King Jesus Is All!

December 2nd, 2018

Advent 1-C
December 2, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Our text this morning is from our Gospel lesson: “As [Jesus] was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” [Luke 19:37, 38]

One Sunday morning after a worship service a woman came up to her pastor and thanked him for the encouraging sermon he had preached. In response he said, “Well, don’t thank me, give God the glory and praise the Lord.”  She said, “Well, I thought about that, but it wasn’t quite that good.”

Glory, honor, and praise…these are words we use so easily on Sunday mornings when we are around other Christians.  The words seem to flow so naturally from our lips, don’t they?  It is good, right, and salutary (that means beneficial), that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to our Lord, our heavenly king!  But what does it really mean when we say that Jesus is our King?  This morning, our message will answer that very question.

In our gospel lesson this morning we see the people proclaiming Jesus as their king, and surprisingly, this time He accepts their praise.  

In the past, the people tried to force their idea of a king on Jesus.  For example, remember after the feeding of the 5,000 how they wanted to grab Him and make Him their king.  Did Jesus allow them to do this?  No, but what did He do?  Why He disappeared; He quickly left them because their idea of a king was limited to earthly reasons and it lacked the Heavenly will of God.  They wanted Jesus to smash the government of Rome, destroy the oppressive system of taxation, conquer Cesar, and rule as their sovereign king…a Jewish king for Jewish people!

Could Jesus have done these things?  Sure… but that would not have been in keeping with God’s will.  

Now think about this, in just a few short days after the occurrences of our gospel reading, Jesus would be standing in front of Pontius Pilate explaining the truth about the Kingdom of God.  As He was standing before Pilate, the very man that could set Him free, Pilate asked our Lord,  “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

So what is the truth?  What kind of king is Jesus?  

A. Since it is good, right, and salutary that we should praise Him as our king, then we want to praise Him according to His will.  Well for the answer to this question let’s turn once again to His disciples.  On the day He entered Jerusalem for the last time until His return to make all things new, the crowd of His followers with the leading of the Holy Spirit got it right.  Let me combine all of the accounts of the Gospels, and so we can listen to the cries of the disciples as their Lord triumphantly enters the Holy City: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”[Mk. 11:10] “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” [Lk. 19:38] “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” [Jn. 12:13]  

In these words friends, Jesus’ disciples were essentially asking for God’s idea of a king.  They were in essence praying the Lord’s prayer…they were saying, “Thy kingdom come… Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  They knew that they needed a savior, one who could restore God’s heavenly kingdom on earth—they needed a Messiah!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord… Blessed is He who comes to bring heaven’s peace to sinful men…together they were giving glory to God for this type of king!

They didn’t need a kingdom of earthly power; they needed one of Heavenly power…they needed a Messiah… a Savior.  Only this kind of king could bring them and us what we really need, peace with our Creator.  Jesus isn’t a worldly king; He isn’t a rival to Caesar or Herod.  Jesus kingdom is not like that of David or Solomon.  His is a kingdom of heavenly power.  His kingship and kingdom are far greater than anything we could ever imagine; because you see, His kingdom isn’t limited to any country or region on earth, but it includes the entire universe, and it extends to all of creation… visible and invisible.  Jesus says Himself, “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.” [Matt. 28:18]  Scripture in other places describes His kingdom like this: “There is nothing that is not under Him” [Heb. 2:8] “All things have been put under his feet.”[Eph. 1:22; 1 Cor. 15:25] and He upholds all things by Word of His power.” [Heb. 1:3]

But Jesus brings us much more than heavenly power; He also brings us God’s own love… He brings us grace.  This kingdom of grace is God’s undeserved and unearned love for you.  It is so sure, so strong, and so powerful that nothing can separate you from the love of God through Christ Jesus.  The mighty and oppressive government of the Roman empire has passed away, but the kingdom of He who was crucified for you has continued and flourished in spite of bloody persecution, bitter ridicule, terrible heresy, and the foolish teachings of academia.  Why?  Because it is a kingdom that rests on God’s Word and work within you.  

It is God’s promise of love and forgiveness that wins sinners for the kingdom of heaven; it is the receiving of God’s pardon that turns them into saints…people who are willingly obedient to their new king.  The real essence of this kingdom isn’t like a congregation or even a denomination, but the “kingdom of God is within you” [Lk. 17:20-21]; it is the rule of Jesus Christ within the hearts of His believers.  It is a kingdom that finds its origins in the Word of God which teaches of divine love and forgiveness.  It is a kingdom that gives wholly as a gift the work of faith which leads a heart to believe that God is for them and not against them.  It is a kingdom that is governed by a King who desires that each of His subjects who He calls friend and brother, value a personal relationship with Him higher than anything else.  And when you are a subject of this kingdom of grace, the king promises you that He will live and work through you in such a way that you will never be the same.  How can all of this be true?  Because God’s kingdom is also a kingdom of glory and it is our changed lives that give Him that glory!

This kingdom of glory did not originate on earth, but it was truly expressed to sinful man here… here at the cross.  It was a kingdom that through the power of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God’s love was shown to us in this, “that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” and He rose for us! [Rom. 5:8]  Because of this one act of love, God has assured that those who have been faithful unto death shall follow Him into His kingdom and be crowned with glory and honor [Phil. 3:21; Rom. 8:18]  

But for now, we wait for this kingdom in a sinful world.

Our’s is a world where greed, pride, lust, envy and other selfish desires seem to rule.  It is a world which taxes its people with sickness, death, and heartbreak.  But even in the middle of these sinful things, through the presence and power of God, we can wait with expectant joy, because we know that we are just strangers here, and heaven is our true home.  We know this is true for us because we have been baptized, recreated in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we bear the seal of our King Jesus upon our brow and upon our heart. As we live out our identity as subjects of our King Jesus, we wait with excitement because we know our king is coming soon to take us home.  And when He comes to us He will come as our conquering Hero; a king who has destroyed sin and death, and smashed the head of the tyrant prince, the devil.

Let me close with the story of a determined rooster.  He lived on a farm in Oklahoma.  One day a terrible storm and tornado hit that farm and destroyed the entire chicken coop.  There were dead chickens, destruction and devastation scattered everywhere.  While standing dazed, evaluating the mess and wondering about the future, the farmer and his wife heard a stirring in the lumber pile that was the remains of the henhouse. The rooster had survived and he was climbing up through the debris, and he didn’t stop climbing until he had mounted the highest board in the pile. That old rooster was dripping wet, and most of his feathers were blown away. But as the sun came over the eastern horizon, he flapped his bony wings and proudly crowed.

Friends, that old, wet, bare rooster could still crow when he saw the morning sun. And like that rooster, our world may be falling apart, we may feel like we’ve lost everything, but if we trust in our Messiah-King, our Prince of Peace, we’ll be able to see the light of God’s goodness and by faith in He who is faithful, we to will rise out of the rubble of this world, and shout Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is Jesus our King and our Savior!

Jesus is coming….He is coming indeed!  Maranatha…come Lord come!  AMEN!!

PROCRASTINATION

November 25th, 2018

Last Sunday of the Church Year-B
November 25, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark, Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Hi, my name is Rick and I’m a procrastinator… at least that’s what my wife tells me.

However, it’s not really a problem, I can stop procrastinating any time I want to… Maybe I’ll work on that next week. 

You know, sometimes procrastination actually pays off.  If we ignore a problem long enough, sometimes it really does just go away. But that’s only on very rare situations. 

So, what is procrastination? A simple definition, procrastination is “delaying performing a task, or making a decision, until a future time.” In other words, “putting something off until later.”

In a psychological context, the term “procrastination” refers to the act of replacing high-priority tasks with tasks of lower priority, and thus somehow making them less important.  

Procrastination something we all do, such behavior is a natural mechanism for coping with high stressors, such as anxiety associated with starting or completing a task, or making decisions, (especially difficult decisions or life-changing decisions.

Procrastination can create its own set of problems.  Procrastination affects us individually by adding to our stress, by compounding the stress that we’re already dealing with. Procrastination can create a sense of impending crisis. It can cause feelings of guilt for not getting something done in a reasonable time and manor.  And, procrastination can cause loss of productivity at work or at home, and in some cases both work and home.

Procrastination also affects those around us, especially when they become aware of the procrastination.  Procrastination can cause the disapproval of others when you don’t meet your commitments and your responsibilities. 

