Signs From Heaven

October 16th, 2016

Twenty First Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 16th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” [John 4:48]

Well, people haven’t changed much since the day Jesus said these Words.  They were spoken in response to a desperate father’s cry for healing on behalf of his dying son.  People still beg for miracles from a God they hardly know and seldom acknowledge.  People still today, imagine that if they could only see some kind of miracle from God, it would make it so much easier for them to believe.  Maybe it’s true, that most people normally don’t think very much about God.  But when they are in trouble, well you know the saying; “There’s no atheists in a fox hole.”  Most people, when they become desperate, will pray for a miracle from God.  It’s as if they are putting God on trial and demanding that He prove He exists.

Even Jesus enemies accepted the fact that He could probably do wondrous and miraculous things, so the signs He performed became His reputation and not the proof that the Messiah had come to save His people.   But search the gospels, and you will see that Jesus never worked miracles to impress people or to make Himself more popular or to gain true believers.  Even the devil with all of his temptations thrown at Christ, could not move Him to do that.  Jesus used His power to help others, but He never used it to help Himself or to make His life more prosperous or comfortable.  He always used His divine powers to reveal the mystery and mercy of God and God’s loving presence in the midst of a sinful generation.  For those who had eyes to see, His miracles revealed that the Kingdom of God was now with sinful men and women and that the Messiah had indeed come!

But why didn’t Jesus perform such signs as would convince others of who He really was?  Why doesn’t God allow such signs to be given to us today?  For the answers to these questions let’s look at our gospel lesson. [John 4:46-54]

The healing of the royal official’s son shows us both the expectations of sinful people when dealing with their perfect Creator, and the perfect Creator’s response when dealing with sinful men and women.

“And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.””  Now here’s a question that begs to be asked, “If the man knew of Jesus and His miracles, why did he wait so long for an opportunity to know Jesus; why did he wait for this desperate hour, literally the last hour of his son’s life before he sought out Jesus?”  The answer that was true then is the same answer that’s true today:  Knowing God and serving him is never a priority until it’s an emergency.  This is why Jesus said that unless we sinful people see signs and wonders we wont believe.  We wont believe because we don’t see a need to believe.  And when the need like an emergency arises, we have faith alright, but it is a general faith, a desperate faith.  But Jesus refuses to be known in this way, like some kind of magic genie who only lives to fulfill our wishes.

Somehow this desperate father perceived this rebuke in Jesus statement.  So his guilt and his desperation produced repentance and he was some how filled with the audacity and persistency to ask Jesus again, but this time with a heart that was beginning to understand something about how God works.  So the desperate father said to Jesus again, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  This father, broken of pride and humbled by the impossibility of the request refuses to leave because it has nowhere else to go but to Jesus.  But most importantly it now knows that only Jesus can do the impossible.  The audacity of this hope is that it believes that Jesus really wants to help!

Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”  Now this man’s faith has moved from a general faith to a specific faith in Jesus alone and it is well on its way to a saving faith.  Listen: “As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.  So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”  The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household.”

He believed!  But what does He believe?  He believes that the Word of Jesus is true.  He believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior who has come to save sinful mankind.  He does not understand this nearly as intricately as you do today, because he did not have all of the facts that you have, but nonetheless, he believed!  And what’s more, he shared his newfound faith in Jesus with his family and now they believe; they too are saved from their sins through faith in the Word of Christ alone!

So which is the greater miracle, the healing of the boy or the salvation that came to the family by faith?  Is this gospel lesson today about healing or about salvation?  How you answer that question will reveal what kind of God you think you serve and trust in.

Some people search for promises of healing and prosperity when they read their Bibles and others search for promises of forgiveness and restoration.

People who search for prosperity and healing will always find disappointment, because Jesus did not come into this world to make us rich and healthy but to save us from our sins.  When people asked Jesus for a sign or miracle, He told them that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up (upon the cross).  He said that they would receive no other sign than the sign of Jonah.  Jesus means two things by this.  In the first place He declares the need for seeing and confessing our sins.  This was the message at Nineveh when Jonah declared that the sinful proud Ninevites were damned to eternal punishment; this is the message that brought them to their knees in repentance.

But this is also a message of Gospel hope, which Jesus proclaims in His own death and resurrection.  Just as the sinful Israelites were to look upon the serpent on the pole as their only means of salvation and forgiveness, so too sinful men and women must look only to Jesus, lifted upon the cross, as their only means of forgiveness and salvation.  Just as Jonah stayed three days in the belly of the whale but was brought back among the living after the third day, so too, Jesus would rest within the tomb and on the third day rise to life and declare victory over sin, death and the devil.  This is why Christ has provided preachers for His church, so that we too can be confronted with the fact that Jesus died and rose again for grievous sinners like us.

And this kind of faith, according to Jesus, is the kind that saves.  In Jesus Words, the same Word that was spoken to the desperate father, is the power of God unto salvation; a power that touches our consciences and appeals to our sinful souls, and then confirms that because of the work of God alone, we “are of the truth.” [John 18:37]

In Jesus’ Word, we sense the accusations, we hear the promises, and we know what God has done not just for the world, but for us!  But if we do not have a conscience that is open to the voice of God, that is if we refuse to allow our faith to move from a simple general kind of faith to a saving kind, well then, no sign or miracle will help us.

Even King Herod wished to see a sign from Jesus, but he never received it.  He already received his sign when John the Baptist stood before him and preached directly about his sin; a sin that was separating Herod from the forgiving love of God.  When Herod silenced that voice of conscience, he had no other hope.  Jesus answered him not a word.  And if we silence the voice of the Holy Spirit, which seeks to bring us saving faith, neither do we have any other hope. [Matthew 14:9-12; Luke 23:9]

For each of us today, it is critical that we do not become a “faithless and unbelieving generation” who demand signs because we will not repent until we first have been thoroughly convinced.  [Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:16]  If today you hear His voice in Scripture and know that Jesus is your God and you are His, give glory to God alone.  And know that the only person who will come to God is the person who loves Him and seeks to do His good and gracious will, whether it is profitable or not.

When it comes to answered prayer, know that in Jesus in regards to the promises of God the answer is always yes.  Yes, you are forgiven through Christ because God has said so.  Yes, you will return one day to live eternally within the new Paradise of God restored to perfection.  Yes, you can have peace with God and joy right now, simply because God promises that it is so.  But in regards to asking for something that God has not promised is yours, something like a healing or a blessing of prosperity here in this sinful world, you must not be ashamed to ask, but you should also remember that their is no promise of God attached to your request.  So, keep on asking.  Keep on praying in faith, and then simply trust that God will give to you always and only what is best for you.

So where God speaks a promise we must believe by faith that it is so, and where God is silent we must trust and rest in His perfect love.  May God continue to make this so for each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Fight The Good Fight!

October 2nd, 2016

Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 2nd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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“Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven.” [Matthew 9:2]

These are the Words of Jesus, spoken for you this morning.  They’re Words that give great faith.  Our faith is what scripture says is the victory that over comes the world. [1 John 5:4]  But our faith is also a struggle.  Paul urges us to fight the good fight of faith. [1 Timothy 6:12]  And in this fight, we fight like an athlete who knows that only one can win the prize.  When St. Paul looked back upon his own life, he could declare that he had fought the good fight, he had finished the course, and had succeeded in keeping the faith; specifically, faith that saves.

What is saving faith?

Saving faith is the type of faith that trust only in what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for sinners like us who want to be saved from our sins.  Saving faith says, “I’ve got to get to Jesus!  No matter the cost, no matter the embarrassment; Jesus is the solution to my problem.”

Think of the paralytic and his four friends in our gospel lesson (Matthew 9:1-8); they were certain that if they could get to Jesus, well then, healing and restoration would be the result.  We don’t know much about this band of brothers, but we do know that there were five of them, and one of them was paralyzed and confined to a bed or stretcher of sorts.  The four who carried their friend must have loved him dearly to go through all of this trouble to help him get to Jesus.  But when they arrived the place was packed.  Now what?  Well, if they couldn’t go through the door or a window they would have to improvise, and improvise they did; they lowered him through a hole in the roof and down to the very feet of Jesus!

“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven.””  Wait… didn’t they come for a healing.  Didn’t these band of brothers want their number to be restored to five rather than four?  Yes they did, but Jesus knew something they did not; Jesus Christ the Son of God, very God of very God looked into the paralytic’s heart and saw guilt; great guilt.  He was sorrowing over his sinful life and the restoration that he needed ran so much deeper than just a physical healing.

Can you relate to that feeling?  Do you too know the burden of past sins and the fear of potential future ones?  If so, then you too desire something deeper than just a physical healing; you desire complete and total forgiveness and new life.

