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
http://www.tlcsd.org

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
http://www.tlcsd.org

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
http://www.tlcsd.org

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!

What Is It?

August 2nd, 2015

10th Sunday After Pentecost, August 2, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” [Ephesians 4:2, 3]

INTRODUCTION: Unity, what is it?  We have heard a lot about the San Diego Unified School District in the news over the years; because it says “unified” does that mean it has unity?  According to the news reports, no!  When Congress votes on a hot button issue, many times you will hear the politicians say something like, “On this issue, we are a united congress.”  Does saying that they are united make them so?

This morning God’s Word encourages us to demonstrate the oneness that unites us all.  The oneness is our faith in the One True God, and our knowledge of the Son of God Jesus Christ.

At first, faith and knowledge are demonstrated in a very imperfect way.  This imperfect faith and especially knowledge, is to be expected in someone new to correct doctrine, and so the church, the local congregation gives grace to those who need time to mature.  However, if these imperfections are allowed to remain, they can and will damage the inner oneness of saints who are called collectively by faith.  What I mean by that is if these dear imperfect saints are not mentored and taught, they may not be united or welded together with the rest of the church as they should be; they may even become detached and drift away like a babe upon the sea; like an inexperienced sailor abandoned within a vessel he or she does not know how to operate.

This morning, we will look at the number one cause of division within the body of Christ, where there should be unity, and that cause is most always a grumbling spirit.

I. We have a couple examples of a grumbling spirit in our readings this morning.  First, in our Old Testament lesson [Exodus 16:2-15] we read, “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” [V. 2, 3]

What is interesting to note here is that Moses makes it clear to the people of Israel that it was not he nor Aaron who brought them out into the wilderness, it was the same God who brought them out of bondage.  It was God’s responsibility to feed them, not Moses’s.  So in reality, they were grumbling against God.  And grumbling against God can cause some harsh response from God, if the grumbler does not repent.

II. Do we, God’s church still struggle with a grumbling spirit?  Well let me share with you a little of the tension I have experienced here at Trinity, as we attempt to bring in new saints or Christians new to God’s Divine Service within the historical liturgy.  New people are almost always put off by our liturgy, because it repeats the same thing every Sunday.  They say they want something new; new contemporary music and words.  Now, I understand this because they have not yet learned what Divine Service is; they have not discovered that everything in the liturgy is the Word of God speaking and giving forgiveness of sins.  Sometimes, after I teach them they stay and try to embrace our liturgy, and when they do they are welded together with us.  But some times they would rather grumble and reject the gift of forgiveness within the liturgy, and so they fall away. Left on their own to navigate the ecclesiastical waters of junk food Christianity.

But wait, that’s not all…

The other group of grumblers that I must also be patient with are those who simply do not like the fact that I have judiciously added a contemporary worship song before the Service of the Word; before the Processional Hymn.  They grumble by saying, “That isn’t what I grew up with.”  When I ask them what specifically they don’t like about it, they usually say they don’t like the fact that it repeats the same words over and over.  And that it uses a style of music they can’t sing to.  Now I completely understand.  So like the first group, the new comers, I find this to be a teaching moment.  And so my response to them is that we only sing songs that are scriptural, or a contemporary expression of scripture.  And the reason we repeat the same “tag line” so often, is because it is preparing our hearts and minds for the theme of God’s Divine Service within the assigned lessons.

IILUS: Here is a good example of the type of contemporary worship songs we sing at least once a Sunday, in fact we are singing this one as special music this morning during the offering.  It is called, “Bread of Heaven.”  Listen: “Bread of Heaven, sent down from glory.  Many things you were on earth, a holy King a Carpenter; You are the Living Lord.  Awesome Ruler, Gentle Redeemer, God with us, the Living Truth, and what a friend we have in you, you are the Living Word.  Jesus, Jesus, that’s what we call You; manger born put on a tree, You are the Living Word.”

Now when we hear these words sung, we can either shut our ears to the music and miss the message, or we can hear the words and discover that a style of music that we don’t care for is actually being used by God to bring the message of peace and hope to someone else in a meaningful way, simply because it is delivered through a rhythm, tempo, and melody that speaks to their soul.  And when we see God working in His Divine Service in this way, we can’t help but glorify God in our souls by simply saying: “Oh, oh, oh.  YOU ARE THE LIVING WORD!”

III. A helpful way to keep our grumbling spirit in check, is to see that when we grumble, our eyes are no longer on the true gifts that Jesus brings, which is spiritual in nature, and properly called the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Rather, we are caught up in temporary things; things that often are self-serving and bring temporary comfort in this world, but no hope for our eternal existence, which is coming sooner that we think.

We read in our gospel lesson (John 6:22-35), “On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. [V. 22] When the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.  When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” [Vs.24-25]

What they were really saying was, “Bless us again Jesus!”  They knew there was something miraculous happening once again with Jesus.  He didn’t take a boat to get there, and he couldn’t have walked around the shore or they would have spotted Him.  “OK you wonderful miracle worker, how’d you get here?  Come on fess up.  You did something fantastic again didn’t you?  You’re the man Jesus!  As long as you keep making that wonder bread and amazing us with these unexplainable happenings, you are our lord and teacher!”

The people wanted things.  They wanted to be amazed.  To all of these people and to us today, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw the sign, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Don’t work for food that perishes (for things), but (work) for the food that endures (and will give you) eternal life, which (I) the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.”  (There is no other way for you to obtain this true food of God except through me!) [V. 27]

Friends, in Jesus own Words, we hear Him explain exactly why the crowd followed Him; not because of His miracles and His teaching but because they wanted things!  They wanted Him to be a political savior, their messiah who would free them from the tyranny of the Roman Empire.  They wanted Him to provide them with the desires of their hearts and gratify all of their wants.  And when He refused to be their kind of Messiah, they grumbled and demanded new miracles.

