Where Is Your Home?

June 26th, 2016

Fifth Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 26th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

Lord Jesus, You have said, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” [Luke 16:10] In these Words you teach us that you desire that our conduct within our earthly lives should reflect our higher and greater heavenly calling that you have given to us within the holy waters of our baptism. Help us O Lord, so that we will not turn away from the truth that the mirror of your Word shows us, which we will now hear.  If we discover Your word condemns us, save us and prevent us from trying to save ourselves! Help us to remember that we should judge ourselves now in your Word, so that You will not have to condemn us later. By Your Holy Spirit teach us to regret the misery of our sinfulness now so that we may rejoice in the blessed gift of a new and forgiven life in eternity.  Help us to humble ourselves here so we might be exalted there. Help us to weep here so that we may laugh there. So now we ask O Lord that You make Your word a taste of life for each of us. Make it medicine for the sick, strength for the weak, and a cover for the strong. Hear us, O Jesus, for the sake of Your holy, saving name. Amen.

Here’s a question that you may have been asked by someone before, “Are you born again?”

How did you answer?  If you’ve been baptized, the answer is of course a resounding “Yes!”  But how can you answer so confidently?  Now before you give an answer, let’s all of us remember that being “Born” or being “Born-Again,” is something that we played no part in.  Life is always God’s to give and to take away.  So keeping this in mind, I believe the question and the answer should point our hearts and minds towards the source of our “rebirth” and the instrument that was used.

The source of rebirth is God and the instrument or means of that rebirth is the Word of God, which is normally first given to a person through the sacrament of Holy Baptism; that is the place where you were washed and recreated through the Word of God, a place where you were made right with God through the cross and life blood of Jesus Christ; in short that is the place where God changed your home address from sinful earth to paradise restored, a place where you will eternally belong in a condition of peace with God and each other.

So that being said, where is your home?

In our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 5:1–11), we are dropped into the second calling of Peter, or the calling of his vocation. The first time Jesus called Peter was through the invitation of Peter’s brother Andrew (John 1:25-42).  It was within this first calling that Peter already baptized by John the Baptist would have begun the life of a disciple; would have begun a journey in which the Master was daily teaching him that his true home was not to be found on earth but in heaven with Jesus simply because he continued to follow and trust Jesus.

When Jesus issued a call of discipleship, He simply said, “Follow me.”  And from that point on, it was understood that if a person responded to the call of discipleship, they were required to follow Jesus who would be their Master and teach them in both Word and example.

The most important thing for a disciple of Jesus to do then was to follow Him and willfully come under His influence.  So a disciple of Jesus then and now must learn from Him, and through this learning process, they would see and hear such amazing things that they otherwise would never have experienced.  Today, Jesus Himself says to all of His disciples who have responded to His call, “If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Something happens to a person once they become a disciple of Jesus; they are set free from the bondage of sin; or simply put, they are born again!  This new birth, this transformation from being a citizen of the world to being a citizen of heaven happens because the Word of God brings the power of God, which is the only way to experience new birth and a change of mind.  The disciples of Jesus who are willing to listen to Him and follow Him are continually welcomed to be His disciples.  And while they follow and listen, they begin to understand the truth… God’s own truth.  They listen because they have been born again… because they have a heavenly mind.  So now, let’s discover…

How the Heavenly Minded Christian Fulfills his Earthly Calling.

Let’s look at Simon Peter and the excellence he demonstrates in living out his earthly calling.  At the time of his calling he had been a Christian for almost a year, but since Christ hadn’t yet called him into the office of preaching, he not only remained in his calling as a fisherman, but he did it with a greater degree of excellence after he was “born again.” According to our gospel lesson, Jesus not only found Simon Peter working, washing his nets, but he was the kind of worker who could honestly say to Jesus: “Master, we have toiled all the night.” And now, when Christ asks him after a long night of work to sail out again, after the nets have been cleaned, he does not complain and try to make Jesus understand how tired he is, no instead, he obeys God’s call to work.

Here’s another thing we learn from the life of Simon Peter; we can learn that a born-again Christian displays a heavenly mind, not by despising and neglecting his earthly calling so that he has more time to concentrate on prayer and Bible study, but by embracing his earthly calling as the very thing that pleases God.  Oh there are certainly many times that a “born again” Christian will and should seek times of relaxation and recreation, but not because they’re lazy or because they’re a lover of pleasure, but because they know that they’ll be more efficient and productive in their work if they are rested. For a born again Christian, every moment of life whether at work or play, is a gift from God and another opportunity to praise Him.

Here is another truth about heavenly-minded Christians: When others employ them, they can rely on them. Not only is there no better churchgoer than a heavenly minded Christian, but there is also no better employee or manager than a born-again Christian.  In other words, this world will never find a more diligent, conscientious and faithful worker than a born-again Christian. The more heavenly minded a Christian is, the less ashamed they are of even the humblest dirty jobs, right down to the washing of filthy fishing nets or even the cleaning of toilets.  A heavenly-minded Christian then works at whatever task is before them because God has said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,”  (Genesis 3:19) and “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.” [Psalm 128:2]  Now don’t get me wrong, a born-again Christian should seek to find pleasure in their work, but it isn’t the reason they work; they work because they wish to please God.

And may I point out another important characteristic of a born-again Christian?  No matter how faithful they are in their earthly vocation, they will never neglect their heavenly calling to gather around God’s Word and Sacraments.  Simon-Peter worked all night, he was tired, but when Jesus asked to use his boat to preach the gospel, he dropped everything that distracted him and rowed out with Jesus so that Jesus could use his boat as a pulpit; so that he could hear the Word of God.  How unfortunate today that so many use their employment as a reason to excuse themselves from gathering at church to hear their Lord speak words of forgiveness and strength.  A born again Christian will never accept an earthly calling that would force them to give up attending God’s Divine service, even if it meant becoming wealthy.

The truth is, Christians with a heavenly mindset begin to think in a new way; they’ve discovered that even though their work in this world is necessary, work and care for their souls is even more important.  They have discovered that there must be time for hearing and meditating upon God’s Word and receiving His Holy meal.  They have also discovered that if God would allow them to become sick they would not be able to work, and then they would be forced to trust in His care for both their body and their soul.  This is why the heavenly minded, born-again Christian is willing to suffer the threat of harm and loss in the things of this world so that they can hear and meditate on God’s powerful and transforming Word.

Now, let’s allow God to teach us…

How He has determined that we will become and remain born again, heavenly-minded Christians.

It’s God’s will that we discover and remain at both the cross of our Savior Jesus Christ and the most blessed font of salvation where we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is the only place that a sinful person of the world can become born again and remain a heavenly minded Christian.  While there are many who claim the name of Christian, there are really only a blessed few who are truly born-again.

So how can we know that we really are born-again?  By staying close to Jesus.

Let’s look again at Simon Peter in our Gospel reading.  Peter became the heavenly-minded Christian that he was because he followed his master Jesus and allowed His Word to transform both his sinful heart and mind.  We have heard that after Simon Peter brought in the great catch of fish with the help of his coworkers, he realized that He was in the presence of the almighty power of God as Jesus sat in his boat.  When he properly understood who Jesus was, he trembled with fear, and “fell down at Jesus knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

These words of Simon Peter give us the key to understanding the mystery of a truly born-again, heavenly minded Christian.  Peter’s new born again nature like ours, is founded upon a living and deep knowledge of our natural sinfulness and worthlessness before God.  But it is also founded upon the great grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.  Peter’s great fears were not found in loss of employment, physical illness nor disease, but in the spiritual sickness of his sinfulness and the eternal death it brings.  But Peter knew where to bring his fear of sin; he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and begged for forgiveness and salvation.

Jesus would have us do the very same thing today.  He would have us see the nature of our spiritual illness that is sin, and then accept by faith His sweet absolution; the truth that He desires that each of us would turn to His cross and receive forgiveness.  You see, the cross of Jesus is the only place that God has promised and provided salvation for the world.  And this work of salvation for the world is given to you personally in the water’s of your own baptism.  There at the font, God has indeed promised you that you have been born again and given a heavenly mind.

