CHRIST IS RISEN!

February 18th, 2019

Epiphany 6-C
February 17, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

CHRIST IS RISEN!  (response: He has risen indeed)

When my children were little, and even sometimes today, when I would see them hurt or struggling with uncontrollable issues in their lives, I often wished I could trade places with them. I wished that either I could wave some magical wand and make it all disappear… or that God could somehow lay those burdens on me and lift them off of my children.  

One of my boys used to suffer from “night terrors” or terrible nightmares and he would wake up screaming in the middle of the night. My wife would hold him, carry him, and walk around with him, trying to sooth him and convince him that these things were not real.  Sometimes simply waking him up would calm him down. Sometimes he’d continue screaming and crying, and as a father, I would look on helplessly, praying that God would take these nightmares away and sometimes I would pray for them to afflict me instead of my son.

I don’t say these things to boast my abilities as a father; there are many things I could have done better. But, I think all parents have those feelings for their children at some point. It’s part of the way we love our children and part of a parent wanting the best for their children. For me, it’s part of my “fatherly love” for my boys.  Again, I think every parent experiences similar feelings when their children are hurting and struggling.

And even if you’re not a parent, I believe everyone has similar moments when you see another human being suffering, whether family or not, and you just wish you could take that pain away, or wish that the pain could afflict you for just a moment, to give that person relief.

Throughout Scripture, in fact the entire Bible, is full of examples of our Almighty God’s Fatherly love that He has for us. And especially throughout the Epistles, St. Paul repeatedly and painstakingly points out just how much God really loves us.  It is Paul who tells us in Romans chapter 5:

“…God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies [of God] we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:8-10)

And, Paul points out that out of His “Fatherly love,” God looked upon us in our wicked, sinful condition and He lovingly longed to take away our afflictions and in doing so, He sent His Only Son, God became man, He sent His Only Son to take our place and put all our afflictions upon Himself, so that we could be reconciled to our Heavenly Father. God did this simply because He loves us and longs for a relationship with us.

I find it interesting that in today’s Epistle lesson, Paul speaks about how some of the people in the church at Corinth were struggling with the concept that Jesus died and then rose from the dead. It’s a situation that I wish I had more information on. I mean, it leaves us wondering was it simply that these Corinthians were having a hard time comprehending the miraculous? Or, was it that they were being deceived by someone? Maybe it was a rabbi who didn’t believe in the afterlife? Or, a Greek scholar who believed that consciousness was the only real reality, and that reality ended with death? We just don’t know.  But we do know that someone within the Corinthian church challenged the idea that Jesus died and rose from the dead, otherwise Paul would not have written about it.

Here’s the problem as Paul addressed it, if these people were right… if there was no resurrection from the dead for Jesus, then there could be no resurrection for us. If that’s the case, then what are we doing here? We might as well go home now, put a “For Sale” sign on the front of the church and just go home.

Everything we do here in this church, everything we proclaim, finds its root in the claim that Jesus has rose from the dead.  Everything we believe, teach, and confess, hinges on that one core act of love by our God, that Christ is risen from the dead.

Paul tells us that if Christ has not been risen from the dead, then our preaching, our proclaiming the Gospel, our faith and everything about it, would be in vain.  

Think about it. According to scripture we proclaim, there is only one thing that saves us – Christ crucified, Christ died, and Christ resurrected. If Jesus did not rise from the dead then what we proclaim is nothing more than a lie.  Our readings, our teachings, our hymns, and everything we do to proclaim God’s glory, would be nothing more than a centuries old scam.

We love to celebrate Christmas, the “birth” of our Lord and Savior. But without the resurrection, Jesus would have been just another child born some 2000 years ago. Without our foreknowledge of what Christ would do for us, the birth of this child would mean nothing.  Every person, man or woman beside Adam and Eve, that has ever lived were born of a mother. You and I were born into this world. Without the resurrection, Jesus’ birth would be just another baby born into this world.

And even Jesus’ death, His death on the cross, without the resurrection would be just another person dying.  Again, every man or woman that has ever stepped on this earth either has died or is going to die. You and I are going to experience an earthly death.

In doing my research for today’s lesson, I wanted to find an example of someone who gave his life in order to save someone else.  And I wanted to somehow tie it in with Black History Month. Amazingly, what I learned is that 89 different African-American men have been awarded the Medal of Honor in service to this country. Reading through those men’s stories was fascinating.

