Posts Tagged ‘Word of God’

Anointed for Revival!

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

Epiphany 3C, January 27, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” [Nehemiah 8:3b]

Oh that this would be true not only this morning, but whenever a minister of the gospel and the saints of God share His Word with those  who are lost in sin and separated from their God of love!  But let’s not pray only that ears are attentive to the word, but hearts as well.    Let’s keep praying as a church that we would see the gift of faith go out from us and be received by our family, friends, and neighbors in  a way that a great revival of the church will appear before our very eyes.

Let’s pray for this revival, not so that our pews and the offering plate will be full, but so that the kingdom of God grows and the kingdom  of the devil diminishes.  Let’s pray for this great revival so that those who are blind to God’s presence would be allowed to see His  power.  Let’s pray, that God would allow the spiritually blind and deaf to see and hear His real presence among us and receive His  forgiving love.  Because when that happens, when His Word is received, our family, friends, and neighbors, who are being held in the  bondage of sin, death, and the devil will be freed and the kingdom of God will advance, one forgiven sinner at a time.

Yes, let’s pray for a revival, but before we do, let’s understand that this revival can only come through God’s anointing!

In our Old Testament reading (Nehemiah 8:1–10), we see this very thing happening among God’s people who were gathered on the tenth day of the seventh month, a festival commanded by God to celebrate His presence and forgiveness.  The people of God had been released from the bondage of foreign oppressors and had recently returned to their homeland.  It had been many generations since the people gathered as one to worship their God; it had been just as many years since they gathered for the public proclamation of His Word.

As men and women and even children who could understand gathered and heard, something wonderful and mysterious began to happen to them… the Word of God began to speak to their hearts and they were able to listen and understand.  Please don’t miss this point, because it comes in two parts, listening and understanding.  The ears can always hear but in order to listen, well this requires a certain gift from God.  It requires wisdom and understanding, which are words that are synonymous with faith.  And faith is always a gift from God that comes through the hearing of His Word and the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

So you could certainly say that that the Holy Spirit was present among His people that day.  He caused the spiritually blind and deaf to see and hear, and through His Word He set His people free from spiritual captivity, just as He set them free from physical captivity earlier.

And what was the people’s response?  Well, they wept because God, through His Law showed them their sin; He showed them their lack of love and their self-serving hearts.  But God would not allow them to stay in this valley of death, which the Law had spoken into their hearts; no, you see, He also spoke the gospel, the good news that their sins had been forgiven, and they were free to be the people of God.

All of this wonderful work of redemption took place simply through the proclamation of the Law and Gospel of Jehovah-God.

Oh that this would still happen today; that it would happen here among us!  Do we as a church still have hope of that that kind of revival will take place among us?  Yes, and again I say yes, but it only happens according to God’s means and according to His will.

In our Gospel reading (Luke 4:16–30), Jesus shows us both the will of His Father and the mission of the church, that is, He shows us our mission.  As He stood up and preached in a synagogue in Nazareth he read these Words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”” [Luke 4:18-21]

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Him… He has been anointed to proclaim the good news.  The proclamation of this good news is nothing less than the very power of God that comes through the Word of God; both law and gospel.  But this proclamation is not about a thing, but about a person… the Messiah, the very Son of God, Jesus Himself.

In His baptism the Spirit of the Lord descended upon Jesus and the voice of the Father declared Him to be His only begotten Son.  After His baptism He went immediately out into the world, into the wilderness and was tempted in ways we could never fathom, and yet just as before this wilderness experience, He never faltered and He never failed to please His Father; that is He never sinned.

He went out proclaiming forgiveness of sins through the anointing of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit.  He proclaimed that God would redeem His people; God alone would atone for their sins.  And how was He received?  Well in our gospel lesson, we discover that even the good people of Nazareth, His home town wanted to throw Him off a cliff; they wanted Him dead.

And so is the desire of all sinners who will not hear; who will not be baptized into His name.  But amazingly, that was also the will of God; it was the will of Jesus that eventually He would not mysteriously pass through their presence, but He would allow them to arrest Him and crucify Him simply for speaking the truth and proclaiming the forgiving love of His Father.  It had to be that way, you see…

Jesus was anointed to suffer and die for your sins so that you would not have to; He was anointed to bring you back to your Creator and make you right with Him.  In your baptism, you too have experienced the descending of the Holy Spirit, and He has been content to exist within you.  In your baptism, the fruit of the cross, which is the forgiveness of sins, has been made your personal gift, and you have been redeemed and sanctified.  But you have been sanctified for a purpose, and this is where we can say, you have been anointed!  You have been anointed with a purpose, but what purpose?  So that you can become part of the many that are one!

We are the church.  We are many sinners saved by God’s anointing through the washing of the water and the Word, yet we are one, the body of Jesus Christ.  Each of us, on our own are foreign and hostile to God, and yet through the preaching of His Word He gathers us together, shows us our sin and then assures us that through His Son He has forgiven us; He has opened our eyes to see and our ears to hear that we have been redeemed.

Now this alone would be enough to bring us peace, but He doesn’t stop there.  No, you see, He also tells us that we have a purpose… a mission.  We are to allow Him to sanctify our time, talents, and treasure, that is we are to allow Him to bless all the gifts He’s given to us so that we can be a blessing to His body, the church, that is each other, and then to the world.

You see, God’s forgiving love is not only for us, but for them.  You know who “them” are don’t you?  They are “those people,” the ones that you once were a part of.  They are blind and deaf to God’s will and His love.  They are the unlovable.  But they are also dear and precious to Him just as you are.  They are part of that world that God so loved that He gave His only begotten Son upon the cross for, all so that “they” would not die in their sins, but believe and be saved.

Many years ago in the south, during the depression, an elderly black man knocked on the door of a southern mansion.  An equally elderly white man, the owner of that estate answered the door.  The black man was begging for food, because he was alone and hungry.  The owner told the beggar to go around to the back door, which was socially proper at the time, because of his color and status.  He assured him that he would meet him there and help him.

