April 13th, 2014

Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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“The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him. [John 12:18, 19]

If you were in Jerusalem the day Jesus rode into town, humbly seated upon a donkey, do you think you would have gone after Him; made your way out to see him?  I think that you probably would have, after all, the news was spreading everywhere, like a wild fire that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, and remember now, he wasn’t just dead, he was dead for four days; that kind of miracle was unheard of.  So, let’s just assume that all of us would have been there, but there is another question worth asking, and it is this: Would you have been there shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

Now before you answer that question, let’s consider just a couple of things.  First, we must understand what the word Hosanna means.  It literally means, “Save Us!”  Do you need saving?  Do you see Jesus as someone who can save you?  Now, if you say you see Jesus as someone who could save you, the next question sets the stage for further investigation into who you think Jesus was and is.  Are you ready?  What would you want Jesus to save you from?  I mean the choices are numerous.  Should he save you from a bad marriage, addiction, unemployment, poverty, sickness, or a corrupt government?  Or do you see Him as who He says that He is, very God in human flesh?  Another way to ask this is, do you see Him as your Messiah who will make all things right and good now, in this world now, or is He your Messiah who makes all things well with you and your Creator for all of eternity?

Now this morning we will examine two groups of people who greeted Jesus then, and still greet Him today, and then we will allow God to show us where we fit in.

“Crucify Him!”  Those were the words that a similar crowd shouted just a few days after Palm Sunday.  Instead of  saying “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel,” they said, “We have no king but Caesar!”  They are the ones who complained that the whole world had gone after, and were following Jesus.  They were the ones who were incensed that Jesus had turned over the market tables within the Lord’s Temple and called them a brood of vipers and accused them of turning the House of Prayer into a den of thieves!

They are the ones that continually came to Jesus for the miracles, but then walked away from Him when He demanded that they acknowledge Him as the Son of God.  They are the ones that flocked to see the sight of the blind restored, the lepers cured, the multitude fed, and the dead raised, but when He offered forgiveness of sins, they rightly said that no one could forgive sins but God, and then, they picked up stones to kill Him for being a blasphemer.

To those people then and many today, Jesus was acceptable as a good man, a wise man, a wonderful teacher, but they were certain that He never should He be called God and worshiped in a way that excluded all other ways of being a good and religious person.  People then and today will gladly hear a message preached about the good Samaritan, and then agree with you that we should all demonstrate brotherly love through tolerance, but when you tell them that only Jesus can ever be the “Good Samaritan” and that outside of Jesus’ work for sinners, we can never know peace with God and our neighbor, they will call you intolerant and a zealot.

Now let’s look at the people in the crowd that shouted Hosanna.  Do you think that they really wanted the kind of Savior that Jesus said He was?  Did they even understand who Jesus really was?  Maybe not, but they did know that before Jesus came into their lives, it seemed that if God was not dead, He was at least silent in their lives.  The cruelty of the Roman government was getting more severe everyday; hunger and poverty were rampant to the point that there seemed to be only two groups of people, the very rich and the very poor.  Sickness and death seemed to be the only reward for the average man, and then along comes Jesus.  He was teaching with authority about a God who wasn’t angry with their sins as much as He was saddened by them.  He wasn’t so much a punishing God as He was a forgiving God for those who turned to Him in repentance for mercy.  He no longer was simply the God of their Fathers, but Emmanuel, a God who was with them right now, in what ever they were going through.

While Jesus taught in ways that caused the religious zealots to be angry, those who really listened to Him teach, felt shame over their sins, but then they experienced comfort and hope when Jesus proclaimed God’s forgiveness.  In essence they were changed.  They saw past the miracles and saw the man, who was much more than a man or a teacher.  Could it be that what Jesus said is true?  Is He really the God-man, the Son of God?  While their faith was weak, and they were not quite sure what to make of Jesus, one thing was certain, they knew that He was sent by God; God was no longer silent in their lives, because in Jesus’ Words, God was right there with them.

So where do you stand within these two groups?  Isn’t it true that in each of us, God can find a mindset that on some days may yell both “Crucify Him” and “Hosanna” within the same day?   Now, if you are thinking, “No, I would never be like that.” I have one word for you, “Really?  Really?!”

Don’t we many times, say one thing and then do another?  Don’t we enjoy God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of our neighbor and then quickly refuse forgiveness to another, or at least withhold it until they feel our pain?  Haven’t each of us been guilty of ignoring our need to worship God at His Church, or perhaps the opposite, when we have put the practice of our religion ahead of the demonstration of our faith?  Does it not become an easy thing for us to justify our own sins, but at the same time amplifying the sins of our neighbor?

So what shall we do?  And to answer that question, we turn to the Words of St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (Philippians 2:5-11), who says…

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”.  What mind?  Well, the mind of faith; a mind that is first led by faith and then rational thought.  A mind that is part of a life that has been renewed in Holy Baptism and is sanctified every day by the Word of God.  A mind that sees Jesus on the colt of a donkey and remembers that the prophet Zechariah spoke about this moment, long before it occurred through these Words: “(Fear not, that is) rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This is the Word of God that allows you to receive both the truth and the will of God.  It is a mind of faith that is able to see God as both righteous and forgiving; a mind that sees Jesus as both fully God and fully man.  This is the kind of mind that understands that when the Son of God came to us men, He came to provide for our salvation; that is, He knew that He was coming to die for us.  Even as He rode in on Palm Sunday and one group chanted Hosanna, He knew that another group was plotting to kill Him, and very soon would shout, “Crucify Him!”  But here is the wonderful mystery that is hard but essential for us to understand… Jesus came to die for both groups; He came to die for sinners and saints, and He came to die for you!

The mystery of both His birth and His death is 100% a work of God, and it is marvelous and wonderful in our sight.  You see, within this humble savior seated on a donkey rode the God of Creation.  The same mystery of God that confronted sinful men at the birth of Jesus and confounded Herod, rode upon a donkey towards Golgotha.  He was not riding to die only for good men and women, but for the no good sinners as well.

In our processional Psalm we heard that Jesus is the gate of the LORD, and that He is the answer to our prayers for salvation, that is forgiveness for our sins.  But, He is also the capstone of that gate, which the self-righteous and self sufficient people rejected then and reject still today.  But how do they reject Him?  When they refuse to repent of their independent ways and refuse to see Jesus as who He is.  And who is he?  He is God and there is none other.  Outside of Jesus, there is no salvation; He is the only way to eternal life.  He is the one who by taking on our flesh, that is by humbling Himself, became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

These are the people who reject God; they reject Jesus as God who not only died for sinners, but he died for them.  Here then, is the gospel message for this morning; a message for all people, saints and sinners, rich and poor alike:  Jesus died for you!  While He rode in on that donkey, He had both the cross and your salvation on His heart.

This week, we will gather on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to honor God and highly exalt our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We will look deeply into His passion for sinners such as us, and we will allow both His Word and His real presence to transform our sinful minds.  We will experience real truth, such as we have experience this morning.  Real truth that exposes both our love for Him but also our sin that still clings to us.  He alone will teach us His truth, and He alone will comfort our fears.  And then on Easter morning, we will greet our Savior Jesus Christ, whom God has highly exalted, and we will proclaim the truth of that name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  AMEN

Let Us Go and Die With Jesus

April 6th, 2014

Lent 5 (A), April 6, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.[John 11:16]

So are the words of Thomas, and so should they be our words as well.  They are the words that the saints are to speak to their sinful flesh that will one day die, once and for all, and will one day in the Lord’s time, rise redeemed and completely sanctified for an eternity with Jesus and their neighbor.  But these aren’t simply words we speak to make it through times of sorrow, suffering, and testing; no these are words that echo the very Word of God.  Listen: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Galatians 2:20]  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [Romans 6:3-4]

These Words of dying are meant to first point our eyes of faith to a spiritual death and then to a physical death.  They are Words that first bring a spiritual renewal and then the long promised physical resurrection, a resurrection from death.  Do you think that Thomas was thinking about any of this when he said, “Let’s also go (with Jesus), (so) that we may die with him”?  No, I think that these were the words of a pessimist; words of frustration that each of us can identify with.  It’s as if they were saying, “Well, all of our hope and dreams have been shattered, so there is nothing else to do but follow Jesus and die.  In those sentiments, I hear a spark of faith that moves their hearts to believe that if Jesus is leading them, some how, some way, everything would turn out alright.

In our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 37:1–14), we see something similar happening.  The prophet Ezekiel, who is living in exile in Babylon with his fellow Jews, is taken up in the spirit by the very hand of God and shown a vast valley of dead, dry bones.  And (the Lord) asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And (Ezekiel) answered, “O Lord God, you know.”  Mark and remember those Words.  The Lord knows.  He knows what the outcome will be when we follow Jesus to what appears to be certain death, and He knows what the outcome will be in our lives when everything around us is telling us that living the life, or dying the death of a Christian should not have this much trouble, this much fear, this much worry.  He knows, and because He knows, because He loves you and calls you to follow Him, we know that in the end everything will be well for our souls and our eternal life with Jesus.

