Posts Tagged ‘Word of God’

Gathering the Scattered!

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

Pentecost 9B
July 22, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were
 like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” [Mark 6:34]

Do you know what happens to sheep when they don’t have a true shepherd?  That’s right, they scatter!   And once they scatter they can get into all kinds of trouble; trouble that usually ends in their death.  Why even sheep who have a shepherd can get themselves into a whole lot of trouble; that’s why the shepherd will leave the 99 to search for the one who has wandered off. 

An American, traveling in Syria, saw three native shepherds bring their flocks to the same brook, and the flocks drank there together. After a few minutes, one of the shepherds got up and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah! ,” the Arabic word for “follow me.” His sheep came out of the mixed herd and followed him up the hillside. The next shepherd did the same, and his sheep went away with him, and neither shepherd even stopped to count them. 

The American said to the remaining shepherd, “Give me your turban and staff, and let’s see if they’ll follow me like they follow you.” So he put on the shepherd’s dress and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah!” Not a single sheep moved.  “Will your flock never follow anybody but you?” inquired the American. The Syrian shepherd replied, “Never, unless their sick, then they will follow any one.”

This morning I want to talk about two distinct kinds of sheep; those with a shepherd and those without.  

You could also call them Christians and non-Christians, or the righteous and the unrighteous.  St. Paul, in our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 2:11-22) called them Jew and gentile.  But he also pointed out that that old classification no longer existed, because the True Shepherd had come and taken down the wall or fence that separated them.  That separation of course was the Law of God that shepherded the Jews, and condemned sinners like you and me.  In Paul’s time, many well-meaning Jewish Christians were insisting that gentiles had to first become Jews before they could become Christians, or in other words, they had to be Jewish sheep before they could be Jesus’ sheep.  Paul’s goal was to show them that this was not only incorrect thinking, but dangerous thinking; it would serve to scatter and divide God’s people of faith, rather than gathering them into one family, one body, one sanctuary, which is the body of Christ, His church.

So let’s look at the two groups of people that live all around us today, Christians and non-Christians.  But before we do, let me share another story with you. 

A newspaper in Camden, Maine, ran two photos on the front page; one showed the city council of Camden gathered together at a meeting, and the other picture was of a flock of sheep. The editor mistakenly reversed the captions of the two photos. Under the picture of the sheep, the caption identified them, left to right, as town officials; under the other photo of the city council, the caption read, “The Sheep Fold—naive and vulnerable, they huddle for security against the uncertainties of the outside world.”

Now as funny as that story is, I think that it describes both Christian and non-Christian alike; we are naïve and vulnerable.  And like the sick sheep in my other story, we Christians when we are tired, lonely, sick, or afraid might follow any old voice that seems sympathetic and able to help.  That is why we all need to learn, know, and follow our true Shepherd’s voice.  We all need the gift of faith to hear Jesus’ voice and to grow in that faith so that we will never follow another.

In our gospel reading (Mark 6:30-44), the contrast between the two groups of people is evident; the over-worked, under-appreciated, and tired disciples, who were ready for a break, and those who were lost, “like sheep without a shepherd.”  

We might also call them people with a mission and vision and the people without a vision who were wandering in life aimlessly.  This morning, in our gospel lesson, Jesus spoke to them both.  This morning Jesus speaks to both of those classes of people who are gathered here at Trinity.

This morning there are some of you who are just plain tired. You have been active in your Lord’s church for most of your life, and some have in the last eight or so years given the best of your time, talent, and treasure, to help make Trinity a city on a hill, a bright light here in Southeast San Diego, Southwest Spring Valley, and Southeast Lemmon Grove.  You have done so much and gone so far, that now you are just plain tired.  Many of you along with me, have the feeling of always being “on-call,” with more demands on your time than you could ever hope to meet.  I know your heart, because it is centered in God’s love for the wandering sheep; you are afraid of letting people down, and so you push yourselves past the limits.  You dream of getting away from it all and you pray that there would be more people to help shoulder the burden.

Well this morning Jesus, who is your Sabbath rest, knows your fatigue; He sees it and He speaks to you as He spoke to His disciples in our gospel reading.  “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” [v. 31]  

Many of you know the need for rest and you have been intentional on setting aside vacation time; you have had your rest already, and some of you have scheduled your vacation for a future date.  But the truth is, even when we are on vacation, we are never really away from it all.  It seems that the troubles of this world follow us every-where we go.  Even the best planned vacations don’t work out as planned.  There are always more demands for our time, and more needs to meet.  Sometimes we don’t even have time to eat!

So where do we go for true rest; for real peace?  It isn’t found in our vacations; it doesn’t happen when we try to get away from it all; no it’s only found when we get back to Jesus; back to the true Shepherd of our souls.  Our refreshment and new energy will not be found simply by going to a certain place, but instead it is found in Him who takes us to that place.  The disciples weren’t able to get away from it all because the crowds found them; but they were able to be close to Jesus and His miraculous presence; a presence which still stands ready in all situations to help us today.

For the non-Christians, those who are counted among the sheep without a shepherd, their days are spent in endless hours of useless activity meant to fill each day with meaning.  Whether its sports, politics, careers, partying, or just staring out a window they find little fulfillment and joy in the gift of life.  They feel like “aliens and strangers” [Ephesians 2:12] separated from the joy of really knowing God and His will for them.

Like sheep without a shepherd, their wandering sinful nature looks for meaning through self-pleasing activities, but eventually all of their attempts to find happiness end in failure.  So they set out on an endless search looking for meaning.  Some end up in cults and false religions.  Others find themselves in a church, which speaks the Word of the true Shepherd, but clouds that Word in philosophy, legalism, or liberalism.  Undoubtedly, these were some of the things that Jesus also saw as He looked out on that great crowd of people who were like “sheep without a shepherd.”

And Jesus had compassion on them.  He didn’t look at them as “no good” sinners, but as part of His scattered flock.  He claimed them as His own, and He taught them.  They were always His own, His purpose for coming; He came to bring them into His flock.  He came so that the scattered and the gathered might come together and know peace; peace with God, and peace with each other.  He came to give us all rest!

This morning, Jesus speaks to both groups and calls us together as one.  

He shows us that each of us have a common reconciliation… Himself!  Through His work alone upon the cross He makes all men and women right; He makes us righteous with His Father.  You who were at one time separated from God because of your sins are now gathered into His forgiving heart through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  By His blood He has purchased you, redeemed you from a commonwealth of judgment and eternal punishment, and transferred you into His Kingdom of grace and forgiving love. 

You who were once separated from God are now part of His body, the church.  You are one of many countless living stones set upon the Rock of Ages, the Cornerstone of God’s Eternal Sanctuary.  You are set upon Jesus Christ along with many other saints and together you are a living and ever-growing sanctuary.  How does the sanctuary, the body of Christ grow?  By the very same means that you were converted into a living stone; through the Word of Jesus Christ, the message of His gospel.

And this is the message that God would have you hear today.  You are forgiven through Jesus Christ.  In that message alone, God really gives you rest, fulfillment and joy.  But in that message, God also wants your life to have meaning and purpose.  You are here to live under and work out the will of God in your life.  And what is His will?  That you would rest in His Kingdom of grace and see it grow, one forgiven sinner at a time.  (Talk about inviting others.)

Jesus’ disciples and the scattered hungry were all fed by the very same Word.  Christ’s own personal preaching was full of peace for both Gentiles and Jews.  But what about now; do we still have that same care and concern?  Yes!  What we must always remember is that when Christ sent his message out into the world, he told His messengers: “I am with you always, even to the end of the world,” (Matt. 28:20). He assured them and He assures us that “He who hears you also hears me,” Luke 10:16; “Truly, truly, I say to you,” He said, “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” John 13:20. 

So congratulations to all of you here today; you who are tired may find rest in the same Jesus who invigorated the apostles.  He is here with you now!  You who were once scattered and lost, are now gathered and found, by Jesus Himself.  He has gathered you into the kingdom of God through the message of His cross; He has washed you clean in the waters of baptism and recreated you to live a life of peace. He himself is your peace and rest, now go and share that same peace, share that same rest with those who are still counted as scattered!  I pray you would do this very thing, and I ask it in Jesus name…Amen.

Thy Word Is A Lamp Unto My Feet…

Sunday, May 13th, 2018

Easter 7B, May 13, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.” [Psalm 119:105pastedGraphic.png 

There are many ways to get lost.  People get lost driving from point A to point B all the time on our local roads and freeways.  But contrary to what my wife may tell you, I am never lost while driving, just a little confused.  “Honey” she says, “why don’t you stop and ask for directions?”  “What for” is always my response, “I’m not lost; I pretty much know where we are!  I’ll get us there; don’t worry!”  She was greatly relieved when I finally bought an iPhone with Siri, which includes a Street navigator and step by step verbal directions to most everywhere we go, and my wife is continuously happy for this! 

The truth is, each of us can and do become lost.  We can get lost in a world that hates our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for God’s Word.

I want to tell you a wonderful story about a man who found himself lost in just this type of situation.  He didn’t need Siri to find his way; instead it was God’s Holy Word that ended his confusion.