The old rich man met the old beggar at the back door, with a piece of bread, and said that they must say grace over this gift from God.  He said, “Now repeat after me, ‘Our Father…”  The beggar said, “Your Father…”  The rich man asked the poor man, “Why do you insist on saying, ‘Your Father, when I keep telling you to say ‘Our Father?’  The beggar answered, “Well, boss, if I say ‘Our Father,’ that would make you and me brothers, and I’m ‘fraid the Lord wouldn’t like it, you makin’ your brother come to the back porch to get a piece of bread.”

Dear friends, in our baptism, we have been anointed to both celebrate God’s forgiving love and to share it.  We are not to discriminate in any way who hears that or who we will receive as part of our congregation, after they believe.  We are simply to speak and to become all that God has willed.

Now it’s true, that as we go out proclaiming this message of forgiveness and inviting those who hear it into our congregation, the kingdom of God will grow; and it is also true that this place will be loaded with sinners; sinners that can bring a self-serving spirit of confusion that can cause division.  But the solution to this problem doesn’t rest with us, but with the same God that is anointing and reviving sinners.  It is the same solution that we gather to receive every day.  It is the same solution God used long ago among His people in our old testament lesson.  It is His Word.  His Word of Law and Gospel; repentance and forgiveness.  It is the message about His Son and it is a message about you and me, and even a message about them, “those people” who also need a Savior.

May God continue to use us and forgive us so that others can be forgiven and use to bring this same message.  And together, may we see that we have been anointed for a revival.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Gathering the Scattered!

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Eighth Sunday in Pentecost B, July 22, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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 traveler 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 gentleman. The Syrian  shepherd replied, “Only if 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 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, 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.

A. 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 four 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. [Mark 6:30-44]  “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 only is 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 desolate 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, which stands ready in all situations to help them and us.

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 looked at them not 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 together might 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.

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!

Now, may the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Living On the Edge!

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost A, October 9, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Matthew 22:1-14

INTRODUCTION: 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 unseen!  To live a life following Jesus requires living by faith and not by sight!

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  baby Lilyana, her parents, and 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 pictures 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; just like the new identity that Lilyana has been given this morning.

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!

I. Living on the edge means living between joy and disappointment.  Have you heard about the family that moved into the neighborhood of a local congregation?  Well the good saints of that church decided to reach out to that family when they heard that they had 12 kids and were for the most part poor. They invited the family to divine service and even brought a package of wonderful suits and dresses to them and said, “We want you to know” they said, “that you and your entire family are welcome at our church anytime. We have bought you these gifts and we want you to feel comfortable and at ease in our congregation. We hope you can use them” and they left. Well Sunday came and the congregation waited for the family, but they never showed. Wondering what could have possibly happened, some members of the board of elders returned to the home and found the family just getting back, all dressed in their new clothes.  “We don’t mean to be nosey but we would like to know what happened. We had hoped to see you this morning in church,” the head elder said.  The father answered, “Well, we got up this morning intending to come. And we sure do appreciate your invitation. But after we showered, shaved, and dressed, why we looked so good we went for some breakfast and fun at the Casino.”

Now that’s a funny way of talking 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 asked them to come to church and you know all too well the disappointment, 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!

II. 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 paralysis 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!”

III. 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 Jesus’ robe of righteousness.  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 used to baptize baby Lily, 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.”

CONCLUSION: 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.  Just as we have seen Lilyana ushered into the Kingdom, in the same way so have you!  Just as we feast upon the Lord’s table and eat and drink forgiveness of sins, someday, as Lilyana’s parents continue to instruct her in God’s Word, so will she!  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 impostors.  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!

Kingdom Building Through God’s Word!

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, September 30, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.” [Psalm 119:105]  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 know exactly where we are!  I’ll get us there; don’t worry!”  She was greatly relieved when I finally broke down and bought a Garmin Street Navigator.  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 a Garmin or a Tom-Tom 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 distress 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 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 work 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 passage of conviction and strength for one 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. Evidently the Lord had other plans.

The day came when Hien was released. He promptly began to make plans to escape from the country. After several unsuccessful attempts he began to build a boat in secret. About fifty-three other people planned to escape with him, and Hien was taking the lead. All was going according to plan until a short while before the date of their departure four Vietcong soldiers knocked on Hien’s door. When he opened it, they accosted him and said they had heard he was trying to escape. “Is it true?” they demanded.  With great fear but greater faith, Hien resignedly gave his answer, “Yes, I am, with fifty-three others. Are you going to imprison me again?” There was a pronounced pause. And then they leaned forward and whispered, “No. We want to escape with you!”  And they did!  Eventually Hien arrived on American soil where today he is a businessman – forever grateful to God and His saving Word!  Thy 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!  Thy 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.  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

Think of the Word this way.  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 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.  Thy 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 your 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 the Word of God shall not perish in darkness but have everlasting life!  God’s 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 you meet 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!  Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

May we forever stay in that light, God’s Holy Word and we ask this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost… AMEN!

Faith Comes By…

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Eighth Sunday in Pentecost, August 7th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here 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] 

INTRODUCTION: 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 never will fails and pleases God, without God’s Word.  It just can’t happen!  You can have faith in many things, and it can be justified, built on experience, but ultimately the person or thing you have faith in will fail you.  Let me give you an example: My son Thomas use to love to jump into my arms from great heights.  We started with easy heights, about one foot, but something interesting happened.  Over time, he was jumping down to me at distances of about 3 to 5 feet over my head.  What happened?  He developed faith in my ability to catch him.  He learned that having faith in my ability to catch him was justified!  And something similar happens as we read God’s Word!  Through the word we begin to hear God speak to us.  We hear Him speak because He gives us a gift called faith.  By faith we learn that God is faithful in 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 justified, but we also have faith that justifies, or faith that saves us!  So 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.  Remember my story about my son jumping into my arms?  Well one day when he was getting a little older and a little heavier, he insisted on jumping into my arms from about 5 feet.  I told him that it wouldn’t be a good idea, but he insisted.  Up the tree he went and down into my arms he crashed.  I was able to slow his fall but he broke through my grasp.  He was alright but that was the last time he asked to jump into my arms.  He learned a valuable lesson; man will fail you, even Dad, but but I reminded  Him that God never will! 