Have you ever been so depressed that you just didn’t even feel like waking up in the morning?  Some times it may be so bad that you don’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone.  Even the Word of God seems to do you no good; well at least that’s what you tell yourself, when the truth is, the Word of God is the only thing that will do you any good; specifically that part of the Word that promises new life in a situation that seems completely dead.  And that is what God was speaking to Ezekiel and all of his fellow countrymen who were being held captive there in Babylon.  Babylon was a place that seemed hopeless for the nation of Israel; they appeared to be dead as a people.  But then God asked a question that was meant to test faith and cause it to grow.  And where faith is alive and growing there is life and there is hope.  “Son of man, can these bones live?”  And to this the weak voice of faith, like that of Thomas answers perhaps a bit pessimistically, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

Do you hear the weak faith?  Oh yes, it’s small, the size of a mustard seed I’d say, but it’s the kind of faith that let’s go of all hope that may come from itself or this fallen world, and trust only is that which is greater and outside of itself and this world.  It is the kind of faith that will cause our depressed hearts to take notice, and allow our unwilling ears to listen for at least a bit of “good news.”

Then (God) said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:4-6]  What was God showing Ezekiel?  This is an important question, because God is always consistent, so what He is showing Ezekiel, He is showing us.  In other words, He is demonstrating something the church, you and I, should know right now, today!

What He was showing them and us is that the Lord who promised to bring life to dead bones in the vision is simply doing the very same thing He did long ago in the garden of Eden… He is Creating life: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. [Genesis 1:26a] The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostril the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [Genesis 2:7]

Do you see where the hope of life came from?  It was from the very Word of God and the very breath of God.  But the Word must be spoken; it must be declared with the power of God, that is it must have the breath of life behind it.  “So” Ezekiel in obedience to the Word, speaks the Word “as (he) was commanded.  And as (he) prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And (he) looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then (God) said to (him), “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”  So (Ezekiel) prophesied as he (was) commanded, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. [Ezekiel 37:7–10]

At the Lord’s command, Ezekiel prophesied to lifeless bones, and a miracle happened. There was a rattling noise as bone came together with bone. To Ezekiel the valley seemed no longer to be full of disconnected bones but of skeletons. God’s miracle continued, “Tendons and flesh appeared on them.” Now the valley resembled a battlefield littered with corpses. But God’s miracle was still not over. At God’s command Ezekiel continued to prophesy, and breath entered that army of corpses, and they came to life and stood up. Through a vision Ezekiel saw how God would re-create his people now apparently hopelessly lost in Babylon.

Ezekiel carried out his orders and the Lord kept his promise. He did not want to speak, I’m sure, and neither did the Jews want to listen; they were depressed and simply waiting to die.  But, when God speaks His Words carry the mighty life giving power of His Spirit.  When He speaks, even the dead in their graves must listen and respond.  When a corpse, even one with out ears, or one where all of the atoms have been scattered to who knows where is spoken to, they must listen, and they must respond!

This ought to be a description of our lives.  When we are so depressed that even the chirping of the birds and our neighbors laughter and joy cause nothing but irritation and even anger, we have no choice but to listen and respond, as God speaks.  As we are carried away by the power of the Lord’s Spirit, we have no choice but to carry out the Lord’s orders, and then watch as the Lord carries out his promises of life within us.

Dear friends, it is the knowledge that we are doing the Lord’s will in our lives that will take away the boredom, drudgery, and even the depression we find in life; it is what brings life to dead and dry bones. When we realize that since our baptism we have been brought to death with Christ, but then raised to a new and eternal life with Him, we are not just working for a paycheck, but we are serving our risen LORD and God, who through that paycheck is supporting our families. We are not just studying to get a passing grade in school, but we are instead using our minds to the best we can, because our Lord has called us to be good stewards, or managers of our intellects. We are not just taking care of the kids or grandkids, but we are shaping their souls as God’s own children, and teaching them about Jesus by the way we talk and act. We do these things even when we feel depressed and alone, because we know that behind every thing we do is the promise of God, that says “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to God’s purpose.” [Romans 8:28]  And the Lord keeps his promises, just as he did when Ezekiel preached to those dry bones as he was instructed to.

This morning, just as Ezekiel was obedient to the call of God to prophesy, that is to preach the Word of God so that life could come amongst those who felt as good as dead, I too am called to preach the same message of life and renewal.  It has been a long period of Lent, and we are tired, but our travels are not yet complete.  We must continue to follow Jesus and learn to die with Him, so that we will live with Him.  So hear these last words:

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” [Ezekiel 37:11-14]

This morning, some of us may be distracted by tragedy or loss in our lives.  Maybe it is the loss of a loved one through death, or the sting of betrayal.  Maybe it is the loss of a job or the lack of one for a long period of time.  And maybe, like Martha we have spoken similar words of pain and disappointment to our Lord: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  ‘If you had been with me, I would not be suffering this loss in my life.’  And now, the winds from the four corners begin to blow; the power of the spirit of God begins to fan that spark of faith that still lives in you, and along with Martha you are led by faith to proclaim:  “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

To Martha, Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.”  And to us, He is saying your hope, and indeed your very joy in life has not left you; I am still with you, and I will never leave nor forsake you.”  And as Martha says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” we may say with her, “I know that one day this depression, this sorrow will pass on the last day, when I am in heaven.”  And to Martha and to us, Jesus says, “I AM the resurrection and the (joy of)life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Dear baptized, do you believe this?  Then your Master calls to you along with Lazarus, in the same power that brought life to the dried bones Ezekiel’s vision, and He says: “Come out!”  Come out with a purpose and a mission.  Come out into a world that is dying and share the church’s story of faith; share your story.  Tell others how God has saved you and is saving you.  Tell them that how even in the midst of tragedy and disappointment, He is still with you.

Holy week is fast approaching and what a wonderful opportunity it is for us to invite our neighbors, family, friends, and coworkers to come and experience the wind of God that brings life to dead and dried up bones.  You can start by inviting them to Palm Sunday, where they will experience the pomp and majesty of our Savior as He rides into Jerusalem upon a donkey, surrounded by the chants “Hosanna,” and knowing full well that be was about to die a criminals death for all sinners.  And then, you can invite them to experience the nurturing power of God that was served to the apostles and now you, as we celebrate the last supper of our Lord on Maundy Thursday.  Then as you leave on Thursday night, invite them to come back again on Good Friday and experience the agony of our Lord, as He suffered and died for every person that will ever live, even for them.  And finally, make sure you invite them to experience the resurrection of our Lord.  The assurance that one day soon, Jesus will make good on the vision given to Ezekiel, that all those who have fallen asleep in death will rise again in eternal life.  AMEN!

Eyes Shut Tight

March 30th, 2014

Lent 4 (A), March 23, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant.” [Isaiah 42:14]

The song you just heard, “Slipin’ Into Darkness” by WAR, is meant to act as our mental hook, to hang this very important message from God upon.

Our text this morning leads us to ask ourselves, “Why can God no longer restrain Himself?  Why does He cry out like a woman in labor?”  Well the answer is, because His children, you and me have a tendency to slip into darkness.  We are a lot like the Israelites of old, or if you prefer, like the frog who is slowly being boiled alive.  We see nothing wrong with our warm bath of sin; in fact, it feels very comfortable and soothing.  But as the water slowly becomes hotter, it begins to perform a work of decay called apathy upon our bodies.  Slowly but surely, like the frog in his bath, we are being boiled alive within the acceptance of sin in our lives and Christ’s church.  And God’s message is, if we will not listen to His Word now, today, and every day, before we know it, it will be to late; we will have already slipped into darkness.  So to prevent us from “slipin’ into darkness”…

“The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious.” [Isaiah 42:21]

What law is that?  Well it is the law that is presented to us in all of God’s Word.  It is the law of holiness, which demands that we acknowledge our sins, and it is the law of promise, which declares that only God can prevent us from “slipin’ into darkness.”

Is God serious about this law?  Well, listen to Him speak and I will let you be the judge: “I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.”

These are words of judgment; they represent the finish of all things created in both heaven and earth.  They are words about the end of days.  God was telling the children of Israel that the final day was coming.  They of all people had to know that this was the truth.  They could trace their origins directly back to Father Abraham; the great patriarch of all of God’s children of faith, who heard God speak the impossible and by God’s gift of faith, He was enabled to believe God, and that belief was accredited to him as righteousness.

They knew first hand from their sacred writings, how God used Moses to intervene in their lives, in order to save them from slavery in Egypt.  They knew how their powerful God punished the Egyptians by causing great plagues to strike the land so that Pharaoh would let God’s people go.  And they knew that God had before dried up the water by parting the sea and making a straight path for them to escape and eventually arrive into the Promised Land.  They knew about God’s care for them in the wilderness, and they also knew that after all of this, many grumbled and sinned against the Lord and died, never reaching the promise land.

And now, as God speaks through Isaiah, He is warning them again about their sin, and it’s penalty; they would once again, because of their sinfulness be enslaved in the land of the Babylonians, but God would one moe time bring them back home to their own land.

All of this that God does, demonstrates who God is: He is a jealous God, who loves His children who relate to Him by faith, with an everlasting love.  He is the God who will not give His glory to another, and not allow His children to follow any other god, whether it is man or religion.  In order to be saved from God’s wrath, all they had to do was close their eyes to any other messages, and simply follow God’s promises of deliverance by faith, and they would be spared from His judgment.

