Repentance and… Heaven!

April 19th, 2015

Easter 3B, April 19, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them”. [Acts 3:11]

What should we make of that sick man in our First Reading (Acts 3:11-21) who clung to Peter and John?  Sure he was grateful to have his health back, but to cling to them; to follow them every where; to say good bye to your entire life prior to that moment of healing and be willing to start over clinging to these two men, doesn’t that seem a little extreme, almost cultish?  Well sure, if it was in fact Peter and John this man was devoted to, but it wasn’t, was it?  No!

Peter addresses the large crowd that thought that way, and he corrects them by saying, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?”  Then he says, it wasn’t us, it was Jesus, who you killed, that healed this man; Jesus the Author of Life, and the Forgiver of sins!

The healed man knew this and he believed it; he received it all in the name of Jesus and the witness that John and Peter gave to him about that name.  Sure he was healed, but where the real miracle took place wasn’t in his body, or even in the Temple, but instead, it was in an existence so far from their physical reality that normal folks would never believe it.  What was that miracle and what was that existence.  The miracle was repentance, forgiveness of sins, and the existence was eternal resurrected life in heaven!

Last week we heard that the key to Christian fellowship, that is fellowship and harmony with each other is in that little word faith.  This week, we will build on that and discover that the key to fellowship with God is also faith, but then something else is added, REPENTANCE!

What is repentance?  Some will say that it simply means turning around, or turning away from something, and I would agree with that, but there is something much deeper than that, something which makes repentance a part of your eternal life.  You see, what is important is Who you are turning around to.  You notice I did not say what you are turning to or what you are turning away from.

To be sure, those things are within repentance, but it all starts with Who you are turning to.  The sick man knew Whom he was turning to; he was turning to Jesus the Author of Life who alone can take away the sins of the world.  The Lamb of God who not only dies for the sins of the world, but comes back to life to prove that He has defeated sin, death, and the devil for you, so that you too will be assured of the eternal resurrected life in glory just as Jesus lives it out now.

Like the sick man, you too have been healed, forgiven of your many sins and promised a new and eternal-resurrected life, where you too will never again know sickness nor disease, nor temptation to sin.  And all you must do is cling to Jesus!  Turn to Him and receive forgiveness.  When you turn to Him, you turn to the cross and the empty tomb, and all that He has accomplished is yours.  When you turn to Him, you are also turning away from your sin and the ways of the devil and this fallen world; that is, your trust is no longer in sinful things and sinful ways, because Jesus in His Word has taught you a better way.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”  Those first words of our epistle lesson (1 John 3:1-7) state a reality to all who have turned to and cling to Jesus Christ; you are children of God!  No ifs, ands, or buts about it, it’s a done deal.  People without faith can never understand this because without faith they see no need to turn away from their sinful lives and sinful choices.  So, this whole repentance thing sounds strange and impossible to them.  It is as if they want to ask us, “So let me get this straight, you want me to turn to an invisible man who you say is also God, and then you want me to ask to be forgiven for life choices and a life style that society and I see no problem with.  In fact, isn’t it true that it is only you Christians who find my choices offensive?  No thanks, you can keep your Jesus!”

Why do people without Jesus find you and your clinging to Him so offensive?  Because they don’t know Him!  But you do, don’t you?

Now I can see the wheels turning in your heads and almost hear your thoughts right now.  You may be thinking, “I hope I do; I sure hope so.  I want to believe and I want to know Him, but sometimes I truly just don’t know.”

Repent!  Turn to Jesus and cling to Him.

You are doing that right now.  Just as the sick man seemed to be clinging to Peter and John, so you right this moment are here in church, but your not clinging to this place nor the pastor, you are clinging to Jesus.  This church, and I your pastor are simply the instrument that Jesus uses to speak faith into your hearts so that you will continue to turn away from doubt and keep clinging to Him.

You see you need faith to keep clinging to Jesus, to keep repenting because while it is true that “we ARE children of God now, (it is also true that) what we will be has not yet appeared (that is to this world of flesh that lacks faith); but we know that when Christ appears (that is when He returns in glory) we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”

And now a fruit of faith that reveals the result of repentance… “everyone who thus hopes (in Jesus; who clings to Him and His Word of forgiveness) purifies himself as (Jesus) is pure.

You see, “everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”

What does it mean to purify yourself?  Don’t be deceived, you can’t just simply say, “I am baptized!” and then do what ever you wish.  You can’t cling to the world and Jesus at the same time.  Another way to say you are purifying yourself is to say that you are repenting; you have learned to agree with God that He and His Word are right and this sinful society is wrong.  To purify your self is to cling to Jesus, to be filled with His presence within His Word and Sacraments, which are the very means that not only give you faith, but also the strength to fight the sin that is in you.  You see, while it is a truth to declare that I am saved by faith in the name of Jesus, and in that name and person of Jesus I cling, it is also a truth to declare that sin still clings to you; it is within your very flesh.  So what are we to do?

Return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!  Return to the promises of Jesus, which were first given to you in your baptism; promises that declare that He will never leave you nor forsake you; promises, which declare that “He who began the good work in you will complete it!”   Claim these promises as your very own and everyday put to death the sin that clings to your flesh.  Fight the good fight of faith and do not loose hope, because…

“Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as (Jesus) is righteous.”  We practice righteousness when by faith, we not only see things as God sees them, but we also fight to do that good thing.  And when we fail, when we fall to sin the answer is the same as before…

Repent! See Jesus correctly and cling to Him alone.  In our gospel reading (Luke 24:36-49), we are once again in the upper room on Easter evening, with the disciples, who are afraid and amazed.  I can almost hear their discussion now: “It must be true, too many people we trust have independently reported the same thing to us.  Jesus is not dead, but He is risen, indeed!”

They must have been filled with faith to know that their hope and dreams had not come to a violent end like the ocean waves which crash upon the rocky shore.  So, why were they afraid when Jesus appeared in their midst?

They were afraid because sinful flesh always demands to interpret circumstances according to the understanding of this sinful world.  “Eek!  It’s a ghost!”  And to that Jesus says.. ‘Knock it off, dummies!’  No not really, you see Jesus is the Author of life, the giver of faith, so He speaks in a way that will turn them away from their fears, doubts, and failures, and then back to the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  And by the way, “Do you have any thing to eat?”

Do you understand what Jesus had done for them?  It is the same thing He does for you.  He comes to you in the middle of your sins, in the midst of your sinful thinking and He says, “Peace to you!  (I know your struggle and your fears.  Do not be afraid, because I am always with you, even until the end of time when I will come again to take you home).”  See I am with you; I who was crucified upon the cross for you.  By faith see my pierced hands and feet; see the gash in my side.

All these things my Word assures you of.  See I have washed you clean; recreated you into my image before my Father and your Father, and now come to my banquet table.  I myself have something for you to eat and drink.  Take and eat, this is my body.  Take and drink, this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Repent dear saints, even as this world sees you as no better than them.  Turn to Jesus and cling to Him.  Turn to the place that gives to you His Living Word and His very body and blood, and cling to the gifts that this place so freely gives to you.  It is His will that you believe.  And it is His work alone that opens your minds and hearts so that you will not only believe but continuously turn to Him and receive the promise of eternal life and glory, within the heaven that He has gone to prepare for you.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN and Amen!

The Key to Fellowship… FAITH!

April 12th, 2015

Easter 2B, April 12, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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

The audio clip that you just heard is a snippet of the song “Break It Down” by Chris Warren.  Wrestling fans know it as the Degeneration X theme song.  I chose it as the audio and mental hook to hang our message upon, because the words pretty well describe the response of most doubters and deniers of what they perceive to be the Christian faith.  Listen to the opening lines: “You think you (can) tell us what to do?  You think you (can) tell us what to wear?  You think that your better?”

Is that how we present our Christian faith; as a simply a set of rules that are expected to be followed in order to fit into His church?  Or do we believe and model something more; something much deeper?  In reality, that is what this younger generation is looking for.  Like Thomas in our Gospel reading (John 20:19–31), young 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 that as the very essence of what we preach, teach, and confess; but even more than that, it is something that we live out!

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 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 by that, 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, 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.”

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.”

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.  We must 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.”

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?  Fool, 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.”  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 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.”  AMEN!

Arise, Be Faith-filled!

April 5th, 2015

Easter Sunday B, April 5, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Why are you here?  I mean really, what was your reason for coming?  That’s a fair question, and it really doesn’t have a right or wrong answer. For those of you who are here faithfully every week, I know why you have come.  You’ve come to hear God’s Word and experience the forgiving love of your resurrected Lord.  That’s why you come every week.  But others may have come for other reasons; valid and important reasons.  Here are some of those reasons I’ve heard over the years: I’ve come to be with family;  It is our tradition to go to church on the important days like Christmas and Easter; or, I’m here because I was invited to come.

