Color Me… Christian!

August 17th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 10A, August 17, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

Isn’t it true that we Christians hate discrimination of any kind?  Isn’t it true that all of us, at one time, have felt the pain of being singled out, left out, looked down on, or trodden upon?  Its no fun being excluded, not being invited to a party or special event, simply because your not part of the “in-crowd”.  Being left out can lead to depression and a real sense that no one cares or appreciates you for who you are.  

So then why do we Christians do that to members of our own family of faith?  Why do we create clicks that clearly demonstrate how our group is different than other groups?  Because it is in our nature… our sinful nature!

God’s message for us this morning in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 56:1, 6-8) assures us that God has a solution to our sin problem; to our tendency to group up at the expense of others feeling uninvited or not part of the family.  He shows us how we are all His chosen people who are never left out.  He does not discriminate or exclude anyone by race, former beliefs, or ethnic background.  God looks for and finds even foreigners and outcasts.  This morning’s message tells us that God’s Salvation through Jesus Christ is for everyone, and that everyone is the same color… and that color is Christian!

This is a message that has always been part of God’s plan, but over the years it became lost in the sinful hearts of His children of faith, the children of Israel.  It became lost through nationalistic pride and ethnic feelings of superiority, which replaced what was suppose to be pride in the One true God, who called them out of darkness and into light.

Now, it’s true, that the law of God did command that some people were to be excluded from God’s people.  That was one of the functions of the law; to keep God’s people separate from the godless nations that surrounded them.  God didn’t want His people to be contaminated by the pagan religious practices of the nations around Israel.  They were called to avoid intimate contact with the Gentiles.  And for that reason, God’s chosen people had dietary restrictions; some foods were unclean simply because God said so.  God wanted the world to notice His people; He wanted a world trapped in sin to see that His children of faith were different.  They were circumcised as a sign of their covenant connection with Abraham and the promises God made to him.  Why?  So that the world caught in the darkness of sin would see this difference and God’s many blessings upon His people, and then desire to be included in this relationship.  But sadly, sin began to creep in, and God’s children of faith began to develop a spirit of superiority, and so their pride caused them to look down on other folks.

The Israelites disdainfully referred to the world outside as “uncircumcised.”  And they began to forget to ask some very important questions about these “outsiders,” questions like: “Does God want these people to also receive deliverance by hearing and believing in the coming of the Messiah of God?

That was the dilemma crying out in front of the apostles of our Lord in our gospel reading (Matthew 15:21–28).  Standing before Jesus and His Jewish disciples was a Canaanite woman from the foreign region of Tyre and Sidon.  She was a female, and one of those unclean foreigners that the Jews were taught to look down upon, and she did the unthinkable, she approached Jesus crying out “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”  Jesus seemingly ignored her and kept on walking by her, but she followed and continued to cry out for mercy.

After a while, the disciples couldn’t take it any more, so they asked Jesus to give her what she wanted, just  so she would go away.  But Jesus, ignoring the woman, answered the disciples request according to the law of God and said to them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel… It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  In other words, Jesus is saying that He wasn’t there to help the foreigners yet, but those who falsely claimed to be children of Abraham without faith like Abraham.  Why did they lack faith?  Because they had lost faith in God’s promise of the coming Messiah, the Suffering Servant who would come first to the Jews and then use them to draw all sinners to God’s mercy by faith in God.  You could say that when one is caught in the darkness, one must first have their own lamp lit before they can help others find their own lamps.

Now what the woman says next proves the next point of our message, which is that Salvation, is entirely a work of God.  The woman looks Jesus in the eyes and says, “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  This declaration moved Jesus to look at this woman with love and say, “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”

Did you hear that?  Jesus said that her faith was great, that is her lamp had been lit!  The very thing that the Jews were to have first before they could be effective in drawing foreigners into the inner circle of God’s family of faith, this woman had already received.  She knew who Jesus was; she desired to be part of what he brought, even if it meant enjoying it from the outside!  By being content with her outside status, Jesus drew Her in.

This brings us to our next point…

Salvation is entirely a work of God!  It is God alone who provides salvation, and it is He alone who brings it to people both on the inside and the outside who have been excluded due to sin.  It is what He does for sinners in His Word, the law first and then the gospel.  We see this displayed beautifully in the very first verse of our Old Testament lesson.  Listen: “Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.”  Do you hear the law?  Keep justice!  Do what’s right!  It demands much of us, but offers no help in doing!  But then as our terror propels us forward to try and do the law, to try and keep the command, God’s sweet and tender voice of mercy speaks, “It is going to be ok.  Soon my salvation, my Suffering Servant, your Messiah will come, and then the comfort and peace that you thirst for will be revealed and given to you for free!”

Friends, Salvation has come; it has come trough Jesus Christ, the light first given to the people of Israel and now as a light given to the world.  Where was this light given to all people?  Upon the cross!  Listen to these beautiful words of prophecy, fulfilled through Jesus suffering and death:  “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”  [Isaiah 53:5]

Jesus knows our every fear and weakness; He knows our struggle to find acceptance and belonging.  Like many of us, He too was an outcast, excluded by many of the people He first came to save; the ones who must first have the light before they could help the outsiders and outcasts find their portion of the light.  “He had no form or majesty that (others) should look at him, and no beauty that (they) should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and (even today) we esteemed him not.” [Isaiah 53:2, 3]  But He esteems us, He knows us, and now is the time of our salvation.  Now is the time that Jesus comes for all of sinful mankind!

