Beware of the Bloodless Cross!

February 7th, 2016

Quinquagesima Sunday, February 7th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”” [Isaiah 35:3, 4]

This morning, I declare a message of hope for you who see a need for that hope, which comes by way of a suffering and bloody Savior; for those who see the cross as not only an emblem of suffering and shame but also as a means of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.  But I also come proclaiming a warning for those who do not see the bloody and violent cross and death as enough to assure sinners of eternal life; for those who down play the bitter suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, and feel that through their own actions they must add something to the passion of Christ in order to be assured that they will be forgiven and receive eternal life.  Those who will not receive all that this Cross of Christ brings are refusing the very means of salvation that God is offering them.

The truth is that people, all people, really do not understand the power of the cross. They will not receive it on their own because to them, it just does not make sense; it seems too easy.

Instinctively, each of us knows that we have a real issue with sin; sins that we wrestle with that if others knew just how ugly those sins within us were, the sins we keep hidden so well with a veneer of self-righteousness; if they knew, they would be repulsed and turn away from us, or at least never look at us the same.  Now, you may not want to admit that to me or anyone else, you may want to deny that truth publicly, but remember this sin issue isn’t about anyone else; it’s about where you stand before God.  It is God who speaks to your heart right now; and it is His Holy Spirit that is confirming to you this very moment that on your own, you are nothing but a rag-a-muffin; a broken misfit that has become an expert at pretending.

Because of this truth about each of us, we are tempted to hear only the harsh words of our text this morning and then be filled with worry and fear that the cross of Christ may not be enough for us.  Listen: Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with His recompense, the punishment of sin.

And there is the problem with a sinner who under-values the cross of Christ; there is the problem with a bloodless cross.  We have concentrated so much on the sins that separate us from a loving God that we loose sight of the power of God unto salvation.  We forget that throughout His Word, God has assured us that He doesn’t want to terrify or threaten any one.  We forget that He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.  This morning, God reminds us that He is much more interested in bringing you forgiveness, hope, and life.  So hear the gospel and the gift of faith that will allow you to see God rightly, in love and mercy.

This morning, Jesus Christ, your Savior prepares you for your Lenten journey that is about to begin this Ash Wednesday. He says to you, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.  And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” [Luke 18:31-33]

All of this and so much more is Christ’s passion for sinners, rag-a-muffins like us.  Our great sins have to be dealt with; God has no choice.  The punishment we deserve is great, so great in fact if it is enacted upon us we will perish with no hope of ever being right with God.  Flogging, humiliation, and death are just the beginning of the things our sins deserve and demand.

But listen to our Saviors Words again; He said that “everything written about the Son of Man (that is the Messiah) by the prophets will be accomplished.”  What things?  Well, the chastisement or punishment of God for the sins of the whole world.  But pay attention to that little word “accomplished”, because it is the same verb Jesus shouted from the cross just before He died.  “It is accomplished, it’s finished, (their debt, your debt, our debts) are paid in full!”

But the best news comes in the last sentence he spoke, listen: “And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”  You see friends, the passion of Christ, His suffering and shame, the bloody cross, was God’s way of taking away the sins of the world, even your many sins so that you could once again have the hope of being right with God the Father, your Creator.  But you must continue to follow Christ from the bloody cross to the tomb, which for us is an empty tomb because, “He has risen, indeed.”  Alleluia, Christ is risen.

And it is this gift of the empty tomb that He gives to each of us by way of the bloody cross, within the waters of our own baptism.

But was it really necessary for Christ to die on the Cross? Well, His own disciples wondered about that too.  His death seemed like a ridiculous proposition to them; in fact, it was a real stumbling block for them as they saw Him dying on the cross and then dead in the tomb.  So, the first thing that Jesus had to do was open their blind spiritual eyes and give them eyes of faith so that God’s truth would become their truth.  After His resurrection and as He traveled with some of His disciples on the way to Emmaus, Jesus began to do this very thing by asking them this question.  “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” [Luke 24:26]

Well, wasn’t it necessary, so that you too, could follow Him into glory as well?

Yes, but why did you have to suffer and die Lord?

And to that question, Holy Scripture gives us God’s own answer: “Jesus should die… to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” [John 11:51]  The family of man, which God had created, had become lost to the Father.  All of them, all of us had sinned and had lost the image and likeness of God.  Man could not win it back by himself.  You see friends, the nature of God contains both holiness and love.  This holy love is like a burning and all consuming fire on all that is sinful and unclean.  This holy love reaches out its arms to sinful mankind and seeks to embrace and gather them.  And our natural response as sinners to this love is to say: “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…!” [Isaiah 6:5]  “Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire of God?”  [Isaiah 33:14]

So here, for sinners such as us, is the conundrum of sin: God can’t change His nature.  If He did, He would then no longer be God, because God never changes.  And God can’t overlook our sin.  He can’t even tolerate the slightest hint of it in His kingdom.

But God can redeem it.  And this means that its guilt and penalty must be paid for and taken away.  Through God’s act of redemption, His righteousness remains intact.  His holiness and love can once again surround men and women that He created in His image.  The sinner can become one with God once again.

But that kind of atonement could never be completed by sinners like us, because even our best of sin stained works are like filthy rags before God.  On our own, we have nothing but filth to offer up to God.  So…

It was for this reason that God sent His Son to be the sacrifice and payment for our sins.  Friends, that is the ultimate evidence of the love of God.  Jesus says: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus had to be lifted up on the cross, so that He could draw all men to Himself.  He suffered death for our sins.

Think about this: The righteous man suffered for the unrighteous ungodly sinners in order that He might lead them back to His Father.  Upon Him, our chastisement was laid, which would make us whole again.  By His stripes we are healed.

The talk of a crucified Savior and a bloody cross, was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  And it’s still considered ridiculous by all kinds of religious sinners today.  Their faith is centered in their attempts to be good and not in the bloody cross of Christ.  But to God, this bloody cross, the agonizing death of His Son, is the only way He offers to us to be saved; it’s a way that we can play no part in.  And so, this bloody cross, this tree of death, this precious Gospel remains for us still, the power of God unto salvation, for all who will believe.

Kyrie.  Lord, Son of David, have mercy.

Go now with eyes to see, your faith in this Jesus, this bloody cross of His has saved you.  AMEN!

It’s a Powerful Word!

January 31st, 2016

Sexagesima Sunday, January 31st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As Jesus said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”” [Luke 8:8]

This morning, each of us gathers as both the soil for God’s Word, and fellow sowers of His Word.  Each of us gathers needing to hear Jesus speak, so that together we may obtain an abundant harvest.  So, what kind of soil are you?  Or another way to ask this question is, “Do you have, do you desire to have ears of faith that will hear God speak to you this morning?”  And then what kind of seed are you sowing?  Do you know of it’s power and purity?  Do you know, really know what it is able to do?

God’s Word is indeed powerful, but to the world it seems like a very small and insignificant thing; “After all” they say, “it is only words!”

And yet, it’s these very Words, which Jesus speaks to proclaim the mystery of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus spoke in parables, which to the outsiders were only words.  But to the apostles and disciples who walked with Jesus, those Words were the very source of hope and eternal life.

Some people stopped and listened to the Words of Jesus; they found a temporary diversion from the drudgery of daily life, but when He was finished speaking, they gathered their things and went back about living their lives, unaffected and unchanged by the Word.  But for those who remained at Jesus side, something else was given to them; they received the gift of faith.  To them, another Word was spoken; a deeper Word was given that both maintained the mystery of the Kingdom of God, yet assured them that they were a part of that mystery; a part of that Kingdom.

Why did this Word of Jesus seem to only grab a hold of so few?  What was there about these folks that separated them from the others?  Well, they were the good soil that Jesus talked about; not on their own or through their own doing, but rather they were changed from bad soil into good soil simply by grace and their felt need for that grace.  In their weakness, they knew that Jesus had the Word of life that would make them strong.  We might even say that these Disciples of Christ were even moved to brag about their weakness in order to point out God’s power, glory, and His wonderful gift of grace.

In Jesus’ story, He gave four examples of hearts that His Words would fall upon.  In His story, He compared those hearers and their hearts to soil and His Words to seeds being sown.

