Posts Tagged ‘Worship’

Jesus Christ Is Lord!

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

Pentecost 2B, June 3,, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

In our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 2:23-28), we join Jesus and his disciples taking a short cut through a wheat field, and right on their heels are the usual Pharisee spies trying to collect evidence against Jesus.  And what did these spies observe? They observed Jesus disciples picking wheat and eating it! Why, to the Pharisees, that was nothing less than a violation of the third commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” On that day, God said that His people were to do no work.  But did that prohibition apply to satisfying hunger by picking grain?  The Pharisees said yes, but Jesus would have none of that.  You see, their declaration of guilt was not based on the commandment itself, but on their rules and regulations that they had attached to the Commandment.  What they lacked was scriptural insight and God’s grace. So now, Jesus would give them both. 

“Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Here Jesus lays his finger on the real trouble with these Pharisees: They were doing far too much studying of their own regulations and not enough study of God’s Word. They had a small view of what the Scriptures said, and only picked out the parts that suited them and ignored what scripture said as a whole—a fault that is still present with so called Bible preachers today. The Pharisees were, of course, familiar with the passages Jesus referred to (1 Sam. 21), but they refused to acknowledge how those passages interpret the Third Commandment. So Jesus gives them a lesson.

David ate the sacred bread that by Levitical command was for the priests only, and he also gave it to his men. Jesus assumed that the Pharisees agreed with him that David, whom they held in the highest esteem, did right by receiving, eating, and sharing the sacred bread. Yet the law reserved this bread only for the priests. The Pharisees had used the Word law to refer to “their” regulation, and Jesus reminds the them that it was God’s own law that made it “unlawful” for any persons but priests to eat this bread; it was not merely a regulation. What would they say now? Nothing, Jesus had left them speechless.

How did Jesus send these Pharisee spies running? Well, by using David’s own example, which showed that even the divine ceremonial law was not intended to be absolute in its application, and that the Pharisee’s regulations are nothing in comparison to God’s law. Here we see that God cares more for the right spiritual condition of a persons heart than the outward appearance of their ceremonial regulations. Jesus point was that David’s hunger in God’s mind set aside even a divine law. So, shouldn’t the hunger of His disciples set aside mere rabbinical regulations?

From this example, Jesus’ point is made that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around, and this teaching is bound with authority, when Jesus puts Himself in the place of Yahweh-God, by exclaiming that “the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” This morning, God’s Word declares to you that…

Jesus Christ is:

The Son of God. This was declared so by God the Father both at His Baptism (Mark 1:11), where God the Father spoke and said, “You are My Beloved Son.” and on the Mount of Transfiguration where again He proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” [Mark 9:7] This same Jesus is also…

The Son of David. That is He was born of the Virgin Mary as true man, who was also a descendant of King David. As a descendant of King David, God made good on His promise that the Messiah and true King of Israel would come from David’s line. This Jesus was not only David’s Lord, but He is…

THE LORD—YAHWEH. That is, He is our One True God, the Creator of all, Who is eternally One with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

As the Son of Man and the Son of God, Jesus alone both came then and serves now as the promised Messiah; very God and very Man. He is the One Daniel saw as one like the Son of Man who is the Ancient of Days. [Daniel 7:13-14] Jesus Himself identified Himself as the Son of Man when He said that the Son of Man alone “has the authority on earth to forgive sin.” [Mark 2:10]

Jesus Christ the Son of God and son of Man, was given a mission from God the Father. He fulfilled His mission when:

He lived a sinless life and fulfilled the Law of God perfectly. Jesus Christ could not fail in His Mission because He is the eternal, true, and almighty Son of God; perfect in all His ways. Only God could succeed, but only Jesus as the Son of Mary, as the Son of man could embark and complete the mission, because in His flesh, He was true man. He fulfilled His mission when…

He suffered and died for the sins of the world, for all people as their perfect sacrifice. As the perfect sacrifice, perfect forgiveness and peace with God is achieved for everyone who desires to be saved. Prior to Jesus death upon the cross, regular sacrifices had to be made by the spilling of blood, but now through the wisdom of God, Jesus has become the final, once and for all sacrifice for the sins of the world. But Jesus also fulfilled His mission when…

He rose as Victor over death and the grave. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus was declared Victor over death, sin, and the devil. Through His completed work…

Jesus Christ has freed His people.

He has freed them from the need to win God’s favor. Think of it, you are no longer left to wonder if you’ve done enough to please God. There is no gift you must bring, no day you must set apart, and no job or vocation that will give you more of God’s peace.  Another way to look at this is to say that…

Jesus Christ has freed His people from the burden of laws and regulations. But who are His people? Well gone are the days when His people were recognized by a certain ethnicity. Gone are the days when God’s people were recognized and rated according to the strict standards of the Law. Now, God’s people are all those who relate to Him by faith in Jesus, through the cross of Jesus.  God’s people are those who have been baptized in His name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through the mighty Word of God, these people of God are a called a peculiar people because they are bound by no law or regulation except by the law of love. So…

Jesus Christ has freed God’s people to live lives with their hearts and souls at peace with God. As you have heard consistently in the sermons preached from this pulpit and as Martin Luther declared long ago, if you see God as angry, as if he has a storm cloud draped across His face, you do not yet know the One True God. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, God the Father comes to you in love and lavishes you with His gifts of peace. Through the gospel message of forgiveness of sins, the recreating, washing waters of your Baptism, and the faith creating and sustaining meal He feeds you at His table of mercy, you are constantly assured that you are at peace and one with God.

So we are all God’s children. Through His Word, we know that through Jesus Christ His Son, His mercy and love is for us. Through the forgiveness of sins we are brought willing and joyfully to God, through Jesus and His cross, so that we can find peace. This is true for us both as individuals and collectively as His Church.

As individuals God reminds you that you are more important to Him than a group of rules and regulations.. “First man, then the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is there for you His child so that you might never forget the peace and rest you have with Him. But your identity as God’s child does not exist in seclusion. God desires to bring all these gifts to you along with His whole family of faith that is called the Church.

When we gather together with God’s other children of faith, we become what is collectively called the body of Christ, the Church. Together as Christ’s Church, we receive every thing God the Father has committed into His Sons hands; all things, all days, even the Sabbath, so that it may be a means and a tool whereby glory is given to God the Father, and grace and favor is shown to His people who gather together as Christ’s church to worship His holy name.

And now, here we are, gathered together on this Sunday morning knowing as individuals and as His church that Jesus is now and ever shall be our Sabbath rest. As our Sabbath rest, Jesus has fulfilled the law for us and has forever redefined our Worship as both hearing and receiving the gospel, which is called God’s service for us, and Divine Service is what makes our worship an act by us that is acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  

So let’s close by answering this question: Why don’t we worship on the seventh day (Saturday) Sabbath like the Old Testament Church? Well, the historic church starting with the Apostles, preferred Sunday as the day to gather in worship for three main reasons: 1. Because it was the first day of the creation week. 2. Because it was the day Jesus rose from the dead. And 3. It was the day the Holy Spirit was first poured out on His Church. Can you worship on another day, even the original Sabbath day? Sure you can. Remember that the Sabbath was created for you to have rest and peace with God, and not the other way around. But most importantly, please remember that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath who truly does desire to bring you peace. May we always remember this, and I ask this in Jesus name… Amen.

It Is Good To Be Here!

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday B, February 11, 2018
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org
Mark 9:2-9


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“And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.” [Mark 9:5a]

Have you ever had something happen to you, which was so profound that it seemed to change how you look at everything in your life? Peter, James, and John did, but to understand their experience correctly, we need to look at their recent experiences with Jesus.

In the last couple of years, the apostles experienced one miracle after another; they must have felt like they were on top of the world.

And then, out of nowhere, Jesus started talking about denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him into suffering and death! Why, He even said that if they wanted to save their lives they must first lose them. Then He said that even He would need to suffer and die at the hands of sinful men in order to fulfill the will of the Father.

Now to Peter, that was crazy talk, and he didn’t want to listen to anymore of that doom and gloom, so he took Jesus aside and tried to enlighten Him on how He thought a Messiah should speak. But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that; that was the devil speaking not Peter, so Jesus rebuked Peter with the often-quoted words, “Get behind me Satan.” He said that Peter was seeking the way of the world, and not the way of God!

Peter and the other apostles must have been thinking, “What’s going on here? This isn’t what I signed up for! What happened to all of the happy-clappy times that come with “walking and talking with our minds stayed on Jesus” the Messiah?” You see, they wanted more of the glory, fame, and high life, but Jesus was telling them that instead of living large and in-charge, they would need to experience suffering, shame, and death.

And then out of nowhere, Jesus gave them this little bit of information to think about: “Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come in power.” [Mark 9:1]

So now, six days later there is Peter along with James, and John, up on a mountaintop, watching Jesus pray.

Little did they know that they were about to experience the kingdom of God in all of its glory and power! It was getting late and they were tired; their eyes got heavy when all of a sudden, boom! It was as if all of the light in the world was pouring out of Jesus and the two visitors that suddenly appeared. And they weren’t just any visitors either; they were Moses and Elijah!
The three earth bound apostles were overwhelmed with the experience. The other gospels tell us that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were speaking about Jesus death, resurrection, and the day He would leave this sinful world, but Peter skipped right over those Words. All he seemed to care about was the glory! He must have thought, “Now this is the kind of Messiah I signed up to follow!” So with a mixture of fear and excitement (after all he was standing in the presence of God and the two greatest heroes of faith that ever lived), Peter interrupts Jesus’ discussion with these deep and insightful words: “(Hey, a) Rabbi, it is (a)good (thing) that we’re here (with you).” Do you want me to pitch a few tents for you and your guests?

I call that a Homer Simpson moment: “Dolp!”
With all of the responses someone should or could have had, maybe something like Alleluia, why in the world did Peter ruin that divine moment with such a stupid statement and question? And after Peter’s Homer Simpson moment, what happened next? A thick cloud suddenly appeared and Moses and Elijah were gone.

