Don’t You Love It When a Plan Comes Together? 


June 24th, 2018

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Pentecost 5B),
June 24, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“I love it when a plan comes together.” Those are the favorite words often repeated by the fictitious Colonel Hannibal Smith of TV’s “The A-Team.” 

We all love to see our plans come together and work out for our success, don’t we? We love to plan family vacations, which allow us to reconnect with family and experience new things.  We also have our financial plans, and we love it when our savings and investments meet or exceed our projected outcomes so that we’re sitting pretty when our planned retirement or a special purchase becomes a reality. Then there are those career plans or an education that leads to the right job that leads to the expected promotion.  Oh, we love it when a plan comes together!

Throughout the Bible we’re shown that the perfect God of love, wisdom, knowledge and power is also a planner.  Isn’t it great to have a God in charge of, well, everything; a God who never lies, seeks to use us, or messes up a task that only He can perform? Isn’t it great to know that He is our God and we can rest easy that He’s in charge of both human history and our eternal destiny? 

In our Gospel lesson this morning we celebrate what is known as the festival of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. And in that lesson, we have a wonderful example of all of this.  In all of our readings, we get to see and hear God’s plan coming together!

We all know about plans that don’t come together though, don’t we?

Sometimes our plans don’t always work the way we desired. Maybe it’s because we procrastinate or allow ourselves to get sidetracked. Or perhaps we lose our focus or desire.  Maybe this is what St. Paul was talking about when he said, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” [Romans 7:19] St. Paul might be on to something.

Another reason why our plans fail, and things don’t work out the way we thought, maybe because, we fail to understand what is best in God’s eyes. Think of it, we work our plan and we achieve most of our objectives, and then we arrive at our intended goal and discover it wasn’t really what we wanted, needed, or envisioned it to be.

Sometimes our plans are ruined because we just plain forget what a messed up, fallen, sinful world we live in. Sometimes I think that is why our best intentions are ruined.  And when things blow up in our face, instead of taking the setback as just another life lesson, we can become cynical, bitter, and angry.

And sometimes, our plans fail because of the leaders that we look up to who let us down. Many times, political leaders we campaign for, vote for, or pray for fail us for the same reasons we fail.  But sometimes they can just outright betray us. They tell us what they think we want to hear in order to gain our support and then they just change and follow a different agenda once they’re in power.

All of us have seen our best-laid plans fail. Ultimately, all these failures can be traced back to sin, both ours and the sin of others. Our dreams can go unrealized and our hopes can be dashed for so many reasons. 

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist had experienced this sort of thing too, so when God let him in on a major development in his plans…

Zechariah was certain that God’s plan just wouldn’t work. 

Do you remember how in their advanced age, he and his wife Elizabeth were told by the angel Gabriel that they would finally have a son and that they were to name him John, who would later be called the Baptist. But perhaps the most amazing part of this plan was the fact that John was the one proclaimed to come and go ahead of the promised Messiah in order to prepare the people’s hearts for His coming.  It meant that God was indeed making good on His promise to comfort His people. All of this was to fulfill both God’s promise and plan to save His people from their sins!

Of course, all of the experiences in Zechariah’s life told him that this plan was ridiculous, a long shot at best.  The biology, considering their age made it laughable. Sure, they were praying for a child for many years, but hadn’t God missed their window of opportunity? And then there was the fact the current government (Rome) was one of pagans which had influenced and led their religious leaders a long way away from God.  Surely this was just to much for God to overcome in such a short period of time.  

So Zechariah just could not believe that this plan of God was going to happen, at least not now and not with him. And perhaps you remember that because of this lack of faith in God, Zechariah was struck speechless. So there sat Zechariah for nine long months unable to speak while the Roman rulers and corrupt religious leaders seem to prosper like never before with no apparent consequences for their collective sins. Yes, the more time passed Zechariah by, the more impossible God’s plan seemed to become. 

But then something wonderful happened, Elizabeth gave birth to a son and it was time to name him!

John’s birth and Zechariah’s song as memorialized in our gospel reading signaled that all of God’s plans were in fact coming together!

During Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah had a lot of time to think about things with a new appreciation for not just his relationship with God but also for how all of God’s promises as recorded in the Old Testament were coming true. I am sure that He was beginning to appreciate both the name of his son and its meaning. John means, “The Lord has shown favor.” God had indeed shown favor not to just an old childless couple but also on all of His people. Zechariah might also have considered the meaning of his own name, which is “The Lord remembers.” What is it the Lord remembers? Thankfully, not the sins and failing of his people. No those are as far separated as the east is from the west. What the Lord remembers is His gracious covenant plans. He proves He remembers them by fulfilling them!

Now that John is named, God let’s Zechariah speak again, but this time he speaks with more insight and respect for God.  Listen: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

This song that the Holy Spirit caused Zechariah to sing, has come to be called the Benedictus. It has been a part of the church’s liturgy since at least the ninth century. It gets its name from the first word of the song, which translated from Latin to English means “blessed”. God caused him to essentially sum up all of the promises found in the Old Testament in one short song; promises that were all to finally be fulfilled.  The Benedictus affirms that indeed God’s plan had come together.

Above everything else, Zechariah prophesied that God’s plan to send the Messiah, as heard through the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah over seven hundred years earlier (Isaiah 40:3-5), were now coming true. God had not forgotten His promise to comfort His people. He would finally fulfill His plan to send Jesus, the Messiah of God.

Jesus, the incarnate Son of God came at just the right time. He lived the perfect life that mankind had failed to live. Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of the world; a world that had always failed to keep God’s perfect Law. Jesus did this when He suffered and died on the cross, thus paying for our sins, the sins we should have paid for. But that is not the end of the story, because Jesus also rose from the grave to demonstrate His victory on our behalf. And finally, Jesus promises to come again at just the right time to usher in the kingdom of heaven in all of its fullness.

Jesus has come and demonstrated that God’s plans always come together.  God always delivers on His promises. John the Baptizer was commissioned by God to prepare the world for Jesus coming. John’s work of both announcing and bringing repentance and eternal life has continued within each of you who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The church made up of people like you and me, sinners redeemed and made part of God’s plan have been commissioned like John the Baptist, to prepare the world for Jesus coming, one sinner at a time.  They like us are also very much a part of God’s plan!

Do we doubt that this plan will ever really come to pass? Will we be speechless to those who need to hear the Gospel and also be prepared for that great day when Jesus comes again? Have we failed to remember God’s promise? Let us resolve to leave these sins forgiven at the cross and washed away in the waters of our baptism, and let us praise God as Zechariah did.  Let us resolve to read our Bibles and discover God’s many promises fulfilled and to also declare His mighty works of love and salvation in all their beauty and splendor. Let us together wait for the day when the fullness of God’s plan comes together! In Jesus name… AMEN!

Things Are Not Always What They Appear

June 17th, 2018

Pentecost 3B, June 10, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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Things are not always what they appear to be, are they?  I am thankful for the advisory in the side mirror on my vehicle that states: “Warning, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear to be.”  I tend to forget that, I need that reminder.

I also need to be reminded that the Kingdom of God in eternity is not what it appears to be in our time; that is, it is not what the world supposes it to be.  They see the Kingdom of God as a bunch of superstitious people gathered around and antiquated Bible, a little water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.  And as they scoff, we gather together and find forgiveness, peace, and the promise of eternal happiness and joy within those very things.  Why are these two views so very different?

Faith. Faith is the one thing needful.  

Lack of faith is what causes a mighty cedar, full of life and vigor to decay from within, dry up, and die.  That was the cause of the nation of Israel’s demise, it was the cause of the death of all of the empires that have ever existed, and it will be the demise of our country if its citizens continuously reject faith.  

It was the demise of the way of worship for the Jews, which we can call the old church.

Where is their temple worship?  It is gone!  Where is their temple? Destroyed!  Jesus said as much when He said, “The time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” [Luke 21:6]  WHY?  Again they had lost their faith in the promise of God and the mercy and forgiveness He promised to bring to all, through the Savior who was to come.  And when He did come, they rejected the very means of Salvation that God had promised since the fall of creation.

But you have not lost that faith, have you?  You are still here, so out of love, out of charity I will gladly assume that you still trust God to make all things new; to make all things right.  I trust that you have faith in the Savior who has now come and will come again.  You have faith in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God Who is with you right now! You see…

You have Faith in a Who, and a Promise!  

Unlike what the world thinks, things are not as they seem.  Your faith is not simply in some printed words found in a book, but in the living Word of God that both spoke and was empowered by His Spirit to preserve you and give you hope.  What kind of faith?  Faith to believe that simple water when combined with the promises of the Word of God would bring forgiveness, eternal life, and peace with God.  Faith to believe that a scrap of bread and a sip of wine are also, mysteriously the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken and shed, eaten and drank for the strengthening of faith and forgiveness for all of your sins.  