But all of their history and their immediate physical reality was meant to act as a way to help them remember and believe in their God who saves; it was meant to prepare them to follow their God who would come among them and “lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known” before. [Isaiah 42:16]  They were to see their “Savior,” God’s “Suffering Servant” Jesus Christ, as God’s only solution to defeating their persistent sins and hard hearts.

Jesus is our only God given resource to ensure that you do not slip into darkness.  He has come to save those of us who know that we are indeed blind to God’s will and deaf to His warnings.  So He has come to guide us out of that sin in paths that we do not know; paths that we could never find on our own.  He has come to turn our darkness into light, the rough places into level ground.  These are the things that He does and He will never quit trying to call you who are baptized into His name, to follow Him.

We who make up the church, that is those of us who call ourselves Christian can hear these Words of promise and begin to think that there is nothing that could ever cause us to “slip into darkness.”  Why do I say that?  Because the same danger that enslaved the children of Israel also threatens all of Abraham’s children of faith; that is, it is still a very real threat to the church; to you and me.  What danger is that?  The danger of being a privileged child of faith but rejecting the very means that makes us privileged; the means that saves us.  What means is that?  It is all of God’s Word; both the promises and the threats of judgment and punishment.  The real danger that confronts us is that we would become so comfortable in our salvation that we are no longer uncomfortable in our sins!

Do you know what a besetting sin is?  Listen to how the book of Proverbs describes it: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself; the simple pass on and are punished.” [Proverbs 27:12]  So, a besetting sin is a sin that no longer bothers you; something you either no longer fight or are no longer bothered by.  It is something that God’s Word makes clear as sinful, but the society we live in does not have a problem with.

Besetting sins are those things that you know right a way are wrong, because God in His Word has made that truth clear to you, but over time, like the frog slowly boiling towards its demise, you no longer care; you are comfortable in a sin that will eventually if not repented of, cause you to slip into eternal death.

Besetting sins then may have this type of effect on you: You may no longer believe that marriage as God has described it in His Word is the truth for society today, in fact you may believe that marriage really isn’t necessary at all.  You may no longer care that God’s Word declares that life begins at conception.  You no longer care that gossip and slander are evil and contrary to everything that God declares good.  You may no longer hear God’s warning that you must not neglect the meeting of the saints, that is you must do everything you possibly can, to ensure that you do not miss coming to church, where you receive His Word and sacraments.  You may no longer seem to care that God’s Word challenges you to give the complete tithe, that is 10% of your income to His church, all so that He can prove to you how much He loves you as He blesses you.  You may no longer extend the invitation to your neighbors to come to church with you and hear God speak His truth and love.

By embracing your besetting sins, you have become like those who see many things but do not observe them; whose ears are opened, but do not hear. [Isaiah 42:20]  And this morning, God is warning you that you are “slipin’ into darkness.”

So what are we to do?  Nothing.  Instead, you are to trust in what God has done and what He is still doing within you and around you.  You are to simply continue dying to your old sinful nature and the lure of our sinful society, and follow Jesus and live.

Jesus alone has come to save you.  Jesus alone is the embodiment of all of God’s Word and will for you, both the threats and the promises.  Jesus is the “Suffering Servant” who took your sins upon Himself and allowed this World and the devil to strip Him of His dignity.  He allowed this for you; He chose to suffer and die in your place; on your behalf.   He was smitten, stricken, and cut down, so that by His stripes you would be healed.  Upon the cross, as the life of the Son of God slipped into the darkness of death, the Son of God cried out to His Father,  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Do you want to know why the Son was forsaken by the Father?  So that you would not be!  Do you want to know why Jesus allowed His life to slip into darkness?  So your’s would not!  As Jesus died upon the cross, He became the very embodiment of all of God’s Word, both the threats and the promises.  As you read God’s Word, this is the message that God so desperately wants you to receive… GOD LOVES YOU… He loves you enough to send His Son to die for you.  Isn’t this enough to take your eyes off of the false gods that promise you nothing lasting and eternal, and then fight to rest in the God who promises you everything, if you will but believe and follow His Son Jesus Christ?

Dear friends, for a long time, God seemed to be silent; that is He allowed men to go their own way.  And what was the result?  We began to think that God was not serious about sin.  But this morning, God has spoken; you’ve heard that He is deadly serious about sin, especially those who are so comfortable in their salvation that they are no longer uncomfortable in their sin.

And now you have heard God shout out: I WILL NOT LET YOU SLIP INTO DARKNESS!  I will not allow the one l love to simply turn his back on Me and be overtaken by Satan and his devils.  You are mine; I have purchased you with a great price and washed you clean in the waters of your baptism.  You are mine and I will be relentless in my pursuit for your eternal soul.  I will hound you with my Word of threats until your soul once again longs to hear My promises of forgiveness.  I will do this, until you are no longer comfortable in your sin; until you learn to close your eyes tight to the lure of this sinful world, and place your hand of faith upon my Son’s shoulder as He leads you with eyes of faith through these many dangers and snares, to the place I have prepared for you in paradise.  I will not let you go “slipin’ into darkness”…  AMEN!

A Bath for Sinners, and a Drink for the Thirsty

March 23rd, 2014

Lent 3 (A), March 23, 2014
On the occasion of Holy Baptism for many children of God from within San Diego’s American Samoan community.

Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“Is the Lord among us or not?” is perhaps the most common question both sinners and saints ask the church.  Maybe you’ve asked that question before as well?  Is He with us or are we, as we just heard Paul Simon sing, just slip sliding away?  Is God truly with us or are we left on our own to work our jobs, collect our pay, raise our children and just slip slide away?

“Is the Lord among us or not?” is the very question the Israelites asked Moses as they grew thirsty in a land of rocks and sand.  Did the Lord really lead us out here or was it you, Moses?  Did you bring us out here to die of thirst?

Oh how quickly they have forgotten how miraculously powerful the Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt land!  Oh how conveniently they have dismissed the Lord’s ever-present cloud by day and pillar by night.  Oh how easily they have dismissed the Lord’s continuous care, through the mysterious feeding of the manna and quail.

Who here this morning can blame Moses one bit for crying out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people?” as they had stones at the ready, just waiting to stone him to death!  But the Lord was listening; He was in control; He was not just letting them slip slide away.

Oh how quickly we seem to have forgotten our Lord and His presence with us all of these years.  Think back, for many not so long ago, where you can truly say that “If it had not been for the Lord, I would have…” well, you can fill in the blank.

The people back then forgot that they were following a God that not only makes the water, but He actually is in, with, and under the water. And so do we.  They actually grumbled against their God who provided for their needs through the mask of Moses, and so do we. When we forget our many blessings that we have received regularly here in this house of worship and outside of this place, we too are forgetting the God who is behind those wonderful gifts.

God was not absent then and He is not absent now; He would not allow His people under the leadership of Moses to slip slide away and He won’t allow us to slip away either.  God had a plan then and He still has a plan today.  God’s children of faith are to be a light in a world dark with sin.  Through the promised Savior God’s plan is to bless the entire world.  But nowhere did God ever promise that our trek out of bondage would be painless and easy.  Nowhere did God promise His children glory during the voyage out of sin, accept the privilege of experiencing His glory.

In our Old Testament lesson, we read that God had Moses and some of the elders pass before the vast company of the grumbling Israelites, displaying the staff that parted the water, and there in front of those stiff necked people, He directed Moses to strike a certain Rock.  Moses did as he was told, and out from the cleft rock came a gush of living and refreshing water!

What kind of rock was this, and just what kind of water was it?  If we will for but a moment, simply dismiss any scientific explanation about the origin of the water, and instead allow God’s Word to explain it’s source, we can then wonderfully see the God who is not only in, with, and under the water, but also the God who is the source of it.

But the source came from the rock, didn’t it?!  Yes, that’s right, but again, let’s not put to much effort into understanding the how of the water, but instead let Holy Scripture tell us the Who and the why of it.  What scripture is that?  How about this information from St. Paul: “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. [1 Corinthians 10:1–4]

The Savior-God showered His grace on his people Israel by means of this rock in the desert, just as God has blessed us in Christ beyond all that we sinful creatures deserve. “Nevertheless,” Paul continues, “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall (be careful that you are not by choice, slip sliding away)! No temptation has seized you except what is common to all people. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (that is He will not allow you to slip slide away). But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (verses 5, 11–13).

That way out is the Son of God, Jesus Christ who has found you in your sins, while you were still an unredeemed condemned enemy of God, and He suffered and died for you!  Make no mistake, God found you and not the other way around.

In your baptism, He came to you through simple water.  But how?  Again, like the water from the rock, do not be concerned with the how, but the Who and why of it.  Jesus, all of Jesus was and is in the water of your baptism.  When I say all of Jesus, I truly mean all of Him.  Jesus who was fully man and fully God was there this morning in the waters that washed clean and recreated all of his children this morning, He was within their baptism.  All of “Jesus the man” had to be there, because only real blood can pay for real sins.  Only real suffering and finally death can free a sinner from the price of sin.  But then again, only all of God can have complete victory over sin, death, and the devil.  Only all of God can raise a dead sinner into a living saint.

