while you must hold on by faith, and trust that all things, even divisions between those closest to you will in the end, work together for your good.  And as we wait, we humbly follow our Lord and His wonderful cross, as we carry our own.  Like the people who Jeremiah preached to, we too must wait in exile, in a foreign land of sin, but we can take heart, because our Savior and His cross have overcome the world, and He promises to never leave us nor forsake us as we carry our own.  AMEN!

A Love Without End… AMEN!



Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 2A, June 22, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

I want to start off our message with a quick question: “What is there in your life that you can show to others, which proves that God loves you?”  Many of us may be tempted to point others to blessings in our lives, such as the love of family, health, a good job, money in the bank, or something else that is good, which gives us comfort and peace.  But if that is how you measure God’s love for you, doesn’t that mean that Christians who do not have the love of family, good health, a good job, or money in the bank can not be certain of God’s love?  What about when the things you call blessings vanish and life is hard, does God still love you?

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, the prophet Jeremiah continually wrestled with thoughts like these.  He was a prophet not unlike the other prophets who went before him, in that he was called to declare a message from God that was not popular with the people of God; it was a message that spoke of God’s displeasure with His people’s sin.  It was a message that foretold of God’s discipline that was coming soon; a discipline that was meant to move sinners back to their forgiving God.

Like the other prophets, Jeremiah was directed to use symbolic acts, which accented both the message and the work that God was preparing to perform among and to His people.  Our text this morning (Jeremiah 20:7-13) follows on the heals of one of those symbolic acts.  Jeremiah had just smashed a clay jar in front of the leaders of Israel with the message that proclaimed that as he had smashed the clay jar, so too, would God smash the nation of Israel on account of their sins and their falling from faith.  How did they fall from their faith?  By allowing and following foreign worship practices among them, and even by embracing foreign gods.  Seven chapters later, Jeremiah would confront the civil and religious leaders by wearing a wooden yoke on his shoulders.  This act symbolized Israel’s political submission to the Babylonians; it foretold that just as Jeremiah was yoked like a beast of burden, so too would the Israelites be taken into Babylon in captivity, as slaves.  And when it happened, all of God’s people were to know that God alone, both allowed it and caused it to happen as His way to turn His people’s hearts back to His love and care.

But God’s message to His people is not just a message for the future, but also a message for the present; that is, it is a message for the here and now.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, God is telling all of His people to turn away from any hope that they have placed in their sinful leaders and foreign gods, which is both the reason and the source of “terror on every side.” Instead, they were to turn to Him alone as their source of comfort and assurance.

Now some may wonder, what kind of comfort and assurance can be found in a message that foretells of punishment?  And the answer is that even in the middle of hard times, God is promising His children that He is there with them; you are not alone nor abandoned!  But how are we similar to Jeremiah?  How can his lessoned learned help us?  Well let’s examine that question next.

We can imagine that Jeremiah’s message was a difficult one for him to share, right?  His message to those who continually reject God’s presence in their lives had to be one of bitterness and grief, bordering on despair.  Jeremiah had to be looking at his fellow countrymen and even family, and he had to be grieving.  Why?  Well, God’s forgiving love for him had changed him and filled him with a love for other sinners; a God given love.  In the end, Jeremiah’s grief was too much for him to carry.  Does this sound familiar?  Don’t we too have that same grief for children, parents, friends and neighbors who constantly seem to reject Jesus sacrifice upon the cross and the gift of grace that is given in Holy Baptism?