What I was looking for is a story similar to USMC Private First Class James Anderson Jr. of Los Angeles, California.  PFC Anderson joined the Marine Corps in February 17, 1966 (That’s 53 years ago today).  PFC Anderson went through Basic Training right here at Marine Corps Recruit Depot – San Diego. And, then he was stationed at Camp Pendleton before being sent off to fight in Vietnam.  On February 28, 1967, (a little over a year later) He served as a rifleman in Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.  While in the Quang Tri province on Vietnam’s central coast, PFC Anderson and his platoon were the lead element on a mission to rescue a heavily besieged patrol when they themselves came under heavy fire in the dense jungle.

The platoon reacted swiftly, getting on line as best they could in the thick terrain, and began returning fire. PFC Anderson found himself tightly bunched together with other members of the platoon, only 20 meters from the enemy position. An intense firefight ensued. Suddenly, an enemy grenade landed in the midst of the Marines, right next to and rolled alongside PFC Anderson. Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, he reached out, grasped the grenade, pulled it to his chest and curled around it as it went off.  PFC Anderson’s body absorbed the major force of the explosion, taking his life, but sparing the rest of his platoon. 

PFC Anderson was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Lyndon B. Johnson later that year. He was the first African-American Marine awarded the Medal of Honor. PFC Anderson would have only been 72 years old this year.

While Jesus tells us, “Greater love has no man then this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Jesus was talking about Himself and what He was about to do.  While PFC Anderson’s actions were substantially courageous and honorable to sacrifice his own life to safe his friends, his actions were only temporary and could only offer his friends a short reprieve. 

And while the Pharisees thought that Jesus’ death on the cross was the end of Him, it was just the beginning of eternal life for you and I.

What then do we have faith in, if not the promise of God to save us from our sin, and give us eternal life? And, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then we have no link to that forgiveness, or the gift of everlasting life.

Again, Paul tells us in Romans, chapter 6:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

If there is no resurrection from the dead, the act of baptism is meaningless. It is an empty act and we don’t have the assurance of eternal life or the forgiveness of sins.  

If that were the case, I might as well not finish… Jeez! I might as well just walk out of here now and not even worry about this afternoon… for if Jesus did not rise from the dead then the act of baptism, the gift of communion, the assurance of confession and absolution… are all meaningless… they mean nothing without the Good News of the Gospel.

The Good News is summed up in the words of Martin Luther:

“Therefore one must teach as follows: ‘Behold, Christ died for you! He took sin, death, and hell upon Himself and submitted Himself. But nothing could subdue Him, for He was too strong; He rose from the dead, was completely victorious, and subjected everything to Himself. He did all this in order that you might be free from it and lord over it. If you believe this, then you have it! For we are not able to do all this with our own power.” We can’t even belief without the power of the Holy Spirit.   Luther goes on to say, “Consequently, Christ had to do it, otherwise there would have been no need for Him to come down from heaven.”

The next to last verse of our Epistle lesson is a bit unnerving, it tells us what the end result would be if Christ is not alive, if He did not conquer death. It says:

If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world. (1 Corinthians 15:19 GNT)

In other words: If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, then we’re a pretty sorry lot. (1 Corinthians 15:19 MSG)

If there is no resurrection, then the Christian faith as we know it falls apart, it’s practices, it’s teachings would all be lies, for they are all based on Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

But here is what changes everything – Yes indeed, CHRIST IS RISEN!  (response: He has risen indeed)

We know that when we proclaim THIS GOSPEL, people come to life, and people come to faith. Our baptism affirms us to it; our celebration of the Lord’s Supper shouts it out – Jesus died and rose again for us!  Jesus died and rose again for you!

And, this faith that has been ignited in us by the Holy Spirit, tells us that our credo means something. It is at the heart of our confession and absolution, for without Jesus’ atoning death, without His blood having been shed for us, there is no forgiveness of sin. When we say the creed, look at the words following the words, “Jesus”: was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. 

 THIS IS WHAT WE BELIEVE! We stake our lives on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. We stake our lives on it, now and eternally. 

And we bear witness that we are free from guilt, free from shame, free from sin and free from Satan and death; We live in Christ now and we will live in Christ eternally!

We live each day knowing that Christ has died, Christ rose from the dead, and Christ will come again – And He will to bring us to glory with the Father in heaven. And, we say, “Come Lord