Ok, to satisfy those of you who still want to know the how behind the water, here it is.  God does it through the rock of ages, Jesus Christ, who by the power of the Spirit of God is in, with, and under the water of your Holy Baptism by the power of His Holy Word; a Word that promises salvation; a Word that promises that you will not one day slip slide away!  And all of this He does through a living water that is a bath for sinners and a cool and refreshing drink for saints who are struggling to pass through this wilderness of sin.

The bath is needed if we want to be regarded as one of God’s children of faith.  It is the only means that He has provided that will truly wash us clean and remove our sins.  But it is also the very source of refreshment that will forever quench our thirst for God’s righteous presence and protection in our lives.  (Holy Water). It is the very resource that will turn us again and again to our Savior, who declared to the sinful woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” [John 4:14]

And yet, how often do we who have been washed clean by this holy bath grumble and complain about God’s way of dealing with us.  Oh how easy we forget the God who is in, with, and under the water, and how easy we forget that through Christ, He never lets us slip slide away!  How easy we forget His plan for us to be His light of forgiving love in a world darkened with sin, so that the world will know that there is a God among them!

“Sir,” we must say every day to our Lord, as the Samaritan woman did, “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty.” [John 4:15]  We must say everyday, “Lord, help me live in, with, and under this spiritual water, and protect me when I thirst for other sources of refreshment offered by the devil and this sin-darkened world.”

Dear friends, like the Israelites following God through the leadership of Moses, we too are traveling through the desert of sin.  We to will know pain and suffering along our journey.  It will be tempting to grumble against God and those who lead us through the proclamation of His Word, but God is not absent in these times of testing; He is not hiding some master plan from you that you know nothing about!  The master plan is first and foremost your salvation through the cross of Jesus and the washing of His water and Word.  And next, that plan is for you to listen and follow Him out into our community that is dying of thirst.  They need to know about the God-man Jesus Christ who knows everything about them, and yet still loves them!

This morning we have seen the holy washing of many children, and we have once again had our hearts turned towards God’s refreshing drink.  Let’s learn from the mistakes of the people of Israel and not allow Satan to draw us into a spirit of grumbling and complaining, which is really a sign of unbelief.  Instead, let’s keep our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ.  He is the God who is among us as our Rock and our Living Water; He is the One who promises that He will never allow us to slip slide away.  AMEN!

Go, Blessed to be a Blessing!

March 16th, 2014

Lent 2 (A), March 16, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” [Genesis 12:3b]

In God’s promise to Abram, you, your children, your grandchildren, your neighbor, our community, our nation, and indeed the entire world IS blessed!  What promise is that?  Well, it is the very first promise made by God to sinful man way back in Genesis 3.  You remember that promise from last weeks Old Testament lesson, don’t you?   God promised Adam and Eve that through one of their descendants would come a Champion, a Savior who would crush the head of Satan, thus defeating sin, death, and the devil, but that old crafty serpent would also bruise the heal of man; that is there would be a great degree of suffering that would come through the victory of the Savior.

Who is this Savior?  Well Jesus made it obvious to Nicodemus in our Gospel reading that He was the Savior of the world.  [John 3:1-17]  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.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:14-17]

It is Jesus alone that the world is to look upon as He is lifted up before our eyes of faith; lifted up hanging between two thieves.  Why?  Because God loves the world, He loves you that much, so much so that He sent His very Son to be your Savior!  This is the same Champion that God guaranteed to Adam and Eve would come and save them and their descendants, and it is the same champion that God promised Abram would come through his lineage to be a blessing to the world.

Today, I declare to you that God has fulfilled His promise through His Son Jesus Christ.  The devil has been defeated, his lies have been exposed, and sin and death, that is even your own sin and death have been undone.  Now some of you may be thinking, “Then why is this life I live and this world I live in so messed up?”  Because the heal of the Servant Savior is still being bruised!  That is there must be suffering.  Why?  Because some still lack faith in the promise of God.

Let’s look at faith during the time of Abram and faith during our time and perhaps, just maybe we will understand how God’s plan of salvation for the world is unfolding, that is how everything is moving along just as it should.

During the time of Abram, whom God latter renames to Abraham, the descendants of Noah who were the descendants of Adam and Eve, had only been out of the Ark after the flood about 500 years.  The children of Noah were now very old, but still very much alive.  They had seen first hand God’s anger towards sin, specifically the sin of idolatry, which is the worship of false God’s.  The penalty of course was death, and in regards to all but Noah’s family, that death came in the form of a flood, which wiped out the entire world, with exception to the animals that God placed into Noah’s ark.  Wouldn’t you think that a global catastrophe of that kind would be sufficient to warn mankind that God is serious about sin?  But here we have Abram, living in an age where people once again worshiped all kinds of false gods, or no God at all, and they saw no problem with that, including Abram.

Now don’t get me wrong, Abram was a good man in the eyes of the world.  He was wealthy but he was also kind and generous with his wealth.  He came from a good family; in fact many believe that his grandfather Shem, the son of Noah was still living.  Yes, Abram and his family seemed to have it all, all but one thing… they no longer remembered God’s promise that He would one day send a Savior who would bring sinful mankind back to paradise; maybe they didn’t even believe that the promise was ever made.  So while Abram was a good man in the eyes of other men, in God’s eyes Abram was like all other men, sinful and unclean!  He was an idolater.

So what does that have to do with faith?  Well simply this, when God called Abram to leave his home, the land of his father and take everything with him, never to return, Abram listened and was obedient.  In God’s call through His powerful Word, Abram was once again given the promise that God Himself would send a Savior.  Abram’s heart was reminded of the promise made in the Garden of Eden and his eyes of faith were directed to trust both the promise and the Creator God who made the promise.  This is a wonderful example of how God’s Spirit works faith within the sinful heart of a sinner; working faith where and when the Spirit chooses, through the Word of God. In Abram, we see saving faith that believes in a God who will do what He says He will do.  God promised Abram that He alone would make Abram into a great nation, blessing all the world through the Son of God who would come through both Abram’s lineage and his faith in that One who was to come.

Now you are the children of Father Abraham; you are those who by faith are to be a blessing to a dying and sinful world.  You are the church, the body of the promised Savior who has come, Jesus Christ.  You too are told to go, that is go out where ever God leads you and be a blessing to those you meet.  Let’s see how we are doing; let’s see how faith in the Savior who has come is faring today.

You dear Christians today are blessed beyond expression.  You know that the Savior of the world has come and defeated your sin and undone your certain death, and He has even crushed our mortal enemy the devil!  You know the Easter story of the empty tomb, the ascension of the Son of God at the right hand of the Father, and the promise that through the Holy Spirit, God our champion is still right here with us.  You have this wonderful house of worship that you may come to and receive God’s mercy and forgiving love, through His means of grace, which are abundantly showered upon you in the preaching of the Word, the washing of Holy Baptism, and the Holy meal of forgiveness at our Lord’s Table.  Abram saw none of these things and yet he had great faith.  In fact, he had many reasons why he should doubt God’s promise and follow the promises of the devil and sinful society.  His marriage up to that point was childless.  Where was this great nation God was speaking about?  And then there was the fact that no one but him even knew about this God who was still jealous and angry over the sin of idolatry.  So we can see that the faith of this holy man of God was great, because he believed those promises as if they had already taken place before his eyes.  So with Abram’s great faith before us, let’s compare it to our own little faith.

We know that Jesus Christ will come again on the Last Day and He will destroy all of His enemies.  We know that until then, we are to wait here in the land of those enemies, even if those ungodly idolaters persecute us and make our lives unbearable.  We also know that while we wait, Christ is here with us through grace, and He is strengthening us so that we can wait in faith, while He preserves both His church and it’s great and sound doctrine, along with real God-pleasing worship.  And yet, all to often we live our lives as if God is only secondary to our needs and concerns with this life.  We live a life that is many times wrapped in fear and worry.  We allow our schedules and the demands of society to pull us away from God’s promises of grace, and many times we act as those who have no hope at all!

If we really believed what we declare in our Creeds of faith, do you thing that it would be possible for any of life’s circumstances to take our eyes off of our Savior and His cross?  So, if we do have faith, I think that we must all admit that our faith is very small, very weak.  We really are people of little faith and in no way could we begin to compare ourselves to father Abraham, who receives the invisible things with a strong faith, and lives a life as though he were already holding the promises in his hand.

Oh we of little faith.  Why do we doubt so?  Because we need strong faith, and we forget that God alone gives faith only through His chosen means.  Through His means of grace, God fulfills His promise both to Abram and us, “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing (to the world).”

Our great blessing is the Son of God, who has come to us to make us sons as well.  By Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, we have been set free from the demands of a Law that offers us no help in doing the things that please God, thus leaving us in the penalty and bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  But thanks be to God, through the promises of the gospel, that is through Christ alone, we have been given a new heart, a heart that desires to not only see the things of God, but do them ourselves.  And in our doing, that is in our proclaiming and living out the gospel message, which boldly declares that God loves the world enough to send His Son as it’s champion, we become a blessing to the world.