You are that sprig that God says in our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24) was removed from the loft top of the great cedar Israel; a cedar, which is now withered and abandoned.  You are a part of the church, the very mystical body of Christ that has been planted by God Himself upon the high and lofty mountain, which is the long awaited Paradise restored.  You are part of something inconceivably vast and powerful; you are even now part of the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom, which throughout the eons has not only promised but has given rest to the weary and joy to the broken hearted.  You are part of the Kingdom of God fulfilled.

The Kingdom of God is the Promise of God Fulfilled!  

Yes the promise fulfilled, but also the promise not yet seen.  To be sure, our loved ones who died in Christ and who are now absent from the body are present with the Lord; that is they see with their own eyes both the glory of the Lord and the beauty of their eternal home in paradise.  But we’re still here; we must still walk by faith and not by sight.  Faith assures us that the promise is fulfilled and there is a place reserved for us; tailor made for us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We are holy by faith, because He is holy.  We are holy simply because we are forgiven and loved, so we forgive and love as well.  We are holy because we are sustained by the power of God’s Spirit and the means of grace, which He gives that both creates and sustains our seeing by faith.

And we need that faith to live within a promise fulfilled, because things are not always as they seem.

Let’s talk about the tension of living by faith and not by sight.  

In our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 4:26-34), Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God can be compared to a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds known at the time in the middle east, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” And here is precisely where the tension is experienced; there are birds nesting in our branches that bring all kinds of strange and peculiar things with them; things like poverty and despair, sickness and disease, rude behavior and even domineering spirits.  Some times they don’t come simply to rest in our gospel tree, but they come to change and even take it over.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I mean is to change Jesus illustration of birds resting in the Mustard tree to insects called Phasmida, or as they are more commonly know as, the “Walking Stick.”  The walking stick insect looks just like a branch and blends in perfectly with the tree.  The camouflage is needed because other animals outside of the tree are flying around looking to eat the walking stick.  But when these Walking Sticks are within the canopy of the tree, they may rest safe and free from harm, because they look like they are part of the tree.  But they’re not, are they?  And while they rest within the safety of the tree, they begin to eat the leaves and find sustenance from the tree itself.

Are you a part of the tree, or are you like the walking stick simply finding sustenance and safety.  Only you and God know the answer to that, not me.  But I will tell you what I do know; God does not want you to be a walking stick; He wants to graft you within the tree itself.  God wants you to simply quit hiding and surrender to His wonderful grace; his forgiving love and mercy.  And here is the wonderful news, you do not need to do a thing to become a true part of the tree, you only need surrender to the same means of grace and mercy that brought the rest of us into the body of Christ.

You may become a branch of this tree, by simply seeing that the safety and security that you have enjoyed for a time, can be yours for eternity by simply confessing that you indeed are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. You must only surrender to God and believe that He gives precisely what He promises through His powerful Word, a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine. And what He gives to you is complete forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the cross of His Son Jesus Christ.

What are you waiting for, or better yet, what are you hiding from?  He has already found you; you are here in the gospel tree, the church.  Why not truly belong and become that which the world thinks is both foolish and pathetic?  Why not belong and become what the cross of Jesus Christ has already provided and announced for all sinners throughout the world… you are forgiven and loved by God. [John 3:16]

Look around you; things are not what they appear to be.  It is natural for you to see first with eyes of flesh, and through these eyes, it is also natural for you to see a bunch of sinners in this place.  But now look with eyes of faith at those sinners who have gathered around God’s means of grace and promises, and you see instead saints by faith.  We are all sinners and saints at the same time. We are saints for eternity and sinners only for as long as we live in this tent; this temporary body of sin.  We all struggle with putting to death our sin that is within us, and during this struggle we groan in anticipation for the day that we will be free of that struggle and rest securely in our new resurrected bodies within our new home… Paradise.  [2 Corinthians 5:1–10] Yes dear friends, are not what you appear to be, but you are also a saint resting in God’s grace and soon enough you will be forever returned to His Paradise, your eternal home… AMEN!

The Right Kind of Name It and Claim It

June 10th, 2018

Pentecost 3B, June 10, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak”. [2 Corinthians 4:13]

This morning, let me start by saying that the words in our text may not mean what some people think they mean.  Some may discover in today’s message that they too, have been duped by the devil.  They may be unknowingly walking straight into a devil’s trap; a trap designed to strip them of their faith in the eternal promises of God.

In our Old Testament reading, we are shown a tragic and stunning example of what happens to men and women of God when they forget that the devil and all of creation are liars if they contradict the promises of God found in His Word.  

Listen: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. [Genesis 3:1-7]

Do you see what the devil did to trick Eve?  With a little play on words, He took a command of God, twisted it, and turned it from Words of love that were meant to protect Adam and Eve, and he turned those Words upside down, and made them seem as if God was overbearing and cruel.  

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  Now think about this for a moment, God never said that they couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden, He only said that they couldn’t eat from one specific kind of tree. Also consider that Eve had no business even talking with this creature about God, unless it was to praise His name.  Remember, Adam and Eve have been given dominion over all creation.  She did not need to defend Him, because He is the Creator God; He even created the sinful mouth that was spewing forth those sinful words.  All that Eve needed to do was to call out to God and ask Him to rebuke this vile creature.  Or… she could have deferred to her husband, who was right there with her, but she didn’t do that, and Adam never said a mumbling word.  Why?  Because they had been entertaining desires that were unhealthy, and the devil knew this.  So Adam allows Eve to speak for both of them with these words: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Now it is Adam and Eve’s turn to twist the Word of God; to make it communicate a message it was never meant to declare.  Nowhere in scripture did God ever say that if Adam and Eve touched the fruit they would die.  He simply said that they could not eat it.  

So now the devil sees clearly what is in the heart of the first couple and he begins to use it as a shiny lure in order to trap them with the hook of full-blown sin.  “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  In other words, God is not the God of love you think that He is.  He has been holding out on you; there is another completely different level of knowledge and existence that you are missing out on.

And so the first sin is committed when Adam and Eve with one heart and mind reach out and take and eat.  And from that point on, their eyes were opened and they knew that they had disrupted, no destroyed their relationship of love and trust with their Creator God.  And when God approaches them as He always had done, He asks them specific questions that will lead them to confess their sin.  But instead of taking responsibility, what do they do?  They begin to play the blame game.  “The woman you put here made me do it.”  And, “the Serpent you created tricked me!”

So if we had to put a name on the very first sin, what would we call it?  Coveting?  Well sure, that sin is there, but before it can come, I submit that one must first set aside their devotion and love for the Creator God.  So this is really a first commandment issue.  “You shall have no other God before or beside me” says the Lord your God!  Do you see friends, all issues in life and all sins that are committed are directly related to the very first commandment.  In other words, there are two ways to look at all things in your life, from God’s perspective or from the worlds perspective.

“I believed, and so I spoke.”  

Are these powerful spiritual words that unlock worldly treasure and rewards or is there a deeper spiritual meaning to them?  You don’t have to go far to get your answer.  St. Paul was simply quoting King David in Psalm 116, verse 10, and through that quote he was pointing out that his faith in the promises of God find their origin and power through the same source of Spirit given faith that King David was given.  

In that quote of Paul, he is assuring us that what he is preaching and teaching boldly and willingly is exactly the same thing that David proclaimed.  

Both Paul and David were very familiar with hard times; they knew all to well the sorrows and threats of danger and harm that’s associated with just living in this world.  And both Paul and King David were sustained and motivated by the exact same faith.  Like Paul, King David was delivered for a purpose, so that he could walk before the Lord in the land of the living and proclaim the truth of God, which alone is able to defeat the lies of the devil and sinful men and women.

While the world may choose to preach, teach, and confess positive thinking and word of faith as true faith, we like St. Paul and King David must be realists.  We know that there is suffering, sickness, disease, poverty, racism, and violence through out this world.  Simply proclaiming some hidden power to be protected from this reality is just plain ridiculous, especially when nowhere in His Word does God say that if you have a strong faith you will be immune from these things.  Instead God calls us in the midst of trials and tribulations, to place our faith in what is not seen; in what He declares to be our eternal reality.

What does this kind of life, centered in the eternal promises of God look like?  Well, again, let’s look at St. Paul’s life for the answer.  In the middle of all kinds of danger, danger like folks trying to kill him in every town he goes to visit simply because he is proclaiming the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead, in the middle of these threats, St. Paul remains brave and steadfast; why?  Because He knew that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead would raise him and all believers in Christ as well.  This is the right kind of name it and claim it that we are called to proclaim and believe.  

True faith is always connected to Jesus and the promises that He gives to His church.  The true faith of a Christian never forgets that it is in the world but not of the world.  True faith remembers that the life that we are living is always following Jesus from the sorrow and death of the cross, to resurrection and glory.

Dear friends, we face the same things today that St. Paul dealt with.  Like Paul we too wait for Jesus to come again and end the destruction and sin that has overtaken all of creation, and we wait never knowing when He will come, but only knowing that His return is imminent.

