Posts Tagged ‘Worship’

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!

Again I Say Rejoice!

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Advent 3A, December 15th, 2013

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Psalm 146

This morning, God invites us to rejoice, that is to praise Him while we still have life and soul within our bodies.  But is it really possible to praise Him all of the time?  Yes it is.  So let’s get started: Rejoice. Celebrate your awesome God.  When you are happy… rejoice.  When you are sad… rejoice.  When you are rich… rejoice.  When you are poor… rejoice.  If you are sick or healthy, able or disabled… rejoice!  Your God is with you.

Easier said then done, eh?  Well let’s look at our Psalm (Psalm 146) and see if there is a way to rejoice that comes with God’s work, because I think that you will agree with me, if it is up to our own strength we will fail.

“Praise the Lord, O my Soul!  I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” [Vs. 1, 2]  First let’s get something settled right off the bat; you are no better or worse off than the author of this psalm.  You struggle with the results of sin and the weakness of flesh just as he did.  The psalmist knows this truth, so he calls out to each of us this morning, even though we are saturated with all of our sin, he calls us to praise the Lord.  He wants you to declare this mandate just as he has, so that it is no longer he speaking to you, but you speaking.  But who are you speaking to?    You are speaking to yourself.  But how can you speak to yourself without seeming a little strange?  Because you are not just flesh, you are also composed of a soul.

“Praise the Lord O my soul!”  Your soul needs reassurance; it needs hope because it is constantly under attack by the evil that surrounds it.  So we must speak truth, God’s truth to our souls so that they will not grow weak and discouraged.  We must speak words like, “Hope in God; confess to Him your sin, because He promises to forgive.”  And when we receive His forgiveness, our soul turns our hearts outward to others in need of forgiveness.  And with them, we share these encouraging Words:  “Return to your Creator God and be assured that He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

So speak to your soul and say, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.”  Your soul is given truth and light from the Word of God.  Through the Word of God you are given reason to see beyond the created and observe the hand of the Creator.  Where others see darkness, you see the glorious light of God Himself!  Where others see despair and hopelessness you see good and hope.  And so through the Work of God’s Word and His constant presence you can encourage your soul when it is fearful and answer: “I will praise the Lord as long as I live!”

Now this is where the light of God makes things interesting for us creatures.  God is calling us to everlasting praise, but how can that be when we are simply flesh that is here today and gone tomorrow?  Because you are more than flesh, you are also a soul, and your soul is everlasting.

So you see your soul was created to praise the Lord in what ever station or calling of life you are in, and your flesh, well it doesn’t like that, so it answers, “But I am sinful and I will not praise Him!”  So what are we to do about this battle that goes on within us?

Verses 3 and 4 give us our answer: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.”  Will your sinful flesh even hear these Words?  Yes, but it will not rejoice in them.  You see, these Words are not the advice of man, but the very voice of God speaking to you from Heaven.  They are meant to turn your eyes away from that which is created, even your own flesh, and look to the One who has created all things.

So, don’t trust people, not even yourself.  And if you can’t even count on yourself, then doesn’t it make sense that you shouldn’t put your hope in politicians, preachers, doctors, family, or friends, but trust only in The Lord?  Now you may counter this and say, “I try, but life is hard.  I have certain needs.  If I only had a more loving family, a better job, more government aid, or better health, then I could really praise the Lord.”  And to that, I must declare that God’s Word still stands and your sinful flesh must be silenced.

The truth is, you would be happy if some politician gave you more money or more stuff.  You would certainly be happy if your disease was cured by a doctor or your heart cheered by the love of church and family, but when it is your very Creator who speaks encouraging Words of truth and promises of healing and prosperity you doubt and reject that truth; you try to turn the soul towards the created and away from the Creator.

So hear this loud and clear:  When that man or woman that you trust is popped like a bubble and they go back to being dust and ashes where will your hope be then?  When you O sinful body, cease to have the breath of life, what will your outcome be?  Where O flesh is your pride now?  Where is your boasting?

So what are we to do if we can’t put our hope in men, in governments, family, and friends?

“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.” [Vs. 5-7]  Who is this God of Jacob; the Lord of your soul?

Well for us who have confessed our sins and by faith received forgiveness of those sins, there is only One true God, the Father, maker of heaven and earth, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things are made.  Let this God and this God alone be our source of hope and trust.  Let the ungodly trust in their gods.  Their gods are things that are created; things that satisfy the hungers of this world; our God is He who created this world and everything that this world considers food.

Dear friends, we have a great God, so let us bless His name.  He alone has done great things for us; He has made us His great possession and He has bought us with a great price.

Sometimes, blessing Him in the flesh can be a challenge, because for now He is simply Spirit and we must worship Him by faith.  But look around at all that you see… our God made it all!  Does your flesh value this created world and all that it provides?  Fine, then remind it that the One true God created it all!  If what is here on earth isn’t enough to silence your flesh, then look up into the heavens and see the other wonders of God’s hand and tremble in awe.  Put your hope in that great God and no other.

Since our God made all of this, then let us rest in His power and presence, because He made us too!  Isn’t it true that He cares for all of His creation?  The birds eat at their appointed time and all living things find their sustenance from within the creation itself.  How much more will He care for you O sinful man, you who were created in His image?  Why do we say that we were created in His image?  Because we have a soul and only a soul can praise it’s Creator with intent.  What intent is that?  The intent of turning by faith to the only true God, who alone is faithful forever!

God sees and He knows the injustices of the world; He see’s the wrongs that you have suffered on account of your faith.  God not only sees, but He promises that He will avenge.  You who are hard pressed by your sin and the devil, God promises relief and justice.  He promises to give food for the hungry.  But what food?

Certainly, as we have already heard, He gives physical food for the body, food that feeds physical hunger.  But for you His children of faith He gives a special food, because you have another hunger.  You hunger for righteousness, that is, you hunger to be free of sin so that you may praise God with an upright spirit.  Jesus has also called you blessed because you hunger.  “Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  For this one thing we must also praise God; we praise Him because He has given us a hunger and thirst for His presence and care for our souls.  How does He do this great thing?  Through His Word!  LISTEN:

“The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.  The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.  The Lord watches over the sojourners; He upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked He brings to ruin.” [Vs. 8, 9]

In our gospel reading (Matthew 11:2-15), Jesus gives St. John the Baptizer and our eyes of faith great things to consider and declare.  Listen: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  [Vs. 4-6]

At the time Jesus spoke these Words, He meant to have John and us encouraged by the miracles that He was physically performing.  The blind saw, the lame walked, lepers were healed and the deaf could hear.  John and we, are to know that in Christ Jesus, God’s long awaited Messiah had finally come; God had truly come to be with and save His people!  Strangers, widows, orphans and misfits all, could then and can now, find a place, a home in the company of Jesus Christ the Son of God!  And if that was not enough, the dead were brought back to life!  But the physical miracles were nothing in comparison to what would take place after… after the cross… after the empty tomb… after His ascension and return to the right hand of God the Father, and after the Son of God’s second advent.