But like I said before, procrastination is something that everyone does, some more than others, but we all do it in some aspect of our own lives!

We find reasons to put off what we don’t want to deal with right now, what we need to deal with today.  In our fallen state, we procrastinate even when we know what the consequences of our actions could be.

Sometimes, we hope the problems will just go away on their own.

So, here we are preparing for Christmas already.  Talk about a season for procrastination! How many people do you know that wait until the last minute to buy their Christmas presents?

Today is actually the last Sunday of the church year; next week we begin to celebrate Advent, which is the first season of the church year.

The word Advent comes from the Latin word advenio, which means, “To come.”  Simply put, Advent is the season we celebrate of the coming of the Lord.  Which makes since as we head into Christmas. Advent is celebrated the 4 weeks leading into Christmas.

But Advent is not just about the coming of the Lord with birth of the baby Jesus. Even more important then that is how we prepare for the second coming of Christ.

Our Gospel lesson today is a continuation of last weeks Gospel lesson. If you remember, Jesus was on the Mount of Olives. And, He was talking with Peter, James, John, and Andrew. They had asked Him to tell them about the end times and what will be the signs of these things. 

So, Jesus told them of things that are going to happen before the end times, things they/we need to watch for.  Jesus said, “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.” And He spoke of wars where “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” And He warned against natural disasters, earthquakes and famines. But He said, “…the end is not yet… these are but the beginning of the [end].  And Jesus warned that “brother will [rise up against] brother, and the father [against] his child, and children will rise against [their] parents and have them put to death.  And He said, “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”  Does this sound familiar? Does it sound like things that are going on in the world around us today?  And, Jesus assured them,  “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:3-13)

Jesus continues in our lesson today, He said,

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, and, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands – the doorkeeper to stay awake and keep watch. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you, I say to all: Stay awake.”

When I was in college, I had to write a paper for an English class.  The focus of the essay was, “What if you know the exact date and time you were going to die?”  I don’t remember, but I probably waited until the night before it was due to write it, after all I am a procrastinator.  

But what if you knew the exact date and time of your death, would you live your life differently from the way you live now?  It was very thought provoking.

Thinking about it now, it makes me think, What if you knew the exact date & time of Christ’s second coming?

What if, say, we knew that 6 months from now, on a Saturday at 8:32 in the evening, Christ will return to judge all men, living & dead?

Would you live your life any differently over the next 6 months? Maybe live a little more like Christ? Live a little more true to His word.

Would you spend a little more time in prayer? 

Maybe make time to finally read His word the way you’ve been meaning to? 

Maybe give a little more to the poor?

Or maybe you’d share with all your family and friends the love of Christ and how He has already paid the price for their sins, share it with people you don’t want to be left out of eternity…

Back at the turn of the century, while everyone was partying “like it was 1999” some people actually believed the world would end with ringing in of the new millennia.

And in 2012, many people believed the world would end as time ran out on the Aztec calendar.

The point is no one knows the day or the hour of Christ’s return. 

Mark 13: 32 tells us, “…no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father.”

St. Matthew relates the same lesson in chapter 24, 

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Jesus may return at any moment; and it seems certain that He will come soon. 

Be alert, don’t be caught asleep or off-guard

I’m not talking about living for today and not worrying about tomorrow, 

I’m not talking about canceling reservations for next year’s summer vacation.

My dear brothers & sisters, what I am asking you is this, “Are you ready?”

What have you left undone in your spiritual life?  What in your spiritual walk with Jesus needs to be addressed today and not put off until tomorrow? Don’t procrastinate; take care of what needs to be taken care of today. I’m talking about staying alert spiritually, be ready, be on watch for the Master to come and take us home.

The signs of the end times are all around us, constant reminders that “heaven and earth will pass away.” But all of these signs are centered in the cross of Jesus Christ, whereby He has conquered sin and death, that we might be raised with Him in righteousness through His Word of the Gospel, which “will not pass away.” (Mark 13:31)

Paul tells us in Romans, Chapter 6,  “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

Jesus is “the firstborn of the dead,” who in His great love “has freed us from our sin by His blood.” (Revelation 1:5)  His salvation, that is salvation through Him, is certain because “His dominion is an everlasting dominion [and His Kingdom] shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)

For this very reason Jesus came into the world, to reign in love through His voice of the Gospel, which is the truth. (John 18:37) So this is the righteousness of Christ, “a light to the peoples {which] will never be dismayed” because it is the justice of His cross and His resurrection which saves us. (Isaiah 51:4-6)

Only Jesus “is able to keep you from stumbling and [is able] to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy.”  (Jude 24)

Jesus is coming, we don’t know when, but we know it could be soon!

The last 2 verses in the Bible, in the last chapter of the Revelations, the last thing God’s word leaves us with:

And He who testifies to these things says, “Surely, I am coming soon.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

[May] the grace of the Lord Jesus be with [you] all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21)

Are You Ready?

November 18th, 2018

Pentecost 26
November 18, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.  But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.” [Daniel 13:1b]

If the end of the world were too come today, would you be fine with that, or does that cause you to worry?

Are you ready for the end of the world?  Can you ever be ready?

The truth is friends, God has been telling us in his Word that there will be an end of all things created and we need to be ready.  You can sense it can’t you?  Isn’t it true to say that there are a lot of things in this world that just aren’t right; things that seem to be so unfair in this life that this can’t be all that there is?  

If you need proof of life’s brokenness, all you have to do is just look at all of the wars and threats of wars, the earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, cancer, and all of the senseless deaths.  Nations and alliances are formed yet peace is always destroyed, no matter how hard we try to keep it.  Children disrespect their parents and parents abuse and abandon their children.  False messiahs and cults seem to pop up everywhere and cancer hits even children.  Isn’t that proof enough that something big, something terrible is getting ready to happen?

I use to like to go into Wal-Mart with some spare change in my pocket, so I could drop it into that charity bin they have.  You know the one I’m talking about don’t you?  It looks like a big concave bowl sitting on top of a giant funnel that drops the change into a glass box.  I liked to drop my change from the top of the bowl and watch it go around and around and around.  And the closer it got to the hole in the bottom, the faster and faster it went, until it plops into the box and disappears.  

That’s how I feel this world is moving.  In the beginning God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. [Genesis 2:7]  But in just the next chapter of Genesis we read how God’s first children, our parents rebelled against their Creator, and one of the terrible consequences of that sin appeared… death.  And just like that, our existence as as a people has been dropped into the bowl of death and it is going faster, and faster, and before you know it, plop each of us will be dropped into the bin of death.  

The truth is, like Adam and Eve, all of us must return to the ground from which we came.  In every generation since Adam and Eve’s fall from paradise, our greatest fear and our greatest enemy has always been death. 

So how should we feel about our death and the end of all things; should we be afraid or should we feel fine?  Well, that all depends on the kind of death you have to look forward to.

In our Old Testament reading from Daniel (Daniel 12:1-3) we are told of two different kinds of deaths; there are those who die with their names written in God’s book of life, and those who aren’t recorded in that book.  

Each of us, after we die will rise again; we will all be called to face and give an account to our Creator.  And many of us who are raised from death will be given everlasting life in paradise, but far too many will be given everlasting life in shame and contempt.

Those who spent their lives avoiding God and running after false gods and false messiahs will experience a dreadful day, even if they don’t believe it now.  They will hear God say, “Very well, you wanted to be without me; now be without me—forever!”  And they will be sentenced to and eternal divorce from God—a never ending existence of shame and emptiness.  It will be a loneliness that will consume them like fire, yet they will never know and end to suffering, helplessness, and hopelessness. 

That idea of hell and suffering doesn’t go well with many people today; they’d prefer to turn God into some lovable, soft-hearted, incompetent old fool who can be appeased with good works.  But God’s Word says different, doesn’t it?  God’s anger and His punishment are evident throughout scripture.  We start with the expulsion from paradise of Adam and Eve, and then we go to the flood where countless people screamed out of the agony of death by drowning.  And then God’s Word takes us to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in a hurricane of fire.  Yes He is the same God who fed evil Queen Jezebel to the dogs and allowed countless people, including children, to die in wars that He sent Israel to wage against unrepentant sinners.  That same God still reigns in heaven today!  And what’s more, He has told us that He does not change; what He has done before, He will do again; He is doing again.  