This morning we gather as God’s children called by faith in His Word; called by faith in the Suffering Servant, the Son of God Jesus Christ!  This morning we know by this same Word and faith in that Word, that salvation is for all of mankind, first for the Jews and then for the world.  It is a work of God done for all sinners, regardless of skin color or the quality of their character, because Jesus calls sinners just as they are.  But when He calls them, He loves them to much to leave them in that condition.  For you see, the call also contains the power of God that transforms sinners into saints.

We are those who once were foreigners but now are sons of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.  People know that we are Christians by the marks that God imputes upon us and within us.  We love to serve our true and living God.  We love to speak His name… Jesus, and we find an unexplainable peace in living under that name.  We  are the ones who truly keep His Sabbath, because we alone find rest and peace in the proclamation and the hearing of His Word.  We alone, enabled by faith, trust in His new covenant promise of grace, and we do that by clinging to Christ alone and no other! We are the people who alone can say, “My color is Jesus and my race is Christian!”

Each of us, through no merit of our own has been drawn to God by His power alone.  Because of His Word, we hear and believe that it is God’s desire to bind all people to Himself through Jesus Christ, and that is exactly what He has done for us.  By faith, we see the very Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ, suffering and dying upon the cross as both God’s Suffering servant and our Messiah, and we know that like a lamb led to be slaughtered, He obediently died for the sins of the world.  But we also know by faith that within the waters of our baptism, salvation became very real and very personal.  In our baptism, we were both buried with Christ and made alive with Him!

Indeed, this morning as well as every Sunday we hear the proclamation that salvation is for all; none are excluded and all have been drawn into God’s inner circle as His children of faith who rest within the mystical body of Christ.  But sadly, there are some who are not yet resting as part of the “in crowd” within this position of peace and comfort.  There are many who still live in the darkness and continually reject God’s free gift of salvation through Christ, or perhaps they have separated themselves from the gift by judging others as not “like them” and unworthy of the same gift that once saved them.  They have bound themselves to darkness rather than to the light of Christ.

Is there hope for those who are perishing outside of Christ’s sacrifice and love?  Yes, and again I say yes, and that hope is spoken of in the last verse of our Old Testament lesson, listen: “The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to (the body of Christ) besides those already gathered.”  How does He gather?  Through the same means of grace that gathered you… through His Holy Word and Sacraments.  They are His means of grace, and we the church are His means of delivery.  As He binds Himself to us, we bind ourselves to Him to be His instrument of inclusion and Ambassadors of peace.  As we go out being His light in the darkness of sin, we remember that it is He alone who brings and works salvation by binding Himself to the waters of baptism and establishing new Christian identities in those who were once dying in sin, so that they too will serve Him and love the name that is above every name… Jesus Christ!  And in, with, and under that name let the church say… AMEN!

Where Were You?


August 10th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 8A, August 3, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

Have you ever been angry or upset with God?  Have you ever felt that “He” was allowing unfair things to happen to you?  And has that feeling of “unfairness” influenced not just the way you look at God, but indeed other people who seem to be living the good life outside of faith, while you who have been faithful to Christ and His church, seem to be isolated from those blessings of the “good life?”  If so then our Old Testament lesson should be able to clear a few things up; important things that we tend to forget.

Just as God prepared Job to hear the deep and mysterious truth about His transcendence, so He speaks to us this morning.  To Job He said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” (Job 38:1-3). And to us He says, “So will you judge God and decide what is fair and unfair?  Fine, then gather your faith and wisdom, and rise in the strength of My Holy Word that has carried you this far, and I will ask a few questions of you, and then by faith, you may “straighten” God out.  Are you ready?  Were you there when I created all things?”

Creation is a deep quagmire for minds of faith; deep because it has so many unanswered questions that our rational minds want answers to.  Since it is such a deep thing to ponder, let’s break it down into understandable bits.  We will simply look at our Earth and then space.  In regards to the Earth, let’s break that down into land and sea.

Were you there when God separated land from sea?  Do you know why he determined how much land would exist on our earth, and then do you know why He allotted different portions of land to be hot and humid, hot and dry, frozen and cold, and then some portions of land that have both?  I know that your science will answer quickly, that this is all due to the proximity of land to the equator and various weather patterns that exist, but then that is not the question to be answered, is it?  No, the real question is “Why are things the way that they are?”  You might have an inkling of understanding, if you were actually there “In the beginning” when God created the earth.  You might understand it if you were there to hear the angels sing together as they glorified the Creator with shouts of joy. But you weren’t there were you?

Well then, do you know why the seas were created just as they were, with laws that allow them to go only so far and no farther?  Do you know why three-fourths of the earth’s surface is covered by water?  I am sure you know what a powerful source water is.  Right now, our fellow countrymen in Hawaii have been hit by one hurricane and there is another quickly approaching their shores; they know the power of water in the form of wind and rain.  And let’s not forget the tragic events that came upon our brothers and sisters who not that long ago suffered under the power of hurricane Katrina; that bit of recent history seems to still cry out, “Unfair, O Lord!”  But those recent examples pale in comparison to the damage caused by the flood in the days of Noah! That deluge wiped out all creatures living on earth except those in the ark. You do know don’t you, that if God wanted to, He could send another universal flood, right? But praise His name and His undeserved kindness, He has made a covenant promise to never do that again (Genesis 8:21), but remember, He could.