Even today, we see these people gathered in churches across our nation eagerly welcoming politicians to speak during worship, so that they can assure them that if they elect or reelect this person, they will have their needs met and they will have a bright future.

And right along with those eager to hear from politicians, are those who are just as eager to hear a gospel of prosperity from their preachers.  They do not want to hear God’s message of Law and Gospel; no these people are flocking to churches wanting to hear a message that will ensure them of an easy life here of earth.

And then there are those who gather where God’s Law and Gospel is correctly and boldly preached, but they find no meaning or comfort in His Word.  And when they leave worship and the company of other Christians they seek out a new message; a different way to satisfy their desires.  They live as if Christ didn’t matter and God doesn’t see.  They long for the experience of another type of teaching.  Just like the Hebrew people that were led out of the Egyptian captivity, they begin to pant after the meat of prosperity.  You see friends, in all three cases each group has turned to God and said, “Don’t give us want you say we need, but instead give us what we want!”

So what’s the solution to all of this disunity and discord?  We must through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit…

IV. Return to the One body, which is built and sustained by the One Spirit where we have been called into the one hope of forgiveness of sins.  We must be united under One Lord Jesus Christ, insist on one faith in Christ alone, and receive one baptism, and never allow someone to cause us to doubt God’s Work within our baptism.  We must return to our one true God and the Father of us all, who is over all and through all and in all.

We must return to the teaching of the apostles and their creed of faith that declares the simple message of God’s forgiving love and mercy.  And it is that gospel Word, which turns our eyes of faith to the cross of Jesus Christ as a sign of God’s understanding and tender heart (for Jesus came into our flesh to suffer as we suffer, but to suffer on our behalf as a payment for our sins).  We must return to the empty tomb where the angel declared, “He is not here, but He has risen.”  And we must know that as He is risen, so too shall we.  These are the gifts that Christ freely gives to you who have been baptized into the one true faith.

We must gather each Lord’s day to hear these truths proclaimed by the teacher, preacher, and shepherd that God has placed through the call and prayers of you his people, and we must receive that teaching, knowing that we the saints of God are being built into one body, which is the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the work of holy ministry, until we all attain together the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.

We always speak the truth to one another, but we do so in love and a desire for unity, so that together we may grow up in every way into Jesus who is our head, who guides the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, so that when each part is working properly the body grows and is built up in the love of God.

CONCLUSION: I want you to look at your hand. What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it? Are there any particular strengths or skills that your hand has? What does it enable you to do? Are there any ways your hand has made life difficult or painful? Now look at your knee. What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it? Are there any particular strengths that your knee has? What does it allow you to do? Are there any particular ways that your knee has betrayed you or caused you pain?

Now, consider both your hand and your knee. How do they benefit you? What would your life be like if you didn’t have your hand or your knee? Both hands? Both knees? Both your hands and your knees are gifts to you, gifts from God. Sometimes they may be painful to you. Sometimes they may not do what you want them to, what you need them to do, but they are yours and you are much better off with them than without them. They are yours; parts of you, unified as one body.

Now, please stand and look around the sanctuary, not at the walls, but at the people, not at their hands or knees, but at them. As you look around, ask yourself what particular strengths you see among the people here? What do you like about them? Consider these people around you. They, like your hands and your knees, are a part of you. You are a part of them. We are all parts of the body of Christ. He is our head. Just as your hands and your knees are gifts to you, gifts from God, so are the people around you gifts from God. They may at times be very pleasant gifts from God. At other times, like your hands or your knees or other body parts, they may be difficult or painful to you. Like your hands or your knees, they may not always do what you want them to. But, you know what? They are still part of you. Just like your hands and your knees, you are much better off with them than without them. They enable Christ to accomplish things that you could not do without them. They are yours, you are theirs, parts unified and growing together as one body, the body of Christ, the church.  AMEN!

A Debt of Praise and Love

July 26th, 2015

9th Sunday in Pentecost-B, July 26, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” [Ephesians 3:20, 21]

Last week, you may recall that I said that neither God, the church, nor your brothers and sisters in Christ owe you anything, accept the debt of love.  But love is a debt far greater than anything else we could ever owe; it is great because the kind of love we all owe to God and each other, comes only from God to His children who have been given the gift of faith to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior; as their God.  So we must always remember that this debt of love and the ability to repay it always comes from faith.  It is this kind of divine love, which prevents us from willingly offending God and our neighbor.  Now I say this so that I may qualify what I am about to declare next.

When someone justifies his or her sinful action by saying, “I guess I can’t help my self, that’s just the way I am.”  Or, “I am acting this way because of someone else’s behavior.  Don’t blame me, blame so and so.”  When I hear this kind of talk, I become very concerned about the eternal condition of the person speaking.  I begin to wonder if they still have faith, because they appear to be demonstrating a lack of divine love; love for God and love for their neighbor.  Another way to say this is that they appear to be refusing to repent; turn to Christ alone, who makes all things new.

The solution for this person, if they even care to be restored to God through Christ, is to remember the power, the anger, and the love of their Creator God.

I. The Power of God: How did we start out the Apostles Creed this morning?  Wasn’t it with a statement of God’s almighty power?  Listen: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”  And how did God create?  Was it an arduous task that took great effort and strain?  No.  But how did he created?  Simply with His spoken Word.  God said and there was.  Now that is power.  God created everything out of nothing simply because He chose to; simply by speaking and it became!

After God created the world, His Word in Genesis makes it clear that He created it for a purpose; He created it to be a cradle for His greatest creature… man.  Through God’s power, God created man in His own image; that is He created man to be a steward or caretaker of the very world that would be the cradle that God would place man into so that man could learn to relate to God by faith; so that man could know God for who He was… the source of all power and strength.

When Adam and Eve fell to the trick of the Devil, the cradle of life that was to sustain them, became hostile and it had to be worked and mastered by the power and intellect that God gave to man.  With His hand, man was to work the land to produce a livelihood; a means to sustain the very life God gave by His power, in the beginning.

