Precious Lord… Forgive Me!

March 24th, 2019

Lent 3-C
March 24, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:5

Perhaps the most painful question Christians and non-Christians a-like whisper and sometimes scream into the ear of God in the dark of the night is “Why?”  Why does He allow the massacre of Christians in places like Africa, the Middle East, and the Philippines over and over again?  In 1993, why didn’t God protect those two young boys Charlie Keever and Jonathan Sellers who were killed in the South Bay, and why as we’ve heard in the news lately, does it seem like the killer keeps avoiding the prescribed course of justice? 

Why is there evil in the world if God is good and almighty?  This really is the ultimate question that sinful man most wants answered! We encounter variations of this question throughout our daily lives and it most often comes to us like this: Why did my sister die so young?  Why does God allow cancer? Why did I lose my job just before my pension was vested?   Why can’t I find the right person to spend the rest of my life with?   

“What did I do to deserve this?” we cry out, as we keep noticing that people without an apparent faith in Christ seem to be living a happy life!   

Jesus’ disciples posed a similar question to him more than once. 

On one occasion, His disciples wanted to know whether the man who had been born blind had brought his condition upon himself or whether his parents were at fault because of their sin. To this question, Jesus assured them that God had a purpose in the man’s blindness.  What was that purpose?  To that question and to all of its variations, Jesus remained silent.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus takes the same approach, as He addresses two tragedies that seemed to swallow up a lot of people in an unfair way.  Some of His disciples had just reported that Pilate’s police had murdered some Galileans while they were worshiping God and offering their sacrifices.  Jesus used this incident to meet the obvious question: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were guiltier than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Jesus refused to answer the question. Instead, he used these incidents to call for something much more important… Jesus called for repentance. He rejected the assumption that great evil falls only upon evil people. “No,” Jesus said. They were not the worst of the worst; those Galileans had not sinned more than their fellow Galileans. That kind of question misses the point. The only point that Jesus wanted them to see in the midst of those tragedies was each person’s need for personal repentance.  (Luke 13:1–5). He wanted each person then and each of us today, to turn away from our sins and turn to God’s mercy and say “Precious Lord… forgive me!”

Did they get it?  Probably not, and that is why Jesus began to tell the parable about the fig tree within the vineyard.  In this story, Jesus was making the analogy that the city of Jerusalem was like the fig tree… fruitless and close to being “chopped down” so that something else… something that would bear fruit could be planted.  After the parable, do you think they said, “Ah… yes I see, I am the fig tree!  I better confess my sin and then turn to God’s mercy.  Let me confess my sinfulness and seek His forgiving love!”  No, they did not!  In fact the proof that they did not or would not understand lies in the truth that they crucified their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  And because of this, they have been chopped down, and a new tree, one that will bear fruit has been planted in its place… that new tree is of course the Church.  It is you and me!

So now, these words of Jesus are being spoken to us.  Are you different than the Jewish nation?  Will you listen?  Will you repent and bear fruit?  That is the question God wants you to concentrate on this morning and each morning that he allows you to live.  He wants you to know that through Jesus Christ, He has given you His grace, His undeserved kindness.  And because of Jesus, God is continually caring for you just as He did in the parable of the fig tree.  He is tilling the soil of your heart and applying good fertilizer through His Word and Sacraments.  Do you recognize that you have been placed in the most favored position… you have been adopted as sons and daughters of the most high God!  Will you be fruitful or will you prevent His grace from changing you?  Will you bring to nothing, everything that Jesus has provided for you?  Will you turn your back on His passion for you… on His suffering and death for you?!  

Can you really do that?  Yes, He will allow you to reject His gift of love, but by doing that, you are sealing your own doom!  Will you really do that or will you repent?

In this world, even in the life of Christians, we are surrounded by countless sins, sins that God expects us to acknowledge and deplore with true and sincere repentance.  

He wants us to hear His cry within the gospel, “Repent and trust in Christ alone!”  He delivers these Words of both His Law and His Gospel to us so that we will be delivered from eternal destruction. 

This isn’t a new message, in fact it was the first sermon preached in paradise, when God cursed Adam and Eve after their fall from grace.  But after their fall, He immediately gave them complete forgiveness of their sin, and the promise of a future Savior, the son of Adam who is also the very Son of God! 

Repent and believe!  This has always been God’s Word to sinful men and women!  This is the sum of all of God’s Word and it is the message that He wants us to receive as long as we are alive in this world!  God wants each of us to read His Word, the entire Bible and hear this message come alive on each page.  He wants us to read all of the testimonies concerning His anger against sin, concerning personal and public tragedies, concerning all of the warnings about eternal punishments, and  He wants us to hear these Words and repent; He wants us to turn away from our sin and our certain punishment of death, and then turn to the death of Jesus. Why?  Why must we turn from our sin and see Jesus death upon the cross?  Because dear friends, Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross is the clearest possible proof concerning God’s anger and hatred against sin! 

God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to hang upon the cross in the most violent manner so that you would know just how serious your sin is!  The death of Jesus isn’t just something for you to read about and consider like some book or movie … God wants it to scare the hunger for sin and Hell right out of you!  He wants you to see how serious His wrath against sin is.  He wants you to know beyond any doubt how serious, enormous, and indescribable your sin is.  He wants you to know that the only way you can be rescued from your sin is if the Son of God intercedes for you and is made a victim for you!  If you can see all of this and if you can agree with God that your sin is a huge problem, then repent!

Dear friends, God wants each of us to see ourselves in the words of our Epistle lesson this morning.  He wants us to see our own sinful lust as being identical to the Hebrews who rejected God’s law regarding sexual relations between a man and woman, within the structure of marriage.  He wants us to see ourselves within the story of those who continually tested Him by questioning His actions and His will!  He wants us to see that we are similar to those who murmured and complained about Him instead of trusting in Him and receiving from Him.  He wants us to see all of this within our own hearts and then confess these sins and turn away from them.

But still there is wickedness and suffering all around, isn’t there?  And maybe this is causing you to still struggle with the “why” of evil!  

Why does God allow such evil to flourish in this world?  And to this God answers, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”  And we ask, “Precious Lord, why won’t you answer my question?  Why won’t you tell me why there is evil?  And to this God says to each of us, “Because I care most about your love for me… I want you to trust me… trust that I am caring for you always!  You are who I suffered and died for!  You are the fig tree that I have planted within my vineyard, and you are the one that will give me fruit.  Turn back, repent from your own evil ways and love and obey me!  

Dear friends, the Father has planted you within His church.  He is nourishing you and tilling the soil of your heart so that you will bear much fruit.  What is that fruit?  It is the fruit of repentance; fruit that is called righteousness.  Fruit that trusts in Christ alone… fruit that does not lust after the riches and power of this world, but instead remains focused on what Christ has done for you.  Jesus is your fruit, and you can only find this fruit upon the tree of woe.  It is the sweet fruit of Golgotha…it is the fruit of righteousness unto eternal life!  “Take and eat” Jesus says, “This is my body!  Take and drink… this is my blood.”  Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your many sins and then rest in the truth that God forgives you; He still loves you and He still loves the world!

“But Lord” you cry out, “I am afraid that because of all this evil only a few will be saved?  I am afraid for my loved ones who will not repent!”  And Christ answers us by saying, “Friend, let me worry about that.  As for you, strive to enter through the narrow door.  Worry first about your relationship with Me and my gospel, only then will you be able to recognize and fight your own sin.”  

Dear friends, let God worry about the whys in life; you have enough to do just loving Him!  If you occupy yourself with this work, then when tragedy and suffering strike, you will be comforted and strengthened by Christ’s presence within you.  Only then will you begin to understand that true wisdom and comfort are not found in answering the why(s) but the HOW!

I pray that each of us will continue to grow in faith and be comforted by God’s love through Christ Jesus.  AMEN

BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD

March 17th, 2019

Lent 2-C
March 17, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” [Luke 13:31-35]

On August 30, 2005, at 4 AM, Coast Guard Lt Iain McConnell, along with the rest of his aircrew, was summoned to the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama. The air base soon became primary base of operations for Hurricane Katrina relief. Less than 24 hours after the storm initially hit New Orleans, Lt. McConnell and his crew were ordered to fly their H46 helicopter into the storm damaged area for what would be a heroic rescue effort.  They entered the area ahead of every news crew in the nation; they were not prepared for the devastation they were about to see, the entire city of New Orleans was flooding.  They began to pluck people from rooftops. They literally flew around the clock, returning to the base only to refuel and then head back out, despite their exhaustion and fatigue and the risk to their own lives; they continuously went back out onto the storm. On their first three missions that day they saved 89 people, three dogs, and two cats. 

In our Gospel lesson today, as Jesus continued His way to Jerusalem and the cross, we come face to face with the Son of God in the midst of the greatest rescue effort of all time.  All of Scripture, the entire Bible after Genesis chapter 2, points to this rescue mission — Despite all the obstacles in His way, Jesus would continue on to Jerusalem; He was going there to suffer and to die in order to save. The majority of His own people would reject Him. But that too was foretold a long time ago in Psalm 118, where it says: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Psalm 118:22)

Let’s look again at verses 33-34 of our Gospel lesson: Jesus said,  Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day [after that],” and He goes on, “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish [anywhere else but] Jerusalem.’  O Jerusalem… the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 

Jesus is referring to a coming day of judgment. He talks about the natural instinct of hens that would vigorously protect their young by gathering them under her wings.  If there were a bird of prey nearby, the hen would cackle and cluck and call her chicks to her so they could find protection under her wings.

One day, shortly after a devastating fire in Yellowstone National Park, a park ranger was walking through a burned field. He came across what appeared to be dead prairie chicken.  As he nudged the dead bird with his foot, three little chicks came running out from underneath the dead hen; they had survived the fire because their mother had given her life for them.  Make no doubt about it, there is a fire coming — and that fire is God’s judgment!

USA Today and Gallup conducted a poll in which they asked Americans about the likelihood of an apocalyptic end to the world:

  • 23% responded that this was “very likely,”
  • 16% said it was “somewhat unlikely,”
  • 16% said it was “very unlikely,”
  • 41% had “no opinion.”

For the most part, Americans are not too concerned about the end of the world, they aren’t concerned about the return of Jesus Christ or a day of judgment.

Jesus told us that on the Day of Judgment God is going to “…separate the wheat from the chaff.” (Matthew 3:12), He will sort “…the good fish from the bad fish.” (Matthew 13:48), and He will separate “…the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:32), God is going to sift and sort all the sinners (that’s everyone of us); He will separate those whose sins have been forgiven from those who have held on to their sins, and those that deny that they have any need for forgiveness.

