High and Lifted Up

March 15th, 2015

Lent 4 B, March 15, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church,
San Diego, CA

Numbers 21:4–9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In today’s gospel lesson (John 3:14-21) we hear Jesus own Words to Nicodemus describe why He has come to us as one of us, listen: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” [Vs. 14, 15]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debt Paid in Full!

March 8th, 2015

Lent 3 B, March 8, 2015

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

1 Corinthians 1:18–31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justified and Faith-filled

March 1st, 2015

Lent 2 B, March 1, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson
Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church,
San Diego, CA

Romans 5:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Test, Testimony, and Faith

February 22nd, 2015

Lent 1 B, February 22, 2015

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

Genesis 22:1-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Is Good To Be Here!

February 15th, 2015

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday B, February 15, 2015

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Mark 9:2-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same Word—Different Teaching

February 1st, 2015

Epiphany 4-B, February 1, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do a One Eighty!

January 25th, 2015

Epiphany 3-B, January 25, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind Your Calling

January 18th, 2015

Epiphany 2-B, January 18, 2015
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

Have you ever had to deliver some bad news to someone?  Take just a moment to think about that question; maybe you’ve been a supervisor and you had to let someone go, or perhaps you were in a relationship that you felt was not God pleasing and you knew you had to cut it off before it developed into something sinful.  Now let me pose another question; have you ever been the recipient of some bad news?  Maybe from a doctor or a policeman?  How did you feel?

Well this morning’s message gives us not just examples of “bad news” but also good news.  We will use all three readings to look at God’s call to sinners such as us.  First in our Old Testament lesson (1 Samuel 3:1-20) we will see how God called and used a young boy named Samuel to give some bad news to his mentor and teacher Eli, and then in our Gospel lesson (John 1:43-51), we will see how Jesus’ call to Nathaniel used both the law and the gospel to bring faith, and finally we will look at our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), which will teach us how to apply all of God’s Word as we live out our lives within our calling as Christians within Christ’s church and our communities.

God equips those He calls. If you were the young boy Samuel, and you heard someone calling your name, do you think that you would immediately know that it was the Lord?  I don’t see how you could if you did not know what the Lord’s voice sounded like; if you didn’t know how to separate His voice from all of the other voices in this world.  That was Samuel’s challenge, and it is still ours today.

Samuel was called on three separate occasions during the night, and each time he went to the man that he loved and trusted, thinking that it was Eli who called him.  After the third incident, Eli who was Samuel’s teacher realized that Samuel was encountering the voice of God, and like any good teacher of the church, he instructed the boy to wait on the Lord to call again, and then simply respond to God with these words, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  And that is exactly what the boy did, and oh my, did the Lord ever speak.

It was a frightening message of God’s Law, which promised that the old priest Eli and his family would be punished because of Eli’s poor parenting and his son’s sins.  Now imagine if you were that young boy Samuel, would you want to tell the one you loved like a father that bit of bad news?  But Eli recognized that what God had told the boy was not pleasant, but he also knew that what ever God’s says is ultimately for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.  So Eli continues as the faithful teacher and says, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And (Eli) said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”

When Martin Luther was a student at the University of Erfurt, he found a copy of the Bible in the school library. As he paged through Scripture, he happened upon these very words.  When he came to the 10th verse, he began wishing that he could be like Samuel and hear the voice of God! But years latter after reading all of God’s Word, Luther discovered that on the pages of the Bible, God really does speak to all of us, just as he once spoke to Samuel.  Like Samuel, Luther, and countless others, when we read God’s Word, we too hear Him speak.  And when we hear, we are to simply say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  We are to listen and agree that God is right and we are wrong.

In Samuel’s and Luther’s day, “the word of the Lord was rare,” and so it is in ours as well.  People have little interest in hearing what God has to say. And because of that, “there are not many visions.”