Now I don’t know about you, but I am forever thankful that God has the powerful forces of water under his control. Along with the Psalmist, I cry out to God in thankfulness in these Words, “You set a boundary [so that the waters] cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth” (Psalm 104:9). But let’s always remember that if God desires, He could bring about another great flood, easier than you and I can fill and then drain our bathtubs!

Next, we have another question to ponder.  Are you the one who created our sun and the other stars?  Are you the one who then set the earth on its axis and determined the perfect rotation so that there would be a consistent amount of sunlight to sustain life and create what we call morning and daylight?  No?  Well maybe you were there when the voice of our Triune God said “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) and there was?! Do you know that every sunrise can be thought of as a recreation of that first giving of light? Remember this, just as we need the darkness of night for sleep, we also need the light of day to sustain life and allow us to accomplish the work that God has determined for us to do.

Well that is quite a bit for us to think about, but it isn’t all that God has to say to us this morning, is it?  No God wants you to ponder something else…

What do you know about a dark place, which we know exist but have not experienced?  Now, we are talking about a place darker than the bottom of the deepest sea, and further away from us than the most outer reaches of space; we are talking about death!  In verse 17 God asks Job the penetrating double question, “Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?” This language suggests that when a person enters the realm of death, the gates are closed behind him. There is no turning back to life in this world. Had Job entered the gates of death at the time God spoke those words? Obviously, he had not, and neither have any of you, but there is One who has; He was there for all of this and He has come to assure you that all things will work together for your good.

Jesus Christ, our champion, our brother, our Savior, and indeed our God is the only One born of man who not only Has died but also came back from death.  It is Jesus Christ alone Who came down from heaven and actually brought us righteousness, God’s own righteousness to be received from Him by faith. This is a righteousness that calls out to us, so that we don’t need to ask with discouraged hearts, “Who will ascend up to heaven and get an answer from God why these bad things are happening to His faithful children?” Because if we did that, that would be in essence bringing Christ down, that is, we would be denying His deity as the very Son of God.  So in reality, when we cling to those why questions, and in our hearts we demand that Creator God justify Himself to us the created, we are acting as if God’s righteousness had not yet been purchased and won for us by Christ upon the cross.

But Christ did come; the Son of God came to us in our own flesh as One of us to bring us assurance and peace that even during the worst experiences in our lives, surrounded by the darkness of sin like a raging sea, God has not left us. This truth of comfort is declared for you throughout the Word of God, and in and through the Word, which resides in every believer’s mouth and heart. This blessed Gospel Word does not ask you to do a single thing to experience God’s mercy and forgiving love; but it does ask you to receive it and rest in His presence through it. This Word is rightly called the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but you may know it as something else, another work of God which is most certainly unfair, and that thing is grace; God’s undeserved forgiving love and powerful presence in our lives.

The truth is friends, there are many things that happen in life, that do not seem fair.  It was not fair that Job was caught in the middle of a wager between God and the devil.  Job could not know that God was using Him to prove to both the devil and all evil that existed, that one day, a Son of Man would come with faith and patience mightier than Job, and He would not only undo all that is evil and corrupt, but He would usher in a new heaven and earth that would be forever free of sin, sickness, disease, and tragedy.

That Son of Man has come, and with His last breath upon the cross He declared, “It is finished!”  He rose from the dead and then ascended back from where He has always existed, into Heaven.  And in Heaven a message of indescribable comfort and peace comes to us sinful men and women; a message about forgiveness and the promise of Paradise restored; a future home for us that Jesus has prepared for each of you who like Job, wait patiently, surrounded and instructed by the Word of God, which in turn like Job not only makes you wise but faithful and patient as well.

As we wait for this restored paradise to become our home, we wait like Job, and with Job, our lives of repentance and faith confess these Words: “Heavenly Father, I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  You asked,‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’(And ashamedly I admit that it was me!)  Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now (through that hearing, my eyes of faith) see you; therefore I despise (my many sins), and repent (of them) so that I may receive the blessed forgiveness that comes only by grace, through faith in Your Son, my Savior Jesus Christ).”  Now, let the church say… AMEN!

Are You Listening?

August 3rd, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 8A, August 3, 2014

NOTE: The congregation first watched this very short video before hearing the Message.
We ask that you too watch this video before listening to or reading the message by clicking here.


Click here for audio of this message

“Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” [Isaiah 55:3]

This morning, God’s Word has invited you to come to His house and listen to His Word, and here you are!  Yes you’re here, but have you been listening?  Are you listening?   I hope you are, because our message is one that brings and sustains life; real life.  That is something only God can give, and He gives it in only one way.  Death on the other hand is something that you do not need to look for; you don’t need to ask for it, because it has already found you, and now it is just biding it’s time, waiting for the moment that has already been determined as your time.