“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] 

I. [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 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; 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 God; don’t feel abandoned by God thinking that God’s 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 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 in Jesus Christ, the 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!    

II.  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 we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and 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; 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.  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.  Even 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, and famine, we are lost without God’s Word of Law and gospel speaking death to our sinful flesh and recreating new life.  

III. (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 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!  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 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! 

CONCLUSION:  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 look deeper into that Word by hearing it preached and taught in God’s church, even our little church here that we call Trinity. 

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 through 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!  May God continue to give us ears and a heart to hear and believe this message!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

God So Loved You!

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

The Second Sunday in Lent (A), March 21, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

In last 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 how God so loves you and that is exactly what this message will declare to us this morning.

I. “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 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!

 So 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 Sprit.” [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 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]

 II. 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 cleaned from all of our impurities and saved from our sin?  First to the cross and then to the fount; 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.  It they would look to this bronze snake on a poll and trust in God’s means they would live!

So 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!  Now we must go to 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 love!  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 to the cross and then to the waters of your own baptism!

 III. 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!

 CONCLUSION: 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 Desire of God!

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

The First Sunday in Lent (A), March 13, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

In last week’s message we learned that the purpose of God’s Word is that you would know Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  St. John put it this way:  God speaks so  “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” [John 20:31  Think of it friends, all of God’s Word has been divinely prepared and preserved for you today, right now at this very moment so that you would hear him speak to you. 

This message of God comes from the very heart of God.  We hear God speak to us in the very first Words of Genesis where we discover how God created all things.  Listen:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be…” [Genesis 1:1-3a]

 In that little bit of scripture we discover a couple of things about God.  First we learn that God is indeed all powerful. He created everything by simply speaking it into existence!  But we also learn that God is personal.  Think about that for a moment.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One; One God and One mind and heart, yet He exists in a dialogue of three persons.  Now, God could very well have thought all of creation into existence, yet He chose to speak.  He spoke because He is a personal God!  So in the beginning, there was God, but there was no one for Him to be God for! 

 So God created something that He could be a God for; something that would be able to relate to Him in the same manner as He relates to Himself.  “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” [Gen.1:26]  “(Then) the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. [Gen. 2:7]

Again, we learn that God wanted to be God for someone; He wanted to be God for you and me.  He created us in His image; He created us to have dominion and rule over the entire earth in His authority just as He has dominion and rule over us.  Listen: (So) God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” [Genesis 1:28]  Can you see the beauty in this Word of God?  Do you understand that God created the entire world as a cradle for people with whom He could relate with; they were made in His image, and designed to relate to Him and multiply, and care for the earth!  Do you see how passionate in His love God is for all of creation?  It was that same love that moved Him to empower us with the ability to reject Him by choosing evil over good.  Listen and you will understand: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” [Gen 2:15-17] 

Many people love to say that God is love; they say it so quickly, but I wonder how many realize the infinite depth of that love.  God loves us so much that He not only gives us the ability to reject His love, but He also made the decision to share His love.  Listen: “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” [Genesis 2:18]  Why did God do this?  Friends, God did this because He is love and love is not only passionate it is sacrificial.  It was God’s eternal love that motivated Him to share Adam with Eve!

 So, from all of this we now learn what the Garden of Eden was; it was a perfect place for perfect people, who related to a perfect God and one another in a perfect way; intimately and free of guilt and fear.  But God also created us to reflect His love and care towards each other and all of creation.  So when we hear that we were created in His image, that doesn’t mean that we were designed to look like Him; no, it means that we were created to act like Him; to reflect His character, His heart and priorities.  We were created to relate to Him and others as God relates to us—in love!  But something happened which caused us to lose that character of God; listen: “Now the serpent was craftier than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”  Now let me interject here and point out that God never said that if they touched the fruit they would die; that was Eve’s addition.  It was the first act of legalism and many such additions to God’s Word have followed ever since.  Remember this; legalism always turns a loving God into an angry God! 

Well now, seeing an opportunity, the devil pounces: “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. [Genesis 3:1-7]

So what happened?  I’ll tell you what happened; they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and it’s been that way ever since!  It always starts the same way; it starts with Satan planting a seed of doubt.  Then once He gets us to doubt, He uses deception.  What did He say to Eve?  He said, “You will not surely die.”  What he meant was you won’t die immediately, but you will die eventually!  He was implying that God was holding back the best from us.  He was implying that we may think like Him, but we don’t know like Him.  And so began the insatiable desire of man to know the mysteries of God.  It is the prize that Satan has been promising to give ever since the fall! 

Now you see the beginning of our own sinful nature.  Can you see why Adam and Eve were to blame for the fall and not God; why we are to blame for our own sin?  It always starts the same way.  First we allow seeds of doubt to grow into discontent, and from there it’s just a simple turn towards sinful desires.  And once those sinful desires rear their ugly heads, full-blown disobedience… sin is sure to follow!  And disobedience and sin always come with a price, a big price.  Forever things were changed in a moment; the greatest blessing we could ever have or want was lost; we lost our relationship of love and trust with our Creator!  How?  Well, we chose knowledge over trust in God and when that choice was made we lost our ability to relate to Him in innocence and love!  Listen to how scripture explains it: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”  [Genesis 3:7]

In just one moment of sin, our peace and trust in God’s care was replaced with shame and guilt! But that wasn’t all; no there’s another thing that always follows sin and that is denial.  Listen: “Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”  The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” [Genesis 3:13]  Do you hear the denial? “The serpent YOU made.”  And ever since that great fall, God has been getting blamed for the things that sinful men and women do.  We’ve lost both our relationship with God and the ability to physically live forever! But there are other ways that we are suffering because of that sin.  Listen: To the woman (God) said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” [Genesis 3:16]  From that point on, the created order of things had changed.  No longer would the woman measure her worth through God’s love and care, but now she must turn to her relationships with others, but because they are sinful also, they will fail her as well!