Now before we leave this particular verse, I want to point out one more thing about Jesus saying, “How often I have longed to gather your children together…”

Last week in our Sunday morning Bible study, we were studying St. Paul’s first letter to the young pastor, Timothy.  In 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul tells us that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  God wants all people to be saved!

But do you see the paradox here? If God desires all people to be saved, doesn’t God get everything He wants?  God wants all men to be saved yet not all men are saved. Why is that?  Mistakenly, many have tried to solve this paradox by looking for some cause of salvation in human beings; that men can some how earn their own salvation. “Well,” they suppose, “If some one is a good and decent person, if they have enough love and enough good works, then surely they will be saved.” 

My brothers and sisters, Salvation is salvation! That means we can’t do anything to make it happen; to be saved means just that — to be saved. If we somehow helped with that, then we would have to say that we merely survived, rather than say that we have been saved.  Jesus answers the question of the paradox. God wants all people to be saved. Jesus wanted to gather all of Jerusalem, but Jesus said the people of Jerusalem were not willing! If a person is lost, it is because they made that choice. They were not willing to be saved!

Earlier, I mentioned the rescue efforts of Coast Guard Lt. McConnell and his aircrew. I told you about the first three missions they flew where they rescued an extraordinary amount of people. But on their fourth mission, despite twelve different flights into New Orleans, they were not able to save even one person. None! Everyone they encountered on that mission refused to board the helicopter. Instead they told the aircrew to bring them food and water so that they could wait out the storm. They were warned that this was extremely dangerous as the waters were still rising and were not going away anytime soon.  Sadly, when the dykes protecting the city broke, many of those people perished because of their refusal to be rescued.

So what does it mean to be saved spiritually? That is such an important question. I don’t want anyone to be lost on the Day of Judgment, and again St. Paul reminds us that God desires all people to be saved, so this is a very important matter.  Many people know about God, many believe that God exist, but that doesn’t mean they are saved.  The argument can be made that even the devil knows about God and even the devil believes that God exists…  Far too often people only look to God for “food and water” and believe they can wait out the storm on their own; they believe by being a good person with good intentions, they can sit out the coming wave of God’s judgment.

To be saved means that two things will happen to us. First, there must be a spiritual breakdown.  You’ve heard of nervous or emotional breakdowns — I’m talking about a spiritual breakdown. This means that we must come to the realization that, because of our sinful nature, we all are totally lost and condemned sinners. As Dr. Martin Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism to confess, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess to God all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Him, and justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment…” or as we confessed earlier in our service, “…we confess before God and before one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our own sinful condition.”

Many people don’t go through this spiritual breakdown because they truly believe that they are pretty decent people and they wrongly believe that’s good enough. They arrive at that conclusion by comparing themselves to the rest of this sinful world.

In our Epistle lesson today, St. Paul tells us about people like that, he says, “[They are] enemies of the cross of Christ… their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with [their] minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19) So if you compare yourselves to the rest of this sinful world, you might look pretty good too.  

But we will not be judged by the standard of this world. On the Day of Judgment, we will be judged by the standard of God — the standard of God according to His Law.  Now I don’t care who you are, there is not one of us here who are able to keep those commandments perfectly. We all have broken God’s Law and we all deserve the prescribed punishment, which is death. To be spiritually broken is to come to this realization, that we are lost and condemned sinners and that we cannot free ourselves from this sinful condition.

Secondly, salvation means that we come to the realization that we are under the protection of God’s grace and mercy. As the hen gathers her brood under her wings, so does Jesus gather repentant sinners like you and me under the wings of His grace and His mercy.

These wings manifest themselves in two ways: First, in the promise of forgiveness found in God’s Word and, second, in the miracle of the Sacraments.  When you study the Bible you will find only three things promise salvation: salvation is found in God’s words of forgiveness; salvation is found in our Baptism when our sin was washed away and we were marked as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified; and, salvation is found in Holy Communion where Jesus Himself tells us, “this is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Here we can be sure and certain that God’s judgment on the world’s sin, and on our sin, will never reach us and cannot touch us.  Jesus came to the rescue, and He willfully gave His life to make sure of this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) We have to trust in this promise!

Now we come to the best and most important part of this passage. Jesus quotes Psalm 118: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Luke 13:35)  God is intent on saving; God desires all people to be saved. If a person is not saved, it is not for lack of God’s efforts. Remember at the beginning of this message I quoted Psalm 118, verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” A little further on, verse 24: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  And in verse 25: Save us, we pray, O Lord!  This is the only time this plea appears in the Bible in these words. 

The Hebrew word, “hoshi’a na,” is translated in Greek and pronounced in English, as “hosanna.” The original intent of the scripture is “God save us!” It is a plea for mercy.

Right after that, in verse 26, there is a shift from concern to confidence. Verse 26 says, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  This is where grace and mercy is found, it is found in He who comes in the name of the Lord!

And so we have: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Or, as we know it, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

Jesus gathers us under His wings of Grace and rescues us from death.  Jesus fills the gap that separates us from the Father, to bring us home into heaven.

The people of Jerusalem didn’t set out to reject God. They didn’t wake up one day and decide that, instead of listening to God, they would make it their mission to kill the Only Son of God. The people of Jerusalem were deceived. They were blinded of the truth. Deluded by their sin and the author of sin. And, as a result, they were unable and unwilling to hear the Word of the God. 

Everything in our readings today, from the Old Testament, the Epistle, and the Gospel readings set up the polarity of earth and heaven, of disgrace and glorification, humiliation and exaltation. We preach the cross, because it is the only way to glory. Just look at Jesus, who set His face toward Jerusalem, endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of power, with all things under His feet. Pastor Brian told us last week that Jesus choose way of the cross so that we would know that the only way to God the Father and eternity is through the cross.

It’s not about you, it’s not about who you are or what you’ve done (good or bad); it’s all about Jesus and it’s all about who He is and what He has done. We need to surrender to the fact that we are sinners and we cannot, with anything we do, free ourselves from that sinful condition.  

But we cling to the fact that Jesus is “He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35) He came to lay down His life for the sins of the world, for my sins and for your sins.

Jerusalem was blind to His gracious visitation, Blind to the presence of God among them, and they put Him to death like the prophets before Him. Yet, His sacrifice upon the cross became the cornerstone of His Church. Jesus visits us today in mercy with His preaching of forgiveness, to gather us to Himself, “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34). 

This is what God’s steadfast love is all about.  As we walk with Jesus to Jerusalem during this Lenten season, we realize just how complete and steadfast God’s love really is for this world. We need to take that love back out into the world, we need to show God’s saving grace, His mercy, and His love in how we treat our neighbors in the works we do.  We don’t do good works to be saved, we do good works because we are saved!  We love because he first loved us! (1 John 4:19)

A Day of Judgment is indeed coming one day, but God’s Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, has already come and rescued us, of this you can be confident!

Our help is in the name of the Lord! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.

Tempted!

March 10th, 2019

Lent 1C
March 10, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2a)

In a Hollywood depiction of the events during Joseph’s stay in Egypt, Potiphar’s wife tried her best to seduce him.  No matter what temptations she threw at him, he resisted.  Suddenly, out of frustration she ripped off her skirt and threw it over the statue of a pagan god.  “Now the gods will not see,” she said, thinking that her control over Joseph was complete.  And to this, Joseph replies, “But MY God sees!”

Facing life with Jesus as your Lord means walking down the same path He walked; it means facing the same temptations that He conquered all before a God who is all seeing!  For those of us who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, temptation often causes us a lot of distress, or as it is described in the book of Deuteronomy, we experience afflictions and even oppressions. [Deut. 26:7]  This morning, God’s Word assures us that He hears our cries for help and that He is near us… but He also assures us that in the end, because of Christ’s work upon the cross for us, we will not be put to shame! [Rom. 10:11b]

Have you ever felt like all of the forces of evil seemed to be pressing in against you?  

Well, imagine how Jesus must have felt… 40 days of tempting and testing.  No company… not even a stranger to speak to, and oh yes… no food!  He was tired, alone, and hungry, and on top of all of that, Satan himself appeared and was trying everything He could do to get Jesus to sin!  But Jesus, being both man and the Son of God was familiar with the ways of Satan.  He was there when Satan attacked Adam and Eve and led both of them and all of humanity into the captivity of sin.  He instructed Cain, before He killed His brother Able to fight the temptation of self pity with these words, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  Temptation seeks to test our resolve, our faith in God’s love, and even our motives for loving and worshiping Him. 

Isn’t it strange that temptation seems to always be the strongest just when we feel the strongest?  What I mean is, just when we feel like our walk of faith is finally going well… BAMB we are tested!  Many times temptation will attack us right after we leave church… or maybe even in church!  Where does this temptation come from?

Well there are three different sources of temptation that we need to be on the alert for if we are to become its master.  They are: the devil, our own desires and the ways of the world.  

The first and second temptation comes directly from the devil and from within ourselves.  

The devils are masters in the art of manipulation.  They will attack us where we are most vulnerable and susceptible.  Listen to how Eve, the mother of us all was deceived and you can see what I mean: “(The devil in the form of a serpent) said to (Eve), “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate… ” [Gen 3:1-6b]     

Did you notice how the devil attacked?  He used three weaknesses that Eve had in order to tempt her into sin.  They were her ignorance of God’s Word, her desire to possess things of beauty that were not hers, and her hunger to  know the mysteries of God.  First, God never said that Adam and Eve couldn’t touch the fruit, but instead He said that they couldn’t eat it.  Listen to God’s actual Words: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  If Eve had been more familiar… more intimate with God’s Word she would not have given the devil an opportunity to twist the meaning of God’s Word!  The second and third weakness of Eve is presented in these words: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.”  Oh dear Eve, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” [James 4:7b-8]  It is easy to find ourselves wondering what kind of tempting thoughts were going through Eve’s mind.  She must have thought, “God is love huh?  Well according to this serpent, He doesn’t love me enough to let me enjoy this pleasing fruit!  I wonder what else He’s holding back?  I’ll just take a bite and find out!”  

Now before we begin to be hyper-critical of Eve, let’s remember what God’s Word says about temptation, and how it attacks each of us: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” [1 Cor. 10:13]

Does this mean that Eve could have defeated the temptations of the devil and prevented the entire human race from falling into sin?  Absolutely!  Remember that both her and Adam were created perfect!  What we need to learn from this is that our biggest temptations always come from the devils and from within our own hearts.  