No greater judgment can fall upon a nation of people than when God’s Word and voice become rare. When people do not appreciate the gospel, God often takes it from them. Do you understand that by your repeated neglect of God’s Word you can bring about a famine of God’s Word?  Will you hear Him speak even more today?  If so, then let us examine…

The Call of Nathaniel. In Nathaniel’s call wee see both God’s Law and the good news of the Gospel.  “Come and see!”  All who have tasted and seen that the Lord’s goodness is truly present and given through Jesus Christ, will agree that those are the sweet invitation of the gospel.  Andrew and Peter knew of that goodness because another great teacher of the church, John the Baptist informed them.  And Jesus desired that Nathaniel would know the sweetness of this invitation too.  So Andrew, overwhelmed with joy seeks out Nathaniel and says,  “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, (the Messiah) Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  And how does Nathaniel respond?  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Have you ever tried to share you faith with someone, only to have him or her ridicule you for it?  They throw up one barrier after another to avoid the real issue behind the invitation of faith.  Why?  Because if your witness is true, then there really is a God who knows all things, and if that is true then that means I’ve been found out; it means I will have to change the way I think and the way I live.

So how did Andrew respond to Nathaniel’s challenge to his witness of Jesus?  He simply said, “Come and see.”  And wonder of wonders Nathaniel did that very thing!

What we must remember is that our gospel invitation to others is really the Lord’s call through us.  It is a call to come and experience both God’s truth in the Law, which shows us our sins, and His truth of the gospel, which shows us that our sins have been pardoned; taken away as far as the east is from the west.

When Jesus saw Nathaniel and the others approaching He said to the men, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.”  Now I don’t know how you read this, but I kind of hear sarcasm in the voice of Jesus; sarcasm directed at Nathaniel’s earlier sarcastic question that asked, “Can any thing good come from Nazareth.”  I think that Nathaniel picked up on that sarcasm too, and that is why he asked, “How do you know me?”  And to that, Jesus answers: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Whoa!  Don’t you kind of wonder what it was that Nathaniel now knows by faith that Jesus saw him doing?  Was it something done in private that he would have been embarrassed to have been seen doing in public?  Maybe, we don’t know, but what ever it was it so rattled Nathaniel that he quickly replied, “Rabbi, you (really) are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

And just like that, another sinner is brought into the Kingdom of Grace by faith; faith which came by the hearing of the Word of God, the message from and about Jesus Christ.  Now if that was all we had in or message this morning, I suppose that would be enough, but that is not all of our message.  Jesus is still speaking to both Nathaniel and us, and He says, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  In other Word’s, “Because you heard my Word and it both smashed your prideful heart and then rebuilt it in hope, you think you have heard and seen enough, but the truth is brother you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Wait until you see me high and lifted up on the cross, suffering and dying for the sins of the world.  Wait until you discover that after three days dead, my tomb is empty and I have come back to life to teach you even more mysteries.  Wait until I give you the power and authority to do the very same thing when you speak my Word and apply it with simple elements like water, wine, and bread.  Wait until you realize that just as I died and was resurrected, so too will you and all others who hear my Word.” And this is what we call…

The work or the call of Christs church. But some may counter that the work or mission of the church is happening in a much different world than ever before.  They will say that there are challenges that face us today that the apostles or even Luther did not have to encounter.  And to that I will simply present our Epistle reading and say… really?

St. Paul wrote this letter in an attempt to correct both the thinking and the teaching of a church in Corinth that seemed bogged down in a philosophy of libertinism.  All things were permissible as long as you have Christ.  Many scholars believe that the good Christians of Corinth grabbed one of Paul’s teachings, which stated that Christians were free of the condemnation of the Law of God and ran with it; they ran to the obvious conclusion… any thing goes!

Does anything go?  Is your body simply an amusement park that you can use as you see fit?  Is flesh, human flesh really unimportant when compared to our eternal destiny?  Paul answers with a resounding, no!  What you do with your body matters to God, because the body, that is human life belongs to Him alone.

On this Sunday that we celebrate the sanctity of human life, we do so in the midst of these Words of Paul: The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?

Of course you know this, but the world outside of this sanctuary does not.  They do not see that a very young child like Samuel can be used in a very powerful way by God.  They do not understand that there is a God who sees everything we do, and yet he still loves us, forgives us, and calls us to faith in His Son who died that they might have life.

All around us are people who live very promiscuous lives that seem to be centered around sex, drugs, and … well you get the point.  They do not realize that their bodies are not their own, but rather they are the Lord’s, bought with a dear price; with His very life blood.  In what ever station we find life it is the Lord’s.  Whether that life is unborn, very young, very old, healthy, or gravely ill, our bodies, each and everyone of them belong to the Lord!  Life is a gift of God, and it ceases to live and move and find it’s being in this world only when God calls it to the next eternal one.