And Jesus knows.  Listen…

And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” [Matthew 9:3]

These men came from Jerusalem and Judea as well as from Galilee, and they came for one purpose, to keep track of Jesus and to gather evidence against him.  Now, Jesus had just claimed to be able to do what God alone can do; forgive sins.  In the futileness of their sinful minds, they could never think of Jesus as anything but a mere man, so when He claims to have the right and ability to forgive sins, in their minds, He was pretending to be God—to them, this was the very worst type of blasphemy.  Even this, Jesus knows.

Jesus, the very Son of God knows all things; he knows the sinful hearts of these men and He knows your heart, and He desires only to free them and us from our sinful nature so that by faith we all may be born again.  “(So) Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

Jesus has performed the one great act, forgiving the paralytic’s sins. The effect of this act is invisible: no one saw the sins piled up on the man’s soul, except Jesus.  And no man saw that mass of sin vanish from his soul with just a Word from Jesus. And now Jesus follows up this first act with a second one, he heals the paralytic. The effect of the second act is visible to all: they see the man rise, pick up his bed, and walk away not only freed of paralysis but forgiven and invited into eternal life, all this having been done in an instant. The act which the eyes are able to see verifies the other act which no eyes can see.

Jesus saving ministry of the gospel is still going on today.  He promises the church that He continues this ministry through contemporary disciples of every age.  So the church is always carrying out the work of baptizing and teaching, as Jesus abides with His church, which carries out those missional tasks. While it is true that the saving work of the church is completely a work of God, because the Son, who became a man calls others to follow him, He gives authority to His disciples to continue the in-breaking of the reign of God all the days until Christ returns. So God alone brings and gives this authority to save and recreate sinful people within the realm of men with the call to…

Put off your old self!

In our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 4:22-28), St. Paul calls upon all Christians to put off or put to death, once and for all the old sinful nature.  It is a final act but is repeated every day, in fact every moment of everyday because every day our old sinful nature still clings to the sinful life and its own desires.  This truth creates tension within us, because our baptized nature clings to and trust in Christ alone.  When we put on our new baptized, Christ-like nature, that is when we fight to do what is God pleasing, we can say that there truly is a war going on within us; a war of two natures and two desires.  We witness this as we discover that the sinful things we do not wish to do are the very things we seem to keep doing, and the Godly things we desire to do are the things that we struggle the most to accomplish.  Another way to say this is that we fight to be holy and righteous.

To be holy and righteous is to be like God; because He alone has these qualities.  Before the fall to sin, our first parents, Adam and Eve walked with God in peace and without fear.  They walked in holiness and righteousness; they did this because God gave them these qualities.

Holy baptism restores these qualities to you the baptized.  In the waters of your baptism, God imputed or recreated you to have these qualities as well.  In essence, He gave back to you what Adam and Eve had lost.  And now, everyday, He encourages you to become what He has already declared that you are… holy, perfect, and righteous.  We do this as we put away the old sinful nature of Adam so that the nature of the new Adam, the righteousness of Christ, comes alive within us.

We put the old Adam off by the active and effective power of grace. This power of grace doesn’t help us to do something, instead it recreates and renews us as we repent and believe that God with His divine power is in fact putting to death our old sinful nature.  For this reason we never say that our sinful nature is being converted or changed; it is not because it cannot be; it is not renewed—because it cannot be; it is replaced by the new nature solely through the a creative act of God as we fight to walk with Him and please Him in thought, Word, and deed.

So what is it that our faith must fight?

Obviously it is a struggle against the enemies of Christ, who themselves do not believe and seek to interfere with others who are coming to enter a life of faith.  The Bible speaks of these as “the world.”  From the very beginning the disciples of Jesus had to meet this kind of opposition head-on.  It could sometimes be like a mild form of skepticism: “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?” [John 1:46]  Or it might be a proud disdain: “We know that this man is a sinner.”  It could take place under the threat of imprisonment and even death.

But we encounter this resistance to faith within ourselves as well.  Just as our old nature neither can nor will obey the law of God, so neither can it believe.  It must be crucified with Jesus. [Galatians 5:4]  But just as it does not die here in our lifetime, so neither is it silent with its arguments against faith, and its nature remains as an enemy to God.

How, then, can it be possible that our faith can become so strong that it can overcome the world?  Well, it depends first and always upon whether it is a real faith, that is, a faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  This Jesus Christ is the One who died upon the cross and rose from the dead, forever defeating our true enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  So “Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” [1 John 5:5]  Jesus our Savior is the One who alone gives us real faith; faith that gives us the final victory over all enemies of God.

This faith is unconquerable, because it binds us to Christ Himself, that is, with Him who has overcome the world.  If we believe in Christ, then Christ dwells within us, and “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” [1 John 4:4]  You see, the victory does not depend on our faith but on Christ, to Whom our faith holds onto.  And so a struggling faith, a faith that feels itself weak can be so much stronger than a faith which feels itself strong because it relies on its experiences, its warmth, and its victories.  If God permits us to fail, then it may be that He wishes us to learn to rely entirely on Christ.

So that which gives us faith in Christ is the power of His person and His Word.  So if we want to exercise and strengthen our faith we must be careful not to neglect God’s Word and Sacraments, and never think that we can get along without them.  We who gather each Lord’s day are those who it may be said of: “The Word of God dwells in you,” [Colossians 3:1]. We are called, “(Those) who have overcome the evil one.” [1 John 2:14]

Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, help us we pray to remember these truths and then by faith, cling to Christ alone.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Everything Is a First Commandment Issue

September 25th, 2016

Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, September 25th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment. [Matthew 22:37, 38]

We know Jesus said this.  And since He declares it to be the great commandment, we must take it very seriously; we should approach it as the most important thing of all and be prepared to give an account for its demands when the day of judgment comes.  Jesus also said, if you “Do this, you will live.” [Luke 10:27]

Martin Luther said that this commandment alone clarified all of the other ones.  He taught this truth this way: We should fear and love God so that: We have no other gods; We do not misuse the name of God; We remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy; (We must fear and love God so that) We honor our Father and Mother; We do not murder; We do not commit adultery; We do not steal; We do not lie; We do not covet our neighbors house or possessions; We do not covet our neighbors spouse.  So you see…

Everything in life really is a First Commandment issue.

We must love the Lord our God not just to the best of our ability, but perfectly, with every atom that forms, and holds together brain, blood, bone and sinew, with our whole undivided self, with our whole heart, soul, and mind.

But we also know how difficult, in fact how impossible this is for us on our own.  I mean, if we loved God above all, we wouldn’t have such a hard time confessing our faith before other people.  We wouldn’t find ourselves thinking of the commandments as an insurmountable burden.  We would never fear God’s wrath, since perfect love cast out all fear. [1 John 4:18]  We would never be uncertain when there is a choice between God and the ways of the world.

And yet we know that this happens to us.  If we take God’s Word seriously, we know how grim a matter it is to not keep the First Commandment.  We understand the troubled question, which the apostles asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” [Mark 10:37]

It’s important to remember that even the commandment of love belongs to the law which Christ alone has fulfilled.  The demand of this chief commandment reveals to us more clearly than any other place that we are and continue to be sinners who cannot answer before God in any way.

But because we’re interested in what makes the First commandment supreme, we must also consider a second commandment that is like it in supremeness.  This is why Jesus mentioned a second commandment, specifically the one declared in Leviticus 19, in the eighteenth verse: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In quality it is “like” the one regarding God. Here again we have “love,” and here again we have the full extent of this love, which includes every contact we have with our neighbor and indeed all of humanity.

The truth is, we would all be lost and shut out from God unless God Himself acted to save us; unless God out of His love for fallen and sinful people like us acted first.  And He did!  He acted first when He gave His own Son who shed His life blood for us upon the cross.  So you see, it is not our love that saves us but God’s love towards us.  Love is not to be found in that we have loved God, but in that He first loved us and sent His Son to redeem and save us from our sins.  The true and complete nature of love, which does not seek its own ends, has come into the world, into your very life, in the person of Jesus Christ.