But there is a third source of temptation, and it comes to us from within this sinful world, specifically it comes by an exaggerated sense of self and a desire for material things.  Listen to how St. Paul sums up this truth in his letter to Timothy: “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. [Timothy 6:6-10]

So what are we to do?  How can we find rescue and relief from this oppressive temptation?  We turn to God and His Holy Word!  We turn to our God who sees all of our afflictions, toil, and the oppressions of the devil, and we let His Holy Word save us, teach us, and guide us.  We turn to our Savior, Jesus Christ who faced all of these same temptations and defeated them in our place, for us!  In fact, let’s do that right now… let’s let Jesus, the living Word of God demonstrate these truths for us in our gospel lesson.

Jesus, as our Champion faces Satan in our place and for our good.

Satan, seeing Jesus tired, alone, and hungry pounces upon Him like a roaring lion seeking to devour Him, and he says, “Prove you are a Son of God.  You’re hungry right?  Well serve yourself up some hot nourishing bread!  Just turn one of the stones into bread; you can do it easily … remember who you are Son of God!”  But Jesus answers back and says, “No Satan.  God’s Word has a better answer for me.  Let me take you to Deuteronomy 8:3, where we are taught that the Father has something a lot more substantial in mind for us than simple bread.  He promises that He will supply all of our needs.  He knows what I really need right now and He is supplying me with something a lot more satisfying than bread.  I need power from Him to enter into my ministry of proclaiming the gospel.  He is giving me what He knows I need, not what you would like to trick me into thinking I need.  I will listen to the Father and serve Him… not my own appetite!”

Having failed at the first test, Satan now begins the second one: “Ok, Son of God, you and I both know that in order  to take this kingdom from me and transfer all of these pathetic people from my kingdom of sin into your kingdom of  grace you are going to have to suffer greatly for them.  But let me save you all of the pain, anguish, and humiliation… let me just give it to you.  See, come up here and look down below.  What do you see?  You see everything don’t you?  Every kingdom and every power and authority on earth, right?  Well it’s all mine, and I can give it to anyone I want, so I choose to give it to you!  Oh, but there’s just one little thing you need to do for me… it’s nothing really… just quickly bow your knee to me, just a slight bend and I’ll give it all to you.  Once you do that, you can go back to being the obedient Son of God to your beloved Heavenly Father.”  

What a tempting trade off!  If it was one of us, perhaps we would say that the end justifies the means.  What’s wrong with just a moment of false worship for full time, eternal authority over the world?  But, this kind of thinking reveals something much deeper than convenience… it shows our devotion to our own self-interest and a hunger for personal power.  It shows our willingness to abandon God and to follow Satan’s path, a path that never leads to God.

But how does Jesus answer?  He responds, “The Bible has a better answer.  Deuteronomy 6:13 says that we are to worship God and no one else.  That means that every moment of our time is to be devoted to the worship and service of God the Father.  Sorry Satan, but that means there is no time left for you!  I’m going to do things the Father’s way, even if it leads to the cross, my suffering, and my death!  I will listen to God’s Word not you!

So now comes the third and final test.  

Satan says to our Lord: “Hey Son of God!  Why don’t you show the world who you really are?  Prove to them once and for all that you are Your Father’s Son!  Let the Father serve you for once, after all you are Co-equal and Co-eternal to Him and the Spirit!  Come on, let’s go to the temple and I’ll show you how to get what’s coming to you.  Look down there below on the holy city.  See all of those tiny—insignificant people down there?  They’ll come running to you quicker than you can blink an eye if they see you throw yourself off the wall and survive.  The Father’s Word says you can do it!  Listen to Psalm 91: “For He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.  On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” [vs. 11-12]  I am certain the Father will save you.  I’ll bet you won’t even stub a toe!  Why I’ll bet He’ll rescue you in midair.  Everyone will see it and fall at your feet and your mission will be accomplished!”

And to this Jesus answers:  “Satan, you sure know how to take God’s Word out of context and twist its meaning to suit your purpose!  Go back to the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 6 and read this Word: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test!”  You are a tempter, the one who puts God and His children to the test!  And what did it get you?  You were thrown out of heaven and stripped of your heavenly glory and your name!  God is not a tempter and He is never to be tempted!  I will trust the Father and do things His way!  Your way is slick and easy.  It might make great marketing sense but there is just one problem… it is not God’s way!  No thanks!  I will serve the Father and never ask Him to serve me.  Worshiping God isn’t a negotiation… give me this and I’ll give you that.  No, worshiping God is total devotion, no matter the cost!  I’ll follow Him even to the cross… to my death so that these “little” people that you harass and torture will have comfort and hope!  I’ll be obedient unto death, so that they will know that they have a champion… one who fights with them and beside them!  And, then I will ensure that these Words of mine are preserved for eternity so that when they hear them they will have faith… faith in my Father’s compassion and faith in my passion for them!  This is how I will save them!

Dear friends, Jesus is your champion!  He has walked among and conquered the temptations of the devil and this world!  But more importantly, He has walked the way of the cross, the way of suffering and death for you!  He did this so that you would not lose hope in the middle of your own trials and temptations.  He followed the way of the cross so that you would have the strength to overcome the many temptations of life.  But if you fall to temptation, He wants you to remember that He chose the way of the cross so that you would know the way back to God… through the message of the Gospel, which is the message of forgiveness, even for you. You are forgiven!  

In your baptism, Jesus, the Son of God spoke this truth to Satan regarding you: “Be gone Satan!  This one is loved by my Father and saved by my grace!”  But He also speaks to you… He speaks the word of the gospel, God’s forgiveness and love.  He speaks all of these things so that you may be assured of eternal life and so that you can resist the devil and order Him to flee!  Resist him by declaring, “I am baptized into Christ!  And in that holy washing of water and God’s Word of forgiveness, I have been sealed as His child forever in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… AMEN!”

Christ Alone

March 3rd, 2019

Transfiguration Sunday
March 3, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” (Luke 9:36a)

When I was a boy, I use to think that Lent was, well… depressing!  I dreaded going to Wednesday evening services.  Advent on the other hand was exciting… Christmas and all of the presents were just around the corner.  I wanted the high points of Advent and Christmas worship, the mountaintop experience, not the valleys of Lent!  Boy I had it wrong!  Do you ever find yourself looking only for the “highs” and avoiding the “lows”? But the truth is friends; we can’t avoid the “lows” because they are part of life.  In our Gospel reading this morning, the Apostles were probably feeling a little confused and depressed because Jesus had recently told them about his impending suffering and death upon the cross.  His disciples were afraid, and they were confused!  Perhaps Jesus saw that Peter, James and John needed a glimpse of heaven in order to make it through everything that was about to happen. And ever since, His church has also closed the season of Epiphany (or kicked off Lent) on the mountaintop of the Transfiguration.

So why are we here this morning? 

Are we here to close off the season of Epiphany with a big bang, just as we started it at Jesus’ Baptism? Do we need a big high in order to carry us through the dark valley until we finally arrive at Easter? If you think about it, we could ask the same question about every Sunday. Do we go to church in order to get away from the real world? Or do we go to God’s Divine Service so that through us, God can make something good happen when we return to the “real” world on Monday?

Now that sounds a little “other worldly” doesn’t it?  It makes our time on Sunday’s sound sort of “not of this world”? And that is the point of the Transfiguration story. It’s a real life account about a “not of this world” event. It was the kind of event that left two apostles speechless and another one speaking nonsense. It was so much “not of this world” that it’s recorded in all three of the Gospel accounts.  And each one of them ended with the need to leave the mountaintop experience with Jesus and re-enter “real life” with Him as well.

This morning, we learn that the world of mountaintop experiences is not enough to carry us through. Jesus and His disciples had to live in the real world, and so do we!  But Jesus knew that the experience was necessary for His innermost circle of apostles and because it is recorded for us in scripture, He is telling us that it is important for us as well!  Peter, James, and John needed to see His glory, and so do we!

What does it mean to see Jesus’ glory?  

Well I think our gospel lesson this morning gives us a pretty good picture of that.  Out of thin air, or maybe better put, out of the fog of prayer, appeared Moses and Elijah.  Our text says that they were talking to Jesus about His departure.  What departure?  Well His death upon the cross… his departure from this sinful world!  Why was that important?  Because it signified the fulfillment of all the promises that God had ever made about forgiveness and eternal life!  Those promises began way back in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15) when God first promised Adam and Eve that their descendant, the Messiah, would smash the head of the serpent (Satan), and rip away his ability to separate men and women from God’s love due to their sin!  But why Moses and Elijah?  Because they represented at the time all of God’s recorded Word, a Word which promised that their Savior was coming; a Savior Who would utterly destroy the power of sin, death, and the devil !  

Moses represented God’s Law which was given to Moses and the church to demonstrate that no one can find God’s love and presence outside of His mercy and forgiveness!  Through the Law, all of mankind  was to see that on their own, they are condemned to eternal death unless God intervenes!  And Elijah represents all of the prophets of God who continually warned God’s people that they were not keeping God’s Law, and frankly they didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping it!  But each of the prophets also promised something special, they promised that God’s means of rescue was coming to save them.  A messiah who was first promised to Adam and Eve would come and destroy Satan’s authority and release sinners from the captivity of sin and death if they would but wait in faith for the fulfillment of that promise, and trust in God’s forgiveness and love!

Peter, James, and John needed to see these two Old Testament Saints surrounded by Jesus’ glory because it meant that the promise was about to be fulfilled.  It meant that He didn’t come to simply rescue them from the temporary tyranny of a Caesar, but from the eternal tormenting of sin, death, and the devil!  The cavalry had arrived, and the counter attack was about to begin; not against an invading and occupying government of men, but against the spiritual and eternal occupation and captivity of evil!

Jesus knew that they must see His glory so that they could tell others about that glory… so that those who heard would have faith and know that God who is faithful had not left them alone to struggle against their enemies!  Jesus knew that they must see His glory so that when they saw Him suffering in great agony upon the cross, they would not lose hope; so that when He lay in the belly of the earth for three days they would not be afraid; and so that when He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven they would know that they were not alone!  He was still with them in His glory!