To be sure, St. Paul and the early church preachers took great comfort in their baptismal guarantee of being resurrected, but their comfort in all of their trials and tribulations ran deeper than that.  You see they also took comfort in the promise of God that within their message of forgiveness, was the actual power of God’s Spirit, which saves the world from sin, death, and the devil, through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  What gave them even greater comfort and power was the promise of each believer’s resurrection; the fact that Jesus resurrection would also be the reality for all who receive and believe the promises of God that are given in Holy Baptism.  In other words, St. Paul was comforted by the expanding Kingdom of God one sinner at a time, which now includes you!

Dear friends, St. Paul and indeed the entire church after him believe and also confess and work with all of their hearts to bring others into this same faith, because only then will these others also be given the resurrected life of the blessed.  So within the heart of Paul and all Christians is the God given gift of faith that is paired equally with a great gift of love. Why? So that all who are willing to believe will be presented together before God as the body of Christ, and together with one voice sing out praises of thanks giving before their Creator God.

This is the work of God’s champion, the Strongest of men, the Son of Adam and Eve and the very Son of God, Jesus Christ, and it is this work alone that God calls us to put our faith in.  And through this faith we know that even when this temporary tent which is our human bodies is destroyed, whether through sickness, disease, famine, or violence, we have an eternal body, a mansion within Paradise restored that God has prepared for us through His Son Jesus Christ.

It is there in paradise, that we will finally know by sight and not by faith a life of true pleasure and glory with God and Christ.  It is there where we will dwell eternally in a permanent, glorious, infinitely blessed existence in heaven.  So believe and confess that this temporary existence is not your eternal reality, and endure patiently with the rest of the church militant, as we wait to join the the church triumphant which is already in eternity living with and glorifying our God with praises!   AMEN!

Jesus Christ Is Lord!

June 3rd, 2018

Pentecost 2B, June 3,, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

In our gospel lesson this morning (Mark 2:23-28), we join Jesus and his disciples taking a short cut through a wheat field, and right on their heels are the usual Pharisee spies trying to collect evidence against Jesus.  And what did these spies observe? They observed Jesus disciples picking wheat and eating it! Why, to the Pharisees, that was nothing less than a violation of the third commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” On that day, God said that His people were to do no work.  But did that prohibition apply to satisfying hunger by picking grain?  The Pharisees said yes, but Jesus would have none of that.  You see, their declaration of guilt was not based on the commandment itself, but on their rules and regulations that they had attached to the Commandment.  What they lacked was scriptural insight and God’s grace. So now, Jesus would give them both. 

“Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Here Jesus lays his finger on the real trouble with these Pharisees: They were doing far too much studying of their own regulations and not enough study of God’s Word. They had a small view of what the Scriptures said, and only picked out the parts that suited them and ignored what scripture said as a whole—a fault that is still present with so called Bible preachers today. The Pharisees were, of course, familiar with the passages Jesus referred to (1 Sam. 21), but they refused to acknowledge how those passages interpret the Third Commandment. So Jesus gives them a lesson.

David ate the sacred bread that by Levitical command was for the priests only, and he also gave it to his men. Jesus assumed that the Pharisees agreed with him that David, whom they held in the highest esteem, did right by receiving, eating, and sharing the sacred bread. Yet the law reserved this bread only for the priests. The Pharisees had used the Word law to refer to “their” regulation, and Jesus reminds the them that it was God’s own law that made it “unlawful” for any persons but priests to eat this bread; it was not merely a regulation. What would they say now? Nothing, Jesus had left them speechless.

How did Jesus send these Pharisee spies running? Well, by using David’s own example, which showed that even the divine ceremonial law was not intended to be absolute in its application, and that the Pharisee’s regulations are nothing in comparison to God’s law. Here we see that God cares more for the right spiritual condition of a persons heart than the outward appearance of their ceremonial regulations. Jesus point was that David’s hunger in God’s mind set aside even a divine law. So, shouldn’t the hunger of His disciples set aside mere rabbinical regulations?

From this example, Jesus’ point is made that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around, and this teaching is bound with authority, when Jesus puts Himself in the place of Yahweh-God, by exclaiming that “the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” This morning, God’s Word declares to you that…

Jesus Christ is:

The Son of God. This was declared so by God the Father both at His Baptism (Mark 1:11), where God the Father spoke and said, “You are My Beloved Son.” and on the Mount of Transfiguration where again He proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” [Mark 9:7] This same Jesus is also…

The Son of David. That is He was born of the Virgin Mary as true man, who was also a descendant of King David. As a descendant of King David, God made good on His promise that the Messiah and true King of Israel would come from David’s line. This Jesus was not only David’s Lord, but He is…

THE LORD—YAHWEH. That is, He is our One True God, the Creator of all, Who is eternally One with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

As the Son of Man and the Son of God, Jesus alone both came then and serves now as the promised Messiah; very God and very Man. He is the One Daniel saw as one like the Son of Man who is the Ancient of Days. [Daniel 7:13-14] Jesus Himself identified Himself as the Son of Man when He said that the Son of Man alone “has the authority on earth to forgive sin.” [Mark 2:10]

Jesus Christ the Son of God and son of Man, was given a mission from God the Father. He fulfilled His mission when:

He lived a sinless life and fulfilled the Law of God perfectly. Jesus Christ could not fail in His Mission because He is the eternal, true, and almighty Son of God; perfect in all His ways. Only God could succeed, but only Jesus as the Son of Mary, as the Son of man could embark and complete the mission, because in His flesh, He was true man. He fulfilled His mission when…

He suffered and died for the sins of the world, for all people as their perfect sacrifice. As the perfect sacrifice, perfect forgiveness and peace with God is achieved for everyone who desires to be saved. Prior to Jesus death upon the cross, regular sacrifices had to be made by the spilling of blood, but now through the wisdom of God, Jesus has become the final, once and for all sacrifice for the sins of the world. But Jesus also fulfilled His mission when…

He rose as Victor over death and the grave. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus was declared Victor over death, sin, and the devil. Through His completed work…

Jesus Christ has freed His people.

He has freed them from the need to win God’s favor. Think of it, you are no longer left to wonder if you’ve done enough to please God. There is no gift you must bring, no day you must set apart, and no job or vocation that will give you more of God’s peace.  Another way to look at this is to say that…

Jesus Christ has freed His people from the burden of laws and regulations. But who are His people? Well gone are the days when His people were recognized by a certain ethnicity. Gone are the days when God’s people were recognized and rated according to the strict standards of the Law. Now, God’s people are all those who relate to Him by faith in Jesus, through the cross of Jesus.  God’s people are those who have been baptized in His name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through the mighty Word of God, these people of God are a called a peculiar people because they are bound by no law or regulation except by the law of love. So…

Jesus Christ has freed God’s people to live lives with their hearts and souls at peace with God. As you have heard consistently in the sermons preached from this pulpit and as Martin Luther declared long ago, if you see God as angry, as if he has a storm cloud draped across His face, you do not yet know the One True God. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, God the Father comes to you in love and lavishes you with His gifts of peace. Through the gospel message of forgiveness of sins, the recreating, washing waters of your Baptism, and the faith creating and sustaining meal He feeds you at His table of mercy, you are constantly assured that you are at peace and one with God.

So we are all God’s children. Through His Word, we know that through Jesus Christ His Son, His mercy and love is for us. Through the forgiveness of sins we are brought willing and joyfully to God, through Jesus and His cross, so that we can find peace. This is true for us both as individuals and collectively as His Church.

As individuals God reminds you that you are more important to Him than a group of rules and regulations.. “First man, then the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is there for you His child so that you might never forget the peace and rest you have with Him. But your identity as God’s child does not exist in seclusion. God desires to bring all these gifts to you along with His whole family of faith that is called the Church.

When we gather together with God’s other children of faith, we become what is collectively called the body of Christ, the Church. Together as Christ’s Church, we receive every thing God the Father has committed into His Sons hands; all things, all days, even the Sabbath, so that it may be a means and a tool whereby glory is given to God the Father, and grace and favor is shown to His people who gather together as Christ’s church to worship His holy name.

And now, here we are, gathered together on this Sunday morning knowing as individuals and as His church that Jesus is now and ever shall be our Sabbath rest. As our Sabbath rest, Jesus has fulfilled the law for us and has forever redefined our Worship as both hearing and receiving the gospel, which is called God’s service for us, and Divine Service is what makes our worship an act by us that is acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  

So let’s close by answering this question: Why don’t we worship on the seventh day (Saturday) Sabbath like the Old Testament Church? Well, the historic church starting with the Apostles, preferred Sunday as the day to gather in worship for three main reasons: 1. Because it was the first day of the creation week. 2. Because it was the day Jesus rose from the dead. And 3. It was the day the Holy Spirit was first poured out on His Church. Can you worship on another day, even the original Sabbath day? Sure you can. Remember that the Sabbath was created for you to have rest and peace with God, and not the other way around. But most importantly, please remember that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath who truly does desire to bring you peace. May we always remember this, and I ask this in Jesus name… Amen.