In His first example, Jesus speaks of hearts that are already shutoff from the power of His Word.  These hearts, Jesus compares to soil on a hardened foot path that can not receive the Word, due to lack of tilling or preparation, so the seed simply sits on top of the hardened soil.  But then Jesus adds an antagonist to the story; he adds birds.  These birds He tells us, are an example of Satan and the devils who do their very best to snatch away the seed of God’s Word, before the soil realizes what it is.  These devils use things like logic and philosophy and competing religions to make the Word of God seem impotent or no different than any other word.  They will even try to convince you that the true preachers and teachers are simply ignorant and selfish men who only want to make a living out of deceiving the masses.

The second example of soil is a rocky one; a thin veneer of soil that simply covers rock and gravel.  The Seed is received and even begins to sprout, but because of the lack of depth in the soil it can’t take root.  This soil, Jesus says are the hearts that gladly hear the Word of God and rejoice in that Word, but after leaving the presence of the Word, they are overcome by the temptations of a sinful lifestyle, so they go right back to a Godless life, unchanged by the power of the Word.

The third example of soil are those areas where the thorn bushes and bramble were not thoroughly uprooted in the plowing phase of planting.  As the seed grew, it was choked out of life from the thorns and brambles.  This soil represents those who hear the Word, become changed and renewed by the Word, but as life happens and responsibilities increase and the promise of wealth and happiness call, those hearers forget their first love and chase after created things and give up their desire to know deeply both the Creator and the mystery of His Kingdom.

And the fourth example of soil are we who simply trust in the seed to both recreate and renew our hearts as we are daily and weekly watered and nurtured by God’s Word and Sacraments.

It is God’s desire that everyone will allow Him to recreate our hearts into fruitful soil that gladly allows it’s weakness to be turned into God’s strength for His glory.  It is God’s will that each of us will see a need for His grace and mercy; that we will see that grace and mercy displayed for the world to see in the weakness of the cross.  He desires that you this morning, will remember that His grace and mercy were showered upon you and made yours completely in the waters of your Baptism.  It is God’s will that you will understand the true and utter power of His Word that is for you!

The power of God’s Word is the very thing that makes it different from all other words.

When God sows His Word out into this sinful world, it not only proclaims a message, but it also fulfills it.  In other words, God will do what He says He will do!  “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” [Isaiah 55:10, 11]

And this is how God’s power is revealed through His Word.  He did this very thing first in the creation of the world. [Genesis 1:30]  He spoke and it happened.  He commanded and it was done.  And since the creation of the world, He has been creating through His Word spoken by His chosen prophets.  God sends His Word out to “pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” [Jeremiah 1:10]

The same is true about the Words found within your Bibles.  It isn’t just a collection of teachings or a library of stories; it’s God speaking to you as you read; even those things that were written about and happened long ago, were written for your sake.  It has been written for your instruction.  In the very form that the Bible has been given to us, God meant it to be, so that His Word could be spoken and shared throughout the world for all generations.  The Bible declares to you, God’s desire for the world, for you as an individual, as “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.”  God sends His Word out against our sinful hard hearts as a fire, and as a hammer, that crushes rocky hearts into a powder.  It is living, and active, sharper than a two edged sword.  But when it strikes a broken heart, then the Word is Spirit and life.  It heals and regenerates, it turns the soil of our hearts from powdered rock to rich nutritious soil.  It is the power of God unto salvation.  And if you will allow yourself to be led by it, it will be a light unto your feet and a lamp upon your pathway.

But the Word does not work irresistibly.  Everyone of us are free to despise the Word and cast it aside.  But even then it is at work.  It hardens our hearts and finally, it brings judgment.

Dear friends, what Jesus Parable really give us is a final picture of sinful hearts that have been confronted with the Word of God. When each life is over, some will show a harvest, but many will not. Sadly, so many people will never let the Word in, some will never let it root, some will never let it grow up. God is showing this truth to us now as a warning, so that we will examine ourselves and discover how we are treating His Word now, before our lives here in this sinful world are finished. And while it’s true that no man or woman can change themselves, God by His grace has mercifully given to each of us His means of grace to change us all; trodden path, rocky places, and briar patches will all be turned into good soil through His Word alone.

You will need these means of grace and the power and change it brings, because God has invited each of you to also go out and broadcast, share, and sow His Word of eternal life to any and all He puts in your life, as you live out your lives being good soil and abundant in the life His “Good Seed” brings.

May God bless this planting and grant us an abundant harvest, in Jesus name… AMEN!

This Race Requires Great Faith

January 24th, 2016

Septuagesima, January 24th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” [1 Cor. 9:24]

Our lives of faith, your Christian life is like running a race.  It’s a peculiar race in that you aren’t competing against anyone, but rather to win you must finish the race.  And the prize you win for completing your race is a place reserved and prepared “for you” by Jesus Himself!

There are three ways we can run this race once we enter it, and they are:

  1. We can run with flawless execution and perfection, being careful not to make so much as a single mistake.
  2. We can run with a grumbling spirit.  That is we can run with the expectation of continuously being rewarded for each success and made whole through restitution for each time we feel we have been wronged.  Or…
  3. We can run with our eyes on both the author and perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ, Who is both the prize and the giver of the prize.

So what does it look like to run a flawless and perfect race?  Or rather, what does it take to live a perfect life?

In the tenth chapter of Mark we get our answer as Jesus meets up with a young rich man whom we are told He loved.  Listen: “And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

Now, I don’t know if you caught Jesus immediate answer, before He summed up the second table of the law of God, so I am going to point it out to you; listen: “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.”  Here Jesus is asking this young man if he’s just throwing out and misusing that Word “good” in regards to Jesus or if he really understands what it means to call Jesus good.  You see, if he is just misusing the word good, then he has already sinned; he’s broken the first commandment, “You shall have no other God.”  However, if He truly means to apply one of God’s titles to Jesus, then He is a lot closer to eternal life than he believes.

Do you understand what Jesus is saying friends?  He is saying that goodness is perfection, which is something both man and creation lost long ago, when through the sin of Adam and Eve paradise was lost.  Since that time, there truly is nothing good accept God.  We are lost in our sinful state and simply alone with no help of ever finding our way back to God’s goodness, accept through the only man who is good on His own, Jesus Christ, Who is also very God.  So to think that there is a way that you can live your life out side of Christ that will be God pleasing is just delusional.

But what about living a forgiven, Christian life, and running in the race of salvation with sinful eyes that have been opened by faith in Jesus Christ?  Well then, that makes all of the difference, because you see Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, which alone brings us to the prize of eternal life.  So now with Jesus, we are in the race again.  But so many times we disqualify ourselves by running our race, living our Christian lives as grumblers; as if someone or some God, owes us some thing.

Running the race, living the Christian life as a habitual grumbler is simply the surest way to disqualify ourselves from finishing the race.

In our Old Testament lesson (Exodus 17:1-7), we see this truth playing out in a very bold way.  Think about it for a moment; these Israelites had witnessed numerous miracles that God used to free them from their bondage in Egypt.  Why they even saw a deep and vast river halted with an invisible wall holding the raging rapids at bay.  The muck and mire that should have been the river bottom was instantaneously dried and hardened and they were allowed to walk across with out so much as getting a drop of water on their feet.  But when the pursuing Egyptian army tried to follow and do the same thing, the wall disappeared and the waters devoured them.  It is this group of Israelites who are now grumbling because they are thirsty; they’re grumbling because they feel that Moses and the God who freed them isn’t taking care of them.  Do you understand the audacity of their demand?  Do you understand how their grumbling and bickering is a direct attack against Jehovah-Jirah, the God Who always provides?  Do you understand that we have that very same sinful grumbling spirit within us today?

The crowd that Jesus was teaching in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 20:1-16) did not understand this truth, so Jesus told a story designed to show them the truth, and give them the desire to repent.  In the story, Jesus is showing all who will listen, even us today, what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  In this Kingdom there are two ways to experience it: As one who’s running the race in time, and finally as one who has finished the race and is resting in eternity.

To run the race, to live the Christian life is a reality of grace.  That is, you come to realize that every good thing you have is simply an unearned gift from God.  To run the race is also another way of acknowledging that you don’t even deserve to be in the race.  In Jesus story, God is the Master, the Owner of the Vineyard.  He calls all to work; He excludes no one.  In Jesus’ story there are no other employers, only the one.  All may work and find gainful employment, but not all will respond.  But here is the part that blows our sinful minds, everyone is paid the same whether they worked all day or one hour!  Why?  Because the owner does not need them to work, He simply offers them the privilege of working for Him, in His vineyard and with Him,  all so that He may bless them and they may also know Him.