In our doing we gather together often, at least weekly around God’s chosen means of grace as we allow Jesus to continually fill us with His presence and clothe us in His righteousness.  In our doing, like Abram, we establish new places of worship, places pleasing to God so that others within our own community and other places outside of our community are blessed.  They are blessed because through God’s gifts, our feeble little faith grows and trusts His gospel promises and desires to share them with others.

Like Abram, we simply go as God directs and trust that it is He who began the good work in us who will complete it through our Savior, Jesus Christ!

This morning dear friends, God’s Word has filled you with faith.  As Martin Luther said long ago, “Faith is a vigorous and powerful thing; it is not idle speculation, nor does it float like a (duck) on water.  But just as water that has been heated, even though it remains water, is no longer cold but is hot and altogether different water, so faith, the work of the Holy Spirit, fashions a different mind and different attitude, and makes an altogether new (person out of us).”

Now you have been filled with the same faith that filled Abram.  It is an active and powerful force of God.  It is something that has been done to you, not something that you do or have earned.  It is the kind of faith that changes your heart and mind.  It alone is able to comprehend the will of God and stand in awe of things that are against reason and seem to not yet be present.

So once again, I declare to you that God has fulfilled His promise through His Son Jesus Christ.  The devil has been defeated, his lies have been exposed, and sin and death; that is even your own sin and death have been undone. May this fulfilled promise of God keep your hearts and minds in the one true, active, and transforming faith, as you go out into our community blessed and in the name of Jesus to be a blessing to those you encounter… AMEN!

The Fortress Awaits!

March 9th, 2014

Lent 1 (A), March 9, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” [John 20:31]

I chose our text this morning as a guide for examining the message that’s communicated in all three of our readings.  What is that message?  God wants good for His children; He wants you to have a “good” and eternal life in and with Him!

How could God who alone is good, desire any thing but good for us?  In the first two chapters of Genesis we learn all about God’s goodness.  Each time He completed a stage of creation we hear… and it was good!  Like the comforting purr of a kitten the word good is repeated over and over.  But on the sixth day, the last day of creation, God created something good that would reflect His goodness and love to the rest of creation, but it also would give the devil an opportunity to strike out at God.  “God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” [Genesis 1:26]

“And God said (to Adam and Eve), “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.  You shall have them for food.  And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of lie, I have given every green plant for food.” [Genesis 1:29, 30]

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Genesis 2:15-17]

The Garden of Eden, Paradise, eternal life with God the creator, the land of milk and honey, was a perfect place for perfect people.  All of God’s good creation existed within His perfection; it was the perfect picture of peace.  When God created man is His image, in essence He was creating a people who also had the power to create; that is man was created as a rational being who could conceive an idea and then work towards its conception and completion.  Man alone was the one creature that God gave full charge over the rest of creation.  In essence, God was telling Adam and Eve that they would be His ambassadors to the rest of creation. All of creation was their’s to manage and put to use; all except one tree, “the tree of Knowledge of good and evil.”  That tree was to represent God’s presence or authority over man and the creation that He had given them to be stewards over.

Now we must not misunderstand the significance of this one tree.  It was not as if God created man and then said, “I’m leaving, but that tree will remind you of my love and the good times we had together.”  No, God was no absentee father and man was not a latch key kid!  After all, scripture clearly says that man and God walked together in the garden in the coolness of the day, and man was not afraid.  Man knew God and loved Him.  The tree instead represented the otherness of God.  It reminded man that while they were as god to creation, they were not God!

Martin Luther called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “Adam’s Altar”.  I like that idea.  There at the tree Adam and Eve could return to God the true worship He was due as an act of obedience.  But this was just the opportunity that the devil would exploit.  You see, Satan was craftier than all of creation, including man!  The devil, disguised as a serpent began to craft innocent questions in order to create thoughts that then caused doubts in the minds of Adam and Eve, doubts in regards to the truthfulness of God’s Word.  “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”

How Eve should have answered the devil was, “No, God never said that.  Why do you question His Word?”  But instead, Eve replied the truth of God’s command, but then she added a little something to it.  “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the garden.’” But now listen to what she added, ‘neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  Now, Eve has demonstrated her weak spot so to speak, the kink in her full armor of God.  I believe that she was attracted by the beauty and splendor of the fruit.  And the rest as they say is history, the history of the fall of all of creation.  But where pray tell was her husband?  He, who was her spiritual head, was right there with her and never once did he intervene by rebuking the attack of the devil.

So there you have it, the loss of paradise.  A perfect home for perfect people, enjoying the love of a perfect Father, undone by a carefully crafted lie, “You will not surely die.”  Now Adam and Eve knew shame.  Their shame was not their nakedness but the nakedness of their sin before their perfect Father.  They no longer went out to meet their Creator God joyfully, but hid as he approached.  They knew that their loving Creator-Father had now become their judge!  And once found out, neither of them accepted responsibility for their sin, but instead they began making excuses and shifted blame to each other and even onto God Himself!

But Satan’s trick and our sin would not win the day.  God’s love would not let them go; He would not give them up.  God would not abandon them in their guilt.  He would send a Savior who would come and crush the power of sin and the devil forever.

“You ask who this may be?  The Lord of hosts is He, Christ Jesus mighty Lord, God’s only Son adored.  He holds the field victorious.”  [LSB 657 vs. 2b]

In our Gospel reading, Jesus the Son of God and the Son of man performs perfectly the task that Adam could not accomplish; He defeats the devil.  Armed with only the Word of God, Jesus led by the Spirit of God entered the wilderness to right the wrong of Adam and undo the sin of our first parents.  His victory over the devil using only the true Word of God is also our victory, as He sends the devil running.  His righteousness becomes our righteousness by faith.  Just as in the garden, the battle being fought is really over obedience to God’s will, which is communicated in His Word.

As Satan addressed Jesus, he used the same tricks that Eve fell to.  Through deception, He attempted to plant doubts and half-truths, and then finally blatant lies in order to attack and already weakened Jesus.  But this was Jesus, the Christ, and the Son of God who enters the fray as your Champion.  Notice the decisive and bold stand that Jesus takes in our place: “Be gone, Satan!”  For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’”

Dear friends, the truth is that all of Satan’s attacks were meant to deter Jesus from His Divine appointment to become our Savior.  The devil tried every trick in the book to prevent Jesus from doing what Adam could not.  And now, the devil tries the same thing against us.  Think of how most temptations still come to us today: “If you are really God’s forgiven child then why do you still struggle with guilt and sin?  If you are truly a Christian, blessed by God, why are you experiencing all of this trouble, pain, and loss?”

Dear friends, Jesus knows what it is like to fight off questions about God’s truthfulness, which undermine the message about His forgiving love.  He knows how the devil tempts us to take short cuts as a way of getting to our treasured goal.  He knows what we all go through in those tough times of life when our baptism seems so long ago and far away.  He knows what is like to doubt the trustworthiness of our Heavenly Father.  And that is why Jesus wielded the sword of God’s Word against the devil.  He did it to crush him and send him running in defeat, a defeat for you!

“Though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot over power us.  Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage.  His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!  One little word subdues him.” [LSB 657 Vs. 3]

What is that little Word?  Jesus!  God Saves!  It is the name of Jesus that is your fortress.  Blessed is the name of the Lord.  The name of the Lord is a strong tower.  The righteous run into it, (that is they cling to their Savior Jesus by faith), and are safe. [Proverbs 18:10]

Through Jesus alone, the pattern of death begun by Adam is over. [Romans 5:12–19] Jesus is that seed of the woman who would smash the head of our enemies: sin, death, and the devil.  Upon the cross, that ancient serpent shrieked when he heard the last Words of our Savior: “It is finished.  Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  For Jesus, these are Words of victory, but for us, they are words that bring faith.  Words that assure us the battle is over and won!

Just as Adam’s one sin led to death for all of mankind, so also Christ’s obedient death and then resurrection, brought justification and new life to all who are baptized in His name and continually flee to the fortress of His Word and His cross in repentance and receive God’s forgiving love.

What an unspeakable gift God has given us through Jesus Christ!  It is literally paradise restored.  As God’s new people sealed by baptism into Christ, we can once again walk with God without fear.  We can look forward to the day when we die in faith and are welcomed back to Eden restored, where our Savior has gone to prepare a place just for us.

But for now we live and walk by faith.  And as we live, it’s God’s will that we would drink up every one of His promises that declare, “He who began the good work in us” will complete it through the new and greater Adam, Jesus Christ.  We declare boldly by faith to our enemies, that no one, not even the devils can snatch us out of the Father’s hand or the Son’s abundant gift of grace.

“God’s Word forever shall abide.  No thanks to foes, who fear it; for God Himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.  Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.  The Kingdom’s ours forever!” [LSB 657 vs.4]

So follow Jesus. The fortress awaits and paradise is restored!  AMEN!

The Blood of the New Covenant

March 5th, 2014

Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Ash Wednesday is a first night of 40 nights that we seriously reflect on three things.  First we consider our frailty.  We are but flesh.  We come from the earth and to the earth we shall return; Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Second we consider our sinfulness; our complete lack of excuse before God for the sinful things we have done and the good and holy things we fail to do.  And finally, we consider God’s righteousness and His gifts to us and for us, which are ours through Christ Jesus.

