Do a One Eighty!

January 25th, 2015

Epiphany 3-B, January 25, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Many of us have heard the story of Jonah since we were children.  It has several lessons that are wonderful for children to learn, because if those lessons stick with them when they are older, they will serve as reminders to them that while God is indeed merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, His will in our lives can not be avoided.

In the first two chapters of Jonah we are told clearly what God’s will is: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” And in the very next sentence we read, “But Jonah refused to go, and instead he rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. ”.  I remember as a child, after hearing this story so many times, thinking, “Oh oh… Jonah, don’t mess with God, and don’t run, because He will always find you.  He’s got ways of making you go!”

So what happened to Jonah while he was on board that ship bound for Tarshish?  A terrible storm kicked up and the sailors thought that the gods of the sea were angry with them and must be appeased.  But Jonah knew it was the Lord’s doing; He knew he had been found out.  But in the militancy of his sin, he devised a way of not doing what God wanted done… he would die before he would go to Nineveh.   “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord” Jonah said, “(He is) the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”  [Jonah 1]  And they did just that!

But God’s will and His presence cannot be denied.  So what did God do?  He sent a giant fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (Note: Does this sound familiar?), before that great fish spit him out.  And where did it spit him out at? Right there on the shores of Nineveh!

So what caused Jonah to be so militant in his sin of disobedience?  Well, two things actually.  First, the people of Nineveh were the mortal enemies of the Israelites, and second Jonah new God’s nature very well.  Listen to Jonah’s own words found in chapter four for why he ran from God: “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”  In other words, Jonah knew that if his mortal enemies repented, that is if they believed God and turned to Him, He would save them from their certain punishment.

In our readings this morning (Jonah 3:1–5, 10, 1 Corinthians 7:29–31, Mark 1:14–20) we are given a clearer picture of repentance for all of us in the church today.  In chapter three of Jonah, God re-commissions Jonah on the same mission, but this time he is given an even more offensive message to declare… offensive to Jonah that is.  Instead of a message of certain punishment through the Law of God, Jonah also declares the gospel, which is hope in God’s mercy.  “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  Forty more days… that is the gospel.  If they will receive God, that is turn to him, do a 180 degree turn away from their sinful life styles, God may relent!

The story of Jonah is really the story of two groups of sinners turning to their Savior God, and conversely by turning to God’s mercy, they repented; they turned away from their sins.  Jonah, on his part was given a second chance to turn away from his sin of disobedience and simply proclaim God’s Word, which he did.  The people of Nineveh similarly, were shown their sin by God’s Law and they too repented; they turned to God’s mercy.

What is there in your life this morning that God is calling you to do a 180 from?  What is it that is interfering with your higher calling from God?  Is it you finances, relationships, anger, or lust?  Or perhaps it is your continued misuse of alcohol or drugs that is influencing you with a different kind of spirit other than the Holy Spirit?

Whatever your Tarshish is this morning, God has been trying to get you to turn from it and turn to His Son Jesus Christ for some time, and now you must apply the lesson of Jonah to your own life.  God is exactly the same now as He was when Jonah encountered Him.  He will not relent and He will not let go.  He will hound you until you relent and let go.  You will not know His peace in this world until you allow His will to happen in your life.

And like the people of Nineveh, your time is short; you too have only a certain allotted portion of time to repent; to do a 180!  St. Paul puts it this way: “The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”

Just as St. Paul had to be ready for the Lord’s return at any time, so we too must be ready today. In all our vocations and stations of life, we must allow God to be in first place; we are free to be in the world and use all of it’s resources, but they must not replace God’s presence or will for us.  St. Peter says that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise (to return), as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” [2 Peter 3:9]  That is, He wants you to do a 180!

Repentance is really very simple.  God wants you to turn to His Son, Jesus Christ.  He wants you to agree with Him that you are lost, hopeless, and helpless in your sins and then like a child separated from it’s mother in a large crowd of strangers, simply call out to Him… “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!”

You see, your sin that you think you hide so well from God is plainly seen by Him.  In other words, in your sin, you stick out like a sore thumb.  Isn’t it true that sometimes, we can be so lost in our sins that we don’t even care?  But God sees and knows; He cares!  God wants you to return to Him by turning to the cross and see His Son Jesus; look full into His passion, his suffering and death and know that it was for you.  And then look at the tomb that held the lifeless body of Jesus for three days, but on Easter morning it was found empty, because He lives!  He then wants to turn your eyes back to the waters of your baptism, and there once again be refreshed and find your identity and your way back onto the path of repentance.   Do a 180; turn back to the beginning, which is your eternal today.

You have heard me say what I am about to declare so many times, that I am afraid you are getting tired of it, but I pray that you never tire of this reminder.  “You have been saved from your sins and allowed to remain in this world for a reason.”  And that reason is clearly stated in our gospel reading.  You are to be fishers of men.  You are to proclaim the very same message that Jonah was tasked with: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

This morning I trust that you are here because you have listened to and responded to the call of Jesus.  You too have heard Him say, “Follow me.”  But follow Him where?  Follow Him as He simultaneously leads you deeper into both the Kingdom of God’s grace by faith in Jesus Christ, and then out into a world darkened by sin, seeking to save the lost, by proclaiming the very same message that saved you!  Repent… do a 180.  Turn to Jesus Christ to be saved and you will be simultaneously turning from the sins that have entrapped you!

Dear friends, you are not alone in this mission of both living out repentance and declaring it.  We the church, your brothers and sisters are right there with you as we are drawn ever deeper into the mystic union of Christ’s body the church in witness, mercy, and our lives together with Christ and each other.

As we breath in and out to live in this physical world, so too are we sustained by the spiritual pattern of repentance, confession, and forgiveness of sins.  As our hearts beat and give life blood to our bodies, so too, repentance is the very rhythm of the church.

What is repentance?  It is the cry of a lost child that knows it will only be safe in the protective arms of it’s Father.  It is the tear dropped from the eye of faith.  It is the milk and honey of the gospel after the heart has been torn by the gall and the wormwood of the Law.

By God’s free grace given to you through Christ Jesus you have been set free, so turn to Christ and live out that freedom.  He will again remind you of His mercy and bring peace to your soul.  Dear friends, do a 180… AMEN!

Mind Your Calling

January 18th, 2015

Epiphany 2-B, January 18, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Have you ever had to deliver some bad news to someone?  Take just a moment to think about that question; maybe you’ve been a supervisor and you had to let someone go, or perhaps you were in a relationship that you felt was not God pleasing and you knew you had to cut it off before it developed into something sinful.  Now let me pose another question; have you ever been the recipient of some bad news?  Maybe from a doctor or a policeman?  How did you feel?

Well this morning’s message gives us not just examples of “bad news” but also good news.  We will use all three readings to look at God’s call to sinners such as us.  First in our Old Testament lesson (1 Samuel 3:1-20) we will see how God called and used a young boy named Samuel to give some bad news to his mentor and teacher Eli, and then in our Gospel lesson (John 1:43-51), we will see how Jesus’ call to Nathaniel used both the law and the gospel to bring faith, and finally we will look at our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), which will teach us how to apply all of God’s Word as we live out our lives within our calling as Christians within Christ’s church and our communities.

God equips those He calls. If you were the young boy Samuel, and you heard someone calling your name, do you think that you would immediately know that it was the Lord?  I don’t see how you could if you did not know what the Lord’s voice sounded like; if you didn’t know how to separate His voice from all of the other voices in this world.  That was Samuel’s challenge, and it is still ours today.

Samuel was called on three separate occasions during the night, and each time he went to the man that he loved and trusted, thinking that it was Eli who called him.  After the third incident, Eli who was Samuel’s teacher realized that Samuel was encountering the voice of God, and like any good teacher of the church, he instructed the boy to wait on the Lord to call again, and then simply respond to God with these words, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  And that is exactly what the boy did, and oh my, did the Lord ever speak.

It was a frightening message of God’s Law, which promised that the old priest Eli and his family would be punished because of Eli’s poor parenting and his son’s sins.  Now imagine if you were that young boy Samuel, would you want to tell the one you loved like a father that bit of bad news?  But Eli recognized that what God had told the boy was not pleasant, but he also knew that what ever God’s says is ultimately for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.  So Eli continues as the faithful teacher and says, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And (Eli) said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”

When Martin Luther was a student at the University of Erfurt, he found a copy of the Bible in the school library. As he paged through Scripture, he happened upon these very words.  When he came to the 10th verse, he began wishing that he could be like Samuel and hear the voice of God! But years latter after reading all of God’s Word, Luther discovered that on the pages of the Bible, God really does speak to all of us, just as he once spoke to Samuel.  Like Samuel, Luther, and countless others, when we read God’s Word, we too hear Him speak.  And when we hear, we are to simply say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  We are to listen and agree that God is right and we are wrong.