Can you believe that in our modern time, especially in our American culture, we still have Christians who think that they need to evaluate themselves and others so that someone comes out on top and someone comes out on the bottom?  But Jesus won’t let us get away with this spirit of grumbling and judging other workers of His vineyard.  He won’t allow our demands for reward and restitution to go unanswered while we are running in His race, towards His prize.  So what does He do?  He warns us.  He says, “Beware of this evil in your heart, because at the end of the race, “The first will be last and the last will be first!”

So what are grumblers like us to do?  We are to keep our eyes on both the prize and the giver of the prize.  We are to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ!

It takes great faith to enter and finish the race towards the prize of eternal life in paradise with Jesus!

There are two people in the Gospels who Jesus said had great faith, the kind of faith that saves.  They were a godless Centurion and a sinful Canaanite  woman. [Matthew 8:5-12; Matthew 15:21-28]  I trust that each of you are hoping to hear that same proclamation from your Savior as well.  But our problem, the thing that seems to get in the way of our hope is the truth that very often our conception or idea of great faith, is completely wrong.  So what does Jesus mean by “a great faith”?

A people of great faith believe that there is nothing great about themselves.  Like the Centurion, they too say,  “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.”  They like the centurion know what is wrong with themselves  and what they lacked.  But they have respect for the will and command of God.  They’re comfortable to let others brag on them, but they refuse to do that themselves.  These kind of people, these people of great faith, don’t think of themselves as an example of greatness.

The Canaanite woman didn’t think her faith was anything either.  She thought it normal to be compared to the dogs that the Jews kept as pets; dogs who had no right to eat the bread of the children.  And yet she believed that because of Jesus’ love for sinful dogs, He would hear her and help.  And to this belief, Jesus told her she had great faith.

So a great faith isn’t something the world would take notice of.  Great faith is not faith in oneself, but it is a faith that believes great things about Jesus.  The Canaanite woman continued to pray to Jesus: “Lord, help me.”  You see, she knew to Whom she was praying to; that Jesus was the only One Who could help her.  This is what a great faith knows.  It knows its own weakness, but it also knows the great power of the Savior.  So this kind of faith, this great saving faith says: “I am not worthy… but only say the word.  I am receiving the just reward for my sins, but Jesus, think of me.  I know I don’t deserve it, but I wait like the little dogs under your table, hoping that some crumbs may be mine.  Lord, if you will, you can.  Give me sight.  Heal my servant, heal my child, heal even me!”

But there is still one more thing that marks a great faith, and it is the greatest thing of all.  “Say only the Word Lord.”  More than anything else, it is faith in the Word of Christ.  Great faith, saving faith needs this Word.  By this faith, a sinner may take a hold of Christ’s promises of forgiveness and cling to it alone.  By ourselves, without this faith, we have nothing but mistakes and failures.  We’re prone to wander away from God and doubt that there is any faith to be had at all.  But then the Word of God is heard and the saying is believed to be true, “worthy and of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  And I am the chief of them.”  So a great faith, can exist in a person who feels nothing but weakness in himself, and it is this great faith alone that can say: “I believe Lord Jesus; help me with my unbelief!”

So we find that when we believe that our weak faith has disqualified us from running the race, from being a Christian, great faith born in the promises of Christ’s Word reminds us that we should  not base our hope on our feelings; we should not judge our progress in the race on victories, and we shouldn’t look for successes in life as encouragements to run with confidence.  Nor should we go poking around in our own sinful heart’s for some other source of a great faith.  Instead, God asks us to cling to Christ and His Word alone; to turn to Christ cross and there remain, strong in prayer and strong in His gift of great saving faith.  And as we wait there at Christ’s cross, He continuously teaches our hearts to trust in Christ alone, as we humble ourselves under the almighty hand of God, so “that in due time He will lift us up.”  Blessed are you runners, you Christians who are on the road of faith, because your gift of faith is great even though your spirit is poor, because already yours is the kingdom of heaven.  AMEN!

God’s Delight is With Us and In Us

January 17th, 2016

Epiphany 2-C, January 17th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.” [Isaiah 62:4]

Indeed, because God’s delight is with us and in us, I cannot keep silent.  For the sake of the church and for the sake of our very salvation I will not be quiet until God’s righteousness goes forth within your life, your family, and Christ’s church, like a burning torch.

Indeed, if ever there was a time for a simple men like myself who have been called to the divine and holy office of ministry to speak out for righteousness it is now; now when both the family and the church are under attack.  This morning, I must remind you that there is a God among you who both created water for a divine purpose and then continuously blesses us by changing that water into the wine of joy.  This morning our message will speak to our lives, our families, our church, and our eternal home.

Each of you were moved from an existence of shame, loneliness, and desolation; you were transferred, married to God through Christ Jesus into a position of honor and community, within a place; a land of plenty. A God who changes water into wine and then wine into water did this for you and to you.  Let me explain what I mean.

On the day you were baptized, God used a simple element like water and attached to it His promise to redeem you from your sins.  With simple water He took the redeeming work of Jesus completed upon the cross for the world’s sins, and He made it a work done specifically for you!  You who were once forsaken and desolate, lost and dying in your sins, He recreated you into His image through the forgiveness of sins.  And now, God the Father looks upon you as cherished and beautiful.   He delights in you because He delights in your Lord, His Son Jesus Christ.  He promises that while you live within this land of darkness and sin you have a place and a Lord waiting for the day He calls you home to Zion, paradise restored!  But for now you live knowing that you wait with a purpose; your purpose is to declare your joy in being loved and redeemed by your God and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Your Lord loves you and desires you to know joy.  This is where we need Jesus to change water into wine for us.  You see our Lord knows who among us do not have the gift of singleness, and so He repeats what He said long ago to Adam in paradise, “It is not good for man or woman to be alone.”  And so He moves our hearts to search for the one who is also alone to be our spouse; that other person who makes us complete; who gives us joy.  Jesus not only blesses us with the wine of joy but He also is at our weddings as the honored guest.  It is Jesus who brings us the gift of spouse and the joy of intimacy with another.  It is a gift that is wrapped with love, the commitment of God, and the promise of faithfulness, husband and wife to each other and together committed to a promise of faithfulness towards God.  God joins these two to become one, so that together they may know the joy of the Lord and together they may stand against anyone who tries to separate them.  And why has God joined them?

To help one another, is the answer of Scripture.  God saw that it was not good for a man to be alone and gave him the kind of helpmeet he needed.  God has given these two people to each other so that they may help each other, depend on each other, rejoice and sorrow with each other, forgive each other, and carry burdens for each other.  They are more closely bound together than any other two people in this world.  In order to cleave to his wife, a man must forsake even his father and his mother.

So it’s the obligation of a man to love his wife.  She really is a part of him.  “He who loves his wife, loves himself,” writes Paul.  And he continues: “For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it.”  You see, one does not become angry with his own body if it becomes sick or maimed.  Instead one seeks to make the best of it in every condition.  And this is the way married couples should  treat each other.  They do not blame each other.  They try instead to sympathize with the faults of the other, as though they were one’s own.  And together they use these skills to bless and encourage each other.  This is necessary because if God wills it, there will most likely be children, and where there are children there is a family.

The Scriptures teach that when the two who are one become several or many through the birth or adoption of children, these children are a good gift from God. They should be accepted with thanksgiving and nourished with a sense of responsibility.

Parents have the duty to care for these children.  They must have patience with their faults and think more of the children’s welfare than of their own comforts.  They have no right to allow them to do as they please; they must be trained or taught to grow into adulthood.  This is just a matter of stewardship; they are caring for God’s children.  On the day of judgment we should be able to say to the LORD: “Behold, here am I and the children the LORD has given me.” [Isaiah 8:18]

Our homes are the most intimate natural fellowship in this world.  It is there that we see the clearest indications of our inherited selfishness.  In our day-to-day tensions with people who try our patience it is not possible to withdraw like a hermit, and since we can’t hide our real nature, the testing of our character can be very trying.

But it is not intended that we should solve the problems of our home and family by ourselves.  It is as members of the body of Christ, all united in the same common faith in our Lord Jesus, that we find strength and wisdom to serve one another.  It is not a question, then, who is the most important, or who has the greatest success, or who makes the most money, but it is a matter of sharing the joys and burdens we bear with each other.

The church is the place where Jesus first turned water into wine, and where He will also return the wine into water.

When you were baptized it was His church that Christ used to give you this great gift of eternal life; a gift that Christ then used to provide you with joy through the wine of His gladness.  But there is also a time when we think that Christ is not present with us; a time when our joy and gladness has turned to sorrow and dread.  It is in these times we feel like He has abandoned us and taken away our wine of joy.  It is within these times, we must allow the wine to return to water, the water of our baptism so that we will see that Jesus is really with us.