As man began to obediently go forth and multiply upon the face of the earth, they began to collectively grow distant from God.  That is, they forgot who God was in power and strength.  They began to offend God in what they thought, said, and did.  So God decided with His power to respond to the sinfulness of man as…

II. The God of Anger. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thought of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved His heart.  So the Lord said, I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” [Genesis 6:5-8]

Today, we love to talk so much about how God is love, and that thank God is true, but we also must remember that God is power, and that God does get angry.  Listen: “And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make and end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them.  Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”

What God was telling Noah was that the very earth that He created for man as a cradle and as an asset for man to manage, God would now use to destroy man.  How would he do that?  By using His power in response to His anger towards the collective sins of man.  By doing something, creating a phenomenon that up this time had never existed; God cause it both to rain relentlessly and He caused all of the great water stores beneath earth to rise simultaneously and collectively upon the surface of the earth where all of life, including man existed.

But our powerful God, in His anger remembered Noah and His family, eight souls in all; He remembered that they alone feared and honored God, and they found favor in God’s eyes, so God spared them by placing them within the ark before the flood began.  But God also remembered that He had created man with a purpose; in the image of God to be a steward of God’s creation, so God also spared a sample of all creation for man to manage.  God did this for Noah, because God is also…

III. The God of love. God loved Noah and his family because they retained their fear and love for God.  To fear and love God was an ability outside of themselves; it was a gift from God that came by their faith in God.

Noah and his family remembered their debt of love for God because they retained and cherished God’s Word of promise that declared one day through God’s Champion, they would be allowed to return to Paradise; the Word that was the very first covenant that God made with sinful men and women.  Noah remembered that covenant and he had faith in it; it was the very proof that declared God is love.  And by faith He would receive another covenant from God in the form of a visible sign, a rainbow.

Through the rainbow, God assured those eight people of faith who were about to set out on their new lives, that through His covenant promise, they could be assured that He would never destroy the earth by flood again.  But why a rainbow?  So that they would have a physical sign to remember God’s grace.  Martin Luther rightly pointed out in one of his sermons that Noah and his family must have lived in great trembling.  What they had just gone through for such an extended period of time must have terrified them, because they experience God’s great power and anger.  All around them was evidence of fearful destruction.  So out of love, God saw that these frail creatures of dust needed every bit of assurance and love that they could receive.  So God gave them a visible sign as a seal of the truthfulness of His promise.  “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” [Genesis 9:13-15]

Dear friends, our God of love has given us other powerful signs.  Jesus tells us Himself that His death upon the cross is a sign that assures each of you that God’s power and anger has been satisfied with His death upon that cross.  For you it is a sign that God has relented in His anger and desire to punish all of creation for it’s sinfulness.  And Jesus Himself said that the sign of Jonah, three days in the belly of the whale pointed towards His own victory over death itself.  But the good news from our God of love does not stop there; because Jesus desires that you receive that gift of forgiveness of sins and victory over death personally.  And so God comes to sinners like us Himself with another sign and another use of His Word to create another covenant promise.

In Holy Baptism, Jesus Christ, the living Word of God promises that through the washing of the water and God’s Covenant Promise, we are born again.  Listen: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”

Dear Christians, what a wonderfully powerful and loving God we have.  He is a God who came to us through His Son in our own flesh to make all things new; all things right.  He comes to us because we can not go to Him.  He is a God who promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  Sometimes in life we may feel that He sends us out onto a sea of turmoil, in a flimsy vessel alone, but he is always watching us and ready to sustain us by giving us both great faith and love.  He comes to us, even in the midnight hour He comes.  And when He speaks, His very Word gives what He commands, “Peace be to you.  Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”

Like the apostles, we will not always understand what we are going through or why, but we will always remember that Christ was ever with us.  And as we remember our God of power who’s anger was appeased by the very life blood of His Son Jesus Christ, we remember that we are a part of a vast host of saints we call the church who owe God and each other an eternal debt of love and praise for the great things He has done.  But we also remember what He is still doing through this vast church that must always be expanding and growing one forgiven sinner at a time.

And so out of our debt of love and praise to God we give that same debt of love to our neighbor as we forgive them and point their hearts and minds to the very same source of new life.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Christ Is Our Peace

July 19th, 2015

8th Sunday in Pentecost-B, July 19, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

What a peculiar place Christ’s church is, and it must be just that… peculiar.  It is different by nature from anything else on earth, which is created by man.  And that only makes sense; it makes sense because the church is created and sustained by God Himself, according to His good pleasure; according to His will.  How are we peculiar?  Well because we are made up of so many different people, with different races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds.  What is it that brings us together?  Peace.  When God’s peace comes amongst His children who respond to His call of faith, those children come.  How does peace come?  Through faith.  How does faith come?  Through the gifts of God that build His church.  Faith comes by hearing and receiving God’s Word and Sacraments exactly as God gives them; as means of grace to bring forgiveness of sins and peace to be what God has called you to be and become what He promises you shall always be; holy, perfect, and righteous.

Here at Trinity, we are made one around that peace of God, but we are made up of 3 parts: Life time members; Transfers from other churches; and new additions.  All three have been brought here by God according to His good will and purpose, and all three groups are completely equal before God.  And all three should settle for nothing less than…

The pure gospel of God in Jesus Christ, which brings freedom from guilt, through the forgiveness of sins. This is such a wonderful and essential gift for living a life of freedom, and without it there can be no true peace.  It is the equivalent of breathing in pure oxygen.

If you went to the hospital and you were having trouble breathing, if they gave you a choice between L.A. smog and pure oxygen, which would you choose?  Of course you would choose the pure oxygen, and likewise we should only be willing to receive the pure gospel of God.  And yet in so many churches today, people are willing to be given the smog of other men’s opinions.