In Samuel’s and Luther’s day, “the word of the Lord was rare,” and so it is in ours as well.  People have little interest in hearing what God has to say. And because of that, “there are not many visions.”

No greater judgment can fall upon a nation of people than when God’s Word and voice become rare. When people do not appreciate the gospel, God often takes it from them. Do you understand that by your repeated neglect of God’s Word you can bring about a famine of God’s Word?  Will you hear Him speak even more today?  If so, then let us examine…

The Call of Nathaniel. In Nathaniel’s call wee see both God’s Law and the good news of the Gospel.  “Come and see!”  All who have tasted and seen that the Lord’s goodness is truly present and given through Jesus Christ, will agree that those are the sweet invitation of the gospel.  Andrew and Peter knew of that goodness because another great teacher of the church, John the Baptist informed them.  And Jesus desired that Nathaniel would know the sweetness of this invitation too.  So Andrew, overwhelmed with joy seeks out Nathaniel and says,  “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, (the Messiah) Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  And how does Nathaniel respond?  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Have you ever tried to share you faith with someone, only to have him or her ridicule you for it?  They throw up one barrier after another to avoid the real issue behind the invitation of faith.  Why?  Because if your witness is true, then there really is a God who knows all things, and if that is true then that means I’ve been found out; it means I will have to change the way I think and the way I live.

So how did Andrew respond to Nathaniel’s challenge to his witness of Jesus?  He simply said, “Come and see.”  And wonder of wonders Nathaniel did that very thing!

What we must remember is that our gospel invitation to others is really the Lord’s call through us.  It is a call to come and experience both God’s truth in the Law, which shows us our sins, and His truth of the gospel, which shows us that our sins have been pardoned; taken away as far as the east is from the west.

When Jesus saw Nathaniel and the others approaching He said to the men, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.”  Now I don’t know how you read this, but I kind of hear sarcasm in the voice of Jesus; sarcasm directed at Nathaniel’s earlier sarcastic question that asked, “Can any thing good come from Nazareth.”  I think that Nathaniel picked up on that sarcasm too, and that is why he asked, “How do you know me?”  And to that, Jesus answers: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Whoa!  Don’t you kind of wonder what it was that Nathaniel now knows by faith that Jesus saw him doing?  Was it something done in private that he would have been embarrassed to have been seen doing in public?  Maybe, we don’t know, but what ever it was it so rattled Nathaniel that he quickly replied, “Rabbi, you (really) are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

And just like that, another sinner is brought into the Kingdom of Grace by faith; faith which came by the hearing of the Word of God, the message from and about Jesus Christ.  Now if that was all we had in or message this morning, I suppose that would be enough, but that is not all of our message.  Jesus is still speaking to both Nathaniel and us, and He says, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  In other Word’s, “Because you heard my Word and it both smashed your prideful heart and then rebuilt it in hope, you think you have heard and seen enough, but the truth is brother you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Wait until you see me high and lifted up on the cross, suffering and dying for the sins of the world.  Wait until you discover that after three days dead, my tomb is empty and I have come back to life to teach you even more mysteries.  Wait until I give you the power and authority to do the very same thing when you speak my Word and apply it with simple elements like water, wine, and bread.  Wait until you realize that just as I died and was resurrected, so too will you and all others who hear my Word.” And this is what we call…

The work or the call of Christs church. But some may counter that the work or mission of the church is happening in a much different world than ever before.  They will say that there are challenges that face us today that the apostles or even Luther did not have to encounter.  And to that I will simply present our Epistle reading and say… really?

St. Paul wrote this letter in an attempt to correct both the thinking and the teaching of a church in Corinth that seemed bogged down in a philosophy of libertinism.  All things were permissible as long as you have Christ.  Many scholars believe that the good Christians of Corinth grabbed one of Paul’s teachings, which stated that Christians were free of the condemnation of the Law of God and ran with it; they ran to the obvious conclusion… any thing goes!

Does anything go?  Is your body simply an amusement park that you can use as you see fit?  Is flesh, human flesh really unimportant when compared to our eternal destiny?  Paul answers with a resounding, no!  What you do with your body matters to God, because the body, that is human life belongs to Him alone.

On this Sunday that we celebrate the sanctity of human life, we do so in the midst of these Words of Paul: The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?

Of course you know this, but the world outside of this sanctuary does not.  They do not see that a very young child like Samuel can be used in a very powerful way by God.  They do not understand that there is a God who sees everything we do, and yet he still loves us, forgives us, and calls us to faith in His Son who died that they might have life.

All around us are people who live very promiscuous lives that seem to be centered around sex, drugs, and … well you get the point.  They do not realize that their bodies are not their own, but rather they are the Lord’s, bought with a dear price; with His very life blood.  In what ever station we find life it is the Lord’s.  Whether that life is unborn, very young, very old, healthy, or gravely ill, our bodies, each and everyone of them belong to the Lord!  Life is a gift of God, and it ceases to live and move and find it’s being in this world only when God calls it to the next eternal one.

The gift of sex between a man and a woman is given liberally and freely by God within the relationship of husband and wife, so that if it is God’s will, an even greater gift can be given, the gift of life!  This is God’s will and it is the teaching of His Holy Word.  The church is not to alter it nor remove it, but like all other messages of God we are to receive it even if it is unpopular; even if there is a part of us, that does not agree with it.  We are simply to admit that God is right and we are wrong.  But this is not as easy as some may think; it is not easy because our culture will not receive this message.  They will call us bigoted and unloving.  And when this is done, we demonstrate the exact opposite.  We accept them as they are and we love them enough to continue calling them to repentance and faith through the same Word of God that called out to Samuel, the people of Corinth, and Nathaniel and each of the apostles.

God’s Word is never easy to share; it is not easy because it confronts men and women in the midst of their sins.  But it becomes easy after sinful men allow God to work through His Word, and then agree with Him that they are dead and lost in their sinful choices; it becomes easy because it is then when the gospel can be spoken and heard, and new life through the forgiveness of sins can be given.

While it is true that God hates what today’s society calls recreational sex, because it is outside the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman who become one flesh, it is also true that He is slow to anger and quick to forgive when repentance and forgiveness is sought and given through Jesus Christ.  And when these sinful relationships create children out of wedlock, God does not declare the fruit unclean simply because the tree was.  God loves that child, and the proof is the very life it has been given.

And it is that gift of life that many times will create fear and worry in the hearts of the parents, and that fear can cause them to respond by compounding one sin with another, and so they choose abortion.  Abortion is the termination of life, and that is called killing, but killing another human is not the unforgivable sin; there is still room for grace.  And that dear Christians is both the call and the work of Christ’s church.  We are here to proclaim the gospel, the grace of God available to all sinners who will simply turn to Christ and trust in Him alone.  May we, each of us be busy about this work, inviting anyone who will respond to come and see; come and hear a message that will change them forever!  AMEN!

Who Did John Baptize?

January 11th, 2015

Epiphany 1-B, January 11, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), but then in the middle of time, “John the baptizer appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem went out to him to be baptized.  They were drawn to John; they confessed their sins to John.  They even wondered out loud and asked if John might be the promised Savior of the Jewish people, and John said very plainly, (No, but He is coming.)  “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And then one day, along came Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee and He presented Himself to be baptized by John in the Jordan.  [Mark 1:4-11]  Do you think that John knew whom it really was that presented Himself for baptism?  Certainly he was equipped by God to receive all that Jesus revealed Himself to be, but did He know that Jesus was from before the beginning of Creation?  Do we understand?

So in the middle of our doubts and fears, the Voice that spoke in the beginning speaks again about a new beginning.  “And when (Jesus) came up out of the water, immediately (John) saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

In the beginning God… Do you understand what those simple words mean?  Do you understand that in the beginning of all that we know as our reality, there was already God Who has no beginning?  Prior to the beginning, there was no up and no down, no here and no there.  There was nothing—except God.  He always was and always shall be.

So, in the beginning before there was anything, there was God who creates time and space, simply because He wills it.  This is Who we gather to hear from this morning; He alone deserves to be held in reverence and awe by us, His creation.  Everything exists because of Him and for Him, including you and me.  We don’t exists of ourselves or for ourselves.  We have no right to exist outside of our being in harmony and peace with our majestic Creator and His plan for us.  In His plan He makes us right with Him and each other, and He alone gives our lives great meaning.  What does it mean to have life?  It means that as people who live in the middle of time, the Eternal Creator, Who is the beginning comes to us in the middle and reveals Himself and allows us to know our own beginning and our end.

Do you understand who this Jesus that desires John’s baptism is?  He is the Logos, the Word of God, who from the beginning spoke these simple Words “Let there be light” and then there was.  Do you understand that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made”?

In Him and because of Him, we live and move and find our being.  He is the image of the invisible God.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.  For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him (the Creator of the beginning meets sinful creation in the middle and) reconciles to Himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace with sinful men and women.