One thing that is common with most PowerPoint presentations shown at many problem solving think tanks is the way they start out.  The lead slide will usually start out with stating “The Problem” to be overcome, and then the next slide will ask, “How Did We Get Here?” and then somewhere in the presentation will be a slide that initiates the presenters proposal, under the heading, “The Solution”.  And then finally, the presentation also includes “Words of Encouragement,” meant to move us to embrace the Solution.  So, why don’t we follow that format and see where it takes us.

I. The Problem: It is self evident, isn’t it?  The problem is we are all going to die!  Death literally is all around us, hounding every moment of our lives.  It has been that way ever since Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden.  Eden, a perfect place created for perfect people.  A place where there was no sickness or disease; no turmoil, suffering, and of course no death.  But something happened, didn’t it?  God’s people exchanged God’s truth for the devils lie.  So in came sin and death.  “Like taxes” we say, “death is unavoidable.”  It calls out to all of creation like a vendor at an open-air market saying, “Come here and sample my wares.  Don’t walk away from me; you know eventually I will claim you as a consumer, so why not enjoy your wait?”  All of us hear the siren call of death; people young and old, rich and poor, from celebrity to the homeless, from the president to the average Joe, we all must respond to death’s call; give him his due so to speak.

God’s people of faith are no different, are they?  We too hear that siren call, don’t we?  In our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah also comments on deaths call when he asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”   And that’s a good question isn’t it?  Why do we do things that are not God pleasing; why do we do them so easily?  And that takes us to our next question…

II. How Did We Get Here? Well, the answer to that was the same reason given in our explanation of the problem.  The same problem that Adam and Eve created is still our problem today.  We still have a desire to exchange God’s truth for the devil’s lies.  We still want to live in paradise, but under our own terms and rules.  Why is that?  Because we still live under the stain of original sin; it is in our very DNA so to speak.  We still hear the call of the devil inviting us to buy those things that are not life giving or sustaining; we still seek to satisfy our body but not our soul.  “Come and buy,” says the devil.  “But why” we ask?  And his answer is, “To make life a little more enjoyable with the little bit of time and life you have.”  And to our sinful minds, that sounds reasonable.  And to justify our purchase of those things, ideas, and life-styles that are not God pleasing, we tell ourselves “After all, nothing lasts forever.  You only live once, so I might as well enjoy it.”  And the devil laughs quietly and says, “Come, my child.  Come and live life according to your own terms, and you will experience life like you’ve never known it.”

But one day, perhaps sooner than you think, you will hear another call; the call of death.  When his whispered invitation of “Come” is heard, you will not be able to resist, and then all that you labored for, all that you valued as important will be in vain.  But this morning, we hear another call; a better call, and that call is the solution to the problem of sin, death, and the devil.

III. The Solution: God’s voice calls out to us throughout scripture and here in the voice of the prophet Isaiah, “Come everyone who thirsts (for peace and righteousness; for an assurance of an existence without fear or worry; for an eternity where there will be no more sin, death, nor the devil), come to the waters (the holy washing of God’s Word, where all of your sins and the devils traps are removed); and he (even you right now) who has no money, come buy and eat!  Come buy wine and milk (and all of the best things in life) without money and without price.”

This morning dear friends, God issues His invitation to everyone, not just to his Old Testament people, but to all people who desperately need His blessings; all who want to get back to Eden, to paradise lost. Just as Jesus invited “all you who are weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28), so the Lord God invites “all you who are thirsty.” Sin and death make us tired of the rat race we call life here, but they also make us thirsty for God’s blessings.

Because of the work of the devil, God’s voice, His invitation to come can get lost in this open air market we call life.  If we are not listening, it can be drowned out by all those other messages that are hawking the devil’s products. If we are not careful, we might begin to think that Christ and His church are just another vendor in life, offering one of many opportunities to be happy.  But unlike the world’s version of milk and wine, God’s version will never spoil or run out. He has spiritual blessings to dispense to everyone who comes, and he has a fervent desire to share them with everyone. And here’s the best part, not only are God’s products different, but they are also free. This wonderful invitation clearly speaks of God’s grace. No human can offer God anything for his blessings.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 14:13–21), Jesus offered an inexhaustible supply of earthly food to a hungry mass of people so that they would listen to the spiritual message behind the miracle; a message that would save their souls.  Sadly, many people today, like the crowds then, can not see God’s solution to their sin problem, because they have set their eyes on those things that only satisfy the body and not the soul.  And the result is that they still hunger and thirst; they still have no assurance that the whisper of death can bring them no harm.

IV. A Word of Encouragement: This morning, God calls us out of this illusion of the devil, and He tells us to come and buy eternal life, without money.  How do you buy without money?  Well, we dare not think that we can purchase the gifts of God by our own effort. We all know that God’s gifts cannot be earned; they are gifts “without cost.” God calls us away from every effort to earn what only He can give. St. Paul said it best: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). There isn’t a thing of value that we could place on the scales of God that would weigh enough to buy forgiveness and eternal life! Only the work of the Servant of the Lord, who “was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5), could earn the gifts of God, which are the forgiveness of sins, freedom from the power of the devil, and eternal life. These are the gifts that God only offers by grace. It is our own sin and the tricks of the devil that cause us to think we can earn these priceless gifts through something we do.