In our gospel lesson, [Matthew 22:34-46] Jesus after successfully demonstrating the two most important commandments now sets His face towards the cross; the instrument of death that the very men He was speaking with would ensure He would walk to and die upon in just two short days. He does this so that these men and indeed all of mankind would understand just Who it is that gives His life and why He gives it.  He does this with a simple question…

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?”  The Pharisees quickly parroted the answer that had been passed on through many generations after David’s prophecies concerning the coming Messiah’s bloodline: “The son of David” they answered.  But Jesus will not allow that answer to be sufficient; He cannot, because there is infinitely so much more, and if we do not grasp this truth and accept it by faith we cannot be saved from our sins.  You see…

Jesus cannot simply be a complete man who reveals how a good man can love.  If that were the case, we would be lost in our sins and mandated to suffer God’s judgment and punishment for our sinfulness, because let’s be honest, even after our best efforts we still do not love God as we must.  No, Christ must be more than “the son of David,” that is, He must be more than a mere man with unusual qualities and of unusual importance.  You see, He must also be David’s Lord, and far beyond any of the greatest figures of history.  This is why Jesus follows up with another question.  “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?”   If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

In this question, Jesus is passionately trying to demonstrate exactly Who it is that they will condemn in two short days, and who it is who will suffer and die as the only true innocent man upon the cross of a criminal.  He wants them also to understand that in just three days after the death of this innocent man, who it is exactly who will rise from the dead and both proclaim and give victory over mankind’s true enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil!

Who do you say Jesus is?  Do you agree that He is the second person of the Holy Trinity, the very Son of God who comes to us as the perfect, mysterious son of Mary, who has come to die for you?  If you answer yes by faith, then you have both learned and received the divine gift of agape love. [1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:9]

Jesus is God’s solution to our sinful natures’ inability to love both Him and our neighbor as we should.  As both Creator and creature, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and son of Mary came into this world as one of us.  He lived the perfect life of love for God and neighbor that we can not, but most importantly He did it for sinners; He did it for you!

And if you do the one most important thing that God has equipped and encouraged you to do, that is if you receive Jesus as your Divine King and live under and within God’s love by faith, it will become a power in your very lives.  He who believes “is born of God and knows God.” [1 John 4:7]  It will be as when a man finds a treasure in a field, or a merchant discovers a pearl of great price that he has searched for long and patiently.  Your heart will become dominated by the power of this great treasure. [Matthew 13:44-46]

When our hearts are opened to the love of God, we can’t help but be overwhelmed and captured by it.  Not so fully that we cease to be sinners, because we still live and struggle with our sinful flesh, but so that we can honestly say along with St. Peter, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” [John 21:17]

Who you say Jesus is will then determine how you will live the rest of your life.

In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus gave the Great Commission, one last commandment of love to His church before He ascended back to the right hand of God the Father.  Listen: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Why do we preach and teach the Word of God and then form and support the various congregations throughout this world?  Because we fear and love God; because we love our neighbor who is still trapped, dead in their sins.  Why do we meet each Sunday, careful not to neglect the meeting of the saints?  Because we love our brothers and sisters born of Holy Baptism just as we were.  Because together we equally need the gifts that God so freely lavishes upon us in Word and Sacrament every day so that we can continue to grow in love towards God and one another.  And then together, with one heart, the heart of Jesus, we are enabled by God to go out each and everyday, prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in God through Jesus Christ. And the answer we give, will always be centered in God’s gift of mercy and love that fulfills both the great and second great commandment to love.

May God the Father Who created us, may God the Son Who redeemed us and saved us from our sins, may God the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies us and fills us with divine love and wisdom, keep both us and Christ Church until the resurrection of the dead.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Freedom to Be…

September 18th, 2016

Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, September 18th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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To be free is not the same as to do as you please.  You are not made free by forgetting God.  Someone who acts contrary to the will of God is simply proving that they’re bound to the way of this world and serving the prince of the spirit which is now at work in the sons of disobedience. [Ephesians 2:2]  Everything we do, either finds its source in God or in His enemy.  The person that commits sin is a slave of sin—that is how Jesus puts it. [John 8:34]

The worst of it however, is that there is in our own inner nature something that is not free, and is held captive by a force that wants us to resist God.  Scripture speaks of this as “the flesh” and says that it is not subject to the law of God, nor can it be.  Simply put, with your flesh you serve the law of sin. [Romans 7]

Usually we do not recognize this bondage until we try seriously to change it; that is until we try to serve God and live an honest life that practices love for our neighbor.  It’s at this point, that we discover that “the evil we do not want to do is what we do” and that “we are flesh, sold under sin.”

The Pharisees who invited Jesus to their banquet in order to trap Him and discredit Him as the Messiah were in this condition. They invited Him there so that they could teach Him what a proper banquet looks like; in order to demonstrate that a truly religious person does not eat and drink with sinners.  Oh yes, they also invited Him so that they could catch Him in the act of healing on a Sabbath.

And so knowing all of this, Jesus decides to immediately address the issue of who He is.  One of the marks of the Messiah who was to come was that He will bring healing to the people.  The Pharisees had heard of the various healing miracles of Jesus, even that He had raised people from the dead.  But now Jesus would do this work of healing in their very presence, on a Sabbath!  And why shouldn’t He?  Jesus is their Messiah; as the Lord of the Sabbath He would heal a man with dropsy.  Dropsy is an abnormal retention of water, possibly due to congestive heart failure.  “And Jesus (looking them in the eye) responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took (the man with dropsy) and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.”  They could not reply because they were entangled in their sins; trapped in their pride.  It was their pride that prevented them from accepting Jesus the Messiah as their only hope of being freed from this bondage.  Instead, they continued to rely on a false hope centered in their false religion that minimized their own sin and maximized their own efforts to be free of that sin.

Even today, people in their desperate attempts to be free from this bondage to sin, often become more enslaved than ever before.  Like the Pharisees, they try to be more strict, more “religious” and scrupulous in order to win God’s favor.  They intensify their demands on themselves and others.  They become legalistic and quick to judge others, and they entangle their lives with morality, rules, and man-made teachings; they begin to concern themselves with what the Bible calls “human precepts and teachings, rigor of devotion, and severity of the body.” [Colossians 2:21-23]

There are still some major religious institutions around today that forbid their priest to marry, and some demand that their followers worship only on a certain day or abstain from certain foods that God has declared were created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  These are modern day examples of the same bondage that trapped the Pharisees who were always busy creating endless rules about tithing, about the Sabbath, and about things that were determined to be unclean.

But all of this was, and still is rooted in one great sin… pride!  It is a very difficult thing for a sinner to accept the freedom that Jesus brings without demanding that something be given or done by the one whom Jesus invites.  They always tip their hand when they respond to Jesus invitation to repent and rest with the words, “I think that…”  Listen God is not interested in your opinion or how you think things should be done.  He simply wants you to be humble.

Humility is a hard lesson for sinners such as us to receive; it’s hard because it completely nullifies a need for us to offer an opinion or give a contribution.

As Jesus observed the various Pharisees vying for the best seat at the banquet, he observed just how deadly their self serving pride was.  His heart ached for them as they pushed and shoved in order to get the better seat; He longed for them to be free of this sin and enter into His Father’s Kingdom so that they could have a seat at His Father’s eternal banquet table.  To illustrate this truth, Jesus offers a parable.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.”  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What was Jesus teaching the Pharisees with this parable?  What is He teaching us this morning?  Well, simply put, He is teaching us that there is only one way to be free, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” [John 8:36]

Jesus the Son of God releases us first from our guilt, and in doing that, He also frees us from our false pride and our despair over our past; He even sets us free from ourselves!  He releases you from the dominion of sin.  Now, you still must resist your sinful desires such as pride, but “sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under the law, but under grace.” [Romans 6:14]  And being under grace makes all the difference; at last as a new creation in Christ, God has truly set us free from both  the bondage of sin and the opinions of men that are created out of their own evil imaginations.

Christ has made us free indeed.  And because of this freedom we fight against any thing that would lead us astray and set up any other requirements for salvation other than the ones which really matter, namely baptism and faith in Christ Jesus.  And the good news is that Christ has equipped us to do this very thing when we simply rest in the unity of the Spirit of God, which is completely ours within Christ’s church.

Within the church, Jesus has brought us into His body, which alone brings freedom.

This one great body has only one Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  It has only one Lord, and He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  It has only one faith, that which is clearly defined in Holy Scripture.  And it has only one Great Father, who is both Father to the Son of God and our Father through faith in Jesus Christ.  And by proclamation of our Heavenly Father who is Father over all, there is only one baptism performed in and through the name of God that Jesus revealed, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” [Matthew 28:18-20] It is in this one very simple and eternal act of the church that Christ moves you from the objective truth of the cross, where He died for the world, and then makes it very subjective by making the work of His cross a work for you.  So on the day you were baptized, Jesus declared through the washing of the water and the Word that He died for you personally.  On that day, Jesus set you free from your bondage of sin.