But how can that be?  How can one who is in the middle with the rest of us be from the beginning; not just from the beginning, but before the beginning?

Sinful men and women can not understand the truth of who Jesus is, because not only do they run from the beginning of Creation, but they can not perceive of something before the beginning.  For although in their hearts they know there is God, they do not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they cling to their futile thinking, and pretend that their darkened foolish hearts are full of light and wisdom. So, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator they are lost in the middle.  But God still comes to sinful men and women; He will not give up moving their hearts and eyes of faith to the beginning and the end.

And here in the waters of the Jordan stands Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the son of Mary.  Here before John and us this morning is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.  In Him alone is the fullness of God and through Him alone the middle is brought back to the beginning by the blood of His cross.

Why was Jesus baptized?  Simply put, He comes to show us the way back to the beginning; to bring abundant life.  He comes as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world so that through grace we can know God’s love.  To ask why was Jesus baptized is really to ask why was Jesus born.  He was born to bring death and life; an end and a eternal beginning.  As He walks out of the waters of baptism He immediately enters into a life of service and suffering that will lead to His death upon the cross; a death that is for us, because it brings us back to the beginning and makes us right with our Creator.  But how does this help us?  Because where He leads, we follow.  We follow Him to the waters of our own baptism, and within those waters we also encounter the cross; we encounter and end to our sinful flesh as we follow Jesus who comes from the beginning.  Like Jesus, we die to live.  We emerge from our own baptism as someone who has been buried with Christ and raised to new life through the glory of the Father; a life that was the intent of the Creator in the beginning.

So consider yourselves dead.  You old self, that is your body of sin was crucified with Christ.

At the end of 2014 we celebrated the truth that God’s Son took upon Himself our human nature; He who was the source of the beginning came to us in the middle.  But He did more than come to us as one of us, He came to take on our sin.  And because of that sin, we can say that the source of the beginning takes on the nature of the middle, so that he can put an end to our fear of the end by bringing us back to the beginning.  For us He is born and for us He dies. In baptism, faith in this Son of God unites us to Him so that His death is truly our death.

In the beginning, the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  In your sins, you also were covered by darkness.  But in your baptism, the same Spirit of God that hovered over the waters in the beginning, hovered over the waters of your baptism.  In the beginning when the Logos, the Son of God spoke and said “Let there be light,” there was!  And in your baptism; the day you first entered into God’s beginning, that same Logos, the Word of God spoke a beginning for you. Through the obedience of His holy church, Christ commanded that you be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  He commanded that you be taught to observe all that He has commanded and revealed. And behold, in your baptism He gives you this great promise,  “He is with you always,” (even) to the end of this sinful age when He brings you back to the beginning.

So, if you consider yourselves dead with Christ, you must also consider yourselves alive with Him as well.

In holy baptism you have been made truly alive!  You are alive because Christ is raised from the dead.  Remember, in holy baptism you are following Christ, the source of the beginning.  You must not remain at the cross of Good Friday, but you must proceed to the empty tomb of Easter morning.  He is risen indeed!

The Father put His approval on His Son’s death by raising Him up.  Christ’s resurrection seals the atoning power of His sacrificial death for you.  The sins of the world were once and for all paid for.  And now, you too are asked to leave the tomb of death, and follow your Savior in new life; a restored life that finds its source in the beginning.

You are alive.  To be alive is to walk; to be raised to life is to be enable to walk, to move to show great evidence to all who see that you have abundant life.  Remaining in sin is to be without spiritual life; it is death.  But in Christ, that is in your baptismal newness of life you have an abundant life!  You are truly alive in Christ; alive to God.  You are to live your life with a new identity, a new status.  You are a child of God, a child of the beginning.

You are baptized; you have been born again, brought back to the beginning.  And because you are no longer imprisoned in a body of death, you are free!

You are fee to live to God in this New Year with an eternal new beginning.  What will that new life look like this year?  Only God knows.  But I do know this, you will continue to have trouble with your old sinful nature, because it does not like to die, because it is afraid of both the beginning and the end.  But you are of the beginning, and you are a new creation in Christ.  You are free; free to grow and face any challenge that awaits you.  You are free, but your old nature is not; it is bound to die, and it resents that you may live and it may not, so it will fight you.  So, you must fight it back, by daily putting it to death.  You do this when you remember your baptism; by remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus is also your death and resurrection.

I will close with this brief story about a jeweler who once told me of an easy but certain way of knowing the difference between a true diamond and a phony one.  This test is called the water test. He said that if I ever want to see the difference between the two I have to go to the water.  “An imitation diamond” he said, “is never so brilliant as a genuine stone. If you drop an imitation diamond into a glass of water, it almost disappears, but a genuine diamond sparkles even under water, and is distinctly visible.”

The moral of that little story is simple.  If through out this New Year you begin to feel discouraged and tired from fighting off your old sinful nature; if you begin to feel like sin is winning and grace and forgiveness are loosing, go back to the beginning; go back to the water, back to your baptism and remember it is there where your Creator met you and gave you new life.  Go back to the washing of the water and the Word, and let God’s Spirit dwell richly within you and shine.  AMEN.

Faithfully Obedient in Christ’s Word!

January 4th, 2015

2nd Sunday after Christmas B, January 4, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon him.” (Vs. 40)

A fable A man was sleeping one night in his cabin in the mountains, when suddenly his room filled with light and an angel of the Lord appeared. The angel told the man that the Lord had work for him to do, and He showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The angel explained to the man that his job was to push against that rock everyday with all of his strength. So the man was obedient, and every day he worked at the task; his shoulders became strong as he daily pushed against the massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might.  Each night the man returned to his cabin sore, and tired.  Eventually he began feeling like his whole day had been spent in vain.

Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, the devil decided to pay him a visit and place negative thoughts into the man’s weary mind: “You’ve been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You are never going to move it.”  After a while, these suggestive thoughts started giving the man the feeling that not only was his task impossible but also that he was a failure.  Eventually the man became depressed and he thought, “Yes, why kill myself over this?  I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort and that will be good enough.”

And that’s exactly what he planned to do, but that night, he decided to take his troubled thoughts to the Lord in prayer.

“Lord” he said, “I have worked long and hard, putting all my strength into what you’ve asked me to do.  And after all this time, I haven’t even budged that rock by a millimeter.  What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

And to this the Lord lovingly responded, “My friend, when I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done faithfully.  Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it.  Your task was simply to push.  And now look at yourself.  Your arms and back are strong and muscled, your shoulders are square, your hands are calloused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard.  Through opposition you have grown strong and your abilities now far surpass what you used to have.  And it’s true, you haven’t moved the rock.  But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom.  This you have done.  And now friend, I WILL move the rock.”

Obedience and faith; these are two things which always seem to go together.  We need faith to believe that God will do what He said He would do, and we need obedience to follow the path that God has put us on!  Mary and Joseph were obedient, but for the ultimate example of faithfulness and obedience we must turn to and trust Jesus!

(Luke 2:40-52) Every year, Joseph and Mary obediently did the right thing; they took their son Jesus and made the long journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate the eight day long pass-over festival.  This year was a little different, because Jesus had now turned 12 years old.  This was the age when a Jewish boy became “a son of the law” and was expected  to obediently learn and observe all that the law demanded.  Well the festival is over, and now it’s time to head back to Nazareth.  Joseph, Mary, and Jesus would return home along with of the other families from Nazareth and near by villages and towns.

Well after the first day of travel, as everyone in the caravan was pitching their tents for the evening, Joseph and Mary realized any parent’s worst nightmare, Jesus was missing!  They quickly turned around and went back up the hill making the long trek back to Jerusalem to search for Jesus.  Once back in the city, the couple began to search for their boy.  They retraced their steps and went to every place they thought that Jesus might be.  Finally, towards evening, they found Him, sitting on the steps of the temple as a student, engaged in a learning discussion about God’s Word with Rabbi’s who were also gathered there.

They were relieved of course but they also must have been worn-out and a little irritated as well, but they held their temper and didn’t interrupt the discussion that was taking place between Jesus and all of those teachers.  It amazed them to hear Jesus asking and answering such deep spiritual questions.  The teachers were amazed at the boy’s wisdom too.  But now, Jesus seeing His parents suddenly rose, and He obediently walked over to them.  And His mother said to him, Son, why have you treated us so? See, your father and I have been searching everywhere for you; (we were worried sick over you!)” And Jesus who was honestly surprised by this said to them, “You were looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be doing my Father’s work?  Didn’t you know that I would be here in my Father’s house?” And that was it, the dilemma was over!  Jesus and His family began the long trip back to Nazareth.

Mary and Joseph didn’t understand, but they knew that Jesus was a special boy, but someday they would understand that He was also the “God-man”.  So Jesus grew as any child, and he became wise and strong, and he continued to find favor in the eyes of God and man! Why didn’t Mary and Joseph know where to find Jesus?  Why didn’t they remember what the angels, the Magi, and the prophets told them about their child 12 years ago?  Why didn’t they remember that Jesus was really God the Father’s Son?  Well, because Jesus was also a very real person.