Dear friends, it is only through the call of discipleship that we can receive the gift of salvation.  It is only through the life, death, and the resurrection of Jesus that this sinful world can be made right with God.  And in the waters of your own baptism, God has given you both a new life and a new home.  Every day for you dear baptized and born-again Christians is a new day with Jesus as His disciple; another day to both follow and learn from the Master.

To follow Jesus doesn’t mean that you must give up a normal occupation, but it does mean that we should seriously begin seeking Jesus where He can be found, in His church, His Word, and His sacraments and even with us as we work and witness to both His presence and saving love for sinners.  Therefore it is written concerning the first disciples at Jerusalem, that “they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.”

May God continue to move our hearts to do this very thing, in Jesus name… AMEN!

On Obeying the Word of God

June 19th, 2016

Fourth Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 19th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

If you remember, last week we talked about becoming a Christian.  Today, I would like to talk about what it means to live out that Christian faith, specifically we will look at our new obedience to God’s Word and what effect that should have in our lives and what dangers we face when we are not properly living out our Christian faith.

When the Word of God first comes to us, it comes and floods our hearts with mercy and forgiveness, which then moves us to demonstrate those same things within our own lives.

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we see this demonstrated beautifully.  If ever there was a man who seemed to be given a reason to judge others and even hold onto a grudge, it was Joseph.  Bullied as a child, sold to slave traders as an adolescent, Joseph had many reasons to remember and to pay back his brothers for all of their evil.  But God was with Joseph.

Sold into slavery yes, but God provided in the midst of his servitude, and so Joseph became the head servant of a very rich household.  But then it all fell apart and Joseph was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.  Imprisoned yes, but then God made a way for Joseph to become the warden of the very prison he was confined to.  But then it seemed that all of that fell apart too, as Joseph was once again falsely accused and facing hard time.  But God made a way out of that tight spot, and Joseph was given the ear of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh eventually made Joseph second in command, answering only to Pharaoh.

And now standing before Joseph were the brothers that bullied and banished him.  Now was the time for judgment and pay back, or was it?  Standing before his brothers and in the stead of a merciful God, Joseph knew what God would have him do; it was the very thing God had done for Joseph; Joseph would show mercy.  “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

In these Words, Joseph was demonstrating a man controlled by the Spirit of God and so He was compelled to act for God.  In these Words, Joseph was pointing towards the coming Savior, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God who would take the evil intentions of men and their cross and turn it around as God’s way to “bring it about that many people should be kept alive,” and spared the death penalty for their sin.

This is then not only the effect that God’s Word had in Joseph, but it is also the effect that God wants to have in our lives now in this age, as Ambassadors for Christ.  But be forewarned, even as the Holy Spirit of God is providing us with a new spirit of obedience to the Word of God, we also face the danger of falling to a spirit of pride and judgment.  You see…

When people begin to take the Word of God seriously, they also learn to love their success in keeping the commandments of God.

As the saints of God, isn’t it true to say that we struggle to live out our new baptized natures; we struggle to live a life that is pleasing to God.  We want God to know that we take His call of faith seriously, and because of that, we want to be doers of His Word and not just hearers.

This isn’t a bad thing; it’s not a bad way to begin our walk with Jesus.  What was it that Jesus said to the rich young ruler who asked Him what he must do to gain eternal life, “Keep the commandments!”  And isn’t that precisely what we are trying to do as we live out our Christian faith?

But as so often happens, people who begin to walk by faith in the new life of baptism, begin to believe that they are becoming much better at being good, and then they think it is becoming easier for them to “live a good Christian life.”  Some people may even think as St. Paul formerly thought, that in “regards (to) righteousness under the law—(they are) blameless.”

So where did they go wrong; where do we go wrong?  Well the mistake we sinners inevitably seem to make is that we feel we have a license to compare ourselves to others.  Don’t we find ourselves being thankful that we are not like old “so and so.”  Maybe we’ve even caught our selves thinking that if “old sinner so and so” really wanted to change, then they could, just as we have.  But it is precisely because we judge others that we find ourselves being judged by God.

When we find ourselves judging others, we should also discover that we have not really been taking the law of God seriously, because we have arbitrarily chosen who we will judge and what we will use as our standard to judge.  And because we’ve done this, we have lost the most important standard of all… justice and mercy and faithfulness.  Therefore Jesus reminds us that he who judges others will himself be judged.  So…

If we really want to take the commandments of God seriously we will stop comparing ourselves with others.

This is because God’s law demands that instead of comparing ourselves to others, we must compare ourselves only with God, because only He is perfect.  In other words, we ought to be perfect as God is perfect, merciful as He is merciful, holy as He is holy.  You see, the law does not give us any possibility to be satisfied with ourselves; you can never say I’ve arrived.  This is because the knowledge of sin, our sin, comes to us through the law.

Our mouths are shut as every one of us stands guilty before God.  The rich young ruler who approached Jesus knew that something was missing in him, even though he did everything he could think of to be a good man.  And when the crowd brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus to be stoned, it was the elders in the group who dropped their stones first and slithered away out of shame, when Jesus said that he who was without sin among them should be the one to cast the first stone.

So now hear this good news and have faith in it.  It is God’s will that just as His Law has shown us that we can never live up to His holy standards, and that we have no right to judge other people’s salvation, it is also His desire that through the same Law, each of us would be forced to see our great need for a Savior who alone can make us right with God.  It is God’s will then that His law would point your guilty conscience towards the cross of Jesus where every sin, even our sinful desire to judge others was put to death.  If we will begin to listen to this message of the Gospel in a fresh new way, we will then begin to truly know a Savior who does not judge us in the midst of our sins here in this sinful world.  And remember this—Jesus refrains from judging us not because He can not judge, but because He has taken that judgment upon Himself as our brother and LORD; because He has died in the place of sinners; He has died for you.

And now that we have received this strong love of Jesus, what shall we do with it?

Shall we keep it to our selves?  No, but we are told to go and share what we have received from our Lord with other sinners. What this means for us today is that we are being compelled by the Holy Spirit to show both kindness and mercy towards others who appear to be trapped in sin; others who think or act differently than us – even those caught in adultery, cohabiting men and woman, or the homosexual couple. We are to care about their needs and also their eternity because Jesus cares for them.  We are to speak God’s mercy and love to them, and we do this when we speak God’s truth.

Listen, it is not our job to go around finding the specks in our neighbors eyes, because we are still working on the log that lies within our own eyes.  It is not the job of one blind man to lead another blind man upon a dangerous path.  But rather when asked for the reason of the hope we have in Christ, we are always prepared by God to speak God’s own truth, not in judgment but in love; we are always prepared to point them to the Great Physician Jesus Christ who also desires to heal them of spiritual blindness just as He heals us.

So we speak God’s truth … not in anger or spite, but in mercy and forgiveness. By speaking this way, we pray that God would do the same work of repentance and hope in them that He is doing in us.  So remember, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” [Luke 6:37, 38]. May this strong Word forever lead our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… AMEN.

On Becoming a Christian

June 12th, 2016

Third Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 12th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.” [Luke 15:1]

Here’s a question that I get asked a lot: “Hey Pastor, how can I really know that I’m a Christian?”  And to this I pose a couple of my own questions to them to lead them to the central idea of our message today: “Aren’t you really asking me how can you know that you are pleasing God?  Or maybe what you really mean is how can you know for sure you are saved?”

Well, in order to know you are saved you must first know that your lost; that is you must admit that you are lost in your sins, or simply put, you are a sinner.  So a sinner then, is someone who is lost in their sins with no ability of their own to be found or made right with God.  From this then, we can say to be a Christian is to be a sinner who has been found in the darkness of sin and then made right with God in Holy Baptism through the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  But what then?

Do you have to become a better person in order to be a Christian?