Shortly after Vietnam fell to the Communists, Hien Pham, a committed Christian and translator for American missionaries was arrested. He was accused of aiding and abetting the Americans; he was in and out of prison for several years. During one long jail term, the sole purpose of his jailers was to indoctrinate him against the West – and destroy his Christian faith. He was cut off from reading anything in English… especially his Bible! After months of brain-washing, Hien began to buckle under the pressure. MAYBE, he thought, God doesn’t exist. Finally, he made up his mind; he would no longer pray or ever think of his Christian faith again.

The next morning, he was assigned to clean the latrines of the prison. It was a chore that everyone hated and avoided; so with much disgust he began the awful task. As he cleaned out the 50 gallon cans filled with waste and toilet paper, his eye caught what he thought was English printed on a piece of paper. He quickly grabbed it, washed it off and slipped it into his pocket, planning to read it that night.  Later, after his roommates had fallen asleep, he pulled out a small flashlight and began to read the top corner of the paper, “Romans, Chapter 8.” Literally trembling with shock, he began to read: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  What, then, shall we say in response to this? 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, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom. 8:28, 31, 32, 35, 37-39]

Hien wept. He knew there was not a more relevant passages of conviction and strength for a person on the verge of surrendering to the threat of evil. He cried out to Jesus, asking for forgiveness, because that next morning would have been the day that he had determined not to pray or recall scripture ever again. Evidently the Lord had other plans. Today, Hien lives in the United States and is a successful business man.

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

Does God still miraculously intervene in our lives today?  According to our Lord’s promise in our gospel lesson, the answer is a resounding YES…ABSOLUTELY!  

Listen to His prayer for His apostles and His prayer for you: “(Father) I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [John 17:13-16, 18-21]

What is it that Jesus prays that we will have?  His joy!  Not just any joy, but His joy!  When you are confused and afraid, and think that you’ve lost your way in this dark world, remember that Jesus has prayed for you and He is right there beside you, praying for you; He’s praying that you would not loose His joy.  And what are we to have as the source of our joy?  His Word!  

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

The next thing that we learn from Jesus prayer is that we are not of this world!  

So what’s so bad about this world?  Well for starters it is ruled by Satan and his devils.  They are the princes of this world.  Second this world is so dark and lost in sin that people hate God’s light; they hate his only means of salvation… His Word!  Now this is where things get a little dicey for us.  We are each called to be a light, God’s light in this world of dark sin.  Remember you are not above your master Jesus.  The world hated and crucified Him, and they still hate Him because He is the living Word of God; He is the only light in this dark evil world that can’t be extinguished.  So if they hate Him they will also hate you!   The prophet Isaiah proclaimed this long ago when he wrote: “Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?”  As I said, this can be a little dicey, in fact this hatred of the world and the devils is the very thing that causes some Christians to be silent and avoid speaking about repentance and turning to Jesus for forgiveness.  Some have even abandoned their faith completely and become eternally lost in the darkness and confusion of sin.  For this reason Jesus prays something incredible for us and in this prayer we have a promise.

What is it that Jesus prays and promises?  Jesus prays that the Father will protect us from the evil one and the sin of this world; He prays that the Father will continually set us apart as His holy ones!  And what does He promise?  He promises that He who began the good work of salvation in us will continue this work and keep it safe until it is complete.  He is telling you that He promises that He will complete this work if… oh yes there’s always an if; if we stay in His Word.  Why His Word?  Because His Word is truth!  It is the very thing that has saved you, is saving you, and will save you, so we must not leave the Word.  

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

The Word of God really is a lamp or a light.  

A. In a world pitch dark with sin, you can’t count on your eyes you need a source of light.  Have you ever been in a dark place with very little or no light?  Isn’t it true that your eyes can play tricks on you?  Well that is the way it is in this sinful world.  We need to quit trusting in experience, that is in sight and we must learn to walk by faith; we need to learn to trust Jesus and be led by the light of God’s Word alone.  God wants us to use His Word as a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.  He wants us to let the Word alone guide our way; it alone must lead not just our feet but also our hearts.  Jesus is asking us to remember that it is the lamp of God’s Word that creates faith, but not necessarily understanding.  We don’t always need to understand, but we do always need to have faith and trust in Jesus prayer for us and God’s will.  

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

With God’s Word as our lamp and light, Jesus prays that we will have faith to do what we do not know how to do, go where we do not know the way, perform what we don’t understand, and follow the Word even when it seems we risk becoming stupid and foolish in the eyes of our community.  

When we follow the light and path of the Word we will by faith also follow the path of obedience.  And what is that path of obedience?  Well let’s get back to Jesus prayer and let Him answer that: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [Vs. 20, 21]

Dear friends you have been saved by the Word because God is love… because through Jesus Christ, God has not only shown you His love like a bright light, but He has also made that love yours.  In His Word He promises you that no one and nothing can ever separate you from His love which is yours through Christ Jesus!  But He has saved you for a purpose.  He has given you the light of His Word so that you can remain in this dark and sinful world for a reason.  What is that purpose and what is the reason?  The purpose is so that in the darkness you can seek and save others who are lost in sin.  The reason you are to seek and save the lost is because “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, so that whosoever believes in Him through the illumination of His Word, they and you shall not perish in darkness but have everlasting life!  

Your Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths. 

God’s Word alone keeps us on the path of salvation while it also acts as a search light to find lost sinners.  

God’s Word alone is how God builds His kingdom.  Kingdom building then is living in God’s Word and reflecting the light of that Word into the darkness of this sinful world.  You reflect that gospel when you share God’s Word of forgiveness and love with whoever God leads you to on the gospel path.  The kingdom of God is built one forgiven heart at a time.

What is the kingdom of God?  It is God’s Word which teaches us that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver all sinners out of the power and kingdom of sin, death, and the devil, and to bring us to Himself so that He may rule us as a King of righteousness, delivering us into a new world of righteousness, eternal joy, and peace.  On this path, many are led by the Holy Spirit through the Word into the Father’s kingdom of grace so that together with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we will each become joint heirs with Jesus and eternally remain in God’s kingdom of grace and light, a kingdom that has already begun and was given to you through His Word!  

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

God will not lead us to the wrong location. He alone is to be trusted always. May we forever stay in the light, God’s Holy Word and we ask this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… AMEN!

Living On the Edge!

Monday, October 16th, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, October 15th, 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

Matthew 22:1-14

Following Jesus is, well it’s… wonderful, amazing, fulfilling, exciting, and peaceful, but it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy because it requires faith, and faith requires you to release control of your life and your decisions to God’s direction. Faith is the substance of things that we hope for, but as of yet, they are unseen! To live a life following Jesus requires living by faith and not by sight. In other words it requires us to live on the edge of faith and fear.

This is the message that our gospel reading leads us to this morning; it was the message that Jesus was speaking to the Jewish leaders and others that were listening to Him teach, and it is the message that He is giving to us this morning. This morning, Jesus speaks this message to you and me: live a life of faith by living on the edge! But as I said, this kind of life isn’t easy; it never has been.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of God here on earth, we have seen a picture of disappointment, fear, doubt; we see sin becoming stronger, while the joy, courage, and faith of those who live in and proclaim the kingdom seems to be getting progressively weaker.

Jesus story about a King who invited many to his son’s wedding banquet is told to illustrate this very point. Like His story, the history of the Jews and even our history displays sinful people refusing God’s offer of grace. Within the ranks of these sinful men are a mixture of open and defiant sinners and those who seem like real believers, but secretly they’re posers, unbelievers; Jesus says that the time is coming when they’ll be unmasked! Within His story, Jesus has miraculously compressed all of the New Testament time and even our time, into one story.

What we need to remember throughout the story is that the wedding and the invitations to attend it are a picture of God’s grace; His undeserved mercy, forgiveness, and love for all of sinful mankind. But this grace can only come through Jesus Christ, the living Son of God! The banquet table and the feast that’s being served on it represents the feast of victory for our God; a victory that celebrates first the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and then the very same thing that’s promised to each and every person who is seated at the feast of victory. Well almost every person. You see in Jesus’ story, there is one person who doesn’t belong there. There’s one person who isn’t wearing the robe provided by God! That one person represents a vast number of people who refuse to turn to Jesus as their Savior, Lord, and King. And the change of clothes they refuse to be fitted with represents the new identity that each of us is offered and given in our baptisms.

Throughout the life of every person ever created, there are God-created opportunities to receive this new identity, to put it on if you will, to walk around in it and become comfortable in it. But God in His wisdom allows each of us to reject this new identity and that is what causes tension; it’s what makes us feel like we’re living on the edge of joy and disappointment; the edge of courage and fear; and the edge between faith and doubt!

Living on the edge means living between joy and disappointment.