As a boy, and latter as a man Jesus was under God’s authority and dependent upon him for all things just like we are.  As a boy, Jesus was expected to be obedient to His earthly parents and keep the 4th Commandment perfectly, just as you and I must do, but the difference between Jesus and us is He was able to do it and we can’t!  But then why did Jesus become separated from Joseph and Mary if he wasn’t at fault?  Well the error was His parents.  When Jesus asked them how it was that they didn’t know where he would be, he wasn’t being sarcastic, but truthful.  “Why didn’t you look for me before you left?  I would have left with you, you know!  Have you forgotten who I really am?  Have you forgotten all that the angel told you about me?  Why would you need to wonder where I would be or where you must find me?  I must be in my Father’s house!”  Here in our gospel lesson, at the age of twelve we see that Jesus clearly knew most certainly that God was his Father in a way in which he was not Father to anyone else!

Dear friends, do you understand the wonderful mystery here?   This boy Jesus is speaking as God the Son; even before He took on our flesh He was always eternally the Son of God! Can you surrender to the mystery that declares that Jesus is true God and true man without trying to explain how this can be?  Yes you can if by faith you obediently surrender this mystery into God’s capable hands!  And it is by this same faith that we believe, teach, and confess that the divine and human natures of Jesus are now and forever inseparable; not pasted together like two boards, nor one transformed or absorbed into the other, but instead, each essence of God and man simply exist together in an unchangeable way that truly makes Jesus the God-Man!

According to this personal union this God-boy in our gospel lesson already and always possessed His majesty as God, and yet He allowed it to be hidden just as great clouds in the sky can hide the sun. This is how Jesus could grow in stature, wisdom, and grace before God and other people [Luke 2:52]. This is why Jesus, knowing that He was the true Son of God, continued being obedient to His earthly parents.

Make no mistake friends, Jesus knew that He was the Son of the Father, and He knew that He was divine, and yet, he continued as a child who was obedient to Joseph and Mary because by doing so He was being obedient to His Heavenly Father’s will.

There’s a famous picture that depicts the boy Jesus running with outstretched arms to his mother, with the shadow of the cross being cast on the ground by his form as he runs. The picture’s underlying message is true. Jesus obedience is an example not just for children growing and preparing for adulthood, but for all of us!  He was obedient to His parents and He was obedient to God’s will; but His obedience is also so much more than just an example, because without it He could not have been our Redeemer, the Savior who came to free us from sin and death by His own death upon the cross.

Dear friends, when Jesus declared His relationship with the Heavenly Father and demonstrated His obedience to His earthly parents, He was also declaring His purpose for coming to this world; to be doing His Father’s work, that is to fulfill his Father’s will, which was to seek and save all people who are lost to sin. By perfectly living His life, that same life became a perfect act of worship.  By being obedient to the will of God His Father in all things, He was obedient, even “unto death, even death on a cross” for us.  Through the obedient life of this God-boy, Jesus’ role as Savior was proclaimed every day until he obediently walked to His own death upon the cross.

As the God-Man Jesus lived and died to bring us back to God in an eternal way that would give us peace with God, Jesus,  obedient to His Father’s will  brought all people back to a right relationship with His father, and He did that work finally just outside the very walls of the Jerusalem temple where His parents found Him—He did it on Calvary.  It was there upon that cruel cross that God the Father would forsake His obedient Son and lay upon Him the punishment for all of our sins.  But after three days, God resurrected His Son from death to life in order to ensure us of our own personal victory over sin and death.  Jesus was obedient, and because of His obedience we have been given the ability to call God our “Father,” not in the same way as Jesus can mind you, but in a very real way that eternally ensures you of a loving relationship between God and you.”

Can you accept this as truth?  Can you be like Mother Mary and simply treasure these truths in your heart?  Can you obediently accept that God’s mysteries are beyond your comprehension and simply believe and by faith allow the living Word of God to remain steadfast within your heart allowing Jesus Christ to strengthen your faith unto eternal life?  I pray that you will.  I also pray that in those dark times of life, you will remember that even Mother Mary became afraid and and overcome by worry, but then she allowed God’s Word of assurance to give her peace.  That was enough for Mary, and I pray that will be enough for you too.  I ask this in Jesus name…AMEN!

Who are You?

December 28th, 2014

Christmas 1B, December 28, 2014
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Galatians 3:23-29 and Luke 2:21-40

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About 10 years ago, my two brothers and I made a startling discovery about our lineage; about our family history.  Our uncle informed us that our true family name wasn’t Henderson, but something else.  It seems that our great grandfather was making and running moonshine for Al Capone, and that got him into a lot of trouble with the Federal government.  He fled the Chicago area and hid out in a small village in Wisconsin and assumed the name Henderson.  And so it seems our family identity was forever changed, or was it?  Did our name define my brothers and I or is there something deeper and more substantial that defines us?  What defines you?

Who are you? I know who you were; before God gave you faith, you were someone who was held prisoner by the law.  You needed to be held prisoner, because your sinful nature was leading you.  And within your sinful nature was the potential to be a thief, sexual deviant, liar, and even a murderer.  You were forever separated from God’s love and presence because of your sin.  So it’s true, “Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” [Galatians 3:23]

But faith has come; the Living Word of God, the promise of God that He would come and be the Savior of the World has come to us, in our own flesh.  He was born of the Virgin Mary, presented at the temple of God for circumcision and a name.  The act of circumcision was done so that Christ would be held accountable to the law of God just as we are; the only difference is he kept the law perfectly.  The name that was given to this baby God-man was Jesus.

What is in a name, well in the name Jesus, there’s a whole lot.  You see Jesus or Joshua means God saves!  In this child is God’s answer to the sin of the world; even your sin that separates you from His love.  In this child is the only One who is the begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary.  He is the one who has suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  He alone is the one who not only gave His life for sinners separated from God, but He took it back up again by rising from the dead on the third day and He ascended into Heaven, where He forever sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

All of this, He did for you.  He did it so that you would be free from the bondage of God’s Law that always declares, “You are a sinner.  You don’t deserve God’s love or His forgiveness.  No matter how hard you try to be good, you will always fail; you will always fall short.”  So, who are you, really?

God knows who you are, do you? Well, let me tell you who God says you are!  Through faith in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God!  Through faith, because of faith, only by faith are you right with God.  It has nothing to do with what you did or wanted to do, it’s by faith alone.  Listen to me now, you are a son of God.  Don’t change it to daughter, because this has nothing to do with your sex.  It also has nothing to do with your race or economic status.  You are a son of God exactly and precisely as everyone else who has received this gift of faith.

It’s a gift that you received in your baptism, and it’s a gift you’ve confirmed you still want, within the rite of confirmation.  You see, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  You have put on His identity, His persona.  And what is that identity?  You are one who is holy, perfect, and righteous before God the Father.  There is nothing that you need to do to have this new identity, it was given to you 100% in your baptism.  All that you’re asked to do is live out this identity.  And that dear friends is where the struggle comes in.  In our baptism, we were given Christ’ identity, Jesus name once and for all.  Our old sinful nature was drowned in the baptismal waters where we were washed by the water and the Word of God.  But now, every day God directs us to live out this identity by daily drowning or putting to death our sinful nature.

Every day we are asked to turn away from our sins and turn to Jesus for forgiveness, faith, and strength to live for and with God.  It’s a little like learning to climb a telephone pole.  In order to climb, you have to have a belt that goes around the pole and you have to wear spike shoes.  The secret is to lean back and depend on the belt so that the spikes can dig into the pole.  Leaning back, I mean really leaning back and trusting in the belt is hard to do, because it’s in your nature to be afraid and doubt the effectiveness of the equipment.  All beginners go through this period of doubt.  The first few times they try it, they get partially up the pole, panic and slide down, getting splinters in their arms and other places.  Eventually, each beginner is faced with a decision, give up and look or another profession or lean back and trust the belt.

In your walk of faith, God wants you to follow Him by trusting in and depending on Him.  When we are hurt by splinters or falls and failures, He wants us to recognize that the successful climb has already been given to us, He just wants us to keep following Him and learn to depend on the faith and strength that He gave to us in His name, which is our name too!

Who are you? Are you someone who’s defined by your failures or someone who’s defined by Jesus victory over sin, death, and the devil?  Every morning, when you get out of bed you have a choice; you can live as a victim or as a victor.  You can follow Jesus and watch as His forgiving love remakes you into His image, or you can shrink away in anger, hurt, or disappointment.  Who are you, really?

God wants you to always remember that in your baptism, you were given a gift, the gift of faith.  It’s the same gift He gives you every time you come to His table of mercy and receive His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.  Faith is a gift from God.  So is the air, but you have to breathe it.  So is food, but you have to eat it.  So is water, but you have to drink it.