The experience was over. Or as B.B. King would say, the thrill is gone. But why? Well simply put, Peter’s attention was centered on what He was experiencing and not the Words He was hearing. He completely missed the conversation about Jesus leaving this world; he missed it because it was another message about suffering and death.

Aren’t we a lot like Peter too?

We love it when we come to church and we get to sing our favorite hymn or spiritual. We love it when the preacher is talking about heaven and what a time will have there with no more suffering, pain, sickness, and death, but as soon as the message starts showing us where we fall short or what God expects from us, we tune it out.

We love to be entertained for about an hour, but as soon as the service starts cutting into our Sunday afternoon plans we get fidgety, and then irritated! We love the fellowship and coffee but get bored with the liturgy and ritual! You see, like Peter we say that it’s good to be here in church, but only if it meets our desires; as soon as worship time gets personal we become nervous and hope that it ends soon.

Now you might not interrupt the sermon or the readings with a foolish statement like Peter’s, but you too have your Homer Simpson moments. For you, it happens the minute you tune out to what’s happening in Divine Service and tune into what you wish was happening. Peter wanted to silence the conversation and stay in the glory moment, and we aren’t any better. We love those mountaintop highs of worship, and if we could make it happen, that’s all we would ever experience.

Does that mean that emotion during worship is bad? No, not at all, but the good times aren’t suppose to be the center of why we worship. So what’s the solution?

Well, we just need to let Jesus be Jesus and then let Him do what He does.

Do you see what I just did? I took the emphasis off of you and me and put it on Jesus. That’s always the solution to most every thing, isn’t it? Yes church, we must remember that worship, our worship of God is simply our response to what He has done and is doing right now for us! This is what we call Divine Service; God’s service amongst and within us; His work of dealing with our sins. If we really stoped to think about what’s really going on around us and within us each time we attend Divine Service (the devil being defeated, our sin being removed, and our eternal death being trounced, all as our faith to believe all of this is strengthened exponentially) we would not let anything get in the way of our attending Divine Service.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul talked about a veil that remains over the eyes of the unbelieving Jews. For us, that veil represents our flesh or physical desires; its our natural way of trying to get what we want, but Jesus always gives us what we need. When we listen to Jesus, the Word of God, God Himself removes the veil of this world off of our spiritual eyes and He allows us to see an entirely different reality… a spiritual one. Only through (Jesus) Christ can this veil be taken away.

You see, when we turn to Jesus and what He is doing or saying and receive that Word and that Word only, the veil is removed; we are freed from our own expectations of what our Christian faith and worship is, and then we can truly hear what Jesus is really saying. And when we hear what Jesus is saying, then and only then can we be transformed slowly but surely, into the same image and glory of our Lord.

Peter and the boys missed the obvious. They were awed by Jesus’ glory, because He was their man, the Messiah who would be their champion by righting all wrongs. They were so excited about what they thought Jesus would do that they missed what God had already done. There standing with Jesus, were Moses and Elijah shining in the same glory as Jesus. Moses the great teacher who brought us God’s law, was listening to Jesus. Elijah, the great prophet who was taken up to heaven in bodily form, was listening too.

What did it all mean? Only Jesus could explain it; and to make sure that they would one day understand, God’s Divine Service kicked into action again. Moses and Elijah disappeared within a dense cloud of God’s glory and the voice of the Father announced: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

How does our worship go wrong?

It happens when we shut down our hearts and minds to the message in exchange for the experience. How does God make things right? By taking our focus off of the experience and putting it back onto the Word, this Word: “Jesus is My beloved Son, my elected One; LISTEN TO HIM!”

The truth is, without the Word of God speaking to us, there can be no experience. What is the experience? Dying and living and Living and dying. In the Word you hear God’s law make demands that you can never meet; this is a Word that terrifies you, because you are a sinner standing in the middle of God’s perfect and blinding glory, and the result is your death, the death of your glory.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, you hear about a loving God who came to you, to take away your sins; the result is new life, a life free of condemnation and full of God’s love. In this good news you are taught that Jesus walked the painful way to the cross for you; He suffered and died to pay for your sins. In His death He conquered not just your sin and the devil, but also your own death. In His death and resurrection, all things can be new again, even you!

In your baptism, Jesus brought you into His glory by drowning and destroying your old sinful nature and by bringing you into the cloud of His divine presence. In your baptism He chose you and He cleansed you. And what He cleanses, He also molds and changes. What He molds, He fills. And what He fills, He uses. So now, you live! Every day you choose to live for God as you put to death your old sinful and self-serving nature; you live for God and you live for others!

Dear friends, God is leading us out into the real world; a place where there is real suffering and pain. But He is leading us out with our hearts and minds focused on His Word and the real change He’s made and is making within each of us. When you get afraid or tired, and just feel like quitting, think of this place and all of the wonderful gifts that God has given to you here, all so that you would be His witness of love and life in a dying world. Think of His glory that He has placed within you; a glory that can’t be seen with physical eyes but will one day shine as bright as the glory of our Lord’s own Transfiguration. And when you remember these things, it’s alright to feel excited but just remember emotions will eventually die off, and then it’s just you and Jesus.

So, until we meet again next Sunday for our next encounter with God’s divine service and our next foretaste of the glory to come, may He forever lead and guide you by the Word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior… AMEN!

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

Christmas Eve Sunday, December 24, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Based upon Martin Luther’s Sermon for Christmas Vespers, Luke 2:8–14
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Today, in all of our readings and hymns, we’ve been given every reason to make this a time to celebrate; if we really are Christians then we have a lot to rejoice over, because God has sent His Son into our flesh. No one can ever really understand all that this truth means, not even when we will see Him face to face in heaven. Because you see, even the angels do not completely understand His taking on our flesh, but they know it’s something to rejoice about, even though it has nothing to do with them, but instead it’s only for us sinners. The angels are blessed spirits, because they were not conceived and born in sin like us. They have absolutely no need for a Savior. And yet, as we heard read today, they sing with great joy because a Savior has been born for sinners like us.

Look there in your mind’s eye and see that great band of angels standing and praising God. It’s as if they can barely contain themselves, waiting for the one angel to finish proclaiming:

“Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy!” [Luke 2:10]

No sooner than the last word is spoken do they break out with such a shout and song of praise that fills the heavens with great joy: “Glory to God in the highest!” [Luke 2:14]. Friends, this is a song that we can never truly understand or appreciate the power of its meaning; we can only try to sing along with them with as much power and joy that our sinful flesh can muster.

You know dear friends, even if this very great act of praise had nothing to do with us, but in reality it has everything to do with us, but even if it didn’t, we still would be obligated to rejoice along with the angels. But it does have to do with us; it has everything to do with us. You see, the eternal Son of God has taken on our flesh; He has become one with us. Even though we are poor and sinful human beings, He still chose to come to us, as one of us. If someone comes from a privileged background or they are simply related to some famous celebrity, they love to brag: “Oh, this is my brother, my brother-in-law, or my uncle the famous…,” and with that, they feel like they are someone special. So if the world knows how to rejoice in their relationships, why shouldn’t we do the same about our God; about our Savior?

Think about this for a moment, no matter how poor you may be, or how sick or unloved you are, that is only temporary, because God Himself has taken on your human nature in both body and soul for the purpose of elevating you beyond what you are now.

If only we, too, could praise Him as the angels!

If the president were to come here today and ask us to take his daughter in as a member of our church, a member who would bless us with great offerings of wealth that would assure us of a long and fruitful fully financed ministry, we would celebrate like there is no tomorrow. But what is that in comparison with the truth that the One who is God with the Father and Spirit has come down and become one of us?

Now I know that this is a different way to present the Christmas truth to you, but we need to understand what a great honor it is that the Son of God has become one of us. It is an honor that is greater than any of God’s angels have experienced. If God did nothing else for us but this great honor, we would have plenty to brag about and celebrate.   The angels can’t brag and say, “God became an angel like us.” No, but instead, He became a human being. Don’t you think that that just might be the reason the devil and his legions fell from God’s grace; could they have been jealous that God became one with us and not them?!

Why give glory to God in the highest? Because He has become your brother; that is a reason to give Him greater glory that any president, politician, celebrity, or family member. I believe that the devil saw what would happen if the Son of the Triune God came to live among us, as one of us. Isn’t it true that He is still trying to stop God’s children, the Son of God’s brothers and sisters from giving Him glory; from recognizing Him for who he is, our King? And if we are honest with ourselves, the devil is doing a pretty good job directing us away from our chief work of giving God glory. Be honest now, even without the work of the devil, how often do we really admire the beauty of the world without glorifying its creator? Oh Lord, forgive us for the lack of glory we give to you, and may you continue to beat back the devil and our own sinful pride.

Today, let’s see if we can’t let God’s light enter our hearts and help us see the need to give Him more honor and glory. Not only has God’s Son come down to be our brother, he has come down “for us men and for our salvation.” That is why the angel said:

“Unto you is born Christ the Lord (that is your Savior).” [Luke 2:11]

Listen, the fact that the Son of God became like us would be more than enough reason to give Him praise and glory, but that is not all He has done, you see, He has also become your Savior. You were born under the power of sin, death, and the devil, but it is His desire to free you from these things.

Now the devil and our sinful society laughs at this and calls it foolishness. We’re told that only simpletons believe in that kind of fairytale. They’ll say, “Now think about it for a moment. You believe that the Heavenly Father, put His Son in a young woman’s womb, then He was born and she nursed Him, only to let Him die a criminal’s death upon the cross—and all this took place for our sakes?” And to that we answer, “Yes that is the truth!” “Well” interjects the devil, “if you really believe that, then why don’t you live like you believe it? Why aren’t you praising your Savior so much that it tires you out?” And this dear saints is the predicament we find ourselves in today. For many of us, it is a source of misery and sadness, the fact that we read this scripture and hear it preached and it doesn’t seem to change us. We know that it’s the same truth that the prophets proclaimed and the angels sang about; it is the very same message that the shepherds reported and that which the apostles proclaimed and died for. It is one in the same message that the Church still sings about every Lord’s day, but it seems to have very little power over our daily lives. Why do we seem more like a lifeless stump than the brother or sister of our Savior God?

