On Marriage and Families

October 4th, 2015

19th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 7, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

Each of you who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are promised a seat at our Lord’s banquet table; you’ve even been promised a mansion in heaven.  Or like I taught the children in their message this morning, by abiding or resting in Jesus, you’ve been given a ticket on the heavenly train to glory.  So, are you going?  Will you be there in glory?

God’s Word promises that you will be there if you trust in that promise; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; He wants you to rest in everything that He has done for you in this life and the life to come.  Is that enough for you, or do you need more?

In our epistle reading this morning (Hebrews 2:1-13), God warns His little ones, He warns us, that if we don’t continually grab ahold of His promises about our blessed assurance, we might begin to drift away from our seat at the banquet table; we might begin to want to find another way to our heavenly home.  So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises?  Well it could be, if we allow ourselves to trust in anything for salvation other than the work and the promises of God!

Why do you think we have times when we feel like our lives lack meaning and purpose?  Could it be because we’ve taken our eyes off of God’s promises?!  Why is it that when trouble comes our way, often times we become afraid and filled with doubt?  Could it be, we’ve lost sight of Jesus and His real presence in our lives?  Why is it that when fear and doubt come, we begin to lose that joy in knowing that we really do have a place prepared just for us in heaven?  Could it be, we have begun to judge success by what we do and not by what God has done for us!

The truth is we all fall short of God’s will for us here; we all fall short of His perfection, but we still want so badly to please Him; to earn His love and respect.  But it’s also true that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will fail.  And yet we still try to earn our place in heaven by what we do.

This morning the theme in both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons seems to be marriage and family. In both of these readings, God is showing us His perfect will and how far short we fall from that perfection.

So then why do we still think that on our own we can be a good husband or a good wife, a good parent or child?  Because we have a sin problem, and our sinful nature won’t let us see the impossibility of change; it won’t let us see that on our own, we are without hope.  And so, even though we know that we fall short of pleasing God, our sinful desire to be independent would have us believe that we can bridge this gap by our own efforts.  So we are deceived into thinking that if we just try a little harder, then our marriages will be repaired and our families will be God pleasing.

This kind of thinking is not only dangerous, it is darn right destructive.  It’s harmful to ourselves and to those we love.  You see, when we think that action and effort are enough to please God and restore joy in our lives and our relationships with others, we have abandoned God’s promises of help and hope.  We’ve exchanged the hope of the gospel for the demands of the Law; a Law that will settle for nothing short of perfection!

Now please listen; I’m not telling you that we shouldn’t try harder to be better, what I am saying is that you can’t even try harder in a God pleasing way, if God is not the source of both your strength and your goodness.  Without God’s grace, we are just trusting in His Law that demands we do good, but then gives us no power or ability to do that good thing.

People who are trusting in the law are easy to spot.  They are the ones who struggle and strive but never really see any lasting improvement in their lives.

Life guards on our San Diego beaches say that the biggest danger to swimmers are the many rip-tides that are present off our shores.  They say that swimmers caught in a rip tide are also easy to spot.  They are the ones who swim and swim, yet they aren’t moving.  They aren’t moving because they aren’t strong enough to defeat the current.

Sadly, each of us can get caught up in the riptides of life.  We tell ourselves that if we just try harder, everything will be alright.  And when we become exhausted at trying to fix our marriages or our other relationships, we become discouraged and maybe afraid that God is angry at us because we aren’t spiritual enough.  So what do we do?  We look for another way to maximize our effort; we read another book or take another course.  We try new techniques and try to be nicer and more attentive.

Maybe, we hear about a Christian who seems to have everything going for them, so we try to find out their secret or technique to happiness.  And if we hear that they get up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to spend more time with God in prayer and Bible study, we resolve to do that too, even though we aren’t a morning person.  And what do you think the result will be for us?  We will probably still be frustrated, but now we’ll also be dazed, confused, groggy and grumpy all day because we didn’t get enough sleep.  And now with inadequate sleep, our marriage is worse and the people we love are avoiding us!

Now at this point, you would think that we would admit failure and try things God’s way, right?  Nope!  Instead, we’ll tell ourselves that because we’re exhausted and miserable, this must be what God wants us to do.  It must be spiritual!  So we keep it up for a few weeks or maybe even a few months, but eventually our discipline will break down, and we’ll abandon this latest technique towards building a better marriage, and a stronger family.  You know what comes next don’t you?  Guilt!  And after enough guilt we’ll simply move onto the next program or buy another book with 10 easy steps towards fulfillment.

Eventually, we will just give up; we simply won’t have the energy to try anymore.  And then what?  We learn to fake it.  We think that we can bridge the gap to heaven by acting like we’re alright, even though everything within us and around us is screaming in our ears that we aren’t ok.  But we keep up the image; we speak as if we had deeper spiritual experiences than we really have.  Our hearts become cold, and we speak as though our sin bothers us more than it really does.  We pray as though our voice is throbbing with deep emotion that isn’t really there.  Why we might even join in a game of spiritual musical chairs, always searching for a different church or ministry that will provide the magic key.  Some people go from one movement to another, continually rededicating their lives to the Lord, only to fall away again and again.  And if this continues, God is warning us that eventually we will secretly give up.  Oh, we’ll still hope that there’s a place for us in heaven, but between now and the day we die, we’ll spend the rest of our lives disappointed and not even trying to change.

So what’s the answer?  Where is the hope?  What is it that can break us free from these riptides of life?  It certainly isn’t greater resolve or another program; no I think that we need to follow the example of the mothers and babies in our gospel lesson to get our answer!

We need to let go and let God’s power take over our lives; we need to get to Jesus! Listen: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

The Pharisees didn’t really see a need to hear from Jesus.  Instead, they wanted Jesus to sit around with them simply talking about the best technique, the most God pleasing program that would free people from the condemnation of the law; in this case they were arguing about divorce.  But Jesus wouldn’t let them do that; instead He told them that they didn’t have a problem in choosing the best strategy, they had a problem with their hearts.  They were sinful.  They needed a new heart, and that was something only Jesus could give them.

The apostles didn’t have the problem of being with Jesus; they had constant access to God’s recreating presence; they were with Jesus all of the time.  No, their problem was their desire to control Jesus; they wanted to limit His audience, and the people who also got to be with Him.  They really wanted Jesus to themselves and they wanted Him to minister to others in a way they thought was best.  So they forbid the mothers from bringing their children to Jesus.  But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that.  He was angry and He let it show!  He told them that not only should they quit standing in the way of these little ones getting to Him, but that if they did not become like one of those babies, they would never get into heaven!  In other words, they too needed a new heart; they needed to turn to God confessing their helplessness, sin, and total dependence on His care!

The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t break free of the rip tide of our sins; we can’t ever bridge the gap to eternal life by our own efforts. We discover that we can never earn God’s love and forgiveness.  We discover that God will always work the way He desires and not the way we want Him to work; we discover that we must become like a child and realize that this kind of love can only come by grace.  A child knows that salvation is a gift; it’s simply something that is given to him; it’s something that he trusts in because it comes from Jesus.  That is why Jesus loves to use little children as his teaching aids.

What is God’s plan for you, your marriage, family, and life?  Well try this on for size; He doesn’t want you to trust in your own abilities or your self-improvement plans, but instead learn to rest and trust in what He has done for you through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, concerning your forgiveness, there is no place for self-improvement because that would negate the need for the cross.  In the cross, God takes you away from your plan of salvation and He shows you His.  He shows you His Son who suffered and died for every sinner that ever lived.  But He also makes it very personal by taking you to the waters of your baptism.  In your baptism He promises that you have been recreated and restored; He promises that in His Word, in His promises you can grab ahold of them, trust them and then watch as He continually renews you and changes you.  In His promises, He tells you of a Paradise restored that is waiting for you on the day the Lord calls you home.

The mothers in our gospel reading knew what you also know but often forget.  If you can just get to Jesus and stay with Him, there is new life and hope in abundance!  In the Word of God, Jesus speaks to you, to your marriages, to your families; He speaks Words of forgiveness and hope.  Even if you have been marked by divorce or a family tragedy, Jesus promises that this is not what defines you or condemns you; instead, He speaks forgiveness and new life as He continually invites you into His plan of salvation for you; and in this plan, He promises to give you a new and abundant life.  In the middle of the riptides of life, Jesus promises that if you simply quit struggling and let Him take over, He will pull you through.

Listen friends, God doesn’t want you to just be saved by grace but to live by it as well!  God’s plan is for your daily life to be guided, guarded, and energized by Jesus suffering and death for you!  He wants you to live in grace and then watch as it flows out of you and into your families, your relationships and even into our community.  In essence, God wants you to be amazed at how His Spirit will transform your life, your family, and our community.

In a few minutes you will hear me welcome you to the Lord’s Table.  Most of you will respond to receive Jesus body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine, simply because He invites you to be filled with His forgiveness of your many sins.  And one day, maybe sooner than you think the Lord’s eternal Banquet Table in Paradise will be the only table we are invited to sit at, because this earth bound altar will cease to exist.

So, will you be there, at the banquet in heaven?  Yes by grace alone!  But listen, God doesn’t want you to be satisfied with just your seat or just your mansion in heaven, He also wants you to go out and invite others to join you.  You can do that as you let His forgiving love live in you and pass through you.  You can do that as you invite others to come with you to this place of worship so that they too can experience the very same thing.  I pray that you will do this very thing… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Be Patient

September 27th, 2015

18th Sunday after Pentecost, September 27, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” [James 5:8]

Would you agree with me that waiting can be a hard thing to do?  Would you also agree with me that sometimes being asked to wait with patience can seem unbearable?  Patience is something that is not natural to us, and that is because it is a quality of God, which He demonstrates as He deals with sinful men and women who deserve His anger and punishment, yet He waits patiently for us to turn to Him.  So patience, is a quality that by nature is foreign to us.  But it’s a quality that God gladly gives to us the baptized, if we will simply receive it and live it out.

