Jesus Is The Rock Who Cleaves For You!


March 20th, 2017

Lent 3 (A), March 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

IMG_0088“Is the Lord among us or not?” That’s perhaps the most common question both sinners and saints ask the church. Maybe you’ve asked that question before as well? Is He with us or are we simply left on our own to fend for ourselves? So, let’s settle that question right now, this morning.

“Is the Lord among us or not?”

That is the very question the Israelites asked Moses as they grew thirsty in a land of rocks and sand. Did the Lord really lead us out here or was it you, Moses? Did you bring us out here to die of thirst?
Oh how quickly they have forgotten how miraculously powerful the Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt land! Oh how conveniently they’ve dismissed the Lord’s ever-present cloud by day and pillar by night. Oh how easily they have dismissed the Lord’s continuous care, through the mysterious feeding of the manna and quail.

Who here this morning can blame Moses one bit for crying out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people?” as they had stones at the ready, just waiting to stone him to death! But the Lord was listening; He was in control; He was more than pleased to show His people once again, that He indeed was with them.

Oh how quickly the Israelites forgot, and oh how quickly we too forget. How easily we too forget or dismiss the proof of our Lord and His presence with us all of these years. Think back, for many not so long ago, where you can truly say that “If it had not been for the Lord, I would have…” well, you can fill in the blank.

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

God was not absent then and He is not absent now; He would not allow His people under the leadership of Moses to live as if there is no God leading them, and He will not allow us to live that way either. God had a plan then, and He still has a plan today. God’s children of faith are to be a light in a world dark with sin. Through the promised Savior God’s plan is to open wide His store-house of blessings and through His children of faith, bless the entire world as well. But nowhere did God ever promise that our trek out of our bondage of sin would be painless and easy. God has promised us nothing in this life except the privilege of experiencing His forgiving love and glory.

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

What kind of rock was this, and just what kind of water was it?

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

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

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

That way out friends is the Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself who sought you out and found you in your sins, while you were still an unredeemed condemned enemy of God, and He suffered and died for you, by placing you and your wretched condition upon His very existence! Make no mistake, God found you and not the other way around. He alone has cleft for you and incorporated your very existence upon His own.

In your baptism, Jesus came to you through simple water. But how?

Again, like the water from the rock, do not be concerned with the how, but the Who and why of it. Jesus, all of Jesus was and is in the water of your baptism. When I say all of Jesus, I truly mean all of Him. Jesus who was fully man and fully God was there within the font when each of you were baptized. All of “Jesus the man” had to be there, because only real blood can pay for real sins. Only real suffering and finally death can free a sinner from the price of sin. But then again, only all of God can have complete victory over sin, death, and the devil. Only all of God can raise a dead sinner into a living saint.

Ok, to satisfy those of you who still want to know the how behind the water, here it is. God does it through the rock of ages, Jesus Christ, who by the power of the Spirit of God is in, with, and under the water of your Holy Baptism by the power of His Holy Word; a Word that promises salvation; a Word that promises that all of God is always with you! And all of this He does through a living water that is a bath for sinners and a cool and refreshing drink for saints who are struggling to pass through this wilderness of sin.

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

And yet, how often do we who have been washed clean by this holy bath, refreshed by this living water grumble and complain about God’s way of dealing with us. Oh how easy we forget the God who is in, with, and under the water, and how easy we forget that through Christ, we are never disconnected from God! How easy we forget His plan for us to be His light of forgiving love in a world darkened with sin, so that the world will see the Rock of ages cleft for them too, and know once and for all that there is a God among them!

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

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

Dear saints, let’s learn from the mistakes of the people of Israel and not allow Satan to draw us into a spirit of grumbling and complaining, which is really a sign of unbelief. Instead, let’s keep our eyes on the Rock of Ages, the Author and Perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ. He is the God who is among us as our Rock and our Living Water; He is the One who has cleaved Himself wide open so that we to may fit within His own body, the church. AMEN!

God So Loved You!

March 13th, 2017

Lent 2 (A), March 12, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

john-3-16-christianity-12464028-461-405In the last few weeks we’ve learned that the purpose of all of God’s Word is that we would know Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Last week we learned that this was the case, even in the very first Words of Genesis… in the beginning! Well, this morning we shall see that God is love; God is love for you!

Now, don’t tune out this message simply because you can quote John 3:16; everyone who attended Sunday school for more than a year can do that. No, you need to understand the depth of God’s love for you, and that is exactly what this message will declare to us this morning.

“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” [John 3:1]

Uh, oh! Another Pharisee out to get Jesus? No not this one; this Pharisee was known by all to be a good man. He was on a real journey to live a God-pleasing life. He’s highly educated and very moral and religious. He is what others would call an upright man; he is not a hypocrite like many of the other Pharisees; he actually tries to please God! In verse 10 we are told that he is Israel’s teacher, so we know that he is trying to help others please God as well. So this man, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Why? Well because he doesn’t want the other Pharisees to know that he is seeking out their enemy. But why is he seeking out Jesus? Because, he has seen the miracles and he has probably heard some of Jesus’ sermons and the Word of God is beginning to work within his heart. In essence he wants to know more!

So he approaches Jesus and he starts a conversation in the usual way, he pays Jesus a compliment: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him.” [vs. 2b] Now if you or I were in Jesus position we would probably repay the compliment; but Jesus is not you or I! Jesus is instead the Great Physician, and He must get right to work on the soul of Nicodemus. “Jesus answered him (and said), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”” [vs. 3]

Now that is strange, and Nicodemus thought so too; that’s why he asked, “How can a man be born (again) when he is old (like me)?” Poor Nicodemus’ mind must have been spinning out of control. All of his education and religious training had taught him that he was doing everything he could to please God and now Jesus is telling him that he will never get into heaven as he is! Nicodemus didn’t understand yet, and neither does our world today. Why? Because their focus is on what they do and not on what God does!

Now Jesus must adjust the focus of Nicodemus and He must adjust our focus as well! Listen: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [Vs. 5-6] Jesus is actually saying that if we keep our focus on what we can do in our flesh, that is on our own we will never get beyond the flesh; that is we will never enter the kingdom of God; we will never inherit eternal life. He is saying we need a new focus, a new life; we need to have spiritual eyes if we are to understand the work of God’s Spirit!

“But how?” That’s the question of Nicodemus and the question of this unbelieving world!

They ask how because they still have eyes and a heart of flesh! “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [vs. 8] What is this wind? It is the Holy Spirit! And what is its sound? It is the spoken Word of God; it is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. It’s He who was speaking to Nicodemus, and He who is speaking to you this morning! Listen to the wind. You believe in the wind because you can feel it and hear it; you can even see the effect it has around you right? Well the sound of the wind is also heard in the Word of God. “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You hear the Wind of God in these Words as well: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn back from their ways and live.” [Ezekiel 33:11] “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]

In His love for the world God provides the sound of His Holy Wind, the public proclamation of His Word so that we can see His Son, Jesus Christ as our only means of salvation. Through this means, God wants to call all people to eternal life; He wants to draw all of us unto Himself and to give us new birth. He does this only through His Holy Wind, the Word of God. “Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save (through rebirth) those who believe.” [Acts 11:14] “So faith comes through the proclamation, and proclamation comes through God’s Word.” [Jn. 17:17, 20] And it is God’s will that all people should hear this proclamation and come to Jesus Christ. And Jesus will never push anyone away from Himself, just as the Word of God declares: “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” [Jn. 6:37]

So now we see that our salvation is entirely a work of God’s Holy Spirit which He uses to cleanse us and blow new life into us. It is God alone who “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” [Titus 3:5]

Jesus told Nicodemus not to marvel at this teaching about this washing of new birth that comes through the Word of God and He is telling you not to be surprised by it as well.

Where does this washing and rebirth happen? Where are we brought to be cleansed from all of our impurities and saved from our sin? First to the cross and then to the font; the fountain of Holy Baptism. Let me show you this in scripture. Listen to God speak through the prophet Zechariah: “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” [Zechariah 13:1] Do you hear the wind of God blowing and promising a source of salvation outside of the power of sinful men? Do you hear how God Himself would provide a fountain of cleansing and do you notice that it would do two very specific things? What are those things? It will cleanse from sin and impurity! What is this fountain? First it is the cross and second it is the font!