Of course you do!  Don’t we usually take that for granted?  Don’t we as a rule consider “Christian people” to be a people with a God-given moral standard; as people with certain customs and characteristics that are considered respectable?  But sadly, when we think of our own lives within those terms we usually are forced to admit that we haven’t  attained that standard of excellence; we fall far short.  And this is why many of us must sadly admit that if we are judged by our conduct and our thoughts, we fall far short of the mark, and all appears hopeless, and it seems that we will never truly become a Christian.

And that way of thinking, was exactly what had trapped the Pharisees and most Jews; it is what made turning to Jesus very difficult for them.  They were convicted by the Law of Moses (the 10 Commandments) that they were required to achieve holiness or righteousness with God through what they must do.  But Jesus taught something entirely different.  And this is what shocked the Jews.

You see, it wasn’t respectable and moral people that were flocking to Jesus in order to hear Him and become His disciples, it was sinners… public, open sinners! The God fearing folks of Jesus time were offended by the truth that Jesus felt at home and very comfortable hanging out with sinful, no good ragamuffins!  He was at ease with those who were considered by others to be less than worthy of a place in God’s kingdom.  He received sinners and ate with them, which in the Far-Eastern culture meant the same as counting them as close friends. So He was a friend of no good sinners, and what’s more, He readily admitted it!  When they criticized Jesus for this He simply said: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous (or perhaps it is clearer if we say the self righteous), but sinners.” [Matthew 9:12, 13]

You see, the truth is that we do not become disciples because we have so many good qualities that have convinced us that we have something to add to or improve Christ’s church, but rather, we become Jesus’ disciple because we have so many faults.  We do not come to Jesus because we are better than others, but because we are just as bad, or even worse than them.

When Jesus called people into God’s Kingdom, His invitation made it clear to them that in spite of all of their sinfulness, they could still become the children of God.  In another story, Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a king who asks an accounting of His servant.   And what does that accounting look like?  A man is brought forward who owes the equivalent of millions of dollars, and he has no hope of ever paying it back.  And how does the master respond to this hopeless condition?  He has mercy on him and forgives the whole amount.  Cool, huh?

But does Jesus really make no demands on us?

Well to begin with, He makes only one demand, and that is that we come to Him in order to receive what He has to give us.  He simply asks us to come to Him and then to follow Him; listen to and trust in what He has to say, and then place ourselves under His influence.  From this comes another requirement…

We are to respond to the work and presence of the Holy Spirit within us, Who is always creating repentance, faith, and the desire and ability to do good deeds.  So the fact that we’ve become different and better people—is something that naturally follows upon the first requirement that we simply come.

Rather than seeing the need to be a good person as a demand that God makes as a qualification to come to Jesus, it is instead a result of turning to Jesus.

Consider the thief on the cross who was crucified with Jesus.  He did not have time to become a better man.  He would never have an opportunity to live a better life or produce any good deeds to brag of.  And yet no one could ask for a more unconditional promise of salvation:  “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  He had done the one thing that is necessary—he had come to Jesus to get help.  He believed in Jesus.

In the presence of Christ we must never expect to find a gathering of morally perfect people.  Remember, it was the tax collectors and sinners that were all being drawn near to Him.  So in our churches today, we must also expect to see sinful people wanting to be with Jesus and His disciples.  That is, we should see rough, sinful people being drawn to our church, wanting to become Jesus’ disciple.

If today His mercy calls you and you find yourself in this category, you must do the same.  He who does not do this should not be surprised to find a mixed company in Christ’s church.  But when we respond we will find that our despair and worry over first our own sinfulness and then other people’s sinfulness has been replace with…

The joy of salvation!

As Christians we live by faith in what Jesus has done certainly, but that faith always leads to joy!  Joy in the salvation of ourselves and others is simply the great delight or happiness that is caused by Christ’s exceptionally good work for all sinners, but especially because that good work of Christ is the true pleasure of God!

St. Paul in our Epistle reading experienced this realization also, and it created within him an extreme sense of thankfulness, listen: “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.”  Perhaps a better way to say this is that Paul was thankful that Jesus made him faithful through the gift of grace (God’s undeserved kindness) and then He gave him the strength to continue believing in and following Jesus.

Was there something that God discovered in Paul that made him worthy of being called into God’s kingdom of salvation through Jesus Christ?  Well, let’s let Paul answer that himself: “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief”.

And we must be careful not to think that because God saved Paul, Paul became so thankful and indebted to Jesus that he decided to change his life, formulate a plan and implement the plan that would allow him to live a God pleasing life and win many to the kingdom of God.  No, Paul would never say anything like that, in fact he said the opposite, listen: “(It was) the grace of our Lord (that) overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

So, along with Paul, we can say that by faith and first hand experience, this saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom Paul and maybe you and me are the foremost.  So if God desires to save a sinner like Paul, just imagine how much he wants to save you, and not just you, but also the many people living here in our community who are dying without ever truly knowing Jesus and His kingdom of grace.

The church, even our little church here, like our Lord, does every thing we can think of to find the lost, and we keep looking for them until they’re found; that mandate is the very reason that the church still exists within this sinful world. Through the preaching of God’s Word, both the law and the gospel, as a church we go after the lost sinner both creating the desire to be found and the ability to assure them that they have been found too.  And within our vocations or our callings in life as individuals, our Christian witness to Jesus and His desire to both be with and save sinners goes out into our community like a lamp that brings saving light into the darkness of sin.  For many, that searching light may be at first nothing more than the truth that it is Christ’s passion to be with and save sinners.

And when a sinner is found and turns or returns to Jesus’ side, we the church and indeed all of heaven rejoice and say amen to Jesus declaration: “Thus, I tell you, there is joy!” Great joy not just here in Christ’s church but “Before the angels of God in heaven.”

Today His mercy calls you, and if you have responded by turning or returning to Jesus, be assured there is a great celebration of joy in heaven, “Over one sinner who has repented!”  To God alone be the glory… AMEN!

Listen, God is Calling!

June 5th, 2016

Second Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 5th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ” [Luke 14:23, 24]

Listen.  Stop all that you are doing, rid your self of all those things that are vying for your attention right now, and just listen.  Listen, because God is calling out to you!  He’s been calling you for a long time, but we wont worry about those other times, let’s just concentrate on Jesus call right now.  Any time Jesus invites sinners to gather around Him and receive His gift of forgiveness, of salvation through His means of grace, God is calling out to you.

In our gospel reading, God was calling out to a bunch of Pharisees who were sinners; He was calling out for them to repent, that is turn to the guest of honor, Jesus the Christ, the very Son of God and be saved from their sins.

If they would only stop, turn their attention to His Word and listen to the call of grace, they would be saved.  Would they stop and listen?  Did they see a need to turn away from their hollow religion and find salvation in the One who was speaking to them; teaching them with Words of eternal life?

Jesus let them know that there were three major reasons why they may not stop, turn, and listen.  The reasons were simply excuses that were seeds of dissent, which were planted by the enemy, the devil.  Let’s look at those “reasons”:

“I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.”  Here, within this excuse, many young families of Jesus’ time, and perhaps even our time can be seen.  “I just bought a house, and I have to get settled in first.  I agree that being right with God, of knowing Him intimately and personally is important, but I have to get my personal life in order first and then there will be time, real quality time available for me to dedicate myself to God.”  And then there is this “reason”…

“I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them.”  Oh the demands of employment, who could not understand this reason?  “I just started a new job, and if I go insisting on having Sunday’s off for worship, I probably won’t keep my job very long, or I will at least be destroying any hopes I have for promotion and advancement in the future.”

What is interesting to note here is that in both of these reasons given, the person responding to God’s call is not saying that they don’t need to respond to God’s invitation, they are simply saying that now is not the right time.  In other words, “At this time I must respectfully decline your invitation, but please keep me in mind the next time the invitation goes out.”

And finally the third response or excuse…

“I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”  In other words, “No thank you.  I have a spouse who is not a religious person and has no desire to become one.  I will adopt their attitude towards religion.  Please take my name off of your list!”