Let me share with you briefly, the story of Pastor Falemao Esera and the American Samoan congregation that has merged with us.  Their denomination has a rich and faithful history of people, sinners who through the pure Word of God recognized that only through the gospel-Word of forgiveness can they know peace.  In their seminary, their pastors were taught the very same things our pastors are taught, the pure Word of God.  But something happened over time; both their denominational leadership and the seminary began to embrace new teachings that no longer found their origin in the Word of God, but rather in the hearts and minds of sinful men.  As a result, Pastor Fale left his denomination and the congregation followed.  They became independent.  And after a long season of prayer and patient faithful waiting, God led them here to Trinity and our beloved Missouri Synod.  And in Pastor Fale’s own words, “Here I found freedom and peace like before; through the pure Word of God.”

Now to all of you dear saints who gather at Trinity; to the life time members, the transfers, and the new additions, God is asking each of us to evaluate our reasons for coming to this old faithful church.  Whatever our reason, God is pleased that we are here, but if we are here for any other reason than to receive the pure Word of God, then each of us must reevaluate our motivations, and then allow God to realign our hearts and minds so that both will be pleasing to Him.

In our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 23:1-6), we see God’s heart regarding His children of faith.  We see a protective God who promises to punish the government of man when it no longer cares for the needs of its citizens in accordance with the will and law of God.  But we also see God scolding the citizens for accepting anything but His pure Word and promises of deliverance through the long awaited Messiah.

To the government of Israel God says: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord.”  And to the people who have been scattered, separated from the pure Word of God, He declares, “I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.  I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.”

Two things should grab our hearts and minds here.  First, it is God who says that He has scattered His children of faith.  And this is true.  It was God that allowed them to go into exile, because of their many sins and unwilling spirit to turn away from their sins.  But the second truth that grabs our attention is perhaps the most important truth; it will be God Himself who brings every one of His children of faith back to Him.  And how does He do that?  By setting faithful shepherds or pastors over them who will teach them nothing but the pure doctrine of the gospel.  And what is that gospel?  Listen: ““Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

Dear saints the gospel is simply Christ alone, who only is righteous; Christ alone who comes by grace alone, which is God’s unearned and undeserved kindness.  Christ alone who comes by faith alone.  You can’t debate a person into trusting God; you can’t prove the love of God through Christ to someone.  These things can only be received as a gift from God by faith.  And how does faith in Christ come?  Through Scripture alone.

Each of you here today have been drawn by God through the pure teaching of His Word, which alone brings forgiveness of sins and peace with God.  But this teaching also brings another kind of peace; it brings peace within the family of God; within even our own congregation.  And we will need this peace to continue being God’s children of faith within our community, because the very diversity in persons, which marks a healthy and vibrant church, also brings tension; tension which can rebuild the very thing that God through Christ has demolished. Listen…

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” [Ephesians 2:14-16]

By remembering who we were before God’s pure Word brought us peace, we will also remember who we are now because of that peace.  If you are a lifetime member of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod , surely you can remember disobedient times in your life when you were not allowing God’s Word and Sacraments to both change and sustain you?  If you are a transferred member who came from another denomination, surely you can think back and remember what it was like living under a teaching that smothered God’s forgiving love under a blanket of legalism and works righteousness; a teaching that always left you wondering if God would really forgive you?  And if you are a recent addition to our church family, and you are still growing in your understanding of the true peace of God that comes through His pure Word, may we all say welcome… you are not alone!

Each of us who are here this morning long for the same thing… peace with God.  And all of us are dealing with all kinds of life issues and current events, which can bring confusion and insecurity.  How we deal with these things; how we deal with each other determines whether we are living in God’s peace where the wall of separation from God and each other is torn down, or if we are rebuilding the wall and thus separating ourselves from God and each other.

We rebuild the wall when we believe that God, His church as a body, and His saints as individuals owe us something.  Here is the hard truth, but I pray that you will hear and receive it.  No one owes you anything, especially God.  The church and its saints are no different than you.  Each saint here is struggling with their own lives and fighting to hold on to the pure Word of God and the faith to persevere, which comes through that Word.  The only debt we owe each other, is a debt of love.  Each of us, through the pure Word of God are moved to fear and love God so that we may continue to grow in faith, and love Him with all of our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls.  Each of us as well are learning every day to fear and love God so that we will love our neighbors as ourselves.

We allow Christ to continue tearing down the walls that divide us when we remember who each of us were without His pure Word and the peace it brings.  Without these things, each of us were dead in our sins, but with God’s pure washing of the water and His Word, we are brought back to life as a new man and woman.  Like the gentiles that made up a large part of the Ephesian church, we too were once foreigners, separated from God without hope.  “But now in Christ Jesus (we) who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.  (How did He do this?) By abolishing (the law’s accusation against us), (so) that he might create in Himself one new man in place of the two (or three), so making peace, and (through that peace, He) might reconcile us (all) to God in one body, which is the church, through the cross, thereby killing (our) hostility (to God and each other).

There is and will be new growth in this little church we call Trinity, because each of us are trusting in the same pure Word of God that brings peace.  It is the Word that brought us here and it is the Word that both sustains and keeps us here.  Each of us who were once far removed from the love of God have been brought near by the same Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Christ has brought us and He will continue to bring new additions.  He welcomes them, and so do we when we remember that it is the same blood that draws and covers them that brought and covers us.

Through Christ’s death upon the cross and the body and blood that was given and shed for sinners like us, we are reminded that all enmity and strife that comes through race, ethnicity, and economic status are made moot and pointless.  The walls of separation that our society and even our government erect are removed within the Kingdom of God, which for us comes only through Jesus Christ and grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone.  May these very things sustain you unto eternal life.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Predestined For Glory

July 12th, 2015

July 12, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“In love (God the Father) predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” [Ephesians 1:5, 6]

Grace, mercy, and peace to you dear Saints from God our Father, and our Savior, the Son of God Jesus Christ.