Tonight we will look at two covenants or promises that God has provided to save His people.  Both involve the shedding of blood.  One was temporary and the other eternal.

Modern men and women within our society are repulsed by the Old Testament sacrifice of animals, so much so, that many people want to close their eyes to the truths in those portions of Scripture which demand a sacrifice.  They want to close their eyes because it shows how horrid our sins are.  Oh they’ll gladly agree that the Old Testament points to the promised Savior of the New Testament, but the bloody stories of a God who punishes seems to have no place in a civilized society.

But the old covenant demonstrates unashamedly our God who is holy, disciplined, exacting, loving and trustworthy.   In fact, the entire Old Testament reveals the depth of humankind’s depravity, the seriousness of our sin, the extent of God’s anger, the depth of His love, and the need for a redeeming Savior.

Moses understood these issues. Speaking for God, he told the Israelites that to cover human sin, blood must be shed. The power of the blood must accompany any approach to the Father. And as the blood of the old covenant was spilled onto the altar and was sprinkled on the people, God revealed His redeeming grace and the forgiving power of His mercy.

Why blood? Well, as Moses explained, again speaking for God, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11). All of the Old Testament rituals involving the spilling of blood made it clear that God takes sin seriously. Lifeblood must be shed to pay for sin. Someone, or something, must give its life. God’s wrath needed satisfaction. So, instead of requiring the death of the sinner, God offered grace by allowing the sacrifice of animals in their place.

But within God’s heart, His delight was not in blood sacrifice but in the yielding and surrendering of His people’s lives in dedication to Him. God desired a new relationship of faith with His children.  As Samuel said to Saul, “Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). David also said, “For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps 51:16–17).

Tonight, we approach God with broken spirits and contrite hearts.  And we know, He will not despise those things.  Why?  Because of the blood!

The blood in the Old Covenant, was used to foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ, and it pointed to something far deeper. Remember, God desires a right relationship of faith with His children.  He yearns for reconciliation and fellowship—something blood sacrifices could only point to. He knew the blood spilled on the altar and sprinkled on the people was temporary. What was needed was a blood sacrifice greater than the blood of rams and goats.  He needed to take His children’s eyes and hearts off of the Law and instead place their hope in His incomprehensible mercy. But to accomplish this God must provide One final blood sacrifice upon an altar made of wood.

Moses built an altar as his first sign of the covenant relationship to consecrate the people to God (Ex 24:4–5). To the Israelites and other ancient peoples, an altar meant a place for putting something to death, not only physically but also in their hearts. For the people of God, the altar also represented God’s real presence in their lives.

The blood sprinkled on the altar represented a life offered, or poured out, to the One true God in sacrifice. Sacrifices were not wasteful or extravagant acts of worship, in fact after the sacrifice, most of them required that the meat be eaten. So, the altar of God was the place where the people, the priests, and God held a meal together to show that they were in a relationship of peace and fellowship with each other.

As a place of fellowship, consecration, and sacrifice, the altar had to be made holy through the shedding and application of blood. The sanctified altar, then, became holy ground on which to lay the sin offerings of the people. The throwing of blood on the altar signified access to God; the blood of a chosen substitute replaced their lives, lives now committed and dedicated to Him.

Jesus’ disciples understood the blood of the old covenant, but how could they possibly comprehend the depth of Christ’s words on Maundy Thursday when He lifted a cup and spoke of the blood of the new covenant (Mt 26:27–28)? Christ often foretold His suffering and death, yet no words could prepare the disciples for the events that followed.

On Good Friday, another altar rose above the earth towering far above all other altars, and it was wooden and roughly cut. It would hold the Sacrifice, the One whose blood would redeem all people for all eternity. And From heaven, the Father observed His Son Jesus’ obedient death upon the cross and accepted His sacrifice on our behalf. From that time forward, in the heavenly tabernacle, an everlasting covenant—a new covenant—was made (Hebrews 9:11–14). By the cross, Jesus’ disciples, you and me, became partakers in His life and possessors of the heavenly inheritance (Hebrews 9:16–22).

This evening, we have witnessed a baptism.  We have seen two young children snatched from the kingdom of the devil and transferred into the Kingdom of Heaven.  It was the blood of the very King of Heaven that was sprinkled upon them in the washing of the water and the Word.  A blood far superior to that of animals, for it’s washing is eternal.

You dear parents are now called to model a life of repentance and faith.  You must agree with God that He is right and you are wrong.  You must turn to the Author and Perfecter of your faith every day for forgiveness and then you must teach your children to do the same.  You must instruct them of the importance of hearing and studying the Word of God, and when they are older, you must ensure that they and you approach the table of the Lord together for His Holy meal of forgiveness.

Just as a meal followed the sacrifices of the old covenant, so God’s people commune with Him today at the Lord’s Table. When you receive the body and blood of Christ, His fullness fills you. His mercy forgives you. His grace redeems you. You rest assured in the blotting out of all your sins (1John 1:7). With immediate deliverance and total justification, you know that God’s wrath has been removed, and that He no longer sees your sins but the covering of Christ’s blood sprinkled upon you and your children on your behalf.

In this new life of faith, I pray that each of you will dedicate yourselves in service to Jesus.  I also pray that as we pass through these 40 days of Lent, you will prepare yourself to be engulfed by all that is Holy Week.  Allow God to create a great hunger within you to dine at the Lord’s table on Maundy Thursday.  Ask Him to prepare your entire soul to enter into the grief of sins, even your own sins on Good Friday, and then prepare your self for the wonderful resurrection joy, which is the experience of Easter morning.  And through it all, I pray for you that God will continue to reveal His redeeming grace, His unlimited love, and the forgiving power of His mercy by the blood of the new covenant. The blood of Jesus Christ spilled on the altar of the cross, which now saves you.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Welcome, Now Listen!

March 2nd, 2014

The Transfiguration of our Lord (A), March 2, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” [Matthew 17:5b]

These are powerful words that either thunder from God’s Holy Mountain as an “or else” statement, or they are the sweet melodies of comfort, taking the promises of God’s mercy and presence directly into our hearts, as a mother would sing a lullaby to her child.  How you take these words will determine how this mornings message works within your soul.  The disciples and Holy Apostles of Jesus found themselves in a similar situation just a few weeks before Jesus’ transfiguration.

While in the district of Caesera Philippi, which was near the Syrian border, Jesus asked His disciples a simple question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  That is, who do they say Jesus is?  Now the disciples gave Jesus different answers as they had heard them spoken among the people.  When they had finished, Jesus asked the real question: “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:13-18]  Then Jesus strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ.  “(And) from that time (on) Jesus began to show His disciple that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  (But) Peter took Him aside and began to (scold) Him, saying “Far be it from you, Lord!  (That) shall never happen to you.”  (Then) Jesus turned (around) and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man( that is, the things of this world).”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me (that is if you want to truly be my disciple), let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:19-24]  After those Words, Jesus encouraged them with these mysterious Words.  “For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of the Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done (in faith).  Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom.” [Matthew 16:27, 28]

This morning, God wants you to see the truth about Jesus; it is a truth that only His Holy Spirit can reveal to you.  He wants you to declare and believe along with Peter and the whole church, “(Jesus is) the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  But He also wants you to see the absolute necessity of His suffering death and His resurrection.  He wants you to allow both your declaration of faith and your new life through His death and resurrection to lead you out into a world dark and dead in sin with no fear.  But Jesus knows, like Peter, you will have both doubts and fears; He knows that the devil will attempt to take your eyes off of His path, which is the painful way of the cross, so just as He rebuked Satan for Peter, He does the same for you.  And with Satan defeated and your eyes back on Jesus He says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”  Now let’s get into our gospel reading (Matthew 17:1-8).

This morning, we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord.  We see whom those few are that would not taste death before they saw the “Son of Man in the glory of the Father.”

There on the mountaintop, Peter, James, and John were allowed to see who Jesus was… God Almighty.  There on the mountain top Jesus the Son of Living God is shining with all of His divine glory “like the sun.”  And there appearing with Him in a holy conversation are Moses and Elijah.  The disciples needed no introduction, because God’s Spirit was present and working within their hearts.  Both of these long departed men of God were national heroes to the Jews, and they collectively represented all that was good in being one who has been chosen, called, and protected by God Himself, as a Father protects and a mother comforts their own dear children.  Moses was the great lawgiver.  The Law was God’s way of protecting His children by creating a hedge around them, which would deliver them from their enemies both physical and spiritual.  And Elijah, he represented all of the prophets, which God had sent to remind His people that the Messiah, their Savior would soon come by breaking into our reality and delivering the long awaited salvation from their real enemies, which were sin, death, and the devil!

Please remember this: While Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking it was only Jesus who was shining in glory.  Any shining that came from the other two was simply the light of the Son of God reflecting off them, much like the moon can not generate its own light but only reflect the light of the sun.