What does living out that patience mean to we who are now Christians, who walk by faith and live out our baptism?  Well patience is essentially the life of a thankful sinner who has been redeemed by Christ’s cross and recreated in baptism and sustained by God’s Word and Sacrament until…  Until what?  Until Christ’s second coming.  And when will that be?  We don’t know, but what we do know is that God has deferred that Second coming of Christ, the time when He will judge the living and the dead so that as many who desire will be saved.  Why?  Because God is patient, and He does not desire that any should perish, but be saved.  So we wait like God… Patiently.  What does that look like?

A Christian teacher had just finished putting the last pair of rain boots on her first-graders—thirty-two pairs in all. The last little girl said, “You know what, teacher? These aren’t my rain boots.”  The teacher removed them from the girl’s feet. Then the little girl continued, “They are my sister’s, and she let me wear them.” The teacher quietly put them back on her pupil.  Patience, unnoticed by the world yet celebrated in heaven.

A famous teacher of the early church named Chrysostom once said that a patient man is one who although he has the resources and opportunity to avenge himself, chooses to refrain from carrying out vengeance and waits for God.

In our Epistle lesson this morning (James 5:1-12) that is precisely what James is encouraging us to do, wait.  But like we said earlier waiting is hard, but waiting patiently is almost unbearable, especially when we see the world outside of Christ not waiting but taking all they can, even at the expense of others.

This morning, through James God is warning us not to worry about those who live for worldly glory and fame. He is telling us not to envy them or copy their ways because their time of judgment is coming, and it wont be pretty.  Listen: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.” [Vs. 1-3]

In this world where the lives of politicians and the rich and famous are celebrated, it can be hard to not envy their life styles and attitudes, but this warning from God is meant to remind you that their moment is fleeting and futile; it will vanish and wither life a puff of steam on a hot summer day.  Their eternity has been set and their punishment is certain, but the sad part about that is they don’t even care.

Their lack of concern over their sinful lives is then the best evidence and justification for God’s punishment. They have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence (without a care in the world for their eternity).  They have fattened their hearts for the day of judgment and slaughter.

But God sees and God will act.  He sees His little ones being cheated and neglected.  He sees those who may have the ability to fight back simply rest and wait for the purposes and vengeance of God, and God pronounces us blessed.  We are blessed because…

We are waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ who will make all things new and right.

Listen to the example James gives starting in verse 7: “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

I remember when I was a boy growing up in Wisconsin the anticipation we developed for the sweet corn harvest.  I want to tell you right now that some of the best corn you will ever eat comes from my home town of Pewaukee.  For a period of about 3 weeks, I would have, if I could have, eaten corn every day and in every way.  I loved it boiled, baked, and grilled, but I especially loved it fresh and raw, right off of the stalk.  My friends and I every summer went on wonderful walks through out the country side through forests and farmers fields, and for someone who loves raw corn, walking in early summer when the corn is only the size of your hand being patient and waiting can be very difficult.  Many of my friends just could not wait, so they plucked the baby corn and ate it any how, but not me.  You see I knew that if I just waited another month or so, that sweet delicacy would finally arrive and I would then eat my fill!

So we wait, but remember, we are to wait patiently and anticipate the joy that will be realized when Christ finally comes again.  And because we are waiting for our Savior and Lord, we will wait in a way that will also help others wait.  So… “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” [V. 9]  In other words, don’t take your frustration or your lack of patience out on other Christian folks, because they’re waiting just like you, and like you, they too are struggling to have patience, the patience which comes from God, as a Father gives gifts to His children.

In God’s Word, He has lavishly given to us wonderful examples of saints who have gone before us who were able to persevere in the toughest of trials.  Look at the lives of the prophets who spoke God’s Word and in His name.  Don’t we consider those great men and women of God blessed because through their lives and patience God was able to not only speak through them in their time, but still speaks in the Word preserved in our time?  And what of Job, that great champion of God, who through God’s gift of faith and patience, was able to not only persevere but latter speak great Words about the resurrection and Paradise that still give us hope.  Listen: “Oh that my words were written!  Oh that they were inscribed in a book!  Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!” [Job 19:23, 24]

Let me just interject and say to Job, “Dear brother they were written down in a book that bares your name.  But the words are not only yours, but the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ!  A Word that not only is written in the rock, but is the Rock of our Salvation!  But go ahead Job and preach on…

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.  And (long) after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh… I shall see God… Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  (And oh) My heart faints within me!” [Job 19:25-27]

These Words are for you dear baptized.  They are meant to give you strength and patience as you hold on to the cross of our dear Savior Jesus.  They are meant to give you joy in the midst of tribulation as you wait for that great and final day, which is the resurrection of the body.

The ancient church has always found encouragement in the truth of scripture, which clearly proves that God’s ways are not only different from man’s ways, but in fact they are far superior. Where the world scoffs at pain and suffering, the church knows that these things will inevitably come to one who gathers at the cross of Jesus.  But the cross of Jesus is what the world calls dead and foolish.  The world will show you the evidence of an opulent and materialistic life, and they declare that is real life.

Martin Luther said that each of us are called to look at two different kinds of wood, one that the world says is living and one that the world calls dead.  But he says, “From the living wood (the tree of knowledge of good and evil) came sin and death; from the dead wood (which is the cross of Jesus, comes)  righteousness and life.”  And so Luther warns us, “Do not eat from that living tree, or you will die, but eat of this dead tree; otherwise, you will remain in death.  That is, do not hunger for the things of this world, but for the things that find their source in heaven.

You who are baptized have a new spirit; one that truly wants to eat and enjoy [the fruit] of a tree, so that you will live in God’s Paradise. Let me turn your hearts then, to a tree that is so full of fruit that it could feed all of creation for eternity. But be warned, just as it was difficult for our first parents Adam and Eve to stay away from that living tree, so it is difficult for us to enjoy eating the fruit from the dead tree. This is because the tree in Paradise that was forbidden, was the very image of life, delight, and goodness, while the fruit from the other tree, the cross of Christ is the image of death, suffering, and sorrow.  To the eyes of sinners, one tree is living, the other is as good as dead. Within each of our hearts there is a natural desire to follow the way of glory now, in this life; that is within this life of those who must die, and then there is a natural fear to run from death where we are promised from God the only sure and certain source of life.  This tension between death and life can only be resolved when we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

Taking up the cross is by nature something that causes pain. We do not choose the cross, but it has chosen us. All we are asked to do is agree with God that there is a need for this tree, and then we are to take up the cross, and by faith follow Jesus and live.  We must agree with God that there is a need to be conformed to the image of the Son of God, which was given to us within our baptism. [Romans 8:29]  We must in the Word of God, hear the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts, and by faith believe that “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus can expect and will experience pain and suffering.” [II Timothy 3:12]  We will come to believe that “In the world we will have tribulation.” [John 16:33]. We will know sorrow and weeping in times when the the world will rejoice,” [John 16:20]  But we preach teach, confess, and believe that “If we share in [Christ’s] sufferings we shall also be glorified with him.” [Romans 8:17]  And so we know that “if we are left without discipline, which all experience, then we would be illegitimate children and not sons.” [Hebrews 12:8]

But we who are baptized, have learned by God’s hand to hunger for the fruit of the cross, because we know that the touch of Christ’s hand sanctifies all of our sufferings and sorrows and replaces them with the joy of anticipated future glory. We know that if we run from suffering, then we are siding with the unbelieving world, and turning from our Savior who has given both the gift of salvation and the privilege of sharing in his own passion.

Sadly for those who are perishing, those who do not wish to follow Jesus and bear the cross which God places upon him, there is no future for eternal glory and a return to Paradise.  God will not force them to follow—they are always free to deny Christ. But in so doing they have chosen to forsake the eternal fruit of His cross and will never know the joy of fellowship with Christ.

So hold on dear saints.  What we experience now in our time is no better or worse than the saints who went before us.  The promise that sustained them then is the very same promise that sustains us today.  Even in times where it seems impossible for us to wait for Christ, still we must wait.  Even when there seems to be no supply of patience, still we are ever reminded of God’s baptismal promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  It is in the Word of promise that we find both forgiveness of sins and the strength to hold on and wait.  In the washing of the water and the Word we are promised that though weeping may come to us in the dark times of evening, joy will be ours in the morning, and so we wait.  We wait with the church that has always patiently waited in anticipation, when Christ will come again and usher each of us into His kingdom of power and glory, forever and ever… AMEN!

From the Cross to Glory

September 20th, 2015

17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” [James 3:13]

When we read our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 9:30-37), did the apostles strike you as wise?  Is it ever proper or wise for Christians to argue over who is the greatest?  And yet, here we have the pillars of the church falling for one of the devils greatest allures; a diversion designed to cause the Christian to turn away from the cross that leads to eternal glory, and instead take a path of the world, the path of Satan, which promises that you can have the glory right now!  Do you want to avoid that dark path?  If so then pay attention to this message and understand that the devil will do everything he can to get you to follow his way and not the way of the cross.

Our Plea: This morning, each of us must understand the danger that surrounds us on our pilgrimage we call life.  We must seek to forever have this prayer, this plea on our lips: “Save me, O God, by your name; vindicate me by your might.  Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth.” [Psalm 54:1, 2]

All around us are folks that hunger for more and more earthly things.  They try to scratch an itch and feed a hunger that they can’t even truly identify.  For some, the allure is simply gathering more things, and for others its money, and for others it’s power and prestige.  They work to be noticed and clamor when they feel they are being ignored or devalued.  But what did Jesus tell his disciples was the key to being great in heaven?  Listen: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Is that Word from God enough to stifle your desire for a greater reward here on earth?  Now before you answer that question, let me simply say that if you lack faith, the answer will be “No!”  But take heart, the good news for you this morning is the truth that the very Word of God you have been hearing, a word which has already been delivered to you, is the same word within you, which creates that kind of faith.  There’s just one thing standing in the way of you and this faith, and it is what we will call…

Our problem: “Strangers are attacking me; ruthless men seek my life—men without regard for God.” [Psalm 54:3]  The Prophet Jeremiah, in our Old Testament lesson, like King David, was familiar with enemies who wanted to shut him up and shut him down.  Jeremiah was speaking out against the sin of the people.  He was warning that God was getting ready to take away their kingdom and lead them away in captivity.