Jesus is there still with us, hiding away in an unseen corner within a divorce court when a judge of the land tears asunder what no man ought.  He’s there with us when one of our cherished children, a gift from God is shipped away to serve our country within the armed forces.  And He is there with us when they come back injured, damaged, or worse yet, they come back lying in a coffin.  He is there when death takes away other loved ones and friends, who’s passing seems to leave such an empty place in our hearts.  He is with us turning wine into water as joy gives way to grief, hope to destruction, and life to death.

When the joy of wine is gone, it is the mission of the church, Christ’s body, to remind you that the baptismal promises and commitments of Christ and His church still remain to sustain and support you and your family.  It is the church that is called through it’s preachers, services, and ministries to remind you that you are never alone.

When the gifts of God that bring temporary joy seem to have been taken away, we can very easily become angry at God and His church for allowing our joy to be taken away.  The spouse we lost to divorce or death, the children who no longer visit or seem to care, the career we lost, the child we never had, the home or reputation or money or friends that are now no more.  When these things disappear, many times we can become bitter or angry, even resentful towards God. But God in His Divine service reminds us that we are not alone in our grief.  He minds us that Jesus is with us.

Jesus knows the joy of a loving mother who stood by him even to the point of death. He also knows the Father who forsook him in His hour of deepest need. He knows what it’s like to be betrayed by those closest to Him and rejected by those He suffered and died for. He knows what it means to have more than enough food, and to have no food for forty days and forty nights. He knows what it is to be at peace and what its like to be attacked; to love and to lose; to live and to die.

He is our God, this man, this Jesus. And when water turns into wine, or wine retreats and takes you to the water, he remains the same—the very incarnation of love and faithfulness of His Father. He is always working toward the same goal: to be our delight and for us to delight in Him, as we live to bear his image.  And it’s that truth that will one day bring us to our native land, a place that He has gone to prepare for us within Paradise restored.  May God continue to do this great work within each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!


January 16th, 2016

A Funeral Sermon for the Christian Memorial Service of Father and Son, our brothers in Christ, James Albert Love and Orgrette Lloyd Love
January 16th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” [Proverbs 14:10] (But praise His name) “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. [2 Peter 3:9]

Grace, Mercy and Peace to you dear family and friends of James and Orgrette Love.  Today, it is my privilege and honor to declare to you as pastor to both James and his son Orgrette, that His patience won the day as both father and son went to sleep in both repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  Both had followed the way that seemed right to them, even if it was obviously wrong to everyone else, but both eventually repented of their own way and in fact, by faith they embraced and followed the narrow way of holy  baptism, of confession, contrition, repentance, and forgiveness.

Both father and son started out the same way that all of us started out, sinners in need of a Savior.

Thank God, both had parents that knew that their children’s lives, even as infants, must be turned over to God.  Both were baptized, like most of us, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Both father and son were taught of God’s love and mercy; both knew that it was only through Jesus Christ alone that they could be saved, and yet both like most of us, chose a way that seemed better, a way that seemed right to them; a way not of the Lord.  And so within their hearts, they consciously walked off of the narrow way of Christ, and embraced a different way; the way of the world.

Can you feel the tension?  If you can, then you are looking at their lives from the perspective of God.  You know, you can only have that perspective if you yourself are already resting within God’s grace through Jesus Christ.  You can only have that perspective if you’ve been given a more excellent kind of love that can come only from God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ.  For you see, this kind of tension or un-comfortableness is only possible when you can understand the hurt God feels when one of His own walks away from Him.  This is why preachers like myself can boldly declare to sinners, all sinners that it is never too late to return to your God, to embrace the gifts that the Son of God, Jesus Christ freely and gladly gives to sinners, all sinners; even you.

You see, our God is patient; He does not desire the death or eternal punishment of any sinner.  Now, perhaps there are some, maybe even some here this morning, who may not understand how this could be true for James or Orgrette.  Perhaps they have caused pain or turmoil that some may feel was never atoned for or made right; maybe you feel that their sin can never be made right.  But God knows, and God waits.  He knows what we could never know, and He waits for opportunities and circumstances in life that we could never foresee.  God waits because God loves each of us sinners; He loves us and He does not wish for us to die apart from Him.

Both the father James and Orgrette the son knew of God’s love and mercy.  They both knew that there was another Father who would show His love to sinners, any sinners, all sinners, through another Son, His Son Jesus Christ.  You see, both sinners, father and son, came to know of the love of The Father, through the love and sacrifice of The Son.  And both would have me tell each of you this morning that this very same love of God is for you as well, if you will only see a need for it.  Both would have me tell you, that upon their death-beds, each repented of their sins all sins, and both of them were heartily sorry for any hurt they may have brought to God and you.

So which way are you following today?

I know that you are here, within the tent of the Lord; but are you only visiting or are you living within it?  Do you want to flourish within the love of the Father and find both forgiveness and new life through the grace of the Son Jesus Christ, or are you determined to follow your own way; a way that God and not the preacher declares leads to death?  Are you uncomfortable with the question, because you have always considered yourself a Christian?  But let me ask you another question, “Is it possible that your un-comfortableness is due to what God calls backsliding; walking away from God’s way?

This morning, God calls us to do now, what James and Orgette also did; He asks us to consider our ways and think of every step in life we have taken.  And after you consider those things, can you agree that you have a need for a Savior, for a Champion who can bring you back out of darkness into God’s own light.  Can you agree that you do need to turn away from the way of the world, from the way that seemed right to you, and return back to what God started for you?

Brother James Love, was a trusted and valued member of this congregation.  He is the only man in the history of both Trinity and Messiah Lutheran Church that I know of, that was granted through a unanimous vote of the members of this church, an honorary title of Elder Emeritus.  It would be an understatement to say that He was loved and cherished by us.  It is this man, who freely confessed to be a sinner as defined by sins past, but gladly confessed to be a saint through the work of Jesus Christ, who would remind me constantly of two things, and for fact, I was assured by Orgrette that his father repeated these words to him as well, and here they are…

“Pastor, ya gotta remind the people that CHRIST will come again like a thief in the night; ya gotta remind them that they need to come back to Jesus before it’s too late. They got that Atomic bomb, and they’re not afraid to use it.  If they wait to come back to Jesus it might be too late.”

I promised brother Love that I would somehow work that into every message; I would do my best to communicate the urgency of returning to Jesus, or coming back to the church, a clear and trusted message.  And this morning, once again I am making good my promise.  But there was one more promise I made to Elder Love that I must tell you of; it is a promise that rests on his conviction that members of Messiah Lutheran Church would never be forgotten nor forsaken by Trinity.

Elder Love felt that the reason that so many never moved from Messiah to Trinity was because of his past failures or sins to keep the church together under the same zeal that Pastor Brink used, in order to form Messiah, long ago.  So, he asked me to never give up on his children and all of the other children that were now themselves adults, parents, and grandparents.  He requested that they remain members of Trinity in perpetuity; that is a promise I made and still intend to keep.  This dear friends is a picture of the repentant heart of Brother/Elder James Love.  And because of this promise, I beseech you in the name of Jesus Christ to be reconciled to God; come home to Christ’s church.  He and we, are here for you, and we love you; we always will.

Your God, Jesus Christ is here at Trinity in the very same way He was with you at Messiah.  He has not given up on you; He still saves a seat for you at His Table, where each Sunday, we become part of His Holy Communion, where we eat and drink His forgiveness of sins through Christ’s body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and the wine, just as you were taught long ago at Messiah Lutheran Church.

As I close this special funeral message, I can assure you that both James and Orgerette were able to see the Father, through Holy Scripture and the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  You dear saints, each of you have through the years also come to know the Son, and because you know the Son, you also know the Father and His forgiving love.

I pray that you will believe that Jesus is One in and with the Father and that the Father is here in Christ’s body, His church, even here at little Trinity Lutheran Church.  I have now in Christ’s Word shown you both the Father’s righteousness and His mercy, His grace and His love.  Will you be reconciled; will you come home?  I pray that you will, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

The Lord Is In His Holy Temple

January 10th, 2016

Epiphany 1 (HL), January 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.” [Psalm 11:4]

Each Sunday we hear a similar call and a declared need to both worship our God and be surrounded with His glory.  But do these words still apply to our churches today?  In Israel the temple was considered to be the dwelling place of the Lord, the place where His glory resided.  Is this true for us today, or is the time past when the worship of God is confined to a special place?