Now in the middle of this moment when both heaven and earth become one, a time when most people would be still and silent, Peter can not help but declare, “Lord, its good that we’re here!”  Peter, Peter, what are you doing?  That was a divine A-B conversation between God and the Law and Prophets.  The only part you play in that conversation is “C” so SEE your way out of it!  But he doesn’t; in fact he makes it worse, well for us he makes it better when he asks: “if you want, I’ll make three shelters here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” [Matthew 17:4]

Now here is what I mean when I say that He makes it better.  Just when Peter asked that ridiculous question, Moses and Elijah vanished, making it clear that the center of attention are not Moses and Elijah. A shining cloud surrounded that mountaintop and the voice of God the Father speaks just as He had spoken at the Jordan on the day of Jesus baptism; He says, “This One is my beloved Son, in who I am well pleased.”

Did you hear those Words?  He said this One; not Moses, not Elijah, but Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God!  He is the One who will fulfill all of Israel’s hopes in their waiting for the coming Messiah; He is the One who unlocks the meaning of all of God’s Word.  This is the One who will forgive the sins of the world and make all people who will follow Jesus, children of the Living God!  And what does the Voice of God the Father tell them to do next?  “Listen to Him!”  Listen to Him and see only Jesus.

This was enough to knock the three disciples to the ground hiding their faces from the glory of God.  They were terrified, because no one can see God and live; yet there they still were on that mountain alone with Jesus and still living!  And in the middle of their fears, Jesus the Son of God and son of Mary, their friend and brother and now clearly their God, taps them on the shoulder and says: “Knock it off!”  No, I mean He says, “Get up and stop being afraid.”  Come on I’m still here with you.  Follow me.  You know where we have to go, and you should understand by now that it will be all right.  I am not just a simple carpenter; I am not just your teacher, brother and friend.  I AM your God, the Son of the Father.  So follow me. Pick up your cross and come down from this Mountaintop Epiphany and follow me into real life and real death ; first my own suffering and death and then yours; first my resurrection and ascension into heaven, and then yours.  But we do not want to follow, do we?  Following Jesus means…

Fear.  Fear of things like betrayal, humiliation, suffering, and death.  Let me speak into your hearts some of those things that bring betrayal, humiliation, suffering, and death, and then let me speak Words of faith, hope, and comfort.  Words of victory over all of things that hound us and cause us to doubt, stumble, and fear.  (ILLUSTRATIONS: Please listen to the audio.) To those of you who have been stuck on that mountain top for years, Jesus is tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “Quit being afraid.  Follow me out into real life and know freedom.”

This morning, through the Word of God, empowered and defined by the Holy Spirit through other portions of God’s Word and yet spoken and written by sinful yet redeemed men, you have been given freedom.  You have heard the eyewitness account of God’s real presence in our world.  You have heard how easily He breaks into your reality with the means He alone chooses.  And now, through that same Word of God and the gift of faith, you too have become in essence, “eye witnesses”.  You have been shown through the Word of God His “Majestic Glory.”  You have also heard with your own ears, this is my beloved Son, with Who I am well pleased.”

You have all of the prophetic Word more fully confirmed than all those who were called “children of Abraham” before the coming of the Messiah.  They had only the promise of the coming, but you have the fulfillment of the promise, Jesus Christ!  As St. Peter says, “You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  That is until the fulfillment of your baptismal promise is complete and you finally arrive within the House of the Father and reside in the place that Jesus has gone to personally prepare for you!

You can trust these Words dear children, because they are not simply the fanciful writings of sinful yet hopeful men; they are the very Word of God to bring courage and cheer to your heart.  Know this and remember it always, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along (and led) by the Holy Spirit (of God).” [2 Peter 1:16-21]

This morning, God welcomes you like He always does as we gather around His Word and Sacraments.  He welcomes you with the Words, listen and believe.  It’s in that Word that He reminds you that in your baptism you have been sprinkled with a blood far superior to that of animals; you have been forever washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God.  In His Word, He invites you to His table to “Take eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins.”  God wants you to receive all that is in His Living Word, which is Jesus Christ and then have faith.  Get up and go.  Go out into a world of darkness where there is real suffering and pain; real inequities and unfairness.  A world that appears to still be under the bondage of sin, death, and Satan.  But know that Jesus has overcome this world.  Follow Him and the way of the cross, because the way of glory has not yet fully arrived, but it will soon be yours eternally.  It will be a time, no an eternity, where you will never again know pain and sorrow; a time when all your tears will be wiped dry.

Now, may you turn only to Jesus, who alone can sustain you as you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him!  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

You Will Be Holy

February 23rd, 2014

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 23, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” [Leviticus 19:1, 2]

Does that bit of scripture from our Old Testament lesson make you nervous?  It could if you read it with a sinful heart, or if you didn’t understand what new life in Christ really means.  If that was the case, you would read it more like this: “You will be holy… or else!”  Now that can be terrifying because of who is speaking… the Holy God of the universe!   But as we said last week, that is not God’s will for you Christians.  He has given you a new heart; a heart that will hear those words in a different way; a way like this: “You will be holy because I who am holy, am with you always.  I am holy for you, so… be Holy!

The gospel song we just heard by the Highway QC’s encouraged us to live holy, or to be “Working on the Building.”  Or to paraphrase St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 3:10-23), discover how God gives us both warning and hope as we take caution in how we build upon the foundation of our lives, that is the source of our holiness, Jesus Christ! [1 Cor. 3:10, 11]

This morning, before I speak one Word about our Old Testament lesson, I want to assure that you little ones who belong to Jesus Christ receive these Words within the proper context; so I share with you this reminder from St. Paul: “You were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.” [1 Cor. 6:20]  The price of your salvation was the very lifeblood of Jesus, the Son of God.  The way you glorify God in your body is to be holy, that is you will live out the freedom that Christ’s sacrifice has brought you.

In verses 9 through 16 God shows us what holiness looks like in three places: The field; the community; and the courts.  It was meant to cover all aspects of life for the young nation of Israel as they prepared to enter the land promised them by God.  The Law of God represented the hedge of protection so to speak that He had set up for them so that they would not become enslaved again by the world, but instead remain holy as they lived to please Him.  Within each directive were two major premises that summed up all of God’s law: You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, body, and soul, and you shall love your neighbor as your self.  In other words, God was teaching them how to “work on their building” or, he was teaching them how to maintain their relationship of holiness with Him and each other.

In all of these prohibitions for the field, the community, and the courts, what God is saying is that people matter to Him, especially the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the down trodden.  And since they matter to Him, they must matter to us!  They were the ones that had neither land nor meaningful employment, which forced them to labor at the will of others as they attempted to scratch out just enough to provide for the basics of life.  To ensure that they were provided for, God’s Word established rules for those who had farms and vineyards; God established a simple way for those who had much to provide for those who had little; they must leave some of the bounty of their harvest for the poor.  When I lived in Louisiana many years ago, I observed this practice still being followed, as the poor went out with their large cloth bags to pick the cotton growing at the edge of the fields and at the fence lines so that they could then sell it and have money to care for their families.  What we Christians know today, is the very thing that Moses and his flock knew then, God cares about the poor and so should we!  But God also cares about those folks who can easily fall prey to others who are more cunning and self-centered.  These are the ones that trust that God will protect them through the holiness and love of others.  And that is where God’s Word takes us next…

The community!  Perhaps one of the most despicable things you will witness in our community is when others take advantage of those who can’t protect themselves.  I remember one incident where I witnessed children teasing and taking advantage of another child with Down’s Syndrome.  My natural reaction was to rush over to that child and protect him.  My second response was to scold the other children and teach them what it meant to fear and love God and love each other.  This is precisely what God is doing for us and to us in this portion of our reading, where He insists that living out His holiness will protect those who are deaf and the blind.  If we take this as a metaphor, then, God is directing us to apply His holiness to anyone who is weak and vulnerable.  This gives a whole new appreciation to the old illustration of the Boy Scout helping the old lady cross the street, while also carrying her groceries.

And Jesus says to us this morning: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” [Matt. 26:40]  So… “Do not steal.  Do not lie.  Do not deceive one another.  Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God.  Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him.  Do not hold back the wages of a hired man (or someone who is living hand to mouth) over night.  Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God.  I am the LORD.”

Well the final area of life addressed in our Old Testament lesson is ready for us to examine, and it is represented by the place where justice is found.  For the Israelites, that place was the council of the Elders.  They were both the municipal government and the court system.

Have you ever seen the statue that represents our legal system?  It is the image of the Roman goddess Justitia.  She stands blindfolded with weight scales in one hand and a sword resting in the other.  It is suppose to represent both our government and our legal system.  It is suppose to remind us that government and justice must serve and hand out justice equally; they are blind to status and influence, and empowered by God Himself to both protect and take vengeance against those who act contrary to the law.  But ask any victim of a crime who has not had justice served, and they will paint a different picture of lady Justice for you.  Their idea of that old Lady is a picture where she is peaking out of the blindfold, with scales tipped to favor the fortunate and influential, and a sword not at rest but poised to strike anyone who disagrees with her.

But God is not blind; He sees all things, and today He declares to those of us who go to the government or the courts for help, and to those who would misuse our system: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.  Do not go about spreading slander among your people.  Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life.  I am the LORD.”