While I don’t know your personal reason for being here, I do know why God wants you here; He wants you here to hear His Word and to receive His gift of faith… He wants you to believe in the Easter miracle.  God wants you to know that “Christ is Risen!”  And once you know this truth, then He wants you to keep coming back to His house of worship often and be filled with faith; in other words, He wants you to be faith-filled!

This morning, Christians around the world gather together to hear about a miracle that has saved the world.  We gather to receive the gift of  Easter hope.  We gather together around the very same proclaimed Word of God and the same Sacraments that the ancient Christian church has received since the very first Easter celebration.  These are Christ’s gifts to His church and to you, gifts which bring you free and complete salvation centered entirely upon Christ’s death and resurrection.

As part of Christ’s church, each of us have one thing in common, we are sinners; sinners gathered around a new covenant; a new promise of forgiveness from God, as were Mary and the other women who got out of bed early to attend to their acts of devotion and care for the body of Jesus.  And after their early Easter blessing, the apostles and all of the other disciples who were there with Jesus that first Easter morning were blessed as well.  Each of them, as well as us today were confronted with the good news.  The good news of course is that Christ not only suffered and died to pay for the sins of the world, but He also rose from the dead!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, and so shall you!

Let’s look again at the hymn we just sang, “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain” (LSB 487).  This hymn is a wonderful example of how our powerful Christian faith has been nourished since that first Easter Sunday.  It’s a Faith that comes to us through God’s Word about the risen Christ.  Let’s hear this good news proclaimed again in the 4th verse: “For today among His own Christ appeared, bestowing His deep peace, which ever-more passes human knowing.  Neither could the gates of death nor the tombs dark portal, nor the watchers, nor the seal hold Him as a mortal.”

This is the message of Easter.  Christ our King, our brother and Savior came to us as our champion and through the cross and the empty tomb defeated sin, your sin.  But that’s not all, He also defeated death, and your greatest enemy of all, the devil.  He set you free from bondage just as He set the Hebrews free from their bondage of slavery in Egypt long ago.

Jesus’ death and resurrection has freed the entire world from sin and death.  Jesus death upon the cross and His resurrection gives hope to people, be they yellow, black, white, rich, poor, straight, gay, single, married, old, and young.  But in order for Jesus’ gift of eternal life to become your gift,  it must become personal; it must become your good news!  And God does this very thing through His Word and the waters of your baptism.

In your baptism, God draws you into the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic faith.  In your baptism, God allows you to glimpse by faith, the deliverance of your soul from bondage to sin and deliverance into a promised land of eternity where all of your sins are forgiven.  If you will simply agree with God that you have sinned against Him, and then turn to Him for forgiveness; if you will confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus alone is your Lord you will be saved from this bondage.

Through the miracle of God’s mighty Word attached to the water each of us by faith, can see our Old Testament lesson come alive in our own lives.  Through the triumphant victory won by Jesus our Lord we have been delivered from the oppression of our old masters, sin, death, and Satan.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our salvation is secure and our future is certain if we will just rest and trust in Jesus alone!

We heard in our Old Testament Reading (Isaiah 25:6-9), about our Easter reality; we heard about our promise land and the banquet that is waiting for us.  We heard how God on His part has defeated our mortal enemies sin, death, and the devil and all we must do is believe in this work and praise God for the great things He has done.

“It will be said on that great day (on the resurrection of all flesh), “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us.  This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”  Christ is risen!

Just as the Israelites long ago were rescued and still celebrate their deliverance from their bitter years of bondage in Egypt, so too, we the church have something to celebrate; we celebrate our release from the spiritual bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  So rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!

Together with all of God’s saints we proclaim our Easter faith as individuals and as part of a large whole, the church of Jesus Christ.  Listen to this truth as its proclaimed in the first and second verses of our sermon hymn: “Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness!  God has brought His Israel into joy from sadness.  Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters; led them with un-moistened foot through the Red Sea waters.  Tis the spring of souls today: Christ has burst His prison and from three days sleep in death as a sun has risen; All the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying from His light, to whom is given laud and praise undying.” [LSB 487:1-2]

This is the Easter hope, the very truth that God wants you to be filled with not just this Easter day, but every day for the rest of your lives.  He wants you to see that your salvation, your eternal life and happiness is all His work through the life and death of His Son Jesus Christ, and the power of His saving Word.

And yet when we leave this place, we’ll be tempted by a sinful society to see ourselves as more enlightened than those ancient people that made up the first church.  Our society will tell us that their science and technology is far superior to our antiquated Christian faith.  They will tell us that we are not in a position to judge anyone, but instead we must accept and empower all people and celebrate our great differences.

This morning, God wants you to see that there are only two differences that He cares about, and they are life and death!  There are only two kinds of people, forgiven and un-forgiven!  In our Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), St. Paul reminds us of the true gospel… salvation is entirely the work of God!  Listen to the truth of salvation, which comes by grace alone, faith alone, and is communicated only by scripture alone.  St. Paul says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”. [Vs. 3, 4]

How did Paul deliver this message?  Through the Word preached and taught, and the word applied within the waters of Holy Baptism and the Word served at the Lord’s Table, just as is still done today!  In your baptism, God separated you from the sin that will condemn the unbelieving world.  This morning He is telling each of us to continue living out that baptismal gift and turn away from that sin.  He is not asking you to judge others; that is His job and not ours.  Instead He is asking you to examine yourself; He’s warning each of us to quit boasting in the philosophy of enlightened minds and trust in His truth for us.

In your baptism you were made clean and sinless, so now he’s telling you to live that kind of life and quit embracing and celebrating sin; your own sin and other people’s sin.  He simply wants you to confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and then celebrate as one who is truly saved and loved by God!  This is the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth… Christ crucified and risen for you!

In our gospel lesson this morning, we encounter dear Mary and the other faithful women who were disciples, women who physically walked and talked with Jesus on a day to day basis.  They witnessed so many miracles performed by Jesus.  But even their “enlightened” status was not enough for them to see and believe in their risen Lord, in fact they were terrified of the angelic messenger who proclaimed “He has risen!”  You see, their own sinful natures prevented them from seeing that Jesus had in fact risen from the tomb.

It was only later, when their risen Lord spoke to them and called them by name that their doubts and fears would be replaced with faith and joy!

Remember this hymn from your youth?  “I am Jesus little lamb, ever glad at heart I am.  For my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my need and well provides me.  Loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name.” (LSB 740)  Later dear Mary’s faith would be rekindled when she heard the voice of her Lord.  She became faith-filled and excited about the resurrection of Jesus.  Mary was made alive again by the Word of her Savior God.

You too were made alive in your baptism.  It was there in those waters that Jesus called your name.  You are being made alive also this morning, because your resurrected Lord is still calling you by name; He’s calling you out from a society enlightened by sin and He is asking you to once again take your Christian faith seriously.  He calls you out of a faithless existence and He calls you back into His grace; His forgiving love.  And as His children called by faith, we gather together as one body and partake of the Easter feast of victory in His Holy Supper.

Just as it takes many individual kernels of wheat to be crushed into flour to make one loaf of bread, so we too this morning gather as one loaf in our proclamation of faith and our need of forgiveness.  We need to receive Christ body for the forgiveness of our sins.  And in this eating of His body, He gives us faith to see that He is mysteriously and really present in the bread.  And just as it took many grapes to lose their individual importance and become one drink of wine, so too are we all gathered this morning to receive the precious blood of our Lord and Savior in, with, and under the wine.

“Here (is) our true Paschal Lamb we see, whom God so freely gave us.  He died on the accursed tree—so strong His love—to save us.  See, His blood now marks our door; faith points to it; death passes o’er and Satan cannot harm us.  Alleluia!  Then let us feast this Easter day on Christ, the bread of heaven.  The Word of grace has purged away the old and evil leaven.  Christ alone our souls will feed; He is our meat and drink indeed.  Faith lives upon no other!  Alleluia!” [LSB 458 vs. 3, 5]

We all know, truthfully how small and insignificant we are without Jesus; without the Easter truth. We know how faithless we can be without God’s work in our lives.

For those of us who are still being moved to walk with and trust in Jesus real presence in our lives, we can truly say that we find our strength and our meaning in Him and His Word.  It’s His Word that’s our shield and our strength.  It’s His Word that gives our lives purpose and meaning.  As we live our lives here among people who we love but who are dying without faith in Jesus, we can only wait and trust that God will do the same work within them that He is doing within us.  And as we wait, we remember that we are the Lord’s little lambs and His servants.

We hear Him call out to us and we follow.  He faithfully leads us and feeds us with His Word as we repeat only what He speaks to us.  We hear His voice and we trust in none other.  And that voice faithfully gathers us to this place so that we can come to be faith-filled.  Thanks be to God!  Christ is risen, He is risen indeed… Alleluia!!