So who you are depends on whether you will receive and live out this gift.  How do you receive it?  I’ll tell you one thing; it doesn’t depend on how you feel, because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” [Romans 10:17]  Faith isn’t something that you need to sit down and wait to experience, instead it comes when you take God at His Word, and that Word says that in your baptism, through the gift of faith you have been made a son of God!  You have been made right with God!  You either take that truth and live it out and let it change you, or you walk away from it and go back into bondage.

I’d like to close with a story about a young boy who was doing chores in the yard with his Dad.  He was doing his best to lift a rock that was too large for someone his size.  He grunted and groaned as he tried to lift the rock.  He tried all different methods to move it, but nothing seemed to work.  His father finally walked over to his son and asked if he was having trouble.  The boy answered, “Yes, I’ve tried everything, and I can’t move this rock.”  The father knelt down to his son and asked, “Are you sure you’ve tried every possibility son?”  The boy looked up with frustration at his Dad and grunted, “Yes!”  With kindness, the father bent over and softly said, “No, son, you haven’t tried everything.  You never asked me to help.”

How often are we like that little boy, struggling with our problems, unable to solve them, and forgetting that we are children of the Most High God.  We forget that we have a new identity, a new nature, and a new name, and a Heavenly Father who loves us because we carry His Son’s name!  Jesus, God Saves, His name is your name too, so trust that name and in prayer continue to ask the Father for His help and protection!

Who are you?  You are a Christian now go and live out that identity.  AMEN!

The Lord Will Make You a House!

December 21st, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Advent-B, December 21, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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The song you just heard is of course the theme song from the T.V. show Cheers, and it is meant to be a mental hook for you to hang our message upon.  We really do want to be where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad we came.  Wouldn’t you like to be in that place where you can see that all of our troubles are really just the same, and that they all find resolution and are replaced with peace through the same means.  Well congratulations, you’ve arrived in that place; a house that the Lord has built for you and me.  Now I admit, that this place here has its issues; it has its problems, but nonetheless it is a place that the Lord has built; it is a place where He truly has called you and knows your name.  And because He knows your name, we all know you too; we know you and each other in the peace and love of Christ.

Now before you let your emotions get the best of you and you begin to feel let down, let me say that this place with all of its flaws, is just temporary, and it will soon be replaced by an eternal place that will renew your mind and free your soul to be all that God has created you to be.  But you’ll have to wait in this place for a while until God calls you to your new home.  So relax, take a load off of both your feet and heart and let me share God’s Word with you this morning.

In our Old Testament lesson this morning (2 Samuel 7:1–16), we see King David also longing for a place of peace; a sanctuary where God’s people would collectively and eternally know God’s house as a special place where God would forever reside with His people.  David wanted to build a temple, a house of God that would glorify God forever.  And God heard the heart of David, and He knew David was a man after His own heart, and He was pleased with David.  So God sent the prophet Nathan to David and said, “Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” [2 Samuel 7:4-7]

Here God is reminding David and us, that His name and His eminence are glorified with or without our help, after all He is the creator of us all.  Here God wants us to set our hearts on an important truth: It was and still is His work to teach us Who He is and how His name will be glorified among us.  This is the very reason that God traveled with His people in a tent, moving from place to place.  You see, the tent and the sanctuary that rested within it, were reminders that God is always with His children as their protector and redeemer.

And now God speaks this Word of remembrance to David, to both calm His fears and strengthen His faith: “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you.”  Here, God is asking David and us to look back at our lives and see the many twists and turns that have brought us here thus far and proclaim, “If it had not been for the Lord, I would be…!”

Here is one way that we can glorify God’s presence and eminence; by remembering His work and presence in our past.

But God must still speak faith and hope into both David’s heart and ours; He must not only remind  us of His work in the past but the work He promises to do in the future: “And I will make for you (David) a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.”

What is this undefined and continuous work that the Lord will perform to make David’s name greater than all other names on earth.  How will God create a place for His children of faith and plant them so securely that nothing may move nor destroy neither them nor their place?  But more than this, where will this place, which is both the house of David and the house of God be located at?

Certainly, we can read in God’s Word that the temple of the Lord would years latter be built by Solomon, the son of David.  Is this the house and the seed of David that God speaks of?  At first sight, yes, God kept His promise through David’s son Solomon.  But verse 16 of our reading warns us that God’s building and providential presence and care did not stop with Solomon nor the great temple that he built.  Listen: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ”. In other words, it will be eternal.

If it’s only through Solomon that the promise of God is fulfilled, then in the famous words of the Apollo mission, “Houston, we have a problem.”  And the problem is this, Solomon is dead and the bloodline of David is lost.  Further, the temple of Solomon was destroyed long ago, and the second temple of Herod was also obliterated as well.  Now what?  Now, God shows all of us through Whom and how this promise of providing a place and home for each of us is ultimately fulfilled.

In our gospel reading (Luke 1:26–38)we begin to understand how this prophecy is finally fulfilled: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”

Make no mistake, the angel Gabriel is speaking to both Mary and all of us this morning; he is explaining in the clearest and most simplest way how God will ultimately fulfill His promise made to both David and us; a promise of providing a home, a place for us where God both knows our name, and cares for us eternally.  God will raise up a physical son of David who is also the eternal Son of God.  All of this prophecy would occur without any help from men, and it will occur whether they wish to receive this mighty champion or not.  The name of this God-child explains both His person and His work.  He is called Jesus, which means, “the One through whom Jehovah brings salvation;” for it is this Jesus who will save His people from their sins. [Matthew 1:22]

This exalted Savior God, born of the virgin Mary, who is of the bloodline of David, is the fulfillment of the promise that God first made long ago to Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the garden of Eden.  The seed of the woman would now complete the promised work of God that would bring God’s children of faith back to the promise land of Eden now restored.  An eternal abode, where men and women may once again walk with God in the cool of the day in peace.

In a few short days we will gather again on Christmas Eve to celebrate and renew our joy centered around the birth of the God-child Jesus the Christ, through Whom alone comes the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring each of us home to a place that guarantees us an eternal peace with Him and each other.  And today, as we prepare and wait for our earthly celebration, we are led by faith to look past the earthly and perishable temple of Solomon and see the remaining and still standing presence of the eternal fulfillment of the promise.  God’s dwelling with men of faith did not cease at the destruction of the earthly temple in Jerusalem, but it has been realized and continues today and forever, in an amazing way through the coming of Jesus Christ, in Whom Jehovah came to be with His people.

He has come to us as our God who is the Logos, the very Word of God, who made our human flesh and our redeemed nature His eternal dwelling place.  God did all of this through the eternal glory of His only begotten Son.  We were reminded of this truth, when Jesus our Champion and Savior proclaimed in truth and in the power of God to those that planned to crucify Him, “Destroy this temple (the temple of His body), and in three days I will build it up again” (John 2:19). It is with this building up of the temple destroyed by the Jews, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that the complete and essential fulfillment of our promise of eternal life begins. And this promise continues through the temporary earthly body of Christ, which is the Christian church, which will one day soon, in God’s time be transferred into God’s Kingdom of Glory, where each of us will continue dwelling eternally with the Father and Son through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, who for now resides within each of the hearts of you who believe, that is have faith in the promises of God. [John 14:23; 1 Cor. 6:19]

But for now, we wait in these temporary temples made of flesh, as we gather together across the face of the earth in buildings made of wood and stone.  But we gather together always as the church of Jesus Christ, which is first and always, essentially a spiritual house of God, composed of living stones [1 Tim. 3:15, 1 Pet. 2:5; 2 Cor. 6:16, Heb. 3:6] And as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments, we are reminded that it is the promise of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ that gives us the ability to both wait and proclaim to all who will listen, “If it had not been for the Lord, I would be completely cut off from life and left hopeless.”

This morning, after hearing all of this work of God, His Holy Spirit continues to draw us deeper and deeper into a right relationship with Him through faith in His Son Jesus.  And as He leads us to reflect His love and forgiveness to our neighbors, even in times where love and forgiveness are the last thing we feel like offering, we will be moved like Mary to simply say, ““Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Can you be this strong?  Will you cooperate with the work of His Spirit?  Yes, you can and you will, if you will but remember the rest of the promise yet to be fulfilled.  The promise of Jesus that speaks these Words of comfort to you: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [John 14:1-3] A place of peace, a house prepared just for you by Jesus Himself; a place where God and everyone else knows your name and are glad you came.  AMEN!

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… AMEN!

Rejoice, Pray, and Give Thanks!