And what happens to all three of these sample groups of people in Jesus story?  He tells the servant who is sending out the invitations to take them off of the list; to bar them from the privilege of attending the banquet.  There will be no further offers of salvation; they’re done.  But then He does something amazing; He orders that others be brought in to take their place.  And still there’s room after the new group is brought in.  So…

So bring in the low life; go out everywhere and anywhere and “compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”  Bring in the beggars who never would have thought that they would be invited and let them know that they are not only invited but they are valued by God.

And that dear friends is where you and I enter the story.  We are the beggars who never thought that God would call or even desire to call us, and yet… He has and He is!  Listen, God is calling.  Do you hear Him?

When someone asks you to respond to God’s call, they are really asking you to accept His invitation to live within His Kingdom.

The Gospel message or God’s invitation to be forgiven, is one that makes it clear to you, that He is inviting and welcoming you to come and rest within His kingdom of grace, which is a kingdom of forgiveness.  Jesus compares this to an invitation to attend a great feast or a royal wedding as a welcomed and honored guest.  But Jesus also reminds us that the strange and remarkable thing is that there are many who are invited who just don’t desire to respond at all.

So how is the invitation sent out?  Well, an invitation could come either by a messenger or by a letter.  And both of these methods are used with God’s gospel invitation; that is Christ’s invitation for you to come unto Him and rest in His kingdom of forgiveness.

Our Lord has sent out His apostles first and then His disciples, and He sends all of them out with an invitation, which comes to you within His Word.  The invitation to come into His kingdom comes when we both hear the Word preached and when we read it in the Bible.

But Baptism also implies an invitation.

It is through baptism that we have been received into the kingdom of God.  To a Christian, baptism is meant to be what the celebration of the Passover was to the Jews, Listen: “And it shall be to you a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth.” [Exodus 13:9]

It is God’s will that each and every Christian look back upon their baptism as God’s final word or judgment which makes it clear to the one baptized, that He accepts and receives you just as you were found by Him.  But we must also remember that He loves us far too much to leave us in that “first found” condition.  The point is however, that no one who is baptized should ever doubt whether God wants to have a long lasting relationship of love with them.  You see, it’s when people forget God that His holy Word convicts us of our sinfulness and invites us to renew our relationship of grace with Him, by returning to Christ’s invitation, that is He invites us to return to our baptismal grace, which is still ours if we will but return to it.

This fresh call of God comes to us through the Word of God.  Personal sorrows over our sins, a fresh encounter with other Christians, and an inner emptiness, or a vague unrest in the conscience are all circumstances God may use to prepare the soil of our hearts to receive a fresh gospel seed of forgiveness and renewal.  But the invitation itself always implies that God in some manner is saying to us again: “Listen.  Jesus is calling.  Come; for all is now ready.”

The time may come when you hear God’s Word in a new way, and you try to rationalize that hearing and that moment as simply a coincidence.  But that coincidental hearing of God’s Word, perhaps your hearing of that Word right now, is really a part of God’s plan.

This is His moment; that’s why we call this time Divine Service.  He has had it planned since the beginning of time.  The Bible describes God as One who is “seeking” His people, not like a shepherd who goes out searching for new sheep to shepherd, but as a shepherd searching for His sheep who are lost; sheep that He often finds caught in the bramble and thorny vines.  And when He reaches his hand to free the lost creature, and then reassures it that it has been found and is safe, that lost sheep, you and me, may be saved immediately, if that is what we desire.

Today, as with all invitations received in God’s Divine Service, we are experiencing a moment of destiny-filled seriousness.  For sinners like us there is always the possibility of wriggling loose from the grip of God.  But then there is also the possibility, which is even greater than before, of our coming home to God and staying there; staying in Christ’s church.  Listen.  God is calling.  So…“Today, when you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,” and “seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.” [Isaiah 55:6]

When God seeks us, when we hear God calling us, that is the time when we should seriously seek Him, it’s a time that we should seriously begin to seek Him through His means of grace that He has made readily available to us.  Through His Word always, but also in the waters of our baptism and at His altar where He offers to feed our baptized  spirits with real food and drink that both strengthens our faith and assures us of our forgiven state.  These means of grace are the very sacraments that God uses to both create in us a desire to hear Him speak and then also  ability to understand Him.  Through these things God invites us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but also to rest in that salvation with great faith and confidence in all that Jesus has done for us, “holding fast the word of life,” [Luke 11:28] and to be concerned with hearing, learning, understanding, and applying the Word of God in our lives.

When we do this, then God has promised to continue the good work in our hearts and to bring it to completion.

May God continue to do this very thing within each of you as you listen to God call out to you, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Holy, Holy, Holy Triune God

May 22nd, 2016

Trinity Sunday-HL, May 22nd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Whoever wants to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and inviolate will doubtless perish eternally.  This, however, is the catholic faith: that we worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [Introduction to the Creed of Athanasius]

That dear friends is the truth that the historic Christian church has always declared and always defended.  There’s just one problem though, and it’s a big problem; by nature, we don’t like to hear God’s truth because…

We are people of unclean lips, and we dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. And in the revelation of the One true God in Trinity and unity, we see the King, our King, the LORD of hosts and we know that because of our sin, we must die.

We know that we must die because unclean lips are only the symptom of the true disease… our hearts themselves are sinful and unclean.  We have done things we should not do and we fail to do the things we know we must do.  What we fail to do is to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, and we fail to love our neighbor as our self.

But God has sent His servants to you to declare a way out this sinful mess; a way out of no way.  His servants have been called to teach you of God’s solution; to repeat the solution over and over. But to receive the solution and live you must receive the God who gives this gift.  The solution is the hot coal of Holy Baptism that works to take away your sin; to wash you with simple water and the purifying flame of the Holy Spirit of God.  But our sinful nature scoffs at such a simple solution to our sin problem.  Simple?

God’s solution may seem simple to sinners such as ourselves; it may even seem to good and easy to be true, but behind the simple water and the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit is the life and death of the very Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This Jesus, whom you crucified with your sins, suffered and died for the sins of the world.  On Good Friday, God in human flesh, our flesh did something that is impossible for our created sinful minds to comprehend… He died.  God who is eternal, immortal, invincible, did the impossible… He died.  Now before you say, “No, it was only Jesus body that died” remember, Jesus’ two natures are forever connected; that is they can never and will never be disconnected.

So on Good Friday, because Jesus died, God died.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”  [Romans 11:33-36]  Indeed, how unsearchable and inscrutable He is, unless He reveals Himself to us.  While we can never give a gift to God that would put Him in our debt, He has given us one; through the giving of His Son upon the cross, He also allows us to know Him as He is.

He is one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity.

Let’s get one thing stated from the beginning: The word “Trinity” won’t  be found in the Bible.  But the name of the Triune God is found in two of the most important passages of the New Testament.  The first one is the baptismal command of our Lord, which we have by command repeated for all when they are baptized in the “name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” [Matthew 28:19]  And the second is the apostolic benediction which has so many times been spoken to us: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” [1 Corinthians 13:13]

When we speak of the Trinity, we must first remember what the Bible so often insists, that God in His nature is inscrutable and incomprehensible.  No one comprehends the thought of God except the Spirit of God.  [1 Corinthians 2:11]  What we know about the Trinity of God is simply what He has revealed to us.  It is not a matter of logical deductions or deep philosophical thought.  The simple truth is that what we know about God is only a fragment.  About this fragmentary knowledge we must say, as of all such knowledge, that we cannot always fit it together into a logical and systematic doctrine that has no mysteries.  We neither can nor need to fill in the revelation with our own theories.  We can only confirm what God has already said about Himself.

God’s Word insists, first of all, that God is One.  This was the core of the creed of Israel: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord.” [Deuteronomy 6:4]  Jesus says that this is the first pillar of the law of God. [Mark 12:29]  The apostles claim the same as the most certain doctrine of all the faith, God is One.  We know that there is only One God.