The Mysterious Holy Trinity

May 27th, 2018

Holy Trinity Sunday-B, May 27, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Someone once told me that they thought the church ought to stop trying to teach the doctrine of the Holy Trinity for a little while, and just stand in awe of God and worship Him for Who He Is.  And you know, there is a lot to be said for backing off from our western approach of  explaining the Trinity, because it really can be an injustice to God. Isn’t it enough to simply say that God exists in three persons, Father,  Son, and Holy Spirit, and then just leave it at that? Well, yes and no.  

While it is ridiculous to try to confine the reality of God into an airtight  doctrinal box it is also dangerous when we, the church, that means you and me, remain silent when we should be repeating who God says He  is in scripture. What kind of danger?  Well how about this.  I once received an email from someone who said that the church and myself specifically, must repent of what we teach about Jesus and God.  Listen: 

“(Pastor), Jesus did not intend to be worshiped; He wanted to be followed. It is certainly easier to worship Him than to follow His teachings. He taught that we could become one with God and all his creation (everything and everybody). That means that we should deny the world and focus primarily on God and forgiveness. It means letting go of  the ego’s need to be separate and right. It means loving everyone unconditionally. It means giving up judgment, righteousness, resentments, greed, competition, envy, and hatred. It means joining with your fellow man and making his interest your own. It means setting aside the carnal pleasures of this world for something better. It means taking the log out of your own eye instead of the speck out of your brother’s. It means being generous with your time, talents, and energy (including money). Jesus summed it up by saying, Love God, yourself and everyone with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul. He taught to live life with an open and pure heart as He did.”

What you just heard read is a concise description of perfection, the kind of perfection that God demands both in His 10 commandments and throughout scripture.  

The only problem with this ideal is that none of us can meet it, and no one ever will.  If this one dimensional understanding of who God is, was all that we knew about Him, then life would be pretty dark and hopeless, wouldn’t it?  But God has another message for us; a message of hope and security, and that message was communicated to Isaiah in our Old Testament Lesson. [Isaiah 6:1-8pastedGraphic.png]

Isaiah was taken to the very throne of Heaven, the temple of God and He saw something that no sinful man or woman could have or should have seen.  He saw the perfect and all powerful God seated on the throne.  He saw an all present God who filled everything, and He was not struck down dead; he was allowed to live!  Now that’s amazing because even the chief angels called seraphim wouldn’t look upon God.  They covered their eyes with their wings and simply cried out to each other, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord!”

So why was Isaiah allowed to see God and still live?  

Was it because he was able to please God with his righteous living?  Well let’s allow Isaiah to answer that himself.  Listen: “And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” [Isaiah 6:4-5pastedGraphic.png]  Now Isaiah does not sound like a man who is content with the way he’s lived his life to me; in fact he even describes why he feels he is doomed; he is a man of unclean lips living with people who are unclean.  In other words, brother Isaiah is saying flat out, ‘I’m a dirty no good sinner and I live with a bunch of other dirty no good sinners.  I am doomed!”

And yet Isaiah was allowed to see God and live; why?  Because God Himself intervened, and saved him!  In the vision, it was a hot coal that touched Isaiah’s lips that saved him.  In the wilderness, when the sinful Hebrews were wandering, they were attacked by poisonous snakes; it was a bronze sculpture of a serpent that God had made, which saved every sinful person who looked to it, and today God still saves dirty no good sinners; sinners like Isaiah, and sinners like you and me!  How?  

Well let’s go to our gospel lesson [John 3:1-17pastedGraphic.png] and let Jesus explain it Himself.

We join Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews goes out to find Jesus by night.  

Why night?  Well, I believe that he was trying to protect his reputation as a leader.  He who was supposed to be able to provide all of the answers had many questions about life and God that were just eating away at him. Society thinks that doubts and questions in a leader are a sign of weakness, so Nicodemus had to make sure that neither his peers nor the people knew that he was going to Jesus for answers.  They must not find out that his entire life had been consumed by these doubts and questions.  He wanted to know why he woke up in the middle of the night feeling empty and afraid.  The meaning of life itself had eluded him.  “There must be more to it” he thought, and it’s this questioning of things that caused him to seek out Jesus for answers!

When he found Jesus he started out the introduction with a compliment, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” [John 3:2pastedGraphic.png]  And in effect, Jesus answered him like this, “Oh come off of your high and mighty view of yourself and your ignorant view of God Nicodemus.  You just want me to jump into the comfortable little box you’ve made so that you can make sense of life and God according to your terms.  What you really want to do is go back to your cushy mansion and get a good night’s sleep by placing your religion on the shelf like one of your trophies.  But it doesn’t work like that!  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  You can’t fit God’s kingdom into your life, your life and all of your misconceptions has to fit into it!  You gotta be born again!

Nicodemus didn’t understand that.  He didn’t understand and neither does the world today.  They don’t understand because Jesus is speaking spiritual, and they are thinking physical.  So Jesus restates his teaching in another way: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [John 3:5pastedGraphic.png,6pastedGraphic.png]  In other words, quit trying to put my teaching into your sinful box.  You cannot understand, because you have not been begotten by the Father.  But there is a way for you to find peace and rest in my Words. You must be reborn by the water and the Holy Spirit!  Repent and be baptized.  

Repent of your sinful physical way of seeing the world and receive new life and new sight in the water and the Word!

Today, we poor sinners don’t find Jesus’ Words any easier to understand or accept.  

We are caught up in the material world, but there is a spiritual wind that is blowing through our lives; it is the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.  It is impossible for us to keep it out.  It blows and blows until it either knocks down our house of self-righteousness or until we leave this temporary material existence and enter into our eternal reality; a reality that will either be eternal judgment or eternal peace with the source of the Holy Wind, the Holy one of Israel; the same Holy One Who caused Isaiah to say that he was doomed because he saw God!

The only hope for Isaiah, Nicodemus, or any of us, is if we can see the Son of God, Jesus Christ as the only way to enter into God’s eternal heavenly kingdom.  Jesus alone is the red hot coal that touches our lips.  Jesus alone is the serpent lifted on the pole in the wilderness of our sin.  And Jesus Himself makes that clear with these words: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, (I who speak to you) the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. [John 3:13-15pastedGraphic.png]

But is it really that simple?  Can an angry and perfect God really be approached simply by being baptized and believing in Jesus as the Son of God who came down to us in our flesh, to save us?  Yes, it is that simple, but people find it hard to believe because this is a spiritual truth that is breaking into our physical reality.  It is a work entirely of God; a work that we play no part in fulfilling.  But why; why would a holy, holy, holy God do that for no good sinners like us?  Well, again let’s let Jesus answer that: “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.” [John 3:16-17pastedGraphic.png]. And there it is… God is not angry with us at all; in fact He loves us, but He is also holy and righteous.  He created us to be holy and righteous as well, but sin, death, and the devil entered into our physical reality and ruined that.  And now, the only way He can save us is by coming to us and removing our sin Himself!

What we’ve learned this morning is that God is far too holy and mighty for us to ever understand; after all He is the Creator and we are just the creatures.  But what we’ve also learned are four truths.  First, we know that God does love us.  He loves us just as we are, but He loves us to much to leave us that way.  Second, we’ve learned that our One God exists in three persons, and He has broken into our sinful reality and saved us by the Father’s sending of His Son to die for us.  And He continues to save us and keep us holy through the power of His Holy Spirit.  Third, the Holy Lord invites us all into a relationship of stewardship with Him; He wants to send us, whom He has saved to speak for Him.  Isaiah writes: “Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”  The fourth truth we discover is that once God intervenes by taking our sins away, by recreating us through the power of the gospel, we are able to respond to any request of God with the words, “Here am I send me!”  Like Isaiah, we once were no good sinners separated from God by sin and living in fear, but in our baptism, God has spoken new life and new obedience into us, so that we can exhibit courage and embrace His call to go out into a sinful world for the Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord!

What causes this transformation in us is the very thing that changed Isaiah and eventually Nicodemus too; It is the realization that we have been saved and forgiven by the Holy and One true God who exists in three persons.  How that can be we may never understand completely, but it is enough to know that He is our God.  And once we have surrendered to the mysterious presence and work of our God, He wants to use us to bring this same message of forgiveness to other sinners.  Yes, most of this message depends on the mystery that is God, get over it and simply live for Him who has saved you!  

