Who Is My Neighbor?

August 21st, 2016

Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 21st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words Are Important

August 15th, 2016

Twelfth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 14th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Being Made Righteous


August 8th, 2016

Eleventh Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 7th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware of a Comfortable Faith

July 31st, 2016

Tenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 31st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord: When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?  They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return.”  [Jeremiah 8:4-12]

Yes, I too must speak for the Lord.  Why do baptized Christians  not confess and then return to the LORD after they fall in sin?  Why don’t they repent?  Isn’t it simply part of the life of a Christian to turn or rather return to Jesus after a fall from grace?  This is such an important part of being a Christian that our Divine Service liturgy always starts with Confession and Absolution.  So, then why are there so many Christians who refuse to acknowledge the sin that is separating them from the forgiving love of Jesus?  I believe that it is because they have grown sinfully comfortable in the Christian faith.  I believe that they have grown comfortable within a Christianity that makes it easy to be a Christian by creed while ignoring the deed of repentance and confession.

Is there a danger in being born within a Christian family; within a Christian culture?  Yes, and here’s why…

A person whose been born and baptized into a Christian family and culture is a person who has been received into the church, which is the body of Christ within a sinful and fallen world.  They are in the same situation as a person who has physically been born into a wealthy family and assured of an inheritance that’s worth a great fortune.  And so they may begin to feel that they are entitled to their sinful behavior because they are covered by grace.

A person born and then baptized into the church is one of the many “heirs of God” with the right to an inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled; an inheritance that is reserved and just waiting for them in heaven.  This inheritance even includes the right to be a child of God, to be able to turn to Him in days of trouble, and to be assured that God will see to it that all things will work together for their good.

But there is an important difference between our heavenly inheritance and an earthly inheritance.

In regards to an earthly inheritance a person has legal rights no matter how badly they act.  But to be an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus is something no one can ever demand as their right, regardless of their actions.  “For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.”  [Hebrews 3:14]  You see, this heavenly and eternal legacy can only be taken out by repentance and faith.

So, the danger of being born and raised within a Christian family and community is that we will become use to our status under grace.  That is…

We may begin to take God’s grace and our status in Christ for granted.

Many times, when baptized Christians fall into this status of being lost within the church, it can almost always be traced back to an unhealthy familiarity with all things “Christian” or an unnatural comfortableness in their faith. They begin to feel that while going to church and being in the Word of God are important, these are things that are not urgent right now.  After all, the church has always been there and it always will be, so, when they are ready to come back to church, they think that they can pick up where they left off.  So they see no risk in living their lives without the blessing of God and the strength He gives within His Word and Sacraments.

It was the same way with the people of Jerusalem in our Gospel reading; people who didn’t realize that the Son of God, the very source of the peace and fulfillment they were seeking within their lives and community was in fact among them in the person of Jesus Christ.  They refused to hear Him calling out to them; seeking to gather them as a mother hen gathers her chicks.   They refused to hear the warning that very soon it would be to late to repent, that is, to late to turn to their Savior who alone can forgive their sins and make them right with God.

Just as the very temple would be destroyed and taken from them, so would their very lives as God’s stones of judgment and punishment fell upon them.  But if they would hear Jesus speak to them in that very moment it would not be to late to repent and be saved.  But they could not hear because they would not hear.  And those who refuse to repent cannot be forgiven.

While the call of Jesus for sinners to repent is still as fresh and new today as it was then, there is one difference.  Jesus no longer calls nations to repent but instead, He calls individuals, people within the nations to turn to Him and be saved.

The truth is, no nation has a most beloved status in the eyes of God, not even Israel. And no one can afford to procrastinate, or put off their repentance and right relationship with God until a time that they feel is right.

Not even we Christians have a valid reason to believe that we have a special privilege to sin against the grace of God.  The people of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus, took it for granted that He would perform the same mighty miracles for them that He did for other towns; they thought that way because Jesus was one of them.  They expected the miracles, but they would not give Jesus their faith.  Sadly Jesus compared them to Israel in the time of the prophets, who would not repent and believe, which then caused God to pass them by and instead give His help to a people who did not know God.

Such a spirit of procrastination, of putting off for tomorrow what God says should be addressed right this moment, usually has dire consequences.  The classic example in the Bible is the people of Israel who became the chosen people of God; they possessed all of God’s promises as they were being drawn by God out of captivity in Egypt, but they still perished in the desert because of their unrepentant hearts and unbelief.

The same tragedy was repeated in the time of Jesus in His home communities of: Nazareth, Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida.  Jesus said that it would be more tolerable for the evil port cities of Tyre and Sidon and the wicked city of Sodom in the day of Judgment, since they would have repented if they had been able to see the same acts of God that they were seeing.

Jerusalem suffered the fate that Jesus predicted.  Not one stone was left upon another.  And the proud and self-centered Jews who, thought they were children of Abraham, because of their unbelief were broken off as dry branches from the noble olive tree of God’s people.

The early Christian church of the first century was very much aware that the same fate could befall them, so they vigorously taught the baptized that any one of them could be cut off from Christ at any time if they did not hold firm in repentance to their faith in Christ and the mercy of God.

They knew that their lamp stand could be removed from them if they did not value and hold onto the light by repenting and turning to Christ.  They knew that it was possible to have the name of being alive and yet be dead, and that it was therefore high time to wake up and strengthen that which remained and which was near death.  And to awaken meant to be concerned about the Word of God.

Today we still have the same privilege that Jerusalem had in the day of her visitation, the day when we read that Jesus taught them every day in the sanctuary.   Oh that we would have that same hunger for the Word of God that the people had then.  Oh that we would see the joy to be found in God’s visitation in our hearts, homes, and church.  Oh that we would be cut to the very soul by the tears of Jesus who weeps for the lost, because they will not turn to His cross in repentance and receive the blessing of true joy that is theirs through the waters of their baptism.

I pray that each of us would truly know and receive the gifts that God is so richly lavishing upon us this morning in Jesus Christ.  I pray that each of us would understand the beauty that is found in agreeing with and returning to God, and then finding that His grace really is sufficient to turn us away from all things that are not resting in His will as expressed by His living Word, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

May God continue to open our eyes and hearts to see Christ’s passion that was first expressed in His tears, which were in fact expressions of His love for sinners who He desperately desired to save.  And it was that same passion that led Him to give up His life upon the cross in agony… for you!

Oh friends, beware of a comfortable faith that no longer is held captive by Christ’s passion.  I pray that you will allow the Holy Spirit to always lead you along the way of repentance and forgiveness.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!

Get Smart!