So where did that leave Adam and Eve?  The same place it leaves God and you and me; we all long to return to what we lost in Eden.  We long to be in a relationship with each other.  God knows the way back because He made the way.  But we are never happy waiting on God; we don’t like to do things His way, so we take matters into our own hands and we try to fix what is broken on our own.  Listen again: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” [Genesis 3:7]  Nothing’s changed much since then has it?  Like Adam and Eve, we’re still trying to cover up and hide our sin!  We are still trying to get back into Eden through our own work and cover-up!

But God has a plan; a plan to restore what we lost; to fix what we messed up!  But in order to understand God’s way and follow His plan we have to first admit that there is only one person who’s never changed; we have to first confess that God is right and we are wrong!  That dear friends is simply called confession!  And to make our confession come a little easier, God wants each of us to know that He still wants us to return to Him and relate to Him in love and trust.  He wants us to remember that we were created to be in a close relationship with Him and each other; a relationship free of guilt and fear.  How will God accomplish all of this?   By forgiveness and grace! 

 Listen to God’s way of doing this very thing as He put the devil on notice: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” [Genesis 3:15]  This was the first proclamation of the Gospel as God promised that He would defeat the devil and restore our fallen and broken relationship.  This is the same promise that He has repeated consistently through many different prophets.  Listen to God speak this same promise through the prophet Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” [Isaiah 7:14]

What one man destroyed through choice, the God man, the child of the virgin would restore through another choice. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” [Romans 5:12-14] 

It was God’s love for the world, for you that moved Him to send His son to us in our flesh.  It was God’s love that moved Him to take away the leaves that we used to cover our shame and provide the skins of animals in its place.  Here is the first teaching of God that demonstrates to us that our sin is so serious that it requires more than a mere cover-up… it requires the shedding of blood!  “(So) the LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. [Genesis 3:21]  But animal blood was only a temporary solution to a permanent problem.  Human blood must be spilled for human sin. This is where the sending of God’s Son Jesus Christ becomes God’s way back to Eden.  Through the tree of knowledge sinful mankind lost their relationship of love and trust with God, but God raised up another tree, the cross of Jesus Christ!

 Through the cross we learn that God’s gift of love and forgiveness is the only way back to Eden.  “For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin.  For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.” [Rom. 5:15-17]

 What do we learn first in the book of Genesis and then throughout the entire Bible?  You don’t get back to Eden through Eden.  You get back to Eden through the cross of Jesus Christ!  So God’s desire for you this morning is simply this; that by reading His Word you would believe and trust in His love and work for you through Jesus Christ and then be saved.  God desires that you would rest in the work of Jesus Christ, which was given to you in your baptism, and then be brought back into a right relationship with Him; a relationship of love and trust!

So here is the simple message of the cross, a message that you can speak to your neighbors.  God is creating a community of people who relate to Him by faith and one another in love so that He can bless them, and through them be a blessing to the world, by reconciling then to him through the one man, Jesus CHRIST!

Transfigured by God’s Word

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

The Transfiguration of Our Lord, March 6, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

INTRODUCTION:  What do you do, how do you feel when you are standing in the middle of God’s glory?  In our gospel reading this morning, we see what the three apostles did; they hid their faces in terror!  What would you do?  Well let’s try to put a more practical application to this question; think about your eyes and your ears for a moment.  Aren’t they wonderful?  With the ear we can listen to God’s Word.  We can hear about His law, which terrifies us because it shows how much God hates and punishes sin… our sin!  But then, we can also hear His gospel, which assures us that God is love, and that through faith in Jesus Christ, God has forgiven us of our many sins!  And then through our eyes, we can actually read this Word of God for ourselves.  We can discover and understand God in a way that is personal and real!  But what if, what if the eye and the ear fail us through disease or old age?  Does that mean that we should be afraid that God is angry with us?  Should we feel that God is punishing us?  Would God do that?  Could He do that?  Yes He could and He’s done it in the past!  Are you beginning to get a sense of the terror that the three apostles had?  Good!  That’s how a creature should feel about its Creator.  But to this terror, Jesus in that same Word taps you on your shoulder and says, “Rise, and have no fear.”  I AM with you!  So this presence and special protection of Jesus is what we will look at this morning.  And to do this, we will answer three primary questions: 1. What is the Transfiguration?  2. What is the Word of God?  3. What is the purpose of the Word of God?

I. What is the Transfiguration?  Well, the word “transfiguration” finds its origin in the Greek word “metamorpho” and it means to transform, or to metamorphose, or to change into another form. In the case of the transfiguration of our Lord, it means that the outward reality of His Human nature was changed to match the inward reality of His divine nature; a nature that was “veiled” (Hebrews 10:20) in human form.  So Jesus’ transfiguration was a glimpse at Jesus’ true glory; the Shekinah glory of God which has always belonged to the Son of God. And to make sure we understand this eternal reality, the voice of God the Father speaks to us with these Words: “This is my beloved Son, with who I am well pleased; listen to Him.” [Matthew 17:5b]

Through the audible voice of God, God’s Word explains His Work.  He is telling us essentially this: “I have sent my Son to you in your flesh!  I did this not to punish you but to lead and save you.  You must listen to Him if you wish to know and rest in my love and favor.”  So here dear friends is the wonderful Word of God first speaking in an audible voice to the three apostles, and now from the written Word of God He speaks to you!  Through this Living Word of God you like the three apostles are taken to a place where heaven and earth become one; you actually are allowed to experience a joining of heaven and earth!  But how can this be?  Simply because God’s Word, His means of grace and salvation are with you now!  They are with you to comfort you, to counsel and guide you!

