The Cross Is Love

August 31st, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 12A, August 31, 2014

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NOTE: The congregation has just listened to this little ditty from Hee-Haw: Gloom, Despair, and Agony On Me!  Click here to listen.

Many of you here this morning most likely immediately recognized the song we just heard as one of the many ditties made famous from the 1970’s Variety Show, Hee-Haw!  And in your minds eye, you probably saw 5 or 6 men sitting down together in bib over-halls, wearing straw hats, with moon shine jugs in their hands, complaining about how terrible their lives are.  Now as funny as that idea is to us, it also is steeped in historical truth in our own lives and the lives of faithful men and women who went before us.

In our Old Testament lesson [Jeremiah 15:15–21], we find the prophet Jeremiah caught in the middle of a funk; a pity party so to speak.  And if we are honest, if we allow God to teach us this morning, we can see both our individual lives within that conversation between Jeremiah and God, an indeed our congregation.  Let me show you what I mean by that.

“Oh LORD, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors.  In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach.” Yes, of course He knows you, but do you truly understand what that means?  He knows all about you, both the good and the bad.  And as long as we’re talking about good, didn’t our Lord teach us that there is no one good except God?  So isn’t it fair to say that what ever goodness is in you, it is God’s goodness?  Well, I think you know where I am leading you with that thought, so for now let’s just agree to say, “Let’s not go there” ok?  Good, so let’s move on.

You have asked God to remember you and visit you, right?  Well that is a statement that operates under the false assumption that God has left you, or forgotten you; He has not!  Doesn’t His own Word assure you that He will never leave nor forsake you? So, if you can’t find God’s presence in your life, then granted someone moved out, but I assure you that it was not God!

Now, it’s what you say next that amazes me; you asked God to not only return to you but to take vengeance for you, against those you have named as “your” enemies; do I have that right?  But right after that you ask for His “forbearance” or rather, you ask for mercy for yourself.  Now, do you understand the duplicity in that request?  You are asking God to give you grace, an unconditional pardon for your sin, but for those who stand against you, you want Him to wipe out!  And as long as we are being honest here, if you have truly been serving God and not your own interests, and if you are experiencing turmoil in your life simply because you are a “good” Christian, aren’t your supposed enemies really attacking God and His expressed will through His Word; a Word that you are only repeating and living out?  Well, let’s move on…

Next you rightly state that His Words were found by you, and you ate them, and that His Words became a joy for you, in fact, how did you put it, oh yes, you said that they were the delight of your heart. Something strikes me as odd here.  Why are you talking in the past tense?  Am I to assume that the scripture, which states clearly that faith comes by hearing the Word of God, no longer is true for you.  Am I to understand that not only do you find God’s Word ineffective in your life, but in fact you no longer need the gift of faith that comes through that Word?  Now I am only asking because right after that, you said with a degree of pride I might add, that you are called by God’s name.

You say you are a Christian, right?  Because if that is true, then I will go back to the truth that I pointed out a moment ago, you are talking in the past tense; as if eating, drinking, and living out God’s Word is what you use to do.  Now, if you have given up your reliance on God’s Word, to claim that you are still a Christian is quite frankly a lie.  You see, God did not call you into faith out of the thin air and neither does He sustain faith that way, but instead He uses the means, or actual methods that He chooses, which exist in this world that we live in.  And His Chief Means of Grace is His Word.  It is called the chief means of grace because the other two are totally dependent on His Word.  Baptism is also His means of grace, but without HIS Word, it is just a washing.  The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, but without His Word it is just a snack.

Let me sum everything up for you. You didn’t sit in the company of blatant and public sinners and join in with them, because God’s Word was protecting you from the final result that comes from living under those things.  You weren’t ever voted most popular by that group, because God’s Word led you to live a life separate from their blatant sinful life style. You see don’t you, that God was using you for a higher purpose, right?  Ok, if you can see that then what you say next, or rather what you ask next, simply baffles me.  How did you put it?  Oh yes, “Why is my pain unceasing (and) my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” Do you hear yourself?  My pain.  My wound.  So, is this all about you now?  What happened to your belief and allegiance to your favorite Bible verse, John 3:16?  “What does that have to do with it?” you ask.  Good question.  Well, if  you believe that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” is true, then maybe this pain you feel, this wound you perceive has very little to do with you, but it is in fact something bigger, something very much beyond you?  Now we’ll flesh out that idea in just a moment, but there is one last thing you said that must be addressed by God Himself.

You said, and I quote, “Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” And to that God’s Word violently slaps you across the face and says… REPENT!  Turn away from your inward thinking, because it is not about you, and it never has been; it is about saving the world… every sinner that will turn to God’s only means of salvation.  If you turn to this one thing needful, then God will restore you; you will stand before HIM comforted and strengthened.  If you truly do consume His Word and allow it and only it to fill you, you will be able to speak precious promises of faith and not this kind of dribble, which in the end is worthless.  If you allow God to strengthen you, then all of these trials and tribulations that you have allowed to consume you and snatch your faith and joy away from you, will be of no threat to your relationship with the God who called you out of darkness into His light.  And that now takes us to the pain you feel and the wound that you say is incurable; it takes us to God’s only means of salvation for the world, and for you.  And that of course is…

The Cross of Jesus Christ. [Matthew 16:21–28]  God does indeed love this world of sinners very much, and that includes you.  He loves us all so much that He did the unthinkable, He sent His Son to live among us and die for us.  The Father gave His Son upon the cross; the cross of pain and unspeakable suffering.  Peter and the apostles didn’t understand, and I am afraid we still don’t understand the necessity of Christ’s death.  You see the incurable wound and unspeakable pain that we along with the prophet Jeremiah see as our own, are really those of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Through His Word you have been unexplainably intertwined with Him in a way, that His own identity becomes your identity.  By His stripes you have been healed.  Through His painful and atoning death upon the cross you have been saved.  By the washing of the water and His Word you have been cleansed through recreation.  Through His holy supper, at His table, you are refreshed and strengthened by His very body and blood.

From our perspective, looking back from today into yesterday, we can intellectually say a hardy amen to Christ passion and death upon the cross for us sinners.  Peter did not have our perspective.  He couldn’t see how a suffering Savior would help them in their time of need.  He wanted a Savior who would ride into Jerusalem as a conqueror and punish all the wrong doers right then and there. But that was not the mission that the Father Sent His Son to complete.  So when Peter had his heart set on a bloodless and “cross-less” way of salvation, Jesus responded to him in the same way He responded to Satan who tempted Him with the same offer in the desert, “Get behind me Satan.”  That is, “Get out of my presence with that talk of glory.”  Repent.

This morning, God’s Word calls each of us to turn to His cross, the place where He made atonement for the sins of the world.  It is there at the cross where we find not only Christ’s passion, suffering, and death, but we are also reminded in His Word, which recreated us within the waters of our baptism, that on the third day, He rose from the dead and ascended into His glory!  So…

If you wish to follow Christ into eternal life, He says to you this morning, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Do you hear the answer to your song of “gloom, despair, and agony?”  You must deny yourself completely; not just a part of yourself, some fault, some problem habit or desire, or some outward practice, but all of yourself.  You must die to your natural sinful tendency to protect your self-interests, which are things of this world and not the things of God.  A great illustration of this self-centered life style can be found in how Peter later disowned Jesus by saying, “I never knew the man (Jesus)!” But we are called to do the opposite; we are called by God to declare that we disown ourselves, completely. Now we aren’t talking about a self-denial in a self-righteous sense of the word but instead, a true conversion, a complete recreation of ourselves, the very thing that God declares was done for you in your baptism.

Your baptized new nature sees all the sin within you and all of the damnation and the death bound up in that sin and it instinctively turns away from it crying out to God for rescue and salvation through Jesus Christ alone. So, by a work of God alone through His Word, your sinful nature is cast out by you every day, and Christ has entered into your heart and stays as your eternal Lord and Savior.

So now, through the work of the cross and the washing of your own baptism, you live in this world, not for yourself, but for  Christ who died for you.  And the life you now live as one who has been crucified with Christ, is a resurrected life that daily dies to those old self-centered desires and rises up in new life to live to follow Christ where ever He leads, for His glory.

And as we follow Christ, everyday we are called to “take up our cross.”  And the cross that we bear, are those sufferings we experience because of our faithful connection to Christ. And what we find is that each of us as Christ’s disciples will have our share of suffering.

In our minds eye we see Christ, carrying his cross, leading the way with all of us disciples following behind Him, each bearing our own cross, like men and women being led away to be crucified.

But our journey does not end with suffering and death, just as that was not the end for Jesus Christ the Son of God.  Where He goes we follow; we follow through the suffering and like Him, our final destination ends in glory; it ends in God’s love for redeemed sinners.

Dear friends, even great men of faith like Jeremiah fall prey to doubt and despair. They are examples for us. If they fear, if they doubt, if they need encouragement, if they need admonition, if they need help, if they need the preaching of the law and the repeated assurance of the promises of God, how much more do we!

We may all expect to drink some of the same bitter cup as did the prophet Jeremiah. We all will need to be shocked out of our sinful stupor by God’s call to repentance. But with the Lord’s help we will find our way back to him, as did Jeremiah. From these experiences, both Jeremiah’s and ours, we are made more ready to be shining lights to others who also drift into the fog of gloom, despair, and agony. We have been there and have returned, so we may be able to help them return to God through Christ’s cross of love too.