In the people’s minds this could not be right; they had made great progress with their struggle to include God in their lives and government, and now all God had to do was cosign their plans for greatness.  So, if Jeremiah was going to continue living and speaking to them as if they were still gross sinners, well then they would just have to shut him up!

Jeremiah had what appeared to be a problem.  The people wanted one thing and God wanted another.  On the one hand, if Jeremiah simply shut up and went along with the plan of the people, life would certainly be easy for him; he would win his popularity back and most certainly would be well taken care of.  This path is what we will call the way of glory.  But God has a special word for double minded people like that, and Jeremiah certainly did not want to have God declare him to be an “adulterer!”

Does that sound a little harsh to you?  Well in our Epistle lesson [James 2:13-4:10], James addresses the Christians of his time who were grumbling against God.  They were upset that God had not blessed them with the “good life” as it appeared the Godless were enjoying.  So he answered them like this: “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?”

Truth be told, we are a lot like those early Christians.  Doesn’t our real problem lie within our own hearts?  Sure the devil is prowling like a lion seeking to devour all he can, but he can’t have us, because we have already been saved through Christ; we already have been washed with the water and the Word.  We already have been given and claimed the wonderful promises of eternal life; promises that come directly from God.

So what is our problem?  Is it other people; folks that just want to trip us up and shut us down?  No, they’re just tools of the devil, and remember the devil has been defeated.  Friends, our real problem comes from within our own hearts; those passions and desires that are modeled by the unbelieving world that has deceived us into thinking are necessary in order to be a success.  We have been tricked into thinking that we have to have it, but God won’t provide it, so instead of taking our anger to God, we take it out on our neighbor in the form of fighting and quarreling.  As a result, we become distant with God and quit talking to Him.  And so, because we don’t ask we don’t receive.  Or we ask and don’t receive, because we are asking in a way that is not God pleasing; a way that seeks only to satisfy our passions and desires but gives God no glory and offers no help to our neighbors in need.

When we embrace a life like this, we have become a friend of the world, and a traveler along the way of glory. And to this life style God indeed calls us adulterers.  We have left our first love and embraced the selfish path of self fulfillment; we have become a friend of the world, and a friend of the world is an enemy of God.

So what are we to do?  We are to embrace…

Our Solution: “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.  Let evil recoil on those who slander me; in your faithfulness destroy them.” [vs.4, 5]

Long ago, David was persecuted by Saul relentlessly, but never captured by him; David always was given a way of escape by God.  Jeremiah like wise was persecuted by his own family and friends, from the very town he was from, but God saved him.  And now like those dear saints that went before us, it is our turn to trust in God as our great helper and sustainer.  It is our turn to ask God to destroy both the evil and the slanderer that surrounds us.  And it is our turn to realize that our prayer has already been answered.

At the cross, we see that Jesus allowed the crowd of accusers and glory road travelers to load both their accusations and their sins upon His shoulders.  He allowed them to ridicule and humiliate Him by hanging him upon the cross.  He listened as the devil laughed and the glory mongers cheered.  And as He drew His last breath, He sighed and said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And then with His final words He proclaimed, “It is finished.  Their debt of sin is paid in full.  They are made right and new with the Heavenly Father.”

In His life and in His death, Jesus Christ the very Son of God, traveled the way of the cross.  The Lord of glory became the least of men so that you could become the greatest.  And all He asks of each of us is that we believe that this is enough to guarantee the world of an eternal glory that far out does any glory promised in this life time.  He asks you to walk with Him from the cross to your baptism, where all of His work upon the cross is given to you.  All of your fears, worries, and frustrations have been replaced with faith, salvation, and joy, if you will just walk this way of the cross; if you will walk by faith and trust in Christ.

While your sin may be great, and your faith weak, Jesus asks us this morning to understand that His grace, that is the Father’s love unearned by you is greater.  Through the way of the cross, God is asking each of us this morning to submit ourselves to Him.  To humble ourselves before the Lord, so that when our travel on the way of the cross is finished, each of us will finally realize…

The Promised Outcome: “He has delivered me from all of my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph upon the defeat of evil and the glory that awaits me in Paradise!” (Psalm 54:6)

The Lord alone will lift us up into a resurrected life of glory within God’s Paradise restored.  There within Paradise each of us will once again walk with our LORD in peace forever.  This is an outcome guaranteed for the travelers who follow the way of the cross.  It is an outcome realized by faith but not yet by sight.

I pray that faith is enough to sustain you on this journey of life.  I pray that it is enough to continue bringing you back regularly to this house of prayer for God’s Divine Service of Word and Sacrament.  And I pray that through His Service you will allow Him to equip you to live a life of thanksgiving and praise to His holy name.  I pray that when asked by those who are not yet traveling this way of the cross, you would always be ready to answer when asked why you travel such a lonely way simply as David responded in our Psalm this morning: “Because He has delivered me from all of my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph upon the defeat of evil and the glory that awaits me in Paradise… AMEN!”

On Taming the Tongue

September 13th, 2015

16th Sunday after Pentecost, September 6, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” [James 3:6]

With our mouths we both bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse our neighbor, who is made in the likeness of God.  Brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Who among you fears the Lord and obeys His servant?

If some who here are listening to this message this morning are struggling with this sin, and we all struggle, then allow this message to lead you out of the darkness of sin and into the light of God Himself.  Trust in the name of God; rely on this message to speak freedom from this sin.

(James 3:1-12) Isn’t it interesting that James, compares a sinful tongue to a spark of fire, that is able to burn down an entire forest?  Listen: “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.”

With the wild-fires blazing throughout the western United States this is a powerful illustration.  Think of all of the devastation that is being caused by these fires.  What started them?  Who started them?  They don’t know yet, but we can go back just one year ago and have an answer to the “who” question for another serious fire.

Do you remember the Coco’s fire from May of 2014?  That fire caused more than $10 million in damages and threatened the entire San Marcos area and parts of Escondido.  Did you know that the fire was caused by a 13 year old girl who was simply playing with a lighter, and wanted to see what would happen if she set a few leaves of a tree in her yard on fire.  It is hard to believe that just a few leaves caused all of that damage.  Thank God no one was killed.  But if we are talking about fires that take lives, let’s consider perhaps one of the worst fires in our nation’s history, the Great Chicago Fire.

It was started on October 8, 1871 and it burned a full two days until it was finally extinguished.  That fire ripped through the urban residential area of Chicago and left an estimated 300 people dead and another 100,000 others homeless.  More than 17,000 structures were destroyed and damages were estimated at $200 million dollars.  The cause of that fire was never determined, but experts agree that it probably was not O’Malley’s cow, as urban myth would have us believe.

Back to the truth behind the illustrations, the tongue is like that lighter in the hand of the child, or like the spark that set off the Great Chicago fire.  When it set’s off a spark by way of a word of anger, gossip, or untruth about a person or an organization, the results can be devastating.  It defiles both the source, that is the one speaking the word, and the target, that is the one the word is spoken against, setting on fire the entire course of peoples lives, and it is a fire that finds it’s source from the very fires of hell, and the devil himself.

When the word of fire is spoken within a Christian congregation the effects can be, and usually are devastating to that precious gathering of saints.  The wicked tongue defiles not just the one speaking but the whole body of believers, because the sin of gossip and slander is carried from one mouth to another until it has devastated the entire congregation or community.

Martin Luther in his explanation of the Ten Commandments specifically in regards to the 8th Commandment (Thou Shall Not Lie), wrote that Christians are absolutely forbidden to speak evil of other people—even if what they say is technically “true.” The only exceptions are those who in their God-given vocations (civil judges, parents, pastors), are asked to judge others so that evil does not go unpunished. But Luther also points out that the commandment also directs us to perform a lot of positive works of love and service to others.  He says, “We should use our tongue to speak only the best of all people, to cover the sins and infirmities of our neighbors, to justify their actions, and to cloak and veil them with our own honor.” Luther then closes with this thought, “There is nothing around us or in us that can do greater good or greater harm in temporal or spiritual matters than the tongue, although it is the smallest and weakest member.”

It is not hard to find modern proof of the evil that comes from the human tongue. Simple lies are everywhere; they mask our selfishness, cover our sins, and destroy our relationships. We lie to other people and we even lie to ourselves. But the evil of the tongue isn’t just limited to lies: many times we manipulate the truth (to our advantage) and use it like a weapon or an untamed fire. And then we justify the damage and pain we cause by saying, “I just spoke the truth!” In fact, we might even be tempted more strongly to excuse and justify our slander, backbiting and lies by claiming that we are defending God’s Truth.

Sadly, in today’s world, what James called a sin of the “tongue” has taken on a whole new identity. Today the tongue has been extended to things like text messages, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, email, and many other things that serve as powerful amplifiers for our flaming, poisonous tongues—or rather, our flaming, poisonous hearts. In fact, technology seems to give us license to fling nasty words out into the world that we might be ashamed or embarrassed to say aloud, to someone’s face. Every day we are invited to slander people and spread lies and filth by simply clicking “like” or “share.”

Here is a truth worth remembering: The “tongue” itself is not the real root of the problem. Our words are a vicious, contagious symptom, but the disease itself comes from our hearts.  Jesus taught us this when He said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” [Mark 7:21–23]

“From the same mouth”—our mouth—“come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”  So what are we to do?  We are to take our sinful mouths and hearts to the Lord.

(Mark 9:14–29) In our gospel lesson, Jesus is joined by His disciples and a great crowd.  What is interesting to note is He had just left the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, and He had just informed them that now was the time for them to make their way to Jerusalem so that He could suffer and die for the sins of the world.

From within the crowd, an unnamed father of a boy who was possessed by a demon, approaches Jesus and says in the form of a request for help, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “ All things are possible for one who believes.”  To that statement, the father replied, “I believe.  Help me with my unbelief.”  And to that request for faith, Jesus cast out that demon with a simple Word, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

After that, in a private time and place, the disciples demonstrated both their amazement and frustration with this simple question: “Why couldn’t we cast the demon out?”  And Jesus answered, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  What kind?  The kind that is beyond your ability to control; the kind that is too powerful for you to defeat.