High and Lifted Up

March 15th, 2015

Lent 4 B, March 15, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church,
San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Numbers 21:4–9

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The song that you just heard played by the 70’s Rock group Fleetwood Mac, is titled “Go Your Own Way” and it will be the mental and audio hook that we can hang this message on.  And it’s fairly appropriate for our message today, because after all, isn’t that the very thing that brings trouble and problems into our lives; when we leave God’s way and insist on doing things our way?

When I grew up in the small town of Pewaukee, Wisconsin we had a single “A” baseball team that competed in the Land O Lakes league.  We followed that team as closely as we did the Milwaukee Braves and latter the Brewers.  I remember that in times when our star pitcher was in a slump and was consistently allowing too many hits, it was said he was “snake-bitten.”  When the team lost too many games in a matter of a few weeks, they too were said to be snake-bitten.  What we meant by that was it was as if a bad luck snake had jumped up and bit them, thus causing a winning pitcher or a winning team to become losers, and smash all of our hopes and dreams for that season.  But it was during this snake bitten portion of the season, that we discovered who the real fans were.  While others complained and checked out, we the faithful attended every game and never gave up hope.  Even when the season ended in the bitterness of defeat, we reminded each other that there was always next year!

I’ll bet that if you could have been there with the Israelites as they wandered the last 40 years in the desert, on a trip that should have lasted only 40 days, if you were to ask them what happened; they would have told you that they too were snake-bitten!  They would have told you that although, in the past, when it appeared that their luck ran out, each time they were able to persevere.  But now, it was certain that not only did Moses let them down, so did God!

It was God and Moses who led their grandparents out of Egypt with the promise that they were going to the “Promise Land” that was waiting for them somewhere in the area of Palestine.  I can hear it now, “So here we are;  where’s that Promise Land, huh?!  Our lucks run out; we have been snake-bitten; led into this desert simply to die!  The only thing that’s been sustaining us all these years is our hope and this worthless, tasteless food; this manna that Moses has been forcing us to eat!  But now here we are, taking another long detour away from what we were told is our Promise Land.  God has abandoned us, and only Moses and a few of his worthless brainwashed lackeys still believe we’ll get there!”

Israel had fallen into the same trap that many of us fall into even today; they developed a grumbling spirit.

In the middle of their disappointment with God, because He didn’t make things go the way that they wanted or expected, they became impatient with Him and began to judge both His love for them and His sincerity.  In other words, they were throwing a pity party, and the featured entertainment at the party was a collective fit!  And from God’s perspective, fit throwing is really rebellion, and we all know that God does not deal with rebellion kindly!

Scripture is loaded with examples that prove that God will not tolerate rebellion within the ranks of his saints.  One thing is certain, when you rebel against God, He will act.  Sometimes He acts right away and sometimes He waits for just the right moment, but when He does act you know exactly what is going on.  And now in our Old Testament lesson, we see God acting.  He sends a bunch of snakes into the camp of the Israelites as a way of punishing their grumbling spirit and their open rebellion.  And what do you know… the Israelites really have been “Snake-bitten!”

By sending those snakes into their camp, God did a few things to bring those disobedient people back to a right relationship of faith in their God.  First, He showed His justified anger against a group of thankless sinners, who like their grandparents, underestimated and even rejected His means of grace that had sustained them all those 40 years.  Next, He wanted to show them that once again, it was their own rebellious action that caused them to turn a 40 day trip into a 40 year trip.  And finally, God delivered those poisonous snakes into their camp as a way of showing to them, both their sin and the consequence of that sin; the sin of rebelling against Him and rejecting His means of grace; His Word of promise that had sustained them all of these years.

So what does all of this have to do with us today?  Some of you, who are already dealing with the consequence of sin in your life already know where this is going; its going right back to us!

We can all learn from the mistakes of our forefathers.  Now some might declare that these were Jews and not our forefathers.  Oh, but once again God disagrees; you see we are all part of the same race.

Did you read in the news about the mixed race couple who had twins? One child was white in appearance, with red hair even, and the other was obviously black.  They are twins mind you; they have the same parents.  So what are we to make of this?  Well simply the fact that there is really, in God’s eyes only one race… the fallen, human, sinful race.  We are all exactly the same in God’s eyes; we are sinful and unclean.  We all need the same saving God!

Like the Israelites before us, we too want to take the matters of our lives into our own hands.  We too want to decide when enough is enough and boldly declare by our actions that God can’t be trusted.  We too allow God’s Word and our trust in His Word to become of less and less importance in our lives.  We too neglect our times of prayer and intimate talks with God, until they eventually become almost non-existent.  We too, neglect His means of grace, His preached Word and His Holy Supper, until like the Israelites of old, we see them as useless and tasteless food.  And so what happens?  We wander off and go our own way.  We go out looking for something better and more meaningful, and we reject God’s own means of grace as being old, worn out relics of a church that no longer meet our needs.

So now you see how each of us have entered into this old story.  Just like the Israelites, we too become tired of waiting on God and trusting in His promises of eternal life and glory in paradise; like the Israelites we want the promised land and the glory right now!

Now let’s go back to those snakes; we heard that God sent them as a tool in order to bring His children back to a right relationship centered in faith; faith in the promise of His Word.  His ultimate goal was to drive His children into a condition of repentance and save them.  God did not want to condemn them; He wanted to SAVE THEM!

Even today, God still uses adversity and tough times to turn our sinful hearts back to Him.  You know the old saying, “There are no atheists in the foxholes of war.”

I remember after the September 11th attack of 2001, how full our churches were.  This lasted for a couple of months, and then slowly but surely, attendance began to drop.  And after the one year anniversary, regular attendance had fallen back to and even below what it was before that fateful day.

But we are the same; we too seem to be drawn to church when times are the toughest in our lives, never realizing that they were tough because we had drifted away from God and His means of saving us.  God’s solution then for the rebellious Israelites, is still the solution for us who are by nature sinful and rebellious.

Those who looked upon the bronze snake then, not as a representation of God but as a symbol of His promise and protection were saved!  Those who were in the very throughs of death and judgment were instead given life and pardon for their sins.  It was their faith in God that saved them; faith grown from the regular use of His Word, which assured them that God was still with them, guiding them, protecting them, and loving them.

God is always the same; there’s no shadow of change in Him.  Out of the same love and forgiveness He showed to the Israelites then, He speaks to us today.  Out of that same love, God has provided a solution for us and our own sinful rebellion as well.  God sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ into this sinful world of snake-bitten people, people dying of the devils venom of fiery disobedience to be high and lifted up on a different kind of pole.

In today’s gospel lesson (John 3:14-21) we hear Jesus own Words to Nicodemus describe why He has come to us as one of us, listen: “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.” [Vs. 14, 15]

Jesus was lifted up upon the cross of death to suffer the punishment, the condemnation, the eternal death that each of us should have received on account of our own rebellion.  We, who have been snake-bitten by that ancient serpent, the devil, and continue to be snake-bitten and bite others with our own sinfulness are now saved if we will but look!

It was the simple act of the snake-bitten people looking upon the bronze serpent on a pole that saved them; it brought life to a bunch of dying rebels who were healed and saved.  They would make it all the way into the Promised Land, where they would be safe.  They turned from their own sinful ways and followed God’s way.

In the same way but in an eternal, spiritual way, the simple act of looking up at Jesus high and lifted up, upon the cross of death for our sins, we too who are dying from sin are healed and live.  In Christ Jesus, through faith in His promise to forgive us of all of our sins, we are saved by His death, and given the promise of eternal life in a resurrected body, as we arrive home in our own Promised Land… Paradise.

The grumbling, disobedient Israelites repented of their sins; they repented of a spirit that wants to go its own way and they received forgiveness and life.  And we as well this morning have been led by God’s Word to recognize our own sin; our own sinful desire to go our own way.  Now led by God’s Spirit, we too repent and return to our baptismal condition where every day we are led to put to death our disobedience and live in our new forgiven nature of faith.

Now I know that the miraculous work of God both in the bronze serpent being lifted up in the desert long ago and Jesus being lifted up on His blessed cross just doesn’t make sense to some of our neighbors and friends.  But isn’t that the point that is being made here?  You see, without faith nothing written in scripture or declared from this pulpit makes a lick of sense, because it is all dependent upon God and not sinful men.

Jesus forgives your sins and gives you eternal life completely by grace through faith in God’s faithfulness to do what He says He will do.  That is the summation of our Christian walk.  So look to the cross dear saints and see Jesus high and lifted up.  Lifted up first upon the cross and then carried to the tomb.  And then see that tomb just three days latter empty and see that Jesus lives again.  And then by faith, come to this place often to be spiritually fed by God’s means of grace so that you will always see Jesus high and lifted up, ascended and reigning with the Father in glory.  Where He is now, their you shall also one day join Him on the day of the resurrection in all of His glory in paradise.  AMEN!