Let me tell you a story about a fictitious Christian woman named Adrian. Adrian was strong in a Christian faith that she had grown in since she was baptized as a baby. She had been taught in her teenage years that she should not be unequally yoked to an unbeliever, specifically, some day she should seek to marry only a Christian with a faith similar in strength to her own. One day Adrian met the man of her dreams who brought her joy; he was compassionate and filled with sympathy and empathy towards others. He seemed to live the model life of sacrifice for others, and that included especially Adrian. There was only one major problem, he was not a Christian, and he seemed to have almost no knowledge about Christ, but he seemed to not only be open to Adrian’s witness to Christ, he even seemed to enjoy his time as Adrian instructed him in the scriptural knowledge of God, the problem and reality of sin since the fall of Adam and Eve, the promise of and need for a Savior, the birth, Ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and His institution of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Finally she showed the love of her life how all of this was part of God’s plan to both save the world and him. He listened to this explanation each time with patience and a smile. But one day, he looked lovingly at Adrian and said, “Sweetheart, I’m glad your faith brings you such comfort and joy, but you should know that not only do I see no need for your Savior God, but I can confidently tell you I never will. To believe in Jesus would require me to give up to much of myself.”

And with those words, Adrian sadly kissed the man of her dreams on his forehead and bid him farewell and the hope that one day he would change his mind.

Now that’s a serious story about a serious problem. Invitations are sent to many to come to church but so few people respond. It’s frustrating. Many of you have reached out to neighbors or friends, and even like Adrian, to serious suiters, and you have asked them to come to church and meet Jesus, and you too know all too well the disappointment, of how few respond.

Maybe that is why we find this morning’s parable so familiar. But we must remember that Jesus has told us that the Kingdom of God has always been like this; it’s like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son and many would not come. They are just too busy to respond. But not you… here you sit at the table! You got in, so put aside your disappointment and receive the joy of the Lord!

Living on the edge means living between courage and fear.

In Jesus story the royalty, which represented the Jewish nation were the first ones invited to the feast! As a group, they would not come, so they were destroyed. In the year 70 AD the nation of Israel, the city of Jerusalem and more importantly their temple, their way of life and worship was destroyed, all because they would not come to a new Holy City, the Kingdom of God which can only be entered through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. But their empty seats will not even be noticed because God is no longer inviting a nation of people, but all people from every nation, tribe, and tongue; that means He is inviting you!

Now for some people this can cause fear; even fear that can almost paralyze them. They see how God punished the nation of Israel for the way they mistreated their invitation, and so they see God as an angry and punishing God. But if they see Him in this way, as if He has dark storm clouds draped across His face, they aren’t seeing Him correctly! The very fact that He has invited you first in the waters of your baptism, and the fact that you are seated here right now hearing about His mercy and forgiveness proves that He is a God of love! And because He loves you, He says to you this morning, “Take courage, put on your new baptismal identity and rest at my table of peace!”

Well finally, living on the edge means living between faith and doubt.

In Jesus’ story, the king invited everyone to the feast. Many have responded, and the dining hall is filled with guests, but there’s a problem. The king sees a man who isn’t wearing the appropriate wedding attire. He is wearing an old, perhaps tattered robe, obviously the garb that he wore in everyday life, his street clothes. “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe,” the king asks. The man was speechless, so the king had him bound and tossed into a place called outer darkness. Jesus concludes the parable with these solemn words: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

What we learn from Jesus story is that everyone is invited into the Kingdom of God, but not everyone will respond to that invitation. But we also discover that even if you get in you’re not really in unless the King chooses you to stay! And here is where doubt can creep in; here is where we begin to ask what does it take to really get in?

Well it all depends on what you are wearing! In your baptism you have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness; in essence, you’ve put on Christ. No work or accomplishment of your own can be included. Naked you came into this world and naked you must leave, accept for the righteous robe of Christ. Remember, when we’ve done all that we can we are still worthless servants, because we’ve only done that which was our duty to do. [Luke 17:10]

If our garment isn’t the good life we live on this earth for Jesus, then what is it? It’s faith in what Jesus has done for us! Theologians call this the imputed righteousness of Jesus which becomes our hope and the object of our faith. Because faith is the garment that is put on us, all we can do then is rest in it or wear it. Another way to think of this is to say that our faith is like a cup or the sea shell I use sometimes to pour water on someone during a Baptism, it simply holds God’s free gift of righteousness. In your baptism you can say that, “God has clothed me with His garments of salvation, and He has covered me with the robes of righteousness.”

And here you have the close of Jesus parable. Oh wait, there is another little matter to address isn’t there? If the banquet table represents the Kingdom of God, then how did that unbeliever get in there? Isn’t there a great divided between heaven and hell so that none may cross? Yes there is, so that means that the banquet table isn’t necessarily the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is the Kingdom of God! Is there a difference? Yes and no!

What we need to remember is that the Kingdom of God is where God’s people gather around His gifts. What are His gifts? Well they are His means of grace, or His means of faith! Chief of all of these gifts is His Word, Holy Scripture, which is not just your invitation to the banquet but the very Son of the living God, Jesus Christ. Within God’s Word you are given the gift of faith to believe that you really belong in God’s Kingdom, both here on earth and in heaven.

So what is the Kingdom of God here on earth? It is the church, the very bride of Jesus Christ, which receives not just His Word but His Sacraments. In your Baptism, you have been ushered into the Kingdom of God! Someday in your future, after a long life of reading and studying God’s Word, hearing countless gospel messages, and receiving many meals of forgiveness served at the Lord’s table you will pleasantly find your self in Paradise! As each of us receive these gifts, we are reminded that we are living a life of dependence on God, a life of faith that’s filled with tension between heaven and hell. But Jesus assures us that because we are resting in Him and receiving His gifts we will one day join Him at His eternal table of feasting where there will be no more suffering, pain, disappointment, fear, or doubt, and this is the gospel, the good news that gives us peace and joy. But there are some here, in Christ’s church who will not put on this new baptismal identity. There are some who are simply posers, mere imposters. They refuse to be changed and they will not respond! They already have the reward of living in God’s Kingdom, His Church, but they will not be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and eternally find their seat at His banquet table.

For these poor souls, there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth in a dark place where they will be forever bound and kept. All because they would not receive the Word of God; all because they would not keep fighting to retain their baptismal identity; all because they would not confess their sinfulness and be fed their Lord’s meal of forgiveness!

Yes, living the life of faith is living on the edge, but if you are resting in the gifts of God through Jesus Christ you have been assured that even if you experience disappointment, fear, and doubt, one day very soon you will only know joy, love, and peace, all because you walked by faith and not by sight!

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen!

Faith Comes By…

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost-A, August 13, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

“But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:16-17]

If I were to summarize our message from God this morning in just a few words, I would say: We can’t have faith, saving faith that will never fail to please God, without God’s Word. It just can’t happen! You can have faith in many things, and it can be legitimate, built on experience, but ultimately the person or thing you have faith in will fail you. But in the Holy Scriptures, we are allowed to hear our perfect God speak to us. We hear Him speak because He gives us a gift called faith. By faith we are taught that God can can be trusted to accomplishing what His Word says He will do for us; namely He will save us from our sins.

So with God, not only do we have faith that is legitimate or justified, but we also have faith that justifies, or faith that saves us! You see, God’s Word is more than just a way He communicates with us, it is also a Word that creates and sustains us unlike man’s word which will eventually fail us.

“In the beginning was the Word.” [John 1:1] “And God said, ‘Let there be …’ and all that exists came into being—by the power of his Word.” [Genesis 1:3- 24]

God likes to talk because in His Word there is power! He began the world by talking it into existence. When Adam and Eve doubted his Word and hid from Him because of their guilt, God came to them in order to call them back into a relationship with Himself. [Genesis 3:9]

As a way to reclaim and restore his people, God has placed his power in our language as we speak His Word so that His gospel will lead people to trust in Him. So, we can say that God’s good news or the gospel, is the power He uses to save sinners, even you and me. [Romans 1:16] God’s good news brings us back into His grace and favor; the very thing we were first created to exist in. So this is why God loves to talk; because His message of forgiveness and new life brings us back into a right relationship with Him. And this “being made right” with God is given to us only through His Word, and only because we are allowed to receive His Word of promise through His gift of faith. [Romans 1:17]

And yet so many people still think that they can make things right with God in their own way. They see God’s 10 Commandments as suggestions or a loose code of conduct that they can adapt to fit their life style. They believe in this so strongly that they are willing to completely dismiss God’s gospel message.

Through the prophet Moses, God speaks to them this way: “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” [Deuteronomy 30:11-14]

Here Moses is speaking about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments [all of the commandments] shall live by them. But [a] righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down)  or “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” [Romans 10:5-8]

The point that God wants us to understand is that we are broken. We are trapped in our sin, and on our own we can never be right with God. If you know this in your heart and you agree with God, then you have experienced the work of God’s Law. It’s like a hammer that crushes us and it is like a sword that pierces our very souls, but it only does this work so that you will call out to God for His healing balm! And that healing balm, the forgiveness of sins is the work of the Gospel. The gospel tells us about God’s grace, His forgiving love through Jesus Christ. But why do some find it so hard to receive and believe in the gospel? Well the problem isn’t in God’s Word, the problem is in us; it is a problem of sin being in our hearts!