But it is just as clear in the Scriptures that there is a triune nature in God’s being, which is so essential and so profound that it can only be expressed by our word “person.”  By person we mean, a being that possess both will and self-consciousness.  This is why Jesus speaks of His thoughts and His will, just as the Scriptures speak of the Word of the Spirit, His comfort and warning, His decisions and His intervention.  Both the Son and the Spirit speak with the Father.  And yet the Son and the Spirit are inseparably bound together with the Father.  They are One.  How this can be is one of the many mysteries of God, a mystery which we cannot possibly understand completely.

Both the Son and the Spirit are as eternal as the Father is eternal.  They were both present in the beginning and shared in the creation of the world.  They are just as divine as the Father Himself.  Therefore Christ has received the name of God, the Lord, and is worshiped as God by the disciples.  So, the Word of the Spirit is God’s Word, and when the Spirit witnesses, God Himself speaks.

People usually first know something of the being of God the Father.  He can be traced in the world of nature and in all the good gifts He gives to us.  Christ too can be describe as a tangible figure, without too much difficulty.  We understand that He is the Word that became flesh.  But in regards to the Holy Spirit, as we discussed for the last two weeks, things get a little harder for our small, created minds to understand.  The Spirit lives and is at work in the church, in Word and Sacrament; He works to point our hearts and minds to Christ.  Therefore it is in the New Testament that we find the clearest report of Him.  Yet still today, no one can truly know the Holy Spirit except as He lives in the life of the church and as He uses the means of grace to work upon our hearts.  It is then that we first learn to know the Triune God—in as far as it is possible to know Him from this side of glory.

And that is why you are here today; you are here to know who God is through the proclamation of His Word, a word about His Son Jesus Christ.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to save sinful Israel from the venom of vipers, which was God’s punishment for their willful disobedience and their stubborn sinful natures, so the Son of man was lifted up for you upon the cross, for the sins of the world. [John 3:1-16]

Unless you are born again in the washing of the water and the Word you cannot see the kingdom of God.  And even now, as your sinful nature is struggling with these truths of God because they are so beyond your comprehension, even now as that nature is silently asking, “How can these things be?” God is answering you with the next two verses that follow our gospel reading found in vs. 16 and 17: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

And now you know the rest of the story… God loves the world, He loves you, because He exists in a unified love for Himself.  The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and together they love the Holy Spirit who because of divine love, desires to come to you and share God’s love with you.  But if it simply ended with you, where would the love of God be for the rest of the world that is lost in sin and death.  No, the love of God can not stop with us, it must proceed out of us and to our neighbor so they too may be born of water and the Spirit and recreated in love.

“Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  AMEN!

Now, may “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  AMEN!

Witnessing Jesus Part 2

May 15th, 2016

Pentecost Sunday-HL, May 15th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [Acts 2:21]

That dear friends was the whole purpose of the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost of the New Testament church… so that all would be moved to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  But everyone does not call upon the name of the Lord, and here is why…

Because we are fallen, sinful creatures separated from the Creator with no true desire if left on our own, to ever get back to Him on His terms and be right with Him.

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 11:1-9) we see just how true that statement is.  These people who are building a name for themselves are just a few centuries old after the flood.  We are told that the whole world had a single language. Since all people came from the family of Noah, it makes sense that their vocabulary would be the same. While it was true that their language hadn’t changed, their attitudes towards God certainly had—and not for the better.

Noah’s descendants started out well. From Armenia, where many believe the ark had come to rest, they journeyed down into the Tigris-Euphrates valley, often referred to as Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). The direction of their migration was to the southeast; in the Bible it’s described as “eastward,” because the Hebrew language only had expressions for the four points of the compass.

“They found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” A well-watered plain would naturally look good to farmers, and in disobedience to God, they decided to stop their migration and settle down. It didn’t matter to them that God had said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth!” They answered: “Why should we? It doesn’t get any better than this spot!”  They had forgotten that even that spot belonged to God.

The settlement they planned to establish was not a temporary one either. Remember they said, “Let us build ourselves a city,” that sounds pretty permanent. And the materials they chose also make it pretty clear that this settlement was meant to last for a long time. Instead of sun-dried clay, they chose fire-hardened brick for their building project, with tar for mortar instead of the customary mud. And look at the stated purpose of their building project: “so that we may make a name for ourselves.”

“Glory to man in the highest!” They turning God’s plan for us upside-down. They rejected his goal for their lives (to glorify God), and substituted it with a goal of ther own. Sustenance (food and shelter), security, status—these were the life goals the descendants of Noah had adopted to replace God’s call to glorify Him alone as provider and sustainer of all these things and indeed, their very lives.

It shouldn’t surprise us that God through the Holy Spirit intervened in judgment to stop their building project.  “I am the Lord”, He has told us.  “I will not give my glory to another.” [Isaiah 42:8]  And to prove it, the Holy Spirit worked to confuse their languages and through that work cause division and strife, making the completion of their building project impossible.  But on the first Pentecost for the new church, God the Holy Spirit would physically, for a moment in time, undo that work and bring clarity in His message of repentance to His fallen people.

So Who is the Holy Spirit? The immediate answer is that, “He is God!”  He always has been God and He always shall be.

First perhaps it ought to be said that the Holy Spirit is not and invention of the church and it’s theologians.  Among the many lies that unbelievers love to spread is the assertion that Jesus Himself never taught anything about the Holy Spirit.  Oh, is that right?  No it isn’t!

Jesus has a great deal to say about the Holy Spirit.  As we discussed last week, when Jesus was about to leave the disciples and ascend into heaven, He promised them that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would come to them.  That’s why they were to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high.  The Spirit would make it possible for them to continue the work of Christ.  He would give them wisdom to be able to speak before governors and kings.  He would teach them all things and lead them into the whole truth.  He would witness to them about Christ.

But then how are we to think about the Holy Spirit?  Well, we should actually not “think” of the Holy Spirit at all.  He is not a product of our intellectual abilities and He can’t be comprehended by our minds alone.  We can learn to know Him only through the work that He has done and is doing among us.  And His work is not to reveal Himself, but to glorify Christ.  He doesn’t seek to describe a likeness of Himself to us, but instead He causes the picture of Christ to come alive before our eyes of faith when the Spirit is at work.

And how does He do this?

The means, which He uses, is the Word of God.  He teaches all that Jesus taught and reminds us of what Jesus said.  It is the work of the Spirit that moves us to perceive the presence of Christ in Holy Scripture.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Scripture  becomes the living Word so that we can be confident that Jesus speaks and deals with us still today in the Word and by the power of the Spirit.

As I said earlier, one of the most important things the Holy Spirit does for us is to convince us that we are sinners.  The Holy Spirit is ever working to move our hearts and minds to understand just how twisted and out of balance with God our lives are.

But we also learn through the Word what Christ has done and given to us, which makes all the difference’ it makes us right with God.

In our gospel lesson Jesus tells us that “If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” [John 14:23-31]

If you do not read this with the understanding that Jesus is giving the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, then you might receive this Word as just another Law of God.  Love me or else!  But that is far from what Jesus is saying.  Just a little further on in His dialogue, Jesus promises that this ability to love Him, to love God will find its origin outside of our selves; He says that it will be a gift from God.  Listen: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Do you understand now?  Can you see that this is all a work of God the Holy Spirit who is your Helper, your comforter, and friend.  Once you hear these Words of Jesus as good news, the Holy Spirit brings peace.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

The work of the Spirit then is to lead us to the assurance of faith that now rests in our hearts through Christ alone.  So we can agree that “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  Christ has given us “His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”  It is through the Spirit that we learn to say “Aba Father” or dear Father in Heaven.

You know the truth is, we won’t always feel the great power and assurance of the Spirit’s presence.  But even when we are overwhelmed with worry and fear, and even at the lowest and weakest times of our lives, the Spirit is at work in our hearts. The sign that He has not forsaken us is the fact that we have not forsaken His Word and that Word is constantly awakening repentance and faith within us.