But this freedom does not mean self-indulgence.  We must not use our freedom in such a way that we give any “opportunity to the flesh.”  It is only in Christ, as members of His body, that together we find freedom from sin, from guilt, from punishment, and from death.  So, our freedom in Christ can be described as being possessed by Christ.  We belong to Him with all that we own.  Such dependence is not a burden; it is not bondage.  This dependence on God is what gives back to us the freedom we were created to be; it frees us to be once again the good and happy children of God.  This true freedom is ours right now within God’s kingdom of grace, even as we live our lives under stress, and within the struggle to be good, humble, and victorious over temptation.  But in the kingdom of God’s power, one day we shall be completely free of this stress and in possession of “the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” [Romans 8:21]

So the table is set; you are an invited guest.  You are free to be a guest.  The example of how to behave at the table of the Lord has been given and taught by Jesus Himself.  You are free to be humble.  You have been freed from the bondage of sin such as pride.  You are free to live a life as one who has been redeemed.  Because you have been baptized you are already seated at the Lord’s Table within His kingdom of grace.  One day you will close your eyes for the last time here in the kingdom of grace and you will discover that your seat is still yours within God’s Kingdom of glory and power.  It is there, in that kingdom where you will be told, “Friend, move up higher” to the place that is yours.  AMEN.

Oh Death

September 11th, 2016

Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, September 11th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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The song you just heard, “O, Death” was from the movie entitled, “O Brother, Where Art Thou.”  It is a mournful and honest look at death in a unique way that only our brothers and sisters from the south can proclaim.  We are afraid of death, because it is not natural according to God’s original created order.  We were not created to die.  But we do die, don’t we?  So how much longer do you have to live?

If you were to have posed that question early in the morning to any of the 2,969 people who died as a result of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, they probably would have replied that they had much longer to live.  But instead, on that day, death entered into their lives, the lives of their families and into our lives as a nation in a very violent way.  What impacted us as a nation the most on that fateful day I think, was the fact that we were forced to realize that the threat of war, violent attacks, suffering and death are certainly a part of our reality as Americans; even if we are simply minding our own business and just trying to live our lives the best we can.

In or Old Testament reading [1 Kings 17:17–24], a widow woman who was chosen by God to care for the great prophet Elijah discovered the truth about death also.

There she was, minding her own business when God broke into her life.  She must care for this stranger and trust him and the God who sent him.  And now, her son is dead?  Was it because of her sins that she was being punished?  Does God punish us with sickness, suffering, and death simply because we are sinners?

The Bible assures us that God never punishes His people whom He has called through His Word for the sins they have committed.  Listen to what Paul declares in the book of Romans: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [Romans 8:1]

But the truth is, there is a direct correlation between sin and death; not your specific sins but sin in general that shattered our reality when Adam and Eve first rejected the truth of God’s Word for the lie of the devil.  And since that first sin, we like all those who came before us are trapped within a sinful world.  Sickness, violence, disease, and death are constant reminders that we live in a broken sinful world; the perfection of Eden is gone!  But God is not; He has not abandon us.  He is with us in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  Suffering is the reality of life; the gospel and the presence of Jesus Christ does not deny it nor negate it, but instead through the Gospel, Jesus passes with us through these things.

In our Gospel reading (Luke 7:11-17), Jesus, the Prince of Life, meets and confronts death as it is carrying away yet another helpless prey that it has successfully stalked and conquered.

But Jesus confronts death in a very dramatic and supreme way; He declares to sin, death, and the devil that He has come as the champion of those who would otherwise simply be prey and victims. The city of Nain was walled in, and the closest way out of the city on the way to the cemetery was this one large gate in the wall. As Jesus was about to enter this gate with his large number of disciples, the dead man, his mother and the large funeral procession were about to leave the city.  Jesus and his great following stopped, as the large funeral procession came toward him and then they also stopped.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the dead man’s mother.  This was not the first time that she made this trip to the cemetery, because our reading says that she was a widow.  That means that she and her son who is now dead at one time, made this very same trip with husband and father.  But this time it is different.  This time she is truly alone, or is she?

In the middle of her great sorrow, Jesus the Prince of life enters into her grief and says, “Do not weep.”  And almost at the same time He reaches His hand out, touches the dead man’s funeral bier and says, “Young man, I say to you arise.”  And this grieving mother is given back her only begotten son by the only begotten Son of the Heavenly Father.

In this brief moment of time, death, which is the destroyer of dreams and a usurper of hope, is confronted and defeated by Jesus.  And with this act of compassion, Jesus proves that He is God, because only God has mastery over death.

That people must die is a misfortune.  It was not meant to be.  God did not create us to die.

God did not bring death, sin did, and our sin still does.  Sin is intrinsically bound together with the fact that we have fallen from God and that human life is not what God would wish it to be; it’s not what He created it to be.  Death has come upon us all, for we all have sinned.

Because of sin we experience death as an enemy and a misfortune.  We dwell in a land of deep darkness and in the shadow of death.  We are those “who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.” [Hebrews 2:15]  When young people die we feel especially the shattering and crushing power of the dominion of death.  Even Jesus felt this when He was confronted with the death of His friend Lazarus.  Lazarus, along with the other two people He raised from the dead were all young people.  We are told that “He was deeply move in the spirit and troubled at the graves of these young people and that He had compassion when He saw the widow of Nain.  Even Jesus knew the taste and pain of death.

That Jesus raised the dead is proof that He is the Son of God.  God alone grants life, and it is He who determines all of life.  And as the Father can raise the dead, so to the Son of God has the power to give life to whomever He wills.  By raising people from the dead Jesus has proven two things: First, who He is.  “These very works” He says, “which I am doing bear witness that the Father has sent me.” [John 5:36]  But beyond this He has revealed that death is something that must be overcome, and that it does not belong in the kingdom of God.  Here, as always, the deeds of Christ bear witness to the kingdom that is to come.  And there, even death will be conquered.  There in paradise restored, there is no more death.

There is a decisive difference between these miracles of raising the dead and the resurrection of Jesus.  When the widow received her son back again alive, he was the same person as before; that is he would die again.  Yes life had returned, but the body was just as mortal as before.  However, when Jesus arose from His death upon the cross, He could no longer die, and death had no more dominion over Him.  Jesus rose with a “glorious-glorified body.”  He was the first fruits of a new recreated humanity and the new world to come.  He was the first to rise from the dead, but not the last.  One day the whole world will be born anew, when God creates a new heaven and a new earth, it will be for you and your new glorified body.  Then there will be no more death. [2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1, 4]

Since it is Christ who has destroyed the power of death, it is through Christ that we can become partakers of the life over which death has no dominion.  Eternal life is the gift that Christ grants to His own, you who are baptized and believe that Jesus is the Christ.  This morning, Jesus assures you His little ones that “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” [John 11:26]  And “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit which dwells in you.” [Romans 8:10]

This is our Christian hope in the presence of death.  It isn’t a hope based on human speculation.  It is based on the acts that God Himself has done and has allowed us to know and see.  “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when (the Son of God) delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Corinthians 15:20-56]

Let Us Pray: O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, may the richness of your Word which has now been declared through the power of Your Holy Spirit strengthen each of us with faith and hope, so that we may know for certain that death no longer is our master, nor need bring us fear.  May each of us forever be rooted and grounded in Your divine love, so that we may have the strength to comprehend with all of the saints what is truly the breadth and length and height and depth of your real presence in our lives, and may we come to truly know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, so that we may be filled with all of Your fullness.  AMEN.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Let the church say… Amen.

Don’t Be Anxious

September 4th, 2016

Fifteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, September 4th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” [Matthew 6:34]

Our Gospel lesson today picks up directly after Jesus was teaching about the danger of replacing the worship of God with the pursuit and accumulation of material things.  From the warning against this lure of false worship Jesus now transitions his disciples into embracing a life that can and should be lived “worry free.”  But we do worry don’t we?

We worry about our health, we worry about out family and even the wealth that we hope to pass along to them; we worry about employment, and yes we worry about our church and it’s future.

There has always been anxiety and worry, ever since sin came into the world.  “In toil you shall eat of it, all the days of your Life” (Genesis 3:17)  God said that to Adam, after he and Eve were tempted and fell.  The Book of Job warns of the same thing with these words, “Has not man a hard service upon earth?” [Job 7:1]  The entire Old Testament seems to describe our life as that of a hired-hand, and that life, even at its best, will be full of toil and trouble.   And alongside of this view we need only look at two verses from this morning’s New Testament readings to clarify and direct or thoughts this morning: “Sufficient for the day is its own troubles.” [Matthew 6:34b] And, “For each will have to bear his own load.” [Galatians 6:5]

No one can avoid the load of anxieties that life brings.  But we should know how to manage them.

Managing them is just like being able to control our daily speech or having the capacity to be thankful.  It reveals what we think about God.  If we try to have God alongside of everything else in our lives, then we will certainly be held captive to our anxieties.