Once these things have all taken place, sinful flesh will bow as the redeemed souls of the baptized declare with the Centurion at the foot of the cross, “Surely He IS the Son of the Living God!”  Surely He has come to set us free from our sins; the captivity of the devil.  Surely through His Word, He has opened the eyes and ears of those who were once deaf and blind to their sin and allowed them to see their new spiritual reality: They are forgiven!  Freed from their prison of sin.  Surely, His saints can see that it is true, “By His stripes, we are healed” and cleansed from our spiritual leprosy.”

Surely, our flesh must now see and tremble over what our souls now know as truth; in our baptisms we have been saved, reborn… recreated unto eternal life; recreated to praise the Lord!

Be still O soul; the Lord is on your side.  “The Lord your God shall reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!” [Vs. 10]  Rejoice in the Lord always and again, I say REJOICE!

You Can Hear Him!

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 4C, April 20th, 2013

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My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [John 10:27]

As our nation gathers together to morn and sort out the events surrounding the terrorist attack against those gathered at the Boston Marathon, as our fellow country men, there and across this  great  nation gather for moments of silence and combined “all-faith” worship services, you have instead come here; to God’s house.  For most of you, this is not unusual, because you do the very  same thing most every Sunday.  For some who are visitors this morning at Trinity, or visitors to my website, you may be listening to or reading this sermon with the intent of trying to find some  comfort or perhaps find a higher purpose to all of the fear and suffering, let me repeat the Words of Jesus again: “My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Can you hear Jesus speaking to you in those Words?  If so, good!  Continue hearing; listen to His Words and you will find strength and comfort.  To those of you who may answer, “No” or  “I’m  not sure,” that is alright; you should continue to listen as well, because you see, it is only by listening to the Word of God that you will find faith and be able to hear the voice of Jesus’ speaking to  you.

A truth that is even sadder than the Boston carnage is the fact that there are many people in this world who will not not hear Jesus speaking to them.  They demand new proofs and evidence all  while dismissing the great proofs that have already been recorded for them.  It is as if they are calling out with unbelievers in our gospel lesson (John 10:22-30): “If you are the Christ, tell us  plainly.”  And as Jesus answered the unbelievers then, so He answers them today: “I (have) told you, and you do not believe.  The works I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” [John 10:25, 26]

Why don’t they believe?  Because they are not among Jesus sheep, so they don’t hear His voice.  But their lack of hearing; their lack of believing isn’t Jesus’ fault, it is their own.  Jesus speaks to them; He desires them to hear, but they will not.  They choose instead to hear many other voices that call out to us through out the world.  For instance…

They will hear the voice of Hedonism.  A voice that discourages higher learning and critical thinking, and instead encourages a generation of Reality T.V. to “Party on… eat, drink, and be merry!”  Or…

Then there is the voice of Materialism, which constantly pressures us to buy things.  “Buy, buy, buy” it says, “until you find contentment.  You deserve to be happy and experience the good life.”  And as we follow that voice, we become so caught up in acquiring more possessions, that those left in need, suffering in poverty go without, and finally die because we would not help.  And …

Then there is the voice of Narcissism—Self-centeredness that constantly encourages us to join in singing the hymn of all fallen and sinful creation: “It’s all about me; it’s all about I; it’s all about me oh my, oh my!”  Within this voice, are the various word of faith leaders and “possibility thinking” hucksters and philosophers who want us to “Tap into the great potential that is you!”  This voice really makes the voice of Christ unneeded, because if you believe their message, you can be your own savior!

And finally, there are the voices of the religious fanatics.  Their voice is perhaps the most dangerous, as they teach that change, their kind of change, must come from outside of a society, and it must come by force, fear, intimidation, and death if necessary.

So what voice are you really hearing?  Which voice has won your attention; has peeked your interest?  If it isn’t Jesus’ voice, then again I repeat, it is not Jesus’ fault.  He has spoken to you repeatedly, but you will not hear; you will not believe.  His works, His suffering and death upon the cross and His resurrection from the dead verify that He is the very Son of God.  The lives of Christians living in peace and seeking peace from others, with no fear of death is also proof that this Jesus is the risen Son of God.  He truly is the Good Shepherd who can provide mysterious gifts of comfort and security in times of turmoil.  The lives of Jesus’ little lambs proves that He really does care for His sheep.  All of this proves that…

His sheep really do hear His voice.  Jesus tells you this morning that: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” [Vs. 27]  Jesus sheep always hear Him speak.  While it is true that they don’t always listen, or follow, they do always hear.  And when they wander, for we sheep of Jesus are prone to wander, He leaves the secure and safe 99 sheep to bring His lost little lamb back into the fold, which is His church.  He brings us back in the same means that He first saved us, with His voice.  And within that voice, we sheep hear the content of that voice, we hear the gospel Word, you are forgiven; come home.

To those this morning, who are not His sheep, either because they never have been or have chosen to wander away, Jesus speaks the gospel call this morning to become one of His little lambs.  This morning Jesus tells them who and what they really are without Him, “You are not my sheep.  You have not been saved from the coming judgment.”  But He also tells them who they will become if they listen; if they allow the Words and the voice to give them faith.  To those sheep who are caught up in the sound of another voice, Jesus promises that if they will hear Him speak forgiveness of sins and new life, “I (will) give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all (other teachings and voices), and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” [Vs. 28, 29]

“But how can this be true,” some may ask?  And to this Jesus speaks Words of mystery, but Word’s that also give faith: “I and the Father are one.” [Vs. 30]

Do you hear the mystery that is God?  God exist as One, yet in a very intimate and close relationship of persons—Father, Jesus the Son of God, and Spirit, and you have been or are invited to be brought into that relationship through baptism.  If you have wandered away, you are invited back into the church.

Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God you are guaranteed that not only does God the Father know you but He loves you; He becomes your Father.  You are recognized and you will always recognize Him because you will know the voice of your Good shepherd when He calls.  You need never be alone or afraid in this world, because God is with you.  And with the rod and staff of His Word, He leads and protects you.  With that same Word He gives you cool drink and green secure pasture.

In His Word He invites you to His banquet table, where you feast on His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, where he satisfies a hunger and thirst that can only be satiated at His table; it is a feast of complete forgiveness and strong faith in your God Who alone is your Good Shepherd.

Imagine that you are walking on a street within our community and there in the driveway of a home are three little children getting ready to climb inside the family’s mini-van.  The van is packed with luggage and coolers.  The father is just about to close the rear door for departure and the mother is locking the front door of the home.  Obviously, they are going on a trip.

You walk up to the little children and you ask: “Where are you going?”  Wide eyed they stare back at you, silent.  They don’t know.  “What highway will you take?”  Again, no answer.  Where are you going to have dinner tonight?”  No response.  Then you ask what in their minds is the only question that matters: “Who are you going with?”  Now there eyes light up, their faces break into smiles.  “With Mommy and Daddy!” they exclaim.

Dear friends, your life lies ahead of you.  There are many unknowns, even many dangers that are ahead of you.  For many of the questions you have in life, like the whys and how comes, you for now, will get no answers.  But you do have “The Answer” with you always.  Jesus is with you and He has already called out to you with the Words “Follow Me!”  He has promised to be by your side every step of the way.  And because of this truth, for you His little lambs, eternal life isn’t something you enter when you die; no, you are in it right now!  And His means of grace, His Word and Sacraments are what sustain you every day in this world of uncertainty.

The sign of the cross at the beginning of our service helped us recall our baptism, which is a “spring of living water” for us.  Therefore we “hunger and thirst no more.” [Revelation 7:16]  And at His Holy Supper you again will receive life giving food, which for us, is a foretaste of the feast to come.  Therefore, we join in with all of the company in heaven robed in white praising our God around His throne.

You are forgiven.  God has raised Jesus from the dead and your redemption is assured.  Now Christ calls you—His sheep and His witnesses—to follow Him.  You do hear Him!  Now, what shall you do?  AMEN!

How Should We Worship the Lamb Who Sits Upon the Throne?

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 3C, April 13, 2013

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In our Gospel reading (John 21:1-19), we meet Jesus and some of His closest disciples after a long night of fishing.  Jesus appears out of no where and says in essence, “Have you boys caught  anything to eat yet?”  To which, they reply “No!” “Well” He says, “cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will get some whoppers!”  And they did!

So what does all of this mean?  Well St. John, the disciple that Jesus loved knew the answer: “It’s the Lord!” And how does a person respond when they realize that the Lord is with them?  Plunk,  into the water; that’s how spontaneous St. Peter responded.  Impetuous Peter; if ever there was a disciple who needed to experience the love of Jesus it was Peter; he wanted so badly to be loved by  God and to love him in return, but it seems that he just kept messing things up.  Well, Jesus was about to change all of that for Peter.  He was about to change Peter’s heart so that he could both  experience God’s love and love God in return.  Peter, like every disciple before and after Him needed to learn to see God perfectly in Jesus; to see Jesus as the glorified Son of God, the very Lamb of  God who now forever sits upon the throne of God, and to worship Him.  How do we worship Him?

Well, this morning we will explore this life of worship in three things, three gifts given from God, which are common to all baptized Christians, both the oldest of us and the youngest.  They are,  faith, obedience, and success or living out our Christian vocation.

In regards to faith, I am sometimes grieved over how difficult some people make our understanding of faith to be.  So many bad explanations of what it is have completely taken away the beauty of what God says that it is.  Faith is nothing more than a gift from God.  It is a gift that He keeps on giving and we are simply asked to keep on receiving it.  It isn’t hard to receive, because it comes simply by gathering around and receiving His Word.  We do this very thing every Sunday here at Trinity.   You are receiving the Word right now in this message, but before I stepped into this pulpit, before we declared God’s Word in the words of the Introit, we received the gift of faith in the words of absolution, which came after our public confession of sins.  And then we along with baby Sarai received God’s gift of faith as we witnessed and participated in her Holy Baptism.  There at the font, God not only called her by name and washed her clean, he recreated her into a new sanctified person of faith, who must be continually nourished and strengthened every day with the same Word of God.  In other words God’s Word must constantly feed her so that the gift of faith will continue to save her.  As she grows, her parents, God-parents, and all of us here at Trinity must speak the Word of God to her, teach her, and encourage her to grow in her faith, and one day she will be confirmed “ready” to receive the very body and blood of the Lamb of God, who continually takes away the sin of the world.

This is the rhythm of life for a Christian; God speaks and we respond; we grow and we experience more of Him.  For some of you, this rhythm has led you consistently; you never really over thought it, you just lived it out.  While it’s true, you have experienced good days and bad days, you never really dwelled on either; you simply lived out a life of faith.  You are much like John, with your spirit declaring, “It’s the Lord!”

For others, their journey of faith started at an older age, and perhaps after living a rough life.  For them, maybe they can relate more closely to St. Paul, who was blinded by the Lord on the road to Damascus as he heard, “Why are you persecuting me?”

Yes it is true that some of us lived lives that were not only faithless, but also extremely opposed to Jesus and His invitation of faith.  But, here you are too, by the grace of God, being fed faith by the same means of grace.

So we have established that faith is the mark of one who worships the Lamb of God who sits upon the throne.  But how is that gift of faith expressed in the life of a Christian who worships the Lamb?

Simply put, it is expressed in obedience.  In our first lesson (Acts 9:1-22) we see obedience played out in two different people, in two very different ways.  With Saul, who would become St. Paul, it was very dramatic and physical.  Not many saints have ever been confronted with a light straight out of  heaven, and not many have heard the very voice of Jesus say, “(Hey you), why are you persecuting me?”  Not many of us have been blinded as a way to get our attention, so that we could hear God speak faith into us, but Saul was.  Why?  So that He would hear what was spoken next: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”  Did you hear it?  Jesus gave a command, but it wasn’t an order that is given just so one person can bully another.  No, Jesus is no bully; that was Saul’s identity; Saul was the one that practically begged for the authority to hunt down and persecute Jesus’ little lambs, the Christians.  Our Lord Jesus, was simply giving a command of love that would allow Saul to see that He was his Lord too; He wanted Saul to become Paul, who would be one of Jesus little lambs.