Dear friends, I submit to you that our tongues are this very kind.  We have already proven that the fire of the tongue and the damage it causes finds it’s very source from within the fires of hell.  Try as you might, you can never on your own cage that venomous reptile and prevent its escape and damage; even though the cage that it is in is your own mouth, and all you need to do is shut the door; that is shut your mouth.  So what are we to do?  Cry out to Jesus in prayer, and confess the truth that you are powerless to master this sin, and by faith trust that He will give you victory by walking with you.  Look to Jesus, the Master and teacher and He will speak the very Words that will give you victory.

(Isaiah 50:4–10) In our Old Testament lesson, we are given the very source and type of help.  Listen: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.  Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.”

These Words are not only for you to hear, but it is God’s desire that they come from within your own heart; out of your own mouth.  Here God tells you what work He desires to do within you.  But this work is completely dependent upon the work of Another.  Listen: “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.”

This Servant willingly suffered the treatment reserved for criminals in the ancient East.  This servant willingly gave His back to those who struck him; He was whipped within an inch of His life.  No natural human being, no Christian, so long as they are still in the flesh could endure all of  this mistreatment without anger or desire of revenge.  Is there any doubt who this Servant that has come before us is?  This Servant is Jesus Christ, the Holy Son of God, Champion of the Father, the Savior of the Church, who alone could endure that much suffering and pain for others. He is the very One that drives out demons with a Word.

In His passion, within His suffering and death upon the cross, Jesus knew that He was doing all of that for you.  He desired that you would receive His Work as payment for your many sins along with His gift of faith.  He desired that You would then speak the Words of Isaiah as your own Words on account of His Word and Work.  Listen: “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me?  Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.”

In His passion Jesus has defeated our lying tongues and the sinful heart that controls that serpent of fire.  Through His suffering, death, and resurrection He gives victory over the judgment of this sin, and within your baptism, He gives to each of you both the ability and the desire to master the tongue and the heart.

Dear friends, Jesus has given us the victory over sin, even over the evil that comes out of our hearts and from our tongues.  And now, he asks you to fight to live out what He has already given to you… victory.  This victory is both received and held onto by us when we walk in the fear of the Lord.  The fear of the Lord is in reality, respect for our God who gives us free and faithful grace.

The Lord has graciously promised deliverance from sin, death, and hell. As God’s prophet Isaiah and all of Scripture tells us, the Lord has and will fulfill His promise through his Servant, Jesus Christ. Because we are all sinners, we must have this deliverance from the hand of the Lord of grace. Before God, all of us stand in absolute terror of the punishment we deserve because of our sins. But the Lord of free and faithful grace has declared all sinners not guilty because of this great Servant.

And now, we live our lives here in this sinful world as believers who possess deep respect and awe for our Lord; and because of this, we listen to his Word and allow it to change us. By His grace, every day we become captivated and interested in the Word of this Servant, Jesus Christ. And we prove our redemption and eternal salvation to others by showing appropriate fear of the Lord and allowing the Word of his great Suffering Servant to change us as a light and example of one who agrees with God and struggles to control both our tongues and our actions. This Servant, our Savior Jesus Christ has redemption and victory for everyone. That’s why he asks the world to listen to Him.

May all who fear the Lord and trust in the Word of His Servant find deliverance, forgiveness, and life.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Ephphatha… Be Completely Opened!

September 6th, 2015

15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 6, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church,
San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street,
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. [Mark 7:34, 35]

Our text this morning is not about faith healing, although there was a healing of a man who was deaf and could no longer speak.  Our text is not meant to show you the power of faith, as if it was some secret force that you can use to steer your life in a positive way, thus avoiding the pain, sorrow, and tragedy of life.  No, instead, all of our texts this morning, are examples of God doing and desiring things His way; of God simply doing what He has already declared He will do for us and in us, if we will simply yield to His will and trust in that will.

This morning, God says to each of us, “Ephphatha” that is, “Be completely open!”

This morning God has made a way that you must follow in order to know Him and have an abundant life; it is a way that only He can provide.  It is the way of faith that allows you to not just hear Him speak, but to be changed by the very Words He speaks.  Will you be opened?

In our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 35:4-7), God instructs me to declare to you His children, the same message that He instructed the prophet Isaiah to declare to the children of Israel who were in bondage in Babylon:  “Say to those who have an anxious heart, to those who are quick to loose faith and grow discouraged and want to run away and hide when the devil attacks, “Be strong!”

Say to my children, “The devils have already been defeated and they are powerless to harm you; their roar and fierceness is only an illusion to trick you into scattering out of fear.  Say to my children that even if all of the devils awaiting punishment were to gather in mass against you, your God is still much stronger and able to save.”

Say to them, “Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you from all of your enemies.”

These Words can be hard for us to hold onto because they are Words about the future, that is, they require us to have faith; to wait.  The Israelites were in bondage in Babylon, but they had been in that position before, hadn’t they?  They were in bondage in Egypt much longer than they were held in Babylon, and still God made good His promise.  And now, the prophet Isaiah declares that God is getting ready to do something even greater, very soon, so hold on and trust God.

And indeed God did return a remnant back to Judah; back to temple worship and back to another chance to walk by faith with their God.  And how did they do?  Well, once again they began to loose faith in God’s presence and promises; they began to replace His pure Word with the delusional teachings of men.  They began to question the prophet’s declarations of promised healing and restoration to the land.  What declarations?  Listen: “God will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.  For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.”

They began to grumble that God was not keeping His end of the bargain; that He was slow in restoring glory to the nation Israel. They may have given up on God and His Word, but remember, God always does what He says He will do.  And if we miss it, then the fault is ours and not God’s.

In our gospel lesson (Mark 7:31-37), God’s own Son, Israel’s Messiah and our Savior is demonstrated in all of His glory, breaking into the time and lives of men.  He enters a region of the Decapolis, by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, the same area that Elijah settled into with a widow, whose oil and flour would not run dry; the very same widow whose son was raised from the dead.

It’s within this region, Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel and the Champion and Savior of the church begins to demonstrate to Israel His credentials as the Messiah.

Some well meaning people heard that Jesus was passing through; Jesus the healer, the master who can even drive out demons, so they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to heal him by laying His hand upon Him.” [v. 31-33]  But Jesus does not work as man demands, but instead He does the work and will of God.  So…

Jesus takes the man aside into an isolated place, away from the crowd and they are alone; just Jesus and the man that is to be healed.  Jesus looks into the deaf mans eyes, and begins to engage in a sermon that will bring both faith and obedience; a sermon that will bring not simply a healing, but a right relationship of faith with God and eternal life.

Once Jesus has the deaf man’s attention he uses his fingers to communicate; He places them in the man’s ears.  Now the man understands that Jesus is getting ready to do something that will restore his hearing.  Next Jesus spits and then touches the man’s tongue.  The man understands that Jesus is also going to fix his speech.  Then, with the man still intently looking at Jesus and understanding His instructions through this amazing sign language, Jesus looks up to heaven, informing the deaf man that this healing comes from God alone.  Finally, Jesus takes a deep breath and sighs, signifying that the deaf man should pray to God for this healing, and if God is willing it will happen.  But what this man did not understand yet was…

It was God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ who was preaching and teaching Him God’s will.  With the authority of God, Jesus declares “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And with that command, our Old Testament lesson begins to unfold in a powerful way to both the people of Israel and the people today; if they and we will be opened, if we will understand that God means what He says and accomplishes what He promises.  Now in a very physical way, the eyes of the blind are being opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame will begin to leap like a deer and the tongues of the mute will sing for joy.”

But God’s ultimate truth, the sermon that must be received as anxiously as the deaf man understood Jesus, is spiritual and eternal in its true sense.

Eternal life comes with great joy, and within the spirit of a forgiven sinner, the waters of eternal life begin to break forth out of places that before were desolate and lifeless.  Like streams of living water in the desert, the Spirit of God brings new life into the reborn hearts of sinful men and women, much like a great pool of fresh water springing out of the burning desert sands.  Where once a human heart was the place of evil and the home of jackals and devils, now all things are new, and new life comes out of the person that has been redeemed by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This morning, Jesus says to each of you “Ephphatha—be completely opened” and if you will not reject this gift of God, you will be opened.

Think about those disciples whose ears of understanding were also stopped up concerning the feeding of the five and then seven thousand (Mark 8:17-18), who “having eyes and not seeing, and ears and not hearing” were more concerned about what they would eat, than the spiritual feast Jesus was feeding them. Or, think about the disciples’ lack of understanding about Jesus parables (Mark 4:13).  And think about those disciples, who because they were unable to hear or  understand, were filled with fear at the empty tomb (Mark 16:8).

And think about us, who are also in the very same way His disciples. Couldn’t God also say of us, “You have eyes, but do not see; and ears, but do not hear” because we are so caught up in the worries of the day, so caught up in the real and the material, looking for miracles to rescue us from the reality of the pain and the rejection which we experience.

We too, like the deaf mute, and the disciples, find ourselves this very moment alone with Jesus in an isolated place within our hearts, struggling to understand Jesus, and afraid of all of the times of failure that we allow to define our past.

Think about the times when we are unable to hear the Good News, because of the noise and distraction within us and around us. Think about those times when we felt alone and abandoned because of what was happening around us, when we needed to have others bring us to be touched and to have that word spoken—Ephphatha.  Be opened to make possible the entrance of the power of our Lord.

“Ephphatha — be completely opened!” Think about those ears that don’t particularly want to be opened because of what they might hear, those ears which do not want to hear the Lord’s word but are so eager for the spectacular, those eyes which would rather see signs and wonders, (Mark 7:11-12), and none would be given.  Those ears that wanted to hear the glory stories, but instead are told only about the life of Jesus, and the cross of His suffering for all sinners (Mark 7:31). They heard only of the way they must follow, taking up their own crosses (Mark 7:34-35); and about their lives that must be given in service to each other, about being last and least rather than first and greatest (Mark 9:35); and about losing their lives to find them (Mark 7:34-35). These, too, are the ears of the deaf mute, unable to hear the Good News. They are the deaf ears afraid to hear what they have to lose, therefore, deaf also to what they have to gain.