May God the Father who created you, may God the Son who has redeemed you, and may God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you, empower you to live a life of wonder and worship until He calls you home!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Prophecy and Pentecost

May 20th, 2018

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

Click here for audio of this message


I can’t help but think that before the Holy Spirit showed up on that first Pentecost Sunday, the disciples were just plain tired.  Think of all they’d been through; they saw their Lord crucified, and then He rose from the dead.  After that, for forty days He just kept appearing and disappearing in the most unusual places.  To cap it all off, they saw Him ascend into heaven before their very eyes, but before He did, He told them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” [Acts 1:4-5] In other words, Jesus was saying, “Do nothing until you hear from me.”

So there they sat in that upper room, tired, worried, and afraid.  I can’t help but wonder what they would have done if Peter or one of the other twelve would have said, “Come on guys there’s a lot of work to do.  Quit hiding out in here; let’s go out and spread the news.”  I think they would have grumbled, and said, “But were tired.  We’ve been through a lot.  Let someone else go out.  We just don’t have it in us!”  But I don’t think that discussion ever happened because as promised, Jesus by way of the Holy Spirit showed up in a powerful way!  And that is what we are celebrating today, Jesus kept His promise and empowered the church with the presence of the Holy Ghost!   Don’t we need that power too?  Don’t we get tired also?  Sometimes, don’t we feel like we just can’t do another thing; like maybe we’ve already done and experienced enough?  

Today, God wants you to know that you need a faith lift.  

 No, I didn’t say facelift, I said faith-lift!  God wants you to know that life without faith, or life with little or weak faith is a desperate life!  That is what the Jews were feeling when God visited Ezekiel in a vision, in our Old Testament lesson.  They were desperate because they lost hope; they lost faith in their saving God.  They had been conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians for many years and their homeland of Israel and Judea was destroyed.  When they first arrived in Babylon as slaves they were humiliated in their defeat, but at least they still had the love of their God!  But after several generations of life as slaves, they began to lose their faith.  First they began to doubt God’s forgiving love for them, and then after a while they must have begun to doubt His very existence!  They felt abandoned and alone.

Do you ever feel that way?  Do you ever feel like God has forgotten you, or is punishing you?  Maybe you’ve even began to wonder if He’s even real?  If so, then let God speak to you.  Hear the story of “dem old dry bones” because Ezekiel’s vision is a prophecy that was fulfilled on Pentecost and it is our reality today.  The valley of dry bones is as real as the battle fields of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.  It’s as real as the run-down buildings of skid row and the shattered dreams of the poor, unemployed and underemployed.  It’s as real as the crack-house, the sick house, and the poor house.  It’s as real as families broken by addiction and abuse.  It’s a vision of lost dreams and shattered lives!  

As terrible as these battlefields were and are, they pale in comparison to the vision God gave to Ezekiel.  

God told Ezekiel to speak the first message, and the bones were animated with flesh and blood, they were whole bodies, but they were still dead!  Flesh that appears alive but lacks a soul or spirit; I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like zombies!  

Do we have people like that today?  Yes!  It is everyone who thinks that they can please God by being good; by living a virtuous life.  They may think they’re alive, and they may even look alive, but the truth is they are really dead!  They are dead because they lack God’s breath of new life.  “Then God said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” [Ezekiel 37:9]  

This was the message of prophecy for ancient Israel during their captivity and it is God’s message for all of us today; it is prophecy fulfilled!  It is the promise of His forgiving love; a Word of forgiveness that brings restoration and peace with God through the cross and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We first receive this Word in our baptism, and then we hear it every Sunday.  It is the gospel, the good news that assures us that through Jesus Christ we are forgiven.  Please hear it again today and become rejuvenated… alive in Christ!

It was this Word of promise, or forgiveness and restoration that brought hope to the hopeless captives in Babylon, and it is the very same message that God speaks to us who struggle to live our lives in a sinful broken world while not being of the world.  It is a Word that directs us to find our identity not in how the world sees us or treats us but in God’s work of recreation and restoration.  

When we feel alone, and think that we’ve lost our way, God’s Word reminds us that He has never left us; it reminds us that He is right there with us.  His Word takes our eyes off of our circumstances, off of our sin and the sin of others, and He redirects our gaze to the cross of Jesus and the waters of our own baptism.  In His Word, in the vision of Ezekiel and the rebirth of dry, dead bones, God shows us that our salvation, our lives and our future are all in His loving hands.  All we need do is keep turning our hearts and minds to Jesus; call out to Him for forgiveness and strength and receive the Word, His Word that promises that He will never leave nor forsake us.

So we wait.  

But what are we waiting for?  Do we wait as dry bones waiting to be given flesh and spirit?  No, that was already done for us.  Then what are we waiting for?  We are waiting to hear the gospel; the only Word that can dispel fear and bring power from heaven.  What kind of power?  How about this kind: “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” [Acts 2:2-4]  Dear friends, this mighty power of God wasn’t given only to the early church; it is given to each of you.  You were first given that power in your baptism, and you are continuously strengthened in that same power each time you hear or read God’s Word of repentance and forgiveness.  

Why are some of you living as if you do not have that power?  Because you confuse the individual gifts with the power behind the gift!  What greater power could you need other than God’s power to overcome death?  What greater gift could there be than God’s forgiveness; His ability to recreate you and continually remove your sins, the consequence of your sins from you?  

Can you see that you lack nothing?  Can you see that when God works, when He saves He always does it in a way that is all powerful, complete, and effective?  Then why do we still feel tired, alone, and sometimes even rejected by God?  Maybe it’s because we are still waiting for God to speak!  But He has already spoken.  He spoke in your baptism; He speaks in His Supper!  In His Word He tells you that all has been completed so that you may have life abundantly.  Do you hear that?  You are not a zombie… you have life!  You have life right here in this sinful world!  But your life is to be used for a purpose.  You are to use the gifts that God has given you to go out and speak life to those who are dead in their trespasses.

Unlike the hit AMC television series, “The Walking Dead” we aren’t going out to destroy the zombies before they destroy us, we are going out to bring them back to life.  We are sent out with the only Word that can bring them life, abundant life.  Like Ezekiel, God has empowered us with the ability to speak the breath of life into the walking dead.  And here is how it works.  The problem with zombies is they don’t know they are zombies; they think they’re alive.  So God tells us to speak His law.  We must hold up the mirror of God’s Word and show our neighbors that they are sinners; just like we are.  We must share with them that they have no future unless they simply admit to God that they are dead in their sins and are helpless in changing that reality.  This confession of reality has now prepared them to hear the prophesy of life; the breath of forgiveness that will reanimate; recreate them into God’s image.  The Word they must hear to know forgiveness and new life is simply that Jesus Christ is Lord and He has brought them forgiveness of sins and new life!  He is Lord of life and eternity.  He is the conquering Lord who through His cross has defeated not just the sin of the world but even their sin.  What’s more, Jesus is the Lord who defeated the devil; He is the Lord who protects all that are baptized from ever losing their gift of new life!

Dear friends you are tired, because you are confused.  You’ve forgotten that not only have you been saved, but you’ve been saved, given power, and a mission.  You are to continue expanding the Kingdom of God one saved sinner at a time.  And as you go out in the power of God speaking His recreating Word of forgiveness, His Christian army gets bigger and bigger, and your work load gets easier and easier as many hands make the work of the kingdom light.

So, our time of waiting is over.  Jesus has spoken, and you have been baptized and given the promise and power of the Holy Spirit.   This is our invitation to become part of Christ’ mission to seek and save the lost.  Can we do it?  No, but God will.  He has spoken.  You are forgiven, and so is the world.  Now let’s go tell someone with our own little personal touch, and someone will tell someone else, until the day when Jesus comes to take us home.  AMEN!

Thy Word Is A Lamp Unto My Feet…

May 13th, 2018

Easter 7B, May 13, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.” [Psalm 119:105pastedGraphic.png 

There are many ways to get lost.  People get lost driving from point A to point B all the time on our local roads and freeways.  But contrary to what my wife may tell you, I am never lost while driving, just a little confused.  “Honey” she says, “why don’t you stop and ask for directions?”  “What for” is always my response, “I’m not lost; I pretty much know where we are!  I’ll get us there; don’t worry!”  She was greatly relieved when I finally bought an iPhone with Siri, which includes a Street navigator and step by step verbal directions to most everywhere we go, and my wife is continuously happy for this! 

The truth is, each of us can and do become lost.  We can get lost in a world that hates our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for God’s Word.

I want to tell you a wonderful story about a man who found himself lost in just this type of situation.  He didn’t need Siri to find his way; instead it was God’s Holy Word that ended his confusion.

Shortly after Vietnam fell to the Communists, Hien Pham, a committed Christian and translator for American missionaries was arrested. He was accused of aiding and abetting the Americans; he was in and out of prison for several years. During one long jail term, the sole purpose of his jailers was to indoctrinate him against the West – and destroy his Christian faith. He was cut off from reading anything in English… especially his Bible! After months of brain-washing, Hien began to buckle under the pressure. MAYBE, he thought, God doesn’t exist. Finally, he made up his mind; he would no longer pray or ever think of his Christian faith again.