Both God’s Law and the Gospel come to us through the same means; they come to us through the Word. It is the same Word that we are to take into our ears and into our mouths, and then into our hearts! Both Law and Gospel are essential for making us right with God. If we truly want a relationship of love and trust with our Creator, it can only come to us through God’s Word, both the Law and the Gospel; it’s like Frank Sinatra sang in that old-time favorite song, we can’t have one without the other. If we reject either one we are simply lost in our sins; separated from God for time and eternity. We need to hear both the Law and the Gospel if we are to be right with God. That’s what Paul was saying when he wrote: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven’ or ‘Who will descend into the abyss!” In other words, if God’s Law has taught you how sinful you are and how much He hates sin, good! Don’t panic and think that it’s some how up to you to make things right with Him; don’t feel abandoned by Him thinking that His love and forgiveness are beyond you; do not think that He has left you helpless and alone in your own sins! Because if you feel that way then you won’t hear the gospel; and without the gospel you are forever lost, because you’re rejecting His heart, which is the very means that He has provided to save you!

What is the Gospel? It is the Word of God that tells you that you have a God who has come to save you. You have a champion that has destroyed the power of sin, death, and the devil! You have a Savior and His name is Jesus Christ, the very Son of God! If you go off looking for help in any other means, then you are bringing Christ down from heaven where He has gone to prepare a place for you; a place that brings you back to God. If you insist on making yourself right with God by your own code of conduct then you are denying Christ’s death for you, and you’re in essence telling God, “No thanks Lord. I’ve got this!” If you do that then you can’t have a new and eternal life!

You see friends, Christianity is unlike any other religion. It is the only absolute and perfect religion because it alone uses God’s means of making sinners right with Him. It doesn’t ask you to do a thing, but instead, it teaches you to accept and receive God’s work for you through Jesus Christ—“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” [2 Corinthians 5:18–19] In other words, the Christian religion is absolutely perfect because it isn’t a moral code that teaches us how to earn forgiveness of sins, but instead it teaches us that through God’s Word of Law and Gospel we receive faith that recreates and sustains us while God reshapes us. All of this was given to us through Christ’s work upon the cross. There on the cross He was pierced and killed for our sins. By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed!

So what must we do to be saved?

Well, what does God’s Word say? It says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that I am proclaiming to you right now); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (or one class of person over another class of person); for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:8-13]

Sadly people today, will hear this Good News and still think that we Christians and our Bibles are narrow minded and bigoted. They will say how presumptuous it is of us to assume that we are the only ones that are right about God. They will point out that the great Creator God would never limit Himself to just the printed and spoken Word. They love to point to the marvels of the world we live in, the universe around us and our own history to prove that God can and does speak to men and women outside of His recorded Word. But the truth is, when people say something like that, what they are really trying to do is neutralize the Law of God and the need for a Savior who fulfills that law for them. Why? Because to them, the Law is like a mirror, and they don’t like what it is showing them! In the mirror of God’s Law they see the ugliness of their sin and they see the perfection that God demands!

Now while it is true that God does make use of creation and our history to communicate to us, He does this only to direct our attention to His Word, a Word which alone tells us of our need for our savior, Jesus Christ! The knowledge about sin and grace, can only come to us through God’s Word of Law and Gospel. It is through the Word alone that we are recreated back into God’s image! Without the preaching of Christ’s Word darkness still covers the world and our sinful hearts.

though our history shows that God speaks to us through the majesty of the heavens and the earth, even though God speaks to sinful man with a loud voice in earthquakes, war, famine and sickness, we are lost without God’s Word of Law and gospel speaking death to our sinful flesh and speaking and recreating new life to our new spirits.

(But)“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:14-17]

Isn’t it sad that so many people still reject The gospel! But this isn’t any thing new; even Isaiah lamented to God and wondered if he was preaching in vain. But God’s Word corrects this thinking; He corrects it by reminding us that the working of faith is His business. He reminds us that He gives faith only through His Word, and that Word teaches us that saving faith is always faith in the Word of Jesus Christ, faith in the external Word of the Gospel, which Christ commanded His Church to preach and to teach. [Mark 16:15–16; Romans 1:1–2]. This external Word is both the object of our faith and the means by which faith is created. This is why churches call pastors and it is why seminaries train and send them!

Now friends please listen to what I say next because it is very important. Any belief centered in anything that is not proclaimed in the Word of Christ as we have it through Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles (John 17:20), according to the Scriptures is a delusion and a product of the sinful human heart and mind. [1 Timothy 6:3–4; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5] And this is also why God expects you as His holy priests, to be His witnesses to those who don’t know Him through His Word; because He wants them to know that there is power in His Word… Power unto salvation!

Through the proclamation of the gospel, the preached Word of God is sent out to every corner of this sinful world, inviting sinful men and women to believe and rest in God’s Word of forgiveness. Through our witness as to how God’s Word has restored us, others can see Jesus living in and recreating us, and by God’s grace they will be moved to ask us about our faith. This then is a God given moment to invite them to look deeper into that Word by hearing it preached and taught in Christ’s church, even our little church here.

So you see, faith does grow out of hearing the Word of God. Through God’s Word, new life is created and protected by the giving and sustaining of faith. Now our faith might not always understand the mystery of how God can speak to us and through us by His Word and Sacraments, and faith won’t always be able to explain why God does what He does for sinners like us, but that’s alright, because you see, “faith is the assurance of things for which we hope for; it is the conviction of things that we don’t see. [Hebrews 11:1] So faith is simply hearing and resting in God’s message about Jesus Christ and then repeating that message to others as they demonstrate an interest in God! May God continue to give us ears and a heart to hear and believe this message! In Jesus name… AMEN!

What Is This Hidden Treasure?

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost-A, July 30, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click her for audio of this message

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

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

How should every Christian treat the Word of God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

God So Loved You!

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Lent 2 (A), March 12, 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

john-3-16-christianity-12464028-461-405In the last few weeks we’ve learned that the purpose of all of God’s Word is that we would know Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Last week we learned that this was the case, even in the very first Words of Genesis… in the beginning! Well, this morning we shall see that God is love; God is love for you!

Now, don’t tune out this message simply because you can quote John 3:16; everyone who attended Sunday school for more than a year can do that. No, you need to understand the depth of God’s love for you, and that is exactly what this message will declare to us this morning.

“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” [John 3:1]

Uh, oh! Another Pharisee out to get Jesus? No not this one; this Pharisee was known by all to be a good man. He was on a real journey to live a God-pleasing life. He’s highly educated and very moral and religious. He is what others would call an upright man; he is not a hypocrite like many of the other Pharisees; he actually tries to please God! In verse 10 we are told that he is Israel’s teacher, so we know that he is trying to help others please God as well. So this man, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Why? Well because he doesn’t want the other Pharisees to know that he is seeking out their enemy. But why is he seeking out Jesus? Because, he has seen the miracles and he has probably heard some of Jesus’ sermons and the Word of God is beginning to work within his heart. In essence he wants to know more!

So he approaches Jesus and he starts a conversation in the usual way, he pays Jesus a compliment: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him.” [vs. 2b] Now if you or I were in Jesus position we would probably repay the compliment; but Jesus is not you or I! Jesus is instead the Great Physician, and He must get right to work on the soul of Nicodemus. “Jesus answered him (and said), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”” [vs. 3]

Now that is strange, and Nicodemus thought so too; that’s why he asked, “How can a man be born (again) when he is old (like me)?” Poor Nicodemus’ mind must have been spinning out of control. All of his education and religious training had taught him that he was doing everything he could to please God and now Jesus is telling him that he will never get into heaven as he is! Nicodemus didn’t understand yet, and neither does our world today. Why? Because their focus is on what they do and not on what God does!

Now Jesus must adjust the focus of Nicodemus and He must adjust our focus as well! Listen: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [Vs. 5-6] Jesus is actually saying that if we keep our focus on what we can do in our flesh, that is on our own we will never get beyond the flesh; that is we will never enter the kingdom of God; we will never inherit eternal life. He is saying we need a new focus, a new life; we need to have spiritual eyes if we are to understand the work of God’s Spirit!

“But how?” That’s the question of Nicodemus and the question of this unbelieving world!

They ask how because they still have eyes and a heart of flesh! “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [vs. 8] What is this wind? It is the Holy Spirit! And what is its sound? It is the spoken Word of God; it is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. It’s He who was speaking to Nicodemus, and He who is speaking to you this morning! Listen to the wind. You believe in the wind because you can feel it and hear it; you can even see the effect it has around you right? Well the sound of the wind is also heard in the Word of God. “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You hear the Wind of God in these Words as well: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn back from their ways and live.” [Ezekiel 33:11] “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]

In His love for the world God provides the sound of His Holy Wind, the public proclamation of His Word so that we can see His Son, Jesus Christ as our only means of salvation. Through this means, God wants to call all people to eternal life; He wants to draw all of us unto Himself and to give us new birth. He does this only through His Holy Wind, the Word of God. “Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save (through rebirth) those who believe.” [Acts 11:14] “So faith comes through the proclamation, and proclamation comes through God’s Word.” [Jn. 17:17, 20] And it is God’s will that all people should hear this proclamation and come to Jesus Christ. And Jesus will never push anyone away from Himself, just as the Word of God declares: “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” [Jn. 6:37]

So now we see that our salvation is entirely a work of God’s Holy Spirit which He uses to cleanse us and blow new life into us. It is God alone who “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” [Titus 3:5]

Jesus told Nicodemus not to marvel at this teaching about this washing of new birth that comes through the Word of God and He is telling you not to be surprised by it as well.