The gospel promises of peace, comfort, and glory are not allusive nor is God’s Word a deceptive brook, as Jeremiah believed in the middle of fear and dark worry.  But rather, it is a glory that awaits each of you saints as you trod along following the footsteps of your Savior.  For sure there will be good times and bad times in this life.  But in the end, on the day we leave this veil of tears in a Christian death, we will discover the truth and certainty of Christ’s promise that was given to the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with Me in paradise!”  AMEN!

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  AMEN!

Trinity Lutheran Church Plans New Polynesian Garden

August 25th, 2014

If you’ve been to Trinity Lutheran Church lately (located at 7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114) perhaps you’ve notice our new and beautiful Rose Garden on the east side of the sanctuary?  Already that beautiful spot has proven to be a popular photo location for weddings and family gatherings.  That spot was made possible by the many donations made by congregational and community members.  And now, Trinity Lutheran Church is starting work on the west side of the sanctuary.

Did you know that more than 30 percent of our congregational members come from San Diego’s Samoan community?  So shouldn’t we who have been blessed with such a diverse congregation demonstrate our love for Christ in that same diversity?  And that is the very idea behind the new Polynesian Garden.  If you have any polynesian plants or fruit trees at home and would like to donate either the plant or a clipping from it, please speak to someone in our church office (619) 262-1089 or stop by and drop it off at the church between the hours of 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.  Currently, we have had several donations of Plumerias, so we have plenty of those, but any other polynesian plant would be appreciated.

If you would like to purchase some plants specifically for our new Polynesian Garden, but don’t know where to start, this web site is a great place to start: http://www.alohatropicals.com/  We would also gladly accept a financial donation towards that effort, with checks make payable to Trinity Lutheran Church, or conversely, you may go to the Church’s website: http://www.tlcsd.org and click on our Paypal Donate button at lower right portion of the main page.

Thank you for supporting Trinity Lutheran Church in the past and thank you for your support in this endeavor, and the endeavors to come in the future.  To God be the glory and all laud and honor to our Savior Jesus Christ… AMEN!

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

August 24th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 11A, August 24, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” [Isaiah 51:1]

Have you ever heard someone say something like this before?  “I’m not going to sit idly by and watch this happen.  Someone has to do something.  Things can’t go on like this!”  Maybe those words communicate your feelings about current events.  Let’s take a brief overview of just the last month’s headlines: The Ebola virus is killing thousands of people in west Africa; there seems to be no end to the violence in that small town of Ferguson, Illinois, due to a police shooting and racial inequalities; one of our brave Marines seems to be rotting away in a Mexican Prison for accidentally crossing the border with three personal and registered firearms; ISIS is killing Christians simply because of their faith… some are even being buried alive or hung on a cross like Jesus; and an American reporter in Syria was beheaded simply because he was an American.  Now, if none of these current issues have raised your anxiety, how about something more personal; something like: Why don’t your children go to church any more?  How about your current health problems or other personal problems that seem to be sucking the very joy out of your Christian walk of faith?

To all of these concerns and any others like them, God has the solution.  This morning He says, “Listen to Me and watch for me!”  Listen and look with faith and hear and see what I have done yesterday in the past, what I am doing today in the present, and then you will know what I will do tomorrow in your future!

In our gospel reading (Matthew 16:13-20) Jesus asked his disciples then as He asks us today a very simple question: “Who do you say that I am.”  He wants all people to seriously consider what we believe about Him.  Is He truly Emmanuel, God with us or was He just a great teacher and healer.  Now because you all have proclaimed by faith that Jesus is your Lord, I assume that each of you know and declare that Jesus is God.  Peter knew it, and he confessed as much with these Words: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And (to Peter then and we today) Jesus answered, “Blessed are you! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, on this rock (that is upon your faith in God your Rock), I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:17, 18]

This morning, I your pastor declare to you, that God, in the persons of Father, Son, and Spirit does not change; that is what he was yesterday, He still is today and will be forever.  Who is God?  He is Emmanuel; God with you and God for you.  To understand this we look back at Who God was in the past.  We follow our roots of faith backwards in time to understand who we are today, and who we will be tomorrow.

The God of Yesterday: This morning, even though you have doubts, fears and worries, God calls you His children; He calls you, those “who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD.”  Many times we don’t see triumph and victory in our walk of faith; we tend to focus on our troubles and apparent defeats, even when we truly are trying to please the Lord.  The faithful Jews who were taken away in exile from their native land felt the very same; they too had no sense of glory or victory.  Their homeland stood in ruins; they weren’t given any hope from their captors that they would ever return, but God spoke hope.  Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke certain promises that if received by faith would give the people hope; they would one day return.

You see the promise of hope God spoke through Isaiah, was based on the promise of hope that He spoke long ago to Abraham and Sarah.  Though they started out as two individuals, they would be united in faith and multiplied in number comparable to the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the beach.  From them, God promised to build not just a physical nation, but also a spiritual one; one that had faith in their God, who was their Creator, Provider, Redeemer, and Friend.

Since the first gospel promise given to Adam and Eve about the coming Messiah/Savior who would take away their sins and bring them back to Paradise, God’s faithful children have struggled with feelings of discouragement and hopelessness, just as Father Abraham and Sarah did; just as those held captive in Babylon did.  We like them have discovered that even though we are pursuing righteousness and trying to live a God pleasing life, we don’t see that many victories.  At best, we seem to have only fleeting moments of happiness, but then we often fall prey to guilt, fear, and doubt.  We are reminded that on our own, we truly are sinful and unclean; our sinful nature frustrates us to no end.  We wish we could take it off like a change of dirty work clothes, but we can’t!  It is part of us and it continues to plague us every day.  Like the Jews held in captivity in Babylon, we too need a Word of comfort and reassurance, and that is why God next encourages us to look, listen, and live in what He is doing for us today!

The God of Today: This morning, God calls out to you who pursue righteousness, and He says: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.”  This morning, God’s Word of hope, His promise connected to the very first promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and Sarah comes to you and it declares that today for you, this promise is fulfilled.  “Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the Light of the world. [John 8:12]  And it is “the light (that) no darkness can overcome.” [John 1:5]

You have been hewn from Him and by Him, and the proof is your proclamation of faith.  It is as true for you today as it was for Peter then.  Jesus is our Rock and there is no other Rock but Him, because Jesus is God.  We know this is fact because God’s law of righteousness, that is His work and Word of Salvation declares this truth to us.  By faith in our Rock, His Word tells us to see beyond the past; beyond the prophets and the promises of yesterday and see the fulfillment of His promises in your life today.  See the work of the cross of Jesus Christ, where His passion for all sinful mankind moved Him out of love to die for the sins of the world, and then allow your Rock to show you where you were first dug out.

In your baptism, Christ’s work for the world upon the cross, was made as atonement for you personally; there you died with Christ but you also rose with Him as a child of the Rock.  There you took your place along with Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Peter and the Apostles, and the countless children of faith that have gone before you, and you have been given divine strength to wait and trust in what God is doing both for you and through you.  What is that work?

Well, this morning He declares that His “righteousness draws near, (His) salvation has gone out, and (His) arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for (Him), and for His (mighty) arm (of salvation) they wait.” [Isaiah 51:5]  For some, God’s judgment is something to fear, but for you who wait by faith it is something to be anticipated with joy.  You are part of the Rock; you cling to Jesus Christ and trust in Him alone.  But as you wait, you may become impatient and feel that the injustices that happen in this world must be dealt with.  Again you may feel that God no longer cares about what is happening here.  But that is far from the truth.  You see, “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but (instead, He) is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish (in the coming judgment), but that all should reach repentance (and salvation).” [2 Peter 3:9]  Remember, that His salvation has gone out, and it is for all people who will turn to and trust in their Rock, Jesus Christ.  So…

Look to the God of Tomorrow. “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but (God’s) salvation will be forever, and (His) righteousness will never be dismayed.” [Isaiah 51:6]  While we still struggle with a spirit of impatience in the midst of tribulation and suffering, these Words offer us God’s solution.  Look up to your Rock in Heaven; by faith see Jesus Christ as your Champion and know that soon and very soon His work of judgment and salvation will be accomplished once and for all.  The very heavens above and the earth you stand upon with vanish like smoke and all evil, both spirits and people on that day will be judged and punished.  But you dear saints, you must never allow this tomorrow of judgment to discourage, distress or disappoint you, because God’s salvation, His law of righteousness has  enveloped you and it protects you.

Who do we say that Jesus is?  Alleluia, Jesus is our Rock!  He brought us out of the miry clay, and He placed our feet on the Rock to stay.  Therefor with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify His glorious name, evermore praising Him and saying: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabbath adored; Heaven and earth with full acclaim shout the glory of Your name.  We the church sing hosanna in the highest, we sing hosanna to our Rock… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and let the church say… AMEN!

Color Me… Christian!

August 17th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 10A, August 17, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

Isn’t it true that we Christians hate discrimination of any kind?  Isn’t it true that all of us, at one time, have felt the pain of being singled out, left out, looked down on, or trodden upon?  Its no fun being excluded, not being invited to a party or special event, simply because your not part of the “in-crowd”.  Being left out can lead to depression and a real sense that no one cares or appreciates you for who you are.  

So then why do we Christians do that to members of our own family of faith?  Why do we create clicks that clearly demonstrate how our group is different than other groups?  Because it is in our nature… our sinful nature!