The next morning, he was assigned to clean the latrines of the prison. It was a chore that everyone hated and avoided; so with much disgust he began the awful task. As he cleaned out the 50 gallon cans filled with waste and toilet paper, his eye caught what he thought was English printed on a piece of paper. He quickly grabbed it, washed it off and slipped it into his pocket, planning to read it that night.  Later, after his roommates had fallen asleep, he pulled out a small flashlight and began to read the top corner of the paper, “Romans, Chapter 8.” Literally trembling with shock, he began to read: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom. 8:28, 31, 32, 35, 37-39]

Hien wept. He knew there was not a more relevant passages of conviction and strength for a person on the verge of surrendering to the threat of evil. He cried out to Jesus, asking for forgiveness, because that next morning would have been the day that he had determined not to pray or recall scripture ever again. Evidently the Lord had other plans. Today, Hien lives in the United States and is a successful business man.

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

Does God still miraculously intervene in our lives today?  According to our Lord’s promise in our gospel lesson, the answer is a resounding YES…ABSOLUTELY!  

Listen to His prayer for His apostles and His prayer for you: “(Father) I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [John 17:13-16, 18-21]

What is it that Jesus prays that we will have?  His joy!  Not just any joy, but His joy!  When you are confused and afraid, and think that you’ve lost your way in this dark world, remember that Jesus has prayed for you and He is right there beside you, praying for you; He’s praying that you would not loose His joy.  And what are we to have as the source of our joy?  His Word!  

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

The next thing that we learn from Jesus prayer is that we are not of this world!  

So what’s so bad about this world?  Well for starters it is ruled by Satan and his devils.  They are the princes of this world.  Second this world is so dark and lost in sin that people hate God’s light; they hate his only means of salvation… His Word!  Now this is where things get a little dicey for us.  We are each called to be a light, God’s light in this world of dark sin.  Remember you are not above your master Jesus.  The world hated and crucified Him, and they still hate Him because He is the living Word of God; He is the only light in this dark evil world that can’t be extinguished.  So if they hate Him they will also hate you!   The prophet Isaiah proclaimed this long ago when he wrote: “Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?”  As I said, this can be a little dicey, in fact this hatred of the world and the devils is the very thing that causes some Christians to be silent and avoid speaking about repentance and turning to Jesus for forgiveness.  Some have even abandoned their faith completely and become eternally lost in the darkness and confusion of sin.  For this reason Jesus prays something incredible for us and in this prayer we have a promise.

What is it that Jesus prays and promises?  Jesus prays that the Father will protect us from the evil one and the sin of this world; He prays that the Father will continually set us apart as His holy ones!  And what does He promise?  He promises that He who began the good work of salvation in us will continue this work and keep it safe until it is complete.  He is telling you that He promises that He will complete this work if… oh yes there’s always an if; if we stay in His Word.  Why His Word?  Because His Word is truth!  It is the very thing that has saved you, is saving you, and will save you, so we must not leave the Word.  

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

The Word of God really is a lamp or a light.  

A. In a world pitch dark with sin, you can’t count on your eyes you need a source of light.  Have you ever been in a dark place with very little or no light?  Isn’t it true that your eyes can play tricks on you?  Well that is the way it is in this sinful world.  We need to quit trusting in experience, that is in sight and we must learn to walk by faith; we need to learn to trust Jesus and be led by the light of God’s Word alone.  God wants us to use His Word as a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.  He wants us to let the Word alone guide our way; it alone must lead not just our feet but also our hearts.  Jesus is asking us to remember that it is the lamp of God’s Word that creates faith, but not necessarily understanding.  We don’t always need to understand, but we do always need to have faith and trust in Jesus prayer for us and God’s will.  

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

With God’s Word as our lamp and light, Jesus prays that we will have faith to do what we do not know how to do, go where we do not know the way, perform what we don’t understand, and follow the Word even when it seems we risk becoming stupid and foolish in the eyes of our community.  

When we follow the light and path of the Word we will by faith also follow the path of obedience.  And what is that path of obedience?  Well let’s get back to Jesus prayer and let Him answer that: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [Vs. 20, 21]

Dear friends you have been saved by the Word because God is love… because through Jesus Christ, God has not only shown you His love like a bright light, but He has also made that love yours.  In His Word He promises you that no one and nothing can ever separate you from His love which is yours through Christ Jesus!  But He has saved you for a purpose.  He has given you the light of His Word so that you can remain in this dark and sinful world for a reason.  What is that purpose and what is the reason?  The purpose is so that in the darkness you can seek and save others who are lost in sin.  The reason you are to seek and save the lost is because “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, so that whosoever believes in Him through the illumination of His Word, they and you shall not perish in darkness but have everlasting life!  

Your Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths. 

God’s Word alone keeps us on the path of salvation while it also acts as a search light to find lost sinners.  

God’s Word alone is how God builds His kingdom.  Kingdom building then is living in God’s Word and reflecting the light of that Word into the darkness of this sinful world.  You reflect that gospel when you share God’s Word of forgiveness and love with whoever God leads you to on the gospel path.  The kingdom of God is built one forgiven heart at a time.

What is the kingdom of God?  It is God’s Word which teaches us that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver all sinners out of the power and kingdom of sin, death, and the devil, and to bring us to Himself so that He may rule us as a King of righteousness, delivering us into a new world of righteousness, eternal joy, and peace.  On this path, many are led by the Holy Spirit through the Word into the Father’s kingdom of grace so that together with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we will each become joint heirs with Jesus and eternally remain in God’s kingdom of grace and light, a kingdom that has already begun and was given to you through His Word!  

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!

God will not lead us to the wrong location. He alone is to be trusted always. May we forever stay in the light, God’s Holy Word and we ask this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… AMEN!

Can You Hear Him?


April 22nd, 2018

Easter 4B, April 22, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Sorry, no audio for this message

In the early 1900’s a man was traveling by steam boat.  While standing on the deck of the ship he began to sing our sermon hymn, “Savior like a Shepherd Lead Us”.  When he had finished singing, a rough looking stranger approached him and asked, “Did you ever serve in the Union army during the civil war?  “Yes,” answered the singer.  “I joined in the spring of 1860.”  “Were you doing picket duty on a bright moonlit night in 1862?” asked the stranger.  “Yes” answered the singer.  “Well, so did I,” said the stranger, “but I was serving in the Confederate army.  When I saw you standing at your post I said to myself, “This guy is as good as dead.”  I raised my musket and took aim.  I was just about to pull the trigger, when you raised your eyes to heaven, and then you sang that very same song.  That song had a very great power over me, and I took my finger off the trigger.  “Let him sing this one song to the end, and then I can shoot him when he’s finished.”  But the song you sang then, just as now stirred up great emotions within me.  Back then, I heard the words plainly and perfectly in my mind and in my heart: “We are Yours in love befriend us, be the guardian of our way; keep your flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray.”  When you had finished your song it was impossible for me to take aim at you again.  I thought: “The Lord who is able to save that man from certain death must surely be great and mighty (and able to save me)” and my arm dropped limp at my side.”

“And (Jesus said) I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)  This is our text this morning.  Jesus calls out to all of His sheep.  Can you hear Him?  Perhaps you hear Him even now, but at times you find it hard to follow?  This is understandable, because after all, you are just a little sheep and sheep are prone to wander.  This morning by looking deeper into our gospel reading we will allow our Good Shepherd to bring us back into the safety of His love which can only be enjoyed within His flock…the universal Church of Jesus Christ! To do this, Jesus gives us illustrations that if learned will ensure that we not only hear His voice, but listen and follow it as well.  

First let’s look at the Good Shepherd in contrast to the hired hand who is not a shepherd at all.  

In the verses preceding our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus said that anyone who enters the sheep pen by climbing the wall or fence isn’t a shepherd, but a thief.  He also said that the true shepherd is one who enters by the door.  OK, this sounds reasonable, but then He said something strange, He said that He was the door!  Now, if you follow this logic, then you must conclude that true shepherds or pastors are only those who have been called by the Holy Spirit to lead Christ’s church as Jesus leads or directs them.  In this sense, the pastor is an under-shepherd, who can only lead the flock of sheep as Jesus directs.

In Israel sheep weren’t herded with dogs or by men who walked behind them.  The shepherd led his sheep.  He had a name for each of them…he knew each one by name, and the sheep recognized his voice.  At night several different herds of sheep might sleep in the same pen.  As they slept, a shepherd would act as the door of the pen by sleeping in the opening in order to prevent a predator or thief from entering and doing harm.  In the morning, when the door was opened, each shepherd would call out to his own flock, and each member of that flock would be able to distinguish his shepherd’s voice from the others.  

Just as the sheep would not follow a stranger, so God’s people are able to recognize Jesus as the living Word of God.  In this way, God has allowed a sure and certain way for His Children to distinguish between a true pastor and a false teacher.  A true pastor will only proclaim what is in the Bible… Law and Gospel!