The Holy Spirit cannot be known or possessed unless we have been brought to faith in Christ by the Word.  This is the precise reason why some people cannot possibly understand the meaning of the Holy Spirit.  He is “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him, nor knows Him.”  But you know Him dear saints, and that makes all the difference!

On the day of Pentecost the disciples were moved by the Holy Spirit to remember all of Jesus Words of Comfort.  And on that day, we could say the agape love of God, as demonstrated through the Passion of Christ the Son of God became the most powerful gift they would ever receive.

Christ did what He said He would do; He made all things right between God and men.  He empowered His church with the love of God and the Holy Spirit to go out into a world of confusion, division, and sin, and speak the need for all men to repent and be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Why?  So that through Christ’s Word and Sacraments empowered by the Holy Spirit we could once again be united in the love of God unto eternal life.  May this be our truth now and forever more… AMEN!

Witnessing Jesus

May 8th, 2016

Easter 7-HL, May 8th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Here’s a truth that each of us must understand this morning before a single word of gospel hope is declared: Living out our Christian faith, let alone witnessing to it, would be impossible unless God the Holy Spirit was powerfully working within us and among us through His chosen means of grace.  But once the Holy Spirit enters our lives and our hearts, living out our lives becomes a whole different experience.  With the Holy Spirit, the church armed with the Word of God and Christ’s Sacraments (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), is equipped as a body and as individuals who are part of that body are sent forth to witness to God’s presence in both our lives and indeed the entire world.

This last Wednesday the universal church celebrated the high and holy day of Christ’s Ascension. As we think about that day this Sunday, we also can’t help but put our selves in the shoes of the disciples.

In addition to awe and wonder as the they witnessed their Lord ascend into heaven from the Mt. of Olives, they also must have been dealing with a sense of fear and worry: “Now what are we suppose to do?”

When the disciples went back to the upper room, back to their normal lives, they perhaps knew more about Jesus than any other people in the whole world would ever know.  So it is fair to say that if Christianity had simply been a matter of knowing Jesus and His teachings and then living by that knowledge, then they could have started to preach and witness about His Kingdom of Grace immediately.  But instead, they were instructed by Jesus to wait patiently in an attitude of prayer and supplication until the gift of the Holy Spirit was given.

So what was it they were lacking?

The disciples lacked the very thing that Jesus promised to give them… the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s think about that for a moment; think about the work that God had prepared for them to accomplish.  They had been given the responsibility to witness about Jesus.  They’d been with Him from the beginning.  They had seen it all and had been taught by the Lord Himself.  Above all, they were witnesses to both His resurrection and His ascension.  But the truth they were to proclaim was also an insurmountable challenge for mere followers of Jesus.  You see…

The man they were to bear witness to had been executed as a blasphemer and a troublemaker.  And what’s more, they too, were promised by Jesus Himself that they could expect to be met with the same violent resistance.  Hadn’t Jesus told them many times that they would be persecuted; that the disciple was not above his teacher? Jesus even said that if they had called the master Beelzebub, what would they do to the servants?  But along with these truths of coming trial and tribulation, Jesus also implied that when the time of testing arrived they were to confidently stand their ground and not fear those who can destroy the body but not their souls.  By now, they must have been thinking, “Easier said than done!”

So now safe and secure in the upper room, their task must have seemed to be impossible.  They were to go out amongst the same people who crucified Jesus and preach and witness that the Man they killed was not only the Messiah but in fact, He was their only hope for eternal life.  And so we can see why the disciples must have felt alone and afraid; their task was to break through the wall of impenitence and hatred that even the Lord’s own words would not shatter.

But there’s still more they had to consider.  Through out all of their living out and proclaiming Christ, they were also called to preserve the purity of the message.  They had to preserve the unity of the church, stick together even when there was no Master among them, and they must preach the gospel even though there was no one with them physically to counsel with.  All of this demanded more than mere human powers could supply.  But Jesus had never expected them to fulfill their responsibilities alone.  God Himself would fulfill the task with them.  He would clothe them with power from on high.  He would open the way for the Word by convicting men of sin and of righteousness.  He would give His messengers a power and a wisdom, which would overcome their enemies.  He would lead them in all of God’s own truth.  He would preserve the vision of Christ living and untarnished.  He would Himself speak through their tongues and words.  And …

To accomplish this miraculous task, Christ would gather is little lambs into one body, His body the church, and He would do it all through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Through the church, God would gather His eternal and spiritual Israel, His faithful saints.  He would gather them from all the nations and ethnicities throughout the world and bring each of them into their own country the church, which would be for them a foretaste of their eternal Home in Paradise, a place that had been prepared for them by Jesus Himself.

Through the preaching of the Gospel of hope, the washing of Holy Baptism, and the sustenance of  spiritual food and drink received at the Lord’s Holy Table, Christ through the work and power of the Holy Spirit would create and sustain His dear saints.  That is by the grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes from God through the Word of God Jesus Christ, God the Father would created, gather and send out His children of faith through the power and direction of God the Holy Spirit to speak to and gather even more redeemed sinners into the Christian faith.

All of this is taking place even today by God through you and me, by the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  You see…

Christianity is not simply knowing about Jesus and following Him.

Our Christian faith, and indeed our entire lives is something that can only be experienced where God is at work in the presence and person of the Holy Spirit.  For the disciples this was a daily experience.  That’s why they spoke of witnessing together with one heart and mind through the Holy Spirit; that’s why they could insist that they and the Holy Spirit acted together, as they walked in the Spirit and by the Spirit.

God the Holy Spirit promises us today just as He promised the disciples who witnessed Jesus ascension long ago, that as He has changed our hard and unbelieving hearts and sustains new life and faith within us, He desires to do the very same thing with those we come in contact with as we share with them the story of Jesus and His victory over sin, death, and the devil.  A victory that was accomplished through His passion and death upon the cross, the empty tomb of His resurrection, and His return to the right hand of the Father through His ascension.

Dear friends, Christ did not want you to be trapped by ignorance of the hard times that lay ahead for the church, His church.  He clearly described the resistance that we would face as together we witness to the “one thing needful” for salvation… faith in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  If we try to go about the calling of Jesus to seek and save the lost on our own with a different message, we will only discover failure and misery.  But if we go out living our lives within the various vocations we find ourselves in, we will find both success and joy in our calling to be witnesses to the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus.

Our task and calling today as both individuals and members of the universal body of Christ is to spread the knowledge of Jesus.  Not to declare a message that makes us comfortable or will make our neighbors comfortable, but the truth that Christ died for sinners of which you and I are the chiefs of, and so are they that we witness Christ to.  Not only does God want to be a part of our sometimes-mundane lives, but He wants to be a part of our neighbors’ lives too.  He wants to offer His gift of salvation to others through us.

No wonder we talk about joy in the Holy Spirit.  What a tremendous reason to be alive in this world today.  What a tremendous reason to look forward to what every tomorrow holds.  God wants to use you… He wants to work through you… He wants to show Himself to other people both here in this place of worship and in your life as you lead them only and always to Christ alone; as you declare the Easter message: “Christ has risen, indeed!  AMEN!”

All Dressed Up and…

April 17th, 2016

Easter 4-HL, April 17th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Would you agree with me, that it is never easy waiting for something you really desire?  Here’s a truth that we should really think about this morning: We all desire an end to sickness, disease, violence, hatred and prejudice.  And we all know that as long as we live in this sin-soaked world, these things will never end.  Further, we all know that the only way to be free of those things is to leave this world; we have to die.

By now some of you are saying, “No thanks, I’ll wait.”  But some of you are thinking, “Yes, that would be fine by me; the sooner the better.  I just want the Lord to take me home.”

A Christian may have many reasons for wanting to leave this world.