God’s message for us this morning in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 56:1, 6-8) assures us that God has a solution to our sin problem; to our tendency to group up at the expense of others feeling uninvited or not part of the family.  He shows us how we are all His chosen people who are never left out.  He does not discriminate or exclude anyone by race, former beliefs, or ethnic background.  God looks for and finds even foreigners and outcasts.  This morning’s message tells us that God’s Salvation through Jesus Christ is for everyone, and that everyone is the same color… and that color is Christian!

This is a message that has always been part of God’s plan, but over the years it became lost in the sinful hearts of His children of faith, the children of Israel.  It became lost through nationalistic pride and ethnic feelings of superiority, which replaced what was suppose to be pride in the One true God, who called them out of darkness and into light.

Now, it’s true, that the law of God did command that some people were to be excluded from God’s people.  That was one of the functions of the law; to keep God’s people separate from the godless nations that surrounded them.  God didn’t want His people to be contaminated by the pagan religious practices of the nations around Israel.  They were called to avoid intimate contact with the Gentiles.  And for that reason, God’s chosen people had dietary restrictions; some foods were unclean simply because God said so.  God wanted the world to notice His people; He wanted a world trapped in sin to see that His children of faith were different.  They were circumcised as a sign of their covenant connection with Abraham and the promises God made to him.  Why?  So that the world caught in the darkness of sin would see this difference and God’s many blessings upon His people, and then desire to be included in this relationship.  But sadly, sin began to creep in, and God’s children of faith began to develop a spirit of superiority, and so their pride caused them to look down on other folks.

The Israelites disdainfully referred to the world outside as “uncircumcised.”  And they began to forget to ask some very important questions about these “outsiders,” questions like: “Does God want these people to also receive deliverance by hearing and believing in the coming of the Messiah of God?

That was the dilemma crying out in front of the apostles of our Lord in our gospel reading (Matthew 15:21–28).  Standing before Jesus and His Jewish disciples was a Canaanite woman from the foreign region of Tyre and Sidon.  She was a female, and one of those unclean foreigners that the Jews were taught to look down upon, and she did the unthinkable, she approached Jesus crying out “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”  Jesus seemingly ignored her and kept on walking by her, but she followed and continued to cry out for mercy.

After a while, the disciples couldn’t take it any more, so they asked Jesus to give her what she wanted, just  so she would go away.  But Jesus, ignoring the woman, answered the disciples request according to the law of God and said to them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel… It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  In other words, Jesus is saying that He wasn’t there to help the foreigners yet, but those who falsely claimed to be children of Abraham without faith like Abraham.  Why did they lack faith?  Because they had lost faith in God’s promise of the coming Messiah, the Suffering Servant who would come first to the Jews and then use them to draw all sinners to God’s mercy by faith in God.  You could say that when one is caught in the darkness, one must first have their own lamp lit before they can help others find their own lamps.

Now what the woman says next proves the next point of our message, which is that Salvation, is entirely a work of God.  The woman looks Jesus in the eyes and says, “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  This declaration moved Jesus to look at this woman with love and say, “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”

Did you hear that?  Jesus said that her faith was great, that is her lamp had been lit!  The very thing that the Jews were to have first before they could be effective in drawing foreigners into the inner circle of God’s family of faith, this woman had already received.  She knew who Jesus was; she desired to be part of what he brought, even if it meant enjoying it from the outside!  By being content with her outside status, Jesus drew Her in.

This brings us to our next point…

Salvation is entirely a work of God!  It is God alone who provides salvation, and it is He alone who brings it to people both on the inside and the outside who have been excluded due to sin.  It is what He does for sinners in His Word, the law first and then the gospel.  We see this displayed beautifully in the very first verse of our Old Testament lesson.  Listen: “Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.”  Do you hear the law?  Keep justice!  Do what’s right!  It demands much of us, but offers no help in doing!  But then as our terror propels us forward to try and do the law, to try and keep the command, God’s sweet and tender voice of mercy speaks, “It is going to be ok.  Soon my salvation, my Suffering Servant, your Messiah will come, and then the comfort and peace that you thirst for will be revealed and given to you for free!”

Friends, Salvation has come; it has come trough Jesus Christ, the light first given to the people of Israel and now as a light given to the world.  Where was this light given to all people?  Upon the cross!  Listen to these beautiful words of prophecy, fulfilled through Jesus suffering and death:  “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”  [Isaiah 53:5]

Jesus knows our every fear and weakness; He knows our struggle to find acceptance and belonging.  Like many of us, He too was an outcast, excluded by many of the people He first came to save; the ones who must first have the light before they could help the outsiders and outcasts find their portion of the light.  “He had no form or majesty that (others) should look at him, and no beauty that (they) should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and (even today) we esteemed him not.” [Isaiah 53:2, 3]  But He esteems us, He knows us, and now is the time of our salvation.  Now is the time that Jesus comes for all of sinful mankind!

This morning we gather as God’s children called by faith in His Word; called by faith in the Suffering Servant, the Son of God Jesus Christ!  This morning we know by this same Word and faith in that Word, that salvation is for all of mankind, first for the Jews and then for the world.  It is a work of God done for all sinners, regardless of skin color or the quality of their character, because Jesus calls sinners just as they are.  But when He calls them, He loves them to much to leave them in that condition.  For you see, the call also contains the power of God that transforms sinners into saints.

We are those who once were foreigners but now are sons of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.  People know that we are Christians by the marks that God imputes upon us and within us.  We love to serve our true and living God.  We love to speak His name… Jesus, and we find an unexplainable peace in living under that name.  We  are the ones who truly keep His Sabbath, because we alone find rest and peace in the proclamation and the hearing of His Word.  We alone, enabled by faith, trust in His new covenant promise of grace, and we do that by clinging to Christ alone and no other! We are the people who alone can say, “My color is Jesus and my race is Christian!”

Each of us, through no merit of our own has been drawn to God by His power alone.  Because of His Word, we hear and believe that it is God’s desire to bind all people to Himself through Jesus Christ, and that is exactly what He has done for us.  By faith, we see the very Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ, suffering and dying upon the cross as both God’s Suffering servant and our Messiah, and we know that like a lamb led to be slaughtered, He obediently died for the sins of the world.  But we also know by faith that within the waters of our baptism, salvation became very real and very personal.  In our baptism, we were both buried with Christ and made alive with Him!

Indeed, this morning as well as every Sunday we hear the proclamation that salvation is for all; none are excluded and all have been drawn into God’s inner circle as His children of faith who rest within the mystical body of Christ.  But sadly, there are some who are not yet resting as part of the “in crowd” within this position of peace and comfort.  There are many who still live in the darkness and continually reject God’s free gift of salvation through Christ, or perhaps they have separated themselves from the gift by judging others as not “like them” and unworthy of the same gift that once saved them.  They have bound themselves to darkness rather than to the light of Christ.

Is there hope for those who are perishing outside of Christ’s sacrifice and love?  Yes, and again I say yes, and that hope is spoken of in the last verse of our Old Testament lesson, listen: “The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to (the body of Christ) besides those already gathered.”  How does He gather?  Through the same means of grace that gathered you… through His Holy Word and Sacraments.  They are His means of grace, and we the church are His means of delivery.  As He binds Himself to us, we bind ourselves to Him to be His instrument of inclusion and Ambassadors of peace.  As we go out being His light in the darkness of sin, we remember that it is He alone who brings and works salvation by binding Himself to the waters of baptism and establishing new Christian identities in those who were once dying in sin, so that they too will serve Him and love the name that is above every name… Jesus Christ!  And in, with, and under that name let the church say… AMEN!

Where Were You?


August 10th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 8A, August 3, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

Have you ever been angry or upset with God?  Have you ever felt that “He” was allowing unfair things to happen to you?  And has that feeling of “unfairness” influenced not just the way you look at God, but indeed other people who seem to be living the good life outside of faith, while you who have been faithful to Christ and His church, seem to be isolated from those blessings of the “good life?”  If so then our Old Testament lesson should be able to clear a few things up; important things that we tend to forget.

Just as God prepared Job to hear the deep and mysterious truth about His transcendence, so He speaks to us this morning.  To Job He said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” (Job 38:1-3). And to us He says, “So will you judge God and decide what is fair and unfair?  Fine, then gather your faith and wisdom, and rise in the strength of My Holy Word that has carried you this far, and I will ask a few questions of you, and then by faith, you may “straighten” God out.  Are you ready?  Were you there when I created all things?”

Creation is a deep quagmire for minds of faith; deep because it has so many unanswered questions that our rational minds want answers to.  Since it is such a deep thing to ponder, let’s break it down into understandable bits.  We will simply look at our Earth and then space.  In regards to the Earth, let’s break that down into land and sea.

Were you there when God separated land from sea?  Do you know why he determined how much land would exist on our earth, and then do you know why He allotted different portions of land to be hot and humid, hot and dry, frozen and cold, and then some portions of land that have both?  I know that your science will answer quickly, that this is all due to the proximity of land to the equator and various weather patterns that exist, but then that is not the question to be answered, is it?  No, the real question is “Why are things the way that they are?”  You might have an inkling of understanding, if you were actually there “In the beginning” when God created the earth.  You might understand it if you were there to hear the angels sing together as they glorified the Creator with shouts of joy. But you weren’t there were you?