And yet, we still hear that the holy angels sang not only, “Glory to God in the highest,” but also “on earth peace among those with whom He is well pleased!” [Luke 2:14] So now, hold on just a minute; let’s not give up either our hope nor our joy just yet. Did you hear what the angel said? He said, “those with who God is well pleased.” Friends, that means that this little baby brings more than just a need to praise God, but the reality that through Him God is now pleased with us sinners. Now, I think that we are on to something. You see, God didn’t send His Son into the world to bring us fear or worry, but instead, we are to receive God’s goodwill; His desire to bring us peace. Understand now, this isn’t goodwill that you’ve earned; it’s simply a gift, or as God calls it, “grace”! This is why He encourages us to sing “Glory!”—even if we don’t seem to understand this; even if we seem to sometimes be unchanged by it, glory in your God and His Son any how; give Him the praise! Praise Him for all the works He does, but especially for this one, He gives you goodwill, peace with God! That is He gives you grace, love, and mercy even though you have given Him no reason to be so generous. Here is the reason even your sinful flesh must agree He deserves praise, not only in heaven among His angels, but even here, even from you.

Now I’m sure you can see, especially in these sinful times, we have a need for God’s goodwill; for His peace and righteousness. But won’t you agree that the fact that God has sent His Son as your brother and Savior is far greater than just saying God gives you goodwill? Isn’t that enough to move your heart to praise His name? But if you do not praise him and give him glory, won’t the devil accuse you of being separated from God? Yes he will, but that is not God’s judgment, nor His heart! God desires that you Christians should rejoice, delight, and be comforted in the truth that God has come to you, because… you… could not… come to Him!

Yes you will glory in God and give Him the praise, but not because you must, but because you can. You see, this is a different kind of glory and praise; it is the kind that does not need effort but only truth. What is that truth? Simply this: the Savior was born for you, so that you can acknowledge not what you have done, but what the merciful Father has done, so that we can boast and say, “I will praise the Lord because He has given His Son to me.” That is the praise, which God desires, “Glory to God in the highest.” So, we do not boast of the work that we do, but the work that placed the Son of God on Mary’s lap and then upon the cross.

Again, in my mind’s eye, by faith I see in this Child, this Son of God, not only a reason to glory, but I also find salvation.

Here, we see the God child nursing at Mary’s breast, and we rejoice with joy and give thanks so much that our hearts are changed and we see all things and all people in a different light. That is truly what singing with the angels, “Goodwill to men” means. Our hearts are now flooded with a joy that is not dependent upon circumstances but the simple truth that declares that through this Child, God is well pleased to dwell with you!

God came to you when there was no reason that He should come. You haven’t earned His coming but still He comes. This is the gospel that the angel was to announce, “I bring you glad tidings;” your sins are removed on account of the coming, and the full ministry of this God-child. So what is our response? Naturally, we give Him thanks and praise; we become peaceable, and have goodwill towards others.

This Child Jesus was born and given to you for this reason: that you would know that you have been honored and redeemed by God Himself. Embrace the Child and kiss Him, and say that He is your Jesus, your Lord and Savior; He is your God. He cannot just be Mary’s child, He must be yours even more than He is Mary’s Son. If He is yours, then you will be able to face anything that comes your way in this sinful world. With Jesus, you can stand firm against the devil and even your own death. Wherever He is, there you also will be, in death and in life. [John 14:3]

Today dear friends, I hope you will take this time to examine your life; let the truth of God lead you to see whether you have received this Child as your own, and whether you are glad in it. Test your life to see whether you believe in this truth, and if you do, then allow it to change your ways. If you find no improvement, no goodwill towards God and others, then you must conclude that it is not well with your soul. Christ is doing you no good. Do not think: “It is enough that I go to Church.” No it isn’t, because you haven’t yet begun to believe. But the fault for your lack of faith lies only with you and not God. He still calls out to you to believe and declare with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth (FOR ME) peace is (mine if I will not reject it).

I close with this final thought for your consideration. God has honored you above all angels and creatures, you have been blessed so highly that presidents and royalty are nothing in comparison to you; and more than that, you have been saved from your sins, and now, even death, sin, and the fires of hell can do nothing to you.

So now depart in God’s peace, and allow His Spirit to teach you to sing: “Peace to all sinful men and women, even for me.” In Him alone, may you find heavenly joy, so that nothing is so reassuring and sweet to you as Christ your Lord. If you find all that to be true, then by the power of God, may this day be a new beginning as you begin again your life in Christ. And in this new life, by God’s work, may you find peace and joy alone in Christ, His Holy Word, and the work He does for you in His blessed Holy Sacraments, as He keeps you blameless at the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN!

Living Beyond the Mountain Top

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday A, February 26, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”” [Matthew 17:1]

Transfiguration-Cal-34-Mar1Have you ever had something happen to you, which was so profound that it seemed to change how you look at everything in your life? Peter, James, and John did, but to understand their experience correctly, we need to look at their recent experiences with Jesus.

In the last couple of years, they experienced one miracle after another.

They must have felt like they were on top of the world. And then, out of nowhere, Jesus started talking about denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him into suffering and death! Why, He even said that if they wanted to save their lives they must first lose them. Then He said that even He would need to suffer and die at the hands of sinful men in order to fulfill the will of the Father.

Now to Peter, that sounded like crazy talk, and he didn’t want to listen to anymore of that doom and gloom, so he took Jesus aside and tried to enlighten Him on how he thought a Messiah should speak. But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that; that was the devil speaking not Peter, so Jesus rebuked Peter with the often-quoted words, “Get behind me Satan.” He said that Peter was seeking the way of the world, and not the way of God!

Peter and the other apostles must have been thinking, “What’s going on here? This isn’t what I signed up for! What happened to all of our visions of glory that come with ‘walking and talking with our minds stayed on Jesus’ the Messiah?” You see, they wanted more of the glory, fame, and high life, but Jesus was telling them that instead of living large and in-charge, they would need to experience shame, suffering, and death. And then out of nowhere, Jesus gave them this little bit of information to think about: “Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come in power.” [Mark 9:1]

So now, six days later there is Peter along with James, and John, up on a mountaintop, watching Jesus pray and seeing the kingdom of God enveloping them in power.

God’s power and glory always comes through His Living Word and many times Jesus, the Living Word, comes when we least expect Him.

It was getting late and they were tired; their eyes got heavy when all of a sudden, boom! It was as if all of the light in the world was pouring out of Jesus and the two visitors that suddenly appeared. And they weren’t just any visitors either; they were Moses and Elijah!

The three earth bound apostles were overwhelmed with the experience. The other gospels tell us that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were speaking about Jesus death, resurrection, and the day He would leave this sinful world, but Peter skipped right over those Words. All he seemed to care about was the glory! He must have thought, “Now this is the kind of Messiah I signed up to follow!” So with a mixture of fear and excitement (after all he was standing in the presence of God and the two greatest heroes of faith that ever lived), Peter interrupts Jesus’ discussion with these deep and insightful words: “(Hey, a) Lord, it is (a)good (thing) that we’re here (with you).” Do you want me to pitch a few tents for you and your guests?

I call that a Cool Hand Luke moment; you know… “What we have here, is a failure to communicate.”

With all of the responses someone should or could have had, maybe something like Alleluia, why in the world did Peter ruin that divine moment with such a stupid statement and question? Because many times when it comes to listening to God, we have a listening problem.

KGO talk radio in San Francisco once conducted a call-in poll. Ron Owens invited listeners to express their opinion. Thirty-five percent said yes, 33 percent said no and 32 percent were undecided. One listener, aghast at the large number of undecideds, protested, “It’s this sort of apathy that’s ruining America.”

The only problem with all these responses was that the radio station had never posed a question. It’s not apathy that is getting most of us in trouble – it is shooting our mouths off and shouting our lungs out over things that we know nothing about.
After Peter’s “Cool-Hand Luke” moment, God allowed a thick cloud to appear, and it suddenly swept Moses and Elijah away. Why? Because God was making sure that they both heard Him speak, and that they also understood why He spoke.

Aren’t we a lot like those apostles too?

We love it when we come to church and we get to sing our favorite hymn or spiritual. We love it when the preacher is talking about heaven and what a time will have there with no more suffering, pain, sickness, and death, but as soon as the message starts showing us where we fall short or what God expects from us, we tune it out.

We love to be entertained for about an hour, but as soon as the service starts cutting into our Sunday afternoon plans we get fidgety, and then irritated! Or maybe, we love the fellowship and coffee but get bored with the liturgy and ritual! You see, like Peter we say that it’s good to be here in church, but only if it meets our desires; as soon as worship time gets personal we become nervous and hope that it ends soon.

Now you might not interrupt the sermon or the readings with a foolish statement like Peter’s, but you too have your “Cool-Hand Luke” moments. For you, it happens the minute you tune out to what’s happening in Divine Service and tune into what you wish was happening. Peter wanted to silence the conversation and stay in the glory moment, and we aren’t any better. We love those mountaintop highs of worship, and if we could make it happen, that’s all we would ever experience.

Does that mean that emotion during worship is bad? No, not at all, but the good times aren’t suppose to be the center of why we worship. So what’s the solution?

Well, we just need to let Jesus be Jesus and then let Him do what He does. Do you see what I just did there? I took the emphasis off of you and me and put it on Jesus. That’s always the solution to most every thing, isn’t it? Yes church, we must remember that worship, our worship of God is simply our response to what He has done and is doing right now for us! This is what we call Divine Service; God’s service amongst and within us; His work of dealing with our sins as individuals and as a congregation.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Peter used his mountaintop experience and the Word of God he heard that day, as a way to guide both his life and ours’ every day as we live not on the mountain top but in the valleys.