II. But what really is the Word of God?  How can we be sure that our Bibles alone are truly God’s Holy Word?  Well friends, you can be sure because God has given you His own testimony to this truth in our Gospel reading this morning.  Think now; who appeared with Jesus and the three on that mountain top long ago?  It was Moses and Elijah!  Moses the great law-giver who promised that the Lord our God would raise up for us a great prophet from among us and it is this one that we should listen to! [Deut. 18:15] And Elijah the greatest of prophets of old is there with Moses to make sure that we understand that neither he nor any of the other prophets were the one that we were to look for!  And how do they appear?  Gathered around Jesus… listening to Jesus, all the while enveloped in the cloud of God’s glory.  And as Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and the three apostles are gathered in that place where heaven and earth join, the Word of the Father rings out like thunder: “This is my beloved Son!  (One who is far greater than the prophets and kings of old.)  Listen to Him!” [Vs.5]

And how do we listen to Him?  We listen to Him by hearing and reading the Word of God; both the Law and the prophets.  Now, some will say that there are many ways to know God, say like going to the beach or to the mountains.  But friends these things only speak about God in muffled tones and may I say they mainly speak to deaf ears and blind eyes!  What do you do when the sea becomes a Tsunami and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea because of a catastrophic earthquake?  How do you make sense of these things and find God’s wisdom when it seems that the whole earth around you and beneath you is going to hell in a hand basket?  You listen to God speak in the way that He has chosen to reveal Himself; you look to His Word which comes to us in our own history!  God has always been involved and even intervened in our history.  He has done it in mighty acts of judgment and even mightier acts of liberation!  Another way to say this is that God’s people always experience God among them saving them.  But why?  And that friends is the point; without the leading of God’s Holy Spirit calling up prophetic voices to explain what God is up to, all of this would remain a mystery and it would be subject to the whim of sinful human speculation!

But God did speak and He assures us that we can know what He has said.  To do this He has used many different voices of prophets to convey His message to His people of faith.  He has spoken and they have repeated in their own style exactly what God has said.  We can explain this use of prophets in a different ways.  In one way they are like a UN translator who takes the Words of a heavenly language and repeats their meaning into our language.  Or we can think of the prophets as different musical instruments.  As a flute or a trumpet, it is God who blows into them and pushes the different keys so that His musical composition can be heard each in the style of the instrument.  Or maybe He plucks the strings of a guitar or pounds the strings of a piano, but in each case it is God’s music singing into our hearts!  In the case of His Word, God choses to use language; He brings His Word to us in our own language. 

You know, there’s one thing each of us has in common, we like to talk; why we even talk even to ourselves.  We even think in words!  God has created us so that we organize our lives in words.  Because God designed us that way, He not only acted out His love in human history, He also explained those actions through the prophets in our own words.  Through the prophets we have both the promise and the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The entire Bible was recorded so that we would have something sure; so that we would have the prophetic and perfect Word of God, delivered to us exactly as God wanted it to be delivered!  And it is this Word that St. Peter tells us to pay attention to; he tells us to use it like a lamp that will shine God’s own light first in our dark hearts and then in a world that has been darkened by sin!  We are to use God’s Word with complete confidence knowing that no prophecy of Scripture, which is your Holy Bible ever came from someone’s own interpretation.  God assures you that nothing in your Bibles ever came by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit!  And what did they speak of?  They spoke of the very reason that God moved men to record His Word: So that you right now would know Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son and as your Savior! [2 Peter 1:19-21]

III. What is the purpose of the Word of God?  That you would know Jesus and by knowing Jesus know God!  This dear friends is also the purpose of our Lord’s Transfiguration.  It is God’s way of helping you make sense of the mystery which is the two natures of Jesus Christ.  It is God’s way of reassuring you that Jesus who is fully God and fully man is your Savior!  It is God’s way and means of telling us who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing; God is teaching us about Jesus mission and His ministry!  He is teaching us that Jesus was born to die for our sins and for our transgressions!  He is teaching us that Jesus is God’s beloved Son with whom He is well pleased and that we must listen to Him.

And when we listen to Him we discover that we have a God who is not only always with us but for us.  We discover that we have a mighty champion who fights for us and protects us.  When we listen to Jesus we find comfort and hope in a Savior who spoke these Words: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [Jn. 6:37-40]  This dear friends is the fulfillment of the same promise that God has consistently made from the very first pages of our Bibles.  This is the promise that God has made yours in the waters of your own baptism.  And in this fulfilled promise, God’s heavenly glory has come to you on earth; it is a glory that envelopes you in His Word and Sacrament.  As you knell at His table you know that for that brief moment you are being given a glimpse of His eternal glory to come.  As you dine with all the company of heaven you know that this is a foretaste of the feast to come!  And as His glory surrounds you, through His Word, by faith know that you are in the miraculous presence of your Great Prophet and King. 

CONCLUSION: Now for some, to be in the presence of God is a terrifying thing.  But for us, we know that because we are with Jesus, everything will be alright.  We know that because Jesus is with us, we have a God who is for us and never against us.  So let the oceans roar and let the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.  Let the eyes and the ears fail; we will not fear because we know that we have a God who has made all things new.  And when we doubt, Jesus through the Word of God tap us on our shoulder and says, “Rise, and have no fear.”  And when we lift up our eyes we will see no real threat, but instead we will only see Jesus!  May God grant this faith to each of us.  AMEN!

It’s Good to Be a gentile-Christian!

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

2nd Sunday after Advent A, December 5, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

INTRODUCTION: In our epistle reading this morning [Rom. 15:4-13] we are allowed a glimpse into an issue that caused quite a bit of controversy within the body of Christ, the Church.  There were divisions being created over the question of how the gentiles should be received by the Jewish Christians.  Some said that they should become Jewish by adopting the historic practices of the Jews, specifically circumcision.  We must remember that the very word “gentile” was often used in a derogatory fashion.  It was someone who was outside of God’s covenant of peace with the Hebrew people who were chosen by God to be a light or a beacon unto the gentile nations.  A gentile then signifies a person or a group of people who are “strangers”  to God Almighty.  In the time of Paul, the Hebrew word “goi” or gentile meant “nation,” and often it was used to designate nations that were politically distinct from Israel. [Deut. 15:6; 28:12, 36; Josh. 23: 4]  From this use the word gentile has come to be defined as “stranger” or “heathens.”