July 24th, 2016

Ninth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 24th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”  [Luke 16:9]

Many people tend to be shocked and even confused by the parable of the unfaithful steward.  The story is about a man who was wasting his employer’s goods, and when he got caught and given his termination notice, he was smart enough to make his unemployed life better.  And how did he do this?  By wasting even more of his employer’s goods and then dragging other debtors down with him by cooking the books and then ultimately hearing his employer say that he had acted wisely.

So wait… is Jesus actually asking us to be like this?  Well no not really, but in a way… yes!  You see…

In order to understand this parable, we need to first understand that not all of Jesus parables are alike.

Some of Jesus’ parables teach us to “go and do likewise,” or to copy the example we are given, as in the case of the Good Samaritan or the tax collector who humbled himself in the temple by confessing his sinfulness.  But Jesus does not always use this type of teaching within His parables.  You see, Jesus finds the illustrations for His stories in everyday life and then He sketches everyday people exactly as they are within His stories.  Think of the man who found a treasure in the field of another person and then acted deceptively in order to secure both the field and the treasure for himself.  And then, there’s the parable of the persistent widow and the judge who loved neither God nor man.

What we should remember is that Jesus uses these examples of everyday people from a sinful fallen world of His day, to illuminate something that should also take place in the lives of Christians as they seek to further the spreading of God’s kingdom through the proclamation of the Gospel. So Jesus is saying that it’s not a matter of acting like these characters, but of grasping the motivation behind the action, and then applying that wisdom to our own lives and our relationship with God.

In this instance Jesus praises the man because he had acted wisely.  So where was his wisdom?

The man knew that he had no way of escape.  He had no illusions.  He knew that he was going to be fired, and then become unemployed and homeless.  And because of this reality he was certain what he needed to do to ensure his security.

But people who confess to be Christians sometimes do just the opposite.  They know that this broken world is not all that there is; they know that something eternal and supremely greater follows this sinful existence.  Yet they harbor the illusion that some things aren’t  really as big of a deal as God’s Word and the preacher make them out to be, and in the end, they tell themselves that everything will be ok.  And so they procrastinate.  They put off dealing with the eternal consequences that come with persistently ignoring God’s warning.  They continue to live a sinful life that they know will put their own salvation in jeopardy.  They refuse to acknowledge that in regards to their salvation it is a matter of dead seriousness and that one day soon, they will stand before God’s judgment in everything.  And so the wisdom found in our Epistle lesson becomes a dreadful warning: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” [1 Corinthians 10:12]

Dear friends, it is God’s desire that true Wisdom, which comes through Christ alone would dwell in you the baptized richly.  For you see, this is the only way that we can make sense of this parable.  In verse 9, Jesus gives us the key to this wisdom when He says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth.”  What is this unrighteous wealth?

The unrighteous wealth is any thing of value that we acquire in this sinful world.  And that includes all of your time, talent, and treasures.  Treasures includes all of your money and worldly possessions.  Here God’s wisdom alone allows us to see things here in our lives as He sees them, as they really are.  Here, God’s wisdom is teaching us that it is useless for us to claim the eternal life of a baptized child of God, if we are still trying to hide, horde, or exclude some of our stuff from His control and use. You see, there is no room for compromise; you cannot be both a friend of God and of the world.  You can’t serve two masters; you just can’t!  It will be a futile exercise if you try to withhold some of your worldly possessions from the sight and knowledge of God.  This kind of thinking and action, will only lead to the loss of your eternal, true life along with all of the treasures that you never really were able to keep any how.  In another parable that Jesus told, this type of person is called “You fool!”

A fool is someone who will not receive the LORD as their lamp in the darkness of this sinful world.   You can’t receive this kind of wisdom through any course of study or the granting of a degree from some ivory tower university.  This kind of wisdom comes only from God and only through experience, the experience of knowing and trusting in His Word.

In His Word and in the experiences of your life, God proves Himself to be true and perfect.  “This God—His way is perfect; the Word of the LORD proves true (as you live your life trusting in the promises of His Word and the presence of His Spirit in all aspects of your life).  He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.” [2 Samuel 22:31]

So in order to correctly understand Jesus’ parable today, we must concentrate on one point, and that is the illustration of the dishonest or unrighteous manager or steward. This man, as Jesus portrays him, is only one of the uncountable number of sinful people who have come and gone in this sinful world.  We could say that he is typical of everyone who does not know or care to know their true Master, Creator, and Savior. So within His parable, Jesus is holding up this man before our eyes today, and He wants us, the baptized Christians to see what a completed unrighteous person looks like; He wants us to see in this man his complete confidence in the resources of this sinful world, and then He wants to inspire us to do the complete opposite with those same worldly goods.

When Jesus opens our eyes to see this necessity, He has then helped us to see our own fully developed righteousness, or an opposite mindset that sees all treasures of this world as being simply a means to help build and further the Kingdom of God within a fallen and sinful world. He opens our eyes to understand that…

That which is wise and right before God often looks like foolishness to the world.

To live in order to serve; to know that one is simply a steward who does not have any real ownership over stuff; to risk persecution and ridicule; to dare to trust in God in all danger, and at last choosing to suffer martyrdom rather than being unfaithful to God—all this friends seems like foolishness to the world.  But really this way of thinking and living implies wisdom, realism, and a true sense of right and wrong, “For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off, when God takes away his life?” [Job 27:8]

This morning, Jesus says to us, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”  Jesus has now shown us how the people of this sinful world use their time, talent and treasure to make friends and even greater security for themselves.  And now, He orders us to do the same thing but to make our use of these things to do the very opposite.

Let’s recap what Jesus is really saying:  The unrighteous or unsaved people of this world are stewards or managers, and we are too; they are entrusted with property and assets—so are we; the things the unsaved collect and use are really unrighteous and meaningless to God and His offer of salvation—and so are the things we have; the unsaved world makes friends with their stuff—and so should we; the lives of the unsaved comes to and end, and so do our lives.

You see friends, Jesus is allowing us to see that our lives run in a parallel with the unsaved of this world, that is, until in a flash, both the lives of the unsaved and the saved meet very different ends.  It is at the time of death that these parallel lives are no longer parallel, but suddenly they go in completely different directions.

And it all hinges on the friends that they made.

The lives of the saved, of the good and righteous stewards burst off into eternal dwellings; into a place prepared for them by their true friends, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Three friends yes, but One God!  You see, it is God alone who is your one and only true friend.  And it is Jesus alone who has promised you that He has gone ahead of you to prepare a place in the paradise He has both restored and prepared for you!