What did Jesus say to Nicodemus about God’s means of providing eternal life? He said, “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.” [Jn. 3:14-15] Now why did Jesus feel the need to bring up Moses? Because Moses and His Law were the very things that Nicodemus was trusting in to please God. But Jesus wanted Nicodemus and everyone else to see that everything that Moses said and did was done by God so that we would look to a prophet much greater than Moses; so that we would look to Jesus alone as our only source of hope. The people with Moses had sinned greatly against God with their grumbling and lack of faith, so God had to get their focus off of their flesh and back to Him; He had to give them eyes of faith; they needed spiritual eyes. They were being attacked by snakes and they were dying by the thousands; so God had Moses craft a bronze serpent and lift it on a pole. If they would look to this bronze snake on a poll and trust in God’s means they would live!

What does this have to do with anything? Well let’s allow the prophet Zechariah to speak once again: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.” [Zechariah 13:7] Now remember, in the earlier reading from Zechariah God promised to open a fountain that would cleanse the people of their sins, right? Well this is the day that the fountain would be opened; the day that the Shepherd would be struck! On that day there would be cleansing for all sinners, and it would come from a fountain that God would open! Jesus Christ dear friends is the Good Shepherd! He was the Shepherd who was struck down on the cross. He is the final provision of salvation that the bronze serpent on the poll of Moses represented! Remember on the day of our Lord’s death a Roman soldier pierced Jesus side with a spear? What was the result? A fountain of water and blood; a fountain of cleansing!

Dear Saints, we must stay there at the cross and see Jesus dying in our place; we must go to the cross and see God’s means of cleansing us from all of our sin and uncleanness! This is how much God loves you! The Son of God died for the world so that the world would not have to die! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For (you see) God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” [Jn. 3:16-17] But in order for this finished work of Jesus Christ to become yours you must travel by faith from the cross and then to the waters of your own baptism!

It is in baptism, your baptism that God made His love for the world His love for you!

In the waters of your baptism God gave you His gift of forgiveness and cleansed you from all of your sins. In your baptism God delivered you from death and the devil and gave you eternal life! In your baptism God made you a disciple and part of the body of Jesus Christ.

Through your baptism you put on Jesus Christ, that is all of His righteousness was made yours through faith in the Gospel that assures you that God so loved YOU that He gave His Son up to death for YOU! In the waters of your baptism you were buried with Christ into death, so that you would rise with Him into a new and eternal life. That which IS Spirit has given birth to a new spirit!

How can a person be born again when he is old?

Only by the work of the Spirit, the wind of God which gives eyes of faith and turns simple water in to a spiritual means of rebirth! Simple water yes, but when it is combined with the powerful Word of God, it becomes God’s means of showing and giving you Jesus Christ. First that Word shows you Christ high and lifted up upon the cross and then it shows you Christ high and lifted up, ascended and reining with the Father and Spirit in Heaven.

Yes friends, that is how God so loves you! I pray that He continues to give to you eyes of faith that look to Jesus Christ alone as your only means of God’s love and grace… AMEN!

The Fortress Awaits!


March 6th, 2017

Lent 1 (A), March 5, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

eden_temptation“A Mighty Fortress is Our God, A sword and shield victorious.” Or as Dennis Agajanian, a contemporary Christian composer, musician, and performer put it, “Come to the Rock; you don’t have to be stoned anymore.” Come to the Fortress of God and be protected from both the temptation to sin and the penalty of sin. Come into the Fortress of God, which is His Word and discover that God’s most loving desire for you is that you would come to Him and trust that He alone can both save and protect you from sin, death, and the devil.

God is good! All the time. And all the time, God is good!

So how could any of us ever doubt that God who alone is good, would desire any thing but good for us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is how Eve should have answered Satan, “No, God never said that. Why do you question His Word? Be gone serpent or my husband will crush your head!”

But instead, Eve replied the truth of God’s command, but then she added a little something to it. “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the garden.’” But now listen to what she added, ‘neither shall you touch it, lest (or rather, perhaps) you (shall) die.’” Now, Eve has demonstrated her weak spot so to speak, the kink in her full armor of God. I believe that she was attracted by the beauty and splendor of the fruit, and that attraction caused her to minimize the perceived force and power of death, which God’s Word declared. And the rest as they say is history, the history of the fall of all of creation. But where pray tell was her husband? He, who was her spiritual head and protector, was right there with her and never once did he intervene by rebuking the attack of the devil; he who could have certainly stomped on the head of the serpent, but he did not.

So there you have it, the loss of paradise. A perfect home for perfect people, enjoying the love of a perfect Father, undone by a carefully crafted lie, “You will not surely die.” Now Adam and Eve knew shame. Their shame was not their nakedness but the nakedness of their sin before their perfect Father. They no longer went out to meet their Creator God joyfully, but hid as he approached. They knew that their loving Creator-Father had now become their judge! And once found out, neither of them accepted responsibility for their sin, but instead they began making excuses and shifted blame to each other and even onto God Himself!
But Satan’s trick and our sin would not win the day. God’s love would not let them go; He would not give them up. God would not abandon them in their guilt. He would send a Savior who would come and crush the power of sin, death, and the devil forever.

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

In our Gospel reading, Jesus the Son of God and the Son of man performs perfectly the task that Adam could not accomplish; He defeats the devil on our behalf.

Armed with only the Word of God, Jesus led by the Spirit of God entered the wilderness to right the wrong of Adam and undo the sin of our first parents. His victory over the devil using only the true Word of God is also our victory, as He sends the devil running. His righteousness becomes our righteousness by faith. Just as in the garden, the battle being fought is really over obedience to God’s will, which is communicated in His Word.

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

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

Dear friends, Jesus knows what it is like to fight off questions about God’s truthfulness and the effectiveness of His wonderful gift of faith. Jesus knows that the questions of doubt are really meant to undermine the message about God’s forgiving love. He knows how the devil tempts us to take short cuts as a way of getting to our treasured goal. He knows what we all go through in those tough times of life when our baptism seems so long ago and far away. He knows what is like to doubt the trustworthiness of our Heavenly Father. And that is why Jesus wielded the sword of God’s Word against the devil. He did it to crush the devil and send him running in defeat, a defeat for you; He did it so that you may follow Him and also pick up the Sword, and then enter the secure and safe Fortress of God’s Word that awaits!

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

Jesus is that little Word!

Jesus name means God Saves! It is the name of Jesus that is your fortress. Blessed is the name of the Lord. The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it, (that is they cling to their Savior Jesus by faith), and are safe. [Proverbs 18:10]
Through Jesus alone, the pattern of death begun by Adam is over. [Romans 5:12–19] Jesus is that seed of the woman who would smash the head of our enemies: sin, death, and the devil. As Jesus hung dying upon the cross, that ancient serpent shrieked when he heard the last Words of our Savior: “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” For Jesus, these are Words of victory, but for us, they are words that bring faith. Words that assure us the battle is over and it is won!

Just as Adam’s one sin led to death for all of mankind, so also Christ’s obedient death and then resurrection, brought justification and new life to all who are baptized in His name and continually flee to the fortress of His Word and His cross in repentance and receive God’s forgiving love.
What an unspeakable gift God has given us through Jesus Christ! It is literally paradise restored. As God’s new people sealed by baptism into Christ, we can once again walk with God without fear. We can look forward to the day when we die in faith and are welcomed back to Eden restored, where our Savior has gone to prepare a place just for us.

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

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

Living Beyond the Mountain Top

February 27th, 2017

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday A, February 26, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”” [Matthew 17:1]

Transfiguration-Cal-34-Mar1Have 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 sounded like 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 our visions of glory that come with ‘walking and talking with our minds stayed on 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 shame, suffering, 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 and seeing the kingdom of God enveloping them in power.

God’s power and glory always comes through His Living Word and many times Jesus, the Living Word, comes when we least expect Him.

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) Lord, 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 Cool Hand Luke moment; you know… “What we have here, is a failure to communicate.”

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? Because many times when it comes to listening to God, we have a listening problem.

KGO talk radio in San Francisco once conducted a call-in poll. Ron Owens invited listeners to express their opinion. Thirty-five percent said yes, 33 percent said no and 32 percent were undecided. One listener, aghast at the large number of undecideds, protested, “It’s this sort of apathy that’s ruining America.”