A traveling minister was walking along a road one day headed to a church that he heard no longer had a pastor.  He thought He might be able to offer his services as their new full time pastor.  As he approached the church, he saw a crowd of boys surrounding a dog.  “What are you doing with the dog?” asked the traveling minister.  “Well” said one of the boys, “Whoever tells the biggest lie, will win the dog as a prize.”  “Oh, that’s terrible,” exclaimed the minister, “when I was a little boy like you kids, I never told a lie.”  There was a moment’s silence. “Here,” said one of the little boys as he handed him the leash, “you win the dog.”

Today, just as in Jesus time, false teachers are everywhere.  They impose themselves on God’s people and have only their own benefit in mind.  God’s truth… His love and mercy is not what is leading them.  These false teachers, whom earlier Jesus called thieves, He now calls hired hands, or mercenaries. [vs. 12] They have no direct, specific call from God through a congregation to care for His little lambs.  They received and held onto their position through deception and their desire for self gain.  These type of men were then and are now in ministry for the money and the prestige.  When trouble comes they abandon their flock and look only after their own personal benefit.  And now…

Jesus shows us, by pitting Himself against the Wolf, why He alone is the Good Shepherd.

First, please understand that the word “good” in the Greek means something of excellence, something that sets the standard for everything else.  If we follow this meaning, then what Jesus is saying is that He alone is the “Supreme Shepherd”.  While there are other shepherds that perform their duties in a loving and careful way they are not the “Good Shepherd”.  Why?  Well Jesus answers that for us in verse 15, when He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Many years ago a young Canadian man, his wife, his two children and a young law-man were traveling in the wilderness in a horse drawn wagon when they were pursued by a very large pack of wolves. Just as the wolves were about to attack, the law-man shot some of the wolves. This stopped the pack for a short time, but soon they renewed their attack. Once again, just as the wolves were about to overtake them, the law-man acted quickly and cut the lead horse loose and the wolves devoured it, but soon they were right back on their blood thirsty attack. The travelers were trying to reach a government fort, a place of safety, and they were almost there.  But the wolves were relentless and it seemed impossible for them to out run them.  The young law-man said that their only hope would be for him to buy them some time by giving himself to the wolves.  After he said that, he immediately jumped from the wagon, right into the pack of wolves. Of course he was attacked immediately, but the family was able to enter the fort just before the pack caught up to them.  Once safely inside, they said “Our protector sacrificed himself for us. We are living because he is dead.”  

Now this sounds noble and good.  But anyone with a good heart and the love of Christ might be able to accomplish the very same thing.  Any shepherd that loves his sheep would most likely risk his life for the good of the sheep.  No, if this act can be accomplished by any true shepherd, this can’t be what makes a shepherd good.  This can’t be the work of the “Good Shepherd”.

In verses 17 and 18, Jesus gives us the mark of the only “Good Shepherd” when He says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. 

Jesus, like any true shepherd, faces the wolf and risks His life in defense of the sheep. But, that would not help the sheep once the wolf finished with the shepherd.  Obviously, after the shepherd is dead, the poor sheep would be completely at the mercy of the wolf without any other source of help. No, the only way the sheep could be eternally safe would be if the shepherd could kill or drive off the wolf, and keep his life for the benefit of the sheep. Friends, Jesus is the one and only shepherd, who can save the sheep by laying down and then taking up his life again.  Jesus died for the sheep, for you and me, but He took his life back again when He rose from the dead.   

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and the Wolf that He has overcome is sin, death, and the devil.  By Jesus sacrifice upon the cross and His resurrection, He came so that the sheep (you and I) may have life and may have it in abundance (v. 10).

Friends, in order for this truth to be of any benefit to you, Jesus says that you must hear His voice and believe that He is YOUR Savior…YOUR Good Shepherd.  

We must hear His Word and know that He is calling us!  Faith comes only by hearing His Word, which is the message of the gospel, the voice of Jesus Christ!  When we hear His voice and shut out all other messages we will find comfort.  When we hear and listen we will find obedience as God helps us follow our Good Shepherd where ever He leads.  And when we listen and follow, Jesus will show us other sheep who are also listening.  And here is the amazing part…He is asking you to help Him bring them into His flock—into His church, where they too can find comfort and safety from sin, death, and the great wolf, the devil.

Perhaps this morning you’ve been shown that you too have wandered from the flock?  Maybe you have been following the voice of someone other than your Good Shepherd.  He is calling you now.  Can you hear Him?  Are you listening?  He has opened the door, and He calls out to you… “Follow me!” 

Were You There?

April 15th, 2018

Easter 3B, April 15, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“…and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” [Acts 3:15b]

We are all called to be witnesses to God’s forgiving love in our own lives.  Each one of us is to always be prepared to give our own testimony to why and how Jesus saved us from sin and delivered us into heaven.  We are His ambassadors.  But before we can give a witness we must have a testimony—that then will be the focus of our message this morning…honing our testimony, and we will begin and end our message with this question: Were you there when they crucified your Lord?

In our reading from Acts, Peter confronts a crowd of people in Jerusalem who have gathered in amazement because of a crippled man who is healed.  

They try to acknowledge Peter and John as the source of healing, but Peter will have none of that.  He immediately gives all glory to God and begins one of the most convicting sermons ever preached.  The most intense portion of his message was this: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” [Acts 3:13-15]  

In essence, Peter was saying that they denied Jesus by delivering Him to be crucified, but Barabbas the murderer they chose to give life to instead of the author of life!

Now it is doubtful that there were many people present, if any, listening to Peter’s sermon who were actually there when Jesus was sentenced to death.  Most likely, many of those people knew nothing about Barabbas being granted clemency in exchange for the death of Jesus, and yet Peter insists that they were the ones who delivered Him over to Pilate and asked for the death of the Author of life!  How can this be?  Because it was their sins that Jesus took upon Himself that compelled Him to go to the cross.  While they may not have been physically present the day Jesus was sentenced and executed they knew that the man they once called Messiah was about to be put to death, and they said nothing.  They knew that an innocent man was about to die, and they offered no testimony on His behalf.    They killed the Author of life!

How many times have you turned away from doing what you know is right because it was inconvenient to be a person of faith?  For some here this morning, it may be easier to be politically correct than being faithful to God’s will.  Go along to get along!  Maybe you‘ve learned to follow society’s moral idea of right and wrong rather than what God’s Word says is good and evil?  Or perhaps you’ve chosen a political party or leader over God’s clear will as communicated in His Word? If so, you killed the Author of life!  For others, maybe you know that Jesus suffered, died, and rose for you, but you have never really taken the time to know Him.  You know that His entire gift of grace is for you, but you have never really found the time to live in it!  If so, you killed the author of life!  Maybe you are one of the many that finds yourself vacillating between claiming Him and forgetting Him.  Some days you are thankful for all that He has done for you and on other days, well…you live as if He never did a thing for you.  If so, you killed the author of life!  Or maybe you are one who has truly discovered what it means to be saved by grace, through faith in Christ alone just as the Bible says, but you are terrified to tell others how your relationship with Jesus has saved you.  If so, then you also must realize that you too killed the Author of life!

Dear friends, Peter was painting a bleak picture to the people around him that day and he paints a bleak one for each of us as well—bleak, but not hopeless!  Listen to what he says next: “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” [vs. 17-20a].

Dear friends, if you have been convicted by God’s Word this morning then listen to what Peter says… “I know that you acted in ignorance.”  

Confess your sin and turn to Him who was crucified for you, so that all of your sins may be wiped clean!  Instead of carrying your guilt with you, come to your Savior, the author of life so that times of refreshing, goodness and peace with God can be yours!

It was not by accident that Jesus suffered and died.  We may be ignorant that our sins took Jesus to the cross, but God knew what He was doing.  God knew that He must give Jesus as a lamb for the slaughter, as the sacrifice for the sins of the world.  We act out of ignorance, but God acts in full knowledge with an intent centered in nothing but love for us.  We may be ignorant, lost in our own sins, but thank God that His wisdom and undeserved love for us makes us wise through faith and brings us to salvation.  Through our own wicked sinfulness God brought us His salvation; He gave His Son Jesus to you who took away your own guilt as He took away the sins of the world!  

Is this good news?  If so, then repent!  Turn away from your sinfulness so that “times of refreshing may come from God!  The suffering, worry, and fear are over the battle is won!  Alleluia!  Turn from sins that so easily trap you and turn to your redeemer, your savior, the Author of life, Jesus Christ.  This is what St. John meant when he wrote in our Epistle lesson that, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” [1 Jn. 3:6]  How do you keep from falling into sin?  Only by turning away from a sinful life and turning to Jesus!  How do you know that you are walking with Jesus and not following the ways of the devil and the world?  Because you practice what is right.  You look to Jesus alone as your way to please God and you hold on to the very things He’s given to you so that you will not lose hope!  You claim your baptism as His promise that He will never leave you or forsake you, and when you do sin, His Holy Spirit pains your heart to confess your sin to Him and then by the very same Spirit He gives you faith to know that you are forgiven.  How long will God put up with your sinfulness?  As long as you continue to turn to Him and be saved and recreated into His image and will for you. 