The greatest growth in the apostle’s lives did not take place on the mountaintop, but instead it took place on the way to a garden and a rocky hill. The vision of Moses and Elijah is not what shaped the three, but instead it was the three years they spent with Jesus listening to His Word; the very Word that would predict His own betrayal and death; it would lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested and then to Golgotha where they witnessed their Savior’s death upon a cross. It was not Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration that impacted them eternally but instead, it was His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, which confirmed that “truly He was the Son of God” for them and for the world.

The day Jesus was crucified, that hill where they planted His cross became the highest mountain in the world, because it reached heaven for us. Jesus did not go up that hill to pray, but he did pray, he prayed for you: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” You see friends; the experience at the Mt. of Transfiguration is inferior to the experience at Calvary’s holy hill, because it is only at Calvary where you receive forgiveness of sins.

Peter and the boys missed the obvious. They were awed by Jesus’ glory, because He was their man, the Messiah who would be their champion by righting all wrongs. They were so excited about what they thought Jesus would do that they missed what God had already done. There standing with Jesus, were Moses and Elijah shining in the same glory as Jesus. Moses the great teacher who brought us God’s law, was listening to Jesus. Elijah, the great prophet who was taken up to heaven in bodily form, was listening too. What did it all mean? Only Jesus could explain it; and to make sure that they would one day understand, God’s Divine Service kicked into action again. Moses and Elijah disappeared within a dense cloud of God’s glory and the voice of the Father announced: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

How does our worship go wrong?

It happens when we shut down our hearts and minds to the message in exchange for the experience; when we allow Jesus Word to become secondary to the experience. How does God make things right? By taking our focus off of the experience and putting it back onto the Word, this Word: “Jesus is My beloved Son, my elected One; LISTEN TO HIM!”
The truth is, without the Word of God speaking to us, there can be no experience. What is the experience? Dying and living and living and dying. In the Word you hear God’s law make demands that you can never meet; this is a Word that terrifies you, because you are a sinner standing in the middle of God’s perfect and blinding glory, and the result is your death, the death of your glory.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, you hear about a loving God who came to you, to take away your sins; the result is new life, a life free of condemnation and full of God’s love. In this good news you are taught that Jesus walked the painful way to the cross for you; He suffered and died to pay for your sins. In His death He conquered not just your sin and the devil, but also your own death. In His death and resurrection, all things can be made new again, even you!

In your baptism, Jesus brought you into His glory by drowning and destroying your old sinful nature and by bringing you into the cloud of His divine presence. In your baptism He chose you and He cleansed you. And what He cleanses, He also molds and changes. What He molds, He fills. And what He fills, He uses. So now, you live! Every day you choose to live for God as you put to death your old sinful and self-serving nature; you live for God and you live for others!

When the light show is over and the glory cloud vanishes, there is no one but you and Jesus, but not the bright as the sun Jesus, but the flesh and blood Jesus. He’s the one who moves around in this world of sin, loving, suffering and dying for sinners. He’s the One who speaks to them and through His Word makes them saints. How does He do that? Through the proclamation of His church… through you and me!

Remember in our gospel reading when He told the three not to say a word to anyone about what they had seen until He had risen from the dead? Well that time has come and gone. In case you haven’t noticed, everyone who knows is telling anyone who doesn’t what Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension means… it means the forgiveness of all sins and eternal life! But you can only share that message if you are willing to come down off of the mountain top of worship and go out into the real world where there are real sinful and hurting people, dying without knowing Jesus. The exciting part about all of this is the fact that God wants to reach them through you!

So, until we meet again next Sunday for our next encounter with God’s divine service and our next foretaste of the glory to come, may He forever lead and guide you by the Word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior… AMEN!

The Art of Thankfulness

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 28th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ for you.” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]

Many times it seems as if God’s will for us to give thanks is seldom fulfilled by us.  Oh it’s true that there are some circumstances in life when we can’t help but be thankful, but sometimes, many times those circumstances are few and far between.  That’s because people usually—even those of us who want to behave as Christians—have a limited view of our eternal reality.

Our realities consist first of all of ourselves, then it widens into our immediate everyday lives, but last of all, to our shame, we consider God.  Isn’t it true that we can be overwhelmed just by dealing with our everyday lives?  Bad things and good things happen to everyone, and many times, we forget to thank God.  Oh we’ve been known to turn to God when real situations arise; situations that we can’t explain or control, and if and when God responds, we gladly give Him thanks and praise, but sometimes we do forget to praise Him even when we successfully pass through those tough times.  We can be a lot like those nine lepers in our gospel lesson (Luke 17-11-19) who were healed and never bothered to return to Jesus and give thanks to God.  Yes, we modern folks aren’t all that different from people in Jesus time.  So how can we correct this?  Well the quick answer is that we can’t.  When we tell ourselves we must give thanks, it is no longer an expression of gratitude from our hearts, but rather a law or regulation that imposes something that really should be given freely and gladly.  So the secret to being thankful isn’t something we can develop, but rather it is something we are given.

The secret of thankfulness is no secret at all; it’s simply the art of walking by the Spirit, and learning not to evaluate things by the desire of our flesh.

When we learn to see things first within a spiritual reality we will also discover that things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control are things that come only through knowing Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected for me… for you!

And knowing Christ in this way can only come by being in God’s Word.  When we are in the Word we will find ourselves gladly being led, renewed, and refreshed by the Holy Spirit of God who empowers that Word.

It is that intimate relationship with God through Christ in His means of grace that begins to teach us all things; in other words, the Spirit brings us wisdom.

In our Old Testament lesson (Proverbs 4:10-23), the voice of God calls out through Holy Scripture and says, “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.”

This is a challenge God puts out to each of us who are baptized.  It is as if He is saying, “Try me out.  Listen to my Word; let it teach you the truth about sin and death, and then let it take you on another path, the path of forgiveness and eternal life.”

The path of forgiveness and eternal life comes only through the Word of God, and it is always a Word about Jesus Christ.  That Word forces you to see your need for Christ as your Savior and it is showing you the true victory Christ won for you on the cross, and the sure and certain promise of the resurrection that He gave to you in the waters of your own baptism.  This is why our Old Testament lesson ends with this plea: “My son, be attentive to my Words; incline your ear to my saying.  Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.  For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.  Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” [Proverbs 4:20-23]

But even if we give God this kind of thanks, it is still only a portion of the gratitude that we should return to Him.  So how can we develop this art of being thankful? It’s not that difficult really; we do it…

By keeping our eyes on Jesus, which will both teach us and fill us with a God given ability and desire to be thankful.

Jesus thanked His Heavenly Father for everything—from the bread and the wine on the table to the deepest mysteries of salvation.  He thanked His Father for an answer to prayer even before it came. [John 11:25-43]  But you and I aren’t Jesus; we are imperfect saved sinners struggling to hold onto the gifts of forgiveness and new life.  But still we know that God both desires and equips us to be thankful people.  The apostles took part in this same struggle, but in the midst of trials they constantly urged their fellow Christians to continue practicing that art of thankfulness, always giving thanks to God our Father in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!  This is not a pious figure of speech that God’s Word teaches but instead, it is described as a basic attitude of life and a direction for our personalities.  It is the proper attitude of a Christian, and it flows from our knowledge of God, which only comes through the frequent use of His Word.

God is not only the God of the unusual event and the difficult circumstance, but  He is also the source of all things and the giver of every good gift. [James 1:17]  It should be a real eye opener when we read the Psalms and we discover that many “normal things” are objects of praise and thanksgiving for the psalmist.  The psalmist praises and blesses God for the streams that make their way through the hills, for grass which comes forth out of the ground, for the grain that makes bread, or wine which gladdens the hearts of men and women, for sun and moon, for the darkness of night and the light of morning, for the task of the day and even for the work which last until evening.  God is praised for covering the skies with clouds and for giving rain to the earth, for giving food to the creatures of the earth and sustenance to all living things.

But thanksgiving becomes even more abundant when the Scriptures begin to speak to our hearts about the salvation that God has provided for sinful people like us.  This is the same spirit of thankfulness that led St. Paul to break out in joy and praise, right in the middle of some carefully studied thought.  “Thanks be to God” Paul says, “through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Romans 7:25]  “God who is over all be blessed forever.  Amen.” [Romans 9:5]

You see for Paul and the other apostles, everything is ultimately spiritual, and it’s all connected to how God is breaking through into our physical reality.  Everything that Paul writes is filled with a God given spirit of thanksgiving for Christ, Who is God’s unspeakable gift for sinners like you and me.  Oh that we would overflow with praise and be taught to rejoice even in the middle of suffering and tribulations; oh that we would learn to rejoice in Christ with an unspeakable and glorious joy. [1 Peter 1:3-9]

Dear friends, today God is calling each of us to be transformed like the Samaritan leper in our gospel lesson and like the apostles and early disciples of Jesus.

God is asking each of us to be the minority that returns to Jesus every day to give Him thanks and praise.  Let’s not try to answer the question that asks, “Where are the others?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God accept this foreigner?” But instead, let’s just be thankful that He accepts foreigners like us; let’s thank Him for His faithfulness.

Let us be transformed everyday, becoming more and more thankful that God would call sinners such as us, such as I, such as you!  And as we are being made thankful, let us also like the Samaritan respond to Jesus invitation to journey with Him.  Let us proceed to and through those Dark Gethsemane moments and even to the cross of suffering and shame, being thankful that Jesus is our’s and we are His.  Let us follow the sorrowful procession to His tomb and say a resounding yes to the Spiritual that asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  Yes you were there; it was YOUR sins that He died for, but let’s also remember that we were there by faith, when God the Father raised Him from the tomb.  And because He lives, we too shall live with Him forever in Paradise restored.  Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, that Jesus would suffer and die for such a worm and foreigner as I!