The only problem with all these responses was that the radio station had never posed a question. It’s not apathy that is getting most of us in trouble – it is shooting our mouths off and shouting our lungs out over things that we know nothing about.
After Peter’s “Cool-Hand Luke” moment, God allowed a thick cloud to appear, and it suddenly swept Moses and Elijah away. Why? Because God was making sure that they both heard Him speak, and that they also understood why He spoke.

Aren’t we a lot like those apostles 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! Or maybe, 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 “Cool-Hand Luke” 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 there? 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 as individuals and as a congregation.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Peter used his mountaintop experience and the Word of God he heard that day, as a way to guide both his life and ours’ every day as we live not on the mountain top but in the valleys.

The greatest growth in the apostle’s lives did not take place on the mountaintop, but instead it took place on the way to a garden and a rocky hill. The vision of Moses and Elijah is not what shaped the three, but instead it was the three years they spent with Jesus listening to His Word; the very Word that would predict His own betrayal and death; it would lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested and then to Golgotha where they witnessed their Savior’s death upon a cross. It was not Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration that impacted them eternally but instead, it was His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, which confirmed that “truly He was the Son of God” for them and for the world.

The day Jesus was crucified, that hill where they planted His cross became the highest mountain in the world, because it reached heaven for us. Jesus did not go up that hill to pray, but he did pray, he prayed for you: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” You see friends; the experience at the Mt. of Transfiguration is inferior to the experience at Calvary’s holy hill, because it is only at Calvary where you receive forgiveness of sins.

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; when we allow Jesus Word to become secondary to 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 made 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!

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, loving, 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… it means the forgiveness of all sins and eternal life! But you can only share that message if you are willing to 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!

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!

The Way Towards a Strong and Prosperous Life


February 20th, 2017

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Loving-Our-Enemies-600x600This morning we continue our message from within Jesus Sermon from the Mount, and we’ll let these words confront us and comfort us: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48] Here’s a question that I want you to wait until the end of our message to answer: Is this the Law or Gospel? It’s my prayer that by the end of our message you will be able to answer this question, and that the answer will lead you in the way you live out the rest of your life.

In that question we must remember that Jesus’ primary goal isn’t to speak the law and condemn us as sinners, which we are, but instead He is leading our hearts to understand the will of God and our new identity as saints; people He is sending out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. [Vs. 13-16] Jesus wants us to see our need for living our lives in complete dependence on God’s love and care, which will then compel us to demonstrate or reflect that same love to our neighbors where ever we me meet them. And all of this is done within the tender balance of living a life of repentance and faith, which Jesus provided for us in the Beatitudes [Vs. 3-12], where He assured us of a life strong with blessings. When the reality of these blessing begin to control our very lives, we will begin to have an effect upon our community as salt and light. But we must always remember that our quest for completeness has nothing to do with entering or staying in the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has already given that to us!

Now resting in this promise of blessing, hear the perfect Law of God:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (Or if someone punches you, punch them back.) But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.” Lord, are you saying don’t fight back against anyone? “(Yes”, he says,) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” But Jesus isn’t done yet, He now takes it a step further: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” In other words, if part of a settlement to a law suit is your jacket, let them have your shirt also! “And if anyone (say like the government or someone else with power over you) forces you to go one mile (say to carry something), go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” [Vs. 38-41]

“But Lord…. but Lord! Do you know what that will mean to me? That’s not only foolish it’s also impossible!” And dear friends, that is the point. Living the kind of life that Jesus is leading us to is the foolishness of the cross… the impossibility of fulfilling God’s perfect law. Your “but Lord” should be enough to turn you away from any foolish ideas you might have that keeping God’s law is doable! It should be enough to not only turn you to God’s mercy and forgiveness, but keep you there as you learn to follow Jesus!

You see friends, Jesus wants us to understand that it isn’t God’s law that brings about true justice for us but it’s His love and mercy that does that! Now our Lord knows that this is the complete opposite of what the world calls common sense; it goes directly against our natural inclination. You know what I am referring to don’t you? “A tit for a tat! I’m going to make sure I get justice!” That’s the natural way of this sinful world! They think that the law will give them wholeness and security; but we must always remember that the left hand kingdom or the kingdom of God’s law can never bring about any real change; it only demands it. Instead, it is God’s way to provide justice by inviting His children to trust in His plan for them and then turn to Him in prayer. And when we rest in God’s plan of justice, He then asks us to absorb the evil attacks of our neighbor and let it die there! He is asking us not to live a life of revenge, but instead live a life of sacrificially turning the other cheek and trusting that God will repay!

What we must remember is that this is ultimately not about you and me, but it is about Jesus Christ! He is the one who truly did turn the other cheek when He was struck by the Sanhedrin. He truly did let them take both His tunic and His cloak as they rolled dice deciding who would keep them. He truly did pick up His cross and walk more than a mile to the ominous poverty of Golgotha; with the sins we placed on Him.
But we must not ever say or even think that because Jesus lived this life perfectly for us, we no longer need to!
No friends, just the opposite is true; what Jesus did for us, demonstrates for us what it means to love! He demonstrates to us the highest form of love… God’s own love; a love of intellect and choice. As God has loved us, so we are to love our neighbor.

This kind of love means that we will stand against evil not by taking a physical and reactionary stand against it but by submitting to the one who is evil; by absorbing the evil and not matching it with our own form of pay back. Why would we do this? Because of God’s mercy and love that has been given to us through Jesus Christ!

Now I know, when we hear these words, we want to close our ears; we don’t want to do it! We desperately look for another way to explain this hard teaching of Jesus, but the truth is friends there is no other way to explain it and no other way to follow Jesus; He always leads us to the cross!

This isn’t a new teaching friends, nor is it without those who truly understood it and lived out its truth.

Martin Luther understood it along with those who went before Him and became martyrs. Mohandas Gandhi and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also saw and lived out the beauty of this teaching, and they absorbed so much hate and evil that it eventually took their lives. Martin Luther King Jr. not only walked the way of the cross but He taught others to do the same, and because of that obedience, God brought about great change. He changed the injustice of hate not with the sword but with mercy and forgiveness, and this change is still in motion today!

Through Jesus we find true power and truth in the cross. And that truth is that you don’t overcome evil by violently standing against it but by turning the other cheek. But don’t mistake this turning of the cheek with weakness or tolerance! Nowhere does Jesus say to turn the other cheek and refuse to speak up for what is right; nowhere does He say not to protect and take on the cause of those who are being overcome by evil! As salt and light, we are to speak the truth, God’s truth in love; a kind of love that moves us to take the evil action of another upon ourselves; the kind of love that moves under the burden of the cross another is bearing and help them shoulder the load. We are to take all of the evil action upon ourselves and let it die there, never bringing it up again!

Do you want to learn to be obedient? Do you want to become what God has already said that you are… holy? Then follow Jesus to the cross and agree with this teaching and pursue it! This is the way of the cross!

So are you looking for a “how to” part of this sermon?

Good, then I have only one step for you to follow: turn to Jesus and His cross! How? Well you’ve already been given the heart of Jesus, so follow that heart; follow that love of God that has been put within you. Love your enemy; pray for him. You will be surprised just how much change and rearrangement God will do when your heart first agrees that He’s right and you’re wrong. Once you learn to admit this, then praying for your enemy isn’t really that difficult.
But why must we do this? Well, Jesus answers this question as well. Listen: “(You will do this) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” [vs. 45] But that sounds like some kind of works righteousness! Is it? Is Jesus saying that I must work at loving my enemies here on earth so that my Heavenly Father can reward me by making me His son or daughter? No, not at all!
Jesus is saying that when we are loving our enemies we are showing them the love of the Father; we are showing them that we ARE sons and daughters of the Father! Through our acts of love that find their source in the heart of Jesus we are showing everyone, including our enemies that our God is also their God; a God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” We are showing them that not only are God and His love real, but also His Law that threatens anyone who refuses to follow that love through Jesus Christ! We are showing them that the same God who saved and changed us wants to do the very same work within them.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors (or open sinners) do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” [Vs. 46-47] You see friends, Jesus is telling us that we are not to think that our Christianity is something nice that we share with those who are part of our congregation; He’s not saying that your Christian love is reserved for anyone else who calls themselves Christian; He’s not even saying that our Christian love should be shared with those who do nice things for us! We are called not to love just those who love us, but to love those who hate us! This is the way of the cross; this is the path Jesus traveled and invites us to travel with Him.