These ears are all around us within our community and even within our own families.  We feel great fear and pain because the people we love will not be opened; we fear and worry because we know that if they will not be opened and receive new life they will be lost for an eternity.  So what can we do?  First, we hear Jesus tell us “Ephphatha!”  Believe that He has risen!  He has risen and so shall you!  The grave is not an end, but a signal that your promised life, your eternal life has begun!

Ephphatha, and believe; Ephphatha and continue speaking to those who have not, can not, or will not hear the Words of Jesus, simply because that is God’s way and His will!

Like the deaf man, we follow Jesus’ instruction and we pray to God, but also like the crowd that brought the deaf man to Jesus to be healed, we bring others here, to God’s house to hear the Words of healing.

In the final analysis, this really is a healing miracle story. “Ephphatha!” breathed from the mouth of God, and the kingdom was opened to the deaf who could not hear, and even to the ones who didn’t want to hear.

“Ephphatha!” On the cross, no spectacular display of glory, only the mundane death of a man very much on the outside with the outsiders, and rejected, He breaths His last “Ephphatha,” and opens the gates to God and to paradise restored.

“Ephphatha!” And the stone door of the tombs of all those who have gone before us in death are opened and they are given a resurrected life where once only death could be found.

“Ephphatha!” In the bread and the cup, in the body and the blood “given and shed for you,” we hear it again, anew, when we’re deaf to the news, when we’ve been brought, unable to come ourselves.

“Ephphatha!” We hear it again, each time the forgiveness of our many sins is fresh and new, along with the hope and confidence that we are no longer outcasts, but children of God.

Ephphatha! Ephphatha! Ephphatha! And behold, we declare with those before us, “God’s grace is truly amazing.  He has accomplished all things well! Even the deaf He makes actually to hear, and the dumb actually to speak! Even a wretch like me and a wretch like you!  AMEN!”

Let God Dress You!

August 30th, 2015

14th Sunday after Pentecost, August 30, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm!” [Ephesians 6:13]

The audio you’ve just heard will act as our mental hook to hang our message on; it is from the 1993 hit by Tom Petty, “I Won’t Back Down!”

There is a battle raging all around us; it is unseen but certainly not unfelt.  It is the classic battle of good vs. evil.  In this battle, God is protecting what is His.  He is protecting those little lambs of Jesus—those little lambs that He suffered and died for.  God is protecting you and me from Satan and the devils who are following a very simple game plan… they want you to back down from the Word and promises of God!  What we must remember though is that devils are evil cowards; they know that ultimately they have been beaten by the cross of Jesus Christ, so their goal is to take as many people as they can down with them into the dark and evil abyss for eternity.

Dear friends, the best target for devils to attack is an easy target… an unprotected target.  So they will quickly attack someone who is not centered in the grace of Jesus Christ…someone who is counting on something else for their protection other than the whole armor of God!

So this morning, as with every Lord’s Day, Christ through His Divine Service wants to dress you for action, so you won’t back down; so you will be able to withstand the enemy!

Evil is all around us. It is the unseen force that the devil uses to separate us from the Love of God, which is ours in and through Christ Jesus.  It is a spiritual force, an army if you will, that is well organized under the leadership of the devil.

A. St. Paul in our Epistle reading (Ephesians 6:10-20) breaks down this spiritual army of darkness into 4 divisions: Rulers, Authorities, Cosmic Powers, and Spiritual Forces of Evil.

If we were to put this in contemporary warfare terms we would say the Ruler is Satan Himself, and his Joint Chief of Staff or his generals are the Authorities, the Cosmic Powers would be those who control the Spiritual Weapons of Mass Destruction (culture norms that undermine the law of God), and the Spiritual Forces of Evil would be his foot soldiers.  Their concentrated goal is to ensure that we are so overcome with evil that we will simply surrender our lives to them and hope for the best.  In other words, their attacks are meant to “shock and awe” us to the point that individual Christians and the church at large become demoralized and back down!  Back down from what?  From the inerrant Word of God; from the truth that God is always right and that sinful men cannot be right without God’s will and guidance.

B. This battle isn’t something that is distant and doesn’t merit your immediate concern.  It is much closer than you think.  It is raging all around you.  Just watch the news on any given night and see how our community, our nation and our world are being divided and overrun by violence, crime, and hatred.  In fact, the enemy is so close that he is even battling within you!  But don’t take my word for it, listen to our Savior’s own Words found in our gospel lesson (Mark 7:14–23): “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these things come from within, and they defile a person.”  There you have it friends—the battle is not so distant after all, is it?

C. “Yes Pastor, but God’s Word says that I am saved…I am baptized!” Very good!  You see God’s work for what it is, a work of love and protection from anything that separates us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus!  Indeed you are right that your baptism is God’s assurance that He will never leave or forsake you.  And yet, the battle rages around us and within us.  Our old sinful nature loves to work against these precious baptismal promises.  It won’t admit that it has been crucified with Christ and drowned within the waters of Holy Baptism.  The singular goal of that sinful flesh and the powers of darkness that it clings to is to chip away at your faith a little at a time until you have lost your trust in Christ’s saving presence in your life.  But how?  By getting you to doubt the faithfulness of God’s Word.  This is the oldest trick the devils have, but it is still their greatest weapon.

D. Doubt is the weapon they used against Eve in the garden, when the devil asked her, “Did God really say?”

Eve’s error, her sin was not that she listened to the serpent, but that she did not silence him with the Word of God! One little Word from God and the devil would have fled.  One simple statement and he would’ve been defeated: “YES!” she should have said, “ Thus says the Lord our God, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” [Genesis 2:16-17]  If Eve had responded with the true Word of God, the serpent would have slithered back into his hole!  But Eve entered into a battle with the master deceiver without the whole armor of God!

Friends, Eve discovered this truth after her error, after her own husband abandoned his role as spiritual leader and joined in her sin.  If they, and those after them could speak to us this morning, they would be encouraging us right now to take up the whole armor of God and “Let God clothe us!”  What is this armor of God?  It is God’s own Word!

II. Friends, in your baptism, God has assured you that you are right now connected to His inexhaustible source of power, strength, and might. You are never to think of yourself as helpless and defeated.  You see, you have been joined together with a Lord who has conquered sin, death, and the devil.  He is the Stronger One who has defeated the strong one.  Because of your baptism, you are assured of a certain amount of power, but it needs to be augmented; it needs to be fed and trained.  This is done when we allow God to strengthen our relationship with Him through His Living Word.  It is through His Word that we are given daily strength to defeat our old sinful nature and silence all of the devils.  Through His Word, God assures us that He is always for us and never against us.  How do we acquire this Word?  Again, by putting on the whole armor of God!

III. All of the armor described by Paul is just a different application of being in God’s Word!

A. Let me give you 6 contemporary presentations that explain this armor.

#1 God’s Word is truth. Truth is always truth, but for it to be your truth you must experience it.  You must live it out.  “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” [John. 8:32]  But how do we know the truth?  By reading and hearing the Word of God.  We must make time and take time for our own private and personal study of God’s Word!

#2 Because many times, our personal study time leaves us with many questions, we discover that we need to be a part of an organized Bible Study group that will help us find answers and grow in the Lord.

#3 Liturgical worship is just another way that we take in the Word of God.  In our Lutheran worship, God speaks His Word to us and we speak and even sing it back to Him.

#4 In the Holy Sacraments, God’s Word speaks His forgiveness of our many sins to us, which then causes us to confess even more sins to Him, which then in turn moves Him to speak once again the gospel—the absolution for His Son’s sake.  In the sacraments the Word comes alive for us so that we can hear, see, touch, smell, and even taste forgiveness!

#5 When we memorize God’s Word, it becomes an offensive weapon that we can use to drive away the devil.

ILLUS: Luther said it best in our sermon hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” listen: “though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; They cannot over power us.  Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage.  His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!  One little word subdues him.”

What is this little word?  It is a verse of scripture that you have memorized for the sole purpose of silencing the devil!  There are many verses to choose from; the more you have the greater your courage.  Here are some good ones: “Baptism now saves you” [1 Peter. 3:21]. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” [Philippians. 4:13] “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Galatians. 2:20] “  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. [John. 6:68]  Anyone of these little words and many others WILL silence the devil, make him tremble, and flee for his life, because you are letting him know that you know, that Jesus destroyed his hold over you upon the cross.  And in your baptism this victory of Christ was made yours in a very real and personal way!

“But isn’t it hard to memorize scripture?” Not at all, in fact I’ll bet you already have a few simple words memorized.  If you have been singing and saying our liturgy, you already have quite a bit ready to use.  Dear friends, have your sword, the word of God ready and you will send the devil and the temptations of sin scurrying away like a whimpering puppy!

Finally, #6, the armor of God is with you when you allow God to put His gospel shoes on you; when you are simply living out your calling as a saved and redeemed child of God. When you live as a Christian parent, child, neighbor, policeman, lawyer, barber, or whatever other station of life you find yourself in, you are wearing your gospel shoes.  You are demonstrating and speaking the love of God to your neighbor.  You are witnessing the truth of John 3:16, which says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  We are to be this as individuals and we are to be this as a congregation.

B. It is my prayer that you are individually living out this calling everyday as God leads you in life.  It is my hope for this congregation that we will also be continually and intentionally looking for ways to engage our community in gospel conversations.  We can do this when we find ways to serve our neighbor and sacrificially love them as Christ first loved us.  Why?  So that they too may know how to obtain and put on the full armor of God.

CONCLUSION: But for this to be true for you as individual Christians and for Trinity as a congregation that is a part of the universal church, we must utilize what is perhaps our secret weapon… prayer!

You see, when we leave this house of worship, we may be tempted, due to the pressure of others, to subtract from the Word of God when ever it makes us or them uncomfortable. It is times like this that we must call out to Him so that He may respond with Divine strength that will both bolster our courage and silence our doubts.  We pray to Him and then He reminds us that while we may have left this house of worship, we have not left His presence or taken off the Armor that He has suited us with during the Divine service. And we must remember what we stand to lose if we back down; if we refuse to stand on God’s ground, which is life… abundant life!