Jesus wanted them to understand once and for all that His glory has always been His and always shall be.  Yes He walked and talked with them, as one of them, but He never stopped being God… He never stopped being their Redeemer.  It was His glory; it was His to reveal or not to reveal as He desired.  They must have asked themselves as He hung upon the cross in agony and humiliation: “Why don’t you reveal your glory?  What are you doing?  You don’t have to do this!”  And to these thoughts, Jesus quietly reassures their fears and ours… “It is my glory.  Have faith.  Trust me and know that I will reveal my glory according to my own will and in my own means.  Accept my means of grace, and you will see my glory; the promise fulfilled… the promise of your salvation!”  

This is why they must see His glory, but none of this would make sense until He conquered sin and death once and for all.  None of it would make sense until they witnessed His resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven!

We too, must see His glory.  

Just like the apostles, we also need to learn to let go of our own sinful thoughts that get in the way of God’s work of salvation within our own hearts.  We need to admit that there is nothing we can do to please God or make things right with Him.  So to see Jesus’ glory is to first see our own sin… to see how hopeless we are without His rescue. To see His glory is to admit that we too are being held in bondage by the very same enemies that conquered and destroyed all men and women since the fall of Adam and Eve!  And second, if we are to see Jesus’ glory, we must see Him for who He really is for us personally… He is our only means of salvation… our only means of eternal life.  He is God our Savior!

And how does He save us?  How does He show us His glory?  This friends is the best part of all, He does it in an “out of this world” way… He does it according to His means and according to His will!  He does it with Words, His Holy Word’s, and He does it with simple elements; a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.  The same God that spoke the world into existence speaks new life into you with the sweet words of the gospel… “You are forgiven!”  And with that same simple Word He takes even simpler things like water, bread, and wine, and He not only gives you forgiveness but the ability to believe in that forgiveness as well!  Dear friends, hear this good news and hear it well… You are forgiven!  You are loved by God!  Do you receive this message?  Will you let it change you?  

So now, let all God’s people say AMEN!  Can I get a witness?!?   Peter had it right; the mountain top is good!  

Hey, let’s stay with this feeling as long as we can!  Peter wanted to do just that… he wanted to pitch a few tents so that the experience would last, so that his little glimpse into heaven would continue. But then He heard the voice of God speak, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!”  And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone…. alone with Peter, James, and John, just as He will be alone with you when you leave this sanctuary.  And just as He led the three down the mountaintop into the “real” world where real life is happening, He is leading you out into that same world.  A world that is still being held captive by sin, death, and the devil.  A broken world that is still living in fear and stressed out with the worries of this life!  

On Monday morning, you will find yourself in enemy territory… behind enemy lines, but have no fear Jesus is with you.  His glory remains upon you, even within you because you have been forgiven and saved by His Holy Word, washed clean by His Holy baptismal waters, and nourished by His very body and blood within His supper, and all of this was done for a purpose.  So that you may bring others into His presence, into His glory here in this very sanctuary so that they too may say by faith, “Master, it is good that we are here!” Amen.

Loving Like Jesus

February 24th, 2019

Epiphany 7-C
February 124, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” [Luke 6:27-30]

Wow! That’s some kind of “crazy love right”? Love is beautiful! Love is messy! Love makes the world go ‘round. There are more songs written about love than any other topic. People will tell you that love is what makes us unique from all other creatures. But this morning Jesus is telling us that what we think love is, is not the kind of love He’s given us or wants us to demonstrate to this unbelieving world. If you settle for the kind of love that the world thinks is good, then you don’t yet know God’s love. You say, “Well I really love my family and close friends”, and to that Jesus says, “If you just love those who love you, so what, even sinners who won’t receive me as the Son of God and their Savior do that.” If you counter that deficiency by saying, “But I always try to do good for them, even when it is a sacrifice.” Jesus responds, “So what, even the worst of sinners will do good for people they know and like.” And to that you say, “But Lord, I’m a giving person and I try to give when ever I can.” And to that Jesus says, “Is that right? Well even judged and condemned sinners say the same thing.”

So what is going on here? If we are no better than those who don’t know Jesus, how can we be sure that God loves us and saves us? Well let’s look at the rest of our gospel lesson and try to understand what Jesus is saying and also offering us this morning.

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” [Luke 6:31]

A person of this world, that is a person without Jesus sees these words as a challenge or a goal. It hears them as the Golden Rule, you know… “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This worldly person considers the golden rule and says, “You know, I like that rule; I’ve tried to follow it most of my life, and for the most part I’ve done pretty good with it. But sometimes, considering the people I’m dealing with, there are exceptions. With some people, the rule, my rule is either avoid them or “Do unto them before they do unto me.”

For people of this world and even for Christians who have allowed this world to cloud their judgment, this “Golden Rule” has become a bronze suggestion. And instead of feeling guilt when they cannot love the way Jesus asks us to love, they congratulate themselves for a good try. They no longer see the perfection of God in His Word or in their life, instead they see it as an unreachable goal but worthy of keeping as a standard. When they do this they’ve downgraded Jesus as simply another lifestyle coach.

These worldly people are easy to spot and their just as easy to mix with. And when we mix with them long enough, we can get lost in the midst of them. But thank God Jesus promises in our Baptism, that He will never leave nor forsake us! Thank God that through the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us richly, we hear in both the Golden Rule and the rest of our Gospel lesson both the impossible perfection of God and the mercy, love, and forgiveness of God!

“Become merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” [Luke 6:36]

A Baptized child of God hears the Words of Jesus this morning, and recognizes the perfection of God; a perfection which can never be attained by sinful men and women like us. A baptized child of God has been taught to look at the things of this world and see them as they are, sinful and unclean. You see, our new baptized nature calls a thing what it is; it admits that on its own it could never truly possess and reflect the kind of love that Jesus is calling for, because in its nature, that is if left alone, it is sinful and unclean, left without hope or health. It knows that this kind of sacrificial love can only come as a gift from God. 

Through this message of Jesus Christ we are forced to see God’s perfection, and then we are moved to confess to Him that we have fallen short and deserve only His punishment. But in that same message, we are shown God’s mercy for the world. And through the cross of Jesus Christ we are moved to hope that this same mercy would be ours. In God’s Gospel of mercy and forgiveness, we hear the Words,  “God so loved the “world” that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” and we hope that these Words, this kind of love, mercy, and forgiveness would include us in the “whoever” part. And God in His love hears our cry for mercy and forgiveness and makes this gift of love personal, for you! God gives to you who turn to Him forgiveness. And now, that which was very public (for the world), has become very personal; you have become the whoever. He gives you this personal love and mercy in the waters of your baptism. 

To you who both believe and receive the gift of His Son Jesus, you have been born again by the mercy of God. Born again by the forgiveness of God. Born again through the cross of Jesus Christ. You have been recreated through the washing of the water and the Word. You have been saved, recreated solely through the work of God’s Holy Spirit. And now, God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus lives within you. You who are baptized have been transformed, are being transformed, and will be transformed by the renewing of your mind and heart. This new nature is called the baptismal life.

This new baptized nature of yours has been created through God’s forgiving love and shown to you in mercy for the sake of Jesus Christ. This forgiven nature of yours can’t help but love as Jesus loves; it can’t help but show mercy and forgiveness just at you were given these things. But there is just one problem, your old sinful nature is not quite dead yet. So your new nature must be encouraged with Words like…

“Give and it will be given to you.” [Luke 6:38]

In order for us to be filled with and express God’s forgiving love, we are encouraged every day to fight our sinful nature. We are asked to crucify it with Christ and to drown it in the waters of our own baptism. And as we fight this “good fight” we will come to know both victory and defeat. When the victories come, and they will, let us remember to thank God for His work of love, mercy and forgiveness within us and through us. And when defeats come, that is when we sin, let us be quick to confess this to God and then turn to Jesus and His cross where we are reminded constantly that through Him, God the Father has come to us in love, and in our Baptism He has forgiven us of all our sins and loves us eternally. This rhythm of life is called repentance and it alone produces divine love and forgiveness, which can only come through Christ.

For a moment, let’s allow our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 45:3–15) to illustrate this truth. Remember Joseph has been through a lot.   He was sold.  He was accused of sleeping with another man’s wife…and he did not.  He was put in jail. He was almost forgotten about….but through it all God did not forget about him.   In the sight of God, we are all on a level playing field.   God does not forget about us.  God does not forsake us.  His eye is always on the sparrow and He’s always watching out for us. When he reveals Himself to his brothers now…they are probably trembling in their sandals.   Joseph has made it to the top.   Joseph is at the top, but not because of Joseph, but rather this is God’s doing.  Joseph said, God sent me here.  Joseph acknowledged  that he was where he was, he had what he had, he was blessed as he was, because it was God who had brought him through all that he had been through.  He wasn’t mad at his brothers, though we certainly would understand if he was. He was not getting even with his brothers, he was not judging his brothers because of the wrong that they had done.  Perhaps he remembered the “silver rule”, which says that two wrongs don’t make a right?  If someone else is wrong, don’t join them in their wrongness.  Wrong is wrong….no matter who is doing it or saying it.    I think I remember hearing  somebody said, “When they go low, we go high?”

You know friends, our life in Christ is so much more than keeping the Golden Rule or the Silver Rule, isn’t it? In our Gospel lesson Jesus isn’t just telling us that if we follow His rules precisely we’ll be saved, because even our combined best “good deeds” can’t even put a dent in our personal debt of sin, let alone humanity’s sin. If doing our best to keep rules was all that was needed to overcome humanity’s ills, there wouldn’t have needed to be a cross to provide lasting forgiveness. 

Ultimately, we can’t please God by being good, only Jesus can do that. But, Jesus is inviting us to receive the goodness that He has paid for; to receive it in faith and to let it work within us. He’s asking us to hand over the grudges, the hurts, the sins to Him and let Him remove them through the power of His forgiveness. He’s asking you to receive His mercy by grace so that He can unleash the power of His forgiving love through your life to others. That’s God at work in Jesus’ love and passion through Christians like us; encouraging us to give to others as He has given so much to us.

Listen, God knows forgiveness is difficult. He knows that it takes courage and strength to offer mercy where it is undeserved. God the Father paid the highest price for our sins by sending His only begotten Son Jesus to an undeserving, gruesome death. But he also wants us to live out the truth that Jesus rose from the dead so that we would know that one day so shall we. But in the mean time Jesus invites us to live as He lives, bringing one forgiven sinner at a time the love and mercy of God through the forgiveness of sins. Through the work of Christ, God has wiped your slate clean so that he has restored His relationship of love with us. And now he asks you to become a minister of reconciliation to all who have ever hurt you. He longs to overwhelm you with his love and mercy to the degree that offering others mercy and love comes from a place of overflow rather than your own strength. He longs to fill you with courage and perspective so that you can forgive those who need a glimpse of God’s forgiving love and mercy, unearned and given only through Jesus Christ. AMEN.