We can answer both yes and no to that question.  Without a doubt the time of the Old Covenant temple, with its sacrifices and ordinances is long past.  All that the Old Testament commands about the offerings, the service of the temple, and the festivals doesn’t concern us.  But on the other hand, the time isn’t past when God reveals Himself to us through distinctly tangible and physical means.  The God who surrounds us on all sides and fills the whole universe, Him we cannot meet or truly know as our dear Heavenly Father except through Jesus Christ.  It is in the Gospel, in the Word and the Sacraments, that we possess God as our God.

In every place where GOD’S Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered God comes near to us, in the same way that He drew near to His people Israel within the temple.

When a church building is set aside for worship, it is properly consecrated by the Word of God and by the prayers of God’s people who gather there to be both surrounded and filled with His glory.  This is why we call our church a holy place, because it is set apart for God, to be the meeting place where He comes to meet us within His means of grace.

Jesus Himself modeled for us a life that honored both the temple and the local synagogue.  As we heard in our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 2:41-52), at the age of twelve Jesus already spoke of the temple as “my Father’s house.”  As a mature man He drove the traders out of the temple and wouldn’t even allow them to carry anything through the sanctuary.  It was meant to be a house of prayer for all people.  It is stated that it was His custom to go to the synagogue.  Evidently this means that He attended the local houses of worship.  And following that same pattern of living, the apostles as well were loyal to both temple and synagogue as long as they were able.  And then when they were no longer welcomed, they found other rooms for worship, which in time became the forerunners to our Christian churches.

You see dear friends, we have both the right and the obligation to foster the same love toward our own churches, which the godly Israelites had with regard to the temple.  The truth is, our baptized souls and minds long for the house of the Lord; it is there where our hearts, whether we admit it or not, seek rest, as rain rests upon a lake, at the altars of the Lord of hosts.

We peculiar people who are called “Christian” in our spirits, are glad when they say: “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”  When we arrive at his house we truly can “enter His gates with thanksgiving and praise” and we can go forward “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” [Psalm 27:4]  We are aware that in the house of God that “Splendor and majesty are before Him; (and) strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” [Psalm 96:6] Word for word a Christian can say: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”  [Psalm 63:3, 4]

And we will need this work of God, because this entire world and really our own sinful nature both implore and even demand that we give up our faith and style of worship, which is considered by many, to be antiquated and a relic of the past.  To these voices from within the darkness of sin we respond, “The LORD has said that He would dwell in thick darkness.” [1 Kings 8:12] So “In the LORD I take refuge.  How can you say to my soul, ‘Flee like a bird to our places of safety.  All is lost within your religion, and we non-Christians surround and out number you.  Can’t you see that your foundations are destroyed?  So why do you cling to a faith and religion that can’t protect you?”  “Ha” we respond confidently…

“Our help is found by resting in the Lord; by allowing our faith to be strengthened through the means of grace that God Himself has determined to work through for our good.” You see, when we do this, we become part of the “foundations” of the very society God has instituted.

So what are these foundations that the darkness of sin threatens to destroy?  They are very simply the church, government, and family.  Luther called these institutions the stations of life, and he said, “Where such stations operate as they should, there things go well in the world, and there is the very righteousness of God.  But where such stations are not maintained, it makes for unrighteousness.  Now God declares (that) these stations must remain if the world is to stand, even though many may oppose and rage against them.” [AE 13:58 cf AE 54:446]

Now, while it is true that if we judge this world by what we see, all seems to be lost and enveloped by the darkness of sin, but remember God and His glory dwell within the darkness; even from within that darkness God declares, “I AM.”

The Lord is in His holy temple in heaven, but His glory fills all of creation; His eyes see and He guides you, and even if the world only see’s Him as if His eyes are closed, and even if they think He does not see or know, HE IS.

But the truth is friends, this darkness isn’t just something that surrounds us, but in fact it resides even within our own sinful flesh.  And because of this darkness we can begin to be flooded with doubts and fears.  Although it might sometimes seem that the wicked are prospering in their wickedness, God is still ruling in the heavens. Nothing escapes his detection. He sees the deeds of the ungodly, and he will punish them fully in His time. The Lord hates evil and He loves righteousness. When He comes in judgment, he will punish every sin of the unbeliever. But those who are righteous through Christ, you who trust in Christ alone, will dwell with God in eternal happiness.

Even when the very foundations of society seem to be undermined, this assurance of Isaiah remains true: [The Lord] “will be the sure foundation for your times” (Isaiah 33:6). Even when wickedness and lies flourish, “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” [2 Timothy 2:19]

Dear saints, we must be filled with all these promises, comfort, and strength regularly, and God does this very thing within His Divine Service here within our church home, which is His church.

The truth is, we who are God’s saints are being built up as His very foundation for maintaining His glory within this sin-darkened world.

We are drawn by the work of the Holy Spirit to this place; we come to be filled with light so that the world in darkness may know the source of our light.  We come as sinners forgiven through the Holy cross of Jesus, washed clean in the waters of our baptism, so that others will be drawn for the same reason and to the same source of new life and cleansing… Jesus Christ!

When the world looks for you to throw in with them, to be like them, and to act with them; when they look for you to follow them, and in surprise comment how strange it is that you will not; that you still find it necessary to “go to church,” you can then, through the work of the Holy Spirit respond as Jesus responded to Mary and Joseph, “Why do you wonder where I’ll be on Sunday?” “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

You see, through Christ, God is not just the Father of His Son Jesus, but He is also your Father as long as you see your need to take His Son as your Savior from your many sins.  And because God is your Father, you will also have the same regard as Jesus did for His and your Father’s house.  You will not neglect the meeting of the saints nor the up-keeping of the church and its ministry, because it is within that place of meeting and within those means of grace, that God freely gives you both forgiveness and new life.

Dear friends, our faith is often tested and its often found wanting. God’s faithfulness and mercy toward us, however, never weakens or fails. Despite our lack of faith and even our wicked deeds, He extends His grace as a refuge from our sinful nature and the sinful works of others. He does this so that we can both see and hear Him work through His Word and Sacraments, in order that we will have access to His undying testament, which guarantees His great and unending love for us.  Let us pray…

In You, O Lord, we take refuge. Though we are found lacking righteousness, save us by the righteousness of Christ. We ask this in Jesus name… Amen!

Don’t Be A Little Herod

January 3rd, 2016

Christmas 2 (HL), January 3rd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” [Matthew 2:13]

Perhaps the title of our message, “Don’t Be a Little Herod” has got you wondering what God and your pastor may be up to in this message.  Maybe your even thinking, “How could someone imagine that any of us would be even remotely similar to that vile villain, Herod.”  Well, we will address both the title and those questions in a moment, but first let’s look at the most obvious things the church must address within this historic text.

There are three things that demand our acknowledgment this morning; they are three things that the church has always acknowledged within this text.

First, we must understand that our plans no matter how God-pleasing, how extensive, or how well thought out they are, are not necessarily God’s plans.  You see, there is a way that seems good, right, and salutary to sinful men and women, but in the end; in the end they lead to death. [Proverbs 14:12]  Joseph and Mary had a good plan.  They probably put a lot of thought into where they would raise their son, God’s Son.  And after much prayer and love for the boy, they intended to remain in Bethlehem indefinitely.  But then Herod entered the picture.

Jesus must have been several weeks old buy the time the Magi showed up to worship Him as the King of Israel.  But the Magi didn’t stay long; as soon as the closing benediction was announced, off they went into the night, because they were warned by God not to return to Herod.  But the Magi weren’t the only ones who were warned by God of Herod’s evil intentions.  Joseph, warned by God in a dream woke, roused Mary and off they went to Egypt, a strange land they neither knew nor wished to know.

And so goes the ways and plans of men, even God fearing Christian parents.

Second, we learn that bad things really do happen to good people; even people we call innocent… people like the little children of Bethlehem that had done nothing to deserve death.  This gospel reading has always been reserved for acknowledging the first martyrs of the church.  We call this High Holy Day, “The Slaughter of the Innocents.”  What is interesting to note is that while they died so that Jesus the Messiah could live to begin and complete His ministry, because Jesus lived, He would latter die so that they could be forgiven of their sins (even that great original sin inherited from Adam and Eve), and live for eternity in paradise.