Moses said God gives people his Word and commands “so that you may live.” The pathway to the only life worth living leads to God. “I have come,” Jesus said, “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

This dear friends is the will of God for us… it is why Jesus died for us.  It is God’s means to save us and then equip us to tell everyone what He has done, even for the entire world!  May you continue to allow God to dress you for battle, and may your feet continue to lead you out as His ambassador of peace within the victory of Jesus Christ…AMEN!

I Agape You!

August 23rd, 2015

13th Sunday in Pentecost-B, August 23, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).”

Of course those Words of our text are not directed at you the Baptized, are they?  Isn’t it true that in Holy Baptism you have been recreated into the image of Christ; has not God declared you holy, perfect, and righteous on account of Christ?  Certainly this is true, but then why oh why do we have so much trouble becoming what God has declared we are, shall become, and always shall be?  Because we do not understand!

If ever there was a text that proved just how shallow our understanding is and conversely, how deep and vast our misunderstanding is, our Epistle lesson this morning (Ephesians 5:22-33) must be that text. Right off the bat, half of us who are  married have probably been offended, listen: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

Are you offended by this? If you aren’t it is may be because you are soft peddling what this little word “submit” means, so let me give you the dictionary meaning: “To give over or yield to the power or authority of another.” Now to all of you ladies who are married, ever been married, or are contemplating marriage, remember two things if you would, please.  First, this is not your pastor declaring these Words, but God the Holy Spirit declaring them through Holy Scripture; so please direct your angst where it belongs.  Second, the ability to submit to your Christian husband finds its origin in a kind of love that is completely foreign to you; that is, its origins are from outside of you.  So, if you are bothered by these Words, there is a good chance that you really don’t understand what these words mean, but you will soon enough.

Ok, now that I have made half of you married folks uncomfortable and the other half probably feeling a bit smug, lets take a look at the other half of that text: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” [Vs. 25-28]  Again dear Christian husbands, like the wives before you, I want to remind you that this kind of love will never find its source from within your own heart.  To understand where this love comes from, we must look to Christ.  How much does Christ love the church; how much does He love you?  Does he just love you like a brother or close friend?  Does He love you because He is crazy mad in love with you, your smile, your personality, and well, you see where I’m going, don’t you?  No to both of things, but rather, Christ loves you this much (arms stretched out as if hanging on a cross).  So husbands here is how you must love your wives; enough to sacrifice yourself, your needs, and desires, so that your wife is always first.  You must love your wife enough to insist that even if her physical needs are being met, the most important needs, which are spiritual will be met by Christ through you and the church you dutifully bring her to, which declares and provides all of God’s Word, both His Law and the Gospel.  That means you will not only make sure she hears the gospel, which is the forgiveness of sins, but she will also experience the gospel from you!

Now for the rest of you who do not find yourselves within the station of Christian marriage, may I remind you of St. Paul’s Words from last week, which are found just before our assigned Epistle reading this morning?  Listen: And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. [Ephesians 5:18-21]

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ!  Another way to say this is how Paul explained it in his letter to the Church at Philippi: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” [Philippians 2:3, 4]

This Word from God today then demonstrates the conflict that exists between our will and God’s will; it shows us how badly when left on our own we fall short of God’s will, and how easily we justify our false interpretation of the Word to justify our actions or lack of action.  Isn’t that true; don’t we create our own rationalizations in an attempt to justify ourselves and our actions before God and the church?  Don’t we too, like the Pharisees prefer our tradition, culture, and religion over the expressed will of God?  Don’t we want to prove ourselves by these things, and thus demonstrate that others may have strayed from them, but we have not? While others may be in error and strayed from the boundaries of tradition, we love to think that we still possess the truth.  While others need to change and get right with God, we love to believe that we are are ok with Him.  But to your dear Savior Jesus Christ, this kind of an attitude is simply an effort to honor God with our lips. [Mark 7:1-13]

To Christ this kind of pride is a sin, because it tries to secure God’s pleasure and confirmation of our values and ideas without opening our hearts to His changing, invigorating Spirit.  We would rather have God say a hearty “amen” to our attitudes and actions rather than speaking and living out our own “amens” to His will.  Why is this?  Because we don’t understand…

What we do understand is paying our own way. We do understand earning the right to speak. We do understand making ourselves as presentable as possible, cleaning up our acts before we come to the altar or our prayer closet. We do understand all the pot washing, and hand washing, and utensil washing and all the rites of purification and penance by which we hope to atone for our sins — all those psychological, ritual exercises that we use to make up for our failures and our losses until we feel clean enough to go to God, or feel worthy of the love that he has for us.  We do understand nursing the wounds of a troubled conscience with all of our resolutions of amendments and promises to do better the next time.  But this only proves that…

We do not understand! What we do understand is our piety, like the Pharisees, which willingly offers everything to God as Corban (Mark 7:9-13), leaving nothing left to care for others.  We do not understand that giving to God means giving to others.  We do not understand!  But I’ll tell you something of…

What we do understand, and that is not wanting to look on the inside to our heart where all of our uncleanliness lies; things like selfishness and all evil thoughts; things like fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, wild living, laziness, envy, slander, jealousy, pride, and foolishness. What we do understand is that these are too painful to look at; too guilt-ridden to deal with; too fearful to admit, because they are so far from God, so what do we do with these evil things that live within us?  We put them away in a mental box, out of sight and out of mind.

This morning, what God offers each of us is the key that unlocks the mystery of those things we may not understand, and that key is the truth that we do not yet…

Understand the cross. It is the cross that teaches us to admit that although we have nothing to give to God, it is exactly enough with which we may come to him and be received by him. Like the Syrophoenician woman we are to come only looking for the crumbs and believing that they will be enough. She came, willing to pick up the crumbs, with nothing to offer, with no good reason why Jesus should help her — only believing that He could if he wanted to (Mark 7:24-30). We are to come like those friends of the paralytic who brought him on the stretcher and lowered him through the roof (Mark 2:1-5), we are to bring our desires for our loved ones with no thought of making payment. We, like the paralytic, who had nothing to offer but the belief that Jesus would take care of him, should offer only our need and our trust. Like those who brought the deaf mute (Mark 7:31-37) to Jesus that He might heal him, we have nothing to offer but the hope that he will help.

We have nothing to offer. What we do have here are only a few words, however well thought out. And through those few words God returns to us the Good News of grace and the faith which comes by hearing — we bring together only a hand full of lives, some not even liking the others, lives so often out of control that it seems impossible that they can remain in fellowship, but through the cross, God creates and maintains us as His beautiful bride, the Body of Christ, born of the Spirit and the water.

We do not understand how the cross could have effected all this, but it has; and it does every time we hear the absolution directly after our private and corporate confession of sin; it has every time we hear from this pulpit the proclamation of the Gospel.  We do not understand how the cross could have such a profound impact on how we treat our spouse and our brothers and sisters within the church, but it happens when we hear the meager words, and eat and drink the humble bread and wine, which for us by faith has become the very body and blood of Christ.

Although we may not truly understand all of this now, we believe that it is so by faith, and because of faith, we receive a wonderful gift as one who has been abnormally born, cleansed by the washing of the water with the Word, so that Christ might present us with the rest of His church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we with the church might be holy and without blemish.

Now with the gift of a new kind of love called Agape, we can finally begin to love as Christ loves us; we can and will submit to one another through the power of the Holy Spirit, who moves us to sacrifice our time, talent, and treasure to benefit someone besides ourselves, as Christ through us loves the church, our spouse, and the world through us.  May God continue to fill us with this heavenly gift, which unlocks the mystery of marriage, community, and paradise to each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Lutheran Church-Missourri Synod officials say recent videos ‘lay evil bare’

August 20th, 2015

“It had a face. … Its nose was very pronounced. It had eyelids.” In the seventh Center for Medical Progress video, Holly O’Donnell, ex-procurement technician for StemExpress, describes what she witnessed in a Planned Parenthood clinic: A baby boy, an abortion survivor, was rinsed off and dropped in a pie plate for the procurement of his organs.

She continues, recounting the doctor’s words and her own thoughts: “‘I want you to see something cool, kind of neat.’ … She has one of her instruments and she just taps the heart and it starts beating. I’m sitting here and I’m looking at this fetus, and its heart is beating. ‘You know why that’s happening?’ I knew why it was happening. It’s because an electrical current, nodes were still firing.”

Her words are heart-stopping.

A child, still alive, is then cut — through the chin and face and forehead — so that his brain can be invoiced and sold. “I can’t even, like, describe, like, what that feels like,” O’Donnell says.

But we as the Church can. It feels like — it is — evil.

The infanticide that is occurring at Planned Parenthood must end. It is not simply time to defund that organization; it is time to end abortion in the United States altogether.

As for us, we can no longer claim that we didn’t know Planned Parenthood doctors killed children so ruthlessly or that we weren’t aware human bodies were cannibalized for their organs.

We can’t just say it’s a woman’s choice or shrug our shoulders and mumble, “Who are we to judge?”

We can’t hide behind the half-truths that women have no other place to find health care or that Planned Parenthood provides millions of mammograms per year.

It doesn’t matter. None of it matters.

Children are being killed, their organs are being sold, and their mothers are left with physical scars and — greater still — haunting memories that sometimes never fade. The death of these children is barbaric, and it is evil, and we are without excuse. Silence and attempts at justification are no longer options. The only option is for each one of us to act. Here’s what you can do:

  • Participate in the nationwide Aug. 22 Planned Parenthood protest. Search online for protest locations. Give up two hours of your Saturday morning to speak out against the infanticide occurring at these clinics.
  • Write a letter to the president and to your congressman or senator regarding this issue. Ask them if they’ve watched the videos. Tell them why you believe life — no matter how young — has innate worth. Encourage them to end abortion and to defund any organization that performs them.
  • Support LCMS Life Ministry. Its staff members are committed to teaching why human lives and bodies matter and why there is hope and healing in Christ.
  • Call your LCMS representatives who serve at local, state or federal levels of government. Remind them of their Baptism and confirmation vows, of the faithful confession they are called upon to make, even when it’s unpopular.
  • Use your social media channels to share pro-life resources or LCMS life-related social media imagery (click on “Religious Freedom Toolkit”).
  • Share resources from Lutherans For Life, start a life team or kick-start a young adult life team in your congregation.
  • Pre-order a new, free resource from the LCMS — the Ultrasound Education Project — that will bring the miracle and sanctity of human life into the middle-school and high-school classroom through the use of ultrasound technology.