Debt Paid in Full!

March 8th, 2015

Lent 3 B, March 8, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church,
San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

1 Corinthians 1:18–31

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This morning in our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 1:18-31), St. Paul declares the cross of Jesus Christ to be both foolishness for people who are dying in their sins, and the power and salvation of God for those of us who are being saved by that cross.

Now the cross in and of itself is simply two pieces of wood fastened and bound together, or in a darker sense it is simply a means of execution for a criminal, much like our electric chairs.  But for you dear Christian it is both the instrument and the pulpit where God not only reconciled sinful men and women to Himself, but from that platform, high and lifted up He declared it so clearly so that all sinners would understand:  “It is finished!”  The debt of sin has been paid in full.

This morning, we will look at both the work and word of the cross from two different perspectives; the perspective of sinful men and women who will not be saved, and the perspective of sinners who have received God’s pardon and gift of new life.  And we will also look at three different areas where these differences play out, and how ultimately God works to move your entire being to praise Him and boast to others about His unfailing power and glory.

First, let’s talk about True Power, not as the world sees it but Christ the power of God. What is power?  What I mean to ask is what does the average person think of as true power?

In a world of conflict and war, a nuclear weapon is true power; not simply if it is used, but even the threat of its use is powerful.  In the world of politics, a secret is true power; it can garner you position, influence, and wealth.  In our community today, we could say that education, image, and reputation are powerful.   They can help you with employment and advancement.  But what happens when a nation doesn’t have a nuclear weapon, and know’s it never will?  What happens when a politician either can’t obtain or chooses not to traffic in the currency of secrets?  And what of those in our community who have no education or reputation?

Where do you suppose those who are powerful would advise these people to turn to?

Those in power always ask the weak and less fortunate to turn to them for both care and protection.  In fact, not only will they advise it, but through their perceived power, they may even insist on it.  In their estimation, those of us who they see as weak and downtrodden have no other choice than throwing in with them.  And when we refuse to put our trust in them and instead declare that we will trust in the Lord our God alone, they will always scoff at our choice and ask us to show how our God’s power is greater than theirs.  They laugh at Christ’s cross and death, and they will point out that their lives are much better than ours.  “But to those of us being saved (by the cross of Jesus Christ), it is the power of God (a power that brings us forgiveness of sins and eternal life).

We who have been saved by the power of God’s grace, which comes to us through the the Son of God, Jesus Christ and His cross, are those who can read our Old Testament lesson (Exodus 20:1-17), without fear.  Instead of hearing the voice of an angry God demanding perfection, we hear the voice of a loving God who says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out…”  We can think back on the mess we have made of our lives in the past and even cringe at the possible messes we’ll make in the future, and because of the cross of Jesus Christ we remember that our God is a God who not only brings us out of our sins, but He sustains us in the midst of a sinful world and daily transforms us into His righteousness all because of the cross of Christ and the power that has been poured out upon us as we walk with and trust in that power alone.

While it’s true that those who trust in the power of the world will never understand the power of God and His cross, it does not mean that God does not desire that they should be saved; rather God is relentless and will not cease to confront them in their sinfulness so that the power of the cross can transform them as well.  And how does the power of the cross come to those who are powerful?  The Same way it comes to those who are wise.  Through the preaching of the Word of God, which is the message of the cross.

True Wisdom does not come as the world desires it, but through Christ the wisdom of God. “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  For God has declared, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Now the wise people of our day would counter, “Where was that done?  How has God silenced us?  And the answer is, “He is doing it right now in the preaching of this message about the cross of Jesus Christ!”

Those who will not receive the message of the cross, or those who will change the message of the cross so that it is not offensive to themselves and others, only manage to do one thing, they rob the cross of it’s power to save sinners.  A cross with out the suffering and payment for sin for the entire world is no cross at all.  It becomes merely a symbol.  That kind of cross does not address the purpose of the cross, which is to pay for the sins of the world.

Only a cross that pays for all of the sins of the world; only a cross that brings all of mankind back to a right relationship with its Creator God is the true cross.  The world will not accept this cross; they will not accept the message of this true cross because it is both foolishness and an offense to them.  It is foolishness because it excludes the fantasies of an educated mind, which insist that mankind is able on it’s own to bring order to a world of chaos.  It is offensive because this kind of cross, this kind of message insists that all men must bow before this suffering Servant Savior, who died as a criminal, and then they must confess their sins to Him, and further they must confess Him to be their Savior and God.”

“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”  Throughout the history of the world, sinful mankind has failed completely to obtain the one great thing it needs to be saved: They have failed to know God.

The world has never been able to get a hold of this real knowledge of God, because they will not know Him as He presents Himself. When he speaks to the world in the gospel even today, they laugh; they do not think that it is God speaking to them. Like the Jews in the temple who Jesus drove out because of their sinfulness (John 2:13–22), they talk and boast about their god, but their actions and life styles prove they have never really known the One True God.

Why don’t they know God?  Because they lack faith, and without faith the message of the cross is not only lost but rejected.  Only by faith, which comes through the proclaimed Word of God can a sinner see a need for the cross and receive the Savior God who died upon it for him.  God’s wisdom is just to simple and easy for great minds.  The world’s wisdom always goes off into its own proud, self-sufficient, self-glorifying paths, and when it does, it blinds itself to God’s wisdom which is all around them.

The astronomer gazes at the miracle of the stars for years and then tells us with great certainty that he has found no God. The natural scientist announces that the apes are his ancestors and declares that all life has evolved from a tiny cell that came from pond scum. New Agers proclaim: “God is all, and all is God.” So the collective “know it all’s” of this world along with the powerful elite proclaim that their message is one that will truly bring world peace and replace the antiquated wisdom of God.  And then they sigh and say, “If only the ignorant Christians would give up their superstitious belief in the cross and their Lord, then everything would be better in this world.”

Sadly this wisdom of man has already begun to effect the church. When the wisdom of scientific revelation is received within the ranks of believers even though it is in complete disagreement with scripture, these “new breed” Christians are quick to concede that scripture must be wrong.  This thought is then quickly endorsed by their learned so called theologians who agree that in this case or that case, worldly wisdom must trump Divine wisdom.  But what they fail to understand is that when the authority of God’s Word, even a portion of it is replace with the wisdom of men, the power of the cross is lost along with the salvation that it brings.

Since the world has continually and foolishly rejected God in favor of it’s own wisdom, God chose to use the “foolishness” and silliness of preaching the Word of God and the cross, to save sinful men and women.  He chose to call sinners unto salvation through a Word, a Word that would declare the cross as the only means of making them saints.

The foolishness of God declares that we who receive the message of the cross are both Sinner and Saint at the same time.  This will only make sense for us when we learn to stop looking at our selves and instead see Christ working within us.

Through Jesus Christ and His cross, God demonstrates His presence in this fallen world with both power and inconceivable wisdom.  Jesus alone served as God’s perfect prophet, the Living Word of God, which He uses to bring His message of love to his people. He demonstrated this message of ultimate love through the human form and flesh of Jesus Christ. Jesus is both the message and the Prophet. For God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19) by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20). He demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

This message is a message of foolishness and weakness from the standpoint of fallen human creatures. God chose what is foolish and weak in the world’s eyes to shame the wise and the strong (1 Cor. 1:18–30). The crucifixion of the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8) reveals both the ultimate love of God and the foolishness and impotence of this world’s attempts at mastery.

Sinners tried to put Christ away on a cross, sealed away in a tomb, but he came back, not with vengeance to punish, but with love to save; to end their existence as sinners. He came back to give them new life (Rom. 6:3–11).  Even now within this message, Christ repeats who God is to us within his own person, he pronounces the end of all fallen human endeavors to secure life on our own terms. In this message of the cross and God’s love for us he shatters every hope we have apart from him.

God chose what is foolish and weak so that by faith, you would receive Divine wisdom.  God chose what is weak; God chose you. God called you out of a world of darkness and sin and by His work alone, He declares you a saint.

God chose what is foolish and commonplace and combined it with the power of His Word and washed you clean.  In your baptism, you were not simply cleansed you were recreated.  In the waters of your baptism, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being may boast in the presence of God.”

At birth you were not a saint; you were an ain’t; a good for nothing rag-a-muffin.  But on the day of your baptism, God took a lowly base sinner, He took you, and through the washing of the water and the Word, He attached the fruit of the cross, He inserted into you the very righteousness of His Son, your Savior Jesus Christ.  And now you are saved!