Like Jeremiah, we whose love is deep grieve deeply.  Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, we too grieve like Samuel, who mourned for King Saul who fell in death, separated from God’s love (1 Samuel 15:35).  Like Jeremiah, we too are prone to grieve like St. Paul, who would have wished himself cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his fellow Jews (Romans 9:2,3).  But I think that the best example that demonstrated and surpasses Jeremiah’s grief, is the grief of our Lord.  Jesus, the Son of God grieved when approaching Jerusalem, just before His death upon the cross, as He looked at it and wept, because it did not, and for many would not recognize Him as the only means of eternal happiness; the only way to approach a righteous God. [Luke 19:40-44]

Like Jesus, Jeremiah grieved because all of his preaching seemed to have failed to produce repentance or any kind of faith into the hearts of those he loved.  Try as he might, none of them seemed willing to receive the message of God’s punishment, but also a message of mercy and grace.  As he experienced the people’s growing and bitter opposition of the message God had tasked him to proclaim, he learned with great sorrow, that God’s law does not bring peace, but more wrath and punishment. [Romans 4:15]  He learned that the law of God drives unrepentant sinners deeper into sin and creates a  ferocious hatred for God.  Jeremiah learned to his sorrow, that for some people, even family members, the promise of God’s mercy, that is His forgiving love through the gospel, becomes the smell of death. [2 Corinthians 2:16]

In his struggle with grief, the prophet Jeremiah became angry with God, and accused God of tricking him.  Perhaps you too, have had that same experience with God; and experience that seems to befall you just because you love Jesus and His gift of grace, and feel compelled to share it with those you love, only to have them reject both the message and your love for them.  It hurts, right?  Maybe, you too like Jeremiah have complained to God that despite all of your witnessing and mentoring of Christ’s love, not one of your invitations to help others know Jesus like you do, has seemed to produce any results?  Maybe you have already experienced the reality that Jesus had predicted in our gospel lesson: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise agains parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my names sake.” [Matthew 10:21, 22a]

Now, while we may not be delivered over to death, to have a family member or loved one avoid you simply because you are a Christian, who can’t help but witness to Christ’s forgiving and life giving love, can be a pain that feels like death.  Jesus promises us that if we endure this pain and do not give up our hope in Him, we will be saved.  But how do we endure through what seems to be unendurable?  We pray and claim God’s promises of life and eternal hope!

Like Jeremiah, we too might be tempted to abandon our hope in God’s promises fulfilled in Christ, or we may be tempted to become a “closet Christian” and just keep our faith to ourselves.  But Jeremiah tells us that if we do that, we will just experience what he experienced when he tried to stop preaching.  He could not do it, because the Living Word of God within him overpowered him and compelled him to speak.  But that Living Word within him also compelled him to do something else; he was compelled to speak to God in prayer; to call out to God for help and strength.

You see, deep down Jeremiah knew that he was not alone.  The Living Word of God, who is the very Son of God attends and helps us just as He attended to and helped Jeremiah; He keeps His promise that He will never leave nor forsake us.  Just as the Lord was Jeremiah’s ever-present help in times of trouble, so too He is yours.  Our Lord would not allow Jeremiah to be overcome with evil or grief, and He will not allow you to slip away either.

Just as our Lord came quickly to help Jeremiah, He promises to respond to your cries for help as well.  Like Jeremiah, we not only may call out for help from God Himself, but He also promises to respond just as He did with Jeremiah.  And when God works within our spirits and we discover that we are not alone, we too will be moved to praise God through the work of the Gospel, that is the forgiveness of sins and the presence of God and declare: “Praise The Lord!  For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of the evildoers.”

Dear friends, how do we know that God loves us?  Because His Word tells us so.  No matter what life circumstances may communicate, God’s message in His Word is always one of love; a message that says you are not alone!

When you feel like giving up or taking a break from your faith, take a moment in prayer and ask God the Father to help you through His Word, to remember the depths of His love, not just for you, but for your family members, closest friends and neighbors.  Ask Him to help you remember His passion for sinners; a passion that is so deep that He sent His only Son to die for each and everyone of them.  And then continue to pray to the Heavenly Father who loves you for the ones you love; continue to point them to the cross of Jesus and the waters of Holy baptism, where they like you, may also experience the divine love without end… AMEN!