Solely by the power and work of the Holy Spirit, you have been sealed as God’s prized possession; called for this moment to give glory to God for the great gifts that are yours only through Jesus Christ.  God calls each of you this morning equally through the atoning sacrifice of Christ.  By Christ’s death upon the cross each of you along with the entire world have had the devil’s ransom price paid.  This is most certainly true.  And now hear the mystery that both puzzles and disturbs so many sinners: Some people simply will not receive this gift.  Some sinners will not allow Christ’s payment of blood to be their payment.  Why?  It is because within our very nature we are sinful and unclean, and on our own we are lost in an eternity of punishment and payment for our sins.

This uncomfortable and even terrifying news must be heard, received, and believed before we can even see a need for a Savior; before we will accept the gift that His payment for our sins gives.

It was a message like this that God commissioned Amos with.  Amos did not ask to carry that message; he wasn’t even a prophet or a prophet’s son.  Why did God choose Amos?  This side of glory, we will never truly know or understand God’s reasoning, other than knowing that God is love.  Amos knew that God is love and that through His love one can always find mercy and forgiveness of sins.  Amos would need to remember this truth as he was commissioned to speak a very unpopular message to the King and people of Israel.

In what is now the third vision that God gave to Amos, the Lord Himself appeared before Him, standing next to a wall.  In order to make sure that Amos would remember the vision, the Lord asked Amos to report what He saw.  And Amos replied that he saw a plumb line in God’s hand.

The meaning of the vision was then explained to Amos.  The Lord is picturing Himself as a mason laying out a brick wall.  The wall represents the nation Israel; people created and called to receive His covenant and then repeat and live out that covenant as a light unto the unbelieving and dying world.  The plumb line is God’s law, the standard laid down at Mt. Sinai which would lead the people’s lives and faith as they continued to be God’s covenant people.  The law reveals Israel’s sins.  God is saying that the nation of Israel is like a sagging and compromised wall, ready to be torn down.  “I will never again pass by them (or perhaps another way to say that is, I will spare them no longer),” says the Lord. [Amos 7:8]

They were obdurate and prideful people who built shrines to worship false gods.  For these reasons, God declared that He would destroyed their nation by the invading Assyrian Empire.  This is why the Lord said “With my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.” [Vs. 9]

Now some may be tempted to take this passage and apply it inappropriately to modern nations like our own home country here.  And they may say, “See USA, wake up; God is not joking. He will take His plumb line and do the same to us, if we as a nation do not repent.”  And to this I must say, “No!”

You see, God is not talking to our nation, He is talking to you! He is talking to you who have been ransomed through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  God is talking to you both Christians and non-Christians alike, and He is saying, “You are mine.  I have bought you with a dear price.  Will you live as my people?  Will you receive the gift of freedom that I have given to you through my Son, Jesus Christ?”

And before we even say a mumbling word, God knows!  God knows your heart and He knows your life.  From eternity He knows how you will respond, and He still loves you… but He will not force His love on you.

In our Epistle reading (Ephesians 1:3-14), St. Paul wants us to know that all of God’s spiritual blessings have not only been showered upon the Ephesian church, but also upon each of us today; Christian and non Christian alike.  Some will receive these blessings and some will do what is only natural to sinners… they will reject those blessings.  And God knows, even if we do not.

For some, this mysterious will of God can cause fear and even anger.  And in response they may begin to use logic as a way to fill in the blanks so that they can comfortably receive God’s Word.  Or some, like the nation Israel will simply cast out this Word and refuse to hear it.

Who are these people?  God knows and He has known them since eternity.  But here is the hard part for us at least, we do not know who these people are, we only know that we are not part of them.  How can we know this?  Because God has left us marvelous gifts to assure us that He is ours and we are His.

In His eternal foreknowledge He not only knows us but He cares for us.  He has predestined us to one day join Him in eternity in our new resurrected bodies in a home that He has prepared just for us.  And to assure that we will continue to receive this gift of eternal life, God has created what we might call both a nursery and a nursing home.  God has given us a place that will comfort, nurture, teach, and care for us until He calls us home.  God has given us His Church.

In His church you have been taught that at Calvary, upon the cross, Christ’s blood paid the ransom price for all sinful people, but you are also being taught, that in the Word of God and His Sacraments, you have personally been given grace, that is God’s love and mercy, and faith to believe and receive these personally, because you believe that God did all of this for you.

So it is safe to say that since your baptism, God has been giving and teaching you about the forgiveness of your sins. And it is also correct to say that He continuously gives forgiveness of sins and new life as you hear His Word proclaimed or read; when you eat or drink His Word of forgiveness at His holy meal within the Sacrament of the Altar.  You can be sure of this because not only did Christ sacrifice His own body and spill His blood for you, but He is also the One, empowered by His Father before time to ensure that you are gathered within His church to be nurtured, taught, and sustained by these very gifts.  Christ is over all!

This morning, each of you the elect, who are resting within Christ’s church are invited to rest within God’s predestinating act of grace and simply be filled with faith to both receive and believe that Christ is “over all things”.  His purpose and will can not fail, because there is nothing that does not work in accordance with the will of God.  Man’s purpose may fail, and it often does, but God’s will never fails.  “(And) we know (through His Word that) all things work together for good, to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28]  We know this is so because God has said it, and He is always working to ensure that we trust it.

God does this work through both His Law and His Gospel.  Through the law we become conscious of sin and through the law we are reminded to live our lives in daily repentance.

Through the law we are taught to constantly measure what we think, say, and do by the plumb line of the Lord’s law.

Daily self-evaluation under the law of God prevents us from returning back under the bondage of pride and self-righteousness, because we know that the outcome will always be the same: our lives will be out of plumb with God’s will.

Through the gospel we are shown a better way; the way of faith, faith in Jesus Christ alone.  Jesus alone offers a perfect life to satisfy the perfect justice of God.  The perfect life of Christ measured up to His Father’s Holy Standard, and that life was lived and given for you.