In God’s “self-disclosure” through Jesus Christ, life springs out of death. Christ’s power reveals itself in our weakness; it brings new life. His wisdom comes through the ultimate foolishness of the cross. His love is exhibited within the wrath of a Father because of sin, forsaking his Son on the cross (Mark 15:34). His presence moves into our lives through that ultimate forsakenness. His justice and righteousness triumph in the moment of ultimate injustice. The Author of Life dies (Acts 3:15). Precisely at the most fragile and frail point of his humanity Christ reveals the ultimate expression of who God is and how He acts toward us.

This is the God who has paid your debt in full.  Do not let the wisdom of the world undo for you what God declares is finished through Jesus Christ and His cross.  Repent!  Turn to the cross and be saved… AMEN!

Justified and Faith-filled

March 1st, 2015

Lent 2 B, March 1, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church,
San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Romans 5:1-11

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In our Old Testament lesson, Abraham is told by God to walk before Him “and be blameless, (so) that (God) may make (His) covenant between He, Abraham, and we this morning who make up the multitude of nations that have come from Abraham. [Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16]  How are we to feel about this seemingly impossible task of being blameless?  How was Abraham able to walk before God and be blameless?  Can we do that?  How is one even suppose to initiate that process?  This morning our message will answer those very questions through the teaching of our Epistle lesson (Romans 5:1-11).

Well right off the bat, let me tell you what this message should do for you this morning; you should leave here with hope and joy, and the reason is because this message declares that you have been made right with God, that is you have been justified and, you are filled with faith.  How?  Because God says so, and what God declares, simply is our reality.  You have been declared righteous.  That is how Abraham was able to walk before God and it is how you do the very same thing today.  But what is of interest to us this morning is how, or why you have been declared righteous.

You have been declared righteous by faith, and through faith in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, you have, not “will have” but you have, peace with God right now!  Isn’t that what we all want deep down inside, peace?  We desire first, peace within ourselves, peace with each other, and then peace throughout the world.  Wait, what about peace with God?  And there is the rub; the very source of peace is excluded from our wrong desires of peace.  And what happens without peace with God?  We see everything fall apart.

I’m reminded of that old Three Stooges routine that spoofs World War II.  “The unruly crowds are outside of the government building chanting, “Peace, peace, we want peace.”  And then the evil Axis leaders chime in, “Yes, a piece of this and a piece of that!”  Isn’t that the real reason we don’t experience peace today?  Whether it is within our hearts, our homes, our church, our community, our nation, or throughout the world, everyone has their own self-serving idea about peace.

What is peace?  Well if you were to ask the people of the Middle East or many parts of Africa that question, they would tell you that peace is the absence of war or conflict.  To those in conflict, peace is a very emotional, or subjective term.  But once again, that leaves us with a problem, because that idea of peace excludes the Creator and is instead, focused on the creation.  But God wants us to remember what we stated in the beginning of this message; true peace can only come from God and His declaration of our new identity, which becomes our reality.

Every Sunday, we close God’s Divine Service with what is called the Aaronic benediction.  God instituted that blessing to give His children peace.  Listen: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” [Numbers 6:24-26]  Now did you hear anything about what you need to do?  All of our blessings are simply a result of God’s actions of being gracious and having favor towards us!

Here is God’s simple truth for each of us this morning, “Through His Son Jesus Christ, He has imposed His saving covenant promise upon you who are redeemed and baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In that name is included the name of Jesus Christ, the name above all names who alone, by His cross makes you right with God.  In that name is given to you what only God can give… peace and righteousness.  Another way to say that is, we have peace with God because God made us right with Him through His Son Jesus Christ.”

So peace is a relationship that we have with God, and that relationship can only come from God and according to His means.  Even Abraham was not made right with God because of any goodness that came from within Him, but instead it came through his trusting in God’s faithfulness to send a Messiah through Abraham’s bloodline.

Through Jesus Christ, we have obtained and retain access to God’s kind and loving heart by faith.  Do not underestimate this little word access.  To have access with God should be understood within the context of a common servant having complete access to a king, as a close friend yet still a servant.  What this means is you have nothing whatsoever to fear of the King of all creation!  The reason again is because of grace, which you have heard me teach before means “God’s riches at Christ’s expense!”  Through Christ you have the undeserved kindness and favor of the Creator of the universe.

Since this is who you are now through Jesus Christ, I would say you have something to celebrate; you have something to rejoice over.  Another way to say this is, you have something to boast about!

So let’s boast… let’s rejoice!  “We rejoice (or we boast) in hope of the glory of God.”  What else could we boast about?  Our righteous living?  Our great faith?  Our wonderful stewardship or care of our families and church?

Here is a truth worth remembering.  Any boasting or rejoicing outside of God’s glory is always self-serving and sinful; it is a violation of the First Commandment.  So our hope, our rejoicing and boasting is always based in the glory of God and who we are because of Jesus Christ.

But why rejoice or boast over God’s glory in our lives?  So that others will know!  But know what?  Well actually it is to know the Who and then the what.  We boast, that is we testify to God, and then His goodness that has unconditionally been given to us through Jesus Christ, so that others may know that they too can have this same faith that has been given to us.

Faith is certainly the substance of things hope for but not seen, but it is also completely foreign to us; it must be given to us.  Why?  So that the promise of God will be certain to us.  The promise says we shall not only receive righteousness but actually hold onto it forever.  St. Paul says that faith not only gets us into God’s grace but it also maintains that condition until the day we actually join Jesus Christ in paradise sharing the glory of God.  In other words, faith alone is both the beginning of our peace with God, the middle, and the end of everything. (FC SD KV 34)

At this point of our message, even seasoned and mature Christian’s maybe wondering, “Since I have so much favor with God, then why is my life so miserable.  Why do I seem to simply be moving from one period of suffering to another?  And the answer is…

We all have our cross to bear.  In our gospel lesson (Mark 8:27), Jesus asked the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”  And to that, Peter speaking for them all answered Him, “You are the Christ.”  Peter speaks for us today as well, so what Jesus says next is important, it is crucial for understanding the times of suffering in our lives.  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

St. Paul puts it this way in verses three and four of our Epistle reading: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”  Another way to explain the sufferings in life is to look at them as pressure that tempts you to take your eyes off of God’s glory and the peace you have as you rejoice in that glory.  But instead of choosing to focus on the temporary suffering that you are going through, you choose to receive it and pass through it as another opportunity to praise God, Who was with you through it all.

Did you know that no where in scripture does God say that our suffering is good; scripture simply acknowledges that it is a present reality of this sinful world.  So in our message today, please do not misunderstand St. Paul and think that he is saying that your suffering is something to look for or chase after, as if it gives you bragging rights.  But instead, St. Paul is saying that the basis of boasting or being joyful is that even in the midst of your suffering God and His glory will not abandon you.

Your hope dear saints is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.  All other ground is simply sinking sand.  Your hope allows you to continue boasting and being joyful in the middle of those hard times.  Why is that?  Because hope looks ahead to the ultimate enjoyment of God’s glory.  We are able to stand up under those sufferings because we know that within it we are being given the gift of patient endurance.

A way to look at patient endurance is to see yourself standing in the intersection of where several rapidly moving streams meet; streams that are pushing in different directions trying to knock you down, but you have found your solid ground, which is Jesus Christ, and you are able to stand firm until the flow dies down and you may be safely moved to the shore line.  So a way to sum this idea up is to say, “While God sustains our faith, tribulations and suffering produce endurance.”

Another way to speak of endurance is to speak about testings.  When we pass through the troubles of life still faithful, we have been proven, or tested to be genuine, and afterward our tested character produces what we started out with, hope!  Hope in what?  Jesus Christ and His righteousness.

If we begin with hope and we end with hope, then it only makes sense that God must give us something to hold onto; something that was done for us that is completely outside of us, which gives us hope.  And that something is…

Holy Baptism.  Within our baptism, St. Paul points out in verse 5 that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Why are we hopeful?  Because God’s love has been poured into and remains within our hearts.  This is a kind of love that only God can give and it is the kind of love we can only give back after He gives it.  This love has been poured out upon you and it remains within you as long as you cling to Christ alone and live out this hope of sure and certain salvation that was given to you on that day when you were saved by the washing of the water  and the Word.  (Life Preserver and Anchor)

Within your baptism, God has given you the greatest gift you could ever receive… He has given you the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Together with the Holy Spirit, you receive the uncountable and incomparable blessings of God’s love poured out upon your dry and dead heart, and now it is alive and full of the vitality and new life of God.