The gift of sex between a man and a woman is given liberally and freely by God within the relationship of husband and wife, so that if it is God’s will, an even greater gift can be given, the gift of life!  This is God’s will and it is the teaching of His Holy Word.  The church is not to alter it nor remove it, but like all other messages of God we are to receive it even if it is unpopular; even if there is a part of us, that does not agree with it.  We are simply to admit that God is right and we are wrong.  But this is not as easy as some may think; it is not easy because our culture will not receive this message.  They will call us bigoted and unloving.  And when this is done, we demonstrate the exact opposite.  We accept them as they are and we love them enough to continue calling them to repentance and faith through the same Word of God that called out to Samuel, the people of Corinth, and Nathaniel and each of the apostles.

God’s Word is never easy to share; it is not easy because it confronts men and women in the midst of their sins.  But it becomes easy after sinful men allow God to work through His Word, and then agree with Him that they are dead and lost in their sinful choices; it becomes easy because it is then when the gospel can be spoken and heard, and new life through the forgiveness of sins can be given.

While it is true that God hates what today’s society calls recreational sex, because it is outside the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman who become one flesh, it is also true that He is slow to anger and quick to forgive when repentance and forgiveness is sought and given through Jesus Christ.  And when these sinful relationships create children out of wedlock, God does not declare the fruit unclean simply because the tree was.  God loves that child, and the proof is the very life it has been given.

And it is that gift of life that many times will create fear and worry in the hearts of the parents, and that fear can cause them to respond by compounding one sin with another, and so they choose abortion.  Abortion is the termination of life, and that is called killing, but killing another human is not the unforgivable sin; there is still room for grace.  And that dear Christians is both the call and the work of Christ’s church.  We are here to proclaim the gospel, the grace of God available to all sinners who will simply turn to Christ and trust in Him alone.  May we, each of us be busy about this work, inviting anyone who will respond to come and see; come and hear a message that will change them forever!  AMEN!

Who Did John Baptize?

January 11th, 2015

Epiphany 1-B, January 11, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), but then in the middle of time, “John the baptizer appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem went out to him to be baptized.  They were drawn to John; they confessed their sins to John.  They even wondered out loud and asked if John might be the promised Savior of the Jewish people, and John said very plainly, (No, but He is coming.)  “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And then one day, along came Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee and He presented Himself to be baptized by John in the Jordan.  [Mark 1:4-11]  Do you think that John knew whom it really was that presented Himself for baptism?  Certainly he was equipped by God to receive all that Jesus revealed Himself to be, but did He know that Jesus was from before the beginning of Creation?  Do we understand?

So in the middle of our doubts and fears, the Voice that spoke in the beginning speaks again about a new beginning.  “And when (Jesus) came up out of the water, immediately (John) saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

In the beginning God… Do you understand what those simple words mean?  Do you understand that in the beginning of all that we know as our reality, there was already God Who has no beginning?  Prior to the beginning, there was no up and no down, no here and no there.  There was nothing—except God.  He always was and always shall be.

So, in the beginning before there was anything, there was God who creates time and space, simply because He wills it.  This is Who we gather to hear from this morning; He alone deserves to be held in reverence and awe by us, His creation.  Everything exists because of Him and for Him, including you and me.  We don’t exists of ourselves or for ourselves.  We have no right to exist outside of our being in harmony and peace with our majestic Creator and His plan for us.  In His plan He makes us right with Him and each other, and He alone gives our lives great meaning.  What does it mean to have life?  It means that as people who live in the middle of time, the Eternal Creator, Who is the beginning comes to us in the middle and reveals Himself and allows us to know our own beginning and our end.

Do you understand who this Jesus that desires John’s baptism is?  He is the Logos, the Word of God, who from the beginning spoke these simple Words “Let there be light” and then there was.  Do you understand that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made”?

In Him and because of Him, we live and move and find our being.  He is the image of the invisible God.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.  For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him (the Creator of the beginning meets sinful creation in the middle and) reconciles to Himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace with sinful men and women.

But how can that be?  How can one who is in the middle with the rest of us be from the beginning; not just from the beginning, but before the beginning?

Sinful men and women can not understand the truth of who Jesus is, because not only do they run from the beginning of Creation, but they can not perceive of something before the beginning.  For although in their hearts they know there is God, they do not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they cling to their futile thinking, and pretend that their darkened foolish hearts are full of light and wisdom. So, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator they are lost in the middle.  But God still comes to sinful men and women; He will not give up moving their hearts and eyes of faith to the beginning and the end.