You’re one of Jesus’ little lambs?!

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Easter Sunday 4B, April 29, 2012 (Good Shepherd Sunday)
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” [John 10:16]

So you’re one of Jesus little lambs are you?  You’re a Christian?  Really?  You guys are just as messed up as I am; why would I want to  follow you?  What have you got to offer that’s better than what I already have in this messed up life?

Have you ever had someone say something similar to you, or have you ever been afraid that they would say something like that if you  tried to share Jesus with them or invite them to church?  Did you know that fear of rejection and humiliation are two of the biggest  reasons Christians give for not sharing their faith?  Did you know that not sharing your faith is a lot like being a fruit tree that won’t bear  fruit?  And what should we do with a fruit tree in our yard that takes up space, uses valuable resources like water and fertilizer, but year  after year it refuses to do the very thing we bought it for?  That’s right, we’d  chop it down, dig it out, and plant one that will give us  fruit!

Did you know that every day you give a witness to your neighbors, family, and friends, whether you want to or not?  The real question  is what kind of witness are you giving?

Let’s look at the hypothetical questions that I started our message off with and see if you could give an answer and a witness to our antagonistic neighbor.

“So you’re one of Jesus little lambs are you?”  Yes, I suppose I am a lot like a lamb, or maybe even a goat.  Neither one of them are very smart.  They are dirty and not the brightest animals in the world.  They wonder away from the group and their shepherd whenever something catches their eye or draws their attention.  And that’s not a good thing, because the wolf is just out of their line of vision, waiting to kill them and eat them.  Oh yeah, and like me, sheep don’t see very well either.  But that’s just talking about sheep when they are outside of the sheep pen.  You see, I’m also a lot like a sheep who is supposed to be resting safe and sound within the pen.  Their shepherd is standing at the gate protecting them.  He’s the door and will never let any wolves enter and hurt the sheep while they are in the safety of the pen.  But their pen has little escape areas in it, and a dumb sheep could be tricked by another dumb sheep to think that it would be cool, fun, entertaining, and exciting to sneak out and try something new, without the care of the shepherd!

Yeah that’s me.  I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.  You see, I keep doing the very things that I know I shouldn’t do, that’s called sin by the way.  And the things that please God, well that’s called keeping His commandments, and they’re the very things I can’t seem to do consistently.  Because of that, I can get into a whole lot of trouble; I can get dirty, sinfully dirty, just like a sheep.  If it wasn’t for my Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, I would wander away from His love and the love of my family at church, and I’d end up just like the sheep who gets eaten by the wolf; I’d be destroyed by the devil who hates Jesus and all of His little sheep.  You see, as I told you I don’t see very well, and what I mean by that is, I can’t see and recognize all of the dangers that are around me because, well they’re spiritual dangers.  There are spiritual threats in this world that can destroy my faith and love for God and my neighbor.  But Jesus sees them, and if I stay close to Him, He’ll protect me from those things I can’t see.  And that brings me to how I follow Jesus and stay close to Him.  You know, just as the sheep hear their shepherd’s voice and follow Him, I also hear Jesus, my Good Shepherd’s voice and I follow Him.  I hear His voice in the Word of God; in my Bible.  Every day I try to find time to read His Word and listen to Him speak.  I hear Him, but thank God, He also hears me, and that’s why I talk to Him every day; we call that prayer.

Now let me tell you a little something about the flock that I’m resting in.  That flock is simply the church, and the fence that protects Jesus little lambs is simply the Word of God that tells me how I should live my life.  Now remember, I told you right up front that like the sheep I just can’t seem to do what’s best for me.  I am prone to wander away from God, so He gives me commandments that guide how I live my life as I am following Jesus my good shepherd.  The only problem is, like I said I am prone to wander off; like those dumb sheep, I am really good at finding holes in the fence and following false teachers, or as Jesus calls them, hired hands.  Those false teachers act like pastors and well, they can really fool you, but when trouble comes, when the devil comes, boy they’ll light out of there real fast, because they are only in it for the money.  Yeah, those kind aren’t real pastors because they don’t hear the Good Shepherds voice, and if they can’t hear it, how are they supposed to lead and teach me?  No thanks, I’ve learned that new and exciting things aren’t always what they seem to be.  I’ve learned to find rest by staying in the flock, where I listen to and follow Jesus voice as He preaches and teaches through my pastor, who is a real under shepherd, loved and led by the same Good Shepherd that I follow, Jesus Christ!