Listen to Jesus final Words upon the cross and let them lead and guide you. As he was dying upon the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Who did He pray forgiveness for? Was it for those who placed Him on the cross? Yes, He prayed for all those present, He even prayed for you, and He prayed for your enemy, because it was all of our sins that placed Him there! And as He prepared to take His last breath He shouted: “IT IS FINISHED… it is perfect… it is complete!” What is? God’s plan to remove the sins of the world, even your sins!

Jesus closes our teaching this morning with these words:

“You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Vs. 48] Is that Law or Gospel? I say that it is both! You must be complete as your Heavenly Father is complete. You must be finished and you must be complete; this is the true meaning of perfect. And that is what you are because Jesus has blessed you with His completion! Through the beatitudes or God’s pronouncement of blessing at the beginning of Jesus Sermon, He gives you the very thing that He now tells you that you must have… completion! What wonderful news! Now take this blessing of completion and live a strong and prosperous life… prosper for the Kingdom of Heaven is upon you! AMEN!

How’s Your Heart?

February 13th, 2017

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 12, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

IMG_0640This morning the Words of Jesus are a continuation of His Sermon that we have listened to the last two weeks. If you recall last week He informed us that we are both the salt and light of the world, and this week He demonstrates what that salt and light will look like. His Word comes to us like a scalpel in the hand of a renowned surgeon. Make no mistake, while these Words are spiritual in nature they are nonetheless real and they are God’s own truth. So the surgery that Jesus will perform on each of us will be spiritual in nature and the focus of that surgery will be our very hearts! But like any great surgeon, Jesus wants us to understand the nature of our disease; if left untreated it is eternally fatal. And to help us see the need for this surgery Jesus speaks some strong words to demonstrate to us that our physical hearts are diseased and in fact, already dead!

Our message this morning is still part of Jesus proclamation that in spite of our battle with Sin, through our faith in Him we are both forgiven and blessed.

So within our baptized reality of complete forgiveness, the procedure Jesus is performing this morning is simply corrective surgery because we’ve already been given a new heart and assured of our place in Jesus’ Heavenly Kingdom. But, if you haven’t yet entered the Kingdom of God through your confession of sin and hopelessness, you will find this whole procedure worrisome, frightful, and intimidating.

You have two choices, you can push away the hand that will skillfully wield the scalpel and cancel the surgery, or you can take a deep breath of the Word of God and allow God to have His way with you. What is this surgery? To be honest, it’s nothing less than a heart transplant. Jesus wants to remove your diseased heart of stone and replace it with a healthy heart… His own heart! Now you can refuse to allow our Great Physician to perform this procedure and choose death, or you can choose to simply let go of your own self-centered interest and allow Jesus to give you new and eternal life.

Now I know that for all of us, this will be an uncomfortable time in Jesus’ spiritual OR, but we must remember who it is that is caring for us. He promises that if we will simply trust Him, and let His Word work within us, we will be eternally changed and rearranged. Well, are we ready? Then let’s let the Master do His work!

Listen as Jesus picks up His scalpel, which is His Word.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” [Matt. 5:21-22] Now, what we need to keep in mind in this entire message is that there is a common thread that connects all of Jesus teaching.

If we stay with our analogy of heart disease, then we can see Jesus directing our attention to one of the proofs that we have a diseased heart. He does this by showing us how we incorrectly look at the 5th Commandment. Just like the people in Jesus time, we too have a very narrow interpretation of murder. Generally we think of it as raising our hand against our neighbor in a way that ends in violence and death. Images of Charlie Manson, Ted Bundy and John Gardner come to mind. But Jesus says, “No, that’s too narrow.” OK, so let’s include drive-by shootings, terrorism, and domestic violence in the mix. “No” says Jesus, “your still to narrow.” Ok, so we will include unjust actions by police officers that take a life, or an unjust war! And to this Jesus says, “No you still do not understand that this is a matter of the heart. What the heart feels and thinks is what gives birth to sin. If you are angry with your Christian brother or sister, or even your neighbor, and if you will not let go of that anger you are guilty of murder!”

“You see” says Jesus, “your anger at first is hidden away in your heart. You think that no one can see it, but I can. I know what will happen if you don’t get rid of it; if you don’t let me cut it out. It will turn to bitterness, which will overflow into hurtful words, that may then result in some type of action on your part. I see all of this, and I am warning you that if you don’t let me cut this disease out, you will die eternally and end up in Hell!”

Now each of us may be tempted to think that Jesus is speaking of a procedure that we can put off until later. Certainly He doesn’t have to perform this work right now?! And to this Jesus says: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” What does Jesus mean by this? Is He telling me that I should get up right now and confess my sin to my brother and sister? What if my brother or sister that I have sinned against is right now in this very sanctuary? Am I supposed to interrupt the sermon and approach them? Well maybe not, but by no means should you approach our Lord’s Holy Table and eat and drink forgiveness if you are unable to confess your sin to the one you have hurt or are unable to forgive the one that hurt you. By the work of the Holy Spirit, you must be willing to forgive as Jesus has forgiven you!

Now some of us may have heard the wisdom in these words, we may have seen the need for a new and changed heart, but we want to have time to consider the ramifications of just what such a radical procedure will mean. So, we will want to put it off until the right time. And to this procrastinating Jesus brings the spiritual urgency of His Words into our physical reality with more teaching: “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” [Vs. 25-26]

Here is where our spiritual and physical realities combine. Here Jesus is assuring us that if we damage our relationship with our neighbor and do not take steps to repair that damage, it will also have an eternal effect on our relationship with Him! “So” He says, “do everything that is within your power to live in peace with your neighbor, especially with fellow believers!”

OK, that part of the surgery is complete, so now let’s move onto the next procedure.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’”

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” [Vs. 27-30]

Wait, what? Who’s the surgeon here anyways? Why does Jesus want us to remove our eye and cut off our hand? Well haven’t you ever heard someone say, “I can’t help it, I just have a wondering eye.” Or when it comes to stealing they might say, “I just have sticky fingers.” So Jesus is saying, “Go ahead and pluck and cut, cut and pluck until there’s nothing left to remove! Or” He says, “you can just let me finish this surgery on your heart, which is the real cause of all of your problems!”

Friends, here Jesus is showing us once again that the root of all our sins can be found in the terminal condition of our hearts. If we want to be free of sin, even the sin of adultery, we must first admit that we have that disease within us. And to make this confession easier for us, Jesus has shown us that just thinking impure sexual thoughts is the same as carrying them out. Looking at impure material on the internet and fantasizing about it and looking at a person of the opposite sex and imagining any contact outside of neighborly love is the same thing as actually performing the sinful act! So who is guilty of such adultery? All of us! What is the cure for such a propensity to sin? A new heart! And that’s just what Jesus has done for us and is doing for us.

Well, we’ve reached the final portion of our surgery. And very soon we’ll be in the recovery room. But Jesus has just one more major procedure to perform. Listen:

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” [Vs. 31-32]

Now I know for a fact that this part of the surgery is perhaps the hardest and most difficult portion to sit through. Divorce has become so acceptable in our society that we no longer think of it as a sin. We can actually be tempted to tell our Great Physician that this is an antiquated procedure and it has no place in a modern society. We might be tempted to quote to Him all of the reasons why divorce is needed. We might be tempted to begin to rise off of the operating table and tell Him were done! And to this Jesus gently pushes us back down onto the table and says, “Remember, you are baptized, forgiven of all sin, but I say to you friend that unless your divorce was caused by unfaithfulness you have already committed adultery. So lay back down and let me finish! Hear what I will tell you now and confess that I am right and you are wrong. Divorce is sin. It shatters the lives of both parties as well as the innocent children and family members that are part of that relationship. From now on, do not divorce. Instead, be faithful to your marriage vows and love and serve one another as if you are loving and serving me.”

Now our Lord is finishing the surgery, and He closes the incision with these Words: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. [Vs. 37] And when you say you will do something simply do it!”

How do we feel now? Well like how we would feel after any major surgery, we are groggy and sore.

The strong medicine of God’s Law has done its work within us. But now it’s time for the healing Word of His Gospel to do its work. Now we are reminded that we have already been forgiven and saved from our sins; we have already been given a new heart. This procedure, while painful was necessary in order to continue the transformation that Jesus began within us after we were recreated and washed clean in the waters of our baptism. Then and now, Jesus is asking us to live a life in agreement with God’s Word.