Where does this washing and rebirth happen? Where are we brought to be cleansed from all of our impurities and saved from our sin? First to the cross and then to the font; the fountain of Holy Baptism. Let me show you this in scripture. Listen to God speak through the prophet Zechariah: “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” [Zechariah 13:1] Do you hear the wind of God blowing and promising a source of salvation outside of the power of sinful men? Do you hear how God Himself would provide a fountain of cleansing and do you notice that it would do two very specific things? What are those things? It will cleanse from sin and impurity! What is this fountain? First it is the cross and second it is the font!

What did Jesus say to Nicodemus about God’s means of providing eternal life? He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:14-15] Now why did Jesus feel the need to bring up Moses? Because Moses and His Law were the very things that Nicodemus was trusting in to please God. But Jesus wanted Nicodemus and everyone else to see that everything that Moses said and did was done by God so that we would look to a prophet much greater than Moses; so that we would look to Jesus alone as our only source of hope. The people with Moses had sinned greatly against God with their grumbling and lack of faith, so God had to get their focus off of their flesh and back to Him; He had to give them eyes of faith; they needed spiritual eyes. They were being attacked by snakes and they were dying by the thousands; so God had Moses craft a bronze serpent and lift it on a pole. If they would look to this bronze snake on a poll and trust in God’s means they would live!

What does this have to do with anything? Well let’s allow the prophet Zechariah to speak once again: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.” [Zechariah 13:7] Now remember, in the earlier reading from Zechariah God promised to open a fountain that would cleanse the people of their sins, right? Well this is the day that the fountain would be opened; the day that the Shepherd would be struck! On that day there would be cleansing for all sinners, and it would come from a fountain that God would open! Jesus Christ dear friends is the Good Shepherd! He was the Shepherd who was struck down on the cross. He is the final provision of salvation that the bronze serpent on the poll of Moses represented! Remember on the day of our Lord’s death a Roman soldier pierced Jesus side with a spear? What was the result? A fountain of water and blood; a fountain of cleansing!

Dear Saints, we must stay there at the cross and see Jesus dying in our place; we must go to the cross and see God’s means of cleansing us from all of our sin and uncleanness! This is how much God loves you! The Son of God died for the world so that the world would not have to die! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For (you see) God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” [Jn. 3:16-17] But in order for this finished work of Jesus Christ to become yours you must travel by faith from the cross and then to the waters of your own baptism!

It is in baptism, your baptism that God made His love for the world His love for you!

In the waters of your baptism God gave you His gift of forgiveness and cleansed you from all of your sins. In your baptism God delivered you from death and the devil and gave you eternal life! In your baptism God made you a disciple and part of the body of Jesus Christ.

Through your baptism you put on Jesus Christ, that is all of His righteousness was made yours through faith in the Gospel that assures you that God so loved YOU that He gave His Son up to death for YOU! In the waters of your baptism you were buried with Christ into death, so that you would rise with Him into a new and eternal life. That which IS Spirit has given birth to a new spirit!

How can a person be born again when he is old?

Only by the work of the Spirit, the wind of God which gives eyes of faith and turns simple water in to a spiritual means of rebirth! Simple water yes, but when it is combined with the powerful Word of God, it becomes God’s means of showing and giving you Jesus Christ. First that Word shows you Christ high and lifted up upon the cross and then it shows you Christ high and lifted up, ascended and reining with the Father and Spirit in Heaven.

Yes friends, that is how God so loves you! I pray that He continues to give to you eyes of faith that look to Jesus Christ alone as your only means of God’s love and grace… AMEN!

The Fortress Awaits!


Monday, March 6th, 2017

Lent 1 (A), March 5, 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

eden_temptation“A Mighty Fortress is Our God, A sword and shield victorious.” Or as Dennis Agajanian, a contemporary Christian composer, musician, and performer put it, “Come to the Rock; you don’t have to be stoned anymore.” Come to the Fortress of God and be protected from both the temptation to sin and the penalty of sin. Come into the Fortress of God, which is His Word and discover that God’s most loving desire for you is that you would come to Him and trust that He alone can both save and protect you from sin, death, and the devil.

God is good! All the time. And all the time, God is good!

So how could any of us ever doubt that God who alone is good, would desire any thing but good for us?

In the first two chapters of Genesis we learn all about God’s goodness. Each time He completed a stage of creation we hear… and it was good! Like the comforting purr of a kitten the word good is repeated over and over. But on the sixth day, the last day of creation, God created something good that would reflect His own goodness and love to all of creation, but it also would give the devil an opportunity to strike out at God. “God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” [Genesis 1:26]

“And God said (to Adam and Eve), “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of lie, I have given every green plant for food.” [Genesis 1:29, 30]

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Genesis 2:15-17]

The Garden of Eden, Paradise, eternal life with God the creator, the land of milk and honey, was a perfect place for perfect people. All of God’s good creation existed within His perfection; it was the perfect picture of peace. When God created man is His image, in essence He was creating a people who also had the power to create; that is man was created as a rational being who could conceive an idea and then work towards its conception and completion. Man alone was the one creature that God gave full charge over the rest of creation. In essence, God was telling Adam and Eve that they would be His ambassadors to the rest of creation. All of creation was theirs to manage and put to use; all except one tree, “the tree of Knowledge of good and evil.” That tree was to represent God’s presence or authority over man and the creation that He had given them to be stewards over.

Now we must not misunderstand the significance of this one tree. It was not as if God created man and then said, “I’m leaving, but that tree will remind you of my love and the good times we had together.” No, God was no absentee father and Adam was not a latch-key kid! After all, scripture clearly says that man and God walked together in the garden in the coolness of the day, and man was not afraid. Man knew God and loved Him. The tree instead represented the otherness of God. It reminded man that while they were as god to creation, they were not God!

Martin Luther called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “Adam’s Altar”. I like that idea. There at the tree Adam and Eve could return to God the true worship He was due as an act of obedience. But this was just the opportunity that the devil would exploit. You see, Satan was craftier than all of creation, including man! The devil, possessing a serpent began to craft innocent questions in order to create thoughts that then caused doubts in the minds of Adam and Eve, doubts in regards to the truthfulness of God’s Word. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” Hmm. How would you have answered that question? How should Eve have answered it?

This is how Eve should have answered Satan, “No, God never said that. Why do you question His Word? Be gone serpent or my husband will crush your head!”

But instead, Eve replied the truth of God’s command, but then she added a little something to it. “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the garden.’” But now listen to what she added, ‘neither shall you touch it, lest (or rather, perhaps) you (shall) die.’” Now, Eve has demonstrated her weak spot so to speak, the kink in her full armor of God. I believe that she was attracted by the beauty and splendor of the fruit, and that attraction caused her to minimize the perceived force and power of death, which God’s Word declared. And the rest as they say is history, the history of the fall of all of creation. But where pray tell was her husband? He, who was her spiritual head and protector, was right there with her and never once did he intervene by rebuking the attack of the devil; he who could have certainly stomped on the head of the serpent, but he did not.

So there you have it, the loss of paradise. A perfect home for perfect people, enjoying the love of a perfect Father, undone by a carefully crafted lie, “You will not surely die.” Now Adam and Eve knew shame. Their shame was not their nakedness but the nakedness of their sin before their perfect Father. They no longer went out to meet their Creator God joyfully, but hid as he approached. They knew that their loving Creator-Father had now become their judge! And once found out, neither of them accepted responsibility for their sin, but instead they began making excuses and shifted blame to each other and even onto God Himself!
But Satan’s trick and our sin would not win the day. God’s love would not let them go; He would not give them up. God would not abandon them in their guilt. He would send a Savior who would come and crush the power of sin, death, and the devil forever.

“You ask who this may be? The Lord of hosts is He, Christ Jesus mighty Lord, God’s only Son adored. He holds the field victorious.” [LSB 657 vs. 2b]

In our Gospel reading, Jesus the Son of God and the Son of man performs perfectly the task that Adam could not accomplish; He defeats the devil on our behalf.

Armed with only the Word of God, Jesus led by the Spirit of God entered the wilderness to right the wrong of Adam and undo the sin of our first parents. His victory over the devil using only the true Word of God is also our victory, as He sends the devil running. His righteousness becomes our righteousness by faith. Just as in the garden, the battle being fought is really over obedience to God’s will, which is communicated in His Word.

As Satan addressed Jesus, he used the same tricks that Eve fell to. Through deception, He attempted to plant doubts and half-truths, and then finally blatant lies in order to attack and already weakened Jesus. But this was Jesus, the Christ, the very Son of God who enters the fray as your Champion. Notice the decisive and bold stand that Jesus takes in our place: “Be gone, Satan!” For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”

The truth is that all of Satan’s attacks were meant to deter Jesus from His Divine appointment to become our Savior upon a cross. The devil tried every trick in the book to prevent Jesus from doing what Adam could not. And now, the devil tries the same thing against us. Think of how most temptations still come to us today in doubts: “If you are really God’s forgiven child then why do you still struggle with guilt and sin? If you are truly a Christian, blessed by God, why are you experiencing sickness, trouble, pain, or loss?”