This dear friends is exactly the relationship that God desires and it is exactly the relationship He creates and sustains within us as we abide in Him.  It is the relationship of a Father and His children.  Now there are other types of relationships that this world likes to show off.  They are relationships where one gives as much as another; relationships like husband and wife, friend and friend.  But in our relationship with God it is entirely one sided…He gives and we only receive in gratitude.  And what does He give?  He gives forgiveness, He gives new life… new birth from the darkest death!  And what is our response?  Gratitude!  How do we show our gratitude?  

We show our gratitude by witnessing. 

A. In our gospel lesson, Jesus teaches His disciples and He teaches us how we are to live our lives because of what He has done for us and because of who we now are.  Listen: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.” [Luke 24:45-48]  Friends, Jesus has opened your mind through the gift of faith.  You too can understand scripture.  You too now understand that Christ suffered, died, and rose for you.  If you are living out this truth then you are a good witness.  You too have a testimony to give.

There’s a Christian guy who prayed every morning: “Lord, if you want me to witness to someone today, please give me a sign to show me who it is.” One day he found himself on a bus when a big, burly man sat next to him. The bus was nearly empty but this guy sat next to our praying friend. The timid Christian anxiously waited for his stop so he could get off the bus. But before he could get very nervous about the man next to him, the big guy burst into tears and started weeping. He sobbed with a loud voice, “I need to be saved. I’m a lost sinner and I need the Lord. Can’t somebody tell me how to be saved?” He turned to the Christian and pleaded, “Can you tell me how to be saved?” The believer immediately bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, is this a sign?” 

Are you looking for a “sign” to start witnessing?  Well you have one…the sign of the cross; the cross that saved you and the world.  Who should you tell?  Whoever you know needs to hear the good news.  How should you tell them?  By demonstrating love for God in your own life, and then by explaining why you love Him.  Have you experienced repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus name?  Remember, you can’t witness to something you haven’t experienced!  Were you there when they crucified your Lord?  If you can answer yes, then tell your story!

Faith, The Key To Fellowship

April 8th, 2018

Easter 2B, April 8, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus (God’s) Son cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7]

Unfortunately, too many people think that our Christian fellowship is not any different than other religions. They think that our faith is centered around a set of rules that simply tells the followers of Jesus how to live a better life.  And to these perceived rules of living they respond: “I don’t want your Jesus telling me what to do.  I don’t want your Jesus telling me how to talk and what to wear.  You Christians think that your better than us!”

Is that how we present our Christian faith; as simply a set of rules that are expected to be followed in order to fit into Jesus’ church?  Or do we believe and model something more; something much deeper?  In reality, that is what all people are  looking for… something deeper.  

Like Thomas in our Gospel reading (John 20:19–31), people today are looking for something that in their minds is real and life changing; something they can not only hear, but touch and be a part of.  This morning, our message will declare this as the very essence of what we preach, teach, and confess; but even more than that, it is something that we live out!

So why didn’t Thomas believe?  

May I suggest that He simply chose not to rely on the simple testimony of his friends.  He didn’t want to just believe, but he also wanted the experience of belief; he wanted to encounter the same source of faith that they had encountered.  What experience?  Well, this one: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [Jn. 20:19, 20]

In my mind, I can hear the excited testimony of the apostles and disciples who testified to Thomas.  “Thomas, we have seen the Lord.  There is no doubt it was Him, because He showed us the nail scars in his hands and the wound in His side!”  Thomas wanted to experience the same encounter.  He needed that same experience because the last few days of living had beat him down; demoralized him!  Remember, he was the same disciple who said to the others, “Let us go, that we may die with him”, after Jesus announced that it was time for Him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. [Jn. 11:16]

Now here is where we see the loving desire of our Savior. Jesus Christ the Son of God, knew that Thomas had been separated from Him by a lack of faith, and that just would not do.  You see Thomas had been set aside with the other apostles to not only believe in the Son of God Jesus Christ, but to also testify and proclaim the gospel which heralded the good news that Christ is risen!  So, if experience is what Thomas required in order to feel equal to the others, in order to have faith and believe, then that is precisely what Jesus would give to him.

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [Jn. 20:26-29]

Thomas’ faith was restored and he was returned to the fellowship of disciples who just eight days earlier also had faith, which seemed to be destroyed and lost.  All of them at first, seemed to have had lost their faith but not there fellowship.  What I mean is that they still gathered together in that upper room, but not in a fellowship of faith, but a fellowship of fear of the Jews and disappointment in their Savior.  They were beaten down by life and disappointed by what appeared to be failure, just as people still are today.

What is the thing lacking in most people, a thing which is preventing them from receiving Jesus as their Savior and then living out their new identity as a new person in Christ?  

I submit that it is faith.  Without faith, there can be no real fellowship with God.  Faith is the only way to truly see and know Jesus; to know that He is the propitiation (or payment) for our sins, and not (just) for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.” [1 John 2:2]

When Thomas had earlier said “Let us go also so that we may die with (Jesus)”, I am sure he meant every word.  When he said it, he and all of the other disciples were confused and bewildered.  They could not have understood why the Messiah would willingly allow Himself to be humiliated and killed.  That simply was not how a champion behaved.  But they also did not understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was.  People still don’t understand.

People today just like the disciples before us can not receive faith in Jesus unless they perceive a need for Him.  In other words, they must first see a need for the kind of Savior Jesus IS.

Jesus IS the Son of God who comes to save us from our sins.  He comes to remove our sins; to pay for them with the only payment that can be made; a payment of blood and life.  Again, “If we (desire to be saved and) walk in the light, as (Jesus) is in the light, (then) we have fellowship with (the Father and the Son of God, and) one another, and the blood of Jesus (the Son of God) cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7]

And it is that little Word sin, which keeps getting in the way; it keeps blocking folks from receiving the very thing they long for… faith.  You see, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” [1 John 1:8-10]

So what is the answer to this dilemma?  How can we even begin to reach people outside of Christ, especially young people with the very gift of life that they seem to so militantly reject?  We must make it real to them, by allowing it to be real to us.  God wants us to allow the gift of Christ to change us so that the change is apparent to even the worst skeptics!

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]

You know, in this world people say a lot of things; things they don’t really mean.  Another way to say this is that their talk and their walk don’t match.  But Jesus, speaks truth.  When He says “Peace” the very Word gives it.  The word gives peace and the faith of the believer receives it.

If a blind doctor offered you a liquid that would save your life, and then he told you that all you needed to do was hold out your cup and then drink what he pours into it, would you think that it was such a bad thing?  And if you told the doctor “I’m ready, poor away; my cup is waiting”, but you had no cup and simply let the medicine pour out on the ground, would that be the doctor’s fault, or yours?  No, that would be foolish!  So, why not just tell the doctor you have no cup, and he will gladly give you one!

And that is precisely the way of faith.  God’s Word is the medicine that will save you from your sins.  And the great physician of your soul is Jesus Christ.  If you have no cup, it is because you have either neglected to ask Him or you have refused to admit that you have a need for the medicine.  The cup is your agreement with God that you are indeed dying from your sins, and it is your confession, which proclaims that only He can save you.  The medicine is His very Word, which gives both forgiveness and eternal life; it gives you peace with God and each other.

When we have peace with God through faith in both the work of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb, we live out that peace with the authority that Christ’s Word gives us.  We are not only forgiven, but we are sent out to both speak words of forgiveness and to model them.  We hold no grudges, and simply allow God to work within the lives of the people we meet through the power of the Word he tells us to speak.

“I forgive you” is perhaps the easiest set of words to speak and the hardest to live out.  It is hard to live out because it involves complete faith that God will do what He says He will do.  He will bring peace.  Peace; first to we who speak the words of peace, and then peace to those who will hear and receive those words.

Thomas was restored to the fellowship of believers the same way the rest of them including Peter were restored, through the person and work of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Jesus spoke and gave peace to them and their little fellowship of faith began to grow.  It grew so large that they began to attract the attention of the government of Rome, which eventually became terrified that they might represent a new threat against Cesar.  They tried to destroy the church by killing the Christians, but instead of wiping out Christianity, their attacks only served to cause the church to grow much faster.  Why?  Because “great grace was upon them all.  The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” [Acts 4:32] With great power, the testimony of the apostles, which is the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, spread and brought forgiveness of sins and peace with God to many people.

That same peace and power of God, which comes through the same Word and means of grace of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are still proclaimed and given freely today.  It is the Word declared and the power of the Word lived out that will save this generation today, if we will simply trust God and live out this faith with an invitation to all we meet to simply come and see.  Come and believe that in our Bibles, “these (things) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  [John 20:31] AMEN!