But there is still another example of obedience in our first reading that must be brought out into the light for us, and it is with a simple man named Ananias.  The Lord said to him in a vision, ““Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.””

For both Saul and Ananias Jesus told them what they must do.  For Saul, it was go and be baptized into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  To Ananias it was to baptize all people who the Lord brought to him, even evil Saul, all so sinners can be filled with faith, saved, recreated, and given a new life of obedience.  Obedience to become all that the Lord Jesus has declared them to be; in Saul’s case, he was to become Paul, an apostle of the very Lord He was persecuting.

So far, we have talked about God’s gift of faith and His gift of obedience.  Now let’s add the third heavenly gift common to all baptized Christians… success.

What is success? Well simply put, it is the realization of an objective, or a goal.  In the life of a Christian there are two goals that we wait to realize: personal salvation and the spread of the gospel.  The good news is, that in both, Jesus promises to do all of the work.  He doesn’t need us for either, but instead invites us to participate and follow Him; He asks us to trust in His will and rest in the promises of His Word; promises like “He who began the good work in us and within this sinful world will complete it.” [Philippians 1:6]

Now, this is where the other two gifts from God become a big help.  It is the Lord who gives us the ability to trust Him, it is the Lord who gives us a new spirit of obedience to learn and grow in our faith, and it is the Lord who promises that because we trust in these other two gifts the third gift of success is guaranteed.  You will be saved from your sins and the gospel will advance, and the church will grow one forgiven sinner at a time!

Because Ananias was obedient, Saul was saved. Because Saul was obedient, he became Paul, followed the call of Jesus into the gospel ministry, and wrote the saving Words of a good portion of our New Testament, all so that faith would continue to be planted in the hearts of sinners and countless people be saved.

What is success?  It is following the call of the gospel and repenting from a life apart from God, and then receiving a new command to live a life following Jesus under the cross and inviting others to do the same.

Towards the end of our gospel lesson, we see this all come out in a way that was both painful and beneficial to Peter.  “(Peter, you who once said that even if all of my other disciples were to abandon me, you would never leave.  You who thought you loved me more than all of the others, but abandoned me, left me alone on the cross to die) do you love me more than these?”

Now this is a portion of scripture that we need to bring a little meaning to.  This is where our English language falls short.  So bear with me, just a few more minutes, and let me clear something important up so that God’s marvelous love is not lost to you.

When Jesus asked Peter if He loved Him more than the others loved Him, He is speaking directly to Peter’s guilt over His sin of denying Jesus on three separate occasions.  Jesus asks this same question three different times in slightly different ways, so that Peter will understand that not only is He forgiven fore each time He denied His Lord, but He can also, through this complete forgiveness finally receive the ability to love God as He has always desired.

The first two times when Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, He used the Greek Word agape, which is a higher form of love; it is the love of intellect, reason, and understanding; it is a love that has a higher purpose or goal as it’s source of being.  In other words, it is a love that can only be given to us from God.  Did Peter love Jesus with this God-given love?  Obviously, Peter couldn’t say yes; he had abandoned Jesus!  So, Peter answers Jesus with another Greek word for love which means “affection”.  “Yes Lord; you know that I have great affection for you.”  Now Peter is being honest; he understands that he does not love Jesus, His Lord and God as he should.  He finally sees that the kind of love that one should have for God, is completely outside of him.  Now, here is the most beautiful part of this teaching:  Jesus did not disqualify Peter from His church for his lack of agape love.  Rather than send Peter away broken and sinful, He shows Peter what real forgiveness is by inviting him deeper into ministry; “Go and feed My little lambs” He says.  He tells him to use His means of grace to strengthen his own faith and then in that grace, go and build Christ church my speaking the same forgiveness to Jesus’ other lambs.  In this way, Jesus is empowering Peter and the rest of the church with God’s gifts that will provide faith, obedience, and success.

This morning, Jesus speaks to us, His church and He says, “Baptize and reach, nourish and teach them with my Word and water, and with my very body and blood; be and become like Peter, men and women of faith; filled with love and wisdom as you teach others to do the same.

Did Peter understand?  Yes, Jesus made sure he would, so that he would receive not only forgiveness of sins, but the ability to love with the agape love that led Christ to die upon the cross for all of the worlds sins.  You see, the third and final time Jesus asked the same question to Peter, He did it with a little twist; instead of asking Peter if he (agape) loved Him, He asked, “Peter, do you have affection for me?”  Peter finally gave in, he let go of his pride and his guilt and he simply answered, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I (have affection) for you.” Now that Peter has confessed his sins, Jesus gives him the absolution again… “Feed my sheep and follow me.”

Peter needed to hear those comforting words of forgiveness; he needed to know that Jesus still wanted him as part of the church.  He needed to experience complete forgiveness so that he could receive and give complete agape, self-sacrificing love.  Peter would discover what many of us have also discovered, that loving God and following God is never easy and sometimes painful; following God means being committed to His church where Christ freely gives His gifts to all who come.

Here at Trinity, as one of our Lord’s faithful churches, we are called to receive Christ’s gifts and we are called to invite others to receive them also.  That means, that we must learn to love people who are sometimes unlovable, just as we once were and sometimes still are.  Following Jesus means that we must let go of the old sinful ways and learn a new way to be happy; we must learn the way of the cross.

Like Saul, Ananias, Simon Peter, and all of the other saints, every day as we gather around the throne of grace, which belongs to the Lamb of God, we see behind it His cross.  Everyday that cross reminds us of God’s love for us, and we receive faith.  And along with faith, we also experience sacrifice and suffering, but right along with those things, we also receive obedience, and promised success.  All of these wonderful gifts come from the very same source, the Word of God.  Do you want to experience God’s agape love, and do you want to be able to love Him back with that same love?  Then hear the very Words that provide those wonderful gifts… you are forgiven… HE IS RISEN… indeed!  AMEN.