And here in the waters of the Jordan stands Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the son of Mary.  Here before John and us this morning is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.  In Him alone is the fullness of God and through Him alone the middle is brought back to the beginning by the blood of His cross.

Why was Jesus baptized?  Simply put, He comes to show us the way back to the beginning; to bring abundant life.  He comes as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world so that through grace we can know God’s love.  To ask why was Jesus baptized is really to ask why was Jesus born.  He was born to bring death and life; an end and a eternal beginning.  As He walks out of the waters of baptism He immediately enters into a life of service and suffering that will lead to His death upon the cross; a death that is for us, because it brings us back to the beginning and makes us right with our Creator.  But how does this help us?  Because where He leads, we follow.  We follow Him to the waters of our own baptism, and within those waters we also encounter the cross; we encounter and end to our sinful flesh as we follow Jesus who comes from the beginning.  Like Jesus, we die to live.  We emerge from our own baptism as someone who has been buried with Christ and raised to new life through the glory of the Father; a life that was the intent of the Creator in the beginning.

So consider yourselves dead.  You old self, that is your body of sin was crucified with Christ.

At the end of 2014 we celebrated the truth that God’s Son took upon Himself our human nature; He who was the source of the beginning came to us in the middle.  But He did more than come to us as one of us, He came to take on our sin.  And because of that sin, we can say that the source of the beginning takes on the nature of the middle, so that he can put an end to our fear of the end by bringing us back to the beginning.  For us He is born and for us He dies. In baptism, faith in this Son of God unites us to Him so that His death is truly our death.

In the beginning, the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  In your sins, you also were covered by darkness.  But in your baptism, the same Spirit of God that hovered over the waters in the beginning, hovered over the waters of your baptism.  In the beginning when the Logos, the Son of God spoke and said “Let there be light,” there was!  And in your baptism; the day you first entered into God’s beginning, that same Logos, the Word of God spoke a beginning for you. Through the obedience of His holy church, Christ commanded that you be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  He commanded that you be taught to observe all that He has commanded and revealed. And behold, in your baptism He gives you this great promise,  “He is with you always,” (even) to the end of this sinful age when He brings you back to the beginning.

So, if you consider yourselves dead with Christ, you must also consider yourselves alive with Him as well.

In holy baptism you have been made truly alive!  You are alive because Christ is raised from the dead.  Remember, in holy baptism you are following Christ, the source of the beginning.  You must not remain at the cross of Good Friday, but you must proceed to the empty tomb of Easter morning.  He is risen indeed!

The Father put His approval on His Son’s death by raising Him up.  Christ’s resurrection seals the atoning power of His sacrificial death for you.  The sins of the world were once and for all paid for.  And now, you too are asked to leave the tomb of death, and follow your Savior in new life; a restored life that finds its source in the beginning.

You are alive.  To be alive is to walk; to be raised to life is to be enable to walk, to move to show great evidence to all who see that you have abundant life.  Remaining in sin is to be without spiritual life; it is death.  But in Christ, that is in your baptismal newness of life you have an abundant life!  You are truly alive in Christ; alive to God.  You are to live your life with a new identity, a new status.  You are a child of God, a child of the beginning.

You are baptized; you have been born again, brought back to the beginning.  And because you are no longer imprisoned in a body of death, you are free!

You are fee to live to God in this New Year with an eternal new beginning.  What will that new life look like this year?  Only God knows.  But I do know this, you will continue to have trouble with your old sinful nature, because it does not like to die, because it is afraid of both the beginning and the end.  But you are of the beginning, and you are a new creation in Christ.  You are free; free to grow and face any challenge that awaits you.  You are free, but your old nature is not; it is bound to die, and it resents that you may live and it may not, so it will fight you.  So, you must fight it back, by daily putting it to death.  You do this when you remember your baptism; by remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus is also your death and resurrection.

I will close with this brief story about a jeweler who once told me of an easy but certain way of knowing the difference between a true diamond and a phony one.  This test is called the water test. He said that if I ever want to see the difference between the two I have to go to the water.  “An imitation diamond” he said, “is never so brilliant as a genuine stone. If you drop an imitation diamond into a glass of water, it almost disappears, but a genuine diamond sparkles even under water, and is distinctly visible.”