Again we find that the art of being thankful is not in trying to make ourselves thankful, but instead it comes simply as a gift of comfort from God Who breaks into our sometimes painful reality, as we are being taught to cling to Christ and His gospel alone.  It is in moments like these that we find ourselves simply rejoicing in the knowledge that God loves us and He has forgiven us for Christ’s sake.  When this one pure thought becomes certain to us, we will not be able to contain our thankfulness.

And this thought can only come by faith through the Word of God and the work that the Word performs in our hearts.  It is the Word that assures you that you are everywhere and always surrounded by the goodness of God in Jesus Christ.  From Him and through Him and unto Him are all things, even our cries of thanksgiving.  To Him be glory forever and ever…  AMEN.

The Lord Is In His Holy Temple

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

Epiphany 1 (HL), January 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.” [Psalm 11:4]

Each Sunday we hear a similar call and a declared need to both worship our God and be surrounded with His glory.  But do these words still apply to our churches today?  In Israel the temple was considered to be the dwelling place of the Lord, the place where His glory resided.  Is this true for us today, or is the time past when the worship of God is confined to a special place?

We can answer both yes and no to that question.  Without a doubt the time of the Old Covenant temple, with its sacrifices and ordinances is long past.  All that the Old Testament commands about the offerings, the service of the temple, and the festivals doesn’t concern us.  But on the other hand, the time isn’t past when God reveals Himself to us through distinctly tangible and physical means.  The God who surrounds us on all sides and fills the whole universe, Him we cannot meet or truly know as our dear Heavenly Father except through Jesus Christ.  It is in the Gospel, in the Word and the Sacraments, that we possess God as our God.

In every place where GOD’S Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered God comes near to us, in the same way that He drew near to His people Israel within the temple.

When a church building is set aside for worship, it is properly consecrated by the Word of God and by the prayers of God’s people who gather there to be both surrounded and filled with His glory.  This is why we call our church a holy place, because it is set apart for God, to be the meeting place where He comes to meet us within His means of grace.

Jesus Himself modeled for us a life that honored both the temple and the local synagogue.  As we heard in our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 2:41-52), at the age of twelve Jesus already spoke of the temple as “my Father’s house.”  As a mature man He drove the traders out of the temple and wouldn’t even allow them to carry anything through the sanctuary.  It was meant to be a house of prayer for all people.  It is stated that it was His custom to go to the synagogue.  Evidently this means that He attended the local houses of worship.  And following that same pattern of living, the apostles as well were loyal to both temple and synagogue as long as they were able.  And then when they were no longer welcomed, they found other rooms for worship, which in time became the forerunners to our Christian churches.

You see dear friends, we have both the right and the obligation to foster the same love toward our own churches, which the godly Israelites had with regard to the temple.  The truth is, our baptized souls and minds long for the house of the Lord; it is there where our hearts, whether we admit it or not, seek rest, as rain rests upon a lake, at the altars of the Lord of hosts.

We peculiar people who are called “Christian” in our spirits, are glad when they say: “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”  When we arrive at his house we truly can “enter His gates with thanksgiving and praise” and we can go forward “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” [Psalm 27:4]  We are aware that in the house of God that “Splendor and majesty are before Him; (and) strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” [Psalm 96:6] Word for word a Christian can say: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”  [Psalm 63:3, 4]

And we will need this work of God, because this entire world and really our own sinful nature both implore and even demand that we give up our faith and style of worship, which is considered by many, to be antiquated and a relic of the past.  To these voices from within the darkness of sin we respond, “The LORD has said that He would dwell in thick darkness.” [1 Kings 8:12] So “In the LORD I take refuge.  How can you say to my soul, ‘Flee like a bird to our places of safety.  All is lost within your religion, and we non-Christians surround and out number you.  Can’t you see that your foundations are destroyed?  So why do you cling to a faith and religion that can’t protect you?”  “Ha” we respond confidently…

“Our help is found by resting in the Lord; by allowing our faith to be strengthened through the means of grace that God Himself has determined to work through for our good.” You see, when we do this, we become part of the “foundations” of the very society God has instituted.

So what are these foundations that the darkness of sin threatens to destroy?  They are very simply the church, government, and family.  Luther called these institutions the stations of life, and he said, “Where such stations operate as they should, there things go well in the world, and there is the very righteousness of God.  But where such stations are not maintained, it makes for unrighteousness.  Now God declares (that) these stations must remain if the world is to stand, even though many may oppose and rage against them.” [AE 13:58 cf AE 54:446]

Now, while it is true that if we judge this world by what we see, all seems to be lost and enveloped by the darkness of sin, but remember God and His glory dwell within the darkness; even from within that darkness God declares, “I AM.”

The Lord is in His holy temple in heaven, but His glory fills all of creation; His eyes see and He guides you, and even if the world only see’s Him as if His eyes are closed, and even if they think He does not see or know, HE IS.

But the truth is friends, this darkness isn’t just something that surrounds us, but in fact it resides even within our own sinful flesh.  And because of this darkness we can begin to be flooded with doubts and fears.  Although it might sometimes seem that the wicked are prospering in their wickedness, God is still ruling in the heavens. Nothing escapes his detection. He sees the deeds of the ungodly, and he will punish them fully in His time. The Lord hates evil and He loves righteousness. When He comes in judgment, he will punish every sin of the unbeliever. But those who are righteous through Christ, you who trust in Christ alone, will dwell with God in eternal happiness.

Even when the very foundations of society seem to be undermined, this assurance of Isaiah remains true: [The Lord] “will be the sure foundation for your times” (Isaiah 33:6). Even when wickedness and lies flourish, “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” [2 Timothy 2:19]

Dear saints, we must be filled with all these promises, comfort, and strength regularly, and God does this very thing within His Divine Service here within our church home, which is His church.

The truth is, we who are God’s saints are being built up as His very foundation for maintaining His glory within this sin-darkened world.

We are drawn by the work of the Holy Spirit to this place; we come to be filled with light so that the world in darkness may know the source of our light.  We come as sinners forgiven through the Holy cross of Jesus, washed clean in the waters of our baptism, so that others will be drawn for the same reason and to the same source of new life and cleansing… Jesus Christ!

When the world looks for you to throw in with them, to be like them, and to act with them; when they look for you to follow them, and in surprise comment how strange it is that you will not; that you still find it necessary to “go to church,” you can then, through the work of the Holy Spirit respond as Jesus responded to Mary and Joseph, “Why do you wonder where I’ll be on Sunday?” “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

You see, through Christ, God is not just the Father of His Son Jesus, but He is also your Father as long as you see your need to take His Son as your Savior from your many sins.  And because God is your Father, you will also have the same regard as Jesus did for His and your Father’s house.  You will not neglect the meeting of the saints nor the up-keeping of the church and its ministry, because it is within that place of meeting and within those means of grace, that God freely gives you both forgiveness and new life.

Dear friends, our faith is often tested and its often found wanting. God’s faithfulness and mercy toward us, however, never weakens or fails. Despite our lack of faith and even our wicked deeds, He extends His grace as a refuge from our sinful nature and the sinful works of others. He does this so that we can both see and hear Him work through His Word and Sacraments, in order that we will have access to His undying testament, which guarantees His great and unending love for us.  Let us pray…

In You, O Lord, we take refuge. Though we are found lacking righteousness, save us by the righteousness of Christ. We ask this in Jesus name… Amen!

It Is Good To Be Here!

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday B, February 15, 2015

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Mark 9:2-9

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“And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.” [Mark 9:5a]

Have you ever had something happen to you, which was so profound that it seemed to change how you look at everything in your life?  Peter, James, and John did, but to understand their experience correctly, we need to look at their recent experiences with Jesus.  In the last couple of years, they experienced one miracle after another; they must have felt like they were on top of the world.  And then, out of nowhere, Jesus started talking about denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him into suffering and death!  Why, He even said that if they wanted to save their lives they must first lose them.  Then He said that even He would need to suffer and die at the hands of sinful men in order to fulfill the will of the Father.

Now to Peter, that was crazy talk, and he didn’t want to listen to anymore of that doom and gloom, so he took Jesus aside and tried to enlighten Him on how He thought a Messiah should speak.  But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that; that was the devil speaking not Peter, so Jesus rebuked Peter with the often-quoted words, “Get behind me Satan.”  He said that Peter was seeking the way of the world, and not the way of God!

Peter and the other apostles must have been thinking, “What’s going on here?  This isn’t what I signed up for!  What happened to all of the happy-clappy times that come with “walking and talking with our minds stayed of Jesus” the Messiah?”  You see, they wanted more of the glory, fame, and high life, but Jesus was telling them that instead of living large and in-charge, they would need to experience suffering, shame, and death.  And then out of nowhere, Jesus gave them this little bit of information to think about: “Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come in power.” [Mark 9:1]

So now, six days later there is Peter along with James, and John, up on a mountaintop, watching Jesus pray.  Little did they know that they were about to experience the kingdom of God in all of its glory and power!  It was getting late and they were tired; their eyes got heavy when all of a sudden, boom!  It was as if all of the light in the world was pouring out of Jesus and the two visitors that suddenly appeared.  And they weren’t just any visitors either; they were Moses and Elijah!

The three earth bound apostles were overwhelmed with the experience.  The other gospels tell us that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were speaking about Jesus death, resurrection, and the day He would leave this sinful world, but Peter skipped right over those Words.  All he seemed to care about was the glory!  He must have thought, “Now this is the kind of Messiah I signed up to follow!”  So with a mixture of fear and excitement (after all he was standing in the presence of God and the two greatest heroes of faith that ever lived), Peter interrupts Jesus’ discussion with these deep and insightful words: “(Hey, a) Rabbi, it is (a)good (thing) that we’re here (with you).”  Do you want me to pitch a few tents for you and your guests?

I call that a Homer Simpson moment: “Dolp!”

With all of the responses someone should or could have had, maybe something like Alleluia, why in the world did Peter ruin that divine moment with such a stupid statement and question?  And after Peter’s Homer Simpson moment, what happened next?  A thick cloud suddenly appeared and Moses and Elijah were gone.