CHRIST IS RISEN!

February 18th, 2019

Epiphany 6-C
February 17, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

CHRIST IS RISEN!  (response: He has risen indeed)

When my children were little, and even sometimes today, when I would see them hurt or struggling with uncontrollable issues in their lives, I often wished I could trade places with them. I wished that either I could wave some magical wand and make it all disappear… or that God could somehow lay those burdens on me and lift them off of my children.  

One of my boys used to suffer from “night terrors” or terrible nightmares and he would wake up screaming in the middle of the night. My wife would hold him, carry him, and walk around with him, trying to sooth him and convince him that these things were not real.  Sometimes simply waking him up would calm him down. Sometimes he’d continue screaming and crying, and as a father, I would look on helplessly, praying that God would take these nightmares away and sometimes I would pray for them to afflict me instead of my son.

I don’t say these things to boast my abilities as a father; there are many things I could have done better. But, I think all parents have those feelings for their children at some point. It’s part of the way we love our children and part of a parent wanting the best for their children. For me, it’s part of my “fatherly love” for my boys.  Again, I think every parent experiences similar feelings when their children are hurting and struggling.

And even if you’re not a parent, I believe everyone has similar moments when you see another human being suffering, whether family or not, and you just wish you could take that pain away, or wish that the pain could afflict you for just a moment, to give that person relief.

Throughout Scripture, in fact the entire Bible, is full of examples of our Almighty God’s Fatherly love that He has for us. And especially throughout the Epistles, St. Paul repeatedly and painstakingly points out just how much God really loves us.  It is Paul who tells us in Romans chapter 5:

“…God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies [of God] we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:8-10)

And, Paul points out that out of His “Fatherly love,” God looked upon us in our wicked, sinful condition and He lovingly longed to take away our afflictions and in doing so, He sent His Only Son, God became man, He sent His Only Son to take our place and put all our afflictions upon Himself, so that we could be reconciled to our Heavenly Father. God did this simply because He loves us and longs for a relationship with us.

I find it interesting that in today’s Epistle lesson, Paul speaks about how some of the people in the church at Corinth were struggling with the concept that Jesus died and then rose from the dead. It’s a situation that I wish I had more information on. I mean, it leaves us wondering was it simply that these Corinthians were having a hard time comprehending the miraculous? Or, was it that they were being deceived by someone? Maybe it was a rabbi who didn’t believe in the afterlife? Or, a Greek scholar who believed that consciousness was the only real reality, and that reality ended with death? We just don’t know.  But we do know that someone within the Corinthian church challenged the idea that Jesus died and rose from the dead, otherwise Paul would not have written about it.

Here’s the problem as Paul addressed it, if these people were right… if there was no resurrection from the dead for Jesus, then there could be no resurrection for us. If that’s the case, then what are we doing here? We might as well go home now, put a “For Sale” sign on the front of the church and just go home.

Everything we do here in this church, everything we proclaim, finds its root in the claim that Jesus has rose from the dead.  Everything we believe, teach, and confess, hinges on that one core act of love by our God, that Christ is risen from the dead.

Paul tells us that if Christ has not been risen from the dead, then our preaching, our proclaiming the Gospel, our faith and everything about it, would be in vain.  

Think about it. According to scripture we proclaim, there is only one thing that saves us – Christ crucified, Christ died, and Christ resurrected. If Jesus did not rise from the dead then what we proclaim is nothing more than a lie.  Our readings, our teachings, our hymns, and everything we do to proclaim God’s glory, would be nothing more than a centuries old scam.

We love to celebrate Christmas, the “birth” of our Lord and Savior. But without the resurrection, Jesus would have been just another child born some 2000 years ago. Without our foreknowledge of what Christ would do for us, the birth of this child would mean nothing.  Every person, man or woman beside Adam and Eve, that has ever lived were born of a mother. You and I were born into this world. Without the resurrection, Jesus’ birth would be just another baby born into this world.

And even Jesus’ death, His death on the cross, without the resurrection would be just another person dying.  Again, every man or woman that has ever stepped on this earth either has died or is going to die. You and I are going to experience an earthly death.

In doing my research for today’s lesson, I wanted to find an example of someone who gave his life in order to save someone else.  And I wanted to somehow tie it in with Black History Month. Amazingly, what I learned is that 89 different African-American men have been awarded the Medal of Honor in service to this country. Reading through those men’s stories was fascinating.

What I was looking for is a story similar to USMC Private First Class James Anderson Jr. of Los Angeles, California.  PFC Anderson joined the Marine Corps in February 17, 1966 (That’s 53 years ago today).  PFC Anderson went through Basic Training right here at Marine Corps Recruit Depot – San Diego. And, then he was stationed at Camp Pendleton before being sent off to fight in Vietnam.  On February 28, 1967, (a little over a year later) He served as a rifleman in Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.  While in the Quang Tri province on Vietnam’s central coast, PFC Anderson and his platoon were the lead element on a mission to rescue a heavily besieged patrol when they themselves came under heavy fire in the dense jungle.

The platoon reacted swiftly, getting on line as best they could in the thick terrain, and began returning fire. PFC Anderson found himself tightly bunched together with other members of the platoon, only 20 meters from the enemy position. An intense firefight ensued. Suddenly, an enemy grenade landed in the midst of the Marines, right next to and rolled alongside PFC Anderson. Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, he reached out, grasped the grenade, pulled it to his chest and curled around it as it went off.  PFC Anderson’s body absorbed the major force of the explosion, taking his life, but sparing the rest of his platoon. 

PFC Anderson was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Lyndon B. Johnson later that year. He was the first African-American Marine awarded the Medal of Honor. PFC Anderson would have only been 72 years old this year.

While Jesus tells us, “Greater love has no man then this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Jesus was talking about Himself and what He was about to do.  While PFC Anderson’s actions were substantially courageous and honorable to sacrifice his own life to safe his friends, his actions were only temporary and could only offer his friends a short reprieve. 

And while the Pharisees thought that Jesus’ death on the cross was the end of Him, it was just the beginning of eternal life for you and I.

What then do we have faith in, if not the promise of God to save us from our sin, and give us eternal life? And, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then we have no link to that forgiveness, or the gift of everlasting life.

Again, Paul tells us in Romans, chapter 6:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

If there is no resurrection from the dead, the act of baptism is meaningless. It is an empty act and we don’t have the assurance of eternal life or the forgiveness of sins.  

If that were the case, I might as well not finish… Jeez! I might as well just walk out of here now and not even worry about this afternoon… for if Jesus did not rise from the dead then the act of baptism, the gift of communion, the assurance of confession and absolution… are all meaningless… they mean nothing without the Good News of the Gospel.

The Good News is summed up in the words of Martin Luther:

“Therefore one must teach as follows: ‘Behold, Christ died for you! He took sin, death, and hell upon Himself and submitted Himself. But nothing could subdue Him, for He was too strong; He rose from the dead, was completely victorious, and subjected everything to Himself. He did all this in order that you might be free from it and lord over it. If you believe this, then you have it! For we are not able to do all this with our own power.” We can’t even belief without the power of the Holy Spirit.   Luther goes on to say, “Consequently, Christ had to do it, otherwise there would have been no need for Him to come down from heaven.”

The next to last verse of our Epistle lesson is a bit unnerving, it tells us what the end result would be if Christ is not alive, if He did not conquer death. It says:

If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world. (1 Corinthians 15:19 GNT)

In other words: If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, then we’re a pretty sorry lot. (1 Corinthians 15:19 MSG)

If there is no resurrection, then the Christian faith as we know it falls apart, it’s practices, it’s teachings would all be lies, for they are all based on Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

But here is what changes everything – Yes indeed, CHRIST IS RISEN!  (response: He has risen indeed)

We know that when we proclaim THIS GOSPEL, people come to life, and people come to faith. Our baptism affirms us to it; our celebration of the Lord’s Supper shouts it out – Jesus died and rose again for us!  Jesus died and rose again for you!

And, this faith that has been ignited in us by the Holy Spirit, tells us that our credo means something. It is at the heart of our confession and absolution, for without Jesus’ atoning death, without His blood having been shed for us, there is no forgiveness of sin. When we say the creed, look at the words following the words, “Jesus”: was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. 

 THIS IS WHAT WE BELIEVE! We stake our lives on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. We stake our lives on it, now and eternally. 

And we bear witness that we are free from guilt, free from shame, free from sin and free from Satan and death; We live in Christ now and we will live in Christ eternally!

We live each day knowing that Christ has died, Christ rose from the dead, and Christ will come again – And He will to bring us to glory with the Father in heaven. And, we say, “Come Lord, Jesus, come!”

Now, may the Father who gives us that peace that surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And all the faithful said, “Amen.”

OK, If You Say So!

February 10th, 2019

Epiphany 5-C
February 10, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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It’s been a long morning of hard work for Simon-Peter.  Fishing, fishing, and more fishing and not a single fish to show for his labor.  Peter is tired and he is discouraged!  He’s sitting at the edge of the lake cleaning his nets, hearing Jesus speak… hearing Him teach, but not really listening to the words.  He’s more concerned about how he’s going to care for his family.  Have you been there?  Do you know how Peter feels?

The crowds are pressing in on Jesus to hear the word of God. 

They seem hungry to hear it, and all Peter can think of is how hungry his family will be if he can’t put food on the table!  As the crowd presses in on Jesus, they’re also moving Him to the water’s edge. What’s Jesus answer to this dilemma?  He calls for a floating pulpit, a boat, Simon Peter’s boat to be exact.  Peter must have thought, “Well at least it’s good for something!  It sure didn’t do me any good today!”   Jesus climbs into the boat and begins to teach the people about God and His kingdom of grace. They are hanging on His every Word, because they are like sheep without a shepherd…  Within the voice of this shepherd, unlike false ones, they find an unexplainable sense of comfort and assurance within His words.

We don’t know exactly what Jesus preached that day because it isn’t recorded for us.  Peter probably didn’t know either, because He was more interested in cleaning his nets and providing for his family.  But we do know that He was most certainly preaching faith into the hearts of those who were listening!  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God,” which is always centered in the message of Christ Jesus!   What is that message?  Repent!  Turn away from your sinful notions about God and His Kingdom of righteousness; hear the truth about your sinful nature, and then hear how the Father of mercy and love has solved that fatal problem, and hear how He gives you new life through the forgiveness of your many sins!