So there you have it, a way to witness without arguing or backing down.  If someone asks you if you’re really a Christian, one of Jesus little lambs, don’t get intimidated by the question, just answer it.  Now I know that many times those questions can be a little more like accusations; like they’re calling you a hypocrite and that very possibly is what they’re saying.  But that’s alright, because you see, they’re right!  We really are hypocrites in the world’s eyes; God calls us saints and yet we still sin.  So if they ridicule your faith, simply agree with them and say you really are a lot like a dumb sheep doing the things and going to places you shouldn’t.  You really do get angry and say hurtful things sometimes; you do think about yourself more than others; even more than God.  Agree with them, but tell them that you still hear your Good Shepherds voice teaching you and changing you.  He speaks through His law and tells you what you did was wrong; that it was sinful.  That voice, that Word from God causes you to confess your sin and ask for His forgiveness.  But then you hear Him speak again, you hear His good news, that says that He still loves you and forgives you.

And then, after you’ve gotten the hypocrite accusation out of the way, it’s time for you to demonstrate that you really are a Christian; ask them to forgive you for anything you’ve done or failed to do that has hurt them.  And if they have hurt you, well then it’s time for you to tell them that you forgive them just as your Good Shepherd has forgiven you.  Now, I know it can seem a little intimidating doing these things, but just keep reminding yourself that it is Jesus speaking and acting through you.  You are simply hearing and following His voice!

So now, the scariest part of witnessing is over.  You’ve identified yourself with sinners, even sinners like the one who is calling you a hypocrite; so now all that is left is to extend the offer to that person to become a saved sinner like you.  How?  Invite them into the safety of the flock!  Invite them to come to church with you.  Explain to them that what you experience every week, they can experience too!  They can know real safety and peace, even joy and fulfillment by getting to know the Good Shepherd’s voice.  Tell them right up front that at church, it is God’s Word, preached and taught, that saves and changes everyone equally; tell them that in that Word they too will hear the Good Shepherd speak. And if you like, you can let them know that God takes that same Word and applies it with water in baptism and he converts sinners into Christians.  Why you could even tell them that God’s care doesn’t stop there; He also feeds and nourishes our spirits with His Holy meal, where He combines simple bread and wine with His Word as He feeds us His very body and blood, all so that we will by faith know that we really are forgiven.

Oh, and don’t forget to tell them that there is safety in numbers!  If they will come into God’s flock, they won’t be alone.  Not only will the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ be with them, but so are all of us!  Make sure they understand that each of us knows that we’re no better or worse than they are.  We’re just lost sheep who’ve been found and are trying ever day to love each other as the Good Shepherd loves us; tell them we are learning to forgive each other too, just as God forgives us.

Now, I suppose you might still be a little nervous about this witnessing thing.  You might be worried that they’ll laugh at you and ask how all of this can be true.  And if they do, then all you need to do is point them to the very thing that saved you… the power of God!  Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life (for my little lambs) that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority (and power) to lay it down, and I have authority (and power) to take it up again.” [John 10:17,18]

Where do you point them to see the power of God?  To the love of God, Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for them.  Point them to Jesus who is God in human flesh, come to save us; Jesus who paid for the sins of the world, even their sins, so that they would not have to pay; Jesus, their Savior who like a Shepherd wants to lead them along with us to life everlasting.  Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! AMEN!