We see in these videos how Satan thrives on darkness and chaos, how he delights in baby boys and tiny girls picked apart with sterile utensils. And while we are repulsed and horrified, we no longer have the option to turn away. In this, we have been provided with the biggest opportunity of all: to highlight a still greater need that every person — pro-abortion or pro-life — has for the mercy and forgiveness of Christ.

Without Him, we are all capable of performing equally horrifying acts, of seeing children as nothing more than line items or cadavers. But our Lord is merciful. Because of Him, we have been given consciences that cause us to act and tongues that can speak truth in the midst of evil. We have been given His forgiveness in water and Word, and so we speak it, in turn, to hurting mothers and repentant participants in the deaths of these babies. We have the truth, and we are no longer ashamed to call the deaths of 55 million children what it is: genocide.

Our heavenly Father, it turns out, knows a thing or two about hearts. He knows our own, and He knows each heart of each child, even as He knows their faces and noses and eyelids. We are the reason He allowed His own Son’s heart to stop beating for a time, so that ours may thrive for all eternity. In so doing, He shows us His own heart, full of grace, mercy and compassion.

Through each of these videos, He has seen fit to lay evil bare, and by His grace, our hearts and lips are freed to speak, to act, to pray, to repent, to call upon His name and to trust in His heart, which is ever turned toward us in Christ.

It’s all that matters.

Rev. Kevin Robson, Chief Mission Officer
Rev. Bart Day, executive director, Office of National Mission

Rev. Heath Curtis, coordinator, Stewardship Ministry
Rev. Dr. Roosevelt Gray, director, Black Ministry
Rev. Joel Hempel, interim director, Specialized Pastoral Ministry
Rev. Dr. Carlos Hernandez, director, Hispanic Ministry, Church and Community Engagement
Rev. Ross Johnson, director, Disaster Response
Rev. Mark Kiessling, interim director, Youth Ministry
Rev. Todd Kollbaum, director, Rural & Small Town Mission
Deaconess Dorothy Krans, director, Recognized Service Organizations
Tracy Quaethem, project coordinator, Life and Health Ministries
Deaconess Grace Rao, director, Deaconess Ministry
Rev. Steve Schave, director, Urban & Inner-City Mission
Terry Schmidt, director, School Ministry
Rev. William Weedon, director, Worship
Rev. Mark Wood, director, Witness & Outreach Ministry
Rev. Marcus Zill, director, Campus Ministry and LCMS U

On Walking In The Light

August 16th, 2015

12th Sunday in Pentecost-B, August 16, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” [Ephesians 5:15, 16]

What does it mean to walk in the light?  Well, the audio clip from our Service of Light liturgy that we just heard answers that question: “Jesus Christ is the Light of the World.”  So to walk in the light is to walk with Jesus and to be led by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

In or Old Testament lesson (Proverbs 9:1–10), the Light of Christ is personified as lady Wisdom, who has built her house with seven pillars.  The pillars represent the support of a structure, in this case the church, and the number seven signifies the completeness or sufficiency of God.

Wouldn’t you agree that one of life’s more enjoyable moments is when we get together with friends and family for a dinner? The Bible reminds us that there is a more important spiritual feast more needful than any physical food we can eat here on earth: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Wisdom invites us to feast on God’s Word—by going to church, attending Bible classes, reading and sharing the Word at home and with friends.

This morning, Wisdom is announcing that Her house of prayer and Worship is ready; God’s Divine Service is for all who respond.  She calls out from the highest point in the city, because God is not trying to hide His invitation. Wisdom also sends out her maids. These Words can’t help but remind us of Jesus’ parable of the king’s invitation to the wedding banquet for his son (Matthew 22:1–14). He sent out servants to invite people in. Both the maids and the servants might represent God’s ambassadors, both pastors and laypeople who go out with the glorious gospel invitation to anyone and everyone.

But to accept wisdom’s invitation, we must first admit that we need it, that we are among the “simple” and “those who lack judgment” (verse 4). Then we also need to follow through and taste of the banquet—“eat my food and drink the wine” (verse 5). “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves,” writes James. “Do what it says” (James 1:22). All this begins to take place in our lives when the Holy Spirit through the gift of faith shows us that we are sinners in need of Divine forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  But what of those who are invited, but refuse to attend?

The Mockers are also invited. Wisdom has called out and made appeals, prepared her house, and shown to all who come in what she has to offer. Now we see the two possible responses to that appeal—wisdom is either accepted or ignored.

The mocker rejects God’s wisdom. He belittles it and insults it. He calls it a crutch for the weak or foolishness or a waste of time. Jesus used a striking picture to illustrate this: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). In ancient Israel the unclean street dogs were nothing but scavengers. Pigs were unclean animals. Some wicked people simply will not listen to God’s Word. They despise it, mock it, trample all over it.

Moreover, a mocker will hate you for offering him constructive criticism. Don’t even bother trying, says Solomon.  Of course, we can’t prejudge anyone to be a mocker. Let’s not excuse ourselves from witnessing to others simply because some will reject it.  Sad to say, most people do reject wisdom’s invitation. Returning to Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast, the Lord ended the parable on this note: “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).

Who are the mockers of the faith?  I offer simply three examples, but wisdom tells us that there are many more that could be used as an illustration.

Think of the married man who begins to look at internet pornography, and sees nothing wrong with it.  Society and science claim that it is normal and natural for a man to have an active libido.  But Proverbs 5:18-23 in very intimate detail, encourages a man to remember the bride of his youth and not to chase after other beauty.  But this man, this married man is intent on getting what he wants, so he ignores God, embraces the world, and so becomes a mocker of God.

Think about the homeless man on the street that is of sound mind and was raised within a loving Christian family.  How did he get to such a low place?  Because he listened to the voice of folly and not of wisdom.  It started out with what society would call harmless recreational use of drugs.  But then one day he was introduced to Methamphetamine (Chrystal, Ice).  One hit was all it took, and from that point on he began his relentless race down into the rabbit hole chasing the dragon; longing to recreate the original high, that will never be.  He exchanged the truth for a lie; the Holy Spirit for and evil spirit.  Countless family and friends find him and plead with him to come off the streets and get help, but he refuses.  Why?  Because he has become a mocker of God.  He will not listen to the mighty voice of Wisdom, which pleads, “Do not get intoxicated with anything, for that is wickedness, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

And now finally think of the social butterfly, whose life is all about enjoying ever minute of that life.  They may even agree that it was God who gave them the gift of life, but they are so busy pursuing happiness that they very seldom take time out to thank Him for that gift.  Attending Sunday’s Divine Service or Bible Study is simply an inconvenience and a wasted opportunity to enjoy even more of what life has to offer.  These lost souls also are mockers of God.

But a wise man or woman isn’t like that. They gladly receive Wisdom’s invitation; they see a need for forgiveness, and they are open to the correction of God’s Word. By God’s grace, they have not been overcome by pride, and they still are not “above” rebuke, because they know that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  It is the key to Walking as a Child of the Light, Jesus Christ the light of the world which no darkness can overcome.

Children of The Light are you who will not allow the world to deceive you with empty words; words that are empty because they contradict the Word of God.  You will not follow the folly of the world because you know that it is the path of disobedience, which leads only to the wrath of God.  You too at one time, walked the path of disobedience, of darkness and folly.

But for you, Jesus Christ has overcome that darkness and placed you on the path of light and righteousness. In holy baptism, you were born into that light, the Light of the Lord, which no darkness can overcome.  It is this light alone that holds you secure within the kingdom of grace.  This light is all of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through the work of Jesus Christ.  It is a powerful light; a light that gives eternal life. As children of light you walk with your path illuminated by the Wisdom of God.  Being children of The Light, you cannot help but let your light shine in good works for the glory of God.  You were created in rebirth through the washing of the water and the word for this very purpose.  These good works are the very rays of light that shine forth and demonstrate to others just whose child you are.

Because you belong to the Light of the world, you walk within the wisdom of God.  You do not follow the opinion of the majority simply because they disagree with God.  In matters of eternal life and how you live your life, the majority does not rule, God does!

For we Christians who struggle to be Children of the Light, perhaps our greatest temptation is to revert back to the way of darkness.

We live in the midst of people who seem to make it their life’s ambition to cut themselves and others off from the light of God. Try telling them that darkness cannot produce fruit, and they will tell you metaphorically that they’ve developed an appetite for mushrooms, and hang around them long enough and you too will begin to desire that dark fruit!

As we interact and witness to these children of darkness we must remind them and ourselves that those who cut themselves off from Christ can never produce good works that will please God. Even the best works, which the world would call “good,” are sin. Association with darkness is clearly harmful, even detrimental to the Christian. How often do we take part in the unfruitful deeds of darkness? How often do we find ourselves doing shameful things when we cut ourselves off from the light, Jesus Christ, and from our fellow believers? In his first epistle, John says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1:7). Our fellowship with the Lord Jesus, and our fellowship with one another, is clearly important in our walk as children of the light.

Walking together as children of light is a critical witness to the light, Jesus Christ, in this world of darkness. Together we are strong, not easily tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, not easily pulled back into the darkness. First and foremost, in Christian love, our duty is to expose the deeds of darkness done by our own brothers and sisters in the faith. We confront one another in our sin, always with the goal of winning our brother or sister over and proclaiming Christ’s forgiveness.

Secondly, walking as children of light, we expose the deeds of darkness in the world. As the light of Christ shines upon the ungodly, we see the true nature of their deeds—death. It is our prayer that as the light of Christ shines on them, their eyes may be opened to this as well.

This morning, Wisdom calls.  The Light of the World has been revealed and it invites you to step into the path that it has shown, the path of wisdom unto eternal life. To enter into that wisdom, to have that insight, can make all the difference in the world concerning our attitudes and actions. Life depends not on our own wise or foolish efforts, but on the eternal wisdom of God who directs all things toward himself through his Son, Jesus Christ.  Wisdom said, “Come eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.” And in that eating, she promised life, if we will leave simple-ness and walk in the way of Christ.