We can’t have God simply as some helper who sometimes breaks in and puts our lives back in order.  For instance, when our health fails or our marriage or family begins to fall apart, then and only then do we think of giving God priority and first place in our lives.  We can’t serve God and the things of this world.  If God is not our God alone, all of the time, then we will find ourselves being held hostage by our pursuit of money, possessions, work, or by the conflicts with the many people who are in our lives.  Not to mention, the thousands of duties and responsibilities that harass us from the time we wake up to the time we drift off to sleep for the night.

There are at least two valid ways of dealing with our tendency to worry. First, we must be warned that our worry is a symptom of a dangerous lack of faith, and then we simply confess it as the sin that it is. When we do this, we are then turning from our worry, confessing our sin, and turning to God’s forgiveness and strength so that we can begin anew.  But another way to be free of your anxiety is to follow the course that Jesus teaches today in our gospel lesson.  Through a series of gentle, rhetorical questions, Jesus invites us to remember that we are living our lives under our Heavenly Father’s care.

Listen to Jesus speak to you now…

“Life is something more than food and the body is something more than clothing, aren’t they?” And to this we answer, “Of course!” “You are worth much more than the birds and other animals that God takes care of, aren’t you?” Now perhaps reluctantly, and somewhat embarrassed we answer, “Well, yes, now that you put it that way, Lord.” And now concerning our health and how much longer we will live, Jesus asks you, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Again the slow response: “Well, Master, I guess that no one can do such a thing after all.” And now, so that He can address our fear that we will lack proper clothing Jesus asks, “Why are you worrying about what you will wear? After decking out the lilies of the field in a manner greater than Solomon’s splendor, God the Father will certainly clothe you His children of little-faith, won’t He?” And now, how can any of us respond other than saying, “Yes. Yes, He will do that.” And finally Jesus says to us, “So… don’t worry.” And how shall we answer Him this morning.  Maybe like this: “I’m sorry Lord.  I lost my bearings; I have been someone of little faith. I forgot that God was my heavenly Father and that He knows that I have these needs and that He will indeed provide for them.”

To say that God the Heavenly Father is your Father through Jesus Christ is to also agree that you live in His Kingdom and you are under His sovereign protection.  This is why Jesus so emphatically says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” [Matthew 6:33]

You see, Jesus won’t let anyone be in His kingdom half way; He won’t permit anyone to say that He must first say good-bye to someone, or arrange a funeral, or look after his property, or think about his honeymoon before they can accept a call to be a Christian. [Luke 9:57-62]  Jesus didn’t even accept Martha’s eagerness to get the household chores done before she was willing to listen and learn from Him. [Luke 10:40]  If God is to be our God, the one we rest in and find strength for today, then He must always be first in our lives; we must always make it a priority to find time for Him.  So as Christians, we should find ourselves struggling to make the right choices in those decisive moments of life.  We can do this when we simply take time to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His saving Word.  This morning, you are doing that very thing, and through His Divine service, God is now equipping you with the proper faith to be and remain His children, and afterward when you leave this place but not His presence, He will teach you how to clear up your anxieties.

Now, what does it mean to “seek” this kingdom of God? What is the method of reaching it, and what way or path leads us to it? Well it is simply believing in Christ and practicing and applying the Gospel, to which your faith clings. This involves living out your new baptismal life that you were given long ago, and growing and being strengthened at heart through preaching, listening, reading, singing, meditating, and every other possible way that includes the Word of God in your life. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, you will discover both an ability and desire to do good works that come out of your new life, and then through these good works, together with other saints, you will work to advance God’s kingdom, and lead many other people to it.

Dear friends, as children of the Heavenly Father who already live in and serve within His kingdom of grace, you no longer need to worry about your future.

Your baptismal life, lived under the cross of Jesus will daily make it clear to you that God surrounds you always with His almighty presence.  He feeds the birds of the heavens and clothes the grass of the field.  He thinks of us more highly than the rest of creation, so why worry if He will supply for your needs?  He has said that tomorrow must bear its own load.   When the time comes He will bear both our burdens and us. [Psalm 68:20]

Now all of this being said and true, it does not mean that we can just fold our hands and lay down in ease and do nothing.  We have been called to carry the burdens of others.  No one can do this without work and without knowing that there is a burden to be carried.  We must not become weary in doing good.  And if we do become weary we must pray for renewed strength from God the Father for the sake of Jesus Christ His Son, our Savior.  All of our worries and concerns over the fear that we might not be able to do our part, must simply be placed in the capable hands of our Lord who says: “Cast your burdens upon the Lord, and He will sustain you.” [Psalm 55:22]

Dear friends, God has your tomorrows covered, so walk with Him today.   “Tomorrow will worry for itself” is simply Christ’s invitation to you His little lambs to throw all your worries onto His shoulders; or into the lap of tomorrow and then live your life without worry day after day. If tomorrow is to do the worrying, then today we are free; and since tomorrow is always in the future and just beyond us, our worries are also always to be just beyond our reach. The idea is not, “Let God worry!” because He never worries. And we are not to say, “Wait until tomorrow comes and then I’ll worry!” No you see, tomorrow always moves on, and it will never be today; it does not exist today. If, then, tomorrow is to do the worrying, no worrying will ever be done. And that is what Jesus desires.

Why not be satisfied with today as though it has plenty of concerns without having to go into the future and borrow more? May God give us faith to believe this and live it out, in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Art of Thankfulness

August 29th, 2016

Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 28th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ for you.” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]

Many times it seems as if God’s will for us to give thanks is seldom fulfilled by us.  Oh it’s true that there are some circumstances in life when we can’t help but be thankful, but sometimes, many times those circumstances are few and far between.  That’s because people usually—even those of us who want to behave as Christians—have a limited view of our eternal reality.

Our realities consist first of all of ourselves, then it widens into our immediate everyday lives, but last of all, to our shame, we consider God.  Isn’t it true that we can be overwhelmed just by dealing with our everyday lives?  Bad things and good things happen to everyone, and many times, we forget to thank God.  Oh we’ve been known to turn to God when real situations arise; situations that we can’t explain or control, and if and when God responds, we gladly give Him thanks and praise, but sometimes we do forget to praise Him even when we successfully pass through those tough times.  We can be a lot like those nine lepers in our gospel lesson (Luke 17-11-19) who were healed and never bothered to return to Jesus and give thanks to God.  Yes, we modern folks aren’t all that different from people in Jesus time.  So how can we correct this?  Well the quick answer is that we can’t.  When we tell ourselves we must give thanks, it is no longer an expression of gratitude from our hearts, but rather a law or regulation that imposes something that really should be given freely and gladly.  So the secret to being thankful isn’t something we can develop, but rather it is something we are given.

The secret of thankfulness is no secret at all; it’s simply the art of walking by the Spirit, and learning not to evaluate things by the desire of our flesh.

When we learn to see things first within a spiritual reality we will also discover that things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control are things that come only through knowing Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected for me… for you!

And knowing Christ in this way can only come by being in God’s Word.  When we are in the Word we will find ourselves gladly being led, renewed, and refreshed by the Holy Spirit of God who empowers that Word.

It is that intimate relationship with God through Christ in His means of grace that begins to teach us all things; in other words, the Spirit brings us wisdom.

In our Old Testament lesson (Proverbs 4:10-23), the voice of God calls out through Holy Scripture and says, “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.”

This is a challenge God puts out to each of us who are baptized.  It is as if He is saying, “Try me out.  Listen to my Word; let it teach you the truth about sin and death, and then let it take you on another path, the path of forgiveness and eternal life.”

The path of forgiveness and eternal life comes only through the Word of God, and it is always a Word about Jesus Christ.  That Word forces you to see your need for Christ as your Savior and it is showing you the true victory Christ won for you on the cross, and the sure and certain promise of the resurrection that He gave to you in the waters of your own baptism.  This is why our Old Testament lesson ends with this plea: “My son, be attentive to my Words; incline your ear to my saying.  Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.  For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.  Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” [Proverbs 4:20-23]

But even if we give God this kind of thanks, it is still only a portion of the gratitude that we should return to Him.  So how can we develop this art of being thankful? It’s not that difficult really; we do it…

By keeping our eyes on Jesus, which will both teach us and fill us with a God given ability and desire to be thankful.

Jesus thanked His Heavenly Father for everything—from the bread and the wine on the table to the deepest mysteries of salvation.  He thanked His Father for an answer to prayer even before it came. [John 11:25-43]  But you and I aren’t Jesus; we are imperfect saved sinners struggling to hold onto the gifts of forgiveness and new life.  But still we know that God both desires and equips us to be thankful people.  The apostles took part in this same struggle, but in the midst of trials they constantly urged their fellow Christians to continue practicing that art of thankfulness, always giving thanks to God our Father in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!  This is not a pious figure of speech that God’s Word teaches but instead, it is described as a basic attitude of life and a direction for our personalities.  It is the proper attitude of a Christian, and it flows from our knowledge of God, which only comes through the frequent use of His Word.