Dear friends, to the world our lives may seem no better than their own, in fact they could make a good case that they are better off.  They strive to live in luxury and many times they will actually achieve that goal by living for themselves and taking advantage of everything this world has to offer, even other people.  But we know a truth that they will never know unless they allow God to change them as He has changed us through the truth of His Word and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

To those who are perishing, the cross of Jesus is foolishness.  To those who are dying in their sins and place their hope only in the things of this world, baptism is foolish because it is simply water and some words.  To those who hunger for something greater than themselves and think that the treasures of this world will satisfy their hunger, the Lord’s supper is simply a small bite of stale bread and a sip of simple wine.  But to we who are being saved by faith and grace that comes to us through the message and power of the cross of Jesus, these things are the very wisdom of God.  For we know, that it is the very power of God that brings eternal life.  And we know that it is the Word of God that distinguishes baptism from a mere washing; it is the Word that distinguishes the Lord’s Supper from a mere snack and constitutes both of these as sacraments that give faith to believe in the forgiveness that they offer.

This morning, Jesus implores each of us to get smart; to receive the Wisdom of God just as He offers it.  He asks you to see that everything in this world is temporary and will pass away.  He asks you to see that these things here are simply tools that you are to use to further the proclamation of His kingdom to the unsaved so that they too may experience God’s love and forgiveness and look forward to a place prepared for them also in God’s heaven.  If you have been led to see this truth and agree with it then you too have become wise.  I pray that this is so for you, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Beware of False Prophets, Indeed!

July 17th, 2016

Eighth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  [Matthew 7:15]

The reign of heaven has broken into our world in power through Jesus Christ.  And now, our Lord Jesus is in the process of bringing His Father’s saving righteousness to the world. Nevertheless, Christ and His church are still being attacked by enemies both from outside and from within His church; enemies who do not want God’s true Word proclaimed.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus simply came out of heaven in power and destroyed the enemies of His church?  But that is not how God has chosen to operate in this sinful age; no, God’s reign is coming to us every day in hidden ways, in an unexpected forms, that to this sinful world seem weak and meaningless. The ultimate expression of this message is the cross of Jesus, where God defeated sin, death, and the devil.  Jesus’ disciples, you and me, will have to carry our crosses too.  Jesus drank from the cup of suffering in a way we could never fully understand, but He also gives each of us who are baptized in to His death a cup of suffering that we too at times, must drink from as we follow him.

None of us enjoys suffering; we spend most of our lives trying to avoid it, and yet Jesus says that suffering will come our way if we are truly on the narrow way of salvation and eternal life.  But isn’t there a way to avoid the suffering?  The false prophets would like us to think so!  They offer you a path opposite of Jesus narrow way, a very broad path, which they promise will supply the faithful with glory and prosperity right now in this sinful age.

So today, we will examine two ways of life, and two different kinds of prophets.  One way is narrow and it is called the path of the cross and repentance, and the other way is broad, and it is called the way of glory.  Which will you follow?  How can you tell the true prophet of the narrow way from the false prophets of the broad way?  Well, first let’s understand what God’s word has to say about prophets.

A prophet is a man who speaks on behalf of God and at God’s request.

He has a message to bring that comes from God, and it is the prophet’s business to see to it that the message is given clearly.  It usually takes a good amount of courage on the part of the prophet to proclaim the message, because it’s not just in Jerusalem where the prophets are harassed and even killed by the very people God has sent the prophet to speak His true Word to.

A false prophet is a person who speaks about God and the will of God as though he knew all about these things, but in reality he does not, and in fact he is actually leading the people who listen astray.  “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name,” says the Lord through Jeremiah, “I did not send them nor did I command them or speak to them.  They are prophesying to you… the deceit of their own minds.” [Jeremiah 14:14]

“And my people love to have it so,” is the statement God declares in another place. [Jeremiah 5:31]  The falsifying of God’s message is usually in the direction of making it say what the people want to hear and not what God says they must hear. “If they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed My Words to My people, and they would have turned from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.” [Jeremiah 23:22]

But it is not just in the Old Testament that we find mention of false prophets.  In our second reading [Acts 20:27–38]  and our Gospel lesson [Matthew 7:15–23], both St. Paul and our Lord Jesus warn us directly about them and speak of them as something that is to be driven out of the Christian church.  They are rightly referred to as hungry wolves disguised as gentle lambs.

Here is an important truth worth remembering: Since the coming of Jesus, God no longer speaks to us through direct revelation; in other words, don’t look for a new message to be proclaim.  What God would say to our generation is spoken through the Word and can be found there and only there.  The same responsibility that lay upon the prophets rests now on those who are properly trained and called preachers and pastors of God’s Word.  For pastors, it is a matter of faithfully and diligently speaking the message that God wishes us to proclaim.

Both Christ and the apostles warn us, that we the redeemed sinners who are gathered in Christ’s church have a strange eagerness to believe in false teachers who preach another message of prosperity; a message about a false Christ, and another false Gospel.  God’s Word says that, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” [2 Timothy 4:3]

False teachers sadly seem to always “have many followers,” [2 Peter 2:2], so the size of a congregation is no indication that the true Word of God is being proclaimed from their pulpits.

It is on the broad way of glory and prosperity that sinners will discover when it is to late that it’s path was in reality the broad road to Hell.

Jesus says to us this morning, that it is from the fruits of their preaching and teaching that you will know the false prophets.  So what is their fruit?  Well lets hold it up to the light of God and let Jesus show us.

These wolves in sheep’s clothing love to declare that God does not want us to suffer, so if you are suffering it is simply because you have not followed His will.  Now lucky for you, this glory preaching, false teaching phony prophet will tell you how to live your life so you can reclaim the prosperity they say God wants to give you.  Once you are comfortably under the false prophets control and traveling on their glory road they will also proudly proclaim to you that God also does not want you to be poor or sick, and if you are it is simply because you lack the right kind of faith.  And yes, you guessed it, they will gladly preach to you and teach you about their kind of faith.  I find it fascinating that there version of faith always involves some aggressive form of tithing and “giving until it hurts!”

You see dear friends the wrong unscriptural human centered prophets always start with what is seen and perceivable with our senses, and then from that perspective they proclaim a false understanding of the unseen spiritual reality of God.  The false prophets always start from what is on earth and then they lead you to look to Heaven.  Or another way to say this is that they believe that one may know the Creator by first celebrating creation.  But the correct, scriptural, God centered answer always starts with the hidden God and it turns over all questions and mysteries to Him.  Notice, I did not say the unknown God, but only the hidden God.  While God may be unseen he is very much known, and we all may know Him equally through His Son, Jesus Christ, the very visible and powerful Word of God!

Jesus Christ is both the true message of God and the true messenger of God.

The message of Jesus is always one of repentance; of turning to God through the narrow way of the cross, which also implies a turning away from the way of the world and it’s false promises of prosperity and glory.  In other words, the only message that a true prophet of God must preach is one that insists that God is right and we are wrong.  God’s narrow way of salvation is the only way to paradise and any other message or way is not only wrong but it consists of the very sin that separates us from God’s redemption for sinners, which is only obtained through the cross of Jesus Christ!