Well then, do you know why the seas were created just as they were, with laws that allow them to go only so far and no farther?  Do you know why three-fourths of the earth’s surface is covered by water?  I am sure you know what a powerful source water is.  Right now, our fellow countrymen in Hawaii have been hit by one hurricane and there is another quickly approaching their shores; they know the power of water in the form of wind and rain.  And let’s not forget the tragic events that came upon our brothers and sisters who not that long ago suffered under the power of hurricane Katrina; that bit of recent history seems to still cry out, “Unfair, O Lord!”  But those recent examples pale in comparison to the damage caused by the flood in the days of Noah! That deluge wiped out all creatures living on earth except those in the ark. You do know don’t you, that if God wanted to, He could send another universal flood, right? But praise His name and His undeserved kindness, He has made a covenant promise to never do that again (Genesis 8:21), but remember, He could.

Now I don’t know about you, but I am forever thankful that God has the powerful forces of water under his control. Along with the Psalmist, I cry out to God in thankfulness in these Words, “You set a boundary [so that the waters] cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth” (Psalm 104:9). But let’s always remember that if God desires, He could bring about another great flood, easier than you and I can fill and then drain our bathtubs!

Next, we have another question to ponder.  Are you the one who created our sun and the other stars?  Are you the one who then set the earth on its axis and determined the perfect rotation so that there would be a consistent amount of sunlight to sustain life and create what we call morning and daylight?  No?  Well maybe you were there when the voice of our Triune God said “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) and there was?! Do you know that every sunrise can be thought of as a recreation of that first giving of light? Remember this, just as we need the darkness of night for sleep, we also need the light of day to sustain life and allow us to accomplish the work that God has determined for us to do.

Well that is quite a bit for us to think about, but it isn’t all that God has to say to us this morning, is it?  No God wants you to ponder something else…

What do you know about a dark place, which we know exist but have not experienced?  Now, we are talking about a place darker than the bottom of the deepest sea, and further away from us than the most outer reaches of space; we are talking about death!  In verse 17 God asks Job the penetrating double question, “Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?” This language suggests that when a person enters the realm of death, the gates are closed behind him. There is no turning back to life in this world. Had Job entered the gates of death at the time God spoke those words? Obviously, he had not, and neither have any of you, but there is One who has; He was there for all of this and He has come to assure you that all things will work together for your good.

Jesus Christ, our champion, our brother, our Savior, and indeed our God is the only One born of man who not only Has died but also came back from death.  It is Jesus Christ alone Who came down from heaven and actually brought us righteousness, God’s own righteousness to be received from Him by faith. This is a righteousness that calls out to us, so that we don’t need to ask with discouraged hearts, “Who will ascend up to heaven and get an answer from God why these bad things are happening to His faithful children?” Because if we did that, that would be in essence bringing Christ down, that is, we would be denying His deity as the very Son of God.  So in reality, when we cling to those why questions, and in our hearts we demand that Creator God justify Himself to us the created, we are acting as if God’s righteousness had not yet been purchased and won for us by Christ upon the cross.

But Christ did come; the Son of God came to us in our own flesh as One of us to bring us assurance and peace that even during the worst experiences in our lives, surrounded by the darkness of sin like a raging sea, God has not left us. This truth of comfort is declared for you throughout the Word of God, and in and through the Word, which resides in every believer’s mouth and heart. This blessed Gospel Word does not ask you to do a single thing to experience God’s mercy and forgiving love; but it does ask you to receive it and rest in His presence through it. This Word is rightly called the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but you may know it as something else, another work of God which is most certainly unfair, and that thing is grace; God’s undeserved forgiving love and powerful presence in our lives.

The truth is friends, there are many things that happen in life, that do not seem fair.  It was not fair that Job was caught in the middle of a wager between God and the devil.  Job could not know that God was using Him to prove to both the devil and all evil that existed, that one day, a Son of Man would come with faith and patience mightier than Job, and He would not only undo all that is evil and corrupt, but He would usher in a new heaven and earth that would be forever free of sin, sickness, disease, and tragedy.

That Son of Man has come, and with His last breath upon the cross He declared, “It is finished!”  He rose from the dead and then ascended back from where He has always existed, into Heaven.  And in Heaven a message of indescribable comfort and peace comes to us sinful men and women; a message about forgiveness and the promise of Paradise restored; a future home for us that Jesus has prepared for each of you who like Job, wait patiently, surrounded and instructed by the Word of God, which in turn like Job not only makes you wise but faithful and patient as well.

As we wait for this restored paradise to become our home, we wait like Job, and with Job, our lives of repentance and faith confess these Words: “Heavenly Father, I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  You asked,‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’(And ashamedly I admit that it was me!)  Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now (through that hearing, my eyes of faith) see you; therefore I despise (my many sins), and repent (of them) so that I may receive the blessed forgiveness that comes only by grace, through faith in Your Son, my Savior Jesus Christ).”  Now, let the church say… AMEN!

Are You Listening?

August 3rd, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 8A, August 3, 2014

NOTE: The congregation first watched this very short video before hearing the Message.
We ask that you too watch this video before listening to or reading the message by clicking here.


Click here for audio of this message

“Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” [Isaiah 55:3]

This morning, God’s Word has invited you to come to His house and listen to His Word, and here you are!  Yes you’re here, but have you been listening?  Are you listening?   I hope you are, because our message is one that brings and sustains life; real life.  That is something only God can give, and He gives it in only one way.  Death on the other hand is something that you do not need to look for; you don’t need to ask for it, because it has already found you, and now it is just biding it’s time, waiting for the moment that has already been determined as your time.

One thing that is common with most PowerPoint presentations shown at many problem solving think tanks is the way they start out.  The lead slide will usually start out with stating “The Problem” to be overcome, and then the next slide will ask, “How Did We Get Here?” and then somewhere in the presentation will be a slide that initiates the presenters proposal, under the heading, “The Solution”.  And then finally, the presentation also includes “Words of Encouragement,” meant to move us to embrace the Solution.  So, why don’t we follow that format and see where it takes us.

I. The Problem: It is self evident, isn’t it?  The problem is we are all going to die!  Death literally is all around us, hounding every moment of our lives.  It has been that way ever since Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden.  Eden, a perfect place created for perfect people.  A place where there was no sickness or disease; no turmoil, suffering, and of course no death.  But something happened, didn’t it?  God’s people exchanged God’s truth for the devils lie.  So in came sin and death.  “Like taxes” we say, “death is unavoidable.”  It calls out to all of creation like a vendor at an open-air market saying, “Come here and sample my wares.  Don’t walk away from me; you know eventually I will claim you as a consumer, so why not enjoy your wait?”  All of us hear the siren call of death; people young and old, rich and poor, from celebrity to the homeless, from the president to the average Joe, we all must respond to death’s call; give him his due so to speak.

God’s people of faith are no different, are they?  We too hear that siren call, don’t we?  In our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah also comments on deaths call when he asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”   And that’s a good question isn’t it?  Why do we do things that are not God pleasing; why do we do them so easily?  And that takes us to our next question…

II. How Did We Get Here? Well, the answer to that was the same reason given in our explanation of the problem.  The same problem that Adam and Eve created is still our problem today.  We still have a desire to exchange God’s truth for the devil’s lies.  We still want to live in paradise, but under our own terms and rules.  Why is that?  Because we still live under the stain of original sin; it is in our very DNA so to speak.  We still hear the call of the devil inviting us to buy those things that are not life giving or sustaining; we still seek to satisfy our body but not our soul.  “Come and buy,” says the devil.  “But why” we ask?  And his answer is, “To make life a little more enjoyable with the little bit of time and life you have.”  And to our sinful minds, that sounds reasonable.  And to justify our purchase of those things, ideas, and life-styles that are not God pleasing, we tell ourselves “After all, nothing lasts forever.  You only live once, so I might as well enjoy it.”  And the devil laughs quietly and says, “Come, my child.  Come and live life according to your own terms, and you will experience life like you’ve never known it.”

But one day, perhaps sooner than you think, you will hear another call; the call of death.  When his whispered invitation of “Come” is heard, you will not be able to resist, and then all that you labored for, all that you valued as important will be in vain.  But this morning, we hear another call; a better call, and that call is the solution to the problem of sin, death, and the devil.

III. The Solution: God’s voice calls out to us throughout scripture and here in the voice of the prophet Isaiah, “Come everyone who thirsts (for peace and righteousness; for an assurance of an existence without fear or worry; for an eternity where there will be no more sin, death, nor the devil), come to the waters (the holy washing of God’s Word, where all of your sins and the devils traps are removed); and he (even you right now) who has no money, come buy and eat!  Come buy wine and milk (and all of the best things in life) without money and without price.”

This morning dear friends, God issues His invitation to everyone, not just to his Old Testament people, but to all people who desperately need His blessings; all who want to get back to Eden, to paradise lost. Just as Jesus invited “all you who are weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28), so the Lord God invites “all you who are thirsty.” Sin and death make us tired of the rat race we call life here, but they also make us thirsty for God’s blessings.

Because of the work of the devil, God’s voice, His invitation to come can get lost in this open air market we call life.  If we are not listening, it can be drowned out by all those other messages that are hawking the devil’s products. If we are not careful, we might begin to think that Christ and His church are just another vendor in life, offering one of many opportunities to be happy.  But unlike the world’s version of milk and wine, God’s version will never spoil or run out. He has spiritual blessings to dispense to everyone who comes, and he has a fervent desire to share them with everyone. And here’s the best part, not only are God’s products different, but they are also free. This wonderful invitation clearly speaks of God’s grace. No human can offer God anything for his blessings.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 14:13–21), Jesus offered an inexhaustible supply of earthly food to a hungry mass of people so that they would listen to the spiritual message behind the miracle; a message that would save their souls.  Sadly, many people today, like the crowds then, can not see God’s solution to their sin problem, because they have set their eyes on those things that only satisfy the body and not the soul.  And the result is that they still hunger and thirst; they still have no assurance that the whisper of death can bring them no harm.