And those who’s names are not written in His book of life will stand before Him on judgment day and be sentenced to shame and everlasting contempt.  They won’t simply cease to exist, as if they were cast away into some celestial junk yard to simply rust away into nothing.  No, God would never dishonor His creation like that.  For all eternity those who fall into judgment will retain their personality and the ability to experience God’s eternal rejection and His displeasure.

But for you dear saints, for you who are resting and trusting in the promises of God’s forgiving love, things shall be much different.  

You are those who God told Daniel are wise.  From God’s Word you have learned to recognize your sin and the need for a Savior from that sin.  You have learned to trust God in hard times; times of war, natural and man-made disasters, economic despair and sickness.  You’ve learned through God’s Word to remain hopeful and to show restraint and sound judgment even when your savings are dwindling and there is no food in the cupboard.  You’ve simply learned to wait on the Lord to provide both comfort in times of trouble and a way out of that trouble.  This then, is one of the ways that you shine like a bright star in heaven.  As others are suffering and crying out in fear and desperation you are waiting for your God.  You become one who shows others what the peace of God that surpasses all understanding is by how you live.  You are a light in your community that helps others find the way into God’s family and ultimately into a place at God’s side.

You and the many other saints who wait in the peace of the Lord will live forever in glory, as you shine like the brightness of heaven.  You will shine because you know that on judgment day, the end of the world as we know it, you will stand before God and be inspected, and you will actually survive that inspection because you have the promise of the gospel!  In the Word of God you have learned and you believe by faith, that death in this life is for you simply leads you to eternal life in Paradise.  But how?

Because of Christ alone.  

It is Jesus, God’s own Son who has forever sat down at the right hand of the Father as all of His enemies and your enemies are put at His feet like a foot-stool. [Hebrews 10:11-25] What enemies are those?  Sin of course; your sin and even the sin of our first parents that was committed long ago in the Garden of Eden.  But another enemy, the great serpent, the father of all lies, Satan himself will have to submit to the rule of the Son of God on that great day.  And finally, the enemy that we all fear the most, death, your death itself will be defeated.  All because the Son of God was obedient to the will of His Father; a will that led Him to the cross to suffer and die for the sins of the World, even your sins.

It is the promise of God that tells you to hold on; change is coming.  It is a change that the world may fear, but you need not fear it because each and every promise was given to you as a certainty in the waters of your own baptism when you were sealed in the very essence of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Even when the great monuments and governments of this world are falling, you need not fear.  Even if your own family is against you because of your strong faith in the promises of God and the real presence of His Son Jesus Christ in your life, you need not fear.  Even if you should be persecuted because of your faith in Jesus by the government itself, you need not fear, because through the gift of faith in Jesus alone, you are able to grab onto His perfect life and wait to be brought into Paradise.  By faith in the cross and the empty tomb of Christ, you are able to claim His innocent death and resurrection as your very own, and find not only pity from God, but His delight; just as a father delights in his own child. [Mark 13:1-13]

To be sure there is trouble ahead, and it will only get worse until the end of the world as we know it arrives, but there is also the promise of God that forgives you and loves you through Jesus Christ. It is that same Word of promise that assures you that God will never leave you nor forsake you.  And it is this promise of God which assures you that you really are fine because you are resting in Christ Jesus.

Now, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until we enter into God’s new world that He has prepared for us since the beginning of time… AMEN! 

Claim it and Claim it!

November 11th, 2018

Pentecost 25
November 11, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“And she went and did as Elijah said.  And she and her household ate for many days.” [1 Kings 17:15]  “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” [Mark 12:34]

This morning, our message is one of stewardship; not the way some might define it, with the words “Name it and claim” it behind their message; no our message comes directly from the heart of God.  It’s He alone who speaks to our hearts, not sinful men, and He alone gives us faith and courage to follow and believe what He says in His Word.

In our Old Testament reading (1 Kings 17:8-16), Elijah the prophet is given a test from God meant to help him trust in His Word and then take action that is born out of that trust, or faith.  The test from God isn’t meant to trap Elijah, but to prove to Him that God loves him and will always provide.  But God’s testing of faith, or His creating of faith, didn’t stop there.  God also spoke to a poor widow woman who had a home and family, and no more resources to provide for it.  The world was in the middle of a famine and this poor woman only had enough flour to make one last meal for herself and her child.  She must have been wondering, “Is there a god, and if there is does that god really care?”

And this is exactly the place where the living God desires to prove that He is real and He does provide for those who trust in Him.  God provided for Elijah and through His Word of promise and the faith that comes with it, He would provide for the widow as well. God’s promise to her was simple: the bowl of flour and the jar of oil will not be exhausted until the famine is over.  

When Elijah spoke the promise of God to the widow, she heard and believed.  She passed God’s test of new found faith by preparing the bread for Elijah.  The widow acted as though the flour and oil would last forever.  And that is the very essence of faith; the widow trusted God’s Word.  “Faith is being certain of what we do not see”. [Hebrews 11:1]

Does God still look for examples of that faith today?  

Yes!  But how, how is that kind of faith even possible?  Only by the Word, the promises of God; only when the one being blessed by the promise of God is trusting in the promise.  What promise?  Well there are many great promises that God makes in His Word, but the greatest of them all for sinners like us, is the promise of complete and total forgiveness of sins.  Have you claimed that promise?  Are you truly trusting that God has done that for you?  If you have then it should completely redefine your life.  It should change you in the very core of who you are and why you are living in this sinful world.  Has it; has it really changed you?  Well, let’s put it to the test.

One of my favorite hymns is “We Give Thee But Thine Own”. I like it because the lyrics challenge my faith; it even forces me to measure it.  Listen to this verse: “We give Thee but Thine own, whate’er the gift may be; all that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.”   If God were to ask you right now if the amount that is in your giving envelope is a good example of how much you trust Him and love Him, would you be embarrassed?  If you’re honest with yourself, I think you already know the answer.  

If you are a member here at Trinity, you are provided giving envelopes every year.  Do you ever read the different messages on each envelope?  Each message is designed to focus our hearts and minds on God’s forgiving love and then speak to our hearts as God helps us determine what to give.  This morning’s message on my envelope gets to the very heart of the question, “Why should I give more than a little to the church?”  Listen: “Wherever your treasure is there your heart [and thoughts will also be.” [Matthew 6:21]  So how much is in your envelope this morning?  How much have you decided to praise Him with?

Ok, I know the message is getting a little uncomfortable for us this morning; that always happens when the Law of God begins poking and probing into those secret and protected places.  

And what does God want us to see in all of this poking and probing?  The quality of our faith.  He is always looking to test our faith, so that He can strengthen it.  And how does He do that?  Well, let me first tell you how He doesn’t do it; He surely doesn’t do it through worldly teachings and opinions.

When Elijah was sent to the widow to be cared for, God was already preparing the widows heart to be used by Him.  When the man of God came and spoke the words, “Do not fear” God was already giving faith and courage to the woman so she could hear what came next: “make for me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”  Now, those are challenging words, in fact they are impossible words for anyone on the brink of starvation.  It is an all or nothing proposition.  You would have to be a fool to believe those words, unless they were God’s Words.  You see God’s Word always provides faith to believe the promise within the Word.  What was the promise?  That she would never lack!  It was not Elijah saying that but God speaking through a true prophet.  She knew who Elijah was; she knew he was the real deal.  So the question that God was asking her was not if she trusted Elijah, but if she trusted Him.  God’s Word provides faith and it provides courage; God’s Word and not the word of men.  

Earlier I referred to the phony evangelists and preachers who are known as the word of faith preachers.  Some of them use the slogan, “Name it and claim it!”  Or as I like to say, “Blab it and grab it!”  When they speak about seed money and sowing for blessings of wealth and prosperity, they really mean it; the only problem is that they’re talking about their own wealth and prosperity and not yours!  They aren’t preaching the gospel of forgiveness but the gospel of redistribution of wealth, from your hand to theirs.  These are the type of phonies that Jesus was talking about in our gospel reading this morning (Mark 12:38-44), listen: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers.”  