Dear friends, there is only one defense against the deceptions of the false prophets: the Word of God.  And so it is necessary to have such an intimate knowledge with the whole Word of God that you can discern God’s truth from the errors that are peddled by the false prophets.  The truth is that God does not wish that any sinner should perish, but that all of us would turn, repent, seek the cross of Christ that alone pays for our sins, and then follow the narrow way of Jesus until one day we are at home in paradise.

You started out on this narrow way of salvation when you were baptized.  It was there where you were saved by grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone, all because of Jesus Christ alone!  Christ’s true church and His true messengers are called to continually feed your faith with this very same message.  They are commissioned to encourage you to confess your sins as illuminated by Scripture so that they may do what the Holy Spirit has empowered them to do… absolve you of those sins.  It is this message of repentance and forgiveness that the true prophets are commissioned to proclaim and no other!  The true prophets must not deviate from it, because then they would be leading you down the broad false way that ends in eternal suffering.

Dear friends, who do you say Jesus is?  The false prophets and glory preachers will tell you that He is the means to your blessing and prosperity here in this life, and then only as an after thought will they address the eternal life to come.  This is a message that always finds its origin from within a sinful heart.  But the message of the cross and the constant source of hope and faith for sinners is that Jesus alone is your Savior and God who promises and abundance of glory and prosperity not here in this sinful world, but there in your eternal home which Jesus has prepared and has waiting for you in heaven.

So this morning, I proclaim to you that you must stay on the narrow way of the cross; a way that will surely pass through both suffering and happiness.  It is a way that is hidden from the eyes of false prophets.  It is a path that may take you through both sickness and disease but it is leading you to eternal healing and restoration.  It is the way of the cross; a cross that tests everything!  And the way of the cross always ends in God’s love and  power, as it passes through suffering, humility, and shame in the eyes of the world.  But where it ends makes all the difference.  Oh friends, nothing is worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us, that is waiting for us on the other side in God’s paradise which has been prepared for you!  For you see, “now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” [1 John 3:2]

May God keep each of us on this narrow way and defend us from both the false prophets and their teachings.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!

With Jesus, A Little Is a Lot!

July 10th, 2016

Eighth Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 10th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

Our Gospel lesson this morning joins Jesus and His disciples after a successful missionary outing.  Each group was returning to Jesus with reports about how God had proven His faithfulness by providing for all of their needs, and even validating their message of forgiveness by healing the sick and casting out demons.  It was a wonderful time!  But it was also a time of emotional pain and disappointment; the kind that comes from devastating news.

Just as they were finishing up their reports, they were told that not far from them, King Herod had beheaded John the Baptist, a man that all of them including Jesus, had grown to love and admire.  Now, as Jesus looked around at each face of his friends and students, he came to the conclusion that He and they needed time alone; they needed to get away from the crowds, in order to rest, reflect, and learn.

So they left the crowds and headed to the opposite shore of Lake Galilee. St. John tells us that they had a little bit of  “alone time” with Jesus on the grassy slope of a large hillside, until Jesus looked off into the distance and pointed out a very large mass of people that was making its way towards their now, not so secret location; the crowd had found them again!

So for the rest of the day, Jesus stayed with the people teaching them and curing their illnesses.  As their true “Good Shepherd” Jesus was tending to their spiritual and physical needs.  And as the day was drawing to a close, and the disciples own stomachs began to grumble and growl with hunger they reminded Jesus of the hour (the dinner hour), and they began to plead with Him to send the people away, because they were hungry!  But Jesus answered them and said, “You give them something to eat.”  ‘What?  How!?  Even if we had that huge amount of money, where would we find a place so close that could even provide that much food?’  Where indeed!  There were about 5,000 in that group, and that estimate included only the men in the crowd; when you include women and children, the true size of the crowd was probably closer to about 11,000 people!  That’s enough to fill the San Diego Sports Arena!!

In my mind’s eye, I can see Jesus smiling and slowly looking around at the twelve stern and concerned faces, amazed at their lack of faith.

What a sad vignette.  This is the picture of a congregation of Christians that’s tired, hungry and frustrated by a lack of members and resources.  But we can learn something from this story; something eternal and life changing; something that just might reinvigorate life in our own ministries here and within our communities.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus has just administered a “Pop Quiz” designed to help the apostles along with us learn two things:

1.      What the true quality of our faith in God is.  And…
2.      The truth that God wants us to experience His faithfulness.

Once we have learned these two lessons, we will then also discover these two truths:

1.      With God, a little is a lot.
2.      To Jesus, there’s no such thing as leftovers!

Like the apostle’s, we all must discover what the quality of our own faith is-and Jesus used just one challenge to help the apostles discover the quality of theirs.

A challenge is like a riddle; you know there’s a way to solve it, you just have to figure out how!  Notice that Jesus didn’t ask, “Can you give them something to eat?” but instead he commanded them to do it by saying, “You give them something to eat.” A  response to this type of teaching requires a lot of thought and even discussion on the part of the students, and in regards to the teacher, He better know the correct answer to the riddle before he issues the challenge!

Now it’s easy for us modern day Christians to be judgmental of the apostles.  After all, we have the luxury of looking backwards into time.  It’s easy for us to wonder why they so quickly forgot the Canaan wedding miracle where Jesus turned water into wine.  We could remind them of Jairus’ daughter and even the widow of Nain’s son who both were raised from the dead.  Certainly we would have faired better than they, with our perspective of time, or would we?

Well this morning, I would like to ask you a question, and I want you to think for a moment before answering it: “What is the biggest problem, our own test that’s facing our congregation today?”  (Pause) Many might quickly answer that it is a lack of resources or a lack of members that’s holding us back.  But I submit to you, that the biggest problem facing the church today is not a lack of resources or church members, but rather it’s the same problem that the apostles had, a lack of faith.  And…

To our lack of faith Jesus asks us to report what little we have on hand.

To the 12 apostles Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have?  Go and see.”  What did the apostles report to Jesus?  “We have 5 loaves and two fish.”  St. John’s gospel records that they finished their report with these words, “But what are they for so many?”

What’s the first question someone will ask when a necessary expense request is brought into almost any church council, “Where’s the money coming from?” But I submit to you that that’s the wrong question. The only question we should ask is: Is this God’s will for our church? And if it is His will, shouldn’t we trust Him to provide what is needed?  Like the apostles, our faith many times, even with the advantage and perspective of time is still very small.  But what is it that Christ said? “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” And we would add (if it is in keeping with God’s will). [Matthew 17:20-21]

What we must remember is that just as Jesus tested the faith of the apostles, He also tests our faith as well, by putting us in difficult situations with no easy answers. Why?  So that we can learn what the quality of our own faith is.  After asking and waiting so long, do you still trust Him to find you a job?  Do you trust Him to help repair a broken relationship?  Do you trust him to overcome your illness or disease?  Do you trust Him to replace your depression with passion and joy?  Do you believe that He will bless and strengthen our church, which is His church? You see, it’s during times like these, when prayers seem to go unanswered, that we may become frustrated, just as the apostles were. However, frustration is never what God wants us to feel! The faithful disciple will trust that God has answered their prayer, but it can only be experienced in His time.  The apostles fell short because they allowed their faith to be weakened by their own limited resources instead of seeking God’s limitless resources.