December 14th, 2014

Third Sunday in Advent-B, December 14, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Isaiah 61:1]

You dear Christians know these Words well, don’t you?  Of course you do; it was your Lord who read them in the synagogue and added these additional gospel Words: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4:21]  In other Words, Jesus is telling us that this prophecy spoken first by Isaiah is ultimately fulfilled by the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  But do not diminish the importance of the prophet Isaiah, all other prophets, John the Baptist, the holy Apostles, and all faithful preachers and proclaimers of God’s Word, including this humble preacher who stands before you.

My earnest prayer is that God would train each of our hearts to hear His Word when faithfully proclaimed and know by faith that the preacher’s Words are really in fact God’s Word, and that the man addressing you is to be received as a scholar from God.  Speaking through the mouth of the preacher is not simply the voice of a thousand angels but Christ Himself declaring that God is present to bring into your hearts a message of true and lasting forgiveness of sins.  He is speaking to repair hearts that have been broken by other’s sin, to free you from the condemnation of the Law of God, and to free you from the accusations of guilt that come from your own conscience.  In other Words, this is your season of blessing and good favor from God Himself!

Isn’t this the one message that we sinners long to hear?  Isn’t it true that with out the work of Christ that sets us free from our sin and guilt, we in fact remain imprisoned by our own passions and lust for something that never seems to  complete us or fulfill us?  Don’t we all really just yearn to hear God say, “Your sins are forgiven”?  And this dear friends is exactly the message that God is bringing to you this morning.  You are forgiven!  If you will receive this message and work of Christ, then you will find that your ashes of failure have been replaced with the oil of gladness instead of mourning.  And instead of walking around like old “Sad Sack” in your dark and lonely attire, God has in fact clothed you in Christ’s own robe of righteousness, which for you is to be a garment of praise unto your God and Savior.

Now you may be wondering if all of this is true for you, and if so how it can be true.  And simply put, your answer is this: “It is the Lord Jesus work and it is marvelous in our sight!”  In your baptism, Christ planted you within His garden, within His kingdom to be a mighty oak of praise unto your God.  All who see you are to acknowledge you as the very offspring of God, a child who is highly favored and blessed.

You are here to rejoice in the Lord so that others will also be drawn into His year of favor and Kingdom of Grace.  But how?  The answer is in our Epistle reading (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24).

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”

Now, at first this might sound like just another demand of the Law of God; a demand that like all others is outside of our ability to complete.  You might hear it like this: Rejoice, don’t ever stop praying… ever, and don’t ever forget to say “thank you” to the Lord, or else!  But remember, God has sent me this morning to proclaim good news and to set you free from your fears of failure to measure up.  He has sent me to point out to you this part of the reading: “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Do you hear that?  It is God’s will, His desire that you be in a continuous spirit of prayer, that you offer up praise and rejoice in His presence, and that you be thankful in all things, and because it is His will for you He will make sure that you are able.  This morning it is my duty and privilege to proclaim to you that it is “He who began the good work in you  (who) will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:6]

Do you understand dear saints that it is not your responsibility to complete you in God’s holiness, but instead, it is the Lord’s work that completes you?  It is the work of the Holy Spirit, which since your baptism has dwelt in you richly in order to complete what was begun in your baptism.  And it is also the Holy Spirit’s work to ensure that you are in fact bearing the fruit of Christ’s cross.

From Christ’s passion upon the cross, your heart has been taken to the Font where you received that holy cleansing of the water and the Word, and from the Font, your hearts have been given the faith necessary to receive the Word of God as it comes directly from His heart and into yours.  And as this Word continues to sanctify, that is preserve you in faith and eternal life, you experience the work of the Holy Spirit, which gives you a spirit of joy.

Rejoicing in the Lord is a natural and consistent expression of one who has been forgiven much through Christ.  And because it is a work of the Holy Spirit, and not your own, it causes you to be filled with joy, a glad confidence in knowing that all things will work together for your good.  But the ugliness of this sinful world does its best to take our eyes of faith off of God’s own goodness through Christ, and for this reason, God has commanded you to call out to Him in prayer.

Prayer, that is the ability to speak directly to God at any given time, is a privilege given only to those who see a need for a Savior.   Those who scoff at the infant lowly, born in a manger and crucified upon the cross for the sins of the world, obviously see no need for a Savior; they have neither God’s ear nor heart when they pray.  Why?  Because prayer is a privilege given only to those who know that without Jesus, they are helpless and hopeless.  You see it is your ability to call out to God in prayer knowing that in Christ, you are never helpless and vulnerable, which empowers you to naturally produce another trait that God wills we Christians to have… a spirit of thankfulness.

Be thankful in all circumstances.  In other words be thankful in all things.  This does not mean that we are to be thankful for all things, because as we all no there is much evil in this world, but in the midst of the evil, we can be thankful that in Christ, all of God is right there with us. (Cancer, Illness, Addiction?)

One of the most difficult things that God’s Word asks us to do is to adjust to the many changes that happen in our lives.  But it becomes so much easier when we remember that He is right there with us in the midst of those changes.  And this is another reason why we must gather often to hear His Word proclaimed; we must be reminded constantly that because the God who delivered me from my sins through Christ is ever and always at work throughout life’s changes, then at the very least I can by faith be thankful to Him for the work He is doing to preserve me in the one true faith.

Thanksgiving, prayer, and rejoicing are God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  These three crisp words jump out at us not as a command, but as a description of the desire of God’s heart.  They are gifts of the Holy Spirit, that keep our hearts centered on the work of Christ’s cross and the promise of the resurrection, which is proclaimed through Christ’s empty tomb.  We must remind each other that because we are adopted children of God through Christ, we have been enable by God to live out holy lives and embrace the fullness of live that is ours by grace.  But even this too is a work of God, performed so that we might never quench the work of the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us until the day of Jesus Christ.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; that is may no nook or cranny of your life be left without the peace of God.  May He reign undisturbed in every portion of your being, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it, and it can be done in no other way.  AMEN!

Words of Comfort and Warning

December 7th, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent-B, December 7, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” [Isaiah 40:1]

Comfort… the consolation and reassurance of those who are in distress, anxiety or need. This kind of comfort is an essential part of being human, of living within a community. Scripture declares and reassures us that God is continually comforting His people in times of distress.  And so He does through our message this morning.

Have you heard the story about an old farmer who had been in the habit of plowing his field with an ox and a mule together?  One morning, the ox said to the mule, “Let’s play sick today and rest a little while.” But the old mule said, “No, we need to get the work done, for the season is short.”  But the ox played sick, and the farmer brought him fresh hay and corn and made him comfortable. When the mule came in from plowing, the ox asked how he made out. “We didn’t get as much done, but we made it all right,” answered the mule. Then the ox asked, “What did the old man say about me?” “Nothing,” said the mule.  The next day the ox, thinking he had a good thing going, played sick again. When the mule came in again very tired, the ox asked, “How did it go?” The mule said, “All right, I guess, but we didn’t get much done.” Then the ox also asked, “What did the old man say about me?” “Nothing to me,” was the reply, “but he did stop and have a long talk with the butcher.” The moral of the story?  Be careful, or your idea of comfort may in fact be the beginning of your demise!

This morning God speaks to us real words of comfort, and they come directly from His heart. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” [Isaiah 40:1, 2]

Not just once, “Comfort”, but twice, “Comfort, comfort.” So the Lord begins with a single repeated command. The command flows from the heart of God, and God himself directs this message to be proclaimed  by His messengers, who will announce the good news of his undying love. God wants everyone to hear these words of comfort. He calls us, “my people.” After all of our unfaithfulness, all our rebellion, all our sins, we are still his people! God is still our God, and more than that, He is faithful and gracious, as he promised to be long ago: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” [Exodus 34:6, 7]

Here is a truth that many forget as they mistakenly proclaim their version of comfort: The church through the equipping and power of the Holy Spirit has been entrusted with a new and different kind of teaching, which is the proclamation of the Gospel.

But go to many churches today, and you will hear nothing but the Law; nothing but a confusing message of self-improvement. But that is not God’s heart; He desires that a new message be proclaimed.  He desires that we the church proclaim a sweet, comforting, and joyful message, the Gospel.

This morning God calls you His people. You dear saints are a people, which He will never forsake.  But we are not God’s people by natural birth, but like those born unnaturally.  We are a people who have been crushed and humbled, plagued by turmoil, and who call upon God in the day of trouble. There are other people who trust in their own way, works, and riches, but they are not the people of God. They don’t need comfort, because they have not gone through real sadness for their sins, tribulation over the fate of their sins, and turmoil over the solution to their sins.  They will not receive comfort because their cup is full and there isn’t any room for comfort and consolation.

But you dear Christians hear these words of comfort from your God and you long for it.  Your are not afraid, because you know God as a friend.  You call out to Him, “Dear Father make me holy and pleasing.”  And God speaks back to you, “I have and will continue to make you holy through Christ.  I have brought an end to your terror and fear; I have brought you a double portion of forgiveness for all of your sins.”