But For the Grace of God…

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Palm Sunday B, April 1, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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If you were in Jerusalem on the day Jesus made His triumphant entry, would you have been part of the crowd that gathered to greet  Him with loud Hosannas?  Probably so; you see it was the simple everyday people like you and me that were attracted to Him.  They  liked the idea of Jesus being the Messiah, the son of David, because He was a simple man; one of them.  He was the underdog, and you  know how we all like to support our underdogs!  But they also were attracted to the mysterious side of this son of David; they were  attracted to the miracles He performed, and the fact that the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious party couldn’t explain or refute the  miracles.  Yes, I think we would have been there that day.  I believe that God’s Spirit would have drawn each of us out to shout loud  hosannas!

But there was another group that went out to see Jesus.  They weren’t there to cheer for Him and admire Him; no they were there to  plan His death.  You see, they had a man on the inside so to speak; Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve that made up Jesus inner-circle.  He  would be the tool they would use to trap Jesus and arrest Him in the dead of night, when all of these crowds weren’t around.

So that we can understand all that was getting ready to happen in that first holy week, we have to go back a few days in time; back before Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Lazarus has already been raised from the dead in the little town of Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem.  The entire town is alive with the exciting news that Jesus raised one of their favorite son’s from the grave.  So they wanted to have some kind of recognition for this great day; there must be a formal celebration.  A man named Simon, who Jesus cured of leprosy offered his spacious home as party central.  There must have been a lot of people at this party, and while we don’t know everyone who was there, we do know through all of the gospel accounts, especially John chapter 12, who some of them were.  There gathered around the dinner table with Jesus, was of course the host Simon the Leper, Lazarus who was raised from the dead, Martha and Mary his sisters, and of course the twelve apostles, including Judas Iscariot, the mole, the Sanhedrin spy!  I think that we can easily identify with each of these people.  Let’s see if I’m right.

You are like Simon because as He was healed of his physical leprosy, you too have been healed of your spiritual leprosy, your sins.  You are no longer an outcast, separated from God’s love for His people; you are one of His people, one of His children who are invited to the Lord’s Table..  Because of all of this, you gladly open your heart and home to Jesus!

You are like Lazarus, because you too were once dead in your sins; lost forever to the living, but by the grace of God you are now alive and no longer lost but found, and because of that you are eternally grateful!

You are like Martha and Mary too, because you can celebrate new life for someone you love.  We all have someone we love who has been saved in baptism!  Because God is faithful in providing, you too have resolved to be faithful in your service towards Him with your time, talent, and treasure!

And you are also like the apostles.  Sometimes you feel so blessed to be a part of Jesus inner circle.  You see God working so mightily among us and within you that you just want shout glory!  You want to praise Him and get lost in worship.  But other times, in the dark times you can get confused and discouraged.  Like the apostles, when Jesus talks about suffering and death, carrying the cross and humbling yourself as a servant of all, you can begin to feel lost and frustrated; maybe even terrified. And when these moments come, all we can do is gather around God’s gifts, His Word and Sacraments and let go of everything else, all of the distractions, fears, and worries, and just worship Jesus.

Mary, the sister of Lazarus knew how to worship Jesus.  She opened a very expensive bottle of ointment and poured it over Jesus body.  This anointing she performed wasn’t some empty ritual performed to impress  others.  No, it was an act of the heart; an act of worship and adoration.  But Jesus tells us that it was also much more than this; He tells us that it was also an act of prophecy, because Mary was anointing His body for burial.  Mary alone recalled the many times Jesus said He was going to Jerusalem to die; that He was going to be lifted up high on the cross so that by His stripes, by His death we may all be healed.

What a beautiful act of worship; it was an act that was not understood by the others at that party.  And if it were not for the grace of God, Mary would not have understood either, but God made sure that she did; He made sure of this understanding because Jesus proclaimed that from that point on her story would be told wherever the gospel is proclaimed, and so now you too understand the significance of her act of worship!

The others at the party must have been confused  by what Mary did, but because Jesus allowed this act of adoration to proceed they were silent, everyone that is but Judas!

And now I must point out that we are all a little like Judas as well.  I know you would rather see yourself in Mary’s place, because she is the picture of pure worship.  But the truth is we can be a lot more like Judas.

When Leonardo da Vinci was painting his masterpiece The Last Supper, he looked long and hard for someone to model for his Christ. At last he located a man from one of the local churches in Rome who was very handsome, a young man named Pietro Bandinelli.  Well years passed, and the painting sat unfinished. All the disciples had been painted except one—Judas Iscariot. Da Vinci looked many years for a man whose face was hardened and distorted by sin—and at last he found a beggar on the streets of Rome with a face so villainous, da Vinci himself shuddered when he looked at him. He hired the man to sit for him as he painted the face of Judas on his canvas. When he was about to dismiss the man, he said, “Can you tell me your name.” “I am Pietro Bandinelli,” he replied, “I also sat for you as your model of Christ.”

Yes each of us still carries around with us our sinful nature just as Judas did.  We love it when the crowds run to our church on Easter Sunday and pack the pews.  We love to see the potential of a large and successful congregation.  We love to see money coming in during the offerings, because not only will we be able to pay the bills but we can do oh so much for God with it.  We can help Jesus build His church!  But when the crowd is small, or the offerings on Sunday seem insufficient, we can become discouraged.  When the worship time doesn’t meet our expectations, when the experience doesn’t meet our needs we will either run away or manipulate events so that we can make Jesus church serve our needs and desires.  And when we go down this road of self-service, we are doing the very thing Judas did.  We are ignoring the example of our Savior Jesus Christ who being God took on the form of a servant, and humbled Himself by putting others first, even sinners.  And He was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Mary I think had a glimpse of this, but Judas could not understand because he would not!

Instead, Judas saw this simple act of worship from Mary as a lavish waste; he saw it as an unnecessary ritual.  As the sweet smell of the perfumed ointment filled the room, there was another odor that overwhelmed it; it was the vile odor of Judas’ poison.  “Why was the ointment wasted like that?  For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denari and given to the poor.”  And as Judas’ poison filled the room, the sweet aroma of worship for the great “I AM” was replaced by the stench of “I want!”  One by one, the other apostles began to be overcome by this poison as they agreed with Judas.  The hour of worship was over for them; it was disrupted by the demon of greed!

Then Judas Iscariot got up and went and found the chief priests in order to betray Jesus.  Judas would latter, because of his betrayal take his own life.  He would die in his sins and pay the eternal penalty for them.