IV. A Word of Encouragement: This morning, God calls us out of this illusion of the devil, and He tells us to come and buy eternal life, without money.  How do you buy without money?  Well, we dare not think that we can purchase the gifts of God by our own effort. We all know that God’s gifts cannot be earned; they are gifts “without cost.” God calls us away from every effort to earn what only He can give. St. Paul said it best: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). There isn’t a thing of value that we could place on the scales of God that would weigh enough to buy forgiveness and eternal life! Only the work of the Servant of the Lord, who “was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5), could earn the gifts of God, which are the forgiveness of sins, freedom from the power of the devil, and eternal life. These are the gifts that God only offers by grace. It is our own sin and the tricks of the devil that cause us to think we can earn these priceless gifts through something we do.

This morning, God tells us that the solution to our problem can only be realized if we embrace His solution: “Listen to me” He says. Now keeping with the comparison of this sinful world with an open-air market, the idea of listening suggests that we would have to pay attention in order to hear what we must do. But here God tells us to listen to what He has done. Listen to what God has said and done in His everlasting covenant and His steadfast love for David. Here, God tells us that this covenant flows from His faithful love promised to David, which originated in the promise long ago to Adam and Eve, and was repeated to everyone who followed and would listen.

Throughout our Bibles, God promises that the Messiah would come.  And then finally God promises that our Savior would come from David’s line (2 Samuel 7:11–16). God was not under any obligation to make such a promise, but he did it out of His pure undeserved love. And once God promises something, He is always faithful and does what He said.

This Son of David, the Christ is none other than Jesus, the Son of God, born of Mary from within the lineage of David.  He brings completion to God’s promise to King David that He would be an eternal leader and witness of God’s steadfast love and mercy. Jesus is David’s greater Son, and He is The Witness to the nations declaring God’s undeserved love.

Our Savior came from heaven to earth to dwell with sinful men.  But He did more than just dwell with us; He came to set us free.  He came to be lifted high upon the cross so that “everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). And He has come to save more than just a small Jewish remnant returning from captivity in Babylon. He came to call people back to the paradise that was lost, but now restored.  He calls all nations to come to him—even strangers who did not know Him as the One true God. The words of the gospel now draw all sinners in, and those same Words give them the ability to listen to Jesus their Savior and receive all of the promises of God.

This morning all of us have been gathered by God’s Spirit to hear the only message that will destroy the power of the devil, remove our sins, and silence the song of death.  This morning this message is meant to give you peace where others experience worry and fear.  This morning, you are invited to listen to the very same message that God first spoke to your soul within the waters of Holy Baptism: Through faith in what Christ has done for you upon the cross, you are saved!  Through faith, you still hear the Words of eternal life and you find assurance and purpose.  Through faith you are invited to approach the Lord’s Table, and receive His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, and then experience spiritual nourishment, the likes of which the world could never give.

My prayer for each of you is that you would continue to come to this place often; continue to listen diligently and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in God’s rich spiritual food.  And I pray that you would allow your ear to really listen to the voice of God declared in His Word here in this place, and then continuously come to Jesus so that your soul may live.  And I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Hidden Treasure, Indeed!



July 27th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 7A, July 27, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”” [Matthew 13:52]

The central theme in all of our reading is found in Jesus’s statement in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 13:44-52), “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”  So, this morning’s message will explore that statement by answering three questions, which I believe are central for living the life of a Christian in the kingdom of Heaven, here and now.  But to answer these questions, you will need to be equipped and well trained by the Word of God.  So without further discussion, here are the questions: 1. How should every Christian treat the Word of God?  2. How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day?  3. Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment?

Are we ready to get into God’s message for us this morning?  Good, let’s go…

How should the every Christian treat the Word of God? Well, I tipped my hand a bit when I showed that video clip ( Click here to watch the video ) during the Children’s Chat.  The caption under the video asks, “Do you feel this way about your Bible and the Word of God?”  And I think that if we average Christians were to answer that question truthfully, the answer is “No!”  But why is that?

I believe that I can speak for not just myself, but also for many of you when I say that we truly do love Jesus and His Word.  Ok, so then why don’t we also have that kind of excitement when we open His book?  The answer is of course, because we do not understand just how extraordinary that Word truly is.  Isn’t it true that most of you have at least two or three Bibles in your home?  Isn’t it also true that most of you grew up in a home that had that many, if not more Bibles in your home?  Didn’t most of you grow up going to church and Sunday School, and didn’t you spend your formative years handling that Word?  So is it possible that both time and commonality have diminished your estimation of that Word?

This morning, Jesus tells us two stories or metaphors that are meant to correct our misconception of both God’s Word and His Kingdom; He speaks about a hidden treasure and a chance encounter with a “pearl of great price (or value).”  When we hear these stories, we think about incidents where people have accidentally found large sums of money, and after waiting for the owner to come forward, they are told by the authorities that because no one came forward to claim the money, it is theirs to keep.  Or maybe we think of those lucky ones who struck it big by winning millions of dollars after playing the lottery.  But this story is different, isn’t it?  The men in both stories had to spend everything they had just to get their hands on the treasure, and once they did, their lives were forever changed for the good.  I don’t know of too many incidences where lottery winners were impacted for the good; usually their money created a whole bunch of problems they never had before.  But Jesus’ story about the man who bought the field to get at the hidden treasure is different.  Why?  Well to answer that, we must understand the metaphor; the field represents one thing, and the treasure represents another.

In order to improve our estimation of God’s Word, let’s consider the field as a representation of our Bibles.  And within those Bibles, this field that most people take for granted is the greatest treasure you could ever receive, it is knowing intimately the very Son of God, Jesus Christ.  You see your Bibles are not given to you by God as some instruction manual that helps you live your life, but instead every page of your Bibles shows you two things, your need for a Savior and who that Savior is.

God’s treasure, which is the message of His Son Jesus the Christ, is indeed hidden, but it is intended to be found by you dear Christians.  Others hunt for this treasure everywhere, but you have found it; you found it with very little effort.  You see, God didn’t hide His treasure in a far off place in some philosophical realm where no one could even come near it, but instead he hid it in a common, lowly place, where it could be found by anyone who did not feel that the location of the treasure was beneath them because of their personal wisdom, pride, or self-sufficient attitude.

Now, let’s talk about this wonderful treasure that’s hidden within the field; within our Bibles.  The treasure is so great that the men in Jesus’s stories sold everything just to obtain it.  But they did not just sell all that they have, they sold it joyfully!  And when they finally obtain the treasure they rejoice, but not in their poverty but in their new found wealth!

The point of Jesus story is this: The Kingdom of Heaven has come to sinful men, and it comes in the Son of God who is also the son of man.  If there is anything at all that is standing in the way of you being drawn deeper and closer to Jesus, then that thing must be done away with so that you will be sure to obtain this great treasure, which is Jesus Himself.  If you truly understand this message, then Jesus says that you are like a “scribe (or a teacher of God’s Word), who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven, and you will bring out of (your) treasure (things that are) new and (things that are) old.”  In other words, through your discovery of the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price Jesus Christ, you have gotten your heart filled with all kinds of spiritual knowledge from the kingdom and the King, and you will be equipped to use it when it is needed.

Now, let’s add another dimension to Jesus metaphor, by allowing our Old Testament lesson (Deuteronomy 7:6–9) to guide us into our next question.

How does God really feel about Christians who struggle with faith and sin every day? Well, let’s allow God to answer Himself, listen: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”  Friends, do you hear that?  You did not choose God, He chose you!  You did not find Jesus and the forgiveness of sins that is yours through Jesus on your own; no, Jesus found you!

Do you understand what this does to Jesus’s stories; to His metaphors?  It turns them upside down.  If you can accept this understanding, then the field is this sinful world, and the man who sells all that He has, is none other than Jesus Christ.  And you know what that makes you, don’t you?  You are the treasure!  Upon the cross, all of God gave great wealth to obtain you as His very own, but only the Son of God, Jesus Christ who is the son of Mary, gave all of His life to redeem you from sin, death, and the devil.

God the Father redeemed you through the life blood of His Son; He redeemed you from the curse of sin.  But the reason He did this for you has nothing to do with anything that is unique or good about you, but instead it was through His love, with His Son’s blood as the very ransom that freed you!

God is so serious about this truth, that He has swore it in an oath that He made to our spiritual fathers long ago.  He swore to Abraham to bless his seed and to bring blessing to the nations through his seed. [Genesis 22:16-18]  But that oath includes blessings for us as well.  It was kept, and still is being kept, through Christ’s work upon the cross.  So, know this today, that it is those of (us by) faith who are the (true) sons of Abraham.  And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you (that is in your faith), shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith, (that is those of us who have been found by Jesus and are resting and trusting in Him), are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” [Galatians 3:7]

Now, doesn’t that make you want to rest in God’s calling of faith?  Doesn’t that allow you to realize that it is He who began the good work in you that will complete it?  But you may ask, “How do I know that God has really began that good work of salvation within me?  Where can I turn for assurance that I am really His great treasure, and He is mine?  Well, why not turn to the very place that He began that good work in you… return to your baptism where He marked you and sealed you as His very own!  And that takes us to our final question to be answered.