And This is how God makes you holy. “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” [Isaiah 40:3-9]

Seven hundred years after Isaiah wrote these words, John the Baptist appeared. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that he came preaching, and all three cite this passage, identifying John the Baptist as the voice who calls. But John the Baptist was not the only voice that fulfilled this prophecy. All preachers have a similar calling to announce the good news of God’s love for all the world. Finally, all believers respond to the Lord’s call when they give voice to the gospel and live out the freedom of the gospel as a witness to others.

The message of John the Baptist and every messenger of God remains, a message of repentance. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. The prophecy pictures the Lord coming to his people from the wilderness. In preparation for his coming, the people are to prepare his way by removing all obstacles to his coming. The mountains, rough ground, and rugged places represent the natural condition of the hearts of the people; by nature all human hearts are hard as rock. The call of the gospel empowers human hearts to believe. Repentance is a turning away from sin and a trusting in the forgiveness God offers. That was John’s message in the wilderness and the message of every believer who gives voice to the hope within. Through the words of the gospel, God knocks on the door of an impenitent, unbelieving heart and creates faith. The obstacles disappear when the Holy Spirit creates faith.

And now for a Word of warning. “A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. [Isaiah 40:6-10]

The voice of the church, of every faithful pastor and proclaimer of the gospel always cries out two messages.  The first is repent, that is turn to God’s mercy because your many sins that define you, are proof that you will die in those sins with no promise of real comfort without God’s solution.  And the second part of the message shows you God’s solution… they show you your Savior Jesus Christ and declare, “Behold your God!”

Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world… even your sins.”  But the sinful world will not receive a Savior born in a manger and put to death upon a cross.  This idea of God is ridiculous to them.  They can not admit that their existence without this Lamb is exactly like the grass and flowers; they can not admit that without faith in Jesus, they too will one day simply wither away and pass into the eternal judgment of this very same unattractive God!

And God’s solution to this is simply for the preacher to go up onto the high places, lift up their voices with strength and… and… proclaim the message again and again.  “The Lord has come and you are free.  The Lord will come again and you will either behold and receive His reward or you will receive your eternal punishment.”

And now for a Word of encouragement for you the church as we wait for Christ’s second advent. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” [Isaiah 40:11]

Dear saints, you have been prepared for the coming of your Lord Jesus.  You are prepared because by faith you see that He first came as a baby, the Son of God born in a manger, and that He left this world as a Conqueror and Savior when He defeated sin, death, and the devil upon the cross and through the truth of the empty tomb.  You have been prepared for that great day when Christ will come again and provide for each of you a resurrected body like His, to live forever within His eternal reign of the new heaven and earth.  But as you wait for His return, you do not wait alone.  Hasn’t He promised that He is with you always, even until the end of this present sinful age?  And because He is with you, you rest within His very heart as He leads you.  But leads you where?  Out, out, forever out into the darkness of this sinful world demonstrating His love to those who are lost, through the very lives that you live.  When you the baptized devote yourselves to the very lives He has equipped you to live, those in darkness who will not acknowledge the Lamb of God, take notice of you and how you live!  As you perform sacrificial acts of kindness such as offering forgiveness freely, caring for the poor, obeying the laws and authorities, helping strangers and neighbors alike in time of need, people notice; people who need a Savior.  And when they notice and they comment, you may simply point them to both the source of your comfort and the divine power that gives it.  You point them to Jesus Christ.

Dear friends, as you live your lives within God’s comfort may He bless your efforts to lead others to the source of that comfort, even to this little church we call Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Are You Ready For The Rending?

November 30th, 2014

First Sunday in Advent-B, November 30, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

“Time Enough at Last” became one of the most famous episodes of the original Twilight Zone, and has been frequently parodied since. It is “the story of a man who seeks salvation in the rubble of a ruined world” and tells of Henry Bemis, played by Burgess Meredith, who loves books, yet is surrounded by those who would prevent him from reading them. The narration of the episode begins with these words: “Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He’ll have a world all to himself…without anyone.”

Bank teller and avid bookworm Henry Bemis is at work at his tellers window, while reading David Copperfield, and because of the distraction of the book, he shortchanges a customer who becomes annoyed. Bemis’s angry boss, and later his wife, both complain to him that he wastes far too much time reading books.

The next day, as usual, Bemis takes his lunch break in the bank’s vault, where his reading will not be disturbed. Moments later he sees a newspaper headline, which reads “H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction”, and just then, an enormous explosion outside the bank violently shakes the vault, knocking Bemis unconscious. After regaining consciousness and finding his thick glasses that he needs to see, Bemis emerges from the vault to find the bank demolished and everyone in it dead. Leaving the bank, he sees that the entire city has also been destroyed, and realizes that a nuclear war has devastated the Earth, but because he was in the vault, he was spared.

Finding himself totally alone in a shattered world with food to last him a lifetime, but no one to share it with, Bemis begins to be overcome with despair, but in the distance, Bemis sees the ruins of the public library. Investigating, he finds that the books are still intact and readable; all the books he could ever hope for are his for the reading, and (as he gazes upon a huge fallen face of a clock) he realizes that he has all the time in the world to read them without interruption.

His despair gone, Bemis contentedly sorted through the books he looked forward to reading for years to come. Just as he bent down to pick up the first book, he stumbled, and his glasses fell off and shattered. In shock, he picked up the broken remains of the glasses that are now useless, leaving him virtually blind, and he says, “That’s not fair. That’s not fair at all. There was time now. There was all the time I wanted…! That’s not fair!”, as he burst into tears, surrounded by books he now can never read.

Mr. Bemis was not ready for the rending of the heavens and the final judgment day; he was not ready to discover that it is God alone who defines what is fair and what is not.  He was not ready for God to come in power, are you?  Can you truly agree with the prophet Isaiah and say…

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, and the nations might tremble at your presence!  When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.  From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him.  You meet Him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” [Isaiah 64:1-5]

God has come down and “rended” the heavens in the past; He came to meet sinful yet faithful men and women as they were.  He answered the prayers of His people when they were in bondage in Egypt and caused great plagues to strike the land and its people until mighty Pharaoh let His people go!  He parted the Red Sea so that they could escape on dry land, but then allowed the waters to recede and destroy the pursuing Egyptian army.  He listened to the faithful prayer of King Hezekiah, and thwarted the Assyrian army that had amassed itself around Jerusalem by striking down tens of thousands of Assyrian soldiers in their camp while they slept.”

Faith, which is a gift of God turns to the Lord in prayer.  Even when God seems shut away and silent in heaven, faith prays.  The message that God desires us to take with us this morning is that even in ominous times, God wants His children of faith to call out to Him in prayer.  He wants us to call out to Him, “Our Father, our Redeemer from of old” (Isaiah 63:16), “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!” These are the words of a believer—a child of faith who is facing difficult times, but still clinging to God’s promises of power and grace.  For those who cry out like this, everything may seem to be “out of whack” in this world; evil may seem to be over powering good, and the devil may seem to be stopping even God’s will, but faith still prays.

In times like those, when God’s enemies seem to be defying His rule and authority, the prophet Isaiah encourages all believers to call out to God and ask that He step in and correct this apparent imbalance.  “O Lord, come quickly.  Assert your power; protect and deliver your people.  Destroy your enemies and the enemies of your people.”

But there is just one little problem.  If we are honest, we too are many times found to be acting as if we are faithless; we too because of our sins, have been and will be again the enemies of God.  We remember the God of old and His mighty deeds, and we are afraid.  We are afraid because we know that we too fall short of the qualification of joyfully working towards righteousness.

“Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?  We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.  (This is why) There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses Himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” [Isaiah 65:5-7]

So what is the solution to our apparent inability to call out to God, to see and hear God in a righteous way?  How can we possibly rid ourselves of so many and so vile of a list of sins, sins which soak into our very being making us in God’s eyes simply a bunch of filthy rags?  (Filthy rags which are like those discarded by a woman during her menstrual period.). The answer is that we can do nothing to rid ourselves of this curse of sin, but God can!  He alone must work once again in a way that this sinful world would never expect.  He must do what we can not.  He must come quickly to be our defender and our Savior.

No one could have foretold of the mighty deeds God did in Egypt to free His people; no one could have foretold that God would rend the heavens and shake the mountains as He met Moses on the mountain top and spoke with Him.  No one could have foretold that God would save Jerusalem by striking down the Assyrian army as they surrounded the remnant of Israel.  And no one would have guessed that all of this was leading up to God’s greatest miracle for sinful men and women such as us.  Sinful men and women who since the fall of Adam and Eve, have been held in the cruel bondage of sin.  We could never love God and our neighbor as God’s perfect law demands… it is beyond us.  But God made a way out of no way.

Who could ever have imagined that God would bring us back to Him by grace through faith, by sacrificing His own Son upon a wooden cross at Calvary?  What human mind could have anticipated the empty tomb?  Could anyone have anticipated that by faith in God’s Son and Servant Jesus Christ, a man or woman could become an adopted child of God?  But this is always how our mighty God acts; He reveals His truths to humanity… in a way that all of creation must simply stand in awe and receive His gift of presence with thanksgiving and praise.