This morning, God tells us that the solution to our problem can only be realized if we embrace His solution: “Listen to me” He says. Now keeping with the comparison of this sinful world with an open-air market, the idea of listening suggests that we would have to pay attention in order to hear what we must do. But here God tells us to listen to what He has done. Listen to what God has said and done in His everlasting covenant and His steadfast love for David. Here, God tells us that this covenant flows from His faithful love promised to David, which originated in the promise long ago to Adam and Eve, and was repeated to everyone who followed and would listen.

Throughout our Bibles, God promises that the Messiah would come.  And then finally God promises that our Savior would come from David’s line (2 Samuel 7:11–16). God was not under any obligation to make such a promise, but he did it out of His pure undeserved love. And once God promises something, He is always faithful and does what He said.

This Son of David, the Christ is none other than Jesus, the Son of God, born of Mary from within the lineage of David.  He brings completion to God’s promise to King David that He would be an eternal leader and witness of God’s steadfast love and mercy. Jesus is David’s greater Son, and He is The Witness to the nations declaring God’s undeserved love.

Our Savior came from heaven to earth to dwell with sinful men.  But He did more than just dwell with us; He came to set us free.  He came to be lifted high upon the cross so that “everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). And He has come to save more than just a small Jewish remnant returning from captivity in Babylon. He came to call people back to the paradise that was lost, but now restored.  He calls all nations to come to him—even strangers who did not know Him as the One true God. The words of the gospel now draw all sinners in, and those same Words give them the ability to listen to Jesus their Savior and receive all of the promises of God.

This morning all of us have been gathered by God’s Spirit to hear the only message that will destroy the power of the devil, remove our sins, and silence the song of death.  This morning this message is meant to give you peace where others experience worry and fear.  This morning, you are invited to listen to the very same message that God first spoke to your soul within the waters of Holy Baptism: Through faith in what Christ has done for you upon the cross, you are saved!  Through faith, you still hear the Words of eternal life and you find assurance and purpose.  Through faith you are invited to approach the Lord’s Table, and receive His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, and then experience spiritual nourishment, the likes of which the world could never give.

My prayer for each of you is that you would continue to come to this place often; continue to listen diligently and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in God’s rich spiritual food.  And I pray that you would allow your ear to really listen to the voice of God declared in His Word here in this place, and then continuously come to Jesus so that your soul may live.  And I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Hidden Treasure, Indeed!



July 27th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 7A, July 27, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”” [Matthew 13:52]

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

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

How should the every Christian treat the Word of God? Well, I tipped my hand a bit when I showed that video clip ( Click here to watch the video ) during the Children’s Chat.  The caption under the video asks, “Do you feel this way about your Bible and the Word of God?”  And I think that if we average Christians were to answer that question truthfully, the answer is “No!”  But why is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you understand what this does to Jesus’s stories; to His metaphors?  It turns them upside down.  If you can accept this understanding, then the field is this sinful world, and the man who sells all that He has, is none other than Jesus Christ.  And you know what that makes you, don’t you?  You are the treasure!  Upon the cross, all of God gave great wealth to obtain you as His very own, but only the Son of God, Jesus Christ who is the son of Mary, gave all of His life to redeem you from sin, death, and the devil.

God the Father redeemed you through the life blood of His Son; He redeemed you from the curse of sin.  But the reason He did this for you has nothing to do with anything that is unique or good about you, but instead it was through His love, with His Son’s blood as the very ransom that freed you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I See Dead People!



July 20th, 2014

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mmm, Mmm, Good Word!



July 13th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 5A, July 13, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” [Isaiah 55:10, 11]

Those Words of our text this morning are meant to be a comfort for you faithful saints, but it is also meant to be a slap in the face, a wake-up call so to speak for those who are stubborn, lazy, or full of pride.  If you are resting in Jesus this morning, then thank God for His Word.  But if you are indifferent or hostile to Jesus, it is a fearful Word of God; this Word that you hear this morning will one day, both accuse you, convict you, and sentence you to an existence of eternal suffering and pain, out side of the very Word that sought to give you new life and eternal joy.

But for us who are trusting in Jesus Christ because of God’s Word, and in light of that old Ritz Cracker commercial, and in honor of Andy Griffith, God rest his soul, we can say that the Word of God is a, “Mmm, mmm, good Word!”

But in the eyes of an unbelieving world, the Word seems so weak and foolish; it appears that it has no strength in it.  The enemies of Christ’s Church point out that the Word of God stands powerless before the sacred halls of science.  And what’s more, the competing religions in our world will confront our dear church with a most disturbing question: “Why is it that you Christians insist that only your way is right and all others are wrong and will lead only to hell?  Do you really think that you are better than the rest of the world?’  And to that we reply, “Certainly not.  On our own, without the Word of God, we are no better or worse than the rest.  But with the powerful Word of God working within and through us, we are redeemed and sanctified; set apart for God’s purpose, which is to call the entire world into repentance and eternal life through the message about Jesus, the Son of God.  This is all on account of the Word of God alone and not because of anything we contribute.  But our opponents, those who wish to destroy God’s pure church do not exist only outside of us, but indeed they exist even within our very ranks as well.