Both the apostles and even us today, seem to want God to work according to what we want instead of what God wants.  But in the midst of our worry and concern we hear similar words that Jesus spoke to address His disciples concerns, “Have the people sit down.”   I wonder what the disciples were thinking after he said that!  I can hear it in my mind: “What is he doing?  Why is He having all these people sit down as if their going to dine on this little bit of food?  Is he going to make them watch us eat our dinner?”  The truth is, sometimes we need to just sit down, relax, pray and wait on the Lord.  Sometimes we must simply learn to be willing to set aside our worries and concerns and simply wait for Jesus.

And so they did just that, they waited, they listened, they watched and then they learned and remembered that…

God wants to bless us by allowing us to experience His faithfulness!

Our Lord once said that “What is impossible with people is in fact possible with God.”  (Luke 18:27)  And now the God-man Jesus Christ demonstrates that truth by taking a few loaves and 2 fish and miraculously making it fill the bellies of over 11,000 people!  Only one person could do that … the sinless Son of God; the one who also followed His humiliating suffering and death with His exalting and miraculous resurrection from the dead to gain forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life for all of us; even for you!

Those who witnessed and personally benefited from Jesus’ feeding miracle, and we along with them who have believed by faith and benefited from His miraculous resurrection, joyfully realize and gratefully admit that all things do in deed work together for the good of God’s children and His church, only because we are called according to His purpose! [Romans 8:28]  And what is that purpose?  Well, the other three Gospels augment verse 11 by stating that Jesus had the apostles acting as waiters, by bringing food out to the people in baskets, all 11,000 of them.  The apostles were tired and they were hungry, but here they were in total amazement and invigorated with a new vitality as they partook in a miracle and served Jesus by serving the people who didn’t yet know Jesus!

Dear friends, God’s desire, His central concern after our own salvation is that as Christ’s disciples, you and me, should be continually working with Jesus to seek out and save the lost!

As I stated earlier, this message now leaves us with two eternal truths and they are: First, with Jesus, a little is a lot. The disciples’ reluctance to wait for Jesus to attend to the crowds was not really based on their concern for the people, but rather on their own tired bodies and empty stomachs.  While they knew the people must be fed, they could not see how what little they had could be used for that.  So they quit; they gave up and asked the Lord to bless their failure.  But Jesus wanted to do so much more with them, and He wants to do so much more with us!  If we will only trust in His promise to provide for our every need, then we will discover as the apostles did that day, that Jesus will provide all that we need as we follow Him.

And finally, I promised you a second truth, and it’s this, there are no leftovers with Jesus! Have you ever wondered why Jesus had the disciples gather up all of the remaining loaves and fish with 12 baskets?    May I suggest, and this is only a guess, that it was because those little baskets were intended by Jesus to be their lunch boxes, which Jesus Himself ensured were filled so that they could in-turn, each eat and be filled.

Friends, Jesus was faithful to provide for them, but He did it after they served their community; but what about Jesus?  Wasn’t He hungry as well?  Well sure He was, but may I also suggest that Jesus expected the Twelve to share their abundance with him?  Maybe 10% from each apostle?  Wow what a concept!  Friends, Jesus still pours his abundance out to us today, and He expects us to remember him in our giving to the needy, to the support of the church and with our own personal service to our congregation and the community we are located in.  May God help us to remember these lessons and believe in the miraculous real presence of Jesus that is still with us and teaching us today!  I ask this in Jesus name, AMEN!

We Need The Ten Commandments

July 3rd, 2016

Seventh Sunday After Trinity-HL, July 3rd, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

Isn’t it true to say that one of the characteristics of a baptized born-again Christian is that we desperately want to please our Creator?  Don’t we struggle to keep the Law of God, the Ten Commandments?  Sometimes we do well at this and other times we fail.  But through it all, we know we have grace, the unmerited love and kindness of God, which was won for us by Jesus Christ.

But sometimes we may misuse this wonderful gift of grace by mistreating God’s Law in two ways.  First, we can develop a spiritually unhealthy pride in how well we keep the Law of God, and second we may become flippant with the law of God and our own sinful choices, simply because we are covered and protected by God’s grace.

The Pharisees were certainly not flippant with the law of God.

The Pharisees had made a profession out of keeping the outward appearance of complete obedience to the Law of God.  They radiated an aura of holiness and superiority.  The entire religious system of the Jews had gone from being a nation of people waiting for and proclaiming the coming of the Savior of Israel to a system of laws, rules, and regulations which were tightly controlled, taught, and enforced by the religious elite, the Pharisees.

Now don’t get me wrong, love for God was present in their teachings, but it was a love that was tightly regulated and compelled by a fear of God and His religious leaders.  Fear of the Creator is a healthy thing for creatures like us to have, but only when it is properly balanced with a natural and strong love for the Creator; a love that can only come from and be given from the Creator Himself.  This type of love is what Jesus taught as Agape or heavenly born love.  Where there is Agape love, love from the Creator, then creatures like ourselves thrive, because faith and trust in the love of God abounds.

But when the fear of God begins to disappear, the result is the opposite of the Pharisees false sense of pride; opposite yes, but just as deadly.

The second way we can choose to mishandle the Law of God then, is with a flippant or nonchalant attitude.

It goes like this: “Yes, I know that the Ten Commandments are important, but I am not a Jew, I am a Christian who is covered by grace.  My sins are taken care of, so I just live my life one day at a time without getting all hung up on the Law of God.”

And to this flippant attitude, St. Paul says, “(Oh) What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Do you understand where Paul is leading you?  He is trying to get you back to a right relationship with God by restoring a proper attitude of respect that all redeemed creatures must have towards their Creator and His law.  Respect is simply a divinely instilled balance of both fear and love for God.  We should fear and love God so that we understand what it means to be baptized into Christ Jesus, baptized into His death upon the cross.  St. Paul is teaching us that we need to understand that through the power of God our sinful natures not only died with Christ upon the cross but we were also laid dead with Him within the tomb.  Why?  So that Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too, in our new redeemed, baptized, and obedient nature might rise as well.  And so by faith, we understand that one day, we too will be raised into a new life perfected by God, as we live out our lives with Jesus for eternity within God’s Paradise, which Jesus restored.