Dear friends, Jesus knows what it is like to fight off questions about God’s truthfulness and the effectiveness of His wonderful gift of faith. Jesus knows that the questions of doubt are really meant to undermine the message about God’s forgiving love. He knows how the devil tempts us to take short cuts as a way of getting to our treasured goal. He knows what we all go through in those tough times of life when our baptism seems so long ago and far away. He knows what is like to doubt the trustworthiness of our Heavenly Father. And that is why Jesus wielded the sword of God’s Word against the devil. He did it to crush the devil and send him running in defeat, a defeat for you; He did it so that you may follow Him and also pick up the Sword, and then enter the secure and safe Fortress of God’s Word that awaits!

“Though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot over power us. Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage. His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail! One little word subdues him.” [LSB 657 Vs. 3] What is that little Word?

Jesus is that little Word!

Jesus name means God Saves! It is the name of Jesus that is your fortress. Blessed is the name of the Lord. The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it, (that is they cling to their Savior Jesus by faith), and are safe. [Proverbs 18:10]
Through Jesus alone, the pattern of death begun by Adam is over. [Romans 5:12–19] Jesus is that seed of the woman who would smash the head of our enemies: sin, death, and the devil. As Jesus hung dying upon the cross, that ancient serpent shrieked when he heard the last Words of our Savior: “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” For Jesus, these are Words of victory, but for us, they are words that bring faith. Words that assure us the battle is over and it is won!

Just as Adam’s one sin led to death for all of mankind, so also Christ’s obedient death and then resurrection, brought justification and new life to all who are baptized in His name and continually flee to the fortress of His Word and His cross in repentance and receive God’s forgiving love.
What an unspeakable gift God has given us through Jesus Christ! It is literally paradise restored. As God’s new people sealed by baptism into Christ, we can once again walk with God without fear. We can look forward to the day when we die in faith and are welcomed back to Eden restored, where our Savior has gone to prepare a place just for us.

But for now we live and walk by faith. And as we live, it’s God’s will that we would drink up every one of His promises that declare, “He who began the good work in us” will complete it through the new and greater Adam, Jesus Christ. We declare boldly by faith to our enemies, that no one, not even the devils can snatch us out of the Father’s hand or the Son’s abundant gift of grace.

“God’s Word forever shall abide. No thanks to foes, who fear it; for God Himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit. Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The Kingdom’s ours forever!” [LSB 657 vs.4]
So follow Jesus and pick up the Sword. The fortress awaits and paradise is restored! AMEN!

It’s a Powerful Word!

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Sexagesima Sunday, January 31st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As Jesus said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”” [Luke 8:8]

This morning, each of us gathers as both the soil for God’s Word, and fellow sowers of His Word.  Each of us gathers needing to hear Jesus speak, so that together we may obtain an abundant harvest.  So, what kind of soil are you?  Or another way to ask this question is, “Do you have, do you desire to have ears of faith that will hear God speak to you this morning?”  And then what kind of seed are you sowing?  Do you know of it’s power and purity?  Do you know, really know what it is able to do?

God’s Word is indeed powerful, but to the world it seems like a very small and insignificant thing; “After all” they say, “it is only words!”

And yet, it’s these very Words, which Jesus speaks to proclaim the mystery of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus spoke in parables, which to the outsiders were only words.  But to the apostles and disciples who walked with Jesus, those Words were the very source of hope and eternal life.

Some people stopped and listened to the Words of Jesus; they found a temporary diversion from the drudgery of daily life, but when He was finished speaking, they gathered their things and went back about living their lives, unaffected and unchanged by the Word.  But for those who remained at Jesus side, something else was given to them; they received the gift of faith.  To them, another Word was spoken; a deeper Word was given that both maintained the mystery of the Kingdom of God, yet assured them that they were a part of that mystery; a part of that Kingdom.

Why did this Word of Jesus seem to only grab a hold of so few?  What was there about these folks that separated them from the others?  Well, they were the good soil that Jesus talked about; not on their own or through their own doing, but rather they were changed from bad soil into good soil simply by grace and their felt need for that grace.  In their weakness, they knew that Jesus had the Word of life that would make them strong.  We might even say that these Disciples of Christ were even moved to brag about their weakness in order to point out God’s power, glory, and His wonderful gift of grace.

In Jesus’ story, He gave four examples of hearts that His Words would fall upon.  In His story, He compared those hearers and their hearts to soil and His Words to seeds being sown.

In His first example, Jesus speaks of hearts that are already shutoff from the power of His Word.  These hearts, Jesus compares to soil on a hardened foot path that can not receive the Word, due to lack of tilling or preparation, so the seed simply sits on top of the hardened soil.  But then Jesus adds an antagonist to the story; he adds birds.  These birds He tells us, are an example of Satan and the devils who do their very best to snatch away the seed of God’s Word, before the soil realizes what it is.  These devils use things like logic and philosophy and competing religions to make the Word of God seem impotent or no different than any other word.  They will even try to convince you that the true preachers and teachers are simply ignorant and selfish men who only want to make a living out of deceiving the masses.

The second example of soil is a rocky one; a thin veneer of soil that simply covers rock and gravel.  The Seed is received and even begins to sprout, but because of the lack of depth in the soil it can’t take root.  This soil, Jesus says are the hearts that gladly hear the Word of God and rejoice in that Word, but after leaving the presence of the Word, they are overcome by the temptations of a sinful lifestyle, so they go right back to a Godless life, unchanged by the power of the Word.

The third example of soil are those areas where the thorn bushes and bramble were not thoroughly uprooted in the plowing phase of planting.  As the seed grew, it was choked out of life from the thorns and brambles.  This soil represents those who hear the Word, become changed and renewed by the Word, but as life happens and responsibilities increase and the promise of wealth and happiness call, those hearers forget their first love and chase after created things and give up their desire to know deeply both the Creator and the mystery of His Kingdom.

And the fourth example of soil are we who simply trust in the seed to both recreate and renew our hearts as we are daily and weekly watered and nurtured by God’s Word and Sacraments.

It is God’s desire that everyone will allow Him to recreate our hearts into fruitful soil that gladly allows it’s weakness to be turned into God’s strength for His glory.  It is God’s will that each of us will see a need for His grace and mercy; that we will see that grace and mercy displayed for the world to see in the weakness of the cross.  He desires that you this morning, will remember that His grace and mercy were showered upon you and made yours completely in the waters of your Baptism.  It is God’s will that you will understand the true and utter power of His Word that is for you!

The power of God’s Word is the very thing that makes it different from all other words.

When God sows His Word out into this sinful world, it not only proclaims a message, but it also fulfills it.  In other words, God will do what He says He will do!  “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” [Isaiah 55:10, 11]

And this is how God’s power is revealed through His Word.  He did this very thing first in the creation of the world. [Genesis 1:30]  He spoke and it happened.  He commanded and it was done.  And since the creation of the world, He has been creating through His Word spoken by His chosen prophets.  God sends His Word out to “pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” [Jeremiah 1:10]

The same is true about the Words found within your Bibles.  It isn’t just a collection of teachings or a library of stories; it’s God speaking to you as you read; even those things that were written about and happened long ago, were written for your sake.  It has been written for your instruction.  In the very form that the Bible has been given to us, God meant it to be, so that His Word could be spoken and shared throughout the world for all generations.  The Bible declares to you, God’s desire for the world, for you as an individual, as “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.”  God sends His Word out against our sinful hard hearts as a fire, and as a hammer, that crushes rocky hearts into a powder.  It is living, and active, sharper than a two edged sword.  But when it strikes a broken heart, then the Word is Spirit and life.  It heals and regenerates, it turns the soil of our hearts from powdered rock to rich nutritious soil.  It is the power of God unto salvation.  And if you will allow yourself to be led by it, it will be a light unto your feet and a lamp upon your pathway.

But the Word does not work irresistibly.  Everyone of us are free to despise the Word and cast it aside.  But even then it is at work.  It hardens our hearts and finally, it brings judgment.

Dear friends, what Jesus Parable really give us is a final picture of sinful hearts that have been confronted with the Word of God. When each life is over, some will show a harvest, but many will not. Sadly, so many people will never let the Word in, some will never let it root, some will never let it grow up. God is showing this truth to us now as a warning, so that we will examine ourselves and discover how we are treating His Word now, before our lives here in this sinful world are finished. And while it’s true that no man or woman can change themselves, God by His grace has mercifully given to each of us His means of grace to change us all; trodden path, rocky places, and briar patches will all be turned into good soil through His Word alone.

You will need these means of grace and the power and change it brings, because God has invited each of you to also go out and broadcast, share, and sow His Word of eternal life to any and all He puts in your life, as you live out your lives being good soil and abundant in the life His “Good Seed” brings.

May God bless this planting and grant us an abundant harvest, in Jesus name… AMEN!