Now, if you are feeling guilty at the truthfulness of these words, please take time to thank God right now.  You see, your guilt is the very proof that you are not like Judas at all; you are not a child of sin but a child of grace, forgiven and loved by God because of your faith in Jesus.  Guilt is the one thing that Judas did not feel, because He would not allow God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to bring him new life.  He had no remorse because he had no faith, and because he had no faith, he would never know the forgiving love of God!  And because Judas could not experience God’s forgiving love through Jesus Christ, he would never understand why Mary worshiped Jesus the way she did!

But you know God’s love because like Mary, you can see the need for Jesus to go to the cross for you.  You know that while Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, in His heart He was already experiencing the agony of the cross, and you know that He does it all for you!  You know and have tasted His forgiving grace.  And because of this grace, you know what Good Friday and Easter mean.  They mean that on God Friday when Jesus died, He died for you and your sins.  And on Easter morning, when He rose from the dead, He rose for you… He rose so that you would know that one day you too will rise from the dead.  He rose so that you would know and trust in Him alone.  And that is why you will never be a Judas!

A man once asked a pastor, “Why did Jesus choose Judas Iscariot to be his disciple if He knew he would betray Him?” Rather than explaining all of the theological significance of the act, the pastor simply replied, “I do not know, but I have an even harder question: Why did Jesus choose you and me?”  But for the amazing grace of God, when we see Judas we can say that could have been me!  I could have been the one to betray my savior.  Forbid it Lord and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil… in Jesus name… AMEN!

It Is Good To Be Here!

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday B, February 19, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Mark 9:2-9

Click here for audio of this message

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

Have you ever had an experience so profound that it seemed to reshape your entire outlook on life?  Peter, James, and John did, but to understand  it more deeply, we have to rewind their recent experiences with Jesus.  In the last couple of years, they experienced one miracle after another, and  they must have felt like they were on top of the world, when out of nowhere, Jesus started talking about denying themselves, taking up their cross  and following Him.  Follow him to where?  To 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 suffer and die at the hands of sinful men in order to fulfill the will of the Father.

Wait… What?!  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!  Where’s all the happy-clappy  moments that come with walking and learning from the Messiah?”  They wanted glory, fame, and the high life, but instead Jesus told them that  suffering, shame, and death were right around the corner.  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]

I. So now, six days later there is Peter along with James, and John, up on a mountain top, watching Jesus pray.  Little did they know that they were  about to experience that kingdom of God in all of its glory!  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 noticed was the glory of Jesus… the glory of God!  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), and filled with excitement, 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, maybe something like Alleluia, why in the world did he 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.

B. Aren’t we a lot like Peter too?  We love it when we come to church and we get to sing our favorite hymn.  We love it when the preacher is talking about heaven and a time where there will be 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 what’s happening in the Word 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 to be the center of why we worship.  So what’s the solution?

II. 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 Word, 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 we can hear what Jesus is really saying.  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.”

III. 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; 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!

IV. 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 and suffering, dying for sinners.  He’s the One who speaks to them and through His Word makes them saints.  How does He do that?  Through His church… through you!

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 our turn to share the good news.  But we can only do that if we 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!

CONCLUSION: Are you a little afraid?  That’s alright; so were Peter and the others.  They didn’t want to leave the safety and awesomeness of their worship experience, but Jesus led them out, and He’ll lead you too!

I’d like to close with a little story that will help us remember that we aren’t alone as we go out into the mission field.  “One evening while flying on an airline, a passenger asked a sailor sitting next to him what time it was. The sailor pulled out a huge watch and replied, “It’s 7:20.” “Your watch must’ve stopped,” replied the passenger, “because I know it’s latter than that!”

“No,” he said, “I’m still on Mountain Standard Time. I am from southern Utah. When I joined the navy, my Dad gave me this watch. He said it’d help me remember home.  You see, when my watch says 5 a.m., I know Dad is rollin’ out to milk the cows. And when it says 7:30 I know my whole family’s gathered around the dinner table with some great food, and Dad’s thankin’ God for what’s on it and askin’ Him to watch over me. I can almost smell the hot biscuits and gravy.  You see, I can find out what time it is where I am easy enough. What I want to know is what time it is in Utah.  It’s thinking about mountain time that keeps me goin’ even during war!”

Dear friends, God is sending us out into the real world; a place where it can be tough.  But He is sending 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 in the Word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior… AMEN!

Martha, Martha…

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, August 5, 2011
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message
  

Tonight God’s Word is teaching us something both about both worship and service.  What is worship?  I’m fairly certain that if I ask 7 people to define worship I will get 7 different answers.  So to avoid any confusion, I’m going to give you the Lutheran definition of Worship, which by the end of the message, I hope you will see is the Biblical model of worship. Our definition of worship is based entirely on service.  “OK”… many of you are saying, “I can see that.”  But here comes the portion of our definition that often times can lead to disagreement:  It’s not you and me serving the Lord, but instead it’s God almighty serving us!  You see friends, when you decide to go to church on Sunday morning, you won’t be doing God any favors, and your attendance won’t earn you any brownie points with God either.  No, I’m afraid that coming to church isn’t a good work that serves God and wins His favor. 

Then what is worship?  Well, true Christian worship is simply sitting at the feet of Jesus… hearing His Word and letting Him serve us!  That’s why we call our worship a Divine Service; it is God serving us!  We go to church out of need.  We go to receive the precious gifts that Christ has to give to us.  What are those gifts?  Well, nothing but forgiveness of sins and God’s love and real presence in our lives won for us by Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.  These wonderful things friends are given to us through His precious Word and Sacraments—the very things we come to receive at Divine Service! 

I. Scripture talks about a lawyer who approached Jesus wanting to know what He could do in order to serve God and receive His approval.  Jesus tried to show him through the Law, that it wasn’t what he did that would save Him but the gift that God had to give… and that gift was Jesus Himself!  Tonight, in our gospel reading we are introduced to two sisters.  Both knew that they needed Jesus… both knew that through Jesus God was with them.  But one sister insisted that her service to Jesus should come before Jesus could serve her.  You see, she knew that she needed Jesus, but she wanted Him on her terms.  Listen to the first portion of our gospel reading and see if this isn’t true: “But Martha was distracted with much (service).  And she went up to (Jesus) and said, “Lord, (don’t you) care that my sister (Mary) has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.” [Luke 10:40]  And what was Jesus answer?  Listen: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” [vs. 41,42] 

So what’s the point?  Well, our Lord was implying that by Mary’s desire to hear His Word, the very place where He was seated had become a pulpit, and Mary’s own humble seat at the feet of Jesus became a pew.  In fact the entire home had become a sanctuary filled with God’s mercy and love!  It was a place where God had drawn close to sinners so that He could change their hearts and fill them with grace and forgiveness!