There are those who call themselves Christians, who have even been baptized, who have become the very tools of the devil, and they too will attack our reliance on God’s Word alone.  They will confront us by asking, “Do you really think that everything regarding our eternal salvation depends entirely upon God’s Word?”  And then they will say, “That is ridiculous!  Don’t you realize that we also need to act upon the Word?  In our lives we must always think, decide, and work!”

But here, in our text this morning all of God’s enemies are answered.  They must either receive the truth of His Word, or they can go there own way, which is also the way of the devil.  In our text this morning, God does not say that “our works and our thoughts” do a mighty work, no, but what does He say?  He says that it is His Word that goes out from His mouth that accomplishes His will.

Just before the words of our text this morning are also words that act as a beautiful illustration of just how necessary the Word of God alone is to bring new life to sinful and condemned hearts.  Through the prophet Isaiah, God compares the work of His Word to the work of the rain and snow, which He sends upon the earth.  Without God’s watering, the earth cannot produce a single thing.

But reason says that life comes from the soil; good crops come from fertile land.  So reason will tell you, the power to produce an abundant crop lies in the earth, not in the rain and snow.  But let’s look at a comparison between southern California and my motherland, the state of Wisconsin.  I just returned from a visit there, and believe me when I tell you that everything is lush, green, and flourishing.  The farmers are having a record season, and the harvest is predicted to be one of the best on record.  And yes, the soil is dark and rich, but it is dark and rich for a reason; it rains or snows for a little while, almost everyday of the year.

Now compare the lush conditions of Wisconsin to our own conditions here.  You do not need to go far to see what I am talking about. Look at the front lawn here at our own church.  We no longer water it because water is so expensive, and as a result the grass is completely dead.  If you desire, you can dig up a little ground beneath the grass, and you will discover that it is grey, sandy, and dead.  Why?  Because it lacks life giving water!

So what does this mean for our church, indeed for all churches?  Simply this, the advancement and growth of the church, of the kingdom of God is not dependent on programs and campaigns, or any work of men, but instead it is dependent entirely upon the Word of God and it’s proclamation of truth.  The Word of God is declared with a promise that cannot be undone.  In it, God promises to do what He desires; the very thing that He sent it to do.  It won’t do what sinful men and women desire it to do, but it will do what God wants it to do, even if sinful men and women resist that Word; a Word that proceeds from the very mouth of God.

What is the mouth of God?  It is the very instrument that God speaks through.  Jesus of course is, was, and ever will be the living Word of God, but then God also speaks through other visible mouths.  This morning He has spoken to you through the recorded Words of the Prophet Isaiah and the Apostle Paul, just as He speaks through all mouths that belonged to other prophets and apostles.  But He is also speaking to you from the mouths of faithful preachers; preachers who do not mix the Word of God with their own sinful desires.  This morning, God is even speaking to you from the mouth of this redeemed sinner who you call pastor, who is called to bring to you His Word that both brings and sustains new life!

Dear friends, God has only promised to work through His spoken and recorded Word. He has chosen the Word as the means by which we can trust that through that Word He brings us good things. Of course, He could work through other means, but nowhere does God instruct us to look to other means, nor to trust in them. Throughout scripture, God invites sinners to listen to His Word and find wisdom and new life.  Just as the rain brings new life to dead soil, so the Word of God can change the heart of a sinner.

Whenever anyone thinks that he or she can do a good thing without hearing and receiving the Word of God that person has been deceived by the devil and the truth is not in him.

But the mystery of God’s Word cannot just be compared to the rain, but to a seed, which brings new life.

II. In our Gospel reading (Matthew 13:1-23), Jesus compares the Word of God to the seed that a farmer sows.  He says that some seeds fall by the path and are immediately devoured by birds.

Dear saints, I hope that you realize, there is a real spiritual battle going on around us; it is a battle for the eternal lives of men, women, and children; a battle for their very souls.   Sometimes, the best attack that Satan can employ is to simply prevent sinful men and women from hearing the message about God’s Son and His cross.  If you do not hear the message about God’s extravagant grace and mercy through Jesus Christ, then in the devil’s mind, you will never experience God’s forgiving love.  And do you know what?  The devil is right.  Do you see that even Satan has a high regard for the power of God’s Word?

But then Jesus also says that some of the seed fell on rocky ground and after springing up it soon withered and died. This is a picture of someone who hears God’s Word and at first they believe and follow Jesus—but for some reason, they do not put down roots deeply into Jesus and his truth, and when they experience personal difficulty or opposition that comes because they are a Christian, they turn away and no longer live as his disciples.

And then, Jesus describes how some seeds fall into and area of soil where thorns are also growing. Now allow me to declare a truth that you no doubt have seen proven in your own experience.  There are some people who initially hear, receive, and believe the Word of God and the message of the cross of Jesus, and they gladly become Christians, but when the distractions of wealth, that is the excitement of “chasing the cheese” comes along, they get distracted and choked off with not just the allure of wealth, but also all of the general worries of life that are sure to come to all people who live in this fallen age.  And when those problems come, they slowly put to death the hope and joy that exists in their lives, which exists by the power of the Good News of the reign of God through Jesus Christ.