So now that you are justified and faith-filled, you go out into this broken world hopeful and joyful.  You have been entrusted with a message of hope and promise.  And that message is something to boast about and not keep to yourself, because it is a message of forgiveness and new life.  And the message goes like this: “While we were weak and unable to help ourselves, at just the right moment, Christ died on behalf of all sinners; on behalf of the world.  “Since, therefore, we have now been justified (made right with God) by his blood (the blood of Jesus), (so) much more shall we be saved by him from the (anger) of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (or received through Christ a loving and gentle God).  May God empower you to both boast and live out this message of hope and reconciliation, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Test, Testimony, and Faith

February 22nd, 2015

Lent 1 B, February 22, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson-
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Genesis 22:1-8

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In our Old Testament lesson, we discover exactly why Abraham is the father of all who have ever been given and struggled to hold onto faith in the God of grace and mercy, and His beloved Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Or as we sang in the Children’s message, “Father Abraham has many sons.  I am one of them, and so are you” by and through that same faith that propelled and sustained Father Abraham.

Our message this morning will address the things that test our trust in God, the testimony that our test supplies after the test over, and the faith that grows throughout the process.

Can we all agree from the out set that tests of our trust in God are seldom enjoyable? I know that if Abraham could speak to us this morning, he would tell you that at the time, his test seemed like a living hell; that is the love and mercy of God seemed completely absent within the command of God.

What we must remember is that Abraham had recently went through and passed a test that almost broke his trust in God. What was that test?  God asked Abraham to send away his first-born son Ishamel, who was born through his wife’s servant Hagar.  He had to send the mother and son away because they were not part of God’s plan, or if you will, they were a product of no faith in God.  God had already promised both Abraham and Sarah that the coming Savior of the world would come through Sarah’s son and no other.  But Sarah, through a fearful spirit that lacked trust in God convinced her husband Abraham to lie down with and conceive a child with Hagar; this was a relationship that lacked trust in God and sought to bring a solution, a savior by the will of man and not in accordance to the will of God.

Sending Ishmael away had been difficult for Abraham, but now God is asking him to do what seems impossible; he must sacrifice the son of the promise. In this testing of Abraham’s faith, God was not out to discover the truth; He knew in advance that Abraham feared and loved God, but rather the test was for Abraham’s spiritual benefit. Abraham’s love for Isaac, as right and good as it was, had the potential in time, to crowd out or surpass his love for God. Jesus once said that, “Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

In God’s view, Abraham needed an opportunity to consciously put God first, above all things, even above his dear son Isaac. With this test God brought Abraham’s training in faith to a climax. The particular sacrifice God asked Abraham to bring is called a burnt offering, a blood sacrifice that in the Old Testament symbolized a person’s complete dedication to God.

What we must remember is that Abraham did not know that this was just a test of his love and trust in God’s promise until later. God did not say: “Abraham, don’t worry; this is only a test.” But God did tell Abraham that Isaac was to be the bearer of the messianic promise, and now he told him to kill that son. God’s words had been very clear: “My covenant I will establish with Isaac” (17:21). To Abraham it must have seemed that God’s command was now destroying God’s promise.

What test of your faith have you gone through or maybe are going through today? Maybe you too are struggling with establishing boundaries in your relationships, which ensure that God is not replaced by our love for others, not even with a spouse or children.  Have you failed to say no when you should have, in order to protect your relationship with God?  Or maybe you have turned a blind eye to inappropriate behavior of a loved one, so that you could continue to have them present in your life?  Or maybe your fear is centered in death?  Are you afraid of your death or the death of a loved one more than your fear and trust in God?

Can you imagine what went through Abraham’s mind all that night as he prepared to make the trip to the mountain of the Lord?  (Talk about your sleepless nights.)  And then the next morning, Abrham had to make a day long trip to the mountain.  Time can be the greatest asset of the devil as he continually attempts to whittle away at our trust in God’s Word.  He is an expert at it.  He used that tactic against Adam and Eve when he asked, “Did God really say if you eat the fruit of the tree you will die?  You will not die, but you will be and know as God knows.” In other words, God is holding out on you!

Let me put this test into a scenario that you might understand a little more clearly.  Suppose that there is a specific sin that you have been struggling with, and each time you have fallen to this sin you have repented and received the absolution and the resolve to master it once and for all, only to fall to it again.  You know that you have been baptized and salvation has been given to you; you have the promise of God through Christ that He will never forsake you or send you away.  But the devil and your own guilty conscience keeps throwing both your sin and your struggle in your face with these words: “You and your faith are a joke.  If you were a real Christian you wouldn’t keep falling into this sin.  Yes you are baptized.  Yes you say that you have faith in Christ, but maybe this time you have fallen into sin one too many times.  Maybe God no longer desires to save you?”  When these attacks and thoughts assail you dear Christian, you must turn to the same source that Abraham turned to, the promises of God.

When Abraham reached the mountain of the Lord, He ordered the servants to stay while he and Isaac went on ahead. What Abraham told his servants are words that are important for both His trust in God and ours.  Listen: “I and the boy will worship. Abraham was obediently following the will of God and he rightly describes that act of obedience as worship. In essence he was saying: “Lord, you have my heart.”  But it is what he says next that demonstrates God’s mighty presence in his life; he says, “And then we (that is I and the boy) will come back to you.” In this statement, we see that Abraham had resolved and answered an awful question that had been torturing him: “How can a merciful God cut off the messianic line?” Abraham’s faith answered, “He won’t!  If God commands me to kill Isaac and I obey him, then God is simply going to have to bring Isaac’s ashes back to life, and the two of us are going to come back down this mountain.  Amen!”

“Father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice? That was Isaac’s question, and it should be the question of every sinner who is caught within the terror of their sins.  And the answer of faith that Abraham gave is the very same answer we sinners are given today.  “God Himself will provide the lamb.”

The Testimony. “Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham!  Abraham!”  “Here I am,” he replied.  “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” He said.  “Do not do anything to him.  Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son.”  Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.  He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place Jehovah Jirah, The Lord Will Provide.”  And so it is true for all of us today who trust in the Lord’s promise to save us from our sins.

Here is Abraham’s testimony to us this morning.  He was called to obey God’s command; he was asked to disregard everything his heart and reason told him was good and right, and he was told to concentrate completely on God’s promise: “My covenant I will establish with Isaac.”  The author of the epistle to the Hebrews says it this way: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17–19)

This morning God is asking you to go against your reason and put to death your fears and your worries that can interfere with His promise to you that through His work within your baptism, you have been saved.  He wants you to see that the Lord does provide even now.  Hear him call your name dear Christian, as He says, “Do not think that you have sinned beyond my ability to save.  I see your struggle and fears and I know that you fear me, because you do not hide your sin from me, even that powerful sin that you fight so intensely.”

And now dear saint, look up from within your grief and shame and see the substitute who will atone for your great sin.  See Him trapped within the thicket of your sins, dying upon a cross, and atoning for the sins of the world; even your sins.  See Him dying alone on the mountain of the Lord, on Calvary and know that God does still provide; He provides His one and only Son Jesus Christ.  He does that one thing that only He can do.  He gives and He dies.

Isaac was never to die as atonement for sin, and it is God’s will that none of us will die for ours either.  God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should repent, that is turn to Jesus Christ and be saved.  Repent then.  Turn to the final sacrifice and trust in the promises of God; refresh your spirit again.  How, by…

Faith, (which) is a gift of God that is tested and witnessed to by those God calls and equips to testify of His forgiving love for sinners. Father Abraham indeed has many sons.  We are all sons of the promise of forgiveness of sins, which is fulfilled through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  You can believe in this promise, because the Lord has sworn to Himself, the highest source of verity, that through the example of faith that Abraham displayed, faith that is always the work and gift of God,  not just Abraham, but all who repent, will be blessed with this same gift of faith; faith in the substitute of God that atones for the sins of the world.

Therefore we sinners should hold fast to this comfort, that what God has once declared, this He does not change. You were baptized, and in Baptism the kingdom of God was promised to you. You should know that this is His unchangeable Word, and you should not permit yourself to be drawn away from it.

Dear friends, these stories of the testing of Abraham’s faith have been passed onto us so that we may be encouraged in our own trials and say with Abraham: “Though I struggle so deeply with my sin, because God has given me faith to trust in His promised forgiveness through Jesus Christ, my own grave where I will one day be laid in dust and ashes will simply be a place of rest. The fact that your flesh will die has absolutely no implications on the promises of forgiveness and resurrection that have been given to you in your baptism through the Word of God.

During this Lenten season we are sustained by both God’s Law and His Gospel with these two statements which God made first to Adam and then to us—“You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19) and “The Seed (of the woman) shall crush the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15)  That is, God’s substitute who dies our death shall as promised to Abraham, destroy, conquer, and possess the gate of his enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil.