And when we live this kind of life, we are truly being salt and light in this sinful world; we choose to live a life that agrees with God’s Word. And as we live this kind of life, we know that our Heavenly Father is always working to perfect us and protect us from our greatest threat, and that is our own sins within us that seek to destroy our new heart, Jesus’ heart that He has placed within us.

So now we have a picture of what salt and light looks like. It is a picture of how we live with each other. Will we sin and fall short of God’s demand of perfection? Yes, we certainly will! And confronted with this reality we take our sin and shortcomings to Jesus and His cross. We repent and confess our sins of thought and attitude, word and deed, to God, asking forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, as we also ask our neighbor for forgiveness just as we stand ready to forgive them. And throughout or lives we constantly asking God to grant us faith to receive the strength of His Spirit Who always turns our hearts and minds towards Jesus our Great Physician, and His cross. Because we do this, God assures us that we will be at peace with Him and each other, loving with a true love, and serving each other as Christ Jesus continues to love and forgive us!

May you always live out this new heart and mind of Jesus. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…. AMEN!

Stay Salty Friends!


February 6th, 2017

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 5, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

gospelsaltHave you ever wondered why we start every Divine Service with our confession of sins?  It is so we can give God glory for what He has done for us, what He is doing for us, and what He will do for us.  What is that great thing?  Friends, He has saved us from ourselves; He is saving us from our sin, and He has and is saving us from eternal death and the devil!  In our confession of sins we are admitting to God our complete spiritual poverty.  We are agreeing with Him that we are so hopelessly lost in sin that only He can save us!  And then after our declaration of poverty and hopelessness God’s kingdom breaks through in a mighty way and gives us the gospel; He gives us pardon and forgiveness in the Words of the absolution.  Listen to these wonderful words of Good News: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins.  To those who believe on His name He gives power to become the children of God and has promised them His Holy Spirit.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved!”

So repent, the kingdom of God is upon you!

To repent simply means to turn to your saving God, Jesus Christ and become salt and light. Taste and see that the Lord is good, full of flavor and able to preserve you and all of the church until the last day. See the light shining into the darkness and calling you the sleeper, to arise for God’s light shines to bring you out of sin.

This was essentially our message from last week when we heard it declared that we are blessed.  It is the door that we must always walk through in order to correctly understand God’s Word and live by it.  It is the very means that God uses to help us differentiate His Law from His Gospel.  If we can admit that we are broken, empty and poor in spirit, then we will receive the help of Jesus Christ, who is our God in human flesh.  If we come to Jesus in confession, He promises that He will in no means cast us away from Him!  This is why we are blessed, because Jesus has come to us in His Word and Sacraments and saved us.  Jesus is coming to us in His means and is still saving us!  And Jesus will come to us on the last day, on our last day and He will save us!  If we understand this divine truth, then we will also understand that Jesus is with us, within us, and around us performing His mighty works of mercy so that God will be glorified.

So what does it mean to say that Jesus is working through us; what will that look like?  That’s what we want to look at this morning.  Because Jesus is working through us we will see Him being salt and light in our congregation and in our personal lives.

This morning our Lord speaks to our congregation with these words: “Dear Trinity and Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, I blessed you long ago as a tiny mission congregation by giving you my Word and Sacraments and a faithful preacher. 

“I blessed you with the power to take My living Word out into the community of San Diego, California.  You admitted to me in your confession of sins that you were not able to serve me as you must; you admitted your sinfulness but you also joyfully heard my word of forgiveness, which brought to you my love and peace so that you could rest in My Father’s love.  And because you were faithful in trusting in my real presence, I called you to do spectacular work for my kingdom.  I gave you your calling as a congregation; a calling which came directly from my heart.  I called you to be salt and light in this sinful world.  You were called then and you are called now to be the salt of the earth, the salt in San Diego, CA.  And even now, because of my Word that you faithfully preach and teach, I am still the very thing that is preserving you and flavoring your community with my grace.  This is a marvelous thing.  So you must continue to speak My Word, both the Law and the Gospel to those who do not know Me or even refuse to know Me.  Teach My Word correctly and administer My Sacraments faithfully and I will continue to bless you.”

“Dear Trinity/Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, you are the light of the world.  Just as you must never cease being salt that flavors and preserves, you must also as long as you exist, never quit letting my light shine out from this little congregation.  In my eyes you are not little but great; you are a city set on a hill.  You are like the city of Zion high on the Lord’s mountain.  I have made you a sanctuary of peace for your neighbors.  Continue to allow my light to shine brightly from this place.  Continue to feed and clothe the poor, educate the youth, protect and care for the helpless and needy.

Your presence in this community and the power of my Word that you speak does bring light into darkness; so never stop speaking my truth. Never quit calling out sin and it’s cure… repentance!”

Listen friends, our Lord isn’t just talking to our church, but He is also talking to each of us as individuals. 

He is saying to you and to me that “You are the salt of the earth, but if (the salt that I have given to you) has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

Do you hear a threat, the thundering of God’s Law within these Words?  If you do then you aren’t listening with a new heart; a heart that has been made new.  If you hear threats and punishment, then you must go back to the door of invitation where Christ asked you to enter into His gospel peace of love, mercy and forgiveness.  You must go back to your baptism; you must go back to your confession of sin, and then hear again the absolution and Christ’s own proclamation which assures you that because you are forgiven He will by no means cast you out!  You must rest in the work that Jesus alone has done, is doing, and will do within you.  You must only look to Jesus and let His real presence change you.

This morning dear friends, Jesus says to each of us: “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

In these Words , Jesus reminds us that because we have been blessed with the gospel promise, we are not just blessed for ourselves but we have been blessed so that we are a blessing for others. 

Because He has blessed us He has now called us to bless our neighbors and even our entire community.  In whatever place we find ourselves we are to be a great light that demonstrates righteousness.  But as you have confessed you have no righteousness to demonstrate because you are spiritually poor.  Then what light are you to let shine?  Only the light of Jesus Christ; He alone is the light of the world; He is our sun and we are His moon.  His light is to shine and be reflected out of us in such a way that others will see that light and give glory to our Father in heaven.

To let our light shine before others means that we must let it shine in a spectacular way.  If you are a parent or grandparent, be an extraordinary one.  If you are a child, be an extraordinary child.  In whatever career or vocation you find yourself in, let your calling as a Christian, as salt and light be your central vision; let Christ be your purpose and your goal, and you will experience His light shining from within you.  But for what purpose are we to be the salt and light of this world?  Only for this, so that we may see Jesus ever expanding and building His Kingdom through us and among us!

How can we do all of this?  We can’t and we must admit this.  We must let go of all of our self-righteousness and then simply receive and be filled by Jesus’ own righteousness.  And friends, we can only do this by living in and living out the Word of God.  With Jesus leading us we can’t help but share the word of God with whomever He brings us to.  And what shall we say?  Friends, through us, He will speak the same word of peace that He speaks to us; the same word that saved us and brought us into His kingdom!  And as we speak this Word of peace we will also rest in it, and by resting in God’s Word we will also be empowered to demonstrate it in how we live.  Jesus Christ Himself, who is living and dwelling richly within us, will be the One doing all of the works of love through us!  And with Christ living within us and changing us, others will certainly see His presence and His works of love.  And when they ask why you do these things, simply explain to them that it is Christ alone who does them through you for them; simply share with them God’s love and His desire to give to them that same presence and peace.  Invite them into a relationship of friendship with you so you can continue to share the Word and love of God, and then invite them to our city on a hill; invite them to come to Trinity/Our Redeemer with you so that they too can be changed and blessed with a purpose; with a calling!  And what is that calling?  To be that same blessing to others!

Dear friends, I pray that as a congregation and as individuals we will let God’s light within us continue to break forth within our community like the dawn, so that God’s healing and life giving Word of the gospel will spread His righteousness.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

You Are Blessed!