So we see a sad truth in Jesus story; most of the seed that is sown never produces fruit. In that sense, the seed by the path, the seed in the rocky soil, and the seed among thorns all belong together as “seed that is sown that ultimately proves to be unfruitful.” This is a very hard concept for us to receive, let alone understand; when God at last comes to the world through His Son, Jesus Christ, as the promised and long awaited Savior, He comes in ways that are mysterious, humble, and by the world’s estimation, weak and resistible. And wile it is true that we may refuse to listen to the Word of God, or listen and then reject it or resist it, at the end of His parable of the Sower, Jesus speaks the same urgent invitation to the crowds, who ever they may be, just as all of scripture speaks: “He who has ears, let him hear.” (13:9).

And some do hear, as I trust you are hearing the gospel truth today.  Those who hear are those who are compared to the good soil on which some of the seeds fell, and they produce great results. Jesus was speaking the truth of His ministry then, which is also the truth of His ministry and ours today.  Some people will hear the Good News of how God the King is coming to reclaim and forgive His people and ultimately His creation. Some will hear and understand, and in their understanding, which is a result of faith, they become faithful and fruitful for God; that is, they become good soil through the work of God, and they are active in His Kingdom of Grace. They are those who are truly saved, who are rightly called saints, who believe and cling to the Word of God and the message of the cross of Jesus Christ. (Talk about good works of faith)

Dear friends, those of us who have been saved by grace, through faith in the message of Jesus Christ can look within our own hearts and marvel at the fact that God has indeed saved a wretch like ourselves.  In essence, we marvel at the generosity of God.  But Jesus spoke of this didn’t He?  When the farmer was described as scattering the seeds everywhere, anyone with any experience in gardening knows that you never do that.  You must plant meticulously and choose what ground will be prepared for the harvest.  And yet here we have an extravagant God who scatters the seed everywhere; why?  Because “God is patient toward all of us, and He does not desire that any should perish, but that all should repent and receive eternal life.” [2 Peter 3:9]

So we who rest and work within the body of Christ, even here at little Trinity, rejoice in God’s liberal application of gospel seeds, because it is within that liberal net that we too were caught up by a church that by command are fishers for men.  We too responded to the call to “come if we are laboring and find rest.”  God’s willingness to cast seed everywhere shows His wide-open invitation to all men, women, and children, who are red, yellow, black and white.  And so some will come while others will refuse.  And it is within this mystery of salvation that we continue to follow Jesus as we bear our cross of His making and choosing.  And as we follow we allow the Word alone to quell all doubts and fears, and we leave the unanswered questions such as “why do some not receive Jesus” unanswered for a while, until the day at Christ return when we will not only see all things clearly but understand them as well.

Until that day, may you along with the rest of Christ’s church continue to say along with the sainted Andy Griffith, “Mmm, mmm, good Word!”  Amen!

The Cross and the Yoke!

July 6th, 2014

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cross!


June 29th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Love Without End… AMEN!



June 22nd, 2014

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Pentecost Water

June 8th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost A, June 8, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

Why does the church set aside and remember the Pentecost experience, which is so beautifully presented in all three of our readings (Numbers 11:24–30, Acts 2:1–21, John 7:37–39)? Is it done to create in Christians a desire to speak in strange tongues?  Is it set aside to show that there are everyday Christians and then there are super Christians who have these miraculous gifts of the Spirit?  Maybe we remember this day to remind us how far the church has fallen from the position that God desires us to be in?  Well, the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding “No!”

The true reason for remembering the  Pentecost experience is that it was a physical illustration for what Jesus spoke of in our gospel reading. Listen: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” [Jn 7:37b, 38]  Let’s look at these Words a little closer and allow God to teach us what we are to remember during these next 23 weeks of Pentecost; a period where we are invited to meditate on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our church, and in our community!

What we learn first is that if any of us are ever to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, we must first perceive a need for Him; we must have a thirst for His holy presence and power!  How are we to be given such a thirst?  Through the power of God’s Word, specifically His Law and that portion of His Word that promises to give forgiveness of sins.  It is the Law of God that shows us our sins and how badly we need His forgiving love!  And it is His Gospel that actually gives us that forgiveness of sins.  He gives this forgiveness to us as a wonderful gift of God, a gift that can never be earned or achieved through our own efforts.

Too many preachers today are simply leading their congregations deeper into thirst by telling them what they need to do in order to know happiness, peace, and success.  But telling someone what they need to do doesn’t ever give them the ability to do it!  And to this, along comes Jesus, and He comes with a teaching that is completely different; He actually does offer a way to quench their spiritual thirst; a way to know God’s loving and kind heart!  And where does He send them to find this spiritually thirst-quenching drink?  To Himself, that’s where!

Jesus is telling us that all other sermons that preachers preach are simply the fancies of a sinful mind.  He is telling us that there really is no way to be right with God except by coming to Him!  Except by coming to Jesus through faith, there really is no way to bring peace to a conscience that knows it daily sins against God!  Our sinful consciences long for one thing more than anything else; they long to hear, “Your sin is forgiven!”  When we can hear these Words and believe them, then and only then will our spiritual thirst be quenched!