Third and finally, we must acknowledge that if God has determined that a thing will happen, it will.  Even Herod’s evil was no problem to God; God already knew what was in Herod’s heart since the beginning of time; God planned for it.  And to prove this, God had his prophets proclaim three promises long ago so that you could read and hear about them today, and thus be assured that all things really do work for “the good” for those who are called by God and know and love Him by faith. [Romans 8:28]

First, God said long ago through the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I will call my Son.” [Hosea 11:1]  An indeed, God did that very thing when Joseph and Mary were latter directed to take Jesus, the Son of God and return to the Holy Land.

Secondly, the prophecy of Jeremiah stands out for us in these Words, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” [Jeremiah 31:15]  These Words, while they immediately refer to the Israelites going into exile in Assyria and then Babylon, they ultimately find fulfillment in the slaughter of the innocents at the hand of Herod.  But what is interesting are the next two verses proclaimed by Jeremiah; verses which bring the hope of new life, which is intricately connected with both the life and death of this Christ-Child who escaped the evil plan of Herod.  Listen: “Thus says the Lord: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.  There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.””  Here in this ancient prophecy, we already find the proclamation of the gospel; a gospel that promises that God will actually overcome the evil will of devils and men.  Here is the Word of God announcing that through this Child, the very Son of God, our true enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil have been defeated!

And finally, all of scriptures declares that even the place where the boy Jesus would grow to be a man had been determined and announced for a reason.  Listen: “But when (Joseph) heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.  And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.”  While God left the choice of the town to Joseph, and Joseph alone selected this place, the hand of God was, nevertheless, guiding him. This becomes clear when we read: “in order that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, for he shall be called a Nazarene.”

A Nazarene is one who hails from Nazareth. All of us familiar with the gospels know that the enemies of Jesus branded him the “Nazarene,” as if it was a curse word.  That name would become infamously attached to Jesus and His disciples, and it would loudly proclaim the reason for His rejection among His own people. They put into that title all the hate and derision possible. And this is “what was spoken through the prophets.”  All of the prophets that spoke of the rejection of the Messiah explained that He would be despised by the very people He would come to save. [Psalm 22:6; Isa. 49:7; Isa 53:3; Dan. 9:26; and Deut. 18:18]

If Jesus had been reared in Jerusalem, He could not have been vilified as the Nazarene (Can any thing good come from Nazareth?).  But if Jesus was not vilified by sinners, how could we hold other villains  such as Herod up to Him and contrast true evil to divine goodness?  Which brings us to the warning within the title of our sermon, “Don’t be a little Herod.”

I think that it is true to say, we are comfortable in seeing Herod as the ultimate Gospel villain; the epitome of evil incarnate if you will.  We very quickly see the depths of his sin and treachery and we comfortably think that it is impossible for one of us to stoop or fall so low.  But Herod is in fact every man, woman, and child.

Herod teaches us that it is within our sinful human nature to be openly rebellious to the kingship of Jesus.  You see, if Jesus is Lord, then we are not.

What was the first sin of Adam and Eve?  Wasn’t it to become like God?  And friends, we have been trying to do that very thing ever since the fall.  So what do you think our immediate reaction is, when God through His law exposes our false lordship over our lives as a sinful delusion.  Herod was delusional, and so are all sinners one way or another.  Each of us in our own way tries to play God.  While its true that Herod was an extreme example, he certainly isn’t an isolated case.  Herod is what every man, woman, and child is deep down in our hearts.  Every sinful thought or action that we are confronted with through the law of God is evidence that testifies against us that we are indeed little Herods by nature.  It’s those very sins that tempt us to doubt, hate, plot revenge, and then resist the real King and unseat Him from the throne of our hearts.

Every Sunday we as the church militant, within our prayers and collects pray for God’s help in defeating the little Herods that threaten the security of our salvation.  We are always reminded how God has poured out His love in our hearts through the presence of Jesus Christ His Son, His Word that has become Flesh.  It is this Word of God that creates faith, and it is this faith that creates a desire within us for Jesus to be our Lord, even upon the throne of our own sinful hearts.

The truth is friends, God can and has dealt with the likes of Herod; He has done it once and for all.  And…

God can deal with our little Herods too.

God defeated the plans of the devil and his little puppet Herod by protecting His Son and giving Him His foster father Joseph, who fled with the baby and His mother to Egypt.  Herod in all his authority and might couldn’t overcome one little baby.  God makes him out the fool and then he dies.  And that pretty much sums up the rest of the gospels too.

A poor carpenter turned rabbi begins to preach and teach in a small insignificant part of the world.  The collective powers and authorities there would try to kill Him, and when they finally succeeded in crucifying Him, they thought they had won.  Yet, along comes the third day and it’s proven that God’s power really is glorified in weakness, even the weakness of a cross, and the fruit of Christ’s cross then produces eternal life.  And this is always God’s way; the Kingdom of God starts as the smallest of seeds and then spreads (and is still spreading) to the four corners of the world.

The Herods of this world will all die one way or another, even us.  God deals with them in two ways.  For the unrepentant like Herod, God kills them and destroys their evil plans and still accomplishes His purposes in spite of them.  The other way, the way you dear saints are following much even better.   God still kills you, but then He raises you up again with Jesus.  That’s exactly what He has done and is doing for you.

Every Sunday we witness mass deaths within God’s Divine Service, in fact everyone of us should be dying to ourselves right now; we should come here prepared to die; we come to die to self, die to sin, to have our little Herod crushed by God.  God drowned that little Herod in the waters of your Baptism, like He drowned evil Pharaoh in the Red Sea, but He doesn’t stop there.  You see, He has raised you up again in the forgiveness of your sins to everlasting life.  He pours into your heart the true light of the Incarnate Word so that His light might shine brightly in your life.  He nourishes you with the food that grants eternal life in His body and blood, which you will receive soon in the Sacrament of the Altar.

The world expects a king who wins like other kings; with brute strength. Instead, we have been found by a God who defeats the powers and principalities of this world by falling into their clutches and being crucified.  Your sin must be dealt with from within this sinful world.  If God came from above, with His Divine strength and fury, you and I would be utterly destroyed because we are sinners who only deserve death.  But instead, God in His wisdom came down to the depths of our human need by becoming needy, and He deals with our sin by becoming sin for us and dying the death we deserve.

This morning, we see the holy family suffering just like the rest of this broken world. Herod’s rage was simply a glimpse into what was to come at the cross.  The Christ child in His weakness, was always threatened, but God the Father was always with Him.  The truth is dear friends, while we live within this sinful world there will always be suffering and inequity, and this suffering will always lead towards death.  And because of this reality, we tend to forget that God has already prefigured all of this, and still guarantees that all things will work for the good of His saints.

Here is a truth worth remembering: What the enemy takes, God can give back a hundredfold within His Kingdom.  The eyes of Rachel will be dried and one day her tears will be no more.  This is precisely what will happen when the King comes again, but He does not come in weakness; no He comes in power and strength to open up the very gates of His kingdom to you.  Jesus alone brings each of you back to paradise restored, where you will live in the light of the Incarnate Word Jesus Christ forever and ever.  In Jesus’ name… Amen.

There’s Something About the Name Jesus

December 27th, 2015

Christmas 1 (HL), December 27, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” [Luke 2:21

Just like every other Jewish baby-boy, Jesus was circumcised a week after His birth.  Maybe that's the reason why this gospel lesson always falls so close to New Years Day; so we can begin our New year with the name of Jesus on our lips and in our hearts.  You see...

It was at God’s command that Jesus' name was given.

The name Jesus means “God Saves” or, as we simply say in English, Savior.  That's why the Angel said to Joseph: “You shall call His name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

So, the name Jesus is given to God the Son by God the Father Himself, and because of this, all of God's power is contained within that name.  Within the name of Jesus is everything that all of creation needs to be saved from the sins of the world.  That's why the name Jesus is to be used and spoken only with the highest reverence and respect.  When we speak and use this name, we are in fact dealing with God Himself.

Within the name Jesus, is contained all that Christ possesses and is. When that name is mentioned, He is present Himself with all of His power, but here is something you must always remember when you speak or call upon His name; He is Jesus for you!

You know, we’re living in a time, within a society, that not only celebrates political correctness, it demands it.

This is an age where everyone is free to speak the name of their “god” but no one wants us to speak the name Jesus; and because we don’t want to offend the Muslims, the Jews, the Buddhist, nor the atheists, and because of our desire to get along with everyone, we end up avoiding the sweet name of our Lord, thus providing a witness to no one.

Once perhaps, when we were young and new to our love for Jesus, we spoke His name freely and with joy, but now, maybe thinking that we have matured and become respectful of others, we have possibly regressed into an immature state, and within this regressed state, we've left the very foundation of our faith and life, which is Christ crucified and resurrected.