You see, because you are baptized, you are not your own; you have been purchased with a great price, which is the life blood of Jesus Christ.  You have been redeemed from the power of sin, death, and the devil, and filled with the Spirit of God.

Today, Jesus speaks a truth that only his true disciples will understand; it is a truth that allows us to correctly understand the Law of God, and through that understanding we are completely emptied of our pride and made ready to receive the life changing Gospel, which fills us with the love of God and a certainty that our sins really are forgiven through the work of Jesus upon the cross; a work which alone restores us and brings us back to a right relationship of fear, love and trust with our Creator.

Today Jesus proclaims this very important truth: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

What does Jesus mean when He says that He has come to fulfill the Law?  Is He simply saying that because of Him the Law can’t hurt us anymore because He satisfied its demands for us?  Well yes, that’s part of it, but there is so much more for us within the work of Jesus.

Think of the Law of God and all of the Old Testament as a serving cup.  It was all that was written concerning the life, work, and ministry of the Messiah who would come and restore God’s people of faith.  And now, He has come, and He has done all that was declared He would do; but never forget who He did it for; He did it for sinners, He did it for you!  So again, think of the Law of God as a serving cup, or a chalice that is filled with all of Jesus’ work and promises which are recorded and given to sinners within the gospels and the entire New Testament.

These are the things that bring and give Jesus to you.  So do you see, you can’t have one without the other; you can’t have the contents without the cup!  And what good is the cup if it is empty?  As we drink the gospel, we also drink from the cup of the Old Testament.  It is the gospel that gives us a new obedience to not only want to keep the Law of God, but it also gives us the ability to keep it.  And when we fail, and we do and we will, we are given the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, which is ours through Jesus Christ.

Now here is where you will see how Jesus fulfillment of the Law and Prophets not only sets you free from the bondage and condemnation of the Law, but it also invites you into that fulfillment of the Law as a participant.

The Bible teaches us that all men have sinned, “None is righteous, no, not one; … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And this is because our very nature, our inner self contains something that naturally rises up against God.  The Bible calls it “the flesh” and says that it can never be subject to the law of God. [Romans 8:7]

And still God’s law remains.  It does not care that our sin prevents us from keeping it, but rather it just insists that you do it.  Another way to say this is that the Law of God tells us who we must be if we want to stand in the presence of our perfect Creator.  The law demands that we be perfect because God is perfect.

So you see, Jesus is very serious when He insists that no one can get around the demands of the law of God.  Jesus’ Gospel doesn’t get rid of the law but rather He teaches that He was the only one who could perfectly fulfill it, and that He did that very thing for you!  When Jesus rebuked the additions that the Pharisees had made to God’s law, He did that because even those additions fell short of God’s perfection, which the Law demanded.  Jesus said that His disciples would not enter the kingdom of God unless their righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees.  No, Jesus had not come to get rid of the law.  Not even a jot or tittle of it.  All of the law is good; it comes from God.  And because all of the Law is good, we should never think that we can pick and choose which laws we think are most important.  “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of it all.” [James 2:10]

So who can be saved?  The disciples asked that question in their day.  And Jesus answered: “With men it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.” [Mark 10:26]  Paul puts it this way: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: (By) sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” [Romans 8:3]  Once again, we are face to face with the fact that redemption, our salvation is completely beyond us and wholly a work of Christ.  You see, in our baptism, Jesus has solved our lack of righteousness, by covering us with His own.  This is the basis on which our entire Christian faith stands and rests upon.

Whoever believes in Jesus is free from the condemnation of the law.  In spite of your many sins you can be a child of God.  But you aren’t free from what the Bible speaks of as your service of righteousness to God and your neighbor, or your obligation to keep God’s law.

You were once a servant of sin, before you were baptized, but now you have become a “servant of righteousness.” [Romans 6:18]   By the Spirit of God, you are now enabled to use God’s law as a sort of policeman over your soul and a judge over your flesh, but not your spirit, because that is new and free since your baptism.  Everyday your baptized nature is reminded in various ways of the same challenge that God first spoke to Cain: “If you do well, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  [Genesis 4:7]  For you dear Christian, the commandments have become a useful aid to help you remember the difference between right and wrong, and then by God’s Spirit, to overcome evil with Christ’s goodness.

So remember this, you who have been baptized and believe in the work of Jesus; you are not alone, for you see, you possess the Spirit of God who lives within you.  And when you “walk by the Spirit” so that it is Jesus who is at work within you, then the demands of the law have been fulfilled. [Galatians 5:16, 17]

But also remember dear baptized ones, you have both the Spirit and your own flesh to deal with, so in this life, there will always be a clash and constant battle between the two.  So we must remember that the fulfillment of the law will never be complete in this life, and that it can never be through the keeping of the law that we are made right and acceptable to God.  But rather it is entirely because God came to you through His Son Jesus Christ and did for us what we could not do ourselves.  And where we have Jesus, we will always have faith, forgiveness and love.  Oh yes, and we are also guaranteed eternal life.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Where Is Your Home?

June 26th, 2016

Fifth Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 26th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

Lord Jesus, You have said, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” [Luke 16:10] In these Words you teach us that you desire that our conduct within our earthly lives should reflect our higher and greater heavenly calling that you have given to us within the holy waters of our baptism. Help us O Lord, so that we will not turn away from the truth that the mirror of your Word shows us, which we will now hear.  If we discover Your word condemns us, save us and prevent us from trying to save ourselves! Help us to remember that we should judge ourselves now in your Word, so that You will not have to condemn us later. By Your Holy Spirit teach us to regret the misery of our sinfulness now so that we may rejoice in the blessed gift of a new and forgiven life in eternity.  Help us to humble ourselves here so we might be exalted there. Help us to weep here so that we may laugh there. So now we ask O Lord that You make Your word a taste of life for each of us. Make it medicine for the sick, strength for the weak, and a cover for the strong. Hear us, O Jesus, for the sake of Your holy, saving name. Amen.

Here’s a question that you may have been asked by someone before, “Are you born again?”

How did you answer?  If you’ve been baptized, the answer is of course a resounding “Yes!”  But how can you answer so confidently?  Now before you give an answer, let’s all of us remember that being “Born” or being “Born-Again,” is something that we played no part in.  Life is always God’s to give and to take away.  So keeping this in mind, I believe the question and the answer should point our hearts and minds towards the source of our “rebirth” and the instrument that was used.

The source of rebirth is God and the instrument or means of that rebirth is the Word of God, which is normally first given to a person through the sacrament of Holy Baptism; that is the place where you were washed and recreated through the Word of God, a place where you were made right with God through the cross and life blood of Jesus Christ; in short that is the place where God changed your home address from sinful earth to paradise restored, a place where you will eternally belong in a condition of peace with God and each other.