You can see how tension could develop in the middle of a worship service, especially at the Lord’s Supper if heathen were showing up to not just worship, but to receive our Lord’s very body and blood!  Well that tension was resolved once and for all by the Council of Jerusalem in 50 A.D., it was decided that the “gentile” Christians would not be troubled with any religious burdens other than remaining with in the one faith in Jesus Christ and to abstain from things polluted by idols and sexual immorality.

So problem solved!  Now there will be no more divisions within the body of Christ right?  Wrong!  We still experience divisions within the body of Christ.  Things like economic status, color, ethnicity, styles of worship, and denominational differences still divide us.  What went wrong?  This morning we will look at two things that God’s Word says if followed will bring harmony and peace, first within our individual hearts and then within the body of Christ, His church.  They are the welcoming of all believers and the adherence to God’s Word!

I. In verse 7 in our epistle lesson we read “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  Who is it that Paul wants us to welcome?  Well he says one another, so right away we can see that he is referring to a particular group of people.  Does he mean a congregation?  Yes!  Here God through St. Paul is telling each of us to look past any prejudice or anger we may have, even if we feel it’s justifiable and welcome one another in peace. This welcoming that Paul is talking about is the type that ignores differences and grudges against other Christians, and it forgives and perseveres in love simply because Jesus first loved them!  Here Paul calls us to carry the perceived weaknesses of a brother as long as it takes.  Just helping them once or twice and leaving them to someone else is not what he has in mind.  No Paul is calling us to continually welcome them and to help shoulder their burden as long as it is needed.  But how and why should we do this?

Well in regards to the how, we must first admit that we can’t do this on our own.  You see we are all caught in sin; that is, on our own we can’t love someone else as Christ loves us!  So if we are to welcome our brothers and sisters here, we must be willing to ask Christ to come along side of us and give us a desire to forgive and to love and then we need to ask Him to give us endurance and encouragement so that He can continue to work within and through us.   Well that answers the how, but why should we do this?  Friends, St. Paul answers that question too; we do it simply for the glory of God!  We must remember that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; he welcomed us and He wants us to do the same for each other!

Well, I think that each of us can agree that this is truly God’s desire for our congregation and I’m sure that each of you will through the power of God’s Holy Spirit work towards fulfilling His will.  You know, there is nothing sweeter than a congregation that is centered in the love of God and Christ Jesus.  Jesus should be the heart of every member here!  But if we allow these words to take us no further than within this small body of believers, then I am afraid we are no better than the Jewish Christians that were admonished by the Council of Jerusalem.  Because you see there are other Christians who are not Lutherans who also hear these Words of encouragement and admonishment, and they too are being moved to act along with us!  But act in what way?  Well to love and forgive one another.  To believe that if anyone confesses with their mouth and believes in their heart that Jesus is Lord they are saved and they are your brother or sister.  And what are we called to do together?  Friends, we are called to build the Kingdom of God together! 

Now some will be wondering if I am trying to say that all denominations are the same, and to this I will answer, “Certainly not!”  And yet they are my brothers and my sisters, even if they are different!  So St. Paul calls us to welcome them as well.  But how!  Let’s let St. Paul answer that question.  Listen: “for whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.”

II. How can there be unity in such a vast sea of different denominations and teachings?  By being in, living out, and teaching correctly God’s own Word!  By holding onto what was written and not rejecting any of it.  In His Word, God promises to come along side of us and create harmony, real unity among believers!  You see, like before, it is God coming among and within us doing the work!  The strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, Roman Catholic and protestants of all flavors are promised unity if they hold onto the pure Word of God!  Where the Word of God is preached, taught, confessed, and lived-out, you have the true church, the One Holy catholic Church!  This was our Lord’s desire when He prayed his High-priestly prayer.  If you remember he prayed that we be one as He and the Father are one.  Then He prayed: “Sanctify them in the truth; thy Word is truth.” [Jn. 17:17, 21, 23]  How do we become one?  By remaining in His Word and being set apart as Holy through it!  Why did He want us to be united?  So our unified voice and harmony would impress those in the world that were outside of this faith; so that they would desire to be part of this oneness! 

Dear friends, you don’t see the body of Christ grow by changing or getting rid of some of the Word; no, Christ says that we will only see people come to faith and rest in this faith if they remain in His truth.  How do we remain in His truth?  By remaining is His Word; all of His Word is truth!  All of God’s Word that is found in your Bible is inspired by Him.  It is to be used for reproof, for correction and improvement in our lives.  No one has the right to discard any portion of scripture.  We are to declare both the Law and the Gospel as it has been given to us!  Jesus gave His Church the specific commission to teach all people to observe all things whatsoever He commanded. [Matt. 28:20]  And Paul declared: “I have not shunned declaring unto you all the counsel of God.” [Acts 20:27]  In the Old Testament too, people were forbidden to add to the written Word or to take anything away from it. [Jos. 1:8; Deut. 17:19].  This means dear friends that nothing in Scripture can be regarded as culturally irrelevant or worthless, because whatsoever was written before hand was written for our learning! [Rom. 4:23,24; 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Cor. 10:11]

How can unity be restored not just in this church and our denomination, but within each denomination and throughout the Kingdom of God?  By knowing what God’s Word says and sticking to it!  This is what we call doctrine!  What is doctrine?  It is whatever the apostles and prophets wrote and taught for our learning.  These writings, this unified Word of God alone is what is the foundation of the Church.  It is the Word of God alone that proclaims the doctrine of Christ and His redemption, the forgiveness of sins for the entire world.  The Bible is a unit in which all of its parts, statements, doctrines, commandments, and promises either directly or indirectly, serve the purpose of teaching each of us how to be saved through faith in our Savior Jesus Christ.  And then it boldly teaches us how to live out our lives as children of God in a world darkened by sin, all for the glory of our God, Jesus Christ.  It is this holy Word of God alone that feeds us and then sends us out into the world to seek and save the lost!