The experience was over.  Or as B.B. King would say, the thrill is gone.  But why?  Well simply put, Peter’s attention was centered on what He was experiencing and not the Words He was hearing.  He completely missed the conversation about Jesus leaving this world; he missed it because it was another message about suffering and death.

Aren’t we a lot like Peter too? We love it when we come to church and we get to sing our favorite hymn or spiritual.  We love it when the preacher is talking about heaven and what a time will have there with no more suffering, pain, sickness, and death, but as soon as the message starts showing us where we fall short or what God expects from us, we tune it out.

We love to be entertained for about an hour, but as soon as the service starts cutting into our Sunday afternoon plans we get fidgety, and then irritated!  We love the fellowship and coffee but get bored with the liturgy and ritual!  You see, like Peter we say that it’s good to be here in church, but only if it meets our desires; as soon as worship time gets personal we become nervous and hope that it ends soon.

Now you might not interrupt the sermon or the readings with a foolish statement like Peter’s, but you too have your Homer Simpson moments.  For you, it happens the minute you tune out to what’s happening in Divine Service and tune into what you wish was happening.  Peter wanted to silence the conversation and stay in the glory moment, and we aren’t any better.  We love those mountaintop highs of worship, and if we could make it happen, that’s all we would ever experience.

Does that mean that emotion during worship is bad?  No, not at all, but the good times aren’t suppose to be the center of why we worship.  So what’s the solution?

Well, we just need to let Jesus be Jesus and then let Him do what He does. Do you see what I just did?  I took the emphasis off of you and me and put it on Jesus.  That’s always the solution to most every thing, isn’t it?  Yes church, we must remember that worship, our worship of God is simply our response to what He has done and is doing right now for us!  This is what we call Divine Service; God’s service amongst and within us; His work of dealing with our sins.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul talked about a veil that remains over the eyes of the unbelieving Jews.  For us, that veil represents our flesh or physical desires; its our natural way of trying to get what we want, but Jesus always gives us what we need.  When we listen to Jesus, the Word of God, God Himself removes the veil of this world off of our spiritual eyes and He allows us to see an entirely different reality… a spiritual one.  Only through (Jesus) Christ can this veil be taken away.

You see, when we turn to Jesus and what He is doing or saying and receive that Word and that Word only, the veil is removed; we are freed from our own expectations of what our Christian faith and worship is, and then we can truly hear what Jesus is really saying.  And when we hear what Jesus is saying, then and only then can we be transformed slowly but surely, into the same image and glory of our Lord.

Peter and the boys missed the obvious.  They were awed by Jesus’ glory, because He was their man, the Messiah who would be their champion by righting all wrongs.  They were so excited about what they thought Jesus would do that they missed what God had already done.  There standing with Jesus, were Moses and Elijah shining in the same glory as Jesus.  Moses the great teacher who brought us God’s law, was listening to Jesus.  Elijah, the great prophet who was taken up to heaven in bodily form, was listening too.  What did it all mean?  Only Jesus could explain it; and to make sure that they would one day understand, God’s Divine Service kicked into action again.  Moses and Elijah disappeared within a dense cloud of God’s glory and the voice of the Father announced: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

How does our worship go wrong? It happens when we shut down our hearts and minds to the message in exchange for the experience.  How does God make things right?  By taking our focus off of the experience and putting it back onto the Word, this Word:  “Jesus is My beloved Son, my elected One; LISTEN TO HIM!”

The truth is, without the Word of God speaking to us, there can be no experience.  What is the experience?  Dying and living and Living and dying.  In the Word you hear God’s law make demands that you can never meet; this is a Word that terrifies you, because you are a sinner standing in the middle of God’s perfect and blinding glory, and the result is your death, the death of your glory.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, you hear about a loving God who came to you, to take away your sins; the result is new life, a life free of condemnation and full of God’s love.  In this good news you are taught that Jesus walked the painful way to the cross for you; He suffered and died to pay for your sins.  In His death He conquered not just your sin and the devil, but also your own death.  In His death and resurrection, all things can be new again, even you!

In your baptism, Jesus brought you into His glory by drowning and destroying your old sinful nature and by bringing you into the cloud of His divine presence.  In your baptism He chose you and He cleansed you.  And what He cleanses, He also molds and changes.  What He molds, He fills.  And what He fills, He uses.  So now, you live!  Every day you choose to live for God as you put to death your old sinful and self-serving nature; you live for God and you live for others!

This is the true nature of our hidden life in Jesus. When the light show is over and the glory cloud vanishes, there is no one but you and Jesus, but not the bright as the sun Jesus, but the flesh and blood Jesus.  He’s the one who moves around in this world of sin, suffering and dying for sinners.  He’s the One who speaks to them and through His Word makes them saints.  How does He do that?  Through the proclamation of His church… through you and me!

Remember in our gospel reading when He told the three not to say a word to anyone about what they had seen until He had risen from the dead?  Well that time has come and gone.  In case you haven’t noticed, everyone who knows is telling anyone who doesn’t what Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension means!  They are telling them that they are free of shame, worry, and fear.  So now, guess what?  It’s your turn to share the good news.  But you can only do that if you come down off of the mountain top of worship and go out into the real world where there are real sinful and hurting people, dying without knowing Jesus.  The exciting part about all of this is the fact that God wants to reach them through you!

Are you a little afraid to share this good news?  That’s alright; Peter and the others were afraid too.  They didn’t want to leave the safety and awesomeness of their worship experience, but they had to, because Jesus led them out, and He’ll lead you too!  Dear friends, God is leading us out into the real world; a place where there is real suffering and pain.  But He is leading us out with our hearts and minds focused on His Word and the real change He’s made and is making within each of us.  When you get afraid or tired, and just feel like quitting, think of this place and all of the wonderful gifts that God has given to you here, all so that you would be His witness of love and life in a dying world.  Think of His glory that He has placed within you; a glory that can’t be seen with physical eyes but will one day shine as bright as the glory of our Lord’s own Transfiguration.  And when you remember these things, it’s alright to feel excited but just remember emotions will eventually die off, and then it’s just you and Jesus.

So, until we meet again next Sunday for our next encounter with God’s divine service and our next foretaste of the glory to come, may He forever lead and guide you by the Word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior… AMEN!

Take the Child!

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Christmas 1A, December 29th, 2013

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This morning, two parts of our readings take precedent over all others; they demand our attention and even our obedience.  The first is  the theme of our message.  It is repeated four times in our gospel reading (Matthew 2:13-23), and it is this: “Rise, take the child and His  mother.”  The second portion of God’s Word that demands recognition comes from our Epistle reading (Galatians 4:4-7): “But when the  fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so  that we might receive adoption as sons.”

If we put these two portions of scripture together we seem to get a clear message, a theme if you will to apply to our worship this  morning: God helps us in times of uncertainty because we take hold of the mystery that is Jesus, the eternal Son of God who is also man;  born of a woman at just the right time.  In other words, we can not and must not separate Jesus humanity from His divinity.  If we will  take this God-child as He is given to us, we will also receive redemption, that is we will be not only saved from our sin, but we will also  become God’s own child!

In the little Child Jesus, we see God’s care for His Son wrapped in swaddling clothes, but we are also given assurance that He will care for  us also, His adopted children of faith.  So…

We are called to take the Child in times of danger.  Unlike Joseph, most of us will not have an angel appear to us in order to warn us about  impending danger or threats to our Christian of faith.  But we know by experience that there are many frightening things that wait for us  in the coming year, even physical dangers.  But rest assured, God knows about each of them; He is already there in that moment of time preparing a way for you.  He has already planed the way of escape for you.  As Joseph was directed to run to Egypt for his escape, God as well has a way out for you.  Now, while it may not be as drastic as running to another country, it is a way out that God has planned.

What will the danger for you look like?  Only God knows, but think about this: Not all dangers are physical.  In fact most of them are spiritual.  For the young people, God wants you to know that He has watched over you this last year, and He is still protecting you.  To you, through the Apostle Paul, God says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” [1 Corinthians 6:18]  And for all of us who are prone to trust in things created over the Creator, God tells us, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” [1 Corinthians 10:14]

How we flee from these temptations in the year to come is the way Joseph was to flee to Egypt; we take the Child and His mother and we run away from temptation.  Please hear me; if anyone comes to you preaching and teaching a different Jesus, or a different kind of gospel, you must flee.  Take this Jesus, this Child and His mother and run!  You dear Christians are adopted children of God and you have been given the ability to flee from these things.  So pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of faith and take hold of the gift of faith and live out the eternal life you were called to live.  Let your Christian walk be a confession about God’s faithfulness to those who do not yet know Him as their Heavenly Father. [1 Timothy 6:11, 12]

We are also called to take the young child in times of catastrophe.  When I say catastrophe, what comes to mind… terrorist attack, hurricane, tornado, or earthquake?  Ok, but what about cancer or some other life threatening disease?  It’s during times like these that the inevitable question arises: “Why me?”  Well why not you?  You have the assurance that you are eternally saved, so what is one fleeting physical attack in comparison to the faithful promise of God, which assures you that because you have taken the Child to be your Savior and God, you will live with Him forever in paradise?  Maybe the best witness we will ever give to our God is the way we grab onto His Son in times of tragedy and trust in His promise of eternal life no matter what our life circumstances may say.

Friends if we try to find answers to life’s catastrophes where God does not speak, all we will do is watch the joy of knowing we are His children slip away from us.  In our gospel reading we are shown an example of this.  The Magi escaped and Jesus and the Holy Family successfully fled to Egypt, but left behind were the young children who were slaughtered.  The church now calls them the Holy Innocents.  If you were to tell those mothers as their children lay dead that they were blessed, do you think they would hear you?  There is no point in telling those young mothers to “Take the young children and flee… for they are no more.”