When His Spirit gives us faith through baptism and the Word, God writes down His verdict of innocence next our names, and that verdict is based solely on the holy, loving life of Christ.  Jesus lived and died in our place “so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” [2 Corinthians 5:21]  And now for you dear saints who are predestined for glory, “There is no condemnation for (you) who are in Christ Jesus.” [Romans 8:1]

Dear friends, the Father desires that all people should hear and receive His proclamation of forgiveness of sins through Christ alone, and then come to Him through Christ.  And Jesus Himself said, “anyone who comes to me I will never cast out. [John 6:37]  And so that we may always know that it is never to late to come to Christ, the Holy Spirit creates true faith through the hearing of God’s Word, just as the Word promises: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing the Word of Christ.

This is the message you have now heard, and it is the message that you are to repeat.  And like Amos, God is asking you to repeat His message to a sinful nation made up of sinful people who may not want to be told that they are dying in their sins.

It is to the stubborn sinners that you are to speak both God’s warning of punishment and His promise of love and forgiveness.  You  are to tell them that if they truly want to be saved, they should not torture themselves about the secret will of God in regards to other peoples salvation.  Instead, you must encourage them to trust in God’s work alone, which was done in their baptism, and then turn both their hearts and lives to Christ Jesus and his on going work of salvation through his means of grace; the very grace that you receive here; and then encourage them to trust in the very same Lord, which you trust in and call out to along with them.  I pray that with the help of the Spirit of God, you will do this very thing…  in Jesus name… AMEN!

This (Is/Is Not) The Promise Land

July 5th, 2015

July 5, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.” [Ezekiel 2:1-5]

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… in His Word, God is now telling us to rise; so let’s stand up on our feet and He will speak to us.  And as He is speaking even now be assured that the Holy Spirit is entering into your very heart and mind.  He is saying to you the redeemed, that He is sending you to the people of this nation, your neighbors and even your family members; the very people who have rebelled against Christ’s Word and His church, and He is asking you to give one clear message: “Thus says the Lord…”  This is what the Word of God says to us.”  And whether they hear you speak for God or not (for we are a rebellious people) they will know that God’s witness has been speaking the divine truth.  Thus far our message; you may be seated.

In our Old Testament Lesson this morning, we join Ezekiel facedown, knocked down by the splendor of the Lord God.  And from within His glory, He commands Ezekiel to rise, to stand on his feet like a man, like a son of man.  Ninety times in the Book of Ezekiel God addresses Ezekiel as simply “son of man.”  What an interesting title; do you think perhaps God was trying to tell Ezekiel that he was no one special; that he wasn’t all that?

Although the Lord would be giving Ezekiel a very special message and powerful visions, Ezekiel was to remember that at the end of it all, he was still simply another sinful man, born of sinful people, living in the midst of a sinful nation, and surrounded by a sinful empire.  He was just a human being, a sinful son of Adam.  He did not call Ezekiel to speak for Him because He saw something special in him, instead He called him as a frail man who brought nothing to the table but weakness and sin.

Ezekiel could not stand on his own before God; he couldn’t even listen properly to receive God’s instruction and commission.  But God made a way out of no way; God equipped Ezekiel to hear Him and then speak the same message for God.  The Holy Spirit stood Ezekiel on his feet, opened his heart and mind to hear and receive, and then gave him the courage and strength to speak as God speaks.

God is always the one Who turns sinners like us into bold saints who are not afraid to speak as God speaks.  God is the One who stands us up ready to witness to our neighbor His will as communicated through His Word, in any and all situations.  It might be our desire to simply stay face down lying around and overcome by God’s glory, but the Lord will not allow His people to do that.  He has work for us to do.  He wants us to see the “rainbow” of His grace; a rainbow that promises that it is not God’s desire to destroy sinners with the flood of His anger.  And so God orders us to stand up, shut up, listen, and then repeat His Word and live out His will as He empowers us to do.

And here enters our problem with God; here lies the essence of our rebellious nature.  We do not want to shut up and listen, instead our sinful flesh wants to tell God what we think we should say and do in regards to our neighbor and our witness to them.  Why is this so?  Because we are afraid to speak God’s truth to our neighbor because of  “their” rebellious nature.

In our fear, we are telling God that we know that if we speak what He has spoken, the people will take offense, and worse yet we will suffer ridicule and maybe worse, because we will be labeled intolerant, bigoted, and hateful.  Well, take heart; you are not alone in your fears.  Let’s go back to considering the call of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel too, was ordered by God to take His message to a sinful people, a people descended from Israel; a people who were now defeated and held captive by a sinful empire.  They were there for good reason too; they were suffering the consequence of their sin of rebellion against God as His chosen nation that would one day produce the Savior of the nations.  But rather than feeling humbled and blessed by God because He had chosen them, most of them throughout history, rebelled against God; they insisted on following their own way and even other gods who were in fact no God at all.  In other words, they insisted on disobeying God’s will.  That is what brought them into exile in the first place.  But even their years of exile had not led most of them to repent and turn from their rebellious ways.  Instead of hearing the Word of God, they preferred to tell stories about the “good old days” and yearned to return to their physical land, the nation Israel.  They were so focused on the physical promise land that they lost sight of their God who was still in their midst through His Word and His means of grace.  They forgot that where God is in Word, mercy and grace, there also is the Kingdom of God, the true “promise land.”

In spite of the people’s lack of desire to repent, to turn from their evil ways, God was still patient with them, not wanting any of them to perish in their sins.  God had been dealing with His people’s rejection for a very long time, but that did not stop Him from trying to bring them back to Him through repentance.

Today, God is asking each of us to learn from this example, and to see our current situation within our own community and nation as something very similar.  Our people were once know as people of faith.  We pledged allegiance to our flag as it symbolized us  as one nation  under God.  We have put His name on our currency and at one time claimed to trust only in Him.  But we are a rebellious people.  We too would rather embrace new doctrines that teach us to trust in government rather than the God who ordained that government.  We would rather trust in our currency than the God who gives and takes away that currency.