Friends, Mary’s natural devotion to Jesus’ Words will forever stand as a witness to the church as the true mark of worship and discipleship.  Here we learn that if the Words of Jesus are received by a humble and empty heart wanting to be filled and changed, then God is more than ready to do this good work or service within us!  And here we learn that whenever God’s holy Word is offered to us, we should be willing to drop everything else just to hear it.

The problem Martha had friends is the same problem many of us have… we’ve lost sight of God’s priority!  You see, Martha forgot who came to serve whom.  She thought that it was better for her to do a good work than for God to serve her.  This type of thinking goes like this: “There’s something important that needs to be done today at home or even at church, so I’ll skip worship and work on that!”  The truth is, each of us can come up with some pretty good excuses to justify not coming to worship on Sunday or during the week; each of us has a little bit of Martha in us!  Think about that for a moment; while Jesus was teaching she was preparing Him a meal.  She thought that the God who fed over 5,000 people with just a few loaves and fish “needed” her service!  Friends, Jesus didn’t need any food from her she needed food from Him!  And He doesn’t need any service from us either; he wants to serve us!   “Wait a minute pastor… are you saying that my service to God isn’t important?”  No, of course not!  But my point is that before we offer service to God we must first seek to be served by Him!  That is His will and that is His priority.

II. St. Paul inn his letter to the Colossians helps us keep our priorities straight.  He says that we must first become reconciled to God.  Listen to his inspired Words: “And you who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, (God) has now reconciled (you) in His body of flesh (Jesus body) by His death.”  And to this we ask, “But why?”  And Paul answers: “In order to present you (as) holy and blameless and above reproach before (God).” [Colossians 1: 21, 22]

“Ok pastor.  I see that I must be born again… I must be given a new heart and mind.  I know that I must be given the heart and mind of Jesus.  But wasn’t all of that given to me in my baptism?”  Yes it was friends, but this is a gift that is continuously given and it must be continuously received.  Listen once again to Paul.  He says that all of these gifts of grace, love, and forgiveness are ours, “if indeed (we) continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that (we) heard. [vs. 23a]  Do you hear in those Words the need to continue… to be steadfast and stable… not shifting from the hope of the gospel?  The only way this can be done is if Jesus is serving us with His life giving Word!

You see friends, unlike Martha, we have the ability to look backwards into time.  We can see that it was Jesus who first served us at the cross, and from there we can follow Him to His resurrection and ascension.  We can hear and read that His Word is real food and that He is really with us in a mysterious way through our baptism, the absolution ( forgiveness of our sins), and His Holy Supper.  In all of these things friends, Jesus is inviting us to regularly sit at His feet and be nourished and strengthened in our faith.  It’s His desire that we faithfully gather each Sunday and hear that we are forgiven… but He also wants us to remember that we are forgiven with a purpose.  And that purpose is where “our” service becomes part of our worship. 

Each one of us has been called to receive the forgiveness for our many sins and then we are called to praise God and share that forgiveness with our Christian brothers and sisters and even our unbelieving neighbors.  This is what is called our service to God.  It is first demonstrated during our divine worship as we offer up and sing praises to our God for His faithfulness.  And that spirit of praise and thanksgiving first shown in worship then leads us out into our families and our community, demonstrating a life which is centered around God’s grace.  And as this reality about God reconciling us becomes clearer, we will not only want to attend Christ’s Divine Service, but will also see the need to be reconciled with each other and to see others reconciled to God as well!

III. Martha lost her focus; she lost sight of God’s priority.  She forgot that the one thing most needful was the Word of God.  Jesus wasn’t telling her that her service was unimportant; no, He was telling her that it was not the most important thing.  Her sister Mary knew that her service was important, but she also knew that it would come after the Word of God had done its work within her heart. 

Dear friends, we should never lose sight of the need to show Christ’s love to others.  But we must always remember that the gospel… God’s forgiveness through Word and Sacrament are the reason we can love them; it is the one thing most needful.  We must remember that we are simply a glove that Jesus uses.  If we remember this we will also remember that it isn’t the glove that does the work but the hand that’s in it… the hand that was stretched out upon the suspended portion of the cross and nailed in place for our sins.  This is the hand that was stretched out in agony to a Heavenly Father who would not answer the plea, “My God, My God… why have You forsaken Me?”  Friends, Jesus asked this question for our benefit; He knew why His Father had forsaken Him… and it is my prayer that you do too!  He was forsaken so that you would not be!  He was pierced for your transgressions so that you would know God’s love for you.

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, there will always be a time to give thanks and service to our God, because it is always good, right, and admirable to do these things.  But these things must always be done as a result of God’s service that is first done within us.  I am sure that Jesus taught Martha this truth and I believe that she did take her place at Jesus’ feet along with her sister Mary.  I believe that Jesus not only changed Martha’s priorities, but He also blessed her service towards Him.  I pray that you will believe this also and be content to regularly allow God to be of Divine Service to you so that He can use you as a glove for His had that will serve His church and your neighbor.  I ask this in Jesus name…. AMEN!

“Martha, Martha… (insert your name here)!”

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 18, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 
This morning God’s Word desires to teach us something both about worship and service.  What is worship?  I’m fairly certain that if I ask 7 people to define worship I will get 7 different answers… especially if I ask our brothers and sisters from different Christian denominations.  So to avoid any confusion, let’s talk about Lutheran Worship, which by the end of the message, you will see is the Biblical model of worship. 

Lutheran Worship is based entirely on the model of service.  “OK”… many of you are saying, “I can see that.”  But here comes the portion of our definition that often times can lead to disagreement:  It’s not you and me serving the Lord, but instead it’s God almighty serving us!  You see friends, when you decided to go to church this morning, you weren’t doing God any favors, and the fact that you are here doesn’t earn you anything.  No, I’m afraid that coming to church isn’t a good work that serves God and wins His favor.  Then what is worship?  True Christian worship is simply sitting at the feet of Jesus… hearing God’s Word and letting Him serve us!  This is why we call our worship a Divine Service; it is God serving us!  We go to church out of need.  We go to receive the precious gifts that Christ has to give to us.  What are these gifts?  Forgiveness of sins and God’s love and real presence in our lives won for us by His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.  These wonderful things friends are given to us through His precious Word and Sacraments—the very things that we gather around during our Divine Service! 