God is not only the God of the unusual event and the difficult circumstance, but  He is also the source of all things and the giver of every good gift. [James 1:17]  It should be a real eye opener when we read the Psalms and we discover that many “normal things” are objects of praise and thanksgiving for the psalmist.  The psalmist praises and blesses God for the streams that make their way through the hills, for grass which comes forth out of the ground, for the grain that makes bread, or wine which gladdens the hearts of men and women, for sun and moon, for the darkness of night and the light of morning, for the task of the day and even for the work which last until evening.  God is praised for covering the skies with clouds and for giving rain to the earth, for giving food to the creatures of the earth and sustenance to all living things.

But thanksgiving becomes even more abundant when the Scriptures begin to speak to our hearts about the salvation that God has provided for sinful people like us.  This is the same spirit of thankfulness that led St. Paul to break out in joy and praise, right in the middle of some carefully studied thought.  “Thanks be to God” Paul says, “through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Romans 7:25]  “God who is over all be blessed forever.  Amen.” [Romans 9:5]

You see for Paul and the other apostles, everything is ultimately spiritual, and it’s all connected to how God is breaking through into our physical reality.  Everything that Paul writes is filled with a God given spirit of thanksgiving for Christ, Who is God’s unspeakable gift for sinners like you and me.  Oh that we would overflow with praise and be taught to rejoice even in the middle of suffering and tribulations; oh that we would learn to rejoice in Christ with an unspeakable and glorious joy. [1 Peter 1:3-9]

Dear friends, today God is calling each of us to be transformed like the Samaritan leper in our gospel lesson and like the apostles and early disciples of Jesus.

God is asking each of us to be the minority that returns to Jesus every day to give Him thanks and praise.  Let’s not try to answer the question that asks, “Where are the others?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God accept this foreigner?” But instead, let’s just be thankful that He accepts foreigners like us; let’s thank Him for His faithfulness.

Let us be transformed everyday, becoming more and more thankful that God would call sinners such as us, such as I, such as you!  And as we are being made thankful, let us also like the Samaritan respond to Jesus invitation to journey with Him.  Let us proceed to and through those Dark Gethsemane moments and even to the cross of suffering and shame, being thankful that Jesus is our’s and we are His.  Let us follow the sorrowful procession to His tomb and say a resounding yes to the Spiritual that asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  Yes you were there; it was YOUR sins that He died for, but let’s also remember that we were there by faith, when God the Father raised Him from the tomb.  And because He lives, we too shall live with Him forever in Paradise restored.  Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, that Jesus would suffer and die for such a worm and foreigner as I!

Again we find that the art of being thankful is not in trying to make ourselves thankful, but instead it comes simply as a gift of comfort from God Who breaks into our sometimes painful reality, as we are being taught to cling to Christ and His gospel alone.  It is in moments like these that we find ourselves simply rejoicing in the knowledge that God loves us and He has forgiven us for Christ’s sake.  When this one pure thought becomes certain to us, we will not be able to contain our thankfulness.

And this thought can only come by faith through the Word of God and the work that the Word performs in our hearts.  It is the Word that assures you that you are everywhere and always surrounded by the goodness of God in Jesus Christ.  From Him and through Him and unto Him are all things, even our cries of thanksgiving.  To Him be glory forever and ever…  AMEN.

Who Is My Neighbor?

August 21st, 2016

Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 21st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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“Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9]

Isn’t that the way we normally live our lives; the way we normally respond to situations that seem to lead us to act for the benefit of others rather that passing them by and doing nothing.  It’s the way we justify not doing something; the way we naturally react to all the various people in our lives; people like coworkers and acquaintances.  Isn’t it true that we find it easier to show friendliness and do good towards a few chosen people in our lives; people who we know will reciprocate with equal friendliness?  But toward the majority of people whom we meet during the day, we usually do exactly as the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable did; we pass them by without more than a passing thought.

But in contrast, the Scriptures teach us that next to the great commandment to love God with our whole heart, body, mind, and soul, we are to  “Love our neighbor as ourselves.”  With such a broad, high, and demanding command as this, it isn’t unusual to find ourselves asking along with the lawyer in our gospel lesson (Luke 10:23-37)…

Who then is my neighbor, if I’m to love my neighbor as myself?

Jesus answered that question by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan who traveling alone one day happened to meet a man he could help.  In that moment, this suffering, dying man next to him became his neighbor.  You see, my neighbor, your neighbor is every person that we come in contact with, a person to whom we can do either harm or good towards.

Our neighbor can be a person who is close to us in the sense of proximity, or close to us in the sense that we have a God given ability to render immediate help.  The Jews were prone to limit their definition of who their neighbor was, to someone who was first and foremost part of their own people, and especially part of their own family.  In regards to how they would treat the others, they had a mindset that pretty much guided them, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But Jesus teaches that even the person who is unknown or indifferent or even repulsive to us becomes our neighbor as soon as we have dealings with them.

Does this seem like a difficult concept to embrace?  I would not be surprised if you answered yes, because the truth is, by nature,  all of us are lousy neighbors.

The belief that every fellow man is my neighbor is based in the truth that we are all so closely related to each other because of our fallen and sinful nature.  But…

All of us have also, been created by God to be His children and to relate to Him through faith.  In reality, we all have the same Creator-Father; we have all been redeemed by the same Savior, the Son of God.  And if we are baptized, we are even more closely related in that we have all been chosen to receive the same spiritual home, a place where we will all eternally live together as members of the same family.

The unknown people that we pass by during the day while we are walking or driving are also our brothers and sisters “for whom Christ died.” [Romans 12:5]  We are members of the same body, joined together by God Himself, so “that the members may have the same care for one another.”  We are to love the others just as much as we love ourselves.

In the Hawaiian language, there is a beautiful word that has multiple meanings and it is Aloha.  It can mean hello or goodbye. It also means love’ abiding love and affection.  With that in mind let me sing to you a bit of a song written by Larry Rivera titled “Aloha Begins With Me.”  I like to think of it as the “Good Samaritan Song.”  Aloha Begins with me.  Aloha begins with me.  Aloha begins with me.  When I walk down to the street, I will smile to all I meet and say Aloha!  When I drive on down to town and the traffic is slowing down, I smile and say Aloha!  In this country of many races we are blessed with all God’s graces.  So let every creature that has breath sing His praise.

Contrary to the spirit of Aloha or the type of love the Bible calls agape love, the truth is that we are usually pretty much concerned only about ourselves and not about sharing aloha with others.  But if we could only see just how closely we are related, actually one with another, wouldn’t we treat them just a little differently? “For no man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it.” [Matthew 7:12]  The simplest explanation of our obligation to love our neighbor was given by our Lord when He said: “As you wish that men would do to you, do the same to them.” [Luke 6:31]

The person who loves God is a person who truly understands who he is before a perfect and righteous God.  This kind of person understands just how deep God’s love for he or she runs, and then through this understanding of true agape love, aloha, they’re given a new ability from God, to approach other people with this new kind of love.  This love is given to us to be shared with both relatives and acquaintances as well as all those we encounter as we journey through life together.  But this kind of love, this agape love can only come through a true Christian faith; it is something that can only be received from God as a gift.  And after God gives this gift of love and faith, this person, these true Christians can say that they  “both love God and know Him.”

God is love, and to live in a right relationship with God through faith in Christ means to not only have His love residing and abiding in our hearts but it also means that it radiates from within and goes out to others as well.  The person who does not love his brother whom he has seen, can’t love God who he has not seen.  Everyone who loves the parent loves the child.

No one can force us to love.  The only way for us to receive the love of God is when He showers it upon us and in us through His means of grace.  When this happens, then we can love as He first loved us.  This morning, Jesus through His story about the Good Samaritan has done just that; He’s showered us with faith and grace.

In His story we should understand two important things: First, who the person robbed and dying in the ditch is and second, who the Good Samaritan is.

You like the lawyer testing Jesus, are in fact the injured traveler, who has been left to die alone in the ditch.  You were beaten by your enemies the day you were conceived; they left you robbed and in the grip of death the day you were born.  There was nothing you could do to save your self.  Even other people, important people in your lives are helpless to save you; and even if they could help they wouldn’t because they too were left alone and dying in their own ditch of sin and death.  They too, need the Good Neighbor.  But Jesus story does not stop there.  Next He tells you about a “Good Samaritan.”