This morning, the Holy Spirit calls out to us in love, and He warns us; He testifies to us concerning the name of Jesus; if we choose to shy away from our Savior and the blessed name of Jesus, it will at one point become near  impossible to be renewed again to repentance, since as deniers of His name we will be crucifying the Son of God all over again to our own harm as we allow Jesus to be held up to contempt. [Hebrews 6:1-5]

Jesus said that whoever is ashamed of Him (His name) and His Words (His gospel message), (He) the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. [Luke 9:26]

So I want you to know, that there will come a time, that at the name of Jesus every knee (will) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”  [Philippians 2:10]  That means that the day is coming (whether they acknowledge it or not) when every Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, and atheist that you are afraid of offending, will have to get down on their knees in judgment before God, and confess before they depart to the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, that Jesus is Lord!

Listen friends, Jesus knew that His name would bring division and trouble to this world; that is why He declared, ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  As Simeon said in our Gospel lesson (Luke 2:22-35), Jesus has been appointed for the fall and rising of many, and for a sign that is opposed and a sword that will pierce not only through Mary’s soul, but the souls of all, so that they may receive the recreating work of the gospel.

Do we really want to be shy, ashamed, and muzzled while so many who persist in unbelief will only know the edge of God’s sword, which is His law?  Is that what you want?  Do you want them to be lost without knowing what you know about the wonderful name of Jesus?  You see, Jesus doesn’t want them to wait for that last day; He wants them to avoid the eternal darkness; He want us to speak His name; the sweetest name they’ll ever know.

His name is Jesus; Wonderful Counselor, mighty God, and Prince of Peace.

By faith in His name, the saving name of Jesus, His work of salvation is for you and for all that still can not nor will not allow that name to be spoken!

It was because of the mighty name of Jesus that the apostles performed their great miracles.  To preach in the name of Jesus then, to speak, to teach, and to witness to that name, means not just speaking His name, but to speak in a very personal way through Scripture, which He has promised will be filled with His Spirit and power first for you and then for those who will listen to you.

To believe in Jesus, can therefore be said to have faith in His name and only His name.  To believe in and speak the name Jesus, is to proclaim to all who will listen, that there really is forgiveness of sins for those who will receive Him!  To believe and speak His name, is to proclaim to all those who do not yet know Him, that there really is a way back to God’s love.  This is why the name Jesus really is the sweetest name you will ever know.  To speak His name freely then, is simply to be a Christian, that is a child of God through Christ, who through Jesus, has life in His name; life He brings for you!

Jesus!  It’s a name that shoots out from not just the dead stump of Jesse, but from every stump that once represented the best intentions of men and women, from within a culture that once was great, but now is dying or completely dead.  It’s a shoot of new life that promises that there is a way that most certainly leads to an eternity of joy and happiness.

Through the name of Jesus, we are taught by God Himself that the Holy Scriptures are to be taken literally, because they are the very things that teach you both of Jesus and the power of His name.  And through these same scriptures, we are to have no doubts in our minds or our hearts when we hear that: “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  “… at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” [Acts 4:12 & Phil 2:10]. And when we hear His name spoken, our hearts and our lips are compelled to proclaim, “He is my Lord; He is my God!”

To pray in the name of Jesus, then, means to pray by faith in Jesus, under the protection of Jesus, with all of our sins forgiven that would otherwise prevent us from being heard by God, and with Jesus as our helper and our intercessor, we may always know that not only are we heard, but we are in fact forgiven.

And finally, to do something in the name of Jesus, whether we go to His table for His Holy meal, or rest quietly at home preparing for the New Year, by faith, we take Jesus with us, to stand under His forgiveness and His protection, and to know that He is with us always and everywhere, all of our days, and in everything we do.

Dear friends, can you see that you are in the very same place as Simeon?  You too may now behold the anointed one of God, Jesus Christ, and you may depart in both faith and peace.  For your ears have heard the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sins; your eyes too, have seen His salvation, in the breaking of the bread and the lifting up of the cup for the forgiveness of sin.  You are partakers of the very salvation that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have prepared in eternity in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to God’s people who both speak and rest in the blessed name of Jesus.  Oh, there is indeed something about the name of Jesus; it is the sweetest name I know!

In the name of Jesus then, let all God’s people say… AMEN.

“The King Is Born!”

December 24th, 2015

CHRISTMAS EVE-The Nativity of our Lord, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” [Isaiah 9:5, 6]

We all have experienced the waiting and anticipation of the birth of a baby in the family. And even though we live in a country that doesn’t have a king, we know from our friends in England how they followed (and maybe we did, too!) the royal births of William and Harry.

But the British monarchy isn’t the same kind of kingdom as in the ancient world of Israel, where the king and his dynasty were everything – and actually affected the lives of even the lowest of subjects he ruled. But since the British monarchy is the closest thing we have to understand life under a king, we might want to think of Henry VIII and his obsession with having a male heir. Not only was the king himself the sole (and predominantly selfish) center and essence of the kingdom, around which everything revolved, but he also had to secure the future of the dynasty with a son.

So any royal pregnancy was closely watched. And can you hear the well-known words of our text as a royal birth announcement for a people who were under siege by the nations around them, who wondered if their kingdom would remain, who pinned their hopes and their futures on the birth of a prince and the succession of the kingdom?

“Unto us a child is born!” Ok, fine, but is it a boy? Yes! “Unto us a son is given!”  And the ruling power will continue—on his shoulder!  And yes, he will have royal names that proclaim his importance and power!  And the kingdom will endure—“Of the increase of his rule and of peace there will be no end— On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it, With justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore!”

But then comes a striking reminder, less so for the folks back then, who should have known that their king and their kingdom was not like any other. Remember that this was not a kingdom like the nations; this was the kingdom of God. And so this announcement concludes: “The zeal of Yahweh of Hosts will do this!”

So what does this have to do with us, dear friends in Christ, this Christmas, this year, in our world and our culture that was founded on the principle of removing the king and establishing a society “of the people, by the people, and for the people?” We know the dangers of a monarchy where everything revolves around the king. I mean, we as Americans know how easily the “government can lie solely on (some ruler’s) shoulders,” with little concern for anybody else, for all the men and woman and children who want to work and play and be free.

Sometimes we want to think that the “zeal of Yahweh of Hosts” will do whatever we think is best for us, and even for our nation, because, well, aren’t we the people of God? In fact, that is less a temptation in recent years, as our nation and society drift further away from even some sense of living in the ways in God has established his created order. But there is always the temptation to think that “God is on our side” as a nation, or even individually, to provide for us the life that we want.

But the kingdom of God, as our king would put it, is “in the world, but not of the world.” Like ancient Israel, we remember that we are involved with something unique, grounded in our relationship with God. And on a holiday when even much of the world around us at least recognizes something of who we are as “Christmas” people, that is, “Christ centered people” or “People of God in Christ,” we celebrate today what it means for us, in the “kingdom of God,” to hear the news that a “king is born.”

We have been talking about this king for the last four weeks, as Advent has prepared us for this day. We have waited with the hopes of a mother who is “expecting”—and with her the future of the kingdom. And today we hear the birth announcement: “A child—a son—is born.”

In reality, this birth should mean even more for us than a royal birth meant for a kingdom. First, it means that the kingdom is secured. It may not look that way, as we wonder about all the forces around us that work against what we confess as Christians. But remember; this is not just another kingdom; this is the kingdom of God. The zeal of Yahweh of Hosts will do this, has done this. In fact, it is God himself who has come as our King.

That is why this kingdom, the increase of His rule, and of peace will have no end! That is why His justice and righteousness will be established from now and forevermore! That is why we can celebrate this day as something that is far greater than just another holiday, even a “national holiday,” for this kingdom is the kingdom of God, not just here, but everywhere, not like the nations, but for all nations!

Next, the King is, indeed, the true essence of the kingdom. Everything does revolve around Him. But here’s the difference in the kingdom of God: the King has come to serve, not to be served. Here’s the difference in the kingdom of God: the King has come, not for His sake, but for you. Here’s the difference in the kingdom of God: the king has come because He cares for each and every man, woman, and child (born and unborn), both those in His kingdom and those who have yet to come into it. Here’s the difference in the kingdom of God: the King has come to give His life as a ransom, to “buy you back” from the kingdoms and the powers that want to control you, whether they be your own internal temptations, your personal sin, or simply that natural temptation to think the world—and God—exist for you, and your wants.