Today, we might say beware of the prosperity preachers, who like to walk around in Armani suits wearing Rolex watches, expensive jewelry, living in lush million dollar homes, and driving around in a new Mercedes Benz.  You know who they are don’t you?  Where ever they go they want everyone in the community to notice them.  They are the ones who will use wonderful sounding prayers intended to manipulate you and take your last penny, with the promise that God will bless you.  Baloney!  Jesus says that those kind of phony preachers will receive great condemnation!  He tells you that for a reason; He wants you to take your heart and eyes off of the promises of men and instead focus on the promises of God.

After Jesus condemned the scribes He called His disciples to His side, and He asked them to look at a poor widow who was putting a penny in the offering.  

After the widow deposited her offering, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Like the widow in our Old Testament reading, God worked within the heart of the widow with the penny to give everything and then trust in His care and blessing.  It was God who did that and not sinful man.  Why did God ask them to give everything?  So that He could be praised, not so the preacher or even the giver could be admired.  What was the reward for the widows in their giving?  Stronger faith; faith to know and experience God’s care and love, even in hard times.  

Now, we’ve arrived at the conclusion of our message and many of us are asking ourselves this question, “Could I do that; could I give everything if God asked me to?”  The answer is simple; yes you could if God willed it!  

But the truth is friends; the kingdom of God does not rest upon your obedience or lack of it.  God doesn’t need your time, talent, or treasure to build His kingdom, but He does invite you to use those things and be a partner in seeing that kingdom grow.  Why?  “Because all that you have is from God; it’s a trust from Him, a tool that God wants to use to test and strengthen your faith.  But faith in what?  Faith in God’s faithfulness; faith in His forgiving heart, which speaks to you forgiveness of sins… the gospel of Jesus Christ!

It was Jesus, the Son of God who “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin (your sin), by the sacrifice of His own life.  And just as it is appointed for (each of us) to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sin of many (yes, even your sins dear baptized, He) will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those (you and I), who are eagerly waiting for Him.” [Hebrews 9:26b-28]

How much does God ask us to give to Him?  All of it, everything we have, but when we realize this truth He also takes the fear of giving away.  You see, He gives it back to us and asks us to hold onto it as a trust from Him.  He asks us to hold onto it with an open hand so that He can take of our time, talent, and treasure as He sees fit.

How much should you give?  I do not know; that is between you and God, but I do know this, you don’t decide to become a steward of God’s gifts after your saved, and you don’t decide to become a steward after you have a good job.  No Christian stewardship demands that we take good care of our time talent and treasure because we have been commissioned by Jesus to manage those things for God’s glory and the spreading of His kingdom of grace one forgiven sinner at a time.  You see, we are all stewards, the only question is whether we are good stewards or bad ones.  I know that God is always testing our faith so that we will get better and better at trusting Him and believing that all we have is His alone, a trust from God to us.  May He continue to give us faith to believe this… in Jesus name… AMEN!

More Than a Feeling!

November 4th, 2018

All Saints Sunday
November 4, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” [Mark 12:34]

In 1976, the Rock band Boston released the hit song “More Than a Feeling.” This morning let’s use that title to keep us centered in an important truth:  God’s Word, specifically His Holy Law, is not supposed to make us feel good about ourselves.  It isn’t meant to congratulate us on how much we love our Creator and our neighbor; in fact it should produce the opposite effect in us.  God’s Law should first terrify us, because it shows us how little we love Him and how poorly we love our neighbor, and then it should move us to call out to God for a solution to our lack of love.

And yet, like the Scribe in our gospel reading (Mark 12:28-37), we can become comfortable with how we think we are keeping God’s law.  Oh how easy it can become for us to turn off our ears and blind our eyes to the truth; we fall far short.

So is this a message about feelings?  Yes and know.  You see, we all have feelings; God created us to have emotion, but our emotions are defective; they lie.  No, our message this morning is first one of truth; God’s truth, and then God centered emotions, or feelings will follow.

The young scribe in our gospel lesson, is someone we might call a seeker in today’s lingo.  

He is genuine in his desire to live a God pleasing life.  What we must understand is that he comes from a confusing culture, where the Law of God exists within the frame work of not just 10 commandments but 613 commandments.  Can you imagine that?!  There were 248 positive commandments, or commandments that told you what you should do, and then there were 365 negative commandments, or commandments that told you what you should not do.  With all of these commandments a person could get lost trying to prioritize them.  So the young scribe presents a valid question to Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

The young scribe, like many people today, felt that he really did love God; He really wanted to please the Heavenly Father, and he thought trying hard to do that would please Him.  And second He had been listening to Jesus for some time now, and he really did respect Jesus and His teaching.  He probably found a great degree of wisdom in the Words of Jesus; he seemed to be comfortable around Him, listening to Him.  So when he asked Jesus, which commandment was the most important, he was really asking for Jesus’ guidance.

And Jesus seeing a desire for truth in the young man looked directly into His eyes and says, “Hear, O Israel”.  (Don’t just listen to the Word of God, but really hear it; let it enter your heart and mind, and let it change you; let it give you wisdom.)  “The Lord your God, the Lord is One.”  (He isn’t like the false god’s of your neighbors; He doesn’t inhabit certain regions or nations.  He is the ONLY real God, the Creator of everything.  He is all powerful, all present, and all knowing.  He can come to you in any way He desires, and His Word and His teaching are the only source of real truth.  So now hear that truth and let it enter you; let it penetrate you.)  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second (most important commandment) is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12:28-31]

The operative Word there in those two great commandments is Love.  Let’s look at that word.  This kind of love that God demands for Himself isn’t mere affection and it doesn’t mean passion either.  God isn’t telling you to have a warm fuzzy feeling about Him and your neighbor.  He isn’t saying that you should just be passionate about Him and your community either.  He is telling you that the kind of love that you are to have is based on something foreign to you; something that is completely outside the realm of possibility for you.  He is telling you that the kind of love you are to have is more than a feeling; it is more than a decision to be nice.  It is an intellectual assent to something higher and beyond your natural ability.  It is a God given love that will sacrifice everything in order to see this kind of love rule and reign over you and within you; when this God given love is present, it loves all things that God loves and it loves others just as it loves it self.

So we see now, these are tough words, meant to give wisdom.  Is that what the young scribe received?  Well almost; He almost understood.  Listen to His response: “You are right, Teacher.  You have truly said that (God) is one, and there is no other besides Him.  And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Well, that sounds pretty good.  He did a fine job of paraphrasing Jesus Words.  He even seemed to be paraphrasing another bit of wisdom that Jesus taught earlier concerning worship, “Go and learn what this means” He said, “‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  [Matthew 9:13]  And so Jesus looks Him in the eye once again and says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” [Mark 12:34]  You are almost there; you almost are wise unto eternal life.”  If only that young man would have asked Jesus to give him that heavenly love!

This morning Jesus is teaching an important lesson.  Knowing God and pleasing God are similar but separate.  Oh they’re close, but they aren’t so close as being the same.  There are two things that separate those who know God from those who please God.  And both of those things come only from God. They are the Word of God and the love of God, as given through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This morning, the Word of God calls out:  Hear O sinners.  Listen to the Word of God and let it penetrate you.  When you listen to the Word, when you really hear what it is saying you will know God’s truth and you will know His heart.  The truth of God is that you are trapped in your sins.  On your own you can never really love Him or your neighbor.  That kind of love can come only from your Creator.  And how does He give that love?  By allowing us to hear His Word.  And when we let God’s Word do what God intends for it to do, He gives us faith.  “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:17]

If our gospel lesson ended right there, we along with the young scribe could go home with a lot to think about; a lot to pray about.  But Jesus does not send us home just yet.  He continues teaching.  I would like to think that as He continued teaching, He winked at the young scribe, slapped him on the back and said “Listen to what I say next, young man.”  

 And this is what He said next: “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?  (I mean,) David himself, in the Holy Spirit declared, “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’  (You see there,) David himself calls Him Lord.  So how is He his Son?’

I can also imagine Jesus returning to the young scribe privately and saying, “Did you wonder why I winked at you?  Or did you see and understand what I just taught?  You know all about your traditions that teach about God’s final and righteous rule right?  You know the time is promised by scripture to come when the Messiah will take power and reign don’t you?  So, you also know that when the kingdom of God comes it will be visible and apparent, and everyone will have to acknowledge who it is that really runs all of creation, right?  Well listen now… it is happening right now.  I am the Messiah.  I am God’s Anointed One, who has come to make it all visible to all who have faith; to all who believe.”