A Samaritan was a class of people who were hated by the Jews.  To call a Samaritan good would be blasphemous to the ears of a Jew.  So you can understand the insult intended when the Pharisees out of frustration called Jesus a Samaritan simply because they could not trap Him and brand Him as a sinner.  They said that He was a Samaritan possessed by a demon.  Yes, Jesus says, “I am the “Good Samaritan.”  I am the only one who can be a good neighbor; the only One who has the true aloha spirit.  I alone have come to you, picked you out of the ditch, anointed your wounds with the gospel, and took both you and your burdens upon my self and carried you to be cleansed in the waters of baptism, and fed the Father’s Manna from Heaven, which is my Word, my body, and my blood.  I am your champion who not only rescued you from your true enemies, but I also destroyed them for you.  Now sin, death, and the devil can never harm you again.

But Jesus is also your good neighbor because He willingly took your place in the ditch; He allowed your enemies to beat, rob, and kill Him, upon the cross.  But it was His life to lay down for you, and He gladly did it, just so He could take it back up again.  He rose from the dead so you could see that because He has overcome death and the grave, so too shall you.

How can we become “good” neighbors?  Only by receiving and being transformed by God’s mercy as given through His Son, Jesus Christ.   Legalists who like to cross-examine Jesus Word and make it say a more palatable message, like the lawyer who confronted Jesus, still make no progress today towards appeasing their guilty conscience and satisfying the Law of God.  They never will have peace until they recognize that they are the man half dead and Jesus is the one who does mercy as their true neighbor. The lawyer says, “I will act to love my neighbor as myself; tell me who he is.” But Jesus answers, “You can’t act, because you are dead. You need someone to love you, show mercy to you, heal you, pay for you, give you lodging, and revive you. I am the only one who does those things, but I am also the one you despise because I love to be with sinners, but in fact I am the one who fulfills the Law, who embodies it, and brings God’s mercy. I am your good neighbor and will give you the gifts of mercy, healing, and life. As I live in you, you will have life and will do mercy—not motivated by laws and definitions, but animated by my love.”

I pray that each of us will continue to allow Jesus to deliver us from the ditch of sin, heal us, and strengthen and guide us as we go out allowing Jesus to be the good neighbor through us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN.

Words Are Important

August 15th, 2016

Twelfth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 14th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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“For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” [Matthew 12:37]

This is the word of Jesus.  It sounds dreadful, and we can understand why there were times when after the disciples heard Jesus teach and preach they responded with the question, “Who then can be saved?” [Matthew 19:25]

Why are our words so important?  And if they’re so important, why do we so often say so many things that we don’t really mean?  Well Jesus teaches that “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” [Luke 6:45]  Since every tree is known by its fruits, our thoughtless, angry, empty, and noisy words should then reveal the real condition of our hearts.  And to make sure that we understand this truth, Jesus also said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” [Matthew 12:36]

But thank God we are not limited to only our words; thank God there is a Word much bigger and powerful than any and all Words we will ever speak.  Thank God Jesus also says, “With man salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible; (Matthew 19:26) all things that begin not with the word of men but with the Word of God like this…

“In the beginning was the Word.” [John 1:1] “And God said, ‘Let there be …’  and all that exists came into being—by the power of his Word.” [Genesis 1:3- 24]

God likes to talk because in His Word there is power! He began the world by talking it into existence. When Adam and Eve doubted his Word and hid from Him because of their guilt, God came to them in order to call them back into a relationship with Himself. [Genesis 3:9] As a way to reclaim and restore his people, God has placed his power in our language as we speak His Word so that His gospel will lead people to trust in Him.  God’s good news brings us back into His grace and favor; the very thing we were first created to exist in.  So this is why God loves to talk; because His message of forgiveness and new life brings us back into a right relationship with Him. And this “being made right” with God is given to us only through His Word, and only because we are allowed to receive His Word of promise through His gift of faith. [Romans 1:17]  And yet so many people still think that they can make things right with God in their own way. They see God’s 10 Commandments as suggestions or a loose code of conduct that they can adapt to fit their life style. They believe in this so strongly that they are willing to completely dismiss God’s gospel message.

Here is the very point that God wants us to understand: on our own we are broken; our words and our good intentions accomplish nothing.  That is the primary function of the law, of the Ten Commandments; to show us that we are broken.  We are trapped in our sin, and on our own we can never be right with God. If you know this is true, then you have experienced the work of God’s Law.  It’s like a hammer that crushes us and it is like a sword that pierces our very souls, but it only does this work so that you will remember that with God all things are possible; so that you will be led to call out to God for His healing balm!  The healing balm of God, the forgiveness of sins is the work of the Gospel.  The gospel tells us about God’s grace, His forgiving love through Jesus Christ.  But why do some find it so hard to receive and believe in the gospel?  Well the problem isn’t in God’s Word, the problem is in us; it is a problem of sin being in our hearts!

Both God’s Law and the Gospel come to us through the same means; they come to us through the Word.  It is the same Word that we are to take into our mouths and then into our hearts!  Both Law and Gospel are essential for making us right with God.  If we truly want a relationship of love and trust with our Creator, it can only come to us through God’s Word, both the Law and the Gospel; we can’t have one without the other.  If we reject either one we are simply lost in our sins; separated from God for time and eternity.  We need to hear both the Law and the Gospel if we are to be right with God.   We need to receive that Word like the man in our gospel lesson (Mark 7:31-37) who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  He knew of no grand possibility of being made whole; he only knew that his friends brought him to Jesus as a broken man and that Jesus desired to make him whole.

What is the Gospel?  It is the Word of God that tells you that you have a God who has come to save you.  You have a champion that has destroyed the power of sin, death, and the devil!  You have a Savior and His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  If you go off looking for help from other means, then you are trying to make yourself right with God by your own code of conduct, and because of that, you are denying Christ’s death for you, and you’re in essence telling God, “No thanks Lord.  I’ve got this!”  If you do that then you can’t have a new and eternal life!

You see friends, Christianity is unlike any other religion.  It is the only absolute and perfect religion because it doesn’t ask you to do a thing, but instead, it teaches you to accept and receive God’s perfect and complete work for you through Jesus Christ—“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” [2 Corinthians 5:18–19]  In other words, the Christian religion is absolutely perfect because it isn’t a moral code that teaches us how to earn forgiveness of sins, but instead it teaches us that through God’s Word of Law and Gospel we receive faith that recreates and sustains us while God reshapes us.  All of this was given to us through Christ’s work upon the cross.  There on the cross He was pierced and killed for our sins.  By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed!

So what must we do to be saved?  Well, what does God’s Word say?

It says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:8-13]  So the simple thing we must do is be in the Word of God and call out to Him.

Sadly people today, will hear this Good News and still think that we Christians and our Bibles are narrow minded and bigoted.  They will say how presumptuous it is of us to assume that we are the only ones that are right about God.  They will point out that the great Creator God would never limit Himself to just the printed and spoken Word.  They love to point to the marvels of the world we live in, the universe around us and our own history to prove that God can and does speak to men and women outside of His recorded Word.  But the truth is, when people say something like that, what they are really trying to do is neutralize the Law of God.  Why?  Because to them, the Law is like a mirror, and they don’t like what they see in that mirror!  In the mirror of God’s Law they see the ugliness of their sin and they see the perfection that God demands!

Now while it is true that God does make use of creation and our history to communicate to us, He does this only to direct our attention to His Word, a Word which alone tells us of our need for our savior, Jesus Christ!  The knowledge about sin and grace, can only come to us through God’s Word of Law and Gospel.  It is through the Word alone that we are recreated back into God’s image!  Without the preaching of Christ’s Word, darkness still covers the world and our sinful hearts.  Even though our history shows that God speaks to us through the majesty of the heavens and the earth, even though God speaks to sinful man with a loud voice in earthquakes, war, and famine, we are lost without God’s Word of Law and Gospel speaking death to our sinful flesh and then recreating new and eternal life within us.

(But)“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:14-17]

Isn’t it sad that so many people still reject The gospel!  But this isn’t any thing new; even Isaiah lamented to God and wondered if he was preaching in vain.  But God’s Word corrects this thinking; He corrects it by reminding us that the working of faith is His business.  He reminds us that He gives faith only through His Word, and that Word teaches us that saving faith is always faith in the Word of Christ, faith in the external Word of the Gospel, which Christ commanded His Church to preach and to teach. [Mark 16:15–16; Romans 1:1–2]

This external Word is both the object of our faith and the means by which faith is created.  This is why churches call pastors and it is why seminaries train and send them!  Any belief centered in anything that is not proclaimed in the Word of Christ as we have it through Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles (John 17:20), according to the Scriptures is just a delusion and a product of the sinful human heart and mind. [1 Timothy 6:3–4; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5]  And this is also why God expects you as His priests, to be His witnesses to those who don’t know Him through His Word; because He wants them to know that there is power in His Word… Power unto salvation!