As a nation, we have become comfortable in our sins, and as a church we have become comfortable in our silence.  Why is that?  Because we are a rebellious people by nature, and by nature we are unwilling to repent; unwilling to turn from what God calls sinful and receive what God has called good.

Like Ezekiel, we too are God’s witnesses here within our nation.  We are called to bring a message that is not our own.  It is a message from our God who has always stood by His covenant promise to save sinful mankind from their sins.  A covenant that started with Adam and Eve, then to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; a message that alone is able to recreate sinful and rebellious men and women into redeemed and faithful saints; a message that promises that the Savior of the World has come, and will come again.

Like Ezekiel, we are to disregard the people’s unwillingness to receive the gospel message.  We are never allowed to stop speaking the Lord’s message of forgiveness through repentance of sin, simply because they refuse to listen or threaten to punish us for speaking.

Now, let your fearful and timid hearts hear the very message of God so that you may be once again stood on your feet, and strengthened and filled with courage.

When you are weak, then you are strong! In fear and weakness God points your eyes and hearts to the cross of His Son, your Savior Jesus Christ who takes away the sins of the world, even your sins.  In weakness, in our own flesh, Jesus took on the name Son of Man, so that as your Champion the Son of God could defeat your own sin for you, conquer your fear of death, and then smash the devil’s mouth shut, so that you need never fear his accusations again.

Through God’s means of grace alone, He stands you on your feet to face the darkness and speak the truth; a truth that brings the very light of God.  In your vocation, what ever position of life you find yourself in, God reminds you who you are, and why you are here.  He points your eyes of faith first to the cross of His Son Jesus and reminds you that it was there at Calvary that He made all things new; it was there that He made a way for you out of no way; a way back to the promise land.  And from the cross he turns your faith to the place where all of this was made certain for you… he reminds you of the font of grace, where in holy baptism you were washed clean; recreated into the very image of Christ Himself.

Like St. Paul, we are reminded that even in the middle of our own weakness; weakness caused by sinful flesh that exists in a sinful world, we are filled with the very power of God.  When we are weak, we are strong in Christ; we are the very strength of Christ; strength to speak the only message that will bring life out of death, and peace in the middle of confusion.  We are God’s exclusive people who can witness to the only way back to the promise land.  We are the church and the church will never fail or be overcome by evil.

We the church are not a building and we are not even a denomination.  We are sinners saved by grace who gather as two or more to hear God speak the very message that we ourselves are to bring to our neighbors… REPENTANCE.

As we turn from our sins, so too we call this world dark in sin to turn with us.  As we confess that God is right and we are wrong, we simply encourage our neighbors caught in sin to do the same.  But it is not simply what we turn from that saves us, but rather Who we turn to.  We the church, a collection of forgiven rebellious children of God, turn to the Son of God and we receive the one thing needful.. forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  And as we turn to Christ alone, we call attention to this process of repentance and forgiveness, and we invite out of love and not judgment, all of our neighbors who are willing to do the same thing, and they are embraced and welcomed.

Now God has spoken, and we are simply to rise upon our feet and complete the task assigned to us, and we do so simply under the power that He gives to us.  But we are still a bit apprehensive.  What if they say no?  What if they will not listen?  Well, Jesus suffered the very same rejection.  His own family and neighbors from Nazareth rejected Him.  He tried to bring healing, but they would not believe.  So what did He do?  He moved onto other towns that would.  And as He sent the apostles out two by two, He gave them these instructions:  “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” [Mark 6:10, 11]

Jesus own Words filled those men with faith to trust God.  And through His promise of presence they were strengthened to speak the word of repentance even if they were rejected.  But what was most amazing was the result of power that came to those who did receive the Word and repented unto eternal life.  God worked in a mighty way, building the church, the spiritual promise land and he did it with power!  Listen to what a rag tag bunch of sinners can do when they are recreated and empowered by the Word of God: “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” [Mark 6:12, 13]

Stand on your feet sons and daughters of men; stand and be empowered by the Holy Spirit with boldness that comes only through faith.  Stand and be recognized as the witnesses of the Lord.  Speak the truth in love in a winsome manner and leave the rest to God.  And after you have spoken they will know that a witness of the Living God has been in their midst.  And then simply leave the rest to God and continue living a life of faith here in the promise land.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Counsel Without Knowledge is Dark, Indeed!

June 21st, 2015

June 21, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

We’ve all been in that dark place of fear, worry, doubt, and anxiety, and we all have fallen back on the old tried and true method of dealing with these things… panic!  It is in the time of panic that we try everything imaginable to bring courage, stability, certainty, and peace.  Advice from those older and more experienced than ourselves sometimes helps; but advice from our father or father figures is meant to teach more than reassure.  You see, in order for the teaching to help it has to make sense, and in the middle of tragedy, who really wants to listen and learn.  So if our fathers or father figures are wise in regards to God and His ways, they will encourage us to slow down, and then with a humble heart and mind, direct us to take it all to the Lord and call out to Him for help.

But what happens when we feel we’ve done that and have been doing that very thing, and nothing seems to be changing; nothing seems to be bringing us relief?  Then we may be tempted to grow angry and bitter with God, or worse yet, we may doubt that He even cares.  This is precisely where Job was within our Old Testament lesson.  But God does see, and God does care, and to assume that He is clueless and distant is to follow a dark counsel without the wisdom of the Spirit.

This is precisely the message that God gave to Job when He declared these Words to Job, in the form of a question: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge.”  When God addresses Job, He does so using His exact and personal name, Yahweh, or Jehovah.  When God speaks to Job, His name tells all of us that “I Am” IS the God who knows all things and allows all things, so that in the end they will work together for the good of those He loves, for those who love Him.  This all knowing, all seeing, and all powerful God then addresses Job and us, with these words of challenge. “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.”  In other words, this will be a contest; competition to see who it is that knows all; to see who it is alone that can declare in the end that it will be well with your soul.