How will we see the Kingdom of God grow?  By being of one mind and one mouth, “so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [Rom. 15:6]  Dear friends, with one voice means with one united confession of faith.  To glorify God is to speak and to act so that his glory may appear within us and among us!  As his glory is one and unchangeable so must our proclamation of His Word be along with our service to Him as we allow Him to work though us building and advancing His kingdom!  This oneness of conviction and confession is what we call our doctrine!  When we lose our oneness of mind or voice someone is wrong and God’s glory is diminished through us!  But the clearer our doctrine is and the truer it is taught the more God’s love is displayed among us and through us.  Do we work alone and ignore our brothers and sisters in other denominations in order to protect our doctrine?  No, we must work with them and allow them to see that through God’s Word and its pure doctrine we have been given not just strong instruction but also endurance and strength. 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, I know that sometimes we can really get tired of the real doctrinal differences that are found in the various Christian denominations.  The gentile-Christians who received the pure gospel of Jesus Christ were tiring of the continued religious attacks of the Jewish Christians.  But they didn’t separate, instead they and their pastors continued to plead for harmony and unity through the pure Word of God.  They used strong doctrine to convince the Jerusalem Council that they were indeed their brothers and sisters even though before they were considered gentiles; strangers and heathen.  It was strong doctrine that brought the church together under one heart and mind, the heart and mind of Jesus Christ.  And it will be again that same strong doctrine that will unite us under that same heart and mind.  It is this pure doctrine, the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ that alone unites us and turns us from a people of religion into a people of faith; people who are resting and serving within a relationship of love with God through Jesus Christ.  Yes it is good to be a gentile-Christian; one who has been saved through Jesus Christ; one who was once a stranger to God because of sin, but no longer because of grace.  Now, together through grace and faith we can rest in His love and forgiveness by the will and power of His Living Word, Jesus Christ!

 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” [Rom. 14:13]  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Humbled by the Mark of Cain

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

22nd Sunday after Pentecost C, October 24, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Our starting point for this morning is this portion of our Old Testament reading: “And the Lord put a mark on Cain”. [Genesis 4:15a]

Many wonder what the mark was that God gave to Cain.  Some say that it was a tattoo, while others theorize that it was a physical affliction or deformity.  The truth is we don’t know… no one does.  Whatever it was, it was evident to everyone that Cain was evil; he was someone that you shouldn’t mess with.  This morning we’ll look at a chain of sinful events that moved God to put that mark on Cain, and hopefully we’ll understand Cain and ourselves a little better.  And as we look deeper into these sins of Cain, we must remember that they are all related to the original sin of Adam and Eve.  Remember, Adam and Eve’s sin was pride; they desired a degree of independence from God; they wanted to know as God knows.  They didn’t like mysteries; we could say that they lost their faith in God. And that was the cause or the sin that moved God to banish our first parents from paradise.  But God didn’t remove them without hope.  He gave them the promise that from the bloodline of the woman, that is from her future offspring, paradise would be restored and mankind would once again be able to relate with God through love and trust.  So through His promise of a Savior, God was still with Adam and Eve.  He didn’t leave them to fend for themselves.

In verse 1, we see that even in a fallen and sinful world, life goes on.  We see this in these Words: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.””  And here is the first of five events that led to the demise of Cain.  It is our first indication that the sin of Adam and Eve was still at work, still trying to separate sinful man from their loving Creator.

1. The first sin that led to the mark of Cain lies in the actions of the boy’s parents.  You see, Eve chose a name for her first born son that would keep her eyes and the eyes of her son not on the Creator but on the creature.  Did you notice that she didn’t say “I have gotten a son with the help of the Lord”?  Instead she said, I have gotten a “man”!  Why?  Well, she didn’t like unanswered questions.  Because she didn’t want to wait for the Lord to identify who that “Savior” would be, she decided that Cain would be “her” descendant that would destroy Satan and return her family to paradise lost.  But God never told her that; no she was telling God that “this boy IS the man who will be our Savior.  Can you imagine what kind of childhood that boy had; always being reminded that he was chosen by God to be the champion of creation?  And what about her other child Abel?  Why was there no prophecy spoken about Abel?  Scripture only says that “she bore his brother Abel.”  Poor Abel, he was only a footnote or an afterthought in his mother’s heart.

2. The second sin that led towards the mark of Cain was Cain’s own pride.  He came to believe that because he was the savior of mankind, his status was more important than his relationship with His creator.  Instead of seeing paradise restored as God’s own work of unfailing love and mercy, he saw the hope of mankind being placed on his status as the first born.  But God wouldn’t let this pride remain in Cain so he lovingly pointed it out to him.  In verse 3 we read: “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portion.  And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” [vs. 3-5a]

Why did God receive Abel’s offering as good but then reject Cain’s offering as evil?  Was it because of what they offered?  No!  It was because of the heart of the person that made the offering.  And this has been the purpose of God’s probing into sinful men and women’s hearts ever since.  It is why God delivered the 10 Commandments through Moses and it is why those commandments are written into every person’s heart, even yours. 

This truth becomes evident in our Gospel reading.  Listen to the words of the self-righteous Pharisee “God I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector (standing over there trying to pray to you).  I fast twice a week; I give (to you a 10th) of all that I get.” [Luke 18:11,12] Can’t you hear the pride in his words?  I, I, I!  Friends, God does not hear the prayers of a self-righteous fool and neither does He accept their service or their sacrifices to Him!  But He does hear the humble, the heart that knows it neither deserved nor earns God’s love and forgiveness.  He receives the prayers of those who humbly trust in God’s promise of mercy and forgiveness.