This morning, Jesus has given to each of you the wink so to speak; a wink that unlocks the wisdom of God; the truth of His Word.  This morning you are being shown Jesus in the Word; Jesus in your baptism, and Jesus at the table in the meal.  And in these means of grace, you are being given faith to believe you are forgiven and faith to speak forgiveness. 

Through the writings of the apostles and the testimony of all of scripture, you along with the saints throughout time, read God’s Word with Jesus as the central figure and find Divine love, forgiveness, and faith.  

You can go from the commandments of the law to the fulfillment of the Law, which is the gospel, in the person of Jesus, the One true God; God in human flesh.  Because of the love of the Father and the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit, you can hear the Words of the Son of God, Jesus Christ and know that through Him, God alone has made all things new and right, including you.  You learn that the same love that led Jesus the Messiah to the cross to die for the sins of the world also leads you to love God with your whole being, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  

What is impossible for you to do, becomes possible when God is the one working in you and through you.  By faith, you know that in Jesus Christ, much more than all of the burnt offerings and whole sacrifices have been provided to make you right with your Creator.  Through Jesus, you see God Himself coming to you offering both sacrifice and obedience, and as a result, by faith you receive His forgiving mercy.  And now as our epistle lesson (Hebrews 9:11-22) states, you have received a Savior Who is your “high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”  Through Jesus life and death and the faith that comes from the very Word of God, you have been brought into the Kingdom of God just as was done for the saints before you.  

On this All Saints Sunday, let’s look back in our minds and remember those dear saints who died in Jesus and then, let’s remember the examples of faith, love, and service that they left behind for us to admire and follow. Let’s give thanks to God for the lives they lived and the impact they made on us and Christ’s church. And like those dear saints who have gone before us, let’s also be moved to give thanks to God Our Father In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, let’s remember what real love as given from God is not meant to bring guilt and shame because we fall short, but rather it brings God’s forgiving love that desires to use us to speak words of faith, forgiveness, and love to those who do not yet know the grace and love of Jesus Christ.  

Justified By Faith!

October 28th, 2018

Reformation SundayB
October 28, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark, Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text this morning comes from the Epistle lesson, specifically the 28thverse. St Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans,“We hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (3:28)

What this text proclaims is at the very heart of why God sent His only Son, Jesus, to be born in our flesh, to be crucified on the cross, and to rise again in glory.  Can you imagine that this precious Gospel message was hidden out of error and nonsense from the people of God for nearly a thousand years!?!

A little over five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther, a 34-year old Augustinian monk and university professor, in the little German town of Wittenberg, took a short walk from his monastery home at the university over to the other side of town, to the castle church.  And there, on the church door, he posted a written piece he had titled “The Disputation on the Power and Efficiency of Indulgences.” 

This piece was originally written in Latin, and meant for debate among the students, faculty, and other clergymen in the area. The first line read, “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg…”

This insignificant act set into motion the great Reformation of the Christian church. As Christians, especially Lutheran-Christians, we are the heirs of that Reformation and so today, on Reformation Sunday, we join with faithful Lutherans all around the world in celebrating that historic event and all the blessings of pure doctrine and sound practice that came from it.

So what do we do to remember and celebrate the Reformation? Quite simply by believing in and caring about the same things that Martin Luther and the other Reformers believed in and cared about.  At the top of the list, the most important item in that list, is Justification. Everything else that we talk about in the Lutheran church either flows from, follows after, surrounds and/or supports this central, primary doctrine of justification.

First, let me explain what justification is? Understand that this term “justification” is a legal term, referring to the courtroom of God’s justice and how we stand before Him.

Now when the day of reckoning comes, the verdict will be read.  And, as we stand before our Judge, God will decide if we are justified or condemned by His standards. That is to say, “righteous” or “not righteous.”

The classic passage in the Bible on this subject is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the third chapter–our Epistle for this day–summed up in verse 28, “For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”But to really appreciate the brilliance, and the clarity, and sheer power of this passage, we need to back up and look at Paul’s argument leading up to this point.

In chapters 1 and 2 of Romans and continuing into chapter 3, Paul, like a prosecuting attorney, lays out the argument that all of us are guilty in God’s sight according to the standards of His Law.

The fact of the matter is, every single one of us, every human being that has ever lived (with the exception of one) will stand guilty in God’s courtroom. God’s Law accuses us. God’s Law convicts us. And, God’s Law sentences us to death, and rightly so. and moral we have tried to live, we all fail… No matter how good we think we are, we all fall, not one of us can live by the standard of the Law.

Paul, sums up the legal case against us in verses 19 and 20 of our text: “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the Law; [but] through the Law we become conscious of our sin.”That’s what the Law does.

Jesus tells us, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  But even as Christians, we tend to manage only a half-hearted obedience. Do we have a fervent desire to be in God’s house every Sunday? Do we gladly hear and learn God’s word and hold it sacred?  Do we take time to study the Bible and pray to God with hearts of utmost devotion? I’m guessing, not as well as we should.

And Jesus says, “… the second [commandment] is like [the first]: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’’How well do we do that? Do you love your neighbor and seek his good as much as you love yourself? How many of us even know our neighbors? How well do you speak about your neighbor? I could go on & on, but you get the point.

Back in the courtroom, Law cries out, “Guilty as charged.” And if guilty, then the sentence is death.  Remember, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23), that’s the punishment that the Law requires. No slap on the wrist, no probation, and no time off for good behavior. There is no room for leniency in this Law or in this courtroom.  It’s either, “Keep the Law, perfectly, or break the Law, and you die – which means to be cut off from God forever.”

The point is – the Law cannot save you. It can only convict you and condemn you.

But the Law also does you the valuable service of showing you your sins. You see, you need to know that you cannot please God and earn your salvation by how well you keep the Law. You can never keep it perfectly! No one can!

This is essential for you to know, so you don’t deceive yourself into thinking you can be good enough, or righteous enough on your own. You need to be stripped down of that way of thinking, so that your ears will be open to hear what God’s Word has to say to you, namely, the Gospel, which is the only place where salvation can indeed be found.

That’s what Paul gets at next in our lesson, and this right here is the heart of the Gospel, Romans 3:21-28, the teaching of justification by faith in its most extreme examples. Paul writes:

“But now the righteousness of God has been [made known] apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it [that is] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction [between Jew and Gentile]: for allhave sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified by His grace as a [free] gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a [sacrifice of atonement] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine [patience] he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

And then Paul finishes it off: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the Law of Faith. For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

This is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. This is justification that comes by grace alone, and grace alone that comes through faith alone. That’s what this passage is saying.

The Law is not the only word that will be heard in God’s courtroom. The judge will declare you “not guilty,” but it won’t be because of anything you did or how well you have lived according to the Law. But by the work of your advocate, your defense attorney, Jesus Christ– He who is without sin, the only man who has ever kept the Law of God as it should be kept–Jesus stepped forward and took your place when the death sentence was handed down. Justice has already been served, and Jesus is the one who served it.

You see, out of God’s great love for us sinners, He puts forward his own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The precious, priceless blood of the Holy Son of God was shed on our behalf, covering our sins with His righteousness.

And all this is a free gift. It is all because of grace, God’s undeserved favor, freely bestowed on us because of God’s immeasurable love for you. It’s not a matter of your works; it’s a matter of Christ’s work for you. Not because of what you’ve done, but because of who He is; not because of who you are, but because of what He’s done! Call it redemption, salvation–or call it justification, it’s the righteousness of God, you are righteous to stand before God, to stand in His presence–the thing is this: You can’t earn it. You can only receive it. Receive it as a gift.

That’s what faith is: Simply receiving that gift that God is giving you, the forgiveness of sins won for you by Christ on the cross. That “not guilty” verdict pronounced by God–“justified by faith!” that sweet music is ringing in your ears, not because of anything you have done, but rather solely because of what Christ has done for you. Of that, you can be certain.

That’s the enlightenment Martin Luther received through the Gospel some 500 years ago.  And now, you know what the Reformation was all about, a fight to restore this critical and central teaching of the Gospel to its proper place of prominence, to give all the glory to Christ, and to give comfort and consolation to troubled souls–this was the special gift of Martin Luther and the Reformation.

Instead of turning people back to their own efforts at trying to keep the Law, Luther pointed people to Christ and the cross, to this teaching of justification by grace alone through faith alone, apart from works of the Law.