The moral of that little story is simple.  If through out this New Year you begin to feel discouraged and tired from fighting off your old sinful nature; if you begin to feel like sin is winning and grace and forgiveness are loosing, go back to the beginning; go back to the water, back to your baptism and remember it is there where your Creator met you and gave you new life.  Go back to the washing of the water and the Word, and let God’s Spirit dwell richly within you and shine.  AMEN.

Faithfully Obedient in Christ’s Word!

January 4th, 2015

2nd Sunday after Christmas B, January 4, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon him.” (Vs. 40)

A fable A man was sleeping one night in his cabin in the mountains, when suddenly his room filled with light and an angel of the Lord appeared. The angel told the man that the Lord had work for him to do, and He showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The angel explained to the man that his job was to push against that rock everyday with all of his strength. So the man was obedient, and every day he worked at the task; his shoulders became strong as he daily pushed against the massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might.  Each night the man returned to his cabin sore, and tired.  Eventually he began feeling like his whole day had been spent in vain.

Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, the devil decided to pay him a visit and place negative thoughts into the man’s weary mind: “You’ve been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You are never going to move it.”  After a while, these suggestive thoughts started giving the man the feeling that not only was his task impossible but also that he was a failure.  Eventually the man became depressed and he thought, “Yes, why kill myself over this?  I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort and that will be good enough.”

And that’s exactly what he planned to do, but that night, he decided to take his troubled thoughts to the Lord in prayer.

“Lord” he said, “I have worked long and hard, putting all my strength into what you’ve asked me to do.  And after all this time, I haven’t even budged that rock by a millimeter.  What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

And to this the Lord lovingly responded, “My friend, when I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done faithfully.  Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it.  Your task was simply to push.  And now look at yourself.  Your arms and back are strong and muscled, your shoulders are square, your hands are calloused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard.  Through opposition you have grown strong and your abilities now far surpass what you used to have.  And it’s true, you haven’t moved the rock.  But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom.  This you have done.  And now friend, I WILL move the rock.”

Obedience and faith; these are two things which always seem to go together.  We need faith to believe that God will do what He said He would do, and we need obedience to follow the path that God has put us on!  Mary and Joseph were obedient, but for the ultimate example of faithfulness and obedience we must turn to and trust Jesus!

(Luke 2:40-52) Every year, Joseph and Mary obediently did the right thing; they took their son Jesus and made the long journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate the eight day long pass-over festival.  This year was a little different, because Jesus had now turned 12 years old.  This was the age when a Jewish boy became “a son of the law” and was expected  to obediently learn and observe all that the law demanded.  Well the festival is over, and now it’s time to head back to Nazareth.  Joseph, Mary, and Jesus would return home along with of the other families from Nazareth and near by villages and towns.

Well after the first day of travel, as everyone in the caravan was pitching their tents for the evening, Joseph and Mary realized any parent’s worst nightmare, Jesus was missing!  They quickly turned around and went back up the hill making the long trek back to Jerusalem to search for Jesus.  Once back in the city, the couple began to search for their boy.  They retraced their steps and went to every place they thought that Jesus might be.  Finally, towards evening, they found Him, sitting on the steps of the temple as a student, engaged in a learning discussion about God’s Word with Rabbi’s who were also gathered there.

They were relieved of course but they also must have been worn-out and a little irritated as well, but they held their temper and didn’t interrupt the discussion that was taking place between Jesus and all of those teachers.  It amazed them to hear Jesus asking and answering such deep spiritual questions.  The teachers were amazed at the boy’s wisdom too.  But now, Jesus seeing His parents suddenly rose, and He obediently walked over to them.  And His mother said to him, Son, why have you treated us so? See, your father and I have been searching everywhere for you; (we were worried sick over you!)” And Jesus who was honestly surprised by this said to them, “You were looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be doing my Father’s work?  Didn’t you know that I would be here in my Father’s house?” And that was it, the dilemma was over!  Jesus and His family began the long trip back to Nazareth.

Mary and Joseph didn’t understand, but they knew that Jesus was a special boy, but someday they would understand that He was also the “God-man”.  So Jesus grew as any child, and he became wise and strong, and he continued to find favor in the eyes of God and man! Why didn’t Mary and Joseph know where to find Jesus?  Why didn’t they remember what the angels, the Magi, and the prophets told them about their child 12 years ago?  Why didn’t they remember that Jesus was really God the Father’s Son?  Well, because Jesus was also a very real person.