Through the proclamation of the gospel then, the preached Word of God is sent out to every corner of this sinful world, inviting sinful men and women to believe and rest in God’s Word of forgiveness.  Through our witness as to how God’s Word has restored us, others can see Jesus living in and recreating us, and by God’s grace they will be moved to ask us about our faith.  This then is a God given moment to invite them to look deeper into that Word by hearing it preached and taught in God’s church, even our little church here.

Through faith in Christ we are covered by the righteousness of Christ, to be Christ’s many ambassadors.  Through the Word of God spoken by men, we have been given a new heart from which we can bring out things that are good and pleasing to God. [2 Corinthians 5:17]  Something new has been created within us, a good tree that can bring and bear good fruit.  This new fruit that comes from within our new hearts will bear witness on judgment day that the tree God planted within us was good.  But it is not for the sake of the good fruit that you are granted forgiveness and eternal life.  There is still enough left of the old sinful flesh that we need to pray day-by-day, “Forgive us our trespasses.”  But for the sake of Christ we are now “not under law, but under grace.” [Romans 6:14]

So you see, faith does grow out of hearing the Word of God.  Through God’s Word, new life is created and protected by the giving and sustaining of faith. Now our faith might not always understand the mystery of how God can speak to us through His Word and Sacraments, and faith won’t always be able to explain why God does what He does for sinners like us, but that’s alright, because you see, “faith is the assurance of things for which we hope for; it is the conviction of things that we don’t see. [Hebrews 11:1] So faith is simply hearing and resting in God’s message about Jesus Christ; His cross and empty tomb; His church and His means of grace; and the cherished time we spend alone in that Word and the time we spend together as the communion of saints!  May God continue to give us ears and a heart to hear and believe this message!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

On Being Made Righteous

August 8th, 2016

Eleventh Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 7th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

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“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  [Luke 18:14]

This is the verdict in regards to the no good tax collector, who for the Jews was the epitome of a sinner; he was considered a traitor to his people, because he worked for the evil Roman Empire.  This tax collector had been in the temple along with the self-righteous and confident Pharisee, the ultimate church goer.  We should note that the Pharisees had the same view of people and morality as many hard-working, idealistic, and socially responsible people have today.  They believed that there is a moral law that people are expected to live up to.  They believe that if you’ve done the best you can, the best you know how, you won’t fail in pleasing God, or another way of saying that is you wont become a lost sinner.

But according to the Bible this is simply a way to deceive ourselves.  It is a way that makes God out to be a liar and reveals that “His Word is not in us.”  [1 John 1:8-10] When we really see what God expects of us we can never be satisfied with ourselves.  Even when we have the will to do good, there is something evil in our nature that makes us prone to jealousy, pride, and self-interest.  And even if anyone should keep the law in its entirety and yet fail in only one point he has become guilty of breaking all of it, namely of sinning against God Himself. [James 2:10]

So, armed with this information, let’s again look at Jesus parable this morning.  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” [Luke 18:10]

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” [Vs. 11, 12]

The Pharisee in Jesus story simply is a character that personifies all of the countless people who have ever passed before God and who ever will pass before Him, trusting in their own righteousness, that is in their own good works as a way to appease God; to make Him happy.

We know that pride certainly is an issue for this Pharisee, because he took his place in the temple, during the prayer service right up front and in the central part of the room where everyone could both see and hear him recite his personal prayers to heaven.  And why shouldn’t he; everyone seemed to admire him for his piety, or he certainly wouldn’t have made this his practice.

Next, he thanked God that he was not like other people, like most people.  He wasn’t an extortioner, one who manipulates and uses other people.  He’s thankful that he’s not an unjust man, in other words in his mind, he is completely justified as righteous before God.  He’s thankful that he’s not an adulterer, running around living the swinger life style.

But now as he looks around the sanctuary, he spots a very notorious member of the worship community… the tax collector.  And he thanks God that he’s not like that man, an enemy both of God and God’s people.  He’s probably even wondering how that man was even allowed into the temple area. “He should be locked up” he might have said under his breath! But in reality, he really had nothing to thank God for, because in God’s eyes, the life he had made for himself was worse than the life of an extortioner and even the tax collector. You see, he was measuring himself and others with a wrong human rule and not with the rule of God’s Word, and what’s more, he was doing it right in God’s Temple, which had been dedicated to God’s Word.

Of all those who, like the Pharisee, trust in their morality, it is still true as Jesus said: “They say one thing, but do another.” [Matthew 23:3] When the law speaks, our mouths are stopped, and the whole world stands guilty before God. [Romans 3:19] There is therefore none that are righteous accept Jesus Christ. [1 Peter 3:18]. And all that Jesus has done He has done for us.  In our place and for our sake He has fulfilled everything, even the smallest parts of the law in order that “by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:19]

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” [Vs. 13]

Here is Jesus’ example of the complete opposite to the Pharisee. He, too, stands before God in the Temple, but he is not in a special place of honor or attention, in fact, he stands as far away from these places of honor as possible. He felt that he was too unworthy to go any nearer. He didn’t even have the will to lift up his eyes to heaven, because he was completely ashamed to stand before God. He doesn’t even attempt to brag about what he has done for God and the church, but instead he simply pounds his chest as a way of showing great sorrow and pain for his sinful life.

And now we hear his prayer, which is also his confession of sins.  He admits his sin of being an open and public sinner, but he prays that God would atone for, or take away his guilt.  It’s to bad that our contemporary translations choose to use the word merciful, because the actual word translated from the Greek is translated as “propitiated.”  So, his words should really be read like this: “God be propitiated to me a sinner.”  He had probably just provided his gift of something that had just been sacrificed by the Chief Priest at the altar of God; a gift that he hoped would atone for His sins.  So he is praying, “God please accept the sacrifice I offered and let it be enough to bring atonement for me and bring me peace with you.”

The main point lies in in the comparison of the two men.  The Pharisee thought of others as being sinners but fails to see the truth about himself; the tax collector thinks of himself alone as being the sinner and doesn’t even begin to think about others. Do you see, this is a mark of true humility; of true contrition and brokenness? This condition of the heart finds no comfort at all in the fact that there are many others who are even greater sinners; it sees only itself before God, only itself as “the”sinner who is unable to answer to God for his sins.

“I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” [vs 14]

So now Jesus tells us the very reason for the parable and the point of ultimate importance that we are to leave with.  Jesus wants to ensure that through His Word this morning, each of us will leave here justified, that is made right with God.

Jesus used the word justified intentionally.  It is the word that every sinner must use before God; both the tax collector and sinners such as our selves must confess before God that He is right and we are wrong; we must “acknowledged God as just” by remembering the need for Christ’s cross and the importance of our own baptism.  We must acknowledge that it is only through these means that God has chosen to both declare someone as righteous and recreate them in to someone who is righteous.

The irony here, of course, is that the one who goes back to his home “justified” is the confessed sinner and not the self-righteous sinner. So it all boils down to a simple matter of who we trust for our salvation: we either trust in ourselves, as does the Pharisee, who exalts himself as the means of his own redemption, or we trust in God and the atoning sacrifice he has provided (as did the tax collector).

So the tax collector and we this morning go home justified.  What difference should that make in our lives?

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” [Ephesians 2:10]

Do you understand?  Praise His name, God has propitiated us; through the Sacrifice of Christ upon the cross He saved us from our sins, but He has also equipped us to live out our redeemed and justified lives with a purpose. As we leave this house of worship right with God, we are called and equipped to live out this status by doing the very things He has prepared for us to do; prepared for us to share with others who do not yet know Him rightly unto eternal life.

It is by sharing this righteousness that we demonstrate to others that we are in fact justified before God.  John writes: “…if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (one).”  [1 John 2:1]  His righteousness frees us from the judgment and punishment of our sins.  His righteousness is our propitiation; it’s our salvation when we believe in Him.  We “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” [Romans 3:24] That means that our sins are covered over by the righteousness of Christ, by the blood He shed upon the cross, and by the waters of our baptism, which applied that atoning blood upon us personally.  It means that God no longer deals with us according to our sins, neither those which we have committed nor those which are still part of our fallen human nature.

And this is why it doesn’t help a person in the least if they simply embrace a high morality.  No matter how much a person protests that their moral goodness should count for something, God says it does not; He says that they still belong to the group of those who did not go and do that which the Father wanted to have done.  But both tax collectors and prostitutes who repent may enter the Kingdom of God, and so can no good sinners like you and me.  [Matthew 21:29-31]

Inevitably this truth will mean that each of us will go out justified and do the will of our Father and do that will better than we ever could have done if we were simply servants of this worlds standard of morality, the law, and pure idealism.

May God continue to equip and empower us to do these good works, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!