Now when Jesus had finished His sermon, knowing that those Word’s were bringing new life into the hearts of the people, He turned to the one man who needed to be listening, but wasn’t.  

Jesus turned to Simon-Peter and said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  And Peter answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” [Luke. 5:4-5]

Could you hear the frustration in Peter’s words?  “Put out?!  What do you think we’ve been doing all morning?  But, ok Lord… if you say so!  But I’m not happy with this!”  

Some of us might find fault with Peter for throwing his little fit… I mean after all, this is the same Jesus who recently healed his mother-in-law from a life threatening illness!  “Come on man!” we might be thinking, “Where’s your appreciation?  Where’s your faith?”  But the proof of faith is in the fruit of service! Peter did as the living Word of God instructed, all be it reluctantly.  And in the end, he was blessed because of his obedience.

Friends, attitude and obedience are not the same thing!  Attitudes change like the winds, or like the waves upon the waters that are being fished!  But obedience and trust in God’s Word are the very thing that controls the winds and the waters, even the fish beneath them.  

While Peter was busy tending to the worries of life, hundreds of people were blessed with faith unto salvation, which came to them through the living Word of God.  This was a Word that Peter had probably heard many times.  Maybe he felt that he could afford to do something else with his time… this time, but Jesus had other ideas.  Jesus wanted Peter to be blessed also.  So He calls and Peter responds!  Reluctant but obedient!  

Peter needed to hear the Word… we need to hear it!  But what is that word?

It is the same message that the people on shore needed to hear… forgiveness!  

What was Peter’s reaction to the miraculous catch of fish that he, John and James took in?  He was ashamed!  Ashamed that he neglected the Words of His Master!  Ashamed that His heart was not centered on the miraculous Words of Jesus.  And so we hear his confession, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” [vs.8]   

Dear friends, in this simple story we see the loving care that Jesus demonstrates for all God’s children, even the ones who aren’t listening or won’t listen!  Peter’s ears had checked out because his heart was consumed by other things.  But He needed to hear the Word; he needed to hear about God’s love, so Jesus engaged his eyes in order to open his heart!  And so it is with us!

So many times we let the worries and cares, or maybe the fun and distractions of our lives drowned out God’s Word… His living presence in our lives.  And when we do this, we begin to lose perspective, God’s perspective; so He intervenes.  What is it that He’s trying to tell us?  That we need Him… we need His forgiveness… we need His Words of eternal life!  For in Him we live and breathe, and find our existence!  

And when He gets our attention, like Peter, we are ashamed and full of remorse!  We confess to Him that we’ve lived our lives as if He did not matter.  And praise God for this confession friends, because it is the very thing that moves Him to quickly speak His Words of love and forgiveness to us.  “Do not be afraid!  I have overcome sin, death and the devil!  You are saved from these things… you are forgiven.  But you are saved with a purpose!”

And what’s that purpose?  To be obedient!  Jesus wants you to follow Him where ever He leads!  He wants you to take His Word with you in your heart wherever you go!  What Word is that?  The same Word you received in your baptism… the same Word you hear preached and read for yourself… the same Word you eat and drink; the Word of repentance and forgiveness!  Jesus wants you to bring Him and His message of eternal life to your neighbor… He wants you to be a fisher of men!  And unlike the fishing that takes place in rivers, lakes, and oceans, where being caught means death, He wants to help you catch your neighbor so that He can bring them life!  He wants you to catch people unto eternal life!

Jesus asked Peter to leave everything and follow Him.  And for some, for pastors, chaplains, and missionaries, that is still His call!  While that certain call is admirable, it is not the only call!  Jesus calls each of us in whatever position of life we find ourselves to be fishers of men!  You don’t need to take a course on evangelism or persuasive speech to fish these waters!  All you need is a call!  All you need is a Word from God!  And my friends, each of us has this call, and each of us has the message.  We are to speak the Words of life… we are to speak of repentance and forgiveness.  The same message that saved us is the very message that will save our neighbors!

Dear friends, this story about Peter’s experience is recorded here for us, so that his experience will become ours; so that the same faith and energy that was created in Peter will be created in us.  

God wants us like Peter to have a strong faith that will overcome the doubts of this world, and then He wants us to have the obedience to follow Jesus and see others caught by the very same message.  

As you live your life friends, be ready to allow God to speak to you and through you… be ready to let Him call you and lead you.  And when you have an opportunity to speak for Him, share His message with your neighbors.  The ones that God has prepared friends will listen and they will follow you, just as the crowds on the lake shore hung on every Word that Jesus spoke.  And where will you lead them?  To the very same place that God dutifully ministers to you… right here in this very church!  Here where the baptism font waits to destroy the power of sin, death, and the devil!  Here to hear the Words of eternal life proclaimed!  Here to feast at His table where forgiveness is served through His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine!

Friends, after Jesus gave Peter his direction, and after Peter responded in obedience, the God given result was a catch of fish that was miraculous.  Seeing that this catch was far more than he could have imagined or handled alone, “(Peter) signaled to (his) partners in the other boat to come and help (him). And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.” [vs. 7]  

What we learn in these Words is that fishing for men is a team endeavor.  We need each of you if we are to fill this boat, Christ’s church, even this little boat we call Trinity.  That’s your calling; it’s the calling of each and every one of us!  And why should we fill this church?  So that the Word that is proclaimed may draw other “fishers of men” into the service of Christ, and so that the Kingdom may be expanded one forgiven sinner at a time!  

I pray for a blessed and fruitful catch, in Jesus name…. AMEN!

The Way of Love!

February 3rd, 2019

Epiphany 4-C
February 3, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

A woman was injured when a trolly derailed and veered onto a portion of the stations platform where she was standing. She was caught beneath one of the cars. The police sent for a crane to lift the car off her body. While waiting for the crane, a crowd of people gathered out of curiosity.
    One man pushed through the crowd, crawled beneath the car that had been derailed and was teetering precariously, and said to her, “Take my hand.” As she took his hand, he began to pray for her, and she felt warmth and courage. This calmed her and prevented her from going into shock.
    After the crane arrived and the woman was released, she said, “I never thought an outstretched hand could mean so much.”

We all love to hear heroic, self sacrificing stories like this one because they communicate some of the best qualities of love that people can display.  We celebrate this type of “self sacrificing” love when we hear about it, and God agrees… we should celebrate!  And yet, God doesn’t want you to just admire and celebrate this type of love, He insists that it should be alive and central within each of us!  He wants you to be a doer not just an admirer!  Listen to how Jesus uses love to sum up all of the 10 Commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” [Matthew 22:37–40]

This morning dear friends, God is stretching out His hand to you in this sinful world and He wants you to grab onto Him through His Word.  He wants His Word to change you and rearrange you so that this type of self giving even self sacrificing love WILL be natural within you.  He has already begun this great work within your heart through your Holy baptism, and now he wants to continue that work.  Listen to the Words God gave to St. Paul and let His Spirit work within you.  

Love is patient and kind: A better word I think for patience is “longsuffering”.  Love is long-suffering and kind!  This world we live in is full of evil people; dare I say there are even evil people in Christ’s church.  When evil confronts us, when a Christian brother or sister deliberately sins against us, our society advises, “Pay them back!”  But God’s Word says, “No!  Because you are to love me, you must then let that love step in and take over.  Don’t pay evil for evil, instead love your enemy; pray for them.  Don’t follow your natural instinct because it is sinful, instead suffer long, and be kind to that person.”

I know, already we’ve been confronted with God’s Word in a way that really makes us uncomfortable, and yet that is the true meaning of what God demands from us within His commandments.  But our text this morning takes us even deeper; deeper to the point of despair.  Listen as God explains how we must love each other:

Love does not envy!  Another way to say that is, “Love does not speak or do evil out of jealousy!”  That green eyed monster called Jealousy is never happy with what it has, but it’s always eyeballing what someone else has and saying, “That should be mine.  I deserve that too!”  Why if we let it, that monster would trample over anything and anyone just to get what it wants.  But if you really love as God demands, you won’t let jealousy control you!

  

Love doesn’t boast or brag!  We know envy is wrong, and so, to combat it what do we do?  We brag about what we do have, knowing that these very words may lead others to become jealous!  So, love does not envy or boast! Not in words and not in actions!        

Love isn’t arrogant!  In other words, if you really love, you will not be “full of yourself” but full of God’s love for others; when your ego is bigger than your heart, someone will always get hurt.   

Love is not rude!  Another way to say this is, “Love never behaves improperly!”  True love is always concerned for what is right in God’s sight and then it goes out of its way not to offend others.  Paul uses this same word in other places when he talks about how people are shamefully and improperly led by their sexual desires.  If you really have love, then you will act properly!

Love doesn’t insist on its own way!  What this means friends, is that love is not self pleasing.  If you know others are watching you and will be offended by something you do or don’t do, don’t simply say, “Well I’m saved by grace so I can do or not do whatever I like!”  No friends, true love is always interested in the welfare of others!

Love isn’t irritable… it isn’t easily provoked into anger!  Well these words speak for themselves, so we’ll let them stand.  

Love isn’t resentful!  Or another way to say this is that love does not keep a list of wrongs on someone else.

Finally, love doesn’t rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth!  If we love friends, we will not keep silent when we see something happening that we know is wrong!  If we love, we will not let political correctness or peer pressure keep us from speaking the truth in love!  Wrong doing will hide the truth, but God’s love is displayed in His Word!

God’s Word… so full of love but so full of truth, and truth can be a hard pill to swallow!  God’s truthful Word comes to our sin like a bright search light searching for any threat to God’s perfect righteousness.  It shows us what we must discover…something we would rather not discover.  And when we see it, we try to pretend it isn’t there!


A wealthy old woman was at her city’s art museum, and she was intently staring at a framed image she had never seen before. She called to an employee and said, “Come here young man! What is the meaning of this awful picture you have displayed here?  I find the image shallow and revolting! What do you call it?” The employee answered without even the slightest expression, “That madam, is a mirror.” 

Dear friends, God’s Word is also a mirror. We may pick it up and read it simply to evaluate it with a critical eye, but in the end, we always find that we are the ones being evaluated. It shows us how we really look..  But if you are willing to force yourself to look, and if you will fight the urge to turn away, Jesus will show you a more excellent way!  He will step in front of your reflection and cover it with His own and say, “Let my reflection be yours!  Look at my image and then see your new reflection; a reflection that I gave to you within the waters of your baptism.  Look now at my love and let it change you!”