January 30th, 2017

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), January 29, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

beatitudes“You are blessed!” That is both the title of our message and the truth that God’s Word proclaims to us this morning through this message. Last week we heard Jesus invitation to live a blessed life under the cross with these Words, “Repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand!” So right off the bat, we know that our blessed state is intricately connected to Jesus’ cross and even our own. We expect to hear a message that not only declares that Christ is present in hard times and suffering, but in fact He is always with us and promises to never leave us. But we also know that while the world laughs at this kind of message and calls it foolishness, God’s Word assures us that because we trust in Christ and His cross, we really are blessed with the only faith that gives both God’s peace and joy through the forgiveness of sins, that is through God’s power received only by grace and only through Christ. In fact this faith is the only way to receive eternal life.

This morning, let’s look into what this power of God’s grace gives to us; in short let’s discover why we are blessed!

Now again, let’s remember to the sinful world, all of this talk about being blessed under the cross, having joy and peace in the middle of tough times, is all just a bunch of nonsense! They can’t hear Words of blessing in Jesus message because they don’t think that good people, or those who follow the right religion should be suffering. They don’t think that they should suffer because they don’t see themselves as the type of sinners who need to turn to God for forgiveness; in fact many people think that God is right there with them in their sins approving of them!

What if we considered our gospel lesson this morning through the lens of this very political season. What if we were to consider Jesus Word’s this morning (the Beatitudes) as a kind of state of the union address, but in our case this morning, this would be a state of the church address? Well if that were the case, then His opponents should have equal time.

Maybe the response or rebuttal of Jesus political opponents might sound something like this: “Dear friends, our simple little preacher would have you think that you are blessed or happy if you rest in weakness and poverty. He sees the world as a place where we simply prepare to die in whatever state we find ourselves. But we of the prosperity party say no… this isn’t what you need to hear and it is not what you should expect from your leaders.”

“We say rather, happy are the aggressive people, those who know what they want and do anything to make that dream a reality. They will be the successful ones of this world. We say happy are those who are tough and hard-skinned, for they will never let this life hurt them or prevent them from knowing prosperity. Happy are they who complain unceasingly. We know that the squeaky wheel gets the oil and the ear-marks, so we will not be happy until we get our own way! Happy are they who give very little thought to a Creator-God, because they are happy in their own skin and never worry about such a small thing as what that ancient book, called the Bible, says about sin! Happy are the demanding and self-serving business owners and managers, because they know how to get results! Happy are the educated and knowledgeable men and women of this world because they can teach others how to be productive and serve the greater good, which we all know is seeing the rich get richer with a promise that some day the poor will join them! Happy are the troublemakers, because they really know how to make people take notice of them!”

And to this rebuttal, we the Church are called to speak yet another message; we say: “Our Lord’s opponents once more prove that they do not understand the Kingdom of God. They are talking about a material world that soon enough will vanish and no longer matter. They don’t understand that the reality that Jesus speaks about is an eternal reality; a reality where there is a different kind of world, one where heaven and earth are combined into something real and something perfect. They will not acknowledge this eternal reality because they will not repent of their sins. They will not repent because they do not believe that the Kingdom of God has come! But the time will come when they will believe in this reality because they will see it with their own eyes, but then it will be to late for them to enter. They will experience it outside of God’s grace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth! There in that place, there will be eternal mourning and persecution that will never be relieved. But we dear Christians are of another reality. We by faith know that you are blessed and protected by God!”

Do you hear how the word “blessed” is repeated over and over like the sound of steeple bells from heaven. Their ringing goes out to everyone in this sinful world inviting them to enter into peace with God through Jesus Christ. Its God’s invitation assuring everyone that they can know peace with God lright now, and soon enough never again experience sin, pain, suffering, or death!

This Word of blessedness is for everyone if they will just hear it and believe. For those of us who believe, we are assured that we already have this rich possession of Heaven right now, but we have an even greater promise that guarantees that riches far greater than these will soon be ours!

Jesus says to us who place our hope in this Kingdom of Heaven, “Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Well, it means that God’s Word has convinced you that on your own you’re lost in your own sins. It means that you know that unless you receive help from Him you can never know peace with God. It means that you know that without Jesus Christ and His cross you have no hope. It means that in your spiritual poverty you are moved to follow Jesus’ call to turn to Him. And when by faith you turn to Him you also learn to rest and trust in Him, because in Jesus you have found the Kingdom of heaven!

It’s within this eternal reality that Jesus also says…

“You are also blessed if you are mourning, because you shall be comforted!” Don’t we all mourn and don’t we all have a great need to be comforted? We mourn when a loved one dies or when we experience a great tragedy. But don’t we also mourn intensely over our own sins? Yes, when we sin, we feel deep pain and loss, we feel separated from God. But God’s Word comes to us in the absolution and assures us that even in these times of great mourning over our sins, we are forgiven; that Christ died even for those sins. We are assured because we turn to the cross of Jesus and cling to what He has done for us, and that He will never leave or forsake us! What greater comfort could you receive? Only this, one day you will see Him face to face and you will no longer need faith because you will live in His eternal presence and love. But doesn’t the sinful world mourn and receive comfort too? Yes friends, but their mourning shall never end and the little comfort they get here in this sinful world will soon end. All because they would not believe that the Kingdom of heaven had come to them through Jesus Christ!

But Jesus also says, “Blessed are you who are meek, for you shall inherit the earth.” Oops! We might have a problem. We aren’t always meek, in fact we can be outright aggressive and mean! And to this fear, Jesus says, “But I am meek. I was meek for you! I let them lead me to the cross like a lamb going to slaughter; I let them kill me for you. By my stripes, blood, and death, you’ve been healed. You’ve been forgiven. And because you believe that I did this for you, I have come and made my home within your heart. I am in you and you are in me. And because I am in you, I’m changing you… I’m making you meek! All that I ask of you is that you rest in this truth, cling to it and allow me to transform you. And because you rest in my truth I have declared you righteous!”

But now, our sinful minds remind us that we are not righteous and we never will be! We are reminded that we may look righteous and clean on the outside but inside we are like the Pharisees and Scribes, we are full of deceit. We are like freshly painted white tombs that on the outside are pleasing to the eye but on the inside we are full of dead men’s decay and bones!

And to this Jesus says, “Blessed are you because you see this; because you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be satisfied. You know that you can never be righteous on your own, but you also know that I was righteous for you. You know that I gave you this righteousness in your baptism, and you know that I continue to fill you with my righteous Word. So listen to and read my Word. Step up to my table and be nourished by my very body and blood that is yours in with and under the bread and wine! Eat and drink, and be satisfied knowing what I have given to you through my means!

Well, now that we are beginning to understand just what the mercy of God means and how it has saved us, Jesus asks us to go demonstrate this mercy to our neighbors. And He does it with these Words:

“Now blessed are you who are merciful to others as I have been merciful to you! I guarantee that you shall receive mercy! You shall receive mercy because in me, you see the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world… even your own sin! And because you see this in my Word, because you see my cross as a means of peace with your Heavenly Father, you are judged to be pure in heart. Blessed are you friend because of this pure heart, for you shall see God. You see Him even now in me. In my Word you see me, in your baptism you see and hear me through the Word of forgiveness, and in my Holy Supper you see, smell, touch, and even taste my very body and blood which gives you a pure heart.

Dear friends, the Kingdom of God, the reign of heaven in Jesus already belongs to those of us who are poor in spirit, even to those of us who are persecuted because of our faith in Him. But the promise of final comfort, our final inheritance, our final righteousness and experience of peace with God will not come until we receive the final vision of God on the Last Day. In the meantime, we who are the disciples of Jesus Christ must expect that our lives will be experienced through the lens of mourning, thirst, and hungering. But our eternal reality is that we are saved in hope… “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait eagerly for it through endurance.” [Rom. 8:24-25]

This present tension of blessing and joy, suffering and mourning until the Last Day of comfort is central to our lives as we live under the cross of Jesus, as we follow Jesus on this narrow path. But we follow Him as His peacemakers, as His ambassadors of the cross, and as we follow Him we know that as His peacemakers, we should expect some persecution because we speak His Word to our neighbors. In our witness, we bring the very peace of God and that peace is breaking violently into a sinful world that will have none of it! So Jesus leaves us with this last truth; a truth that will only become clear under the cross: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!”

I pray that this reward and joy of the Kingdom of heaven will become powerful and transforming in your lives as you learn to rest and live out the cross of Jesus Christ. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Walk In The Light!