Should a Christian be afraid of the final judgment? Jesus answers that question in one last metaphor, when He says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.  So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matthew 13:47-50]

Friends, let me ask you a question, that if answered by faith, will also tell you whether you should be afraid of the final judgment.  Are you a good fish or a bad one?  Now before you answer, remember that you are Jesus’s own pearl of great price, and you are His valued hidden treasure.  He bought you with His own life-blood.  Do you believe that?  If you say yes, then why in the world would He ever allow you to be called bad?

But don’t just stop acquiring the wealth of God’s Word there, let St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (Romans 8:28-39) give you a little more data to base your answer on, listen: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” [v.28]  “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” [vs.31-34]  Friends, that’s called a hypothetical question, and you are to enthusiastically answer it like this, “No one!”  No one can accuse you of being damned and lost to judgment, because, “Christ died for you!  But more than that, He also rose from the dead for you.”  In His dying and rising, He shows you what is a done deal; a deal that was accomplished for you within the waters of your baptism.  Your old sinful nature was put to death, and your new baptismal nature that will one day rise up with a new resurrected body is not only how God sees you but, it is also how you are to view yourself!

You are a good fish, who has been caught in the gospel net of the church.  In all aspects of that net, you receive the hidden treasure of God, the message of Jesus Christ.  And within that message, which comes to you in both Word and Sacrament, you have discovered that you are God’s valuable and hidden treasure.  But, you are not hidden from God, you are waiting and resting within the gospel net, which is the church, along with many other fish; some are good and some are bad, but this morning Jesus says that is not your concern to worry over, you are simply to rest in the most blessed Word and will of God.

While it is tempting to worry about many things as we wait here for Christ’s return, we have been assured that God’s day of reckoning , that is the time of making all things right has not yet come.  As we wait, we also trust and follow Jesus as His very own disciples.  We wait both as people who have found a great treasure and, we wait for Jesus who will come to this world, and claim and acquire us has His own treasured possession.  Even though our life in Jesus and His life with us remains hidden now within His Word and Sacraments, we can trust in the great and final work that Christ has done for us.

When we trust in this work, and in this Word, we are indeed like disciples who are able to not only draw out wisdom from a great treasure store, but we become wisdom in action.  And that wisdom sees the wonderful faith, faith giving Word of God as great treasure indeed, and then it learns to trust and rest as part of that treasure.  AMEN!

I See Dead People!



July 20th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 6A, July 20, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ” [Matthew 13:28b-30]

The video clip that you’ve just watched is from the movie, “The Sixth Sense” starring Bruce Willis.  And the dialogue that specifically illustrates our message today, are these words: “I want to tell you my secret now.  I see dead people” says the boy to Malcolm, Bruce Willis’s character.  And Malcolm asks, “In your dreams?”  No the boy answers.  “While your awake” Malcolm asks?  “Yes” says the boy.  “Dead people, like in graves; in coffins” asks Malcolm?  “No” says the boy.  “Walking around like regular people.  They don’t see each other; they only see what they want to see.  They don’t know they’re dead.”  Malcolm asks, “How often do you see them?”  And the boy answers, “All the time.  They’re every where.”

In deed, there are walking dead all around us, and they do not know that they are dead; dead in their sins.  They think that they are alive and well; some will even tell you that they are blessed and hoping that they are living a God pleasing life.  They are so consumed with living their life style that not only do they not see each other, they can’t see God for who He really is.

In our gospel reading (Matthew 13: 24–30, 36–43) this is the situation that Jesus faces as He teaches the crowds; His listeners are dead in their sins and they don’t even know it; they don’t want to know.

Now it’s true that within the crowds of people, there were also true disciples of Jesus; they knew that through Him the Kingdom of God had broken out in their midst, so they clung to every Word that came out of Jesus mouth, but sadly, they were the small minority.

Most of the folks had come to see a miracle; just like people are drawn to the Side shows at carnivals today, they too were drawn to Jesus out of curiosity and the desire to see something mind blowing.  And among them were also the Pharisees.  They were the teachers who were suppose to help the folks know God, but most of them were just as dead in their sins as the people they were called to teach.  They could not see Jesus for who He really was, because they would not see that they were dead in their sins.  And because they could not admit this and find new and eternal life, they could not help turn the people’s eyes to God’s only source of salvation.  In essence most of the folks remained tightly trapped with in the bondage of death.

And yet, Jesus still teaches them; He still speaks Words that offer and give eternal life.  He says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” [v. 43b]  But hear what?  Hear that through Jesus the Christ, God is acting and reigning in the midst of men and women who are dead in their trespasses, in such a way that He is bringing them new and eternal life.  But, God’s way of breaking in and reigning as Lord and Savior comes in a way that most people will not expect, in fact many even find it unsatisfying and unfulfilling.  So the message of “The Parable of the Weeds of the Field” that Jesus taught to the curious, was a message that said the Kingdom of God was with them right that moment, but not yet in the way that they might expect, or desire it.  But the message also communicated that very soon, in God’s time, things would be much different, but for right now, this humble teacher who is the Son of God in human flesh, is all that you get.

There are many people today who, like the folks in Jesus’s audience then, just don’t want to hear this message.  Why?  Because they don’t want to wait!  And the sad truth is, they are being led by teachers and preachers who don’t wont to wait either.  They are the ones who teach that you don’t have to wait; you can have the glory, power, and good times right now, if you just have faith; faith in what they are teaching that is.  This message is in complete opposition to Jesus message that guaranteed us that, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart” Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33]  So our hope is right now, yet it has been deferred for a little while until God acts.  Those of us who rest in this hope by faith, are the ones that Jesus calls “good seed!”  We are the wheat.  But planted right beside us are a whole different kind of plant; a weed called a “darnel”.  This kind of weed looks like wheat, but it is only a weed and not fit for anything but burning.  So here is the question that Jesus’ audience was to ask themselves and allow God to answer: “Am I good seed or bad seed?” If they had ears to hear and were listening, God’s law was meant to break down their pride and realize that apart from a miracle from God, they were bad seed.  Then and only then, would they be enabled to come to Jesus hungering for the gospel, the forgiveness of sins.

But I trust you saints who are gathered here this morning have already answered that question.  You have already received the painful blow of the law and have been restored by the healing balm of the gospel.  You know who Jesus is and you have become accustomed to waiting on God’s time.  You dear saints know all to well that the devil is alive and active in our midst; you too have even met some people that you would swear are “bad seed” or dead men walking.  And you may be tempted to root them out, but Jesus who is our Good Master within the parable says to us… “No, not yet!”  He tells you not only that you might inadvertently up root good wheat along with the weeds, but He says that the time to act is at harvest… that is the time of the final judgment.  That is the time when “the Son of Man will send His angels and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  But what are we to do until then?  We are to wait for our faithful and gracious God and His time.  We are to wait by faith, and it is in that faithful and grace-filled waiting that we “shine like the sun in the kingdom of (our) Father.”

And while we wait, God’s means of grace continues to strengthen both our faith and our resolve to agree with St. Paul in our epistle lesson (Roman 8:18-27) that our present suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (at the resurrection of all God’s saints who rest and trust in Christ alone).  But we do not wait alone, do we?  No, Saint Paul tells us that all of creation waits along with the church “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” which is the time of final judgment and then reward for all who are the true “good seed.”

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves (who have seen both the agony and the beauty of the cross; the place where God dealt with the sins of the world once and for all through the blood and sacrifice of His Son who is also the Son of man, Jesus Christ).  And through the Word of God, our eyes of faith have been turned from a life destined to be bad seed, and instead through the washing of the water and the powerful Word of God, we have been declared good seed!

So while we wait, we who have the first fruits of the Spirit (that is the gospel promises of God’s Word), we wait eagerly for the promised reward of our adoption as God’s sons; that is we wait for the redemption of our bodies, the resurrection of the dead and eternal life.  It is in this hope that we are saved!

And as we wait, God invites us to see just who we are resting and trusting in.

In our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 44:6-8), we hear these Words, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Dear friends, there is no God like the God of Scriptures.  He says that so wonderfully in these Words, “Apart from me there is no God.”  God does not desire that any of you should have any doubt of that truth; it was so important that God the Son Jesus Christ came to us Himself to make this truth undeniable.  And yet, sinful hearts still resist that truth.

So to quell all doubts, God has issued a challenge to those who trust in other gods and other messages that claim to be the gospel.  He challenges both the devil and those who teach and believe in a false gospel to match His abilities, specifically His power to care for His people who existed in the past and present, and to predict what will happen to His people in the future.  The God of Scriptures is a God of action.  He does all things for the benefit and the strengthening of faith for His people.  This morning God says, “If you are so wise and powerful you supposed lords and teachers, then do what I do; foretell your actions before they take place, and then allow each prediction that you claim has been fulfilled, to be verified!  Can any god created by sinful human imaginations, or can any false teacher of those gods do that?  No, dear friends, they all remain silent.

And yet your God dear church, is till acting on your behalf.  He is still creating and sustaining faith, which waits and trusts in Christ alone.  He alone assures you dear children that He can continue to care for you and sustain you as you wait for Him.  He assures you that He alone is your Rock; He alone has brought you out of the miry clay of your sins, and He alone will one day restore you in full glory.

This morning God’s mighty Word assures you not to be afraid or tremble.  In Jesus parable, you see that God agrees with our assessment that there are indeed dead people all around us, but it is not His will that they would remain dead in their sins, but that they would repent and like you, become good seed as they along with the church wait for the return of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the dead.