So that being said, where is your home?

In our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 5:1–11), we are dropped into the second calling of Peter, or the calling of his vocation. The first time Jesus called Peter was through the invitation of Peter’s brother Andrew (John 1:25-42).  It was within this first calling that Peter already baptized by John the Baptist would have begun the life of a disciple; would have begun a journey in which the Master was daily teaching him that his true home was not to be found on earth but in heaven with Jesus simply because he continued to follow and trust Jesus.

When Jesus issued a call of discipleship, He simply said, “Follow me.”  And from that point on, it was understood that if a person responded to the call of discipleship, they were required to follow Jesus who would be their Master and teach them in both Word and example.

The most important thing for a disciple of Jesus to do then was to follow Him and willfully come under His influence.  So a disciple of Jesus then and now must learn from Him, and through this learning process, they would see and hear such amazing things that they otherwise would never have experienced.  Today, Jesus Himself says to all of His disciples who have responded to His call, “If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Something happens to a person once they become a disciple of Jesus; they are set free from the bondage of sin; or simply put, they are born again!  This new birth, this transformation from being a citizen of the world to being a citizen of heaven happens because the Word of God brings the power of God, which is the only way to experience new birth and a change of mind.  The disciples of Jesus who are willing to listen to Him and follow Him are continually welcomed to be His disciples.  And while they follow and listen, they begin to understand the truth… God’s own truth.  They listen because they have been born again… because they have a heavenly mind.  So now, let’s discover…

How the Heavenly Minded Christian Fulfills his Earthly Calling.

Let’s look at Simon Peter and the excellence he demonstrates in living out his earthly calling.  At the time of his calling he had been a Christian for almost a year, but since Christ hadn’t yet called him into the office of preaching, he not only remained in his calling as a fisherman, but he did it with a greater degree of excellence after he was “born again.” According to our gospel lesson, Jesus not only found Simon Peter working, washing his nets, but he was the kind of worker who could honestly say to Jesus: “Master, we have toiled all the night.” And now, when Christ asks him after a long night of work to sail out again, after the nets have been cleaned, he does not complain and try to make Jesus understand how tired he is, no instead, he obeys God’s call to work.

Here’s another thing we learn from the life of Simon Peter; we can learn that a born-again Christian displays a heavenly mind, not by despising and neglecting his earthly calling so that he has more time to concentrate on prayer and Bible study, but by embracing his earthly calling as the very thing that pleases God.  Oh there are certainly many times that a “born again” Christian will and should seek times of relaxation and recreation, but not because they’re lazy or because they’re a lover of pleasure, but because they know that they’ll be more efficient and productive in their work if they are rested. For a born again Christian, every moment of life whether at work or play, is a gift from God and another opportunity to praise Him.

Here is another truth about heavenly-minded Christians: When others employ them, they can rely on them. Not only is there no better churchgoer than a heavenly minded Christian, but there is also no better employee or manager than a born-again Christian.  In other words, this world will never find a more diligent, conscientious and faithful worker than a born-again Christian. The more heavenly minded a Christian is, the less ashamed they are of even the humblest dirty jobs, right down to the washing of filthy fishing nets or even the cleaning of toilets.  A heavenly-minded Christian then works at whatever task is before them because God has said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,”  (Genesis 3:19) and “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.” [Psalm 128:2]  Now don’t get me wrong, a born-again Christian should seek to find pleasure in their work, but it isn’t the reason they work; they work because they wish to please God.

And may I point out another important characteristic of a born-again Christian?  No matter how faithful they are in their earthly vocation, they will never neglect their heavenly calling to gather around God’s Word and Sacraments.  Simon-Peter worked all night, he was tired, but when Jesus asked to use his boat to preach the gospel, he dropped everything that distracted him and rowed out with Jesus so that Jesus could use his boat as a pulpit; so that he could hear the Word of God.  How unfortunate today that so many use their employment as a reason to excuse themselves from gathering at church to hear their Lord speak words of forgiveness and strength.  A born again Christian will never accept an earthly calling that would force them to give up attending God’s Divine service, even if it meant becoming wealthy.

The truth is, Christians with a heavenly mindset begin to think in a new way; they’ve discovered that even though their work in this world is necessary, work and care for their souls is even more important.  They have discovered that there must be time for hearing and meditating upon God’s Word and receiving His Holy meal.  They have also discovered that if God would allow them to become sick they would not be able to work, and then they would be forced to trust in His care for both their body and their soul.  This is why the heavenly minded, born-again Christian is willing to suffer the threat of harm and loss in the things of this world so that they can hear and meditate on God’s powerful and transforming Word.

Now, let’s allow God to teach us…

How He has determined that we will become and remain born again, heavenly-minded Christians.

It’s God’s will that we discover and remain at both the cross of our Savior Jesus Christ and the most blessed font of salvation where we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is the only place that a sinful person of the world can become born again and remain a heavenly minded Christian.  While there are many who claim the name of Christian, there are really only a blessed few who are truly born-again.

So how can we know that we really are born-again?  By staying close to Jesus.

Let’s look again at Simon Peter in our Gospel reading.  Peter became the heavenly-minded Christian that he was because he followed his master Jesus and allowed His Word to transform both his sinful heart and mind.  We have heard that after Simon Peter brought in the great catch of fish with the help of his coworkers, he realized that He was in the presence of the almighty power of God as Jesus sat in his boat.  When he properly understood who Jesus was, he trembled with fear, and “fell down at Jesus knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

These words of Simon Peter give us the key to understanding the mystery of a truly born-again, heavenly minded Christian.  Peter’s new born again nature like ours, is founded upon a living and deep knowledge of our natural sinfulness and worthlessness before God.  But it is also founded upon the great grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.  Peter’s great fears were not found in loss of employment, physical illness nor disease, but in the spiritual sickness of his sinfulness and the eternal death it brings.  But Peter knew where to bring his fear of sin; he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and begged for forgiveness and salvation.

Jesus would have us do the very same thing today.  He would have us see the nature of our spiritual illness that is sin, and then accept by faith His sweet absolution; the truth that He desires that each of us would turn to His cross and receive forgiveness.  You see, the cross of Jesus is the only place that God has promised and provided salvation for the world.  And this work of salvation for the world is given to you personally in the water’s of your own baptism.  There at the font, God has indeed promised you that you have been born again and given a heavenly mind.

Dear friends, it is only through the call of discipleship that we can receive the gift of salvation.  It is only through the life, death, and the resurrection of Jesus that this sinful world can be made right with God.  And in the waters of your own baptism, God has given you both a new life and a new home.  Every day for you dear baptized and born-again Christians is a new day with Jesus as His disciple; another day to both follow and learn from the Master.