It All Comes Down To This

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost B, May 28, 2015

Click here for audio of this message

It all comes down to this!  Down to what?  The coming, presence, and work of the Holy Spirit, of course!  Jesus said, “… I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Now, I know the presence of the Holy Spirit is nothing new; His Work was essential, “In the beginning.. (when) the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  And (He empowered the Word of God when) … God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” [Genesis 1:4]

The Spirit was there with Adam and Eve as they were repelled out of Paradise, and it was the Spirit Who constantly reminded them of the Promise of restoration through the coming Champion who would destroy sin, death, and the devil, and bring humanity back to Paradise.  The Holy Spirit was with Noah and the Animals as the Ark was built and the animals were compelled to enter the Ark in peace.  The Holy Spirit was with Moses as He parted the sea and led God’s people to dry land.  It was the Spirit who filled every one of the prophets of old and the Apostles of Jesus to speak Words of hope and new life, all once again centered around the Champion who has actually fulfilled the promise of Paradise restored.  And that champion is Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and ascended!

Now this is all “good news” but it is not the only news on this day of Pentecost.  The news of Pentecost is that not only has Christ risen, but also that He has risen for you.  And here’s the best part of that proclamation, it is empowered by the Holy Spirit to actually bring you a new life with God, and take you back to Paradise; back to a right relationship with God!

So, the Good News for each of you today, is that through the fulfilled Word of God, you have been given faith to believe in each and every promise God makes regarding your sin and Christ’s Work upon the cross to take away your sin.  You have been given faith to know this truth as a certainty.  Just as the Spirit at creation hovered over the waters to empower the Word of God to create everything out of nothing, so too He has empowered God’s promise of forgiveness and restoration and the waters of your baptism.

But here’s another truth…

Life without faith is desperate. In our Old Testament lesson, we are given a graphic demonstration of this desperation through the vision God gave to His prophet Ezekiel.  The valley of dry bones is the ultimate expression of life overstepping its limits, which is the abandonment of hope in the Creator God.

Ezekiel’s vision is the reality of our world today.  Certainly the Christian martyrs in the middle east must feel dry, desolate and alone as they die one by one through the demonic power of ISIS.  But we do not have to go that far to know the feeling of emptiness and abandonment; how must the people of Detroit feel as they think back to better days when the economy was booming and neighborhoods and business were flourishing, but now all that stands are the burn out shells of homes and businesses that once were.

The Mexican artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada created a large body of art showing persons engaged in a wide variety of daily activities, but each were depicted as skeletons.  In one drawing he depicted a soldier riding through a valley of bones full of human skulls.  What was he trying to tell us?  Was he trying to say that hope in the government above or in place of our hope in God only leads to death?

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Ezekiel’s vision is after the bones became skeletons, and after the skeletons were fleshed, what filled the immense valley floor? Bodies of real people who are simply dead because they lack the touch of the Holy Spirit; they lack the breath of life!  This dear saints is the ultimate tragedy… not that people die, but that they refuse to live.  The flesh without spirit, not the dry bones is the most haunting aspect of Ezekiel’s vision.  A world of zombies, the walking dead if you will who are in that state and don’t know it, or worse yet they know but they do not seem to mind.  But…

Life with faith in Christ overcomes the curse of the walking dead; it overcomes despair! Jesus declared to the world and to you personally on the day of your baptism, “I came that (you) may have life and have it abundantly.” [John 10:10]  He is the only One who can not only speak hope, but deliver it.  He not only promises a restored and renewed hope, but His Word actually gives it.

Every Word that Jesus spoke and taught was to prepare each of you for that one moment in your life when you realize that there is something great and profound missing in life, and then receive it!  When your moment of despair comes, and sometimes they come frequently like the waves on the ocean shore, when it comes it is God’s will that you recall His promises of forgiveness and restoration, which you have heard declared, read, or even sung, and then remember.  Remember what?

Remember that although through His Word you have discovered that your sin is great, deadly, and terrifying, you must also remember that all of Christ’s righteousness has been given to you completely through His Work upon the cross and the declaration of the empty tomb.

But the Easter cry of “He is risen” is like a iPhone without a battery, if you can not or will not reply, “Indeed, He has risen for me!”  And this is now getting at the power of the abundant life that Jesus has promised to the church, and through the church , to the world.  This is where we discover that…

Life with Christ finds empowerment through the Holy Spirit in the church for the work of witness and missions! So it all comes down to this… The day of Pentecost is a demonstration of both the love and power of God, which takes the good news of forgiveness of sins and ensures that it will be declared throughout the world.

As Peter and the disciples gathered in the upper room right after their Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, they must have felt alone and afraid.  But they knew somehow they were not abandoned; they knew that Jesus would make good on His promise to send a helper, a counselor, and protector.  And my, did he ever…

Some may say rightly that until that day when the Spirit showed up in power, Christians were just playing the part of church; they were playing around with the idea of Christ, not yet allowing the resurrected and ascended Christ to come alive in their midst.  Again, they were like an iPhone without a battery, or better yet they were like a bus without an engine.  But then something happened on the Day of Pentecost… Jesus made good on His promise; He sent the Holy Spirit.

The entire account given to us in our second reading (Acts 2:1-21) can not help but excite us and invite us into the story of the church. The imagery of the event comes alive as it glows with tongues of fire and the bewilderment of other languages. People seem to be staggering and stammering like drunken men. But when Peter speaks and the air clears, that which is testified to, is nothing other than the mighty works of God.

Dear friends, the mighty works of the Holy Spirit are still being performed today.  We witness the same power as the dreams of the old and the visions of the young people refuse to play church, but actually become and behave as church through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  And this mighty work is none other than the work of salvation; the translation of sinners into saints for “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!”

When ever the Word is proclaimed, whether through the work of the sermon, Bible Study, personal witness, or when it is carried overseas to far way places, it is fulfilling the mission of Christ found in Matthew 28:”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 have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Vs. 19, 20) So Pentecost is really the birth of Missions or the empowerment of the church to fulfill Christ’s mission.

As you leave this place but not Christ’s presence, you leave reminded that you are on a mission to share the good news that sinners sins have been forgiven through the work of Christ alone. But you do not go alone; you have been empowered and you are protected by the Holy Spirit.  And as you share the good news, what will be the response that you will receive from friends, neighbors, and family?

Now we are at the very heart of sinful mankind’s response to the gospel.

Humanity’s situation without God is so desperate and their opportunities with Him are so big that almost any response seems inadequate and even a little ridiculous.  Do people fall to their knees and cry mercy or rise to their feet and cry glory; once they are converted by the Holy Spirit, do they spend a period of time in study and training or do they rise from the valley of dry bones in service to God and neighbor?

To dwell on questions like those can also be another way we play church and play with the mission of Christ.  Why not face the facts as we know them; anyone who has been struck by the Spirit of Pentecost has received the breath of life; they’ve been recreated through the waters of Holy Baptism.  In other words they have been reanimated.  And what they do next is the very same thing we do every day…

We repent! We believe and we become what God has already declared we are… Redeemed!  Repentance is the heart beat of the church.  It is the radical turning of the whole self from itself, to a right relationship with God through the cross of Jesus Christ.  To be baptized is to enter into the life and mission of the church.  To receive the Holy Spirit is to allow the Sprit to shape your life in obedient witness and service to Him who first loved us!  And yes, it may even mean making amends for past wrongs, selling or giving away what we don’t need and sharing the proceeds or other goods with the needy, sharing a common life with other Christians on days other than Sunday, worshiping daily and breaking bread in homes, the very transformation that marked the Christian community after the great day of Pentecost. [Acts 2:37-47]

SO IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS. The Holy Spirit is among us in great power, just as He was in the beginning, just as He was with Adam and Eve, just as He was with Noah, Moses, the prophets and apostles of old, and just as He was that first Pentecost Sunday.  In the past all who have made a difference within the building and growth of God’s Kingdom only did so because they were willingly being led by God’s Word and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  So it all comes down to this.  Are you willing?  I pray in Jesus name that you are… Amen!

These Things Are Written That…

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 7B, May 21, 2015

Click here for audio of this message

May the words of this message and the meditations of our hearts be both directed by you, and pleasing unto you O Lord.  In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit, AMEN!

Let’s immediately address the title of our message this morning.  Can you finish it?  I hope that you can because we just sang those words in our Alleluia and Verse, before the reading of the Gospel lesson.  “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”  [John 20:31] The apostle who wrote those words is the same St. John who wrote these Words from our Epistle lesson (1 John 5:9-15), “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” [V.13]

Notice, that the Word says “that you know that you may have eternal life”,  and it does not say “that you can have eternal life.” God desires that all men, women, and children, know that eternal life is already there’s through His Son Jesus Christ; through His life, death, and resurrection, and then know that all of it was done for you.  He came so that you could have a new and forgiven life, without fear or doubt.  He came that you might have an abundant life once again with your Creator.
His coming to sinful men and women was promised in His Word since the first sin of Adam and Eve; a sin that seemed to forever bar all mankind from returning to Paradise.  But the promised solution, the hope for both them and all mankind was the “Seed of the woman,” who would latter be known as the Messiah; the One who would make all things new and right with our Heavenly Father.  This Seed we know by faith, as a gift from God, is the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  He is the Messiah who was promised, that would restore mankind’s lost relationship with God, and thus bring us back to Paradise lost.  It is God Who makes all things new, and it has absolutely nothing to do with you and your efforts or lack of them.  He does it entirely through His Son Jesus Christ alone and through…

Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone. It is scripture, grace, and faith alone that recreates our hearts and minds so that we will believe that Jesus is the Christ and then receive His saving name, which alone ensures our hearts that we have eternal life. Again Jesus the Christ saves us, but saves from what?  Well, from the condemnation of our sins of course!  But how do we know this is true?  Through…

Scripture Alone: In the message of the inspired writers of Holy Scripture comes the re-creative Word of God; the Logos, who in the beginning said, “Let there be…” and there was!