Finally, let me share these closing words of Luther who desired that the church would know the great blessing it has by this example of Abraham and the promise that was given to him and to each of us this morning: “We, too, who believe that this Seed (of the woman who is the Son of God) is our blessing, have good reason to glory and act proudly over against all the gates of hell and (even) against Satan himself. To be sure, we are compelled to bear the hate and cruelty of our enemies; but “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

Since we are Christians and believe in the Seed who blesses us, why should we care if the devil or the world is angry? For all we care, let them take away what we have, and let them kill the body. They will not for this reason keep us in death, will they? Not at all, for we are blessed and are sure of life over against death and of the grace and favor of God over against the hatred of the world.”  AMEN!

It Is Good To Be Here!

February 15th, 2015

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday B, February 15, 2015

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Mark 9:2-9

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“And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.” [Mark 9:5a]

Have you ever had something happen to you, which was so profound that it seemed to change how you look at everything in your life?  Peter, James, and John did, but to understand their experience correctly, we need to look at their recent experiences with Jesus.  In the last couple of years, they experienced one miracle after another; they must have felt like they were on top of the world.  And then, out of nowhere, Jesus started talking about denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him into suffering and death!  Why, He even said that if they wanted to save their lives they must first lose them.  Then He said that even He would need to suffer and die at the hands of sinful men in order to fulfill the will of the Father.

Now to Peter, that was crazy talk, and he didn’t want to listen to anymore of that doom and gloom, so he took Jesus aside and tried to enlighten Him on how He thought a Messiah should speak.  But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that; that was the devil speaking not Peter, so Jesus rebuked Peter with the often-quoted words, “Get behind me Satan.”  He said that Peter was seeking the way of the world, and not the way of God!

Peter and the other apostles must have been thinking, “What’s going on here?  This isn’t what I signed up for!  What happened to all of the happy-clappy times that come with “walking and talking with our minds stayed of Jesus” the Messiah?”  You see, they wanted more of the glory, fame, and high life, but Jesus was telling them that instead of living large and in-charge, they would need to experience suffering, shame, and death.  And then out of nowhere, Jesus gave them this little bit of information to think about: “Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come in power.” [Mark 9:1]

So now, six days later there is Peter along with James, and John, up on a mountaintop, watching Jesus pray.  Little did they know that they were about to experience the kingdom of God in all of its glory and power!  It was getting late and they were tired; their eyes got heavy when all of a sudden, boom!  It was as if all of the light in the world was pouring out of Jesus and the two visitors that suddenly appeared.  And they weren’t just any visitors either; they were Moses and Elijah!

The three earth bound apostles were overwhelmed with the experience.  The other gospels tell us that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were speaking about Jesus death, resurrection, and the day He would leave this sinful world, but Peter skipped right over those Words.  All he seemed to care about was the glory!  He must have thought, “Now this is the kind of Messiah I signed up to follow!”  So with a mixture of fear and excitement (after all he was standing in the presence of God and the two greatest heroes of faith that ever lived), Peter interrupts Jesus’ discussion with these deep and insightful words: “(Hey, a) Rabbi, it is (a)good (thing) that we’re here (with you).”  Do you want me to pitch a few tents for you and your guests?

I call that a Homer Simpson moment: “Dolp!”

With all of the responses someone should or could have had, maybe something like Alleluia, why in the world did Peter ruin that divine moment with such a stupid statement and question?  And after Peter’s Homer Simpson moment, what happened next?  A thick cloud suddenly appeared and Moses and Elijah were gone.

The experience was over.  Or as B.B. King would say, the thrill is gone.  But why?  Well simply put, Peter’s attention was centered on what He was experiencing and not the Words He was hearing.  He completely missed the conversation about Jesus leaving this world; he missed it because it was another message about suffering and death.

Aren’t we a lot like Peter too? We love it when we come to church and we get to sing our favorite hymn or spiritual.  We love it when the preacher is talking about heaven and what a time will have there with no more suffering, pain, sickness, and death, but as soon as the message starts showing us where we fall short or what God expects from us, we tune it out.

We love to be entertained for about an hour, but as soon as the service starts cutting into our Sunday afternoon plans we get fidgety, and then irritated!  We love the fellowship and coffee but get bored with the liturgy and ritual!  You see, like Peter we say that it’s good to be here in church, but only if it meets our desires; as soon as worship time gets personal we become nervous and hope that it ends soon.

Now you might not interrupt the sermon or the readings with a foolish statement like Peter’s, but you too have your Homer Simpson moments.  For you, it happens the minute you tune out to what’s happening in Divine Service and tune into what you wish was happening.  Peter wanted to silence the conversation and stay in the glory moment, and we aren’t any better.  We love those mountaintop highs of worship, and if we could make it happen, that’s all we would ever experience.

Does that mean that emotion during worship is bad?  No, not at all, but the good times aren’t suppose to be the center of why we worship.  So what’s the solution?

Well, we just need to let Jesus be Jesus and then let Him do what He does. Do you see what I just did?  I took the emphasis off of you and me and put it on Jesus.  That’s always the solution to most every thing, isn’t it?  Yes church, we must remember that worship, our worship of God is simply our response to what He has done and is doing right now for us!  This is what we call Divine Service; God’s service amongst and within us; His work of dealing with our sins.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul talked about a veil that remains over the eyes of the unbelieving Jews.  For us, that veil represents our flesh or physical desires; its our natural way of trying to get what we want, but Jesus always gives us what we need.  When we listen to Jesus, the Word of God, God Himself removes the veil of this world off of our spiritual eyes and He allows us to see an entirely different reality… a spiritual one.  Only through (Jesus) Christ can this veil be taken away.

You see, when we turn to Jesus and what He is doing or saying and receive that Word and that Word only, the veil is removed; we are freed from our own expectations of what our Christian faith and worship is, and then we can truly hear what Jesus is really saying.  And when we hear what Jesus is saying, then and only then can we be transformed slowly but surely, into the same image and glory of our Lord.

Peter and the boys missed the obvious.  They were awed by Jesus’ glory, because He was their man, the Messiah who would be their champion by righting all wrongs.  They were so excited about what they thought Jesus would do that they missed what God had already done.  There standing with Jesus, were Moses and Elijah shining in the same glory as Jesus.  Moses the great teacher who brought us God’s law, was listening to Jesus.  Elijah, the great prophet who was taken up to heaven in bodily form, was listening too.  What did it all mean?  Only Jesus could explain it; and to make sure that they would one day understand, God’s Divine Service kicked into action again.  Moses and Elijah disappeared within a dense cloud of God’s glory and the voice of the Father announced: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

How does our worship go wrong? It happens when we shut down our hearts and minds to the message in exchange for the experience.  How does God make things right?  By taking our focus off of the experience and putting it back onto the Word, this Word:  “Jesus is My beloved Son, my elected One; LISTEN TO HIM!”

The truth is, without the Word of God speaking to us, there can be no experience.  What is the experience?  Dying and living and Living and dying.  In the Word you hear God’s law make demands that you can never meet; this is a Word that terrifies you, because you are a sinner standing in the middle of God’s perfect and blinding glory, and the result is your death, the death of your glory.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, you hear about a loving God who came to you, to take away your sins; the result is new life, a life free of condemnation and full of God’s love.  In this good news you are taught that Jesus walked the painful way to the cross for you; He suffered and died to pay for your sins.  In His death He conquered not just your sin and the devil, but also your own death.  In His death and resurrection, all things can be new again, even you!

In your baptism, Jesus brought you into His glory by drowning and destroying your old sinful nature and by bringing you into the cloud of His divine presence.  In your baptism He chose you and He cleansed you.  And what He cleanses, He also molds and changes.  What He molds, He fills.  And what He fills, He uses.  So now, you live!  Every day you choose to live for God as you put to death your old sinful and self-serving nature; you live for God and you live for others!

This is the true nature of our hidden life in Jesus. When the light show is over and the glory cloud vanishes, there is no one but you and Jesus, but not the bright as the sun Jesus, but the flesh and blood Jesus.  He’s the one who moves around in this world of sin, suffering and dying for sinners.  He’s the One who speaks to them and through His Word makes them saints.  How does He do that?  Through the proclamation of His church… through you and me!

Remember in our gospel reading when He told the three not to say a word to anyone about what they had seen until He had risen from the dead?  Well that time has come and gone.  In case you haven’t noticed, everyone who knows is telling anyone who doesn’t what Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension means!  They are telling them that they are free of shame, worry, and fear.  So now, guess what?  It’s your turn to share the good news.  But you can only do that if you come down off of the mountain top of worship and go out into the real world where there are real sinful and hurting people, dying without knowing Jesus.  The exciting part about all of this is the fact that God wants to reach them through you!