In fact, the King has come because of your needs: your need to be loved, your need to be saved; your need to be rescued, your need to be forgiven and given a future and a hope and peace that will, like the kingdom, have no end.

This is the King who would come to save his people. He will be called Jesus, remember, because He will “save” his people from their sins. And I declare to you this day—this holiday that is really a holy-day—that Christ has come for you. Christ has died for you. Christ is risen for you. Christ will come again, for you.

Finally, what did they name the baby? This Sunday we will talk about His proper name Jesus, how He comes to save us from our sins. But our text this evening gives us four royal names, typical of ancient kings. We don’t have time to unpack them all, but each one gives us a reminder of why this day, and this King, are so special, so different, so “one of a kind.”

In short, each pair has a name that could describe just another earthly king: counselor—every king was to be known by his wisdom and good counsel; mighty—every king was to be a good warrior; father—why we even call George Washington the “father of our nation”; and prince—yes, kings were princes when they were born.  But to each ordinary name is given a most extraordinary twist: a counselor who does “wonders”—not just great insight, like the proverbial wisdom of Solomon—but someone truly extraordinary, even with the power of God!

Not just a warrior, a war hero rightly honored for his valor, but one Who fights with the might of God himself, who conquers all foes, human, superhuman, and the principalities and powers of spiritual darkness.

A father, indeed, to whom we can pray, “Our Father in heaven,” for he is a father who is ours forever.  And yes, a prince, the prince who brings a true and lasting peace, not like the world seeks and never finds, but a peace that comes only from knowing the King of the kingdom of God.

Dear people of God, a King is born. Not just a sweet baby in a manger; a King who will reign forever. He came humbly. He came holy. He came for you.

He came as the counselor of wonders. He came as the mighty God. He came as the everlasting Father. He came as the prince of peace. He came for you.

We pray, as He came and taught us, this day and day after day, “Thy Kingdom Come.” Luther reminds us that the kingdom will come, whether we pray for it or not, but we do pray that it may come among us.

This evening the Good News I proclaim to you along with angels is that the King has come. His kingdom is among us. We are his forever. Christ, a Savior is born! Christ, the king, is born!  Merry Christmas!

The King’s Royal Roots-Back to the Future

December 20th, 2015

Advent 4-C, December 20, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” [Micah 5:2]

There’s something about going back to your roots; it can help you remember who you really are. Isn’t it true that sometimes we can lose our way in life, and isn’t it also true that becoming lost usually happens so slowly that we hardly realize that it’s happening.  I think that it’s kind of like getting lost in the woods, when suddenly you realize that you don’t recognize where you are or where you’re going. And what do you do then? You retrace your steps; you look for and go back to familiar landmarks, until you find your way home.

Well, like getting lost in the woods, we can get lost in life, too. We have plans, even strategies for achieving them. We have values and priorities. We have a sense of who we are, who we want to be, what we want to do. And then… and then life happens.

Now there always seems to be some people who appear to instinctively stay on track. They have a plan and strategy for their life, and they seldom deviate from it. But others, or maybe most people, somehow get off track, because, well, life happens, and things pull us in all different directions. And when that happens, we can find ourselves far off the course we had set for our lives.

This kind of thing can happen in our spiritual lives, too.

Many of us were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ when we were infants or children, and when it happened, we were totally dependent on God’s grace and his action in Christ, for us. But as we grew older, something happened; we became more independent and more sure of ourselves and our place in this world, and then we started to think that God needed our help with some things.  And so, we began to evaluate our spiritual life on what we had done or wanted to do, instead of what God has done and will do for us.

Perhaps when we were confirmed in our faith as young teenagers, we promised to remain faithful, even unto death. And then came high school, and college, our career, and, well, life happened. And then, maybe we found ourselves distant and disconnected from God, His Word, His will, and His way.

This can even happen to the church too. Frankly, it’s what happened at the time of Luther—the whole Reformation was really a course correction for a church that had, over time, drifted away from the basic truths that became the great themes of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, Christ alone!

It can even happen to an entire denomination. Sometimes churches can find themselves majoring in the minors, or emphasizing Christian living for its own sake and not for the sake of accompanying Christ on His mission. We can become so caught up in our priorities and strategies that we begin to lose our theological mooring, our identity as Lutheran Christians. Or conversely, we can focus so much on who we are that we forget what we are to be—and to be about—on mission with Christ.

Yes sometimes even we Christians can loose our way, and when we do, we have to recalibrate our spiritual GPS—in our lives, as a congregation, as the church, as the kingdom of God in grace on earth. This is really what had happened in the time of Micah, the prophet of our text. As we’ve heard the last few Sunday’s during our Advent journey, the people of God had lost their way. The kings of the house of David acted as though they were the real kings, not the servants of God for the kingdom of God. The people had become more interested in themselves, in their own success, than serving God and their neighbor.

And the prophets had some hard words, as we have heard before. Of the great citadel Jerusalem and its temple, Micah said, “Zion will be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins. Yet their message was not without hope. They spoke of a new king, another son of David. But there was also a sense that the new king was not just another David, as though maybe just one more generation was needed to get it all back on track. No, this was not just about going forward, this was a message of going back, remembering where they came from, and getting back on course.

For the king, this meant remembering David and his humble beginnings, back in his home town of Bethlehem. It wasn’t “David’s royal city” then. It was a small rural town, and Jesse and his sons were shepherds. Remember that Samuel looked for a son to anoint as king, and they paraded all of Jesse’s sons past him but David, he was the youngest and was out in the fields doing his work. He wasn’t even under consideration, but he was the one.

Of course, we know by a simple reading of scripture that when David became king, he quickly outgrew his humility and meekness. It didn’t take long for the house of David to get off course. And God would have to find them, having lost their way, and bring them back. Back to the beginning. Back to Bethlehem.  Back to a new birth of a new king.

Dear friends in Christ, we started our advent journey toward understanding God’s king and his kingdom by talking about “home,” the place, the city that is the king’s capital, which identifies his kingdom. We talked about the importance of a place to call home, with its safety and security. But we also noted that even a king who is serving in the kingdom of God could confuse his ideas about the kingdom with what God really wanted and intended it to be.

And now, this morning, we hear God’s solution to our sinful tendency to get lost; a Messiah would be born, One who would be ruler in Israel. His origins, and his “goings forth” (that is to say, where he came from and where he was going) was all part of God’s everlasting plan to send a Savior who would save the world, save the church, and save you and me, from our irresistible tendency and temptation to get ourselves lost, to get off course, to wander from God’s plan and then even to wonder if we are still God’s people.

In our text today, on this last Sunday of Advent, now less than a week away from Christmas itself, God calls us to consider not just our home, as we did when we started this journey, but our roots—not where we live, or lived, but where we were born; where we started, where our family comes from.

We think immediately of our family home, but in our spiritual lives, God reminds us to consider where and when we were born into His family. For some of you, that may have been right here, at this baptismal font. For others, it may have been in other churches in other places, but the point is, it was within the same waters of holy baptism, all of which has the same power of God unto salvation wherever and whenever it comes to his people.

So, as we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth, we recall that little town of Bethlehem, not for the sentimental scenes we might find on Christmas cards but for the holy history that it conveys: this was the birthplace, if you will, of the kingdom of God with men.

And as we prepare for Christmas, we remember how God himself went back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to Bethlehem. And this time the son of David got it right. No losing his way. No selfish sinful acts. This son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom.

Yet He was the King, a true and greater King than any ruler of Israel or president of the greatest democracy on earth. An angel choir announced his birth – not to the people of power in high places but to shepherds, out in the fields, doing their jobs like David was doing back in the day, just outside of that little town of Bethlehem.

He was God’s true King: David’s son but also David’s Lord. He would come to His capital city in a royal procession and be crowned with a crown of thorns. He would take upon himself the sin and suffering for all, to bear our sin and be our Savior, securing God’s forgiveness for all of our own sin. And He would be raised again, ascended to his heavenly throne, where he lives and reigns to all eternity, for us and for our salvation.

Yes, there will be peace, even on earth, not just for the house of Israel, but to the very ends of the earth!

As our Advent season draws to a close, and we draw nearer to the manger itself, our preparation turns, too, back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to the font, back to the baptismal waters where it all started for you and for me. There we received our own new life. There the Christmas message became a lasting truth for our personal lives. There we became God’s people, forgiven, to live under him in his kingdom, and to serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness!

O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth— And praises sing to God, the King!—and peace to all the earth!  AMEN.