Scripture and our own life experiences seem to bear witness to this truth.  St. Paul perhaps put it best, when he said that he would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord Jesus.  [2 Corinthians 5:8]   But where would our understanding of God’s grace and the beautiful gift of faith be if God had taken Paul home too early?

Every day through our understanding brought through God’s Word, we are made more and more aware of a sinful reality that is at work in our bodies; a law that convicts us of the sin that lies within our flesh.  Isn’t it true that the more we understand our sinful tendency to do things we know are wrong, the more we wish to be free from this reality?  Do you understand that your baptized, born again nature is at war with the desires of your sinful flesh?  Isn’t it true that you have one nature that urges you to serve the Lord and another that urges you to serve your own wants and desires.  The truth is, we have the desire to do what is right, but when it comes to fulfilling that desire, we sometimes seem to be in a sort of holding pattern.

None of us is ever exempt from this daily struggle between the spirit and the flesh.  And it is not simply an internal struggle of weakness versus strength, or cowardice versus bravery, no, we are also dealing with this sinful world and all the spiritual powers and principalities that seek to destroy both our own souls and the work of God for us and among us; in other words, these forces are dead set on attacking us in such a way that even our faith and hope in God will be crushed and destroyed.

We are reminded in our Old Testament lesson (Lamentations 3:22-33) that all trials and tribulations are allowed to come to us in accordance with God’s will; in other words, their final purpose is meant to strengthen our faith in Him, and so we must bear them with patient submission.

We are to see all things that seek to separate us from the love of God through the lens of Christ’s own suffering upon the cross.  In other words, we are to see them as mere inconveniences, because nothing can diminish the saving power of Christ’s cross for you.

Even when those things or people seem to be an enemy much stronger than us, we must remember that our Lord has already defeated them through His life given upon the cross.  So, although our enemies, whether they be spiritual powers and principalities, or physical people who are simply being used as tools of the devil may seem more powerful that us, we must remember that God has allowed these attacks to come our way, and since they are ultimately under the control of Jesus and His cross, we must look at them as simply annoyances and futile, evil persecution that in the end will amount to nothing.

We are called by St. Peter in our Epistle lesson (1 Peter 2:11-20) to remember that we are simply sojourners and exiles in this world.  Our job then is not to win battles but we’re called to trust God and resist the enemy.  Our task then is to remain faithful to our Lord’s call of repentance and to daily receive His forgiveness of sins through His Son Jesus Christ, as citizens of His kingdom of grace.

In His Word, God continually promises us, His children of faith, both forgiveness and new life.  He promises us that His same divine love that saved us from our sins will also keep us and protect us from the evil that surrounds us, even if that evil may be within our own flesh.  As members of God’s kingdom and joint heirs with the Son of God, we saints are called to simply and quietly wait for the Lord; to wait for Him to decide when our day will be when we will depart this place where we are foreigners and move to our new home where are true citizenship lies; a place where we will inherit the riches of Christ’s kingdom; riches that we’re told we already possess here in this place but are not yet utilizing in their fullest sense.  And so we do that very thing, but as we wait, we do so with a holy purpose.

So now, let’s talk about why it is not the right time for you “to go home and be with the Lord.”

You see, it is God who has determined that we should still be living here in this world.  He has a purpose for our being here.  Before us there are “good works which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” [Ephesians 2:10]  In other words, God knows something of your purpose in life that you do not.  God has already both equipped and prepared you to accomplish things that must take place in accordance with His will; things that perhaps He will use to help someone understand Christ’s passion upon the cross and the truth and implication of His resurrection for them.

As the Lord gives us life, we are helped to believe that He wants us here for His purpose.  Even when all of our physical powers fail us, we are still able to contribute in a God pleasing way; we’re able to pray for others, prayer that God both commands and blesses, so that others may be blessed and strengthened in response to our prayers.

So it isn’t a bad thing when a mother wishes to live long enough among her children so that she may help them to grow in their Christian faith.  And likewise, it isn’t wrong for a man to pray for longer life because he feels he still hasn’t fulfilled his life’s work that God has called him to perform.

You see, it is these very works, which God has both clothed and equipped you to do long ago within in the waters of your baptism.  In your baptism, God called you to be a witness of His grace and mercy to others so that they too might experience that same thing.  Even if others mistreat you and speak badly of you, your life and how you live it will be a testimony to them of God’s work and presence in their lives.  And when God moves them to see this truth, He will also move them to see the ultimate truth:  They are sinful and lost for eternity unless they seek the same God of mercy who has saved you!

We Christians are called to remain faithful and serve God and our neighbor at the very place where God has placed us.  As we serve, God is ever working to ensure that we are able to withstand all kinds of mistreatment and neglect from those who live among us, simply because we find our value and worth not in them but solely in the Word and promises of God.

When the day comes when God will finally call us home, we will go thankfully through the gates of eternal life and into the joy of the Lord that is waiting for us in paradise.  But until that time, God’s time, we know that we haven’t been  dressed up with out a purpose and with no where to go.  Our purpose is to serve our resurrected Savior Jesus Christ, and we go where ever He has determined.  And as we go, we also wait.  We wait for the Lord’s will and we live equipped by Him to carry out what ever His purpose is for us in this foreign land.

St. Paul writes: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.”  [Philippians 1:21-25]  May God move our hearts to live each moment of our lives with this very mindset as we testify to all who will receive our message, that “Christ has risen, indeed!”  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Behold, Your GOOD Shepherd!

April 10th, 2016

Easter 3-HL, April 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message
NOTE: This is the recorder message as delivered at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

I am not your Good Shepherd, and neither are Pastors Shamburger nor Falemao Esera!  This may seem a lot like stating the obvious, but nevertheless, it must be stated, for you see, all we (including pastors) are like sheep who are prone to wander, but thanks be to God Who does not punish us for our tendency to wander off into the wilderness, but rather He has laid the iniquity of all of our sins upon this Supreme Shepherd, Jesus Christ!

The truth is, our little word “good” does not do justice to what Jesus refers to Himself as this morning in our gospel reading. In the Greek, that little word we call good in English, is actually to be taken more as the source of all goodness.  In other words, Christ is saying that He is the Supreme Shepherd.

Christ proves His supremacy as the Ultimate Good Shepherd through the Easter truth that we still celebrate and proclaim this morning, “Christ has risen!”  You see, it is Christ resurrection that declares that His goodness as the Shepherd of our souls, of our eternal lives, is above all other shepherds. Because God has “brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep,” He has become the Shepherd of us all.

God the Father has raised His Son and Servant from the dead, and He has sent Him to bless all of us who have been drawn by the Holy Spirit to relate to God by faith.  And now this Good Shepherd is everywhere, throughout our world, and He is seeking His lost sheep.  He has compassion upon the crowds in the streets, the people in the business world, the crowds that flock to some churches seeking entertainment and amusement instead of forgiveness; He is even with the broken hearted and discouraged who sit with us in the pews here at this church.

Why?  Because He cares for you; because He sees us as “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.”  He seeks to gather us all together that there may be one fold and only One Supreme Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd has given His life for the sheep, and therefore He is still our shepherd today, and He does this very thing “by the blood of the eternal covenant,” a covenant of redemption and forgiveness, which promises that all of us can be whole again.

Do all of us today who are being saved by God’s means and gifts of grace still need that work of the Good Shepherd?  Yes, absolutely, because “All we like sheep have gone and are still going astray,” but remember, like I stated earlier, God has laid the iniquity of us all upon the Supreme Good Shepherd.  He alone bore our sins upon the tree.  It is for this reason that we can confidently look to Him and trust in Him to be “the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls,” and this is true even for the most pitiful, ragged, and lost of us.

But how does all of this happen?  How can it even be possible?  For many people, all of the statements and promises of forgiveness and redemption found in Holy Scripture seem to good to be true.  Does this seem strange to you, that some refuse to believe, that they see no need for a Supreme Good Shepherd in their lives?  It shouldn’t.  You see, a lot of folks have experienced a lot of hurt and disappointment  at the hands of people who proclaim Christ as their Good Shepherd.  And because of this hurt, they keep themselves just out of reach of both “church people” and their Good Shepherd, simply because they don’t want to be hurt again.