To underscore its importance, Luther would say of the doctrine of justification: “The first and chief article is this:  Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law… Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls… Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends… Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine. Otherwise, all is lost… (Smalcald Articles, The Second Part, Article I)

When we grasp just how beautiful, how central, and life-giving this divine doctrine of justification is… we realize it isthe very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ–God’s gracious declaration of righteousness for Christ’s sake–when we come to these realizations then we will treasure this teaching. We will hold it dear, we will thank God for it, and we will let it permeate every aspect of the church’s life. And that is why we can say today, with joy and confidence, that the doctrine of justification is the heartof the Reformation. Amen.

 

And now, may the grace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus! Amen!

Christ Picks Us Up!

October 21st, 2018

Pentecost 21B
October 21, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” [Hebrews 4:7]

There’s a worship song by Donnie McClurkin entitled “We Fall Down” that we sing occasionally with a slight change to the lyrics. Listen to how we sing it:  “We fall down, Christ picks us up.  For a saint is just a sinner who fell down, and Christ picked up.  He picks us up again; get back up again; He picks us up again; get back up again.”  The sentiment is clear, the Christian life is a struggle, we live, we sin, we confess our sins,  and for Jesus Christ, the Son of God’s sake, God the Father forgives us, again and again.

Today, listen don’t worry about tomorrow or yesterday, but today, if you hear His voice, don’t let your heart become hard, but instead listen and grab onto the promises of His Word and get back up again and again!

Adam and Eve at first didn’t need the promise of forgiveness; they perfectly walked and talked with God in paradise.  

But then something happened; sin happened and they lost access to both paradise and God.  But God wouldn’t let that separate Him from the people He created in His image, so He did something to restore that image; He gave them mercy and grace, which in turn brought forgiveness and new life.  God gave His promise that one day He would come to them and provide a Savior through the bloodline of the woman.  Adam and Eve fell in sin, and God picked them up by giving them hope; He gave them the promise of a Savior, the Christ, who would  pick them up again and again!

Many years latter, the Hebrew people were in bondage and they cried out to God for help, and He heard them.  He reminded them of the promise He made concerning the coming Savior who would make all things new and right; He reminded them that they were a people of faith who by faith, should grab onto that promise.  So God sent them Moses, a type of savior, but not The Savior.  Moses would lead them out of bondage and into a type of promise land, Canaan, but not The Promised Land of Paradise.  But they began to grumble and complain.  They began to lose faith, and they sinned against God and their neighbors.  Their sin was serious; they would not repent of it and trust the promises of God.  So God allowed them to die in their sins.  But their children did  repent and believe, and God allowed them to enter Canaan.  They fell down, but the promises of God concerning their Savior lifted them back up again.

Their faith in this promised Savior was the only way God would one day give them total rest… Sabbath rest!  And that one day came, and God kept His promise and came to them from their own bloodline.  Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God came to them in human flesh.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  And on the third day He rose from the dead and proclaimed Sabbath rest for all who believe.  Through His death and resurrection He gave complete forgiveness for all sins.  This good news was preached first to the Jews, and then to all who would listen and believe.  Many rejected and fell down, but some believed and Christ picked them up.

And now we read in our Epistle lesson (Hebrews 4:1-16), that some are again in danger of disbelief; of lack of faith in the promises of God.  Some of them then and some now are in danger, so Christ desires to pick us up; He wants us to grab onto the promise of forgiveness and get back up.

I know that some of you here may feel like it might be too late to get back up; you might think that God is growing tired of you.  Maybe you feel that you are no longer counted among the saints.  Well like the song said, a saint is just a sinner who fell down and Christ picked up.  So… get back up again.  Do you need help getting up?  Then let this message from God pick you up again.

What was bad news for the wandering wilderness generation turns out to be good news for us.  You see, we learn that all of those who died in the wilderness, an entire generation of Hebrews, didn’t have to die; they could have repented, and trusted in the promises of God.  God would have lifted them up again, but they would not let Him, so they died in their sins, and the next generation made it to the promise land of Canaan.  But Canaan wasn’t the place where God would give them true Sabbath.  Canaan was just a shadow of the spiritual place and goal that God set before them in the promise of His Word.

Dear friends, that promise is still ours to grab onto, just as it was theirs.  It remains in force as an offer of peace with God; all any one ever needed to do was simply rest in the offer and receive the Savior who is promised in the Word of God.

Since countless men and women that went before us refused to trust in the promise of the Savior and died in their sins, forever cut off from paradise, then let us approach God and His promises with fear and trembling.  Otherwise we too may fail to reach our goal of paradise and peace with God.

The promises of God are the good news; the gospel about Jesus Christ.  Just as the promise came to those before us, it comes to us now… today!  The message they heard didn’t help them in the least, because they lacked faith in it.  You see, faith is the glue that sticks you to God and the hope of His promises fulfilled for you.  Faith is what gives you Jesus when you fall; the same Jesus who gladly calls you not just friend but brother.  He is the same Jesus who picks you up again and again.

By faith, God promises and gives to you Jesus, your true Sabbath rest.  By faith, we who believe in Jesus enter that Sabbath rest immediately at baptism.  And by faith, we walk in that Sabbath rest until we enter forever into God’s peace in paradise.  Since we have that rest and will forever experience that rest, shouldn’t we do everything to stay in that rest? Shouldn’t we put all of our attention on protecting our relationship with Jesus?

How?  How do we protect that relationship?  By staying in the Word of God.  A Word that is sharper than a double edged sword.  It is the Word of God and not our money, things, or prestige that offers peace and delivers it.  The Word of God alone looks intently into our souls and shows us the sin that we hide so well from others, and then it offers us forgiveness and new life.  All that God asks of us is that we trust Him; He asks that we hear Him speak to our hearts in His Word and simply believe.

It is the Word of God alone that strips you naked and leaves you vulnerable before your creator, and then offers to take your shame and cover it with the glory of Jesus Christ; the same glory that our parents, Adam and Eve once had but lost; but then had again when they placed their faith and trust in the promise of a Savior who would make all things new again.

This morning, God wants you to place everything you trust in at the foot of the cross.  He wants you to come empty and return spiritually naked to the waters of your baptism, where He daily clothes you with the righteousness of His own Son, Jesus Christ.  

This morning, God wants you to trust Him with your time, talent, and treasure, so that He can give you the wealth of His kingdom.  In essence, He wants you to enter heaven through the narrow way… Jesus Christ alone.  And to make sure we trust in Christ alone so that a sinner becomes a saint, He speaks Words of forgiveness and assurance to you.

Today, not tomorrow but today, if you are hearing His voice do not harden your hearts but enter into rest.  Turn to Jesus, the Son of God, your Compassionate High Priest.  Grab onto Him and let Him pick you up again and again.  Hold fast to your confession of faith that in Jesus alone you have peace with God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and Earth.  Think about this, you don’t have a High Priest in Jesus Christ who is unable to sympathize with your weakness, but instead you have your Savior and God who was born of the Virgin Mary just as you were born.  He suffered, not just in His death but in this life.  He faced all of the same tragedies and heartaches that you face, but He faced them perfectly, without sin, for you!  For you, He suffered, died, and was buried, FOR YOU, FOR YOU.  Let those words ring in your ears; let them soak into your heart and mind.  Jesus fell down; He let them put Him down, but then by His own power, the power of God He got up!  He got up so that you would trust Him and allow Him to pick you up, again and again, until the final day when He takes you up to your promised rest in paradise.

So be bold and grab onto the promises of God that were first given to you within the waters of your baptism.  Be bold and approach His table of grace where you dine on His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Be bold, believe, and become the saint that Christ picks up.  Boldly believe and become all that God proclaims for you, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Who Then Can Be Saved?

October 14th, 2018

Pentecost 20B
October 14, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”

Our text this morning is the ultimate question.  If a rich young religious leader who did an excellent job at keeping God’s law had the same chance of getting into heaven as a camel has walking through the eye of a needle, then who can be saved.

I’m reminded of a couple of oldie but goodies songs that kind of say the same thing: “So Close and Yet So Far” And the Johnny Mathis song, “Too much, too little too late.” The rich young ruler was so close to heaven and yet so far, and if he had not met Jesus and heard the gospel, he would have worked and tried to please God for nothing.  The proof of that is in his question and how he received Jesus answer.  “How do I get to heaven?”  And to that Jesus says, “Sell everything you’ve got, give the money to the poor, and then come on and follow me.”