The wisdom of God’s gracious and powerful plan lies completely outside of our realm of understanding.  If any man or woman is to understand and receive God’s work of redemption they must first be given the ability to believe and receive it through the faith giving power of the Holy Spirit that comes to them through His proclaimed and fulfilled Word of promises.  In other words, they must hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our Old Testament lesson, which is simply a prayer of the prophet Isaiah, we are drawn to God’s loving heart along with the prophet to call out to God in prayer and then hold fast to a principle which teaches, that God always acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.  But He only acts for those who know Him as Father and Savior.  He acts for those who know that He is the potter and they are His clay; they are His creation.

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever.  Behold, please look, we are all your people. [Isaiah 64:8, 9]

Why should God even listen to our prayers, let alone respond to them?  Because we are the clay, and He molds us after His will.  We are the work of His hands; His mighty hands, the hands of Jesus, which were pierced for our transgressions.

In one part of God’s Word, we discover that our disgusting sins are all that is needed to separate us from God’s love, but in another part of God’s Word, the gospel, faith tells us of another way; it tells us that through His Son, Christ Jesus, we may turn to Him by faith and trust in His gracious promises to both redeem and save us, and to remake us into the image of His Son.

Many of you have been taught since your were children to both begin your prayers “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and to always pray “in Jesus’ name.”  Why do you suppose that is?  It is because God has no reason to listen to any of us outside of the miraculous work of His Son Jesus!  We come to Him in the name of Jesus, who has shed His blood to wash away our sins and cover us with His robe of righteousness.  When we call upon and trust in the name of Jesus, God invites us to pray to Him as dear children and to ask their dear Father for those things that we need.  We can pray with confidence and boldness because, in Jesus, God IS our dear Father.

As we enter into the season of Advent, it is my prayer that the peace of God will allow your heart to boldly call out to God, asking Him to come again through His Son and rend the heavens and make all things right and well for each of you, as you are transferred from the Kingdom of grace into the Kingdom of glory and power.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Lambs Don’t Shove?

November 23rd, 2014

Last Sunday of the Church Year-November 23, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

Yes, you are Jesus little lamb and further He gives you every reason to be glad at heart as He leads you through life as a gentle shepherd.  And as you follow, you are assured by faith that He knows your every need and that He provides for those needs in your life.  Since all of this is true, then why do you sometimes act as though it isn’t true?  Why do we as people seem to have this insatiable desire to be first and best, even at the expense of other little lambs around us?  Why is it that we never seem to have a shortage of good ideas in our minds on how to do things better, but we seldom are willing to offer our own efforts in order to accomplish those ideas?

I submit to you that the reason is very simple, and it looks back at us every day in the mirror.  While we may indeed be Jesus little lambs, we live our lives as if we are Jesus mighty and powerful rams, pushing and shoving trying to be the shot caller, trying to get the best seat, the best place in line, and the most important position available.  And while we congratulate ourselves for living as a strong sheep and not some helpless little lamb, Jesus warns us in our gospel lesson (Matthew 25:31-46) that we are acting more like a goat.

Now, we should be clear from the outset that this kind of sinful behavior is nothing new; God had to deal with this same issue years ago through the prophets, and this morning in our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 34:11-24) we hear him speak about this very issue through the prophet Ezekiel.  Listen: “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.  Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture, and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet.  And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” (Vs. 17-19)

This morning God is speaking to us just as He did the Jews who were in exile in Babylon.  He is speaking in a way that calls attention to the sinful practices that He observed in the lives of His people then, and in the lives of His children of faith today.  He sees Christians acting like the godless goats and beasts around them and not like sheep.  And he isn’t just talking about how we act in church, but how we act in our families and within our communities.  He is warning us that if we insist on being someone of importance, that is a leader and not a follower then He will hold us to a much higher degree of accountability.

This morning, you may find yourself thinking that you are more equipped to lead the church, your family, or community than others, and because your superior abilities have been underused or gone unappreciated, you find yourself pushing and shoving others so that you can be heard and recognized.  God sees, and He is not impressed.  And what He sees is that through your pushing and shoving, you are teaching through your actions an incorrect faith or false teaching; you are teaching that your way is better than God’s way; you are muddying the waters of true doctrine, and you will answer for what you are doing.  Every time you exert your personality over another sheep, in church, at home, or within our community, and you take away their ability to enjoy God’s provisions for joy and peace in their lives, you are going to pay; Jesus says you will be judged as a goat and not a sheep; you will be cast out into darkness, never more knowing the care of your good shepherd.  In other words, “If you want to act like a goat and not a sheep, then go for it.  You are a goat; so go to the place of goats!”

This morning, God promises to do two things: First He will personally remove the false shepherds who push, shove, and take advantage of the flock, and second, He will personally provide for the needs of His sheep.  He will seek out His sheep who are lost in the church, in the family, and in the community, and bring them back into the fold.  How will he do this?  By reminding us that…

We are His little lambs. We are not mighty rams or wild goats.  We are his little ones that so badly need His care; we need His Son, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, because without Him, we will become lost; lost in our communities, lost in our families, and even lost within our church.

Dear friends, this is a truth that each of us must hear, whether we are in leadership or simply part of the flock.  We are all being led by only one Good Shepherd, and the voice of another we must not listen to.

In a world in which it is increasingly difficult to find Christian leaders in any area of life, isn’t it comforting to know that the Lord has promised to become personally involved in caring for the needs of his people, even when those who should be providing leadership aren’t doing their jobs. When you think about it, that’s much better anyway, isn’t it?

Jesus is a faithful Shepherd. It is more comforting to put yourself in His care than in anybody else’s.  Jesus is the only Shepherd who has not only laid down His life for His sheep, but He took it back up again when He rose from the dead.  Jesus is your good shepherd who suffered as you suffer, but even more His sufferings were for you; not only for your eternal salvation, but also so that you might have joy and peace right now, even though you see people in positions of authority over you abusing their high callings of leadership.

Now to those of us who are in positions of authority or desire those positions, God has this Word for us: If we fail to be Christian shepherds in our families, in our community, in our congregation, we can expect those under our leadership, to start trampling the pasture, muddying the water, and shoving and taking advantage of the weak. Sinful human beings do such things if they are not constantly pointed to the Lord Jesus, our true Good Shepherd and his way.

So how do we correct our sinful tendency to push and shove others at the expense of cutting them off from the peace and joy that Jesus provides?  By remembering that we too are only Jesus little lambs.

When we remember that we are Jesus’ little lambs and not some big shot ram or wild goat, we will also remember that we follow our Good Shepherd.  “For He grew up… like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.”  He was born in the humblest of births, born in a manger.  Even though He was the eternal Son of God, He was known simply as the son of Mary, and the son of a blue-collar carpenter.  “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced (upon the cross) for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.”

“(And) All we like sheep have gone astray (like lost little lambs who think they are powerful rams or wild goats, we are lost in our families, our communities, and even within our church); we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on (Jesus) the iniquity (the sin) of us all.”

(And as they took your precious Jesus, the Good Shepherd away to the cross to die for your sins, He modeled the life of a little lamb; a trusting sheep who follows its shepherd.  “He was oppressed and He was afflicted (for you), yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” [Isaiah 53:2-7]  And neither did He push nor shove, but instead He simply trusted His God and Father.  And just before His final moment of life upon the cross, He experienced something so horrible that it troubled His soul and caused Him to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  But that was His human flesh crying out only; you see Jesus, the begotten and eternal Son of God knew why He must be forsaken at the ninth hour; He was forsaken so that His little lambs could trust that He would never forsake or leave them.  He suffered in their place so that each of us would know for certain that nothing and no one can ever pluck us from His hand nor the hand of His father.  For we rest as sheep in His pasture.

So how do we remain sheep within God’s flock?  How can we be protected from the ambitions of being a ram or the irresponsible living of a goat?  By remembering that not only are we sheep in God’s flock, but even smaller than sheep, we are simply little lambs who know nothing of the dangers ahead nor how to avoid them.  And as little lambs, we simply follow the voice of our Good Shepherd trusting in His guiding way.  He guides us with His rod and His staff, which are His Word and His sacraments.  His law warns us when we are wandering astray, and His gospel seeks us out, cleans us up, and nuzzles us back into the fold as one who was once lost but now is found, nestled safely in the love of Christ, back in the fold.  He has cleansed us in Holy Baptism, and He nourishes us through the sacrament of the Altar.  And together with the other sheep, we sing in peace and joy these true words: “Who so happy as I am, even now the Shepherd’s lamb?  And when my short life is ended, by His angel host attended, He shall fold me to His breast, there within His arms to rest.”  AMEN!