Because of this hurt and disappointment, they can’t see how what they perceive to be an invisible Savior can help them.  They call Him invisible because they reject the means of grace that God has given to sinners to see with eyes of faith, and then they judge the “invisible” Shepherd by His very visible sheep, or even by His under shepherds.  They don’t understand that the sheep and the under shepherds are just like them, so very prone to wander off… lost and afraid, seeking direction and shelter from the evils without and within.

But Jesus’ Word is spoken today and always, so that we can all see Him as a very visible Shepherd who created each of us, even you, for Himself, to be a very visible church, a church with all of its issues that seem to define wandering sheep, yet together we are still called to be and to become His Church.  This church, this place you call “Trinity” is really Christ’s church, His voice, and His hands His feet that are used to seek out and save those who appear to us to not yet be part of His flock.  So, I hope that by now you can see that there is a very necessary relationship between the Great Shepherd, His under shepherds, and His sheep.

When Christ returned to heaven He had installed the apostles as His messengers and ambassadors. They were to continue His work, speak in His name, and forgive sins on His behalf.  And today, the Good Shepherd continues His work through the many shepherds; men whom He has called and commissioned, not only the apostles but also the countless number of men who have followed them as called and ordained pastors.

St. Paul speaks of how Christ has given us shepherds and teachers for the building up of His church, until we all attain the unity of the faith. [Ephesians 4:11]  He says to the “elders” or pastors at Ephesus, “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the church of the Lord which He obtained with His own blood.” [Acts 20:28]  Peter likewise admonishes the pastors to be shepherds for the flock of God which is under their care in such a manner that they may have their reward from the Chief Shepherd. [1 Peter 5:2]

So it is not a little thing if a called pastor seeks to get along through life as a Lone Ranger-sheep who does not need the help of his brother pastors.  And it is also not a small matter if the entire flock begins to wander from each other and the very means of grace that the Supreme Shepherd has put in place to hold them together as one, and protect them from the attacks of that wolf, the devil.

So it is also, a very important thing, that we constantly pray that the Supreme Shepherd would send us laborers into the harvest field, properly trained and called pastors, and that He would create in us both clean hearts and a desire to help our pastors go out into the mission field, seeking the very large abundance of wandering sheep, who are also frightened and lost.

These lost and wandering sheep are part of us too, whether they see that truth or not.  We know that our God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should repent and have eternal life.  It is not an easy mission that our Good Shepherd has asked us to join Him on.  You see, there are false teachers, hirelings popping up every where, and they are spreading their false teachings, teachings which simply confuse and scatter the wandering sheep even further; further from their Good Shepherd and His church.

So this morning, Christ is renewing His call to you the gathered sheep to be strengthened by His means of Grace, called and equipped in His Word, washed clean in the waters of Holy Baptism, and fed abundantly at His very table of mercy, to go out and gather.  Go out and invite any and all who are lost, found, or somewhere in between to come just as they are and be recreated, renewed, and restored.  We do this because Christ came for them too, and so shall we!

What We Believe About the Resurrection of the Dead

April 3rd, 2016

Easter 2-HL, April 3rd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

How are the dead raised?  And what kind of bodies do you think they’ll have when they’re resurrected up to eternal life? These are questions that are asked in the New Testament, and indeed they are questions that folks still ask today.  Listen to the answer that St. John gives in his first epistle: “Beloved, we are God’s children; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” [1 John 3:2]

“It does not yet appear.”

No one’s ever met a resurrected person, and you won’t until our earthly bodies that we currently live in are completely transformed at the resurrection of the dead.  The perishable must put on the imperishable and the mortal must put on the immortal.

There is only One who has done this.  At only one moment in history has this transformation been seen as a visible and tangible reality.  And this was the resurrection of Christ.  During the forty days after Easter the disciples met Him again and again in His resurrected form.

And “we know that we shall be like Him.”

Christ is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep,” the beginning of His church and His people.  Already we are members of His body.  We live by the bread which comes down from heaven, and one day we shall be partakers of His new, immortal life.

What kind of body did the Savior have after the resurrection?

Well, He wasn’t a spirit.  He had a real body that could be touched and seen.  Thomas was permitted to reach out his hand and touch the wounds that had been left by the nails.  He spoke with them as He had done before.  He ate in their presence.

But even though His presence was real, it was still not just an earthly body.  He could walk through closed doors.  He could vanish from their sight.  He could come to them when and how He wished.

The most important thing the Bible says about His resurrected body is this: “We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”  You see, He had clothed Himself with a body that belongs to the kingdom of God and to eternity.

There are “spiritual” bodies and “heavenly bodies,” just as real as ours, but they are free from our diseases, our pain, and our mortality.  Therefore that body is called a “glorified body.”  And to partake of Christ is to possess a “glorified body,” that is, to have His promise is to have a part in His life and to become like Him.  “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.”  Christ, “will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power which enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”

But how can we know that we are part of the lowly bodies that will be changed by Christ and subjected to His Kingdom of love?  Well what does our Epistle lesson say?

“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.”

Wasn’t it in your baptism where you were assured that you were born of God?  Weren’t you baptized into His name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  Was it not first there in those holy waters where the water, the blood, and God’s own Spirit testified to you that you were now His child through Christ with whom He was well pleased?

And what were you given there in those holy waters?  You were given two things; first you were given a new name and identity and second you were given the gift of faith; faith to believe that all that God speaks to you is true.  This faith is what overcomes the condemnation of the world.  Faith grabs hold of God’s own pronouncement of forgiveness of sins through Christ and it teaches you to see that this forgiveness even applies to your most grievous sins.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  It is you who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, crucified, resurrected, and ascended for you!

On the evening of the resurrection of our Lord, the apostles and disciples were hiding behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders.  The fear was this, as Christ died so surely must the disciples follow in kind.  Wouldn’t you be afraid?  And to this fear, Jesus appeared in their midst out of no where.  And what did He say to them?  Did He say, “Oh you miserable cowards.  Why did you abandon me at the cross?  Why are you hiding from mere men?  Shouldn’t it be God the Son that you should be afraid of?” No, that is not what He said.  But what did He say?  He said, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus is the only one who can both speak peace and give it.  His peace is perfect and it surpasses all of our understanding.  As He speaks, so He acts, and act He did.  What He did next is what He still does today.  “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [John 20:21-23]

In your baptism, you were given both the desire and the ability to forgive others just as you have been forgiven.

Jesus has given all of His disciples what the church has historically called “the Power of the Keys.” While it is true that only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7), you can rest easy knowing that God hasn’t given away that authority to us His disciples who make up the church. It is still Jesus who dismisses and who holds sins, yet by this act of His, He empowered His disciples, He empowered you as His agents—He speaks and acts through us. So we are by this very commission bound to forgive or not forgive sins completely in accordance with the will of Jesus. We can forgive, even better, we must forgive the sins of any and all persons who repent and believe, even if we don’t want to.  And conversely, we must hold the forgiveness of sins of all those who will not confess their sinful thoughts, words, and deeds by faith in the forgiving name of Jesus Christ.

Why do you suppose Jesus gave us this authority?  Did He also give us the ability to look into a person’s heart with direct and infallible vision so we could expose all of the hypocrites?  No, remember, His is a Kingdom of love and mercy.  He gave us this commission, so that we would live a life worthy of our calling as redeemed and forgiven sinners in both our confession of faith through words and our confession of faith in action, that is how we live our lives. And He gave us this commission so that we could be empowered to live lives that declare as a witness to all…

Christ has risen!  And as He has risen so shall I, and as I shall be raised to eternal life so can you, if you see a need and desire to believe in such a Savior as Jesus Christ the Son of God.  Repent then and be baptized, believe and become, persist and be resurrected unto eternal life in paradise.  Christ is risen… AMEN!