Well, let’s do just that.  Let’s look at the same list that describes perfect God-given love and see how Jesus did with it.  Let’s see what a marvelous reflection He’s exchanged for ours:

Love does not envy! Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” [Jn. 6:37-39]

Love does not boast or brag! As the all powerful Son of God hung upon the cross, “knowing that all was now finished, (He) said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” [Jn. 19:28]

Love is not arrogant! “But (He) made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” [Phil. 2:7]

Love is not rude!  “When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” [Jn. 18:22-23]

Love doesn’t insist on its own way!  “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent Me.” [Jn. 6:38]

Love isn’t irritable… it isn’t easily provoked into anger!  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem (Jesus said), the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” [Lk. 13:34]                   

Love isn’t resentful!  “And when they came to the place that is called (Golgotha) The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [Lk. 23:33-34]

Dear friends, Christ has really replaced your sinful reflection with His own.  

He has covered your “unrighteousness” with His righteousness; He did this long ago upon the cross… the tree of love and long-suffering.  He chose to be planted and crucified upon the hard rock called Golgotha so that by His pain, suffering, and death your hard rocky heart of sin might be smashed and rebuilt into a heart of love.  And all of this work was made yours in your baptism.  In your baptism, Jesus promised you that you are not alone!  Like the man in the story who crawled under the street car with the trapped and dying woman to hold her hand and encourage her to hang on, Jesus is with you!  He is reminding you that His love and long-suffering are now yours and He is encouraging you to take it.  This love friends, is a spiritual gift which moves your heart and hands to serve and become a Christ-like person for your neighbor.  True God given love dear friends, is the name not for the act of love, but for the heart that feels it!  This sinful world might be able to imitate the actions of love, but without Christ love implanted within their hearts, their work is simply as St. Paul says, “Like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  It is nothing!

This morning friends, if you find yourself falling short, go to the one who is long-suffering and patient, kind and loving!  Go to the only person who never fell to envy or pride!  Go to your brother, friend, and Lord, the one who is never arrogant or rude.  Go to Jesus Christ, who is also your God and your Savior.  Confess to Him how you’ve fallen short of His love and then hear His Words of forgiveness and restoration new and fresh!  

Believe that through His Word first given to you in the waters of Holy baptism you were born again.  Believe that through His Holy Meal you are allowed to hear, see, smell, touch, and taste forgiveness.  And then leave this place refreshed and forgiven for a purpose… you are to be Christ for your neighbor!  You are to be a person who lives for others!  

You will be this person, because He who began this good work in you long ago will complete it!  We pray this truth in Jesus name… AMEN!

One Baptism—One Body

January 27th, 2019

Epiphany 3-C
January 27, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” [1 Corinthians 12:13b]

First Corinthians is a letter, or an epistle from St. Paul to a church that God created out of nothing in a pagan city called Corinth.  In this letter, Paul continually reminds the Corinthians that they need to strive for unity within the body of Christ (12:12), because in God’s design there is only one body or Church, and one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism [12:4 ff., 13]. And yet, Paul has discovered the very opposite thing is being displayed in their church!  Instead of unity, there are divisions and factions.  Paul’s intention then, is to unite those factions and remove the confusion that’s been caused by bad doctrine or teaching.  If they will listen and follow God’s Word then it will be God Himself who will unite them! God would unite the Corinthians the same way he unites us, by reminding each of us of our own baptism.  Our baptism then reminds us that while we may be many members, we are all part of one body—while we may be many congregations, we are but one Church!

(vs. 12-13) Friends, Christ’s church, our church, is like the human body.  

Let’s consider the human body for a moment.  Within our bodies we see the very picture of unity and completeness through a lot of individual parts. Now, this is also true with Christ’s body, the Church. To illustrate this truth, Paul begins with the oneness of the body and then proceeds to its many parts through these words: “the body is one and has many members”; he then goes backward from the many parts to the oneness of the whole by saying: “and all the members of the body, being many, are one body.” And throughout His body, Jesus is always present and active in each one of us!  How?  Through God’s mysterious work done in each of our own baptisms.

In Holy Baptism friends, each one of us was baptized “in” one Spirit, the Holy Spirit in union with God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ.  Our baptism is a vital connection with Jesus. In our baptism, God’s Spirit is always present and always making a spiritual change within us—a change, which creates a new spiritual life within us and maintains a right spiritual relationship first with God, and then with the other members of Christ’s Church.  This mystical union of Christ with the church friends, is our true union with God. It’s a union that is identical within each of us, and it is also identically sustained within each of us through Christ’s own Word and sacraments.

Now, think about what this truth must have meant to the Corinthian church, and then think about what it means for us.  “Jews are equal to pagan Greeks?”  Friends, do you see how in Christ’s body… the Church, all members of the human race have been drawn together into Christ and then melted and fused together into one indistinguishable whole? What was lower than a slave, human property with almost no rights? Yet Paul is telling those rich folks and property owners, many of whom owned slaves, that their slaves are their equals! Christ is in their slaves just as he is in them… they are one!  It’s quite the wakeup call isn’t it?  The same is true with us friends; through our baptism, we are one with the butcher, the baker, the president, the junkie, the homeless, the parent and the child.  People of all races and back grounds, through their baptisms are “one body” just like the physical human body.

Now with this central truth stated about our physical bodies and the church, think of how ridiculous it would be if a toe no longer wanted to be part of the foot, or an eye thought that it was better than the ear.  We need all of our body parts to function the way God designed them so that we can have a complete and healthy body, and this is also the truth with Christ’s body the church! 

(Vs. 14-20) So why do some members of Christ’s Church feel inferior and jealous of others if all of us are baptized into the same body?  

To answer this question, let’s first go back to Paul’s illustration of the human body.  Why does the ear say, “Because I am not an eye, I’m not important so that must mean that I’m not really part of the body?”  Do the ears feelings change the fact that it truly is part of the body?  All of its griping won’t change a thing. It’s not only useless; it’s foolish, because the body can’t be just one member!  We need each member because each member has its own function. Wouldn’t it be foolish if the foot tried to grasp something or shake hands with somebody when it’s real purpose is to help the body walk and move from one place to another?  The same is true about an ear that wants to be an eye when the body really needs it for hearing.  This unity in diversity friends is what makes the body whole and functioning.  Instead of complaining about what it isn’t, each part should celebrate what it is, because without each part, the body wouldn’t be whole.  This is also true about each member of Christ’s church and our congregation. Suppose a member were actually what these complainers say: not a part of Christ’s body—well what would it be? Jesus answered this question clearly; He said it would be a dead branch, fit only to be burned. Dear friends, instead of wishing we were someone else or something “better,” we should thank God for the place he has assigned to us and then work with the Holy Spirit to do our part not only expertly but also joyfully!

Doesn’t all of this jealousy and envy sound like foolishness?  After all, wasn’t it “God (who) arranged (all of) the members in the body, each one of them, (just) as He chose(?) (If each of us were the same member), where would the body be?  (So, you see friends), there are many parts, yet one body.” [vs. 18-20]   All of this is part of God’s divine work of creation!  He did it all according to His will when He formed the human body and when He created His church!   He desired that both bodies would consist of many members. Each one He set into its perfect place within the body. Do we really want to find fault with what God did? Do we really have the audacity to think that we can improve on His work? 

Well, the fact stands: God made the true Church what it is and He made you as you are for a purpose… now we must live out that purpose as He leads us!

(Vs. 21-26) Ok, but then why do some people act like they’re superior or better than others?  Or as Paul says, 

“Why does the eye say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head to the feet, “Go away, you’re not needed”?  Why indeed and here we go again!  Once again there’s grumbling within the body; but this time it’s a different kind of grumbling.  Now it’s the eye and the head’s turn to voice their sinful feelings, each looking down on a different body part and thinking that they’re better than the other parts.  One looks down on the hand, and the other is looking down on the feet.  What’s going on here?  There seems to be trouble throughout the body!  And this is what Paul is saying about the church at Corinth.  And so we see him expertly using God’s law to attack their habit of looking down on others.  

 Let me ask you a question: When are we more likely to look down on others?   I think the answer is when we think that they’re not in our class!  Social status, education, health, and many other conditions fuel our disdain for others!  We’re inclined to look down on others when we feel that their talents or position seems lower than our own. To illustrate this, Paul lets the eye and the head speak. Now, because the eye is able to reach out to great distances it looks down on the hand which can only grasp what is in arms reach. And because the head is placed so high above all of the other members, it is prone to look down with disdain on the feet, which are dutifully plodding away on the hard and dirty streets below! So you see, those who have been given what seems to be greater gifts and talents might be tempted to foolishly think that they don’t need those who have what appears to be inferior gifts and talents, but in reality, once again each of us must remember that we are not individuals but part of a whole.  What each part has is only part of the whole body… a body designed by our Creator!

But what about our more humble parishioners; the very old, the sick, and the disabled?  Paul compares them with our private body parts; the ones we keep hidden—the parts that we might be ashamed of?  Listen to what he says: “And on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” [vs. 23-26] 

I pray that God will help each of us both desire and work together to ensure this very thing, and He will if we simply remember that it was the Creator who put all of us in our proper place within His Church and within this congregation!  But…

(Vs. 25-30) What if we find ourselves having trouble living out this truth, this Divine balance? 

How are we to be saved from this terrible sin that seeks to divide us?  Well friends, God does this very thing by taking each of us back to our own baptism—back to the truth of our equal standing as sinners before Him, and then through that same Word, He reminds each of us that He equally forgives us all of our many sins.  In this way, as members of God’s church, God assures each of us that we are equally loved by Him.  And friends, God wants us to demonstrate that same forgiving love and care to others who are also members of His church.  With His Holy Spirit living within us, He reminds us that if one of us suffers, then all of us suffer together; if one member is honored, then all of us will celebrate together. 

Let’s look to our own bodies one more time to illustrate this truth: If our foot is in pain, even if it’s the little toe, won’t our eye immediately look to see what’s wrong?  And won’t we use our fingers to hold it and caress it, as our face twists in pain and our whole body bends over to assist in its care?  And as the entire body is caring for this one ailing part, the entire body is benefited when the pain is soothed!   

Dear friends, isn’t it a blessing to be part of a body where “if one member suffers, all members suffer together, and if one member is honored, all members rejoice together?” 