In the middle of catastrophe, when we want to call out to God, “Why me?” He points to the Child, His Son and answers, “Because, even He!”  In His flight to Egypt God the Son was already redeeming the world from their sins.  God was in Christ reconciling the world, that is bringing us back to Himself.  Did the world understand at the time?  No, they did not, and neither do we most of the time.  Would the world have been better served if Jesus remained in Bethlehem and died with the other children?  Is it favoritism on the part of God the Father to provide for His Son’s escape while the others died?  No, because we know that ultimately God did not allow His Son to escape.  We know why this God-child had to become the God-man.  He was born so that He could die upon the cross, and not at the edge of a government sword.  God did not spare His only Son but delivered Him up as a ransom for us all.  For “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” [Isaiah 53:6]

So take the Child, and trust that God the Father through the Son, has given you all things!

Take the child in times of prosperity as well.  Joseph did that very thing when the angel reported that “those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” [Vs. 20]  He returned and made a life for His family in Nazareth.  Yes, we too need to take the Child even when things are going well, because you will need Him.

One sad truth that I have discovered in my time as your pastor, is that there is a certain group that comes to God’s house to receive His Divine Service only during the hard times.  They will gladly hear our message this morning and shout a hearty “AMEN, brother!” to the first two points I’ve made.  They know that when times are tough and catastrophe strikes, Christ and His church are right there waiting.  But when things are going well, not only are they not in church, but neither is their time, talent, and treasure.  The church as a whole suffers because of this, but they suffer more.  Their faith is not being strengthened by God’s means of grace and they begin to falter and fall.  “But” they may counter, “I have fallen before, but God rescued me.  So I am sure when I need my faith it will be given again.”

O foolish Christians, who has tricked you with that lie from hell.  It can only be the devil himself and this sinful generation that has enslaved you.  Have you not read the story about the five foolish virgins?  They too saw no need to keep their supply of faith full.  And when their Lord came their lamps were not lit.  They begged the others to share or sell their faith, but they could not.  And when their Lord arrived for judgment He proclaimed to them, “I DO NOT KNOW YOU!  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” [Matthew 25:1-13]

Take the Child dear friends and take Him as often as you can.  As His mother and Joseph took Him and protected Him, so each of us must take Him not only as our Savior and God, but also as a dear family member.  Do you remember the Bible story about the time Jesus was teaching a large crowd and someone told Him that His mother and brothers were waiting to speak to Him?  If so, then you also remember what He said in answer to that news.  With His arm outstretched, He waved at the great crowd of people and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)

And what is the will of our Father in Heaven?  That we would take His Son.  Together we take the child as we run from temptation and stand up with courage, so that equipped by God we may face the catastrophes of life and celebrate with joy, the truth that gladly proclaims, “God has and always will deliver us.”

And together, we now move as one body to take the Child in the bread and the wine.  The mystery that somehow God was born a child is enough to comfort our fearful hearts, but just as incredible is the truth that the body and blood of Jesus now comes to us in simple bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins past, and the assurance of faith in the future, all so that we may keep taking the child in the years to come for the assurance of eternal life and salvation.  Dear friends, take the child … AMEN!

Glory to God in the Highest!

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego

Christmas Eve A, December 24th, 2013
Based upon Martin Luther’s Sermon for Christmas Vespers, Luke 2 [:8–14]

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“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

This evening, in all of our readings and hymns, we’ve been given every reason to make this night a time to celebrate; if we really  are Christians, then we have a lot to rejoice over, because God has sent His Son into our flesh. No one can ever really understand  all that this truth means, not even when we will see Him face to face in heaven. Because you see, even the angels do not  completely understand His taking on our flesh, but they know it is something to rejoice in, even though it has nothing to do with  them but only for us sinners. The angels are blessed spirits, because they were not conceived and born in sin like us. They have  absolutely no need for a Savior. And yet, as we heard read tonight, they sing with great joy because a Savior has been born for  sinners like us.

Look there in your mind’s eye and see that great band of angels standing and praising God.  It’s as if they can barely contain  themselves, waiting for the one angel to finish proclaiming: “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy!” [Luke 2:10]  No sooner than the last word is proclaimed do they break out with such a shout and song of praise that fills the heavens with exuberant joy: “Glory to God in the highest!” [Luke 2:14]. Friends, this is a song that we can never truly understand or appreciate the power of its meaning; we can only try to sing along with them with as much power and joy that our sinful flesh can find.

You know dear friends, even if this very great act of praise had nothing to do with us, but in reality it has everything to do with us, but even if it didn’t, we still would be obligated to rejoice along with the angels. But it does have to do with us; it has everything to do with us. You see, the eternal Son of God has taken on our flesh; He has become one with us.  Even though we are poor and sinful human beings, He still chose to come to us, as one of us. If someone comes from a privileged background or they are simply related to some famous celebrity, they love to brag: “Oh, this is my brother, my brother-in-law, my uncle the famous…,” and with that, they think they are someone special. So if the world knows how to rejoice in their relationships, why shouldn’t we do the same about our God; about our Savior? Think about this for a moment, no matter how poor I may be, or how sick or unloved I am, that is only temporary, because God Himself has taken on my human nature in both body and soul for the purpose of elevating me beyond what I am now.

If only we, too, could praise Him as the angels! If the president were to come here this evening and ask us to take his daughter in as a member of our church, a member who would bless us with great offerings of wealth that would assure us of a long and fruitful fully financed ministry, we would celebrate like there is no tomorrow.  But what is that in comparison with the truth that the One who is God with the Father has come down and become one of us?

Now I know that this is a different way to present the Christmas truth to you, but we must understand the great honor it is that the Son of God has become one of us.  It is an honor that is greater than any of God’s angels have experienced.  If God did nothing else for us but this great honor, we would have plenty to brag about and celebrate.   It is a great thing that even the angels can’t brag about, saying, “God was made an angel.”  No, but instead, He became a human being. Don’t you think that that just might be the reason the devil and his legions fell from God’s grace; could they have been jealous that God became one with us an not them?!

Why give glory to God in the highest?  Because He has become your brother; that is a reason to give Him greater glory that any president, politician, celebrity, or family member.   I believe that the devil saw what would happen if the Son of the Triune God came to live among us, as one of us. Isn’t it true that He is still trying to stop God’s children, the Son of God’s brothers and sisters from giving Him glory; from recognizing Him for who he is, our King?  And if we are honest with ourselves, the devil is doing a pretty good job directing us away from our chief work of giving God glory.  Be honest now, even without the work of the devil, how often do we truly admire the beauty of the world without glorifying its creator?  Oh Lord, forgive us for the lack of glory we your church give to you, and may you continue to beat back the devil and our own sinful pride.

Tonight, let’s see if we can’t let God’s light enter our hearts and help us see the need to give Him more honor and glory.  Not only has God’s Son come down to be our brother, he has come down “for us men and for our salvation.”  That is why the angel said: “Unto you is born Christ the Lord (that is your Savior).” [Luke 2:11]  You see, the fact that the Son of God became like us would be more than enough reason to give Him praise and glory, but that is not all He has done, you see, He has also become your Savior. You were born under the power of sin, death, and the devil, but it is His desire to free you from these things.

Now the devil and our sinful society laughs at this and calls it foolishness.  We are told that only simpletons believe in that kind of nonsense.  They’ll say, “Now think about it for a moment.  You believe that the Heavenly Father, put His Son in a young woman’s womb, then He was born and she nursed Him, only to let Him die a criminal’s death  upon the cross—and all this took place for our sakes?”  And to that we answer, “Yes that is the truth!”  “Well” says the devil, “if you really believe that, then why don’t you live like you believe it? Why aren’t you praising your Savior so much that it tires you out?”  And this dear saints is the predicament we find ourselves in this evening.  For many of us, it is a source of misery and sadness, the fact that we read this scripture and hear it preached and it does not seem to change us.  We know that it is the same truth that the prophets proclaimed and the angels sang about; it is the very same message that the shepherds reported and that which the apostles proclaimed and died for.  It is one in the same message that the Church still sings about every Lord’s day, but it seems to have very little power over our daily lives. Why do we seem more like a lifeless stump than the brother or sister of our Savior God?

And yet, we still hear that the holy angels sang not only, “Glory to God in the highest,” but also “on earth peace among those with who He is well pleased!” [Luke 2:14]  Now hold on just a minute; let’s not give up either our hope nor our joy just yet.  Did you hear what the angel said?  He said, “those with who God is well pleased.” Friends, that means that this little baby brings more than just a need to praise God, but the reality that through Him God is now pleased with us sinners. Now, I think that we are on to something.  You see, God didn’t send His Son into the world to bring us fear or worry, but instead, we are to receive God’s goodwill; His desire to bring us peace.  Understand now, this isn’t goodwill that you’ve earned; it’s simply at gift, or as God calls it, “grace”!  This is why He encourages us to sing “Glory!”—even if we do not seem to understand this; even if we seem to sometimes be unchanged by it, glory in your God and His Son any how; give Him the praise!  Praise Him for all the works He does, but especially for this one, He gives you goodwill, peace with God! That is He gives you grace, love, and mercy even though you have given Him no reason to be so generous. Here is the reason even your sinful flesh must agree He deserves praise, not only in heaven among His angels, but even here, even from you.

Now I’m sure you can see, especially in these sinful times, we have a need for God’s goodwill; for His peace and righteousness. But won’t you agree that the fact that God has sent His Son as your brother and Savior is far greater than just saying God gives you goodwill?  Isn’t that enough to move your heart to praise His name?  But if you do not praise him and give him glory, won’t the devil accuse you of being separated from God? Yes he will, but that is not God’s judgment, nor His heart!  God desires that you Christians should rejoice, delight, and be comforted in the truth that God has come to you, because you could not come to Him!

Yes you will glory in God and give Him the praise, but not because you must, but because you can.  You see, this is a different kind of glory and praise; it is the kind that does not need effort but only truth.  What is that truth?  Simply this: the Savior was born for you, so that you can acknowledge not what you have done, but what the merciful Father has done, so that we can boast and say, “I will praise the Lord because He has given His Son to me.” That is the praise, which God desires, “Glory to God in the highest.” So, we do not boast of the work that we do, but the work that placed the Son of God on Mary’s lap and then upon the cross.