Yes, we are to wait a little while longer, but we are to focus our eyes not on the dead but on the Word of Life, Jesus Christ.  Alleluia, alleluia, Lord to whom else would we go?  You alone have the Words of eternal life.  Help us we pray with a strong faith that gives bold confidence and hope built alone on our King, the Lord Almighty, our Redeemer, the First and the Last.  He alone is our Rock, Jesus Christ… AMEN!

Mmm, Mmm, Good Word!



July 13th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 5A, July 13, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“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]

Those Words of our text this morning are meant to be a comfort for you faithful saints, but it is also meant to be a slap in the face, a wake-up call so to speak for those who are stubborn, lazy, or full of pride.  If you are resting in Jesus this morning, then thank God for His Word.  But if you are indifferent or hostile to Jesus, it is a fearful Word of God; this Word that you hear this morning will one day, both accuse you, convict you, and sentence you to an existence of eternal suffering and pain, out side of the very Word that sought to give you new life and eternal joy.

But for us who are trusting in Jesus Christ because of God’s Word, and in light of that old Ritz Cracker commercial, and in honor of Andy Griffith, God rest his soul, we can say that the Word of God is a, “Mmm, mmm, good Word!”

But in the eyes of an unbelieving world, the Word seems so weak and foolish; it appears that it has no strength in it.  The enemies of Christ’s Church point out that the Word of God stands powerless before the sacred halls of science.  And what’s more, the competing religions in our world will confront our dear church with a most disturbing question: “Why is it that you Christians insist that only your way is right and all others are wrong and will lead only to hell?  Do you really think that you are better than the rest of the world?’  And to that we reply, “Certainly not.  On our own, without the Word of God, we are no better or worse than the rest.  But with the powerful Word of God working within and through us, we are redeemed and sanctified; set apart for God’s purpose, which is to call the entire world into repentance and eternal life through the message about Jesus, the Son of God.  This is all on account of the Word of God alone and not because of anything we contribute.  But our opponents, those who wish to destroy God’s pure church do not exist only outside of us, but indeed they exist even within our very ranks as well.

There are those who call themselves Christians, who have even been baptized, who have become the very tools of the devil, and they too will attack our reliance on God’s Word alone.  They will confront us by asking, “Do you really think that everything regarding our eternal salvation depends entirely upon God’s Word?”  And then they will say, “That is ridiculous!  Don’t you realize that we also need to act upon the Word?  In our lives we must always think, decide, and work!”

But here, in our text this morning all of God’s enemies are answered.  They must either receive the truth of His Word, or they can go there own way, which is also the way of the devil.  In our text this morning, God does not say that “our works and our thoughts” do a mighty work, no, but what does He say?  He says that it is His Word that goes out from His mouth that accomplishes His will.

Just before the words of our text this morning are also words that act as a beautiful illustration of just how necessary the Word of God alone is to bring new life to sinful and condemned hearts.  Through the prophet Isaiah, God compares the work of His Word to the work of the rain and snow, which He sends upon the earth.  Without God’s watering, the earth cannot produce a single thing.

But reason says that life comes from the soil; good crops come from fertile land.  So reason will tell you, the power to produce an abundant crop lies in the earth, not in the rain and snow.  But let’s look at a comparison between southern California and my motherland, the state of Wisconsin.  I just returned from a visit there, and believe me when I tell you that everything is lush, green, and flourishing.  The farmers are having a record season, and the harvest is predicted to be one of the best on record.  And yes, the soil is dark and rich, but it is dark and rich for a reason; it rains or snows for a little while, almost everyday of the year.

Now compare the lush conditions of Wisconsin to our own conditions here.  You do not need to go far to see what I am talking about. Look at the front lawn here at our own church.  We no longer water it because water is so expensive, and as a result the grass is completely dead.  If you desire, you can dig up a little ground beneath the grass, and you will discover that it is grey, sandy, and dead.  Why?  Because it lacks life giving water!

So what does this mean for our church, indeed for all churches?  Simply this, the advancement and growth of the church, of the kingdom of God is not dependent on programs and campaigns, or any work of men, but instead it is dependent entirely upon the Word of God and it’s proclamation of truth.  The Word of God is declared with a promise that cannot be undone.  In it, God promises to do what He desires; the very thing that He sent it to do.  It won’t do what sinful men and women desire it to do, but it will do what God wants it to do, even if sinful men and women resist that Word; a Word that proceeds from the very mouth of God.

What is the mouth of God?  It is the very instrument that God speaks through.  Jesus of course is, was, and ever will be the living Word of God, but then God also speaks through other visible mouths.  This morning He has spoken to you through the recorded Words of the Prophet Isaiah and the Apostle Paul, just as He speaks through all mouths that belonged to other prophets and apostles.  But He is also speaking to you from the mouths of faithful preachers; preachers who do not mix the Word of God with their own sinful desires.  This morning, God is even speaking to you from the mouth of this redeemed sinner who you call pastor, who is called to bring to you His Word that both brings and sustains new life!

Dear friends, God has only promised to work through His spoken and recorded Word. He has chosen the Word as the means by which we can trust that through that Word He brings us good things. Of course, He could work through other means, but nowhere does God instruct us to look to other means, nor to trust in them. Throughout scripture, God invites sinners to listen to His Word and find wisdom and new life.  Just as the rain brings new life to dead soil, so the Word of God can change the heart of a sinner.

Whenever anyone thinks that he or she can do a good thing without hearing and receiving the Word of God that person has been deceived by the devil and the truth is not in him.

But the mystery of God’s Word cannot just be compared to the rain, but to a seed, which brings new life.

II. In our Gospel reading (Matthew 13:1-23), Jesus compares the Word of God to the seed that a farmer sows.  He says that some seeds fall by the path and are immediately devoured by birds.

Dear saints, I hope that you realize, there is a real spiritual battle going on around us; it is a battle for the eternal lives of men, women, and children; a battle for their very souls.   Sometimes, the best attack that Satan can employ is to simply prevent sinful men and women from hearing the message about God’s Son and His cross.  If you do not hear the message about God’s extravagant grace and mercy through Jesus Christ, then in the devil’s mind, you will never experience God’s forgiving love.  And do you know what?  The devil is right.  Do you see that even Satan has a high regard for the power of God’s Word?

But then Jesus also says that some of the seed fell on rocky ground and after springing up it soon withered and died. This is a picture of someone who hears God’s Word and at first they believe and follow Jesus—but for some reason, they do not put down roots deeply into Jesus and his truth, and when they experience personal difficulty or opposition that comes because they are a Christian, they turn away and no longer live as his disciples.

And then, Jesus describes how some seeds fall into and area of soil where thorns are also growing. Now allow me to declare a truth that you no doubt have seen proven in your own experience.  There are some people who initially hear, receive, and believe the Word of God and the message of the cross of Jesus, and they gladly become Christians, but when the distractions of wealth, that is the excitement of “chasing the cheese” comes along, they get distracted and choked off with not just the allure of wealth, but also all of the general worries of life that are sure to come to all people who live in this fallen age.  And when those problems come, they slowly put to death the hope and joy that exists in their lives, which exists by the power of the Good News of the reign of God through Jesus Christ.

So we see a sad truth in Jesus story; most of the seed that is sown never produces fruit. In that sense, the seed by the path, the seed in the rocky soil, and the seed among thorns all belong together as “seed that is sown that ultimately proves to be unfruitful.” This is a very hard concept for us to receive, let alone understand; when God at last comes to the world through His Son, Jesus Christ, as the promised and long awaited Savior, He comes in ways that are mysterious, humble, and by the world’s estimation, weak and resistible. And wile it is true that we may refuse to listen to the Word of God, or listen and then reject it or resist it, at the end of His parable of the Sower, Jesus speaks the same urgent invitation to the crowds, who ever they may be, just as all of scripture speaks: “He who has ears, let him hear.” (13:9).

And some do hear, as I trust you are hearing the gospel truth today.  Those who hear are those who are compared to the good soil on which some of the seeds fell, and they produce great results. Jesus was speaking the truth of His ministry then, which is also the truth of His ministry and ours today.  Some people will hear the Good News of how God the King is coming to reclaim and forgive His people and ultimately His creation. Some will hear and understand, and in their understanding, which is a result of faith, they become faithful and fruitful for God; that is, they become good soil through the work of God, and they are active in His Kingdom of Grace. They are those who are truly saved, who are rightly called saints, who believe and cling to the Word of God and the message of the cross of Jesus Christ. (Talk about good works of faith)

Dear friends, those of us who have been saved by grace, through faith in the message of Jesus Christ can look within our own hearts and marvel at the fact that God has indeed saved a wretch like ourselves.  In essence, we marvel at the generosity of God.  But Jesus spoke of this didn’t He?  When the farmer was described as scattering the seeds everywhere, anyone with any experience in gardening knows that you never do that.  You must plant meticulously and choose what ground will be prepared for the harvest.  And yet here we have an extravagant God who scatters the seed everywhere; why?  Because “God is patient toward all of us, and He does not desire that any should perish, but that all should repent and receive eternal life.” [2 Peter 3:9]

So we who rest and work within the body of Christ, even here at little Trinity, rejoice in God’s liberal application of gospel seeds, because it is within that liberal net that we too were caught up by a church that by command are fishers for men.  We too responded to the call to “come if we are laboring and find rest.”  God’s willingness to cast seed everywhere shows His wide-open invitation to all men, women, and children, who are red, yellow, black and white.  And so some will come while others will refuse.  And it is within this mystery of salvation that we continue to follow Jesus as we bear our cross of His making and choosing.  And as we follow we allow the Word alone to quell all doubts and fears, and we leave the unanswered questions such as “why do some not receive Jesus” unanswered for a while, until the day at Christ return when we will not only see all things clearly but understand them as well.