Listen to the words of the tax collector who beat his breast in fear and desperation and said “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”  It is to this honest and humble confession that God hears and gives His peace.  Jesus assures us of this truth when He says, “I tell you, this man went down to his house (forgiven and saved), rather than the (self-righteous Pharisee). [Vs.13,14]   

Abel in his gift to God was acknowledging that he was unworthy of forgiveness; he was saying that he was a poor sinner.  And with that type of heart he took refuge in God’s mercy; he believed that his creator was gracious, forgiving, and willing to show compassion.  And so God looked at the hearts of the two brothers and judged one justified and the other condemned.

3. The third sin of Cain that led to the mark was his choice of ignoring God’s warning about the sin in his heart. Instead of agreeing with God, he chose to become angry and jealous of his brother’s favor in with God.  And because God knew the heart of Cain, he asked him a very pointed question and then offered Words of hope and forgiveness.  He said, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?” [vs. 6]  In other words, God is saying, “Snap out of it boy!  Your solution isn’t in what you do for me, but instead it’s in what I promise to do for you!  You either believe that I am your only hope or you don’t!  Your brother believes and that’s why I am pleased with Him.  Now quit looking to your own strength and turn to me in faith!”  And God ends his discussion with this warning: “Sin is crouching at the door (of your heart).  Its desire is (to own) you, but you must rule over it.”

How?  How was Cain and how are we to rule over our sin?  If we think that we have the power to rule over your own sin, then I’m afraid that we’re just as lost and confused as Cain.  The Law, or God’s demand that we do good can never be satisfied because we are sinners!  So it only stands to reason that our help must come from outside of ourselves… it has to come from God!  Why did God ask Cain and Able to bring a sacrifice to Him as part of their worship?  So that His Gospel Word of promise could be attached to it!  Why did God institute circumcision, temple worship and sacrifice?  For the same reason!  And why does God give us simple things like water, bread, and wine?  So that through His gospel Word of forgiveness and these simple things, we will know that we are forgiven, and that our salvation isn’t a result of our own work but God’s work.  Friends, God has always used simple things to remind and assure us of His forgiving love.  But for many these simple things are rejected as insufficient.  They seem to always want to add their own work to God’s promise of forgiveness.  That was the problem with Cain, and it’s what led to his next sin.

4. The fourth sin of Cain that led to the mark was refusing to allow God to help Him master his sin.  And this refusal led to his act of murder!  Cain allowed the sin in his heart to determine his sinful action.  When he refused to agree with God that He was hiding sin, he allowed that sin to own him!  And like Cain, we too fight that same battle today. Will you agree with God that you are poor sinners in need of a Savior or will you hide your sin?  If we choose deception then I’m afraid that we will follow the same path as Cain, a path that led to his next and final sin.

5. The fifth and final sin of Cain that led to his mark of shame and judgment was denial.  Why didn’t he know that the God who knew his secret sin of jealousy could also see his open sin of murder?  Because he was arrogant!  Listen: “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?  (Cain said), “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”  Even now, when facing his almighty Creator there’s pride and defiance in Cain’s heart!  It’s the heart of a condemned and damned sinner.  And now he must face the judgment: “And the Lord said, “What have you done?  The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.  And now you are cursed… you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” [Vs. 9-11]

Here in these Words we learn two things.  First we learn that Abel’s blood cries out to God.  In other words, his plea for mercy and forgiveness because of his faith in God’s promise of salvation is heard by God and counted to him as righteous.  So Abel is the first saint who is welcomed back into paradise because He had faith in God’s promise of forgiveness and mercy.  Second we learn that Cain is the first person to be condemned to hell.  He no longer has God’s presence.  He can no longer seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.  But there is a third thing God would have us learn, and we hear it in the final words of our reading.  Listen: “Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear… I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Not so!  If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.”  And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. [vs. 13-15]  What was the mark of Cain?  I don’t know, but I submit to you that it was something physical that carried with it the threat of God.  It was a touchstone that spoke God’s Word. Remember, God always chooses to use simple things to communicate with us.  But unlike the simple elements of water, bread, and wine that carry God’s promise of peace, this mark carried with it God’s threat of punishment to anyone who harmed Cain.  Was this mark enough to protect Cain?  No, not really.  You see eventually Cain would die and he would have to face the eternal punishment for his sin of pride.  But the sins which caused the mark of Cain did not die with Cain, no instead they were passed down to His descendants who were all killed in the flood! 

But did those sins die in the flood also?  No, those sins are still with us today. Parents still neglect to teach their children about sin and God’s means of salvation, the Son of God Jesus Christ.  The truth is friends, this sin is even more condemning for us, because we no longer have just the hope of a coming savior; instead we know that our Savior has already come!  It is Jesus Christ, who is God in our flesh; a God who came to us and lived the perfect life on our behalf and died the death of Cain for us; a death we deserve to die.  But the benefits of Christ work will be shut off from us if choose to live like Cain and believe that our salvation and hope comes from our own resourcefulness.  It will be our own sinful pride that will cause us to reject God’s Savior and His completed work upon the cross at Calvary.  But, if we are like Abel and the tax collector we will see another way back to paradise.  We will see a boy born to Adam and Eve after the death of Cain and Abel.  We will see a boy named Seth who was the ancestor of Noah, the same Noah saved from the judgmental waters of the flood.  Through Seth we will see hundreds of people who are his descendants including King David who was promised that his Son, his offspring would be the Messiah, the Savior of the Word.  And then by faith we will see a simple virgin girl who was a descendant of David, Noah and Seth.  And through the off-spring of this simple girl we see God’s means of grace.  We see the Living Word of God, the Gospel attached to our human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.  And because we see, we know by faith that we CAN turn to God in humility and cry out “God have mercy on me a sinner!”  And through this cry of faith God hears us and opens a way for us back to paradise.  Because of this truth, God humbles us through His Word and He turns us to another mark… the sign of the cross that was placed upon our brows and upon our chests in the waters of Holy baptism; it is a mark that has sealed us by God’s own Spirit.  And through this mark God assures us that paradise is now open to us forever!

May God continue to grant each of us the faith to believe this truth; I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!