January 23rd, 2017

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (A),
January 22, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

repentThis morning, we’re allowed to briefly look into the heart of an apostle who is also a pastor. This pastor, the apostle Paul is troubled by some news he’s received. It seems there’s controversy brewing back in the parish over who is the best teacher, or preacher. Some say its Paul himself, others say that it is Paul’s assistant pastor, Pastor Apollos, and others say that it’s Peter. Then there’s another group who is trying to stay out of the whole argument, and they simply say, “I don’t know and I don’t care, I just follow Christ!” Paul now wants them to examine themselves and their faith and see the error, the darkness in what they have started. He wants them to be of one confession of faith, and he wants them to be of one heart and mind, the heart and mind of Jesus Christ; He wants them to walk in the light of the gospel!

Now before we begin to click our collective tongues at this whole mess, let’s see if we too have a need to repent and refocus our lives; let’s see if we to need to simply turn from darkness and walk in light.

If you call yourself a Democrat or Republican Christian, you may have to repent. If you call yourself a poor, middle class, or wealthy Christian you may need to repent! If you only call yourself a Christian around other Christians then friend, you really do need to repent! Now why do you think that any of this really matters? Friends, it matters because the world is watching us; your neighbor is watching you! They want to see if you’re the real thing; they want to know if you’re any better off than they are; they want to know if you really have the power of God unto salvation!

[1 Corinthians 1:10-18] Let’s look at our Epistle lesson a little more deeply to see where God is leading us.

Was Paul angry when he wrote this letter to the church at Corinth? No, I doubt it, but he was concerned. There have always been disagreements among people of faith and there always will be. Paul simply wanted to get everyone back to common ground… he wanted them to go back to the very foundation of their faith, Jesus Christ. If he could get each person’s heart back to what Jesus did equally for each of them, then these other matters, like who is the best preacher, or what political party you vote in become secondary, and may I even say unimportant?

Divisions weren’t anything new in Martin Luther’s day either. Listen to what he said regarding divisions that were created because of his preaching of the gospel: “For the operations of God are not childish or bourgeois or human, but divine and (they exceed) human (understanding).  But you do not seem to see that these tumults and divisions are marching through the world by the counsel and operation of God, and you are afraid lest the heavens should fall.  But I, by the grace of God, see this clearly, because I see other greater troubles in time to come, by comparison with which these present seem no more that the whisper of a breeze or the murmur of a gentle stream.”

What is Luther teaching? He’s teaching the same thing that Paul is teaching and it’s this: Each one of you is saying something different, and that is what will cause divisions. Instead of being different for your own purpose be different for God’s purpose. Instead of preaching opinion to your neighbor, and causing division, preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and let the divisions be between light and dark, good and evil! Speak of Christ crucified!

Now there’s a danger when we share our faith with our neighbor, and Paul wants to be sure that we don’t fall prey to this threat. What is that threat? Friends, it’s the temptation of proclaiming a bloodless gospel, or if you will a cross without the body of Jesus! Why would we do that? Because many people today don’t like to hear about a Savior who died a criminal’s death. They don’t want to hear about a savior who was beaten near death, and executed on a cross. So instead of simply sharing the gospel as it’s found in the pages of the Bible, the temptation is to explain these things with modern ideas, or to just share the moral ideals of our Christian faith.

Then there are those that we will encounter who don’t mind hearing the mysteries about a dying God, who came to us in our flesh and lived the perfect life on our behalf; they enjoy hearing how this God paid the penalty for our sins, but to just leave it there, doesn’t seem fair. This group of people insists that they need to add something to Jesus work upon the cross! So for these challenged individuals, some parts of the church has\ve, in error I will add, come up with little rules and regulations to help sell the message of the cross. These false teachings say things like, “Jesus starts us on the right path with His cross and with our own baptism by giving us His grace, but after that” they say “it’s our responsibility to finish what He started by loving and living a good life!” With this slight of hand, they turn God’s work into the work of sinful men and women!

To both of these groups, Paul is almost shouting at us in vs. 17 and saying, “No! Christ didn’t send me or you to proclaim a gospel that’s centered on eloquent wisdom, the work of sinful man, or in a way that will be more accepting to sinful people! If we do that then the cross that’s saved us will be emptied of its power!”

[Matthew 4:12-25] Now let’s look at our Gospel lesson.

Do you want God’s power in your life? Then look to the cross! What kind of power am I talking about? Well how about this… it’s a power greater than the power that God used to create the entire universe! It’s the power of God unto salvation and we call that power grace! Grace is the undeserved kindness of God; it’s God making you right with Him and not the other way around. Its new birth through the washing of the water and the Word! It’s the power of grace that gives you faith to believe in God’s Word and follow it where ever He leads! It’s the power of the Word which moves you to trust God even when you doubt Him.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus demonstrates that power for us when He calls Simon-Peter and his brother Andrew out into the mission field. If you remember in last week’s gospel reading, Jesus had already spoken the Word of eternal life to them. They were given God’s power of grace and faith unto everlasting life, and now Jesus calls them to learn to use that power to build the Kingdom of God. What was this Word that Jesus spoke to them that was so full of the power of God? It was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [Matt. 4:17-19]

Dear friends, in these Words of Jesus we see two things. First we hear that we must repent. “That seems easy enough” many think, “I must simply quit doing bad things and try my hardest to do good!” But friends, this is a grave and mistaken way of looking at repentance. This type of repentance becomes your work and not the work of Jesus! Do you want to see the work of Jesus? Look to the cross! That is His Work, His work for you! To repent does not mean simply turning away from your sinful life, but rather it means turning to the cross and seeing Jesus suffering and dying for you; to save you. It means clinging to a Savior, to a God who died in your place so that you can know for sure that you are saved!

Now some might say, “Oh that’s just semantics preacher. They both accomplish the same thing!” And to that I say, “NO!” Not at all; you see one way of repenting gives you glory for having the wisdom to know that you are a sinner. It gives you glory for taking the initiative to turn away from your sin. But the other way, the Biblical way to repent is to simply turn to God’s mercy and forgiving love and see Him dying in your place. To turn to Jesus is to know that only through Him can we find life, abundant life! And when we turn to Jesus we also hear Him say, “Follow me!”

Why do we follow Jesus? Because we have heard Him call and invite us through the mighty power of His Word. Why do we follow Jesus? Because His Word has moved us to turn to Him and trust Him. Can you see by the light of God friends that it is God alone who has done this great work of repentance within you and it is God alone who should get the glory! Through the Word of God and His invitation to follow Him we begin to hate our sin, and we are given the power to live a new life—the life of holiness. Through the power of God unto salvation we are not only forgiven but we are changed.

Let’s close our message with a story that will bring all of this message together.

The story is told of a former cocaine addict who met up with a bunch of his former friends. They were shocked that he became a “goodie two shoes” Christian, so they began belittling him. “Man, you use to be so sensible! How can you believe in miracles like Jesus turning water into wine?” The man responded by showing the evidence of his own changed life: “Whether you believe that Jesus turned water into wine I’ll leave up to you, but I know that in my home He’s turned crack into furniture and food and clothes for my wife and kids!”

Yes, the Word of God often does seem like folly to our unsaved neighbors, family, and friends, but to us who have been saved by seeing Jesus’ cross as our only means of salvation, it is God’s mighty power! It is a mighty power that is always changing us and demonstrating His saving love and just how real He is! Through the Christian artist the world is shown that Jesus and His cross are the source of all beauty. Through the Christian musician they discover melodies that even the angels can’t sing. Through the Christian builder, the world is shown that Jesus is the sure foundation. In the service of the Christian baker, the world is shown that the church, which is Christ’s body is the one true loaf. Through the Christian doctor, the world learns that Jesus is the great physician. Because of the Christian geologist, the world learns that Jesus is the Rock of Ages. In the love and care of a Christian parent, Jesus is pointed to as the way for the world to know the true Father. And when each of us is living our calling through Jesus Christ, the sinner learns that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And for we who make up the Christian church, together we declare that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, our great savior who calls each of us to follow Him to His cross by living out our own cross of service and suffering for our neighbor and together building the Kingdom of God.

I pray that you will continue to follow this call to walk in the light of the Gospel and in that light, find your vocation as a way to be a fisher of men. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

What Are You Seeking?