As a boy, and latter as a man Jesus was under God’s authority and dependent upon him for all things just like we are.  As a boy, Jesus was expected to be obedient to His earthly parents and keep the 4th Commandment perfectly, just as you and I must do, but the difference between Jesus and us is He was able to do it and we can’t!  But then why did Jesus become separated from Joseph and Mary if he wasn’t at fault?  Well the error was His parents.  When Jesus asked them how it was that they didn’t know where he would be, he wasn’t being sarcastic, but truthful.  “Why didn’t you look for me before you left?  I would have left with you, you know!  Have you forgotten who I really am?  Have you forgotten all that the angel told you about me?  Why would you need to wonder where I would be or where you must find me?  I must be in my Father’s house!”  Here in our gospel lesson, at the age of twelve we see that Jesus clearly knew most certainly that God was his Father in a way in which he was not Father to anyone else!

Dear friends, do you understand the wonderful mystery here?   This boy Jesus is speaking as God the Son; even before He took on our flesh He was always eternally the Son of God! Can you surrender to the mystery that declares that Jesus is true God and true man without trying to explain how this can be?  Yes you can if by faith you obediently surrender this mystery into God’s capable hands!  And it is by this same faith that we believe, teach, and confess that the divine and human natures of Jesus are now and forever inseparable; not pasted together like two boards, nor one transformed or absorbed into the other, but instead, each essence of God and man simply exist together in an unchangeable way that truly makes Jesus the God-Man!

According to this personal union this God-boy in our gospel lesson already and always possessed His majesty as God, and yet He allowed it to be hidden just as great clouds in the sky can hide the sun. This is how Jesus could grow in stature, wisdom, and grace before God and other people [Luke 2:52]. This is why Jesus, knowing that He was the true Son of God, continued being obedient to His earthly parents.

Make no mistake friends, Jesus knew that He was the Son of the Father, and He knew that He was divine, and yet, he continued as a child who was obedient to Joseph and Mary because by doing so He was being obedient to His Heavenly Father’s will.

There’s a famous picture that depicts the boy Jesus running with outstretched arms to his mother, with the shadow of the cross being cast on the ground by his form as he runs. The picture’s underlying message is true. Jesus obedience is an example not just for children growing and preparing for adulthood, but for all of us!  He was obedient to His parents and He was obedient to God’s will; but His obedience is also so much more than just an example, because without it He could not have been our Redeemer, the Savior who came to free us from sin and death by His own death upon the cross.

Dear friends, when Jesus declared His relationship with the Heavenly Father and demonstrated His obedience to His earthly parents, He was also declaring His purpose for coming to this world; to be doing His Father’s work, that is to fulfill his Father’s will, which was to seek and save all people who are lost to sin. By perfectly living His life, that same life became a perfect act of worship.  By being obedient to the will of God His Father in all things, He was obedient, even “unto death, even death on a cross” for us.  Through the obedient life of this God-boy, Jesus’ role as Savior was proclaimed every day until he obediently walked to His own death upon the cross.

As the God-Man Jesus lived and died to bring us back to God in an eternal way that would give us peace with God, Jesus,  obedient to His Father’s will  brought all people back to a right relationship with His father, and He did that work finally just outside the very walls of the Jerusalem temple where His parents found Him—He did it on Calvary.  It was there upon that cruel cross that God the Father would forsake His obedient Son and lay upon Him the punishment for all of our sins.  But after three days, God resurrected His Son from death to life in order to ensure us of our own personal victory over sin and death.  Jesus was obedient, and because of His obedience we have been given the ability to call God our “Father,” not in the same way as Jesus can mind you, but in a very real way that eternally ensures you of a loving relationship between God and you.”

Can you accept this as truth?  Can you be like Mother Mary and simply treasure these truths in your heart?  Can you obediently accept that God’s mysteries are beyond your comprehension and simply believe and by faith allow the living Word of God to remain steadfast within your heart allowing Jesus Christ to strengthen your faith unto eternal life?  I pray that you will.  I also pray that in those dark times of life, you will remember that even Mother Mary became afraid and and overcome by worry, but then she allowed God’s Word of assurance to give her peace.  That was enough for Mary, and I pray that will be enough for you too.  I ask this in Jesus name…AMEN!