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  In these words Jesus is telling us that outside of His message of gospel peace we wont find one single drop of comfort, comfort that can satisfy our thirst!  Outside of this invitation to come to Him and drink and rest, there is only more thirsting and tormenting of our terrified conscience; a conscience that is really dying of thirst!

But what happens after we drink?  What happens after we simply receive the forgiveness of Jesus Christ?  Well Jesus says that “Whoever believes in Him, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”

You see, because you have turned to Jesus, He assures you that as long as you keep coming to Him and His Words of life, you will have streams of living water coming out of you!  He is assuring you that because you come to Him, He will equip you to not only have your thirst quenched but to also help bring others to the same living water so that they too can be satisfied!  And now we are beginning to see the true miracle of Pentecost!

Through the Living Word of God, Jesus is promising you that not only will He satisfy your own thirst, but He will use you to help satisfy the thirst for forgiveness that others have!  And all of this is done through the Word of God, through the gospel!  The longer the gospel is preached and shared, the more effectively it goes out satisfying your thirst and the thirst of others. But how can simply sharing God’s Word and forgiveness of sins do all of this?  Because behind the Word is the power of the Holy Spirit!

When Jesus was speaking these Word’s the Holy Spirit hadn’t yet been poured out on all those who believed in Him.  Certainly the Holy Spirit was present, but His power to build the church and propel it out into a sinful world hadn’t yet been demonstrated.  But make no mistake, where God’s Word is there is also His power; but it is His power, and we must remember that He uses it when, where, and how He determines.  As Jesus spoke that day, the people whose hearts were prepared by the Holy Spirit began to experience a great quenching of their spiritual thirst!  And as we are listening this morning, our thirst for God’s forgiveness is also being quenched!  But how can this great work of quenching spiritual thirst, of forgiving sins be continued in a mighty way throughout history and across the entire face of the earth?  Only through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  And that is the reason the great day of Pentecost is worth remembering and observing!

In our reading from Acts [2:1-21], we can make a couple of noteworthy observations.  First we see that everyone was equally filled with the Holy Spirit.  That means men, women, and children; each was equally filled and equipped for the task that was given to them.  There is no need for one to desire the gifts of the other; they were equal.  So the prayer of Moses in our Old Testament reading, that asked “that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them” was answered! [Numbers 11:29]

Second, we see that the Spirit gave them utterance, or maybe a better way to say this is that the Spirit gave them the Words they were to speak!  And now the real question is not how did they speak, but what did they speak!

You see, if you let your focus be only on the fact that they were able to speak in foreign tongues, well  then you are missing the whole desire and will of God!  And what is the will and desire of God?  That all sinful men and women would hear the gospel and repent, that is turn to Jesus Christ and be saved!  That all of us would come to Jesus and drink of His life giving waters!  That was the message that each one of the disciples were speaking that day and that is the message that God would have you share with your neighbors within this very community as He gives you the opportunity.  And how are you to speak and what are you to say?  Should you have some scripture memorized?  What if your nervous; what if, what if, what if!

You see, if you let your worries and fears get in the way, then you are once again taking the focus off of the giver of the gift and looking at what kind of gift you want.  Remember, God fills each of us equally.  The Spirit fills every single believer in the church and He uses every one of us according to His desire not ours.  We must simply rest in the fact that the day of Pentecost raised each of us to the same level.  Just as the Holy Spirit loosened the tongues of the disciples to praise God in the way He desired on that day, so He does for us today!  Like them, our hearts shall overflow with grace and power, and our tongues will speak of that grace and power!  Each of us have been equipped by the same Spirit to confess our faith, to pray and praise!  This is our testimony to Christ’s thirst quenching and life giving waters!

So why don’t you and I have the ability like the early disciples to speak in foreign languages?  Well I suppose it’s simply because the Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to!  Back then, He determined that great signs and wonders were needed to propel the church throughout the world, all so that everyone who was dying of spiritual thirst could be quenched!  I would say that He’s done a pretty good job of growing the church.  Can you think of a single country where Jesus has not been preached?  I can’t!  But just because the Holy Spirit has changed the external way He works, doesn’t mean that He isn’t working!

In Holy Baptism, where you received the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, you too have been given the gift of faith so that you can understand the teachings of Jesus, teachings that have been handed down to you by the Apostles through the work of that same Spirit.  By the Holy Spirit, you’ve been given faith, faith that clings to the promises of Jesus; promises, which assure you that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.  By the same Spirit you are given boldness to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the One who was crucified carrying the burden of your sins and the sins of your neighbor!  You have been given boldness to declare that He is the One who rose again, bringing you to life again with Him.  By this faith which is yours from the Holy Spirit, you receive the very body and blood of Jesus Christ-a gift that also gives you forgiveness for all of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

This is your testimony!  This is the life giving water that Jesus gave first to you and it is the very thing He desires to give to your neighbor through you!  When each of us gathers to hear the Word and receive the sacraments we are being given the power of the Holy Spirit to go out and share these things.  And when we do this, we see the body of Christ growing; this is the true miracle of Pentecost!  It is a symphony of confession, testimony, prayer and praise that rises up to the Holy throne of Jesus Christ in every language across this sinful world.  This is the desire and will of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it is the very mission that He has equipped you for!  May God continue to do His Pentecost work within each of our hearts by the power of His Holy Spirit, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!