There’s your answer young man; and if Jesus says it’s the way for you, well then, you can take that to the bank!

A Sunday school teacher was examining her pupils after a series of lessons on God’s omnipotence.  She asked, “Is there anything God can’t do?”  There was an appropriate silence in the room.  Finally, one young boy raised his hand.  The teacher, disappointed that the young boy still didn’t learn the point of the lesson, asked somewhat in a disappointed tone, “Just what is it that God can’t do?”  “Well,” replied the boy, “He can’t please everybody.”

Maybe a better way of saying that, is that Jesus knows a way that should please everyone, but most folks think they know more than Him, so they strike off to please themselves in a way that seems right to them, but in the end… well it just leads to judgment and death.

Throughout our lives God is consistently calling out to us.

He’s asking us to take a truthful look into our hearts and admit that our transgressions are many, and our sins are great. But we don’t want to see those things.  He wants us to see that we live in an evil time, and that there is evil all around us.  He’s telling us to seek good, and not evil so we will live; He’s telling us to hate evil, love good, and then spend our lives not just loving God’s goodness, but also working to spread it throughout our community. [Amos 5:6-15]

Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?  Yet, while we might agree with the plan, secretly, within our hearts, we can’t accept it, because it requires a complete surrender of everything that we have come to believe is important and necessary in this life.  The truth is, money, fame, prestige, and possessions are the things that society has taught us to seek and trust in.

Unfortunately, this will always be the way we live or lives unless God’s Word intervenes and gives us a new perspective;

Before the rich young ruler asked Jesus the million dollar question, he said something that caused Jesus to begin teaching with His own question.  The young man in complete sincerity ran up to Jesus, knelt down before Him and said, “Hello good teacher.”  

Now I want you to understand what the young man means when he calls Jesus good.  He means that he respects Jesus; he admires Him, because He is wiser and better than him. And it’s because of this perception of his, that he came to Jesus with a question that he’d been wrestling with for years: “What must I do to be saved?”

And what is Jesus response?  ‘Why are you calling me good?  You know that in our tradition, we never call anyone good but God, right?  So what is the reason you call me good?  You are struggling with a great concern; you want to go to heaven, but you don’t quiet know how to guarantee your place, right?  Now stop right there and remember, you called me good, on your own.  So, if I am truly good, then hear what I am about to say.’

‘You know the commandments that relate to your neighbor; those in your family and community, right?  Just do them.’  And the rich young ruler said to Jesus, “Teacher, all of those commandments I have kept from my youth.”  And what did Jesus do next?  Did He give Him a theological teaching on the inherit sinfulness of the human heart?  No, instead He looked at the young man and He loved him.  He knew that he was sincere in his belief that he was living a God pleasing life.  The problem wasn’t in His sincerity but in the reality.  While everyone looking at this young man on the outside would agree that he was living an exemplary life, Jesus who is God and looks into the heart, looked and saw judgment and pain.  Jesus knew that this young man had been duped by the world into thinking that doing your best is what pleases God instead of trusting your best with God.

So Jesus helps the young man see what his real god is; that which he trusts in the most.  Jesus says, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”

Jesus was trying to get the young man to see that the one thing needful that he lacked was a real relationship with His Creator.  He was moving the young man to realize that he lacked an intimacy with God that can only come through trust in Jesus, the Son of God. 

Today, Jesus also wants you to accept His perfect life and death as the only way to make you right with God. He wants you to see Himself as God’s perfect gift of forgiveness and then trust in that gift above all things.

There’s an old hymn titled “Trust and Obey,” and the first verse goes like this: “When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds on our way! While we do His good will, He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey.The major problem I see with those words is that there are many moments in our lives when we don’t trust and obey. It’s at times like those that we need to remember that Jesus loves us; that through His love for us, God forgives us. If we can remember that truth, then we will continually be drawn back to Him and learn to trust in His presence and work in our lives; then we’ll be ok. Trust and ok. I like those words much better. If we can just keep learning to trust God’s care for us then everything will be OK.  There is no other way.  But that kind of trust in the true God is impossible if you are already trusting in something else before Jesus.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  

The truth is friends, the real reason that the rich young ruler, and you and I have such a hard time receiving Jesus Words this morning is because when He speaks He is messing with our value system.  I mean, let’s be honest here; we all like to believe that what we have is ours, because we earned it; we worked hard for it.  We all like to look at our stuff, as proof of our success and indicators of God’s approval and blessing in our lives.  And now Jesus is telling us that our “stuff” may not be a blessing at all.

What is it that really matters in life?  If it isn’t money and possessions; if it isn’t financial security, then what?  This morning, God wants you to connect with the only One who is Good!  The rich young ruler was speaking to Him, and you do too!  Maybe like that rich young man, you also are asking God what the secret to eternal life is.  How can I know for sure that I am saved?  Well, like that young man, once you hear Jesus speak and you listen, you have what God calls the beginning of wisdom unto salvation… forgiveness of sins!

Then what about our doing good?  Doesn’t that count for something?  Well, the truth is that all of our own righteousness, our good deeds are simply like soiled rags before God, because we still have our sinful nature clinging to us.  And while we continue deceiving ourselves, thinking that we can please God by good behavior, Jesus looks at us and He loves us.  He loves us and dies for us upon the cross.  And from the cross He says follow me.  I have done all things good; all things good for you.  I am your treasure; your true wealth.

So who can be saved if there is nothing we can do to please God?  All can be saved.  All of us have been promised that salvation is ours for the taking, if we will just trust in God’s way; trust then ok.  All things are possible with God.  God alone is greater than our fears and our worries.  In His Word He gives us great treasures that make us rich.  In His Word He gives us Jesus and His righteousness.  By Jesus poverty we are made rich.

In God’s time, at just the right time Jesus died for the world.  

Jesus who emptied Himself and gave up His life on the cross, was also raised from the dead for you.  And in Jesus alone you have life, an abundant life and the promise of eternal peace and happiness.

This morning, Jesus is asking you to be vulnerable before God.  “Come and follow me,” He says.  Amos cries out to us this morning that we should “Seek the Lord and live,” but the truth is, we don’t have to go far to seek Him this morning, because He’s already sought us and found us.  In the cross, God is revealed; more than that, the depth of God’s love is shown to us.  In the cross, God demonstrates the truth that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us..

Jesus who loved the young man loves you as well.  He declared you forgiven when He splashed water over you on the day you were baptized.  You are being transformed even now, as God’s Word of grace is spoken to you.  You eat the bread of life, you drink the cup of salvation and He tells you again and again that your sins are forgiven.  Through it all you experience God’s loving purpose for you as revealed in the cross of Jesus.

I would like to think that eventually the rich young ruler understood that what he had to offer God on his own, was too much of too little.  I would like to think that he realized this before it was too late.  I trust that each of us has learned to place our own security on Christ, the solid rock.

Through Jesus and His cross, through the waters of our own baptism, we discover that a camel really can go through the eye of a needle; we really can be saved. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. On Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

Childlike Faith

October 7th, 2018

Pentecost 19B
October 7, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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

Each of you who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who trust in God’s Word like a little child, are promised a place in Paradise, or another way to say that is you have a mansion in heaven or a seat at our Lord’s banquet table, which has been prepared just for you by Jesus Himself. So, are you ready?  Will you be there in glory?

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

In our epistle reading this morning (Hebrews 2:1-13), God warns His little ones, He warns you and me that if we don’t continually grab ahold of His promises about our blessed assurance, we might begin to drift away from our seat at the banquet table; we might begin to think that there’s another way to get to our heavenly home.  So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises?  It is if we are trusting in something other than the work and the promises of Jesus Christ!

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

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

This morning the theme in both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons seems to be marriage and family.  

In both of these readings, God is showing us His perfect will and how far we fall short of that perfection.  So then why do we still think that on our own we can be God pleasing husbands, wives, parents or children?  Because we have a sin problem, and our sinful nature won’t let us see the impossibility of change; it won’t let us see that on our own, we are without hope.  And so, even though we know that we fall short of pleasing God, our sinful desire to be independent would have us believe that we can bridge this gap by our own efforts.  And because of this sin problem, we are deceived into thinking that if we just try a little harder then our marriages will be repaired and our families will be God pleasing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s the answer?  Where is the hope?  What is it that can break this awful cycle of disappointment and death?  It certainly isn’t greater resolve or another program; no I think that we need to follow the example of the mothers and babies in our gospel lesson to get our answer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salt Is Good!