So in this Child, this Son of God, I not only find glory, but I also find salvation. Here, I see the God child nursing at Mary’s breast, and I rejoice with joy and give thanks so much that my heart is changed and I see all things and all people in a different light. That is truly what singing with the angels, “Goodwill to men” means.  Your heart now is flooded with a joy that is not dependent upon circumstances but the simple truth that declares that through this Child, God is well pleased to dwell with you!  God came to you when there was no reason that He should come.  You haven’t earned His coming but still He comes.  This is the gospel that the angel was to announce, “I bring you glad tidings;” your sins are removed on account of the coming, and the full ministry of this God-child.  So what is our response? Naturally, we give Him thanks and praise; we become peaceable, and have goodwill towards others.

This Child Jesus was born and given to you for this reason: that you would know that you have been honored and redeemed by God Himself. Embrace the Child and kiss Him, and say that He is your Jesus, your Lord and Savior; He is your God.  He cannot just be Mary’s child, He must be yours even more than He is Mary’s Son. If He is yours, then you will be able to face anything that comes your way in this sinful world. With Jesus, you can stand firm against the devil and even your own death. Wherever He is, there you also will be, in death and in life. [John 14:3]

Tonight dear friends, I hope you will take this time to examine your life; let the truth of God lead you to see whether you have received this Child as your own, and whether you are glad in it. Test your life to see whether you believe in this truth, and if you do, then allow it to change your ways. If you find no improvement, no goodwill towards God and others, then you must conclude that it is not well with your soul. Christ is doing you no good. Do not think: “It is enough that I go to Church.”  No it is not, because you have not yet begun to believe.  But the fault for your lack of faith lies only with you and not God.  He still calls out to you to believe and declare with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth (FOR ME) peace is (mine if I will not reject it).

I close with this final thought for your consideration.  God has honored you above all angels and creatures, you have been blessed so highly that presidents and kings are nothing in comparison to you; and more than that, you have been saved from your sins, and now, even death, sin, and the fires of hell can do nothing to you.

So now depart in God’s peace, and allow His Spirit to teach you to sing: “Peace to all sinful men and women, even for me.”  In Him alone, may you find heavenly joy, so that nothing is so soothing and sweet to you as Christ your Lord.  If you find all that to be true, then by the power of God, may this night be a new beginning as you begin again your life in Christ. And in this new life, by God’s work, may you find peace and joy alone in Christ, His Holy Word, and the work He does for you in His blessed Holy Sacraments, as He keeps you blameless at the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ.  AMEN!

He Is Still Immanuel!

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Advent 4A, December 22nd, 2013

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Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” [Isaiah 14a & Matthew 1:23]

What is in a name?  Well in today’s culture, evidently very little.  People name their children just about every crazy name that is under the sun, with very little reason other than novelty.  But back in the time of our Old Testament reading, names meant quite a bit.  They were both a glimpse into the family’s religion and their faith.  Names had a purpose!

The name Jesus had a purpose as well.  His Father put a lot of time into presenting and empowering that name.  But here is where things get a little interesting; the Son helped pick, define, and empower that name along with the Father, long before He was born.  You see this is no ordinary name.  It is a name that defines the purpose for the coming of the Son of God.  Together with the Holy Spirit, the Father and Son chose the name Jesus for He who would come to save God’s children of faith from their mortal enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  What does the name Jesus mean?  “Yahweh Saves.”  This name chosen from the beginning of time and promised after the first sin of Adam and Eve is the descriptive and prophetic act of God, which promises that He Himself through the sending of the Son would bring sinful and fallen man back into a right relationship with their Creator God.

In the name of Jesus, God reminds His children of faith of the promise He made long ago to Adam and Eve, and then to all people who would relate rightly to Him by faith in His promise to defeat the devil and save fallen mankind.  Listen: “The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” [Genesis 3:14, 15] These Word’s were a promise from God that He would send a champion to us, the Christ, which means Messiah, and He alone would defeat the devil, end the captivity of sin, and restore man’s privilege of living with their Creator God eternally in paradise.
So you see, there is a lot to receive in the name of Jesus.  This little boy child who was growing within the womb of His mother, the Virgin Mary, was not just a boy, He was very God of very God.  Mary knew this truth before Joseph.  How she must have longed to tell her husband Joseph the truth about her child.  But she could not, because God Himself who conceived this child through the work of the Holy Spirit would be the One to inform Joseph about both the nature of this child and His mission.

His nature was that He was both God and man.  What an impossible concept this is for our sinful minds to understand; minds that are by nature so separated from God because of our sins.  And what a ridiculous mission for sinful minds to receive as well; how do you save someone who does not know or care that they are trapped?  So God delivered the truth of the child through a prophetic dream; God’s own angel delivered the news.  “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” [Matthew 1:20a, 21]

Joseph, was then and there surround by the power of the Holy Spirit who  through the Word of God, gave Him the gift of faith to hear the prophecy fulfilled in the Words that were spoken next: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” [Vs. 22, 23]

If I may be so bold as to speak for God, allow me to say simply this.  Here, God is saying to Joseph and to us, “Jesus is my Son.  His name has been chosen for a great purpose, to save you and all of humanity from your great fall from grace.  You will call Him Jesus, because He really does save you from your sins, but they who do not yet know Him as their Savior, will one day call Him Immanuel, because they too will one day see that their God is with them.”

Immanuel.  What a wonderful name!  It really does mean, “God is with us!”  But God’s presence and work in our lives is difficult for people of faith to hold onto, and an even harder thing for people of no faith.  A good example of this can be seen in King Ahaz, as presented in our Old Testament reading. [Isaiah 7:10-17]  King Ahaz of Judah, was afraid of many things.  He was afraid that the Kings of Israel and Syria would unite and attack his kingdom.  And he was afraid of losing his reign and his legacy.  Yes, he was afraid of many things accept the one thing that he should have been fearful of… the anger and punishment of God.  He did not have the fear of God because he lacked faith in God.

When God discovered that Ahaz was secretly making a pact with a foreign nation for protection instead of trusting in His protection, He sent His prophet Isaiah to speak words of faith and hope.  The prophet told him to not be afraid of foreign threats, for the Lord was with him.  And to prove it, God led Isaiah to speak these words: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  And how did Ahaz answer the prophet?  He said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”  Wait, what?  What are you talking about?  God Himself said that you could ask so that He can strengthen your faith!  So why won’t you ask?  What is going on here Ahaz?!

What was going on then is the same thing that is going on today.  People still choose their way, society’s way over God’s way.  By nature, that is on our own we are still blinded by a world view that is the complete opposite of the way of faith; a way that is both described and enabled throughout God’s Word.  People today, like Ahaz then, still want to explain the existence of the world and their own life circumstances in a way that minimizes or removes their Creator God.  They look for help and love in all of the wrong places.  They refuse to see the God who not only made their hearts but sees in them.  And what does God see?  He sees a heart that is alone; a heart that is afraid and full of hopelessness; hopelessness that comes from the darkness of sin.

So how does God deal with our sinful hearts?  He gives us a sign.  He tells us about the prophecy concerning the son of a virgin.  That son is His Son, and the virgin was the Virgin Mary, who becomes mysteriously the mother of the Son of God!

The Son of God is both Jesus (Yahweh Saves) and Immanuel (God is with us)!  We receive both of these names gladly when we see everything about this child.  But our vision is not just from the womb to the tomb; no, it starts with God the eternal Son leaving Heaven itself and then, proceeding to earth, He begins His life of humility as a helpless fetus.  So His humility is for us our first glimpse into God’s way of salvation.

God being born?  Who would ever think of that?  No one but God Himself.  God chose to mature in the womb of a simple young virgin.  He chose to be born, suffer, and die upon a cross.  Why?  So that He could be your Champion; your Savior!  He was conceived and born to die on a cross for your sins.  But if your sins simply ended with His death, then where would our hope be; in death too?  No, not in death, but in eternal life!  You see, the name Jesus, God Saves is only half of the message.  Now you must hear the other half.  God saves because God is with you.  He is with you to help you see that He has gone from the cross to the grave, and from the grave to the empty tomb and the resurrection, from the resurrection to His ascension in order to redeem you; that is through all of those things he has provided salvation for all of mankind.  Because He lives, we are assured that we too will live as well!  But there is another great work, which He has done in you and for you so that you can know for certain that forgiveness of sins and eternal life truly are yours.  He has washed you clean.

In your baptism, God Himself was with you as He put His mark upon you and infused you with the presence of His Holy Spirit.  Through this real presence of God, Jesus is truly with you.  By faith He allows you to experience and live out this Immanuel presence.

So, the sign of Immanuel is your invitation and ability to live out your baptismal life, which is a life of repentance.  It is a call to turn to Jesus your Savior and away from the things that separate you from His Immanuel presence.  It is a call of repentance for those of us who are prone to trust in our own way or the way of society, instead of following God’s way, which is the way of the cross and the waters of baptism.

The sign of Immanuel is our call to repentance for those of us who now want to trust in Jesus and follow Him as His disciples.  It’s a wonderful reminder that we need to truthfully examine ourselves every day and examine all of the relationships and institutions that are present in our lives and see if we have allowed them to replace our trust in Jesus alone.

Finally, the sign of Immanuel is a sign of hope that comes wrapped in promises of grace and mercy.  It is a gift that declares Jesus has not only come, but He has come for you!  He has come to be with us, and give forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He is with us when everything else is against us.  He is with us even when our world seems to be falling apart and everything that we use to count on is crumbling around us.  He is with us in the tragedies of life when the dark valley of death is upon us and our sin and the devil seem to overpower us.  It is then when we can say by faith, “He is still a God who saves.  He is still Immanuel… God with me!”

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And may each of us continue to call out to God along with the entire church… Come Lord Jesus… Come!  AMEN!