John admitted that he could have written much more about the physical life of the Logos who came to us, but what he did write was enough to bring us eternal life.  St. Paul put it this way: “You have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” [2 Tim. 3:15]  Scripture does this by introducing us to Christ Jesus. So, we can say that as God’s Word introduces us to Jesus, it is also bringing the power of God into the lives of we who believe. [Rom 1:16]  God’s Word, every bit of it, found within your Bibles is powerful, because it teaches you about Jesus Christ.

The word of the prophets, which promised the coming of the Messiah, can be compared to a fire, because it purges the hearts of sinners of anything that does not come from God’s Word.  And it can be compared to a hammer, because it shatters our hearts that can become hard as rock when we place our hope in anything accept Christ alone! [Jeremiah 23:29]  The words of Scripture rise from the pages of our Bible with only two purposes, to pierce our hearts in regards to sin, and to heal our hearts in regards to the work of our Savior. [Heb. 4:12] John’s words about the Word made Flesh were written to bring life to each of us who hear or read those Words.  “These things are written that you may believe  that Jesus is the Christ!”

Now with all of this being true, we must always remember that when we are reading God’s Word, it must be handled with both respect and a sense of awe.  We must never try to impose our own cultural ideas upon that Word, nor use it to justify our sinful actions.  Scripture interprets Scripture. The Word of the Lord alone can govern how his Word is to be understood. The one who listens to God’s Word is to be “trapped” within that Word. It remains an authoritative voice from outside of our control. Therefore, the words of Scripture must be understood within the context of God’s revelation of Himself within the biblical text, and not according to what contemporary society says is truth.  We as the readers or hearers of God’s Word stand under that Word and never over it.

In our first reading this morning (Acts 1:12-26), we join the eleven apostles and many disciples of Jesus as they are leaving the mount called Olivet, where for the last time, they physically saw Jesus as He ascended into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  After they witnessed Jesus going up into heaven, they returned and stayed in Jerusalem, just as Jesus had commanded them.  But it was the way that they were waiting, which has significance to our message this morning; they were waiting “with one accord, devoting themselves to prayer.”  That is, they were devoted to worship and the one correct understanding of God’s Word!

What was it that united them?  Scripture alone!  It was through scripture that the work of the Holy Spirit moved Peter to fill the place that Judas, by his death vacated.  Judas Iscariot, the one who scripture prophesied would not only betrayed Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, but take his own life to boot!

Peter, filled with the Spirit of God, and moved by the Spirit, stood before the congregation, and began to apply scripture to their situation.  As he spoke, the Holy Spirit reminded of the two portions of Scripture from the Psalms of David, which prophesied both the betrayal of the Messiah, and the punishment and replacement of the betrayer. First, he read Psalm 69, which proclaims, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it.”  In other words, the betrayer will be punished, and his betrayal of the faith will not be repeated again by those who replace him.  The next Psalm brought before the heart of Peter was Psalm 109, which declares, “Let another take his office.”  That its let another apostle be called.

So what we learn from this is that it is Christ alone who chooses, and it is Christ who still speaks to His Church through Holy Scripture and prayer.  It is by grace alone that any are chosen, and it is by faith alone that they will continue stead fast in this high call of God.  And we will need this faith that comes through the Word of God every day, because like Judas we too can only be saved by…

Grace Alone: And like Judas, we too are subject to fall from our call as Christians and betray our Lord, choosing the rewards of this sinful world over the grace of God.  In fact, it has already begun in your life, hasn’t it?  Wasn’t it your sins, like the sins of Judas that caused Jesus to set His heart on that painful walk to the cross?  Quickly, don’t deny it; simply say “Yes, Christ died for my sins.”  Because if you cannot say that Jesus died for your sins, that it was your sins that led Him to the cross, then you cannot receive the forgiveness of sins that His death brings.  That is, you cannot receive His grace, which is the undeserved gift of God’s forgiving love.

Dear saints, when you are in Christ’s church, when you are gathered around the Word and Sacraments, you are receiving Jesus gifts without merit, which come through Scripture alone, by grace alone, and which save you by both creating and sustaining faith alone.

Faith Alone-is that very thing, which allows us to receive and believe that not only has Christ died to save the World, but He also died to save you!  By faith alone, you are able to say along with the entire church, “He is risen, indeed, but more importantly, He has risen for me.”

Because he died to save sinners, He died to save you, and in your baptism, He has given all of this to you.  In the washing of the water and the Word of God, you may stand with confidence upon the work of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the twelve apostles, which alone not only promises, but also gives eternal life.

So faith is simply the empty hand of a beggar, which has nothing on its own, but simply waits to be filled with belief in Christ by God Almighty.

Now let’s look at a case study of a real man whom God says was a type of Judas; a type, which all of us may become if we do not cling to Jesus alone, through Scripture alone, by grace alone, and by faith alone. It is the story of Ahitophel, who was counselor of King David.  The Bible mentions this man only in three places, yet his life is intertwined with King David from the time that David became king in Hebron until the time of the death of David’s son, Absalom.  In 2 Samuel 16:23 we are told that the counsel of Ahitophel “was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahitophel both with David and with Absalom.”  So where did this man of God, Ahitophel come from?    Well, the Bible says he was from the town of Giloh, a town near Hebron (Joshua 15:51-55). Hebron was the area where young David, before he was king, sent his young men to a man called Nabal, asking for some thing in return for having protected Nabal’s shepherds and flocks from marauders in the area of Carmel.  David was ridiculed by Nabal, and it was Nabal’s wife Abigail who saved the lives of all of them from the wrath of David, by her quick thinking and action. After Nabal died, David married Abigail, and if you read 1 Samuel 25 you will see that she admits that the meaning of her husband’s name Nabal, is “Fool”. This is the only man in the Bible who has this name.

So what is the meaning of Ahitophel’s name?  It is “the brother of a fool.”  But unlike his brother Nabal, he was renowned for his wisdom and understanding. You’ll find him mentioned as King David’s counselor in 1 Chron. 27:33. And it appears, that he held this position up until the time of the rebellion of David’s son Absalom.

So why did Ahitophel commit suicide?  Well, Ahitophel had served David closely and obediently for years, yet out of no where he seems to have turned on his King, and joined the conspiracy of David’s son Absalom to over throw David, but when the advice he gave Absalom in regards to defeating David was not followed, out of shame and fear, he committed suicide by hanging himself.  But Why; why did he turn traitor, and why the permanent solution to what seems to be a temporary problem?  And herein lies an interesting tale.

You see, Ahitophel was the one person who was in the know when David committed adultery with Bathsheba. He was in the Palace, in the confidence of the King and he was Bathsheba’s Grandfather! Yes, you can look it up yourself in 2 Sam.11:3 and 2 Samuel 23:34. Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam whose father was Ahitophel. So here along with the death of his brother, is the seed of betrayal that years later became the motivation for Ahithophel to turn on David and join David’s son, Absalom.

Remember, Bathsheba had been happily married to Uriah, and it was Bathsheba whom David seduced and then had her husband Uriah killed in battle.  Ahitophel knew all of this, and carried that grudge for years.  In Psalm 41:9,  David laments, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” This is the very verse that Jesus quoted about Judas at the last supper, as the betrayer, who like Ahitophel turned against the one who entrusted him with responsibility.

When both Ahitophel and Judas saw that their advice to their kings was rejected, they both saw that there was no future for them, so they both chose the same end… betrayal and then suicide!

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, we must all consider Ahitophel and Judas when we are tempted to hold a grudge against someone who may have hurt us or let us down.  And then by faith, we must see how God has so lavishly blessed us with His grace, and then ask the Lord to take that root of bitterness out of our hearts, because if it remains, it will ruin us and rob us of the faith that is needed to be led by His Word.

Friends, if you have a grudge against someone, allow God’s Word to have control over your lives.  By faith, go and make peace with the one you are at odds with, and then with the same grace you have been given, go and offer forgiveness to the one that has hurt you.  And remember, forgiveness is a verb, not a feeling. It is something you do through the help of God, and it’s not something you feel. Peace comes after you have gone and forgiven the one you were in conflict with. Whether they accept your forgiveness or not, once you have forgiven, you will by faith, through grace, experience the peace of God in your soul, because the Word of God promises that it is so.  AMEN!