January 16th, 2017

Epiphany 2A, January 15, 2017
Sanctity of Life Sunday
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

WMLTThis morning, Jesus turns to each of us and asks us, “What are you seeking?” [John1:38] I know that you are seeking something, because that is the fate of us all. We are born into this life seeking something greater and stronger than ourselves. And within this natural state of seeking, this world that surrounds us and desires to mold us gladly tells us what we should seek. And what is it that we are told to seek? Something, anything that makes us happy, fulfills us, and gives us a sense of self worth.

When we are born we simply seek food in our bellies and a dry diaper. As we become a little older we seek to learn and know as much a we can about our family, school, and neighborhood. And still we grow, and our desires, the things we seek grow as well. We desire to be popular; to fit in. We may discover things like academics, sports, music, alcohol, drugs, sex, and status fit the bill, and still we seek something more; always seeking and never really knowing what it is that will fulfill us. Why is that? Because…

We have a big problem that keeps getting in our way… sin! 

Because of our sin, we do not love as we should, and we do not fear God as we must.  You could say that as well intentioned as we may be, by nature we are sinful and unclean; we are disobedient to the core!  We seek things that please ourselves and not God or others. So what is the solution?

We must be overtaken by the true obedient servant of God; that is the Son of God must come to us, redeem us and teach us every day what it means to be redeemed, that is saved from our sins.

In our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 49:1-7), we are allowed to enter into a conversation between God the Father and the Son of God, who for us men and for our salvation, came to us as Jesus Christ, to be one of us in order to save us from our sins, and teach us what obedience to the will of God is.

So many people will willingly confess Jesus Christ as their Savior and God, but moments later, they’ll go about living their lives as they see fit, and not how God demands.  They will jump on board of whatever social idea is popular, just to avoid being singled out and being forced to defend their faith and the truth of God’s Word.

Today is national Right to Life Sunday.  You have a wonderful hand-out that you can take home and read, and perhaps consider supporting with your time, talent, or treasure.  It is a cause that is Biblical and clear.  Life begins at conception.  But that is not what society says.  And what do they say?  Well, the truth is they can’t agree when life begins.  So instead of having a real discussion on the matter, a discussion that we Christians want to be part of, they simply cite a Supreme Court ruling (Roe v. Wade), and they claim that the unborn child is part of the pregnant woman’s body, just as her breasts are part of her body.  And just as we’ve see recently in the news, that there are women of high profile and great wealth who are having their breasts surgically removed because of a high propensity to acquire breast cancer, so we too, see women aborting their pregnancy because there is an even higher propensity that these children if born, will change their lives forever.  We all know the arguments for having an abortion, so there is no need to bring them up this morning.  No, what we need to hear is what God thinks about these unborn children.  So what does He say?

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, we see a couple of things right off the bat: God calls children from the womb and God knows them by name; they are His servants.

Now, some may be thinking, “Hold on just a minute there pastor; that Old Testament lesson is talking about Jesus, the Son of God.” 

And to that, I will say, “Congratulations, you are one step closer to seeing things God’s way.”  Yes, that scripture is about the Servant of God, the Son of God, but it is also about Jesus, the Son of Mary.  Born of a woman and suffered on this earth as all of us know suffering and pain.  Why is that important?  Remember that I told you that because of our sin, one of our biggest problems is disobedience?  Well, Jesus did not have that problem; He was obedient even at the expense of His life. And it is this same Jesus who asks you once again, “What is it you are seeking?”

Now to help us understand what we really are seeking, Jesus as the Obedient Servant in our Old Testament lesson says, “Listen” and the next Words He speaks are “pay attention.”  Who is the Son of God talking to?  He is talking to everyone who is far away from God.  He is talking to us because we have a sin problem!  Aside from the call He received within the womb of His mother, He tells you how His flesh was created; it was created to give witness to God through the words of His mouth.  Words that were like sharpened swords.  Have you ever heard the saying, “The truth hurts?”  God’s truth, which is the Law is suppose to hurt!  In fact, it is suppose to kill.  You are suppose to hear what God says about sin and agree that He is right and that you and society are wrong, and then God wants you to hear and receive His solution to your sin problem.

The solution of course is God’s obedient servant Jesus Christ, who exchanges His obedience for your disobedience.  To the world, this Servant of God was on a fool’s errand.  And as proof they will point you to the servants own words in verse 4: “I have labored in vain (that is for no purpose); I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity”.  That is what the world believes, and for a moment that is how Jesus felt as He hung upon the cross between to criminals and experienced for the first time in eternity His separation from the Father and the Spirit.  So painful was the separation that He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  But Jesus knew why He was forsaken; He was forsaken for you.  His cry should rightly be your cry, because of your great sins and your continued disobedience.  But shortly after His cry of fear and pain, we hear Him speak the gospel, the hope of sinners and gentiles.  “It is finished.” Their debt of sin has been paid in full. “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

Here, in this moment of death, Jesus the Christ, points your eyes of faith to God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and He shows you what you must seek.  And then He calls for you to look upon His agony and death and see Him as the Father’s only Son, your Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”  But why?

So that you would understand these next words from our Old Testament reading: “What is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.  And now the Lord says—He who formed me in the womb to be His servant to bring Jacob back to Him and gather Israel to Himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—He says, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant (and only) restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles (that is all disobedient sinners) that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

So Jesus “descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

Now, hear a Word that is simultaneously both Law and Gospel.  You will be judged!  If you find your peace and happiness in this willfully sinful world, which is outside of the Obedient Servant’s grace, you will know only eternal damnation, that is separation from God forever.  But because your eyes of faith are continually fixed upon the cross of Jesus, the Servant who alone is obedient, even unto death, you are saved.  You are judged one with Jesus.

Jesus is your light, your source of hope and peace with God because He alone has taken away your sins, and in your baptism He has washed you clean and made you right with God the Father, His Father and now yours.  Jesus is your Redeemer.  You who were once sold into sin as it’s slave are free.  You, who once knew only eternal misery because of your bondage, now know by faith that the sinless Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, has even taken away your sin.  Because of the Lamb of God, the Obedient Servant, you now have peace with God.  You lack nothing!

Just a Jesus invited the first apostles to follow Him with the Words, “Come and see,” so too, you have been called out of darkness into the wonderful gospel light of grace.  As God ensured that you would hear and keep on hearing the message of the Gospel, which alone is the light for all gentiles, He now asks you to throw in with that work.  He has called you to be a witness.  A witness is nothing more than one who reports what He has experienced.  He speaks the truth, even if the truth hurts, but He speaks the truth in love.

Yes, we are all witnesses, but we are also ambassadors.  We are to speak the message that God declares to the gentiles who are lost in sin.  What is that message?  Repent, that is turn to God and know His forgiving love.  Know that there is no sin so great that God can not nor will not forgive through His grace, which is yours through Jesus Christ, if you will not reject it.

This grace, this fullness of life is for all people, even the unborn; and mystery of mysteries, even for the unborn who have been aborted and their mothers who still grieve over that decision.  God knows each of us, even in our darkest moments, even in our mother’s womb.  He knows and He loves us all with an abundant love through Jesus Christ.  None of us deserve this love, and none of us will ever be able to live up to the standard of this love, but it does not mean we won’t try.  When we look at the birth, life, and death of Jesus, the Son of God, we can also see our lives knitted right into His.  We remember that the Lord looks beyond appearances, and He asks us to do the same.  As we listen to or read His Word, He tells us always about His Obedient Servant who was despised and abhorred by society.  And He tells us that His servant was also our Servant, and His service has become ours.  He reminds us that things are not what they seem to be.

Today Christ’s church faces frustration and what appears to be failure. 

Our membership declines and society is more hostile than ever to those who speak God’s truth.  All of our witnessing and effort seems to be done in vain.  We know that we are not innocent in regards to blame; things we have done and even the many things we have left undone have contributed greatly to the apparent failure of the church.  We have not been that city on a hill, that bright light unto the gentiles.  Yet, we are reminded that just as we are, we lack nothing in regards to God’s gifts of grace, which are ours through God’s Obedient Servant, because we are the body of Christ!
Together, we testify to God’s salvation as His wounded and scarred body, which is often rejected and scorned.  But we know that our labor, the giving of our time, talent, and treasure is not in vain.  We know that just as God the Father was faithful to His servant Jesus and raised Him from the dead, so too we live and bear witness to this gospel hope for us in Christ alone.

May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit keep us in this great epiphany hope, the mystery hidden for ages but now revealed through Christ Jesus our Lord… AMEN!