Are you a little afraid to share this good news?  That’s alright; Peter and the others were afraid too.  They didn’t want to leave the safety and awesomeness of their worship experience, but they had to, because Jesus led them out, and He’ll lead you too!  Dear friends, God is leading us out into the real world; a place where there is real suffering and pain.  But He is leading us out with our hearts and minds focused on His Word and the real change He’s made and is making within each of us.  When you get afraid or tired, and just feel like quitting, think of this place and all of the wonderful gifts that God has given to you here, all so that you would be His witness of love and life in a dying world.  Think of His glory that He has placed within you; a glory that can’t be seen with physical eyes but will one day shine as bright as the glory of our Lord’s own Transfiguration.  And when you remember these things, it’s alright to feel excited but just remember emotions will eventually die off, and then it’s just you and Jesus.

So, until we meet again next Sunday for our next encounter with God’s divine service and our next foretaste of the glory to come, may He forever lead and guide you by the Word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior… AMEN!

Same Word—Different Teaching

February 1st, 2015

Epiphany 4-B, February 1, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.TLCSD.org

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“And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” [Mark 1:22]

Have you ever tried to explain to someone why you are a Christian?  It can be a little frustrating can’t it?  The reason for that is because you are trying to explain a mystery, which is the power and work of the Word of God to someone who has not yet experienced that power and work.  The bottom line is that faith is experiential; you’ve got to taste and see that the Lord is good, before you can know that the Lord is good.

Now don’t get me wrong here; folks who haven’t yet received faith can hear or read the Word of God preached and taught and be astonished and agree that the message has great authority, but then they will simply turn away unchanged.  This morning we will look at a few reasons for why that happens.

The first reason that faith will not come through God’s Word is because folks just wont listen.  In our Old Testament lesson [Deuteronomy 18:15–20], we join Moses towards the end of his farewell sermon.  He is explaining to the people that God put under his care that he will not be with them much longer, but he is leaving them with hope.  He promises them that “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen—just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’”

Now we may ask our selves, “Who is this coming prophet like Moses?  Was it Moses understudy, Joshua?”  And the answer is, “No.”  Moses described the coming prophet as a man who would be like him, or a man who enjoyed a unique relationship with the Lord, similar to the one that Moses had.  This new prophet would know God and talk to Him face to face just as Moses did, and as He spoke to Moses, so He would speak to the new prophet, clearly and not in riddles; he too, would see the form of the Lord and live! [Numbers 12:6-8]

Moses also promised that this prophet would come from among the people’s own brothers.  In other words, he would be a fellow Israelite, who could trace His family tree back to one of the sons of Jacob.  But why did they need another prophet?  Because the fear Israel felt at Sinai when God spoke His Law in thunder and fire was real; the people were terrorized.  This is the kind of terror that people will always feel when they’re faced with God’s perfect demands within His Law; demands that force the people to recognize and deal with their own sins.  But because He would come from among them, they would also find the very reason not to listen to Him. “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”  [Isaiah 53:1-3]

Here is a truth that will never change.  It was a truth for the folks that Moses was preaching to and it is true for us this morning: We can’t understand the impossibility of being right with God until we have have tried our hardest to be good and then finally admit that on our own, it is impossible to be good.  In essence, the Law of God teaches us that we are doomed unless God makes a new way; a way out of no way.  When we arrive at this point of desperation, we finally come to the terrifying moment when we simply turn to God’s mercy and say, “If there’s to be any hope for me at all, it has to come from you God.  I can’t do it!

Well hold on brother, change is coming; God is about to speak hope…

I (the Lord your God) will raise up for (you) a prophet (who is) like you from among (your) brothers. And I will put My Words in his mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command him.”  In our Old Testament lesson we are given a clear prophecy about the coming prophet, the Messiah, the Savior of God.  He not only speaks for God to the people, but He brings a new message; a new Word of hope that Moses did not teach.

Please understand the conundrum of the Jews and all others who live trying to fulfill the Law of God.  By there perspective, there simply cannot be another Word from God outside of the Ten Commandments and Law of God, because the Law of God is complete perfection.  You can’t add to it or take away from it, because the Word is God.  So this is another impediment to receiving the gospel.  But God can speak a new Word, can’t He?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” [John 1:1-5]  And now comes He who is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, a brother to humanity through His mother the blessed Virgin Mary, and the very Son of God the Father.  And indeed, He brings a new Word; He brings the Gospel, the message of sins forgiven.

It is to this One, the Son of God and the Son of Mary that we are to listen to.  Through Him the ministry of the Law has ended and the work of grace has begun.  He did not come to do away with the Law but to fulfill it; to fulfill it for you.  He did that work upon the cross, for you!

Where the teaching of Moses brings terror and death as a minister of the Law, the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks new life into Moses listeners, and then He gives that life abundantly.  So we can say that the sin and anger of God that Moses teaching arouses through his ministry, the gospel of Jesus Christ cancels through righteousness and grace, which comes through His ministry of forgiveness of sins!  This is why Moses directs both Jews and Gentiles to listen to Him!

How do you know that God loves you and forgives your many sins?  Because He has told you so in His Word and His holy sacraments.  He has promised you that your sins are removed from you and shall not be held against you, and all you must do is receive and believe this gift.  But like the Law of God, if you try to add or take away any of this gospel message, all you will have achieved is the loss of the gift.  Do you truly know who Jesus is?  The demons know, and they are not afraid to tell you either.

In our gospel lesson (Mark 1:21–28) we discover this startling account of what the demons know about Jesus: “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.”  Now I don’t know about you, but I find this amazing, and here is why.  We first must ask ourselves why would the demons antagonize Jesus, when they know full well that He is God in human flesh?  And the answer is in the question—Because He is God in human flesh.  Nothing happens unless God allows it to happen.  I believe that the demon was compelled to speak so that the folks in the pews would be forewarned and equipped to stand up against the devils schemes.

Another question we might find ourselves asking is, “Can this happen still today?”  An the answer is simple: “Sure it can.”  But let me pose another question for you: Why would the demons need to interrupt our worship hour and our study of God’s Word when there are so many sinful men and women willing to be his tools?  And that is the third impediment to receiving the gospel, other people.

You have heard me say so many times that people are not our enemies; sin, death and the devil are our enemies.  And while this is true, people can be the tools of our enemies, especially the devils.  And speaking of tools, perhaps the most dangerous tools threatening the church today are the false teachers.  You know them, don’t you?  They’re on T.V. and they’re preaching this very hour in churches throughout the world.  They are the Jesus plus crowd.  In their messages, they will not allow you a moments peace or relief from your sins unless you add to Jesus’ gospel certain steps that they will gladly define.  They will tell yo that they preach and teach this message in order to kill your sin and make you more holy.  They are also the ones that promise you that if you follow their ministry, you will have an even more abundant and successful life.  They speak of things like a second baptism of the spirit and a greater dispensation of gifts.  But this morning, Moses warns us that “the prophet who presumes to speak a word in (God’s) name that (He) (has) not commanded him to speak, shall die.”

Beware of the false prophets who preach this new message, because it is simply the message of Moses that has been wrapped to seem like the gospel.  Beware of them, because their fate is decided if they will not repent. And like the devils they have no fear of God, but simply spout forth filth in order to disturb you children of faith who gather around God’s message of grace and forgiveness.  But unlike the devils, it is not to late for them if they will simply receive Jesus alone.

So what about God’s Law?  Are we truly free of it?  Yes, but you still need it; not to bring you eternal life, but to help you become all that God’s Word has spoken and accomplished through the work of the cross and the waters of your baptism; you are forgiven!  And now your heart is at peace with God through faith in the promise of God.  And this peace is already working within you and changing you.  First you are compelled by God’s Spirit to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord.  By the continued preaching of the Word, you are daily led to confess your sins that remain within you to God who is faithful to forgive them.  By the preaching of this Word you have been saved, and through your sharing of this same Word, others are saved just as you are, and so, the Kingdom of God grows.

And as the Kingdom of God grows through the proclamation of the gospel message, so does the same hostility that the New Prophet, the Son of God faced, but now it is you who must by faith stand up under these attacks.  The advancement of the Kingdom of Christ is at the same time your calling and the instrument that will bring persecution and your cross to bear.  The world will not hear or  receive the gospel, because they will not allow the Law to do its proper work, which is to destroy their sinful nature.  Not only will they fight the preaching of the true gospel, but they will attempt to humiliate all who cling to it.  Why?  Because the world is in darkness and it hates the light.  So they as tools of the devil will attack your faith and test it.  But God uses this testing as a means to grow our faith until our hope is made perfect, which ultimately makes us sure of our salvation.

Finally, while it is true that our old sinful nature has been declared dead by the Word of the gospel, we must continue to fight it and put it to death, and we do this with the Law of God.  But the we also still need God’s Law within our hearts so that we can be a help to our neighbors.  It is the law that reminds us that we must demonstrate both the love of God and a relationship of kindness, peace, and goodness that we have found with Him through Jesus Christ.  AMEN!

Do a One Eighty!

January 25th, 2015

Epiphany 3-B, January 25, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.TLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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