I. Last Sunday, we discovered in our gospel lesson a lawyer that wanted to do something in order to receive God’s approval.  Jesus tried to show him through the Law, that it wasn’t what he did that would save Him but the gift that God had to give… and that gift was Jesus Christ!  This morning, in our gospel reading we are introduced to two sisters.  Both knew that they needed Jesus… both knew that through Jesus God was with them.  But one sister insisted that her service to Jesus should come before Jesus could serve her.  You see, she knew that she needed Jesus, but she wanted Him on her terms.  Listen to the first portion of our gospel reading and see if this isn’t true: “But Martha was distracted with much (service).  And she went up to (Jesus) and said, “Lord, (don’t you) care that my sister (Mary) has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.” [Luke 10:40]  And what was Jesus answer?  Listen: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” [vs. 41,42]

So what’s the point?  Well, our Lord was implying that by Mary’s attentive hearing of His Word, the very place where He was seated had become a pulpit, and Mary’s own humble seat at the feet of Jesus became a pew.  In fact the entire home had become a sanctuary filled with the very mercy of God!  It was a place where God had drawn close to sinners so that He could change their hearts and fill them with grace and forgiveness!

Friends, Mary’s natural devotion to Jesus’ Words will forever stand as a witness to the church as the true mark of worship and discipleship.  Here we learn that if the Words of Jesus are received by a humble and empty heart wanting to be filled and changed, then God is more than ready to do this good work or service within us!  And here we learn that whenever God’s holy Word is offered to us, we should be willing to drop everything else just to hear it.

The problem Martha had friends is the same problem many of us have… we’ve lost sight of God’s priority!  You see, Martha forgot who came to serve whom.  She thought that it was better for her to do a good work than for God to serve God her.  This way of thinking goes like this: “There’s something important that needs to be done today at home or even at church, so I’ll skip worship and work on that!”  The truth is, each of us come up with some pretty good excuses to justify not coming to worship on Sunday or during the week; each of us has a little bit of Martha in us!  Think about that for a moment; while Jesus was teaching she was preparing Him a meal.  She thought that the God who fed over 5,000 people with just a few loaves and fish “needed” her service!  Friends, Jesus didn’t need any food from her she needed food from Him!  And He doesn’t need any service from us either; he wants to serve us!   “Wait a minute pastor… are you saying that my service to God isn’t important?”  No, of course not!  But my point is that before we offer service to God we must first seek to be served by Him!  That is His will and that is His priority.

II. In our epistle lesson (Co. 1:21-29), St. Paul helps us keep our priorities straight.  He says that we must first become reconciled to God.  Listen to his inspired Words: “And you who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, (God) has now reconciled (you) in His body of flesh (Jesus body) by His death.”  And to this we ask, “But why?”  And Paul answers: “In order to present you (as) holy and blameless and above reproach before (God).” [vs. 21, 22]

“Ok pastor.  I see that I must be born again… I must be given a new heart and mind.  I know that I must be given the heart and mind of Jesus.  But wasn’t all of that given to me in my baptism?”  Yes it was friends, but this is a gift that is continuously given and it must be continuously received.  Listen once again to Paul.  He says that all of these gifts of grace, love, and forgiveness are ours, “if indeed (we) continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that (we) heard. [vs. 23a]  Do you hear in those Words the need to continue… to be steadfast and stable… not shifting from the hope of the gospel?  The only way this can be done is if Jesus is serving us with His life giving Word!

You see friends, unlike Martha, we have the ability to look backwards into time.  We can see that it was Jesus who first served us at the cross, and from there we can follow Him to His resurrection and ascension.  We can hear and read that His Word is real food and that He is really with us in a mysterious way through our baptism, the absolution ( forgiveness of our sins), and His Holy Supper.  In all of these things friends, Jesus is inviting us to regularly sit at His feet and be nourished and strengthened in our faith.  It’s His desire that we faithfully gather each Sunday and hear that we are forgiven… but He also wants us to remember that we are forgiven with a purpose.  And that purpose is where “our” service becomes part of our worship. 

Each one of us has been called to receive the forgiveness of our many sins and then we are called to praise God and share that forgiveness with our Christian brothers and sisters and even our neighbors.  This is what is called our service to God.  It is first demonstrated during our divine worship as we offer up and sing praises to our God for His faithfulness.  And that spirit of praise and thanksgiving first shown here then leads us out into our families and our community, demonstrating a life which is centered in God’s grace.  As this reality that God has reconciled us becomes clearer, and the truth that every day He is transforming us into the very image of Christ’s, we will not only desire to always take advantage of Christ’s Divine Service, be will also see the need to be reconciled with each other and to see others reconciled to God as well!

III. Martha lost her focus; she lost sight of God’s priority.  She forgot that the one thing most needful was the Word of God.  Jesus wasn’t telling her that her service was unimportant; no, He was telling her that it was not the most important thing.  Her sister Mary knew that her service was important, but she also knew that it would come after the Word of God was had done its work within her heart. 

Dear friends, we should never lose sight of the need to show Christ’s love to others.  But we must always remember that the gospel… God’s forgiveness through Word and Sacrament are the reason we can love them; it is the one thing most needful.  We must remember that we are simply a glove that Jesus uses.  If we remember this we will also remember that it isn’t the glove that does the work but the hand that is in it… the hand that was stretched out upon the suspended portion of the cross and nailed in place for our sins.  This is the hand that stretched out in agony to a Heavenly Father who would not answer the plea, “My God, My God… why have You forsaken Me?”  Friends, Jesus asked this question for our benefit; He knew why His Father had forsaken Him… and it is my prayer that you do too!  He was forsaken so that you would not be!  He was pierced for your transgressions so that you would know God’s love for you.

Dear friends, there will always be a time to give thanks and service to our God, because it is always good, right, and admirable to do these things.  But these things must always be done as a result of God’s service that is first done within us.  I am sure that Jesus taught Martha this truth and I believe that she did take her place at Jesus’ feet along with her sister Mary.  I believe that Jesus not only changed Martha’s priorities, but He also blessed her service towards Him.  I pray that you will believe this also and be content to regularly allow God to be of Divine Service to you so that He can use you as a glove for His had that will serve His church and your neighbor.  I ask this in Jesus name…. AMEN!