Until that day, may you along with the rest of Christ’s church continue to say along with the sainted Andy Griffith, “Mmm, mmm, good Word!”  Amen!

The Cross and the Yoke!

July 6th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 4A, July 6, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” [Matthew 11:28-30]

This morning, God has chosen to reveal a great and wondrous mystery to you… if you have been worn down by life, if your labors have seemed to zap you of strength and the joy of life, come to Christ and He will give you rest.  If you seem to be trapped by life circumstances and bad choices, come to Christ and He will give you rest.  But more than that He will set you free from the strongholds of your life and transfer you from a stronghold of hopelessness and death into a stronghold of joy and eternal life.

Are you ready to experience this?  Good, then all you need do is allow Jesus to place His yoke upon you; that is you must allow His life giving and life changing Word to transform and renew your mind, and then, you will have rest for your soul.

Now, before we get started remember this one bit of advice:  As you are listening do not allow the allure of the world to take your eyes off of Christ and His cross.  What ever the world may have in abundance will be forever lost, but what ever you may lose in this world because you follow Christ, that will be added to you in abundance on the day of Jesus Christ.  You can be sure of this, because Jesus Christ your Savior, your brother, and your God has assured it through “the blood of God’s covenant (His promise) with you.”  He has, He is, and He will set you free!

The invitation: This morning, Jesus shows you that the yoke that He places on you and the cross that you are given are in fact one and the same.  Now people who have set their hopes and hearts on the promises of this world and our sinful society will at once cringe and turn away from this kind of talk; they will say, “Why would I want to follow a Savior who only promises me hardship and pain?”  But that is a defective question; it is disingenuous.  Jesus does not promise only pain.  Pain is something that everyone experiences in this world; it goes hand in hand with the disappointments of sin.  So pain is always a reality in life, along with the fact that people and life will always disappoint you, but God will never disappoint.  What ever He promises you, He seals it as fact with the great AMEN, which is the very lifeblood of His Son Jesus Christ and His cross.

Supposed Wise and intelligent men and women who focus on only this physical world can not accept this promise of God’s blessing, because they can not accept the cross; not Jesus’s cross or their own.  They are filled with their own ideas, and so God finds them already filled and satisfied, and He can give them nothing.  They are those who say, “The idea of God is dead.” But you who gather this morning, are to be like infants, because you realize that you lack everything; you know that on your own you are empty and the world and society cannot fill you.  You are the poor that mourn and are meek; you hunger and thirst for righteousness.  You who have nothing will one day, on the day of Christ be given everything by God. [Matthew 5:3-6; Philippians 3:8]  You are those who can declare with certainty that, “God is not dead.  For I have tasted His presence and He is good!”

Dear friends, please know that this invitation is universal; that is it is for everyone, everyone who is willing to come like an infant and depend on the care and promises of our Heavenly Father.  Each of you who have responded to the invitation, must now also hear of the intent of God.  God the Father desires to place upon you the yoke of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Yoke: If you find yourself drawn to Jesus with His invitation to come to Him for rest, then you have experienced the desire and power of God to draw all men unto His Son for eternal life. [John 12:31, 32] And it is that same power of God that will allow you to receive and live under the yoke of His Son that is placed upon your shoulders.  That yoke that He places upon you is faith to believe that God alone is your ever-present help; He alone is able to complete the good work of salvation and eternal life within you; and He alone will never leave nor forsake you.  The yoke that is placed upon you is meant to disconnect you from the load of guilt and fear of sin, death, and the devil, which the world gives, and instead place upon you the yoke that His Word alone places upon you; a Word that connects you to Jesus Christ. It is a yoke that always involves a strong declaration of faith in God’s presence and work in your life.  When we live under the yoke of God, we can declare happily, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him,” I also believe that in His Word and the message of the cross, God has called me to His Son, and He alone enables me to follow the way of the cross.

So what is the way of the cross?  It is the only way to find real rest; rest for this present life and the eternal one to come.  It is knowing that through the cross alone, you have a God who is for you and not against you.  It is knowing that you are God’s true child and an heir to the kingdom of heaven. [John 1:12-13; Galatians 3:26; Romans 8:17]  It is the assurance that your rest is even attended to and protected by holy angels. [Hebrews 1:14]

On the other hand, as we live our lives of faith, we acknowledge as God’s children that the high dignity of being a Christian is not fulfilled in this world; that is it is not displayed in a way that sinful flesh can understand.  Rather, the same humility and lowliness that was displayed in the life of Jesus Christ should also be displayed in a Christian’s earthly life.  And this imitation of our Lord, this bearing the burdens that God through our lives places upon us or allows to be placed upon us, is called the cross of a Christian.

Now those who reject Christ and His cross also have burdens and sorrows, but only the sufferings of Christians are called a cross.  What you dear Christian suffer as a Christian, as you live out your faith in Christ alone in this sinful world, that only can be called a cross of God.  If you follow Christ and confess the Gospel of Christ crucified, who is a stumbling block to the religious and an offense to the educated elite, you WILL receive the same treatment from the world that Christ and His dear saints before you received.

You have by faith through holy baptism, been forever connected to the cross of Jesus Christ; that is the burden He has placed upon you and it is also your own cross.  Your cross then is to be forever bound together with the Christian faith and the Church.  This is most certainly true, so true that who ever refuses to bear this cross of faith should no longer claim to be a Christian.

So, how should we view this cross that is ours to carry? Well, the truth is that if left on our own, our sinful flesh would consider this cross-bearing a burden to heavy to carry.  By your sinful nature, you are led to think that when the world mistreats you and you suffer because of your faith and desire to worship God as He leads you, you are not receiving what you should as God’s own child; as an heir to eternal life.  You may even be tempted to think that God has forgotten you or that He is against you.  But this way of thinking is a trick of the devil, and unless those kinds of thoughts are defeated and destroyed, you run the danger of loosing your faith and abandoning your eternal home in heaven. [Luke 8:13]

The only way to combat this faulty view is through God’s own means of grace.  The Word alone is able to create in us a new and clean heart; a heart that by faith understands that all things work together for our own good, because we love God and are called according to His purpose and not ours.  Scripture alone instructs us that we should not neglect the meeting of the saints, that is God’s Divine service in this place because it is there that He fills us with His gifts of faith, peace, and hope.  Scripture further instruct us that when we suffer because of our confession of faith in Christ by Word and works, the cross is for us a great testimony of the Holy Spirit’s power and work in our lives.  That is, how we live under our cross is a divine testimony to the world and the devil that we are not of this world; we belong to Christ.  Or, as St. Peter has said, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” [1 Peter 4:14]

So then, what is the purpose of the cross?  How does the cross benefit us? The cross in its simplest form is God’s way of leading Christians through this sinful world into eternal life; it is how God brings you to the place that Jesus has gone to prepare for you. [John 14:3]  It is the very thing that gives strength and proves true the words of scripture, which declare that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”  But those same scriptures also bring us strength and a proper perspective to our cross, by saying that, He who “raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present (us) to himself. [2 Corinthians 4:14]  And, that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” [2 Corinthians 4:17]

But how can we have the strength to bear our cross? God’s Word teaches us that the strength to bear the cross comes entirely from His assurance that all of our sins are truly forgiven and we have already been given eternal life.  It is only you dear Christian who can experience the promise of God’s glory in a time of trouble; it is only you who will not perish in times of danger, suffering, sickness, fear, and pain.  It is only you who will bear it because the very promise of Christ empowers your faith.  What promise is that?  The assurance that His “yoke is easy and His burden is light.”

Dear friends, what can be lighter than a burden that unburdens sinful and fearful hearts?  What is lighter than a yoke that bears the bearer of a cross?  Hear this dear Christians, Christ’s burden does not oppress, threaten, or demand a thing from you.  In fact it makes the load light and itself bears the burden along with those of us who are under the load.

Perhaps there is no greater load to carry than the load of sins past, present, and future.  “Come unto me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest.”  That is He removes that burden of sin, so that you may continue to live your life by faith in what He did for the entire world upon the cross, and for the gift that He gave to you in Holy Baptism.  You are free, forgiven, and equipped for a purpose.  That purpose is to glorify God in thought, word, and work.  On one hand you struggle under the cross of acknowledging your sin and you say along with St. Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” [v. 19]  “(Oh) wretched (person) that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  But then also with St. Paul, the truth you declare and the life you live in service to God and your neighbor declares, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [vs. 24, 25]

Dear friends, God does not want to attack or torment us, but the devil does, and he cannot stand your dependence on God’s Word and your faith in Christ.  There is nothing he hates more than our faith in God’s Word. It is only the Word of God that exposes him, and leaves him nowhere to hide. The more you are in God’s Word, the more the devil will attack you.  He will use your friends, family, employer, and even the government as tools to trick you into abandoning the promises of God and the gifts of hope and strength that God gives to you in His Divine Service here at Christ’s church.  But be of good courage and do not give an inch, because Christ fights for you, and His very Word assures you that Christ and His cross have overcome your enemies, your own grievous sins, even your own death, and especially the devil.  AMEN!