Well, following the theme of building our lives and our community upon God’s holiness, we could say that it is time for the building inspector to come along and evaluate our building process thus far.

If your roof is leaking and the walls are caving in, it is a good bet that you have not been building according to God’s plan.  But conversely, if your roof appears water tight, and the walls are intact, it means nothing if your foundation is cracked!  And that takes us to the final area, which our Old Testament lesson addresses…

Our Hearts!  When God spoke the words of our Old Testament lesson to His people through Moses, it was a foretaste of the very Words Jesus would speak to the church, listen: “I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]  And, “Everyone who hears these Words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” [Matt. 7:24]  You see God always ties His people’s holiness to His Word that turns His people back to Him; back to His promise to save them through His Son, Jesus Christ!  Jesus alone is our foundation, our source of holiness, life, and salvation.  God attaches Himself to us through His means of grace.  The Word of God and the Sacraments feed and nourish us as surely as a vine feeds and nourishes the branches and as strong as a solid foundation supports the building!

Do you want to live a holy life?  Good then look to Jesus!  Look to Jesus upon the cross between two thieves, hear those who He came to save and die for hurl insults at Him and mock Him, and then hear Him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And then look within your own heart and find those corrupt, sinful things that do not belong in the vine and allow God’s Spirit to pluck them out.  Find any thing that will corrupt the foundation of Christ alone, and allow God to remove them.

Do you struggle with anger and the desire to take revenge?  Are you at times overwhelmed with the apparent unfairness of life?  Then again, look to Jesus.  Look to Jesus and remember that it is God alone who pays back evildoers.  Cyprian, one of the early church fathers in the 3rd Century said: “When a wrong is received, patience is to be maintained, and vengeance is to be left to God.”  Today, on the Sunday that we are about to gather for our potluck in remembrance of Black History Month, we remember also the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who lived out that same belief.  Within the crucible of pain and the path of the cross of Jesus, Dr. King also worked on his building as he continued by faith to follow His Lord.  He saw a day when all of God’s children regardless of their race or condition in life would be able to praise God in one voice saying… “Free at last; free at last.  Thank God almighty, free at last!”

For us dear Christians that time has already come upon us; we have been freed, but we still live in a world that is held in bondage to sin.  We still experience the sinfulness and unfairness of this fallen world, but we know that this is the very reason that we are still here!  We are here to display God’s holiness; to be salt and light in a dying world.  We are blessed for this moment and for this generation.  We are the baptized; we are the church, that great city on a hill that can not be hidden.  We are not under the Law but we follow the One who fulfilled it, Jesus Christ.  We are under His Law and that is the Law of love.  He is our very foundation and that foundation is love; love for God and mutual law for each other.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.”  And “By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” [Jn. 13:34, 35]  To love does not mean to simply wish well for others, but instead it means that we bear each others burdens, that is to bear what is burdensome to you, something you would rather not carry.  So as our sainted Dr. Martin Luther said, “A Christian must have broad shoulders and husky bones to carry the flesh, that is the weakness of the brethren.”  In other words, we need God’s holiness to be holy for each other; we need Jesus Christ!

Do you by the work of God have Jesus?  Will you with the help of God confess your need for Him always in your life?  Will you, also with the help of God value His Word and Sacraments as your very source of life and strength?  Do you long to hear His Word speak forgiveness to your heart, and do you see His church as the very embodiment of His presence in this dying world?  Good, then you are holy.  Now in Jesus name, go out and be holy!  AMEN!

Live Long and Prosper

February 16th, 2014

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 19, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Last week, God’s Word invited us to live out our third choice, His choice, Jesus Christ.  Today we continue that journey, that choice of living everyday with God’s mercy and forgiving love which is ours through Christ’s death and resurrection as our baptismal identity.

This morning in our Old Testament lesson, God spoke through Moses to the people of Israel an urgent message of repentance, but He is also speaking to us, listen: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” [Deuteronomy 30:15-18]

So this morning, like the people of Israel, God gives us two choices: 1. Choose life in Me and you will live long and prosper, or; 2. Choose life in the world and you will surely perish.

What Israel could not have known yet, because God had not yet warned them through the prophets, was the truth that even though they were on their way to the promised land, they would sin against God by choosing the way of the world and they would be taken back into bondage through exile to foreign lands, and then, they would be given an opportunity to repent and once again know God’s grace, that is His mercy and forgiving love.  Then and only then, would they be able to live a life surrounded by God’s blessings and the daily choice to remain obedient to the will of God and His commandments.  If they would choose God’s way they would have something greater than a long life, they would have an eternal life.  But failure to receive all of God’s Word would most certainly result in death; that is eternal separation from God.

So we see, what God was really saying to the people of Israel and to us today is “Choose Me and you will be choosing a long, eternal, and prosperous life!  If you choose to stay with Me, I will always be with you just as I went with my people in the desert as a pillar of light by night and pillar of cloud by day.  I did that so you would know that I would never leave you or forsake you.  But not only was I with you, but I provided all that you needed to survive.  I gave you both food and drink.”  What Israel was to remember was that God chose them, they did not choose Him.  So now, all that He was asking them to do was rest in that choice; sadly many did not.  They did not choose God because they preferred to choose the way of the world.

Whenever Israel chose the way of the world, they were choosing sin; in essence they were declaring their independence from the God who not only created them, but redeemed them.  They chose death, evil, and the curse that went with death and evil… eternal separation from their only source of salvation.  Here is a trust worthy saying: When ever God’s children choose sin over Him and His gift of faith, which He has given to them, they also loose the ability to be obedient to His will, and then very quickly they will unite with their new masters, sin, death, and the devil.  If you reject God who creates life, then it only makes sense that you embrace death.

So what we discover is that choice is not something we do to get something we want, but something God has done and then invites us to rest in; something that gives purpose and meaning to life… and that something is the life of Jesus Christ.  Jesus life, death, and resurrection reminds us that we did not choose God, He chose us.

This morning, Jesus, the Son of God says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. [John 15:16-17]

Dear friends, I pray that you understand how blessed you are to be living in the time that you are living.  God does not speak to your through a burning bush, nor is He present with you in a pillar of fire or cloud.  He is with you now through His Son, Jesus Christ.  In His Word He speaks life into you.  By the power of His Spirit, God’s Word becomes strong and living within you.  In that Word you hear how God came to a sinful world that would not repent, that is they would not come to Him and choose life.  They would not choose Him so He came to them.  He came to them through His Son Jesus, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God made all things new!  But God did not just choose to save the world; He chose to save you personally.

In your baptism, God took the power of Christ’s death, a gift for the world and He applied it to you personally.  In your baptism, you have been saved from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil, and you have been told that your time of exile is over; that is your separation from God is over.  Now all that is left for you to do dear Christian is to continue following Jesus and His way, the way of the cross.

The way of the cross is the way of the baptized.  Martin Luther throughout His life encouraged Christians to embark on this journey every morning by rising out of bed, making the sign of the cross, and then saying, “I am baptized into Christ.”  That is your old sinful nature has been buried with Christ, and your new baptized nature has been resurrected with Him.  In other words you are reaffirming every morning that you choose life; you choose to live out God’s choice of life for you and then demonstrate that life to others that you will encounter throughout the day.

Just as Israel long ago was commanded to choose life so too are we.  By choosing life God means for us to choose to rest in His source to save us, Jesus Christ.  He is the source of both our choice and the purpose for the lives we live under this choice.  In other words, Jesus gives our lives meaning; He gives us the ability to live lives of faith and obedience to the will of God.  As Israel was invited to choose life, so are we.  With Jesus as the source of our life, we discover that our life has a purpose here on this earth.  And that purpose is to witness to God’s mercy and forgiving love.  We can do this because everyday we are experiencing it through God’s grace, which has become His gift to us through our baptism.  We choose life because He who was crucified and resurrected has assured us of the true life we have in Him.

Dear friends, you will not choose death because Jesus has destroyed death through the cross and the empty tomb.  You are not your own; you have been bought with a price.  You no longer live to please yourself, but your Father in Heaven.  Your life in Christ is now about caring for God and for your neighbor.  You choose life for yourself when you choose the will of God over your own will.  Your life will not be consumed with satisfying your own sinful desires but instead, you will become conscience of the will of God and the needs of your neighbor, and their greatest need is to know Jesus unto eternal life.

Everyday, we who call ourselves Christians are confronted with all kinds of choices as we live out our lives here in a dying world.  All to often, our sinful flesh over powers our new nature and caves into the world’s definition of choice.  We find ourselves picking and choosing the things that will benefit ourselves at the expense of pleasing God and helping out our neighbors within our community.  But choice within God’s definition of choice is not a matter of picking and choosing; it is a covenant term or a promise from God to us.  We know that those who refuse to receive God’s promise of life through Jesus Christ will only know death.  But we who are baptized, that is those of us who are saved by God’s grace through faith, choose to live out that baptismal grace every day.  We choose to continue to live out our lives in Christ, and we are assured of His presence and strength through out our lives in this world of exile.  We cling to the promise of Jesus that says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you”.

I pray that as you continue living out God’s choice you would know that eternal life is yours.  I pray that you would live a life of peace with God and peace with your neighbor.  I pray that you would live long and prosper, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!