Rejoice dear friends in the truth that Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross was equally given to each of us within the waters of our own baptism—for you see it is the same sin that was covered, but more than covered, it was the same sin that was drowned and destroyed.  It is that same sin that equally drives each of us to the font with the same need and the same identity… beggars in need of God’s grace.  And as we remember this truth let’s also rejoice together in yet another truth…He is still giving us that same grace through His Word and His Holy Supper!  Praise God dear friends!  Praise Him all creatures here below.  Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost…AMEN!

I Will Not Keep Silent!

January 20th, 2019

Epiphany 2_C
January 20, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Grace, Mercy and Peace are yours, from God our Father and for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ!  AMEN

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness and her salvation as a burning torch.” [Isaiah 62:1]

A professor in a medical school once posed this medical situation — an ethical problem — to his students: “Here’s the family history: The father has syphilis. The mother has TB. They already have had four children. The first is blind. The second had died. The third is deaf. The fourth has TB. Now the mother is pregnant again.  So the parents have come to you for advice. They are willing to have an abortion, if you decide they should. What do you say?”

The students broke into small groups for “consultation.” All of the groups came back to report that they would recommend abortion.

“Congratulations,” the professor said, “You just took the life of Beethoven!”

Well that’s just a story pastor.  We live in the real world.  Ok, here’s a “real world” poll taken in New England, which revealed that, if parents were able to know these things in advance, 1 percent of them would abort a child on the basis of sex, 6 percent would abort a child likely to get Alzheimer’s disease, and an incredible 11 percent would abort a child predisposed to obesity.  In essence, they would abort many of us!

Sin is sin.  

God’s Word clearly identifies what is sinful and what is pleasing to Him.  There are no gray areas in God’s eyes, and yet we like to create these gray areas, don’t we?  We make the gray areas because we don’t like facing our own sinfulness.  Oh, and in case you think that claiming ignorance of God’s will might offer you some protection, listen to God answer you from the book of Proverbs: “If you say, “Surely we did not know this, “Does not He who weighs the heart consider it?  He who keeps your soul, does He not know it?  And will He not render to each man according to his deeds? [Proverbs 24:11-12]

Friends, we’ve been called by Jesus Christ, the living Word of God to be both His church and His voice of truth in this world of sin.  We are His prophets.  But before we can fulfill this role, we need to agree that God is right and we are wrong!  Now as your pastor, you have called me to speak and teach you that Word, so together we will hear His Word, be changed and strengthened by it, and then go out into our communities where we can be God’s salt and light.  Now here’s the fascinating part of this calling; if we are faithful, God assures us that to the world, we will be like a crown of beauty, a royal diadem in His hand.  In other words, we’ll bring Him glory here on earth!

Friends, if we are faithful in speaking for God to those we encounter, He promises that we will experience his blessings in a way that will change the very way we think and live.  In other words, God promises that through our obedience we will discover that we are not only precious in His sight, but we are in fact His delight.

But we have a slight problem; the enemy doesn’t want us to live out this new identity, so he’s set some traps in order to deceive us.  

These traps come to us through the use of science and the sinful society we live in; a society that loves to call evil good and good evil.  But even if we successfully avoid these traps, the enemy still has one more trick up his sleeve; he intends to stop us by overwhelming us with so much opposition and anger that we’ll no longer see the good of speaking God’s truth to such an evil society.  In other words, he wants to demoralize us to the point where we just simply give up.  

Now, this same tactic has been used by the enemy in the past with great success.  It’s called institutionalized sin—sins that have been accepted by our society as normal.  If you don’t believe this truth, just look back no farther than 150 years ago when the institution of slavery—the trafficking of human beings was considered normal.  And even after a bloody civil war that nearly destroyed our nation, that sin still remains and it is still trying to capture the hearts and minds of our children.  This hatred of others is a sin that places “self” as the ultimate authority, which in turn allows us to see some people as less than human.

Today we celebrate “Sanctity of Life” Sunday.  This is the day that we as a church have set aside to remind us that God has declared all human life precious in His sight; the unborn, born, and even those who are frail and near death.  But science and our society tell us something very different—they say that the unborn are merely potential life, and the old and frail are just a life that’s already been lived.  They would have us believe that neither can really be counted important.  But listen to God speak through the voice of the Psalmist and let the voice of our enemy the devil and this sinful society be silenced: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” [Psalm 139:13-18]   And if that’s not enough for you, listen to the living Word of God drive home the message through the Apostle Paul: “(Don’t) you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]  

Friends, you have heard God’s Word… you know that there are no gray areas.  Right is right and wrong is wrong.  Now God wants to send you out into this world as His burning torch of truth and salvation.  But you say, “Pastor what can I do?  It’s the law of the land; abortion is legal, right?”  Well do you have a mouth?  Then for the sake of the unborn and for the credibility of the church, speak out.  Use your mouth to change hearts and minds, and use your vote to change the law.  And all the while, God wants you to pray!  Pray for your leaders and pray for your neighbors, and then work against the enemies of God who joyfully lead others astray by convincing them to take a life through abortion.  Pray that God will change both their hearts and minds so that this evil will be erased from our society.  Listen to St. Paul’s advice; he says, ” First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” [1 Timothy 2:1-4]  Pray dear friends, pray and don’t grow weary of prayer.  Don’t give up in speaking the truth; don’t surrender in the fight.  Keep on doing what you know is right.  Listen to God’s Living Word, and then be decided in your heart that you will do what Jesus tells you!

In our gospel reading this morning, Mary, the mother of God the Son, Jesus Christ had a dilemma.  

She was one of the matrons, or sponsors responsible for the smooth operation of a wedding party.  But the wine was running low, and the party was still jumping!  Now granted, when compared to other real life issues, running out of wine means very little in the large scheme of things, but at the time it was important to Mary.  She had doubts and fears; so where did she go?  She went to Jesus!  Now the fact that she went to Jesus isn’t that fascinating, after all, Jesus is her son, but what happened next would change everything.  It would change the way faithful people live and it would change the way faithful people think!

Have you ever wondered why Jesus called His own mother “woman” instead of “mother”?  

“Jesus?  Son?”  Mary called.  “They are almost out of wine,” she says.  And to this Jesus answers, “Woman, what does this have to do with (you and) me?  My hour (or my time) has not yet come.”  Here friends, Jesus mother turns to her son as she undoubtedly did so many times before, but this time it is different…it’s a critical moment where ordinary help won’t suffice.  She knew that Jesus had no money and as a stranger in this town he had no connections.  Yet they needed wine.  So why turn to Jesus?  Because friends, she never forgot that her son was also the Son of God, the Messiah… her Savior.  You see, in this small dilemma, ordinary help would fail; they had neither the time nor the means to get more wine, so Mary knew she must look for extraordinary help.  Mary didn’t need familial help, she needed divine hope.  And to give this hope, Jesus must first eternally change her relationship with Him.  

Friends, when Jesus called His mother woman, He was declaring to her that His position as a dutiful son was eternally ended.  He was telling her that from that moment on He would be assuming a much higher position; one as Savior and Redeemer.  And this divine work can only be done on God’s terms and in God’s time, not hers and not ours.  Like Mary, we too must learn that if we really want divine hope and help, we must first recognize who Jesus really is.  It is Jesus, the Son of God, together with the Father, and the Holy Spirit alone who determines when and how God will miraculously intervene—even in hopeless situations!

Friends, it was this first miraculous sign from Jesus—turning water into wine—that would forever direct both Mary and the entire church to ask and receive all things through Jesus Christ alone, and then simply trust that He would act according to His will and time!  It is in Him alone that we are to place our trust.  And with this new truth, Mary has a new teaching to share with her assistants at the party and with us…

 “Do whatever He tells you.” [John 2:5b]  Do you understand what this means friends?  It means that we must do whatever God’s Word says.  What God’s Word calls good, we are to call good.  What He calls sinful and evil we are to say also.  In His Word alone, we are to live, breath, and find our existence and fulfillment.  Yet we still sin daily.  We sin against God and we sin against each other.  Since this is most certainly true, it is critical that we hear what comes next.  

If there is anyone here this morning who has in the past had an abortion, assisted with or counseled for an abortion, performed an abortion, or has simply been indifferent to abortion, let God speak to your heart.  Let His Spirit convince you that abortion is a sin.  Has He shown you that it is your sin?  Are you sorry for this sin and all others that you have committed and do you sincerely repent of them?  Is it your intention to agree with God that this is an evil that must be defeated… that was defeated upon the cross of Jesus Christ?  Do you desire to be free of this evil now and for all eternity?  Then by faith in the name of Jesus and the will of God, you are forgiven!

Dear friends, because Jesus has defeated both the devil and all evil through His death upon the cross, and because He has given this victory to you through the washing of the water and the Word in your own baptism, hear the sweet words of the gospel, the forgiveness of your many sins.  You are forgiven!  You no longer need to live in shame and reproach.  Through God’s Holy work alone He has taken away your sorrow and shame and He has given you a new name…. you are called Christian.  You are a child of faith!  As a member of the Holy Christian Church you are now the beloved bride of Jesus Christ Himself!

Now dear saints, as the beloved bride of Christ, hear the words of mother Mary fresh and new… “Go, and do whatever our Lord tells you.”  What is He telling us?  Speak up for those who have no voice!  Call evil what it is!  Don’t be afraid of the ungodly, because they will soon have their punishment handed down to them.  Instead, speak up and speak out to those who will hear the Word of God and repent, just as you have.  Join your pastors and the whole church and witness to Christ Himself and His Holy Word until He comes again to judge the living and the dead.  Do whatever God’s Word tells you because He is your salvation, and let politics and this sinful society be damned!

Let this world and our sinful society see our Holy God’s righteousness shine through each of us as individuals and as His church so that all may see us as justified and equipped by God for this battle—not with the laws of man but with the highest law there is… the Living Word of God!

Dear friends, do whatever Jesus tells you.  Repent and be baptized.  Repent and believe you’ve been forgiven and changed.  This is the message we are to speak to our neighbors and even to our elected leaders.  Let’s speak this message in our conversations and let’s speak it through the ballot box.  We will not be silent… because we cannot be silent.  Yes we’ll be ridiculed and marginalized, but as I said in the beginning of this message, we must speak out, because we are God’s crown of beauty and we are a holy and royal diadem in His hand.  We alone can bring Him glory, because we alone are called by a new name…. Christian!  Jesus we are yours… save us!  AMEN!