Within His Words that follows, God desires to do a great work of faith, both within Job’s heart and our hearts.  God desires to purge all of us of pride, and then force us to see our own sinfulness and helplessness, and then lead us to trust in God and His saving love; the love of our Eternal Father, strong to save

In our Gospel lesson (Mark 4:35–41), the disciples are being taught that exact lesson by the very Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Every time I read this portion of scripture I can hear the underlying question beneath the disciples’ words recorded, and it is, “Jesus, don’t you care that we are about to die?”  I think that is also our underlying question when we are going through the storms of life.

Dear saints, our central problem is not the storms of life, but instead it’s our sinful tendency to focus only on the storms.  I think you will agree with me that it is hard to remember that Jesus is in the boat with us when our attention is consumed by the life threatening waves outside the boat that are now spilling into the boat and threatening to capsize us and pull us deeply down into the sea of despair.

Why do we so easily loose sight of Jesus in times of trouble and focus so heavily on the storms of life.  Why do so many of our storms, life problems at the time seem so unsurvivable, but afterwards we can look back and see that we made it through, with even stronger faith?  Because dear friends, one day, maybe sooner than we know it will be one of those storms that does end our earthly existence.  Within this perspective of fear and worry, it’s hard to remember that Jesus is in the boat with us; it’s not easy to remember that God is on the job when the waves are in your face, and your boat is quickly filling with unwanted water!

Sometimes when we encounter these life storms, we can become like Job and his friends; we want to understand the storms.  And so we ask, “What have I done to offend you Lord.”  Or we may ask, “O Lord, don’t you care that I’m in trouble?”

We so desperately want to know the answer to things like” “Why did I lose my job, or why can’t I find a job?  Why did the one I love and need so badly have to die?  Why am I so sick?  Will I ever get better?”  Or perhaps even today we may be asking, “Oh Lord, why did you allow the evil to control that young man who killed nine of our brothers and sisters while they were praying to you at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC?  We ask why because we hope that by knowing the answer to the unknown we will find a way to bring calm to our minds and peace to our souls.  But the truth is that even through our best efforts of gaining knowledge we will always fall short of understanding the mysterious infinity of God’s mind and will; we will always be frustrated by the feeble limits of our own human intellect.

And to our insatiable desire to have God explain Himself, God asks us His own question: “How can you the creature ever understand I your Creator outside of what I have told you; outside of what I have decided is enough knowledge?”  But this isn’t the answer we want, is it?  No, secretly within our hearts we want God to explain Himself.  So, our sinful nature loses sight of God’s love for us and instead of faithfully trusting in His presence and care, we begin to focus our worried minds on the unknown instead of the known.

The truth is friends, God’s love and grace sound good to us when things are going well.  We will easily trust in His love, but sadly, when the storms of life come, and they will come, then the littleness of our faith appears.  And when this weak faith becomes evident, Jesus speaks from within our boat and says, “Why are you being so cowardly?  Don’t you have faith?”

Dear friends, the solution to our fears is to remember where Jesus is and who He is.  We are reminded where He is, within His question of why we are afraid, and why we lack faith, we may be tempted to hear a scolding within the Words; that is we may receive the Words as just another accusation of God’s Law demonstrating how helpless and faithless we are.  But if you hear Jesus Words that way, you have forgotten Who Jesus is.  He is not speaking as a Judge, but as a Savior and a Comforter.

The Son of God is with you in the boat, traveling with you through the storm upon the sea of despair.  After all, it was this Christ who told you to get into the boat with Him in the first place.  He is the One Who died for all so that you would know that just as death had no power over Him, it likewise has no power over you.  It’s not just the wind and sea that must listen to Him, but also sin, death, and the devil must obey Him.

Through His completed work upon the cross we are a new creation; through His Word and sacraments we are able to trust in His real presence with us, even when our own storms over power us.  Through His presence, our little faith becomes strong faith, as we rest with the other disciples within this gospel ship we call the church.  Because of Jesus, we don’t ever have to fear the storms of life again, because we know that through Him, God the Father is always for us and never against us.  Within the waters of our own baptism we have been splashed with a power greater than all of the angry seas combined.  Because the love of Christ controls us, we can trust in God’s kind heart, and through His love for us, all of our fears can be calmed and replaced with certainty.

Dear friends, in response to our cry, “Don’t you care that I am in trouble?”  God doesn’t offer us understanding, but instead He offers us His presence within His precious promises.  He Who said to the waves, “Thus far and no farther,” says to us, “Fear not, for I am with you always.”  He assures us the He knows what we can never understand, and He is able to handle what ever we can’t.

Today dear friends Jesus tells us to stay within the Gospel Ship, even this little boat we call Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.  He wants us to look around and see this truth: There is still room and time to bring more fearful and frightened sinners aboard, so that they too, along with us, can find salvation and peace.  There will be storms, but Jesus will always be with us in the boat as we pass through the storms.  And while He is with us, He is teaching each of us to trust Him and have faith—faith in the Fathers love for each of us.  Oh sure, there will be times when it will seem as if God is silent; as if Jesus is asleep, but fear not little ones, even though He appears to sleep, He is with you in the boat.  So take comfort, because the one who sleeps is also the one who never sleeps.  He is the your Savior and Champion who promises to never leave nor forsake you.

He has permitted the storm to come your way so that you may know and trust Him deeper than you could ever imagine.  But one day, your very last life storm will come, and that will be the perfect storm, because that will be the one that will take you to your perfect home in Paradise.  Let us pray…

“O God our Defender, there are right now storms raging around us and within us, and they are causing us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us all from unbelief, unbelief that tries so hard to separate us from your eternal love.  We ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!