To follow Jesus doesn’t mean that you must give up a normal occupation, but it does mean that we should seriously begin seeking Jesus where He can be found, in His church, His Word, and His sacraments and even with us as we work and witness to both His presence and saving love for sinners.  Therefore it is written concerning the first disciples at Jerusalem, that “they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.”

May God continue to move our hearts to do this very thing, in Jesus name… AMEN!

On Obeying the Word of God

June 19th, 2016

Fourth Sunday After Trinity-HL, June 19th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://www.tlcsd.org
http://ORLCSD.org

Click here for audio of this message

If you remember, last week we talked about becoming a Christian.  Today, I would like to talk about what it means to live out that Christian faith, specifically we will look at our new obedience to God’s Word and what effect that should have in our lives and what dangers we face when we are not properly living out our Christian faith.

When the Word of God first comes to us, it comes and floods our hearts with mercy and forgiveness, which then moves us to demonstrate those same things within our own lives.

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we see this demonstrated beautifully.  If ever there was a man who seemed to be given a reason to judge others and even hold onto a grudge, it was Joseph.  Bullied as a child, sold to slave traders as an adolescent, Joseph had many reasons to remember and to pay back his brothers for all of their evil.  But God was with Joseph.

Sold into slavery yes, but God provided in the midst of his servitude, and so Joseph became the head servant of a very rich household.  But then it all fell apart and Joseph was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.  Imprisoned yes, but then God made a way for Joseph to become the warden of the very prison he was confined to.  But then it seemed that all of that fell apart too, as Joseph was once again falsely accused and facing hard time.  But God made a way out of that tight spot, and Joseph was given the ear of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh eventually made Joseph second in command, answering only to Pharaoh.

And now standing before Joseph were the brothers that bullied and banished him.  Now was the time for judgment and pay back, or was it?  Standing before his brothers and in the stead of a merciful God, Joseph knew what God would have him do; it was the very thing God had done for Joseph; Joseph would show mercy.  “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

In these Words, Joseph was demonstrating a man controlled by the Spirit of God and so He was compelled to act for God.  In these Words, Joseph was pointing towards the coming Savior, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God who would take the evil intentions of men and their cross and turn it around as God’s way to “bring it about that many people should be kept alive,” and spared the death penalty for their sin.

This is then not only the effect that God’s Word had in Joseph, but it is also the effect that God wants to have in our lives now in this age, as Ambassadors for Christ.  But be forewarned, even as the Holy Spirit of God is providing us with a new spirit of obedience to the Word of God, we also face the danger of falling to a spirit of pride and judgment.  You see…

When people begin to take the Word of God seriously, they also learn to love their success in keeping the commandments of God.

As the saints of God, isn’t it true to say that we struggle to live out our new baptized natures; we struggle to live a life that is pleasing to God.  We want God to know that we take His call of faith seriously, and because of that, we want to be doers of His Word and not just hearers.

This isn’t a bad thing; it’s not a bad way to begin our walk with Jesus.  What was it that Jesus said to the rich young ruler who asked Him what he must do to gain eternal life, “Keep the commandments!”  And isn’t that precisely what we are trying to do as we live out our Christian faith?

But as so often happens, people who begin to walk by faith in the new life of baptism, begin to believe that they are becoming much better at being good, and then they think it is becoming easier for them to “live a good Christian life.”  Some people may even think as St. Paul formerly thought, that in “regards (to) righteousness under the law—(they are) blameless.”

So where did they go wrong; where do we go wrong?  Well the mistake we sinners inevitably seem to make is that we feel we have a license to compare ourselves to others.  Don’t we find ourselves being thankful that we are not like old “so and so.”  Maybe we’ve even caught our selves thinking that if “old sinner so and so” really wanted to change, then they could, just as we have.  But it is precisely because we judge others that we find ourselves being judged by God.

When we find ourselves judging others, we should also discover that we have not really been taking the law of God seriously, because we have arbitrarily chosen who we will judge and what we will use as our standard to judge.  And because we’ve done this, we have lost the most important standard of all… justice and mercy and faithfulness.  Therefore Jesus reminds us that he who judges others will himself be judged.  So…

If we really want to take the commandments of God seriously we will stop comparing ourselves with others.

This is because God’s law demands that instead of comparing ourselves to others, we must compare ourselves only with God, because only He is perfect.  In other words, we ought to be perfect as God is perfect, merciful as He is merciful, holy as He is holy.  You see, the law does not give us any possibility to be satisfied with ourselves; you can never say I’ve arrived.  This is because the knowledge of sin, our sin, comes to us through the law.

Our mouths are shut as every one of us stands guilty before God.  The rich young ruler who approached Jesus knew that something was missing in him, even though he did everything he could think of to be a good man.  And when the crowd brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus to be stoned, it was the elders in the group who dropped their stones first and slithered away out of shame, when Jesus said that he who was without sin among them should be the one to cast the first stone.

So now hear this good news and have faith in it.  It is God’s will that just as His Law has shown us that we can never live up to His holy standards, and that we have no right to judge other people’s salvation, it is also His desire that through the same Law, each of us would be forced to see our great need for a Savior who alone can make us right with God.  It is God’s will then that His law would point your guilty conscience towards the cross of Jesus where every sin, even our sinful desire to judge others was put to death.  If we will begin to listen to this message of the Gospel in a fresh new way, we will then begin to truly know a Savior who does not judge us in the midst of our sins here in this sinful world.  And remember this—Jesus refrains from judging us not because He can not judge, but because He has taken that judgment upon Himself as our brother and LORD; because He has died in the place of sinners; He has died for you.

And now that we have received this strong love of Jesus, what shall we do with it?

Shall we keep it to our selves?  No, but we are told to go and share what we have received from our Lord with other sinners. What this means for us today is that we are being compelled by the Holy Spirit to show both kindness and mercy towards others who appear to be trapped in sin; others who think or act differently than us – even those caught in adultery, cohabiting men and woman, or the homosexual couple. We are to care about their needs and also their eternity because Jesus cares for them.  We are to speak God’s mercy and love to them, and we do this when we speak God’s truth.

Listen, it is not our job to go around finding the specks in our neighbors eyes, because we are still working on the log that lies within our own eyes.  It is not the job of one blind man to lead another blind man upon a dangerous path.  But rather when asked for the reason of the hope we have in Christ, we are always prepared by God to speak God’s own truth, not in judgment but in love; we are always prepared to point them to the Great Physician Jesus Christ who also desires to heal them of spiritual blindness just as He heals us.

So we speak God’s truth … not in anger or spite, but in mercy and forgiveness. By speaking this way, we pray that God would do the same work of repentance and hope in them that He is doing in us.  So remember, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” [Luke 6:37, 38]. May this strong Word forever lead our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… AMEN.