Our Lord is more specific in our Gospel lesson (John 6:51–69), when he speaks of real life bound up with eating the flesh of the Son of man and drinking his blood.  Without it, there is no real life, only the illusion of life.

The very life of Christ in us depends on our taking Christ into ourselves…not just mentally, not just “turning our heart and life over to him,” but eating and drinking that which he offers — Himself.

Wisdom said, “Turn in here.” To make the change from simple-ness to wisdom, people have to change the direction they’re going. Well, in Christ Jesus, our God changed the direction in which humanity was going. The cross and empty tomb were the simple foolishness with which God has confounded the wise. God is so down to earth in his Son, that many could neither see nor believe that God would act in such a way.  Insight comes when we take the simple action of God and take the simple words of Jesus in faith: ‘This is my Body. This is my Blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” In those words, in this action, is bound up all that God did for us ragamuffins and scoffers in sending the Christ, in having Him teach us, in having Him die, in raising Him on the third day, in receiving Him into the heavenly realms to rule and reign over us. But it happens here…when we turn in and sit at the table.  AMEN!

Back to the Future

August 9th, 2015

11th Sunday in Pentecost-B, August 9, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” (Ephesians 4:17, 18).

The music you just heard is the theme song to the hit three-part movie classic, “Back to the future.”  But before we tie that into our message as a mental hook, I want to ask you a few questions: What does it mean to walk in the futility of our minds?  What does it mean to say, “Brother or Sister So and So, is living a dark life, alienated from God, because they are ignorant of the promises of God?”  Could this really happen to a Christian; could it happen to us?  Could we become so hard in our hearts that we are separated from God, and lost forever?  Well, not if God has anything to say about it, and this morning, He has plenty to say.  And what He says is meant to strengthen your faith so that you will not loose hope; so that you will be strengthened for this journey we call life!

This morning’s Old Testament lesson (1 Kings 19:1-8) is a case study of such a person.  Meet Elijah, perhaps the greatest prophet who ever lived and was called by God.  But Elijah’s greatness was not found within his own merits or personality, but within the almighty God who called him to serve.  And now, Elijah was about to be reminded of the God who takes all His children back to the future.  Let’s look at the ministry and life of Elijah…

Ahab had become the King of Israel.  Scripture says that he sinned “against the Lord more than any of his predecessors.” He married an evil, wicked woman named Jezebel, the daughter of a foreign king, and together they worshiped Baal (a sun god). He also built an image of Asherah, another foreign goddess.  In response to all of the evil Ahab and Jezebel had brought to God’s people, Elijah was moved by the LORD to declare a drought “in the name of the Lord, the living God of Israel – (which meant no dew or rain for 2 to 3 years) or as Elijah would have said it to the diabolical pair,  “Until I say so.”

After the prophecy, God warned Elijah to go and hide, and he did, going first to Cherith Brook near the Jordan where ravens were commanded by God to bring him bread and meat until the brook ran dry.  After that, he stayed with the widow of Zarephath who shared her last handful of flour and bit of olive oil every day “for many days”.  When her son became ill and died, Elijah stretched himself out on the boy and through his prayer, God restored the boy to life.

In the third year of the drought, the Lord told Elijah to return to Ahab.  When they meet Ahab tells Elijah that he is the worst troublemaker in Israel.  Elijah retorts: “You are disobeying the Lord’s commands, and so it is you O King, who is bringing trouble to Israel.”

The two agree to a contest between God and the Baal.  450 prophets of Baal and 400 of Asherah meet little old Elijah on Mt. Carmel.  Elijah tells Israel to make up their minds, which they will serve, God or Baal.  Two altars are built, two bulls are killed and the contest begins.  “Don’t light the fire” Elijah says,  … “let the prophets of Baal pray to their god and I will pray to the Lord, and the one who answers by sending fire — he is God.”  When Elijah’s turn comes after the failure of the false prophets, he pours water on his altar, soaking both wood and sacrifice.  Then God brings fire down and consumes the wood, the sacrifice, the stones of the altar, and scorches the earth.  The people acknowledge the true God, and at Elijah’s command all of the prophets of Baal and Asherah are killed.

When Jezebel learned of the death of the prophets, she sent a message to Elijah:  “May the god’s strike me dead if by this time tomorrow I don’t kill you for what you did to the prophets of Baal.”  Elijah flees … again … and then the account of today’s text occurs.

Elijah, depressed, in hiding after a day of travel, sits under a tree and “wished he would die.”  “It’s too much, Lord.” he prayed.  “Take away my life: I might as well be dead.”  And he sleeps.

The angel of the Lord, who seems to be the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, wakens him and encourages him to eat bread and water, which He provides.  Elijah goes back to sleep, perhaps still to depressed to get up.  The angel of the Lord wakes him a second time and insists that he eat more “or the trip will be too much for you.”  Elijah eats and drinks again and “the food gave him strength to walk 40 days.”  And where is it that he goes?  He goes back to the beginning; back to the birth place of God’s people of faith; he goes back to Horeb, or as you may know it Mount Sinai, the holy mountain of God, the very place where Moses had received the Law from God 600 years earlier.

Have you ever been there; so tired of being beat down by life that you just wanted to lay in bed and never get up?  Maybe some have felt so defeated by life that you actually just wanted to die?  Maybe like Elijah, you said, “Ok Lord, that’s enough.  Just take me home.”  For any of us beaten down by life, by sin, sickness, disease, and the devil, God has His means of strengthening us.  He feeds us His holy bread of heaven, and in the strength of that food, he sends us back out into the wilderness of life, where in the midst of storms and earthquakes we will once again hear him speak; softly and tenderly He speaks to us a message of hope and peace.  So in the strength of that food, the Word of God, we get up and follow where He leads.

In our epistle lesson, we are given a puzzle that only God can solve.  We are told that this is the good news; the gospel that brings us hope, but if we read it on our own, thinking like Elijah that we battle our Ahabs and Jezebels with our own strength, we will find only more despair in those words.  Listen: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” [Ephesians 4:25-32]

How can these words be anything but an accusation of our weakness and failures to do the things we are commanded to do?  By hearing them not as a command, but as an invitation to go out into the wilderness facing whatever comes with the strength of the food Jesus gives; by going back to the beginning we go back to the future that God has prepared for us before hand.  The beginning, our beginning is Jesus Himself, so…

Read those words this way and you will understand: “Because Jesus has given you new life, you will put away falsehood.  Because Jesus died for your sins and appeased the anger of God on your behalf, you will be angry but not sin.  Because Jesus defeated the devil upon the cross, you will likewise give the devil no opportunity to accuse you.  Because it is the work of God’s Holy Spirit to ensure that you are fed the very Words of Jesus unto eternal life, you will not grieve the Holy Spirit.  Because the Holy Spirit, within the very waters of your baptism has sealed you for the day of the resurrection and eternal life, you will allow all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander to be put away from you, along with all malice.  Because in Christ you are always shown God’s friendly heart, you too will be kind to others and tenderhearted, forgiving your neighbor as God in Christ forgave you.”

And there my friends is the power of God that assures you that the food he gives is enough for your journey.  The word says, “As God in Christ forgave you.”  Do you hear the good news in those words?  Forgiveness is a done deal; it already has been pronounce.  Now by faith, you must live that out.  When you fail and fall to sin, you must get back up strengthened for the journey of life in the food you are fed.  And what is that food?  It is the very beginning and source of the food; which is both the Giver and the Food…

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” [John 6:35]  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me.”

“And this is the will of Him who sent Jesus, that He should lose nothing of all that has been given to Him, but raise it up on the last day (on the day that your journey in the wilderness shall come to an end and you arrive at the Mountain of the Lord).  For this is the will of the Father, that everyone who looks to (Jesus) the Son (of God) and believes in (Him) should have eternal life, and He will raise you who believe (to eternal life) on the last day.”

Amen, amen, whoever believes (in Jesus, already) has eternal life.  Jesus IS the bread of life; the bread of life that comes down from heaven, so that anyone who eats of it will not die.  Jesus IS the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of Him, they will live forever.  And the bread that Jesus gives for the life of the world is His flesh.  He says, “Take and eat this is my body.”

This Jesus is the very same Son of God who like you walked that 40 days in the wilderness amongst the temptations of the devil, and yet He did not sin.  This Jesus like you was fatigued and beaten down by His journey; He grew hungry and His flesh was refreshed by food supplied by the angels.  This Jesus also walked towards a Mountain that seemed too high to climb, but it was not Mount Horeb, but Calvary.  As Jesus looked upon the mountain of sin that He must climb, he saw the skulls of millions of dead men and women who ever died and would die in the hope that God’s Champion would one day come and deliver them from death unto eternal life.  And so, in the strength of the food that the Father had provided, He climbed that mountain carrying His own cross.  And as he hung there at the top of Calvary, it was really from the top of the world, because as He drew His last breath in our flesh, the voice of God thundered out of His mouth from heaven… “IT IS FINISHED.” Your debt owed to God on account of sin has been paid in full.

This is what it means dear friends to journey to the Mount of God; the place where an eternal new beginning was created.  But there is still one more beginning you must turn your hearts and minds to, before you go back out on this pilgrimage we call life.  You must go back to your personal  beginning; back to the waters of your baptism.  The place where God sealed you with the Holy Spirit; the place where all of the benefits and fruits of the cross were made yours.

Like Elijah we to must daily make our return back to the font, the place of our beginning.  It is there in the waters of our baptism, where our transformation to be holy, perfect and righteous began, and it is there that it will find its completion.  This process of change, of success and failure requires us again and again to look backwards to that glorious day when God began His good work within us, so that we will know that it will be Him and Him alone, through faith in Christ, who will complete that work.  And as we look back, we remember God’s kind heart, and it is from that point in our lives  that God gives us the true bearings to continue our journey.  It is always from that “place of beginnings” that one walks forward to not only our eternal future, but to receive strength to deal with the challenges within the here and now.  May God continue to bless your journey towards the resurrection and eternal life, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!