September 30th, 2018

Pentecost 18B
September 30, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Our text this morning is the 50th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Salt is good, but it if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? [Mark 9:38-50]


What is the kingdom of God?  Where is the kingdom of God?  These are a couple of questions I want you to keep in the front of your minds as we receive God’s message this morning.  At first, the apostles thought that the Kingdom of God would be a brand new world order, where Jesus would rule, destroy the reign of Cesar and the Roman Empire, and make all things right.  They wanted the Kingdom of God now, and they wanted it according to their estimation.  In their minds, it was Jesus and them against the world!  But Jesus had other ideas.  He always does…He is God.  Where the apostles saw the kingdom of God consisting in a select few, Jesus has other ideas: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he wasn’t one of us.”  Again, Jesus had other plans… “Don’t stop him” he said.  “Don’t you see that anyone who does a mighty work in my name will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Listen, the one who is not against us is for us.”  

And there you have it…the kingdom of God is a lot bigger than we think.  So some might say this is proof that denominational differences are unimportant—as long as your heart is in the right place.  Right?  Well, let’s keep reading and see if Jesus agrees with that.  

Do you remember the child Jesus took into His arms in our gospel reading last week?  Well, this is a discussion that continues that teaching.  The child is still in His arms, and now He looks at His disciples and says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  

So what causes children to sin?  What causes adult Christians with a simple faith, like the stranger that was casting out demons to sin?  In both examples it is a lack of knowing and understanding God’s Word, both the Law and the gospel.  How can you help protect the young and the simple?  Teach them biblical truths…good doctrine.  Teach them that there aren’t many ways to the kingdom of Heaven.  Teach them that God doesn’t require any work from us before He will give us Jesus’ kingdom of Heaven.  Without faith in the true gospel, a faith that clings to Jesus alone friends, you cannot be saved.  In fact, bad doctrine can actually give us the opposite of salvation…it can lead to damnation… an eternity in hell!

What is hell?  

Jesus compared Hell to the garbage dump right outside of the city of Jerusalem.  It was called the Gehenna.  There, trash fires were always burning as refuse was disposed of.  In essence, Jesus was saying, “Imagine that the Gehenna is like a picture of hell with one big difference.  Where the fires of Gehenna are temporary, in hell they are eternal.  Where maggots eat rotting flesh until the flesh is no more or the maggots die, in hell the fire never goes out, there is an endless supply of flesh, and the maggot never dies.  So what?  Well friends, the fire isn’t burning the demons that are in hell, and the maggots aren’t eating them either, because demons are spirit and they do not have flesh.  So who is burning, and who is being consumed?  People!  People who willing rejected God’s simple method of salvation—the cross of Jesus Christ!  People who refused to cling to Jesus alone and decided there was a better way to the kingdom of Heaven.  These are poor fools who decided that doctrine didn’t matter, and because of that they willingly set aside the kingdom of God and embraced a lie! What is hell?  

Scripture says Hell is a domain where people are eternally banished from the sight of God—eternally excluded from His love and the sweet communion with Jesus Christ.  To these damned souls, Jesus says “Depart from Me” [Matt. 25:41]; (and) “They shall be cast out into outer darkness.”  [Matt. 25:42]  

Friends, we were made for God; we were made to have communion with God.  That is the supreme joy and delight of man—that is the kingdom of God.  But sadly, many people reject the offer of peace with God the Father, because they reject the means to that peace…God the Son, Jesus Christ.  Through their own sinful choice they have embraced a state of damnation where they will experience intense agony of body and soul that scripture calls “tribulation and anguish” [Rom. 2:9], “being in torment” [Lk. 17:4], “tormented in flames” [Lk. 16:24], “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matt. 8:12; 13:50]  There in hell, those poor damned souls will see “the smoke of their torment ascending up forever and ever; and they (will) have no rest day or night. [Rev. 14:11]  Friends, think of the horror that awaits those poor souls… for an eternity they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” [Rev. 20:10], simply because they have rejected God’s only means to save them. 

You know, it doesn’t matter whether you believe that the fire of hell is real fire or a metaphor for unspeakable torment, the point is God doesn’t want you there; He wants you to escape the agony of hell.  It wasn’t designed for people created in His image—it was created for the rebellious and fallen angels…the devils.

So how do we make sure that we never go to hell? 

Well, before we actually answer that question, let’s allow Jesus to stress how important not going to Hell is: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter (eternal) life crippled than with two hands to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter (eternal) life lame than with two feet (and then) be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes (and) be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” [Mark 9:43-48] 

Does that sound crazy to you?  It should, it was meant to be absurd.  Jesus was addressing the mindset that people in that time had about sin.  They like many others in their day were trivializing their personal sins, much like people do today.  “I guess I can’t help steeling, I was born with itchy hands and sticky fingers.”  OK, cut them off!  “I can’t help looking at women that way, I must have been born with a wandering eye.”  OK, pluck it out!  “What do you mean?  I can’t” you say.  Friend, do you want to go to hell?  Well then get rid of the offending body part.  If you had diabetes, and your foot or leg was diseased you would let the doctor amputate it so you could live wouldn’t you?  Well…go ahead, cut it off and pluck it out.  Keep cutting and plucking until there is nothing left of your body!

Absurd and ridiculous isn’t it?  And that is the point Jesus is making.  Your hand, foot, eye, tongue, or any other body part is not to blame.  They can’t think independent of you!  Sinners like us today are to blame…sinners like us have a wicked heart, and there is only one cure for a wicked heart… IT MUST BE SALTED!

You must be salted with fire.  

In the time of Jesus, salt was both a preservative and an antiseptic. When someone had an infected wound they would pour salt on it.  It burned like fire, but that was good because it meant that there was still some life in the tissue that could be saved.  We must be salted too, because we carry with us dead tissue that must be removed.  

How are we salted?  With the Word of God!  God’s Law must be applied to our sin so that we will feel the fire and wrath of God.  We must know that we are sinful throughout every fiber of our being.  We must stand before God knowing that we deserve all of the punishments of hell.  We must be silenced and simply surrender to His perfection and Holiness!  That is the work and sting of God’s Law.  It is at this time, when the Law has had its way with us that we are moved to cry out to God, “Have mercy Lord!  Forgive me!”  

And then…then when we feel our very life slipping away, we must listen—we must listen to God’s mercy.  “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us. That we should be called the children of God.”   How are we made the children of God?  Through the salting of His Word.  And it is that Word that tells us about the cross—the cross where He allowed His Son Jesus Christ to willingly and in agony give up His life for those very same sins that condemn us.  And then by faith, we must hear His Son shout loudly from the cross, “IT IS FINISHED!”  “What is finished Lord” we ask?  “My Father’s anger for your many sins” He says.  “How” we ask? “Friend” he says, “the Father no longer sees your many sins because I have covered them with my precious blood.  The blood I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, your brother and friend shed for you.”  

Will you be salted?  Will you teach your children about this salt, this life saving Word of God that both terrifies and saves us?  This Word has been with you since your own baptism…will you grab onto it and live it out until your last breath is taken on this earth?  Will you remember that in your baptism God made you a mortal enemy of sin, death, and all the devils?  

Friends, think about what God has done for you through the cross of Jesus and the holy waters of your own Baptism.  You have become Satan’s mortal enemy and God’s own child.  How will you survive the constant attacks and temptations of Satan’s devils?  By being salted constantly with the Word of God.  

Now do you understand how important it is to always be in God’s Word?  Do you finally understand how important it is for parents to bring their children to church, Sunday School, and to read and share the Word of God with them?  Do you understand how important it is for you to live this kind of life that clings to God’s Word and Sacraments?  Do you understand that God’s kingdom can only be found at the cross?  Do you understand that the kingdom of God, Jesus’ kingdom was given to you in your baptism?  And do you understand that every time you hear the Word preached and taught, every time you come to His table of mercy, you are being reminded that you are even now part of that kingdom of God?

Friends, don’t lose your saltiness.  Seek this salt in your life always.  I pray that you do.  I pray that you will hunger for this salt, and be at peace…peace with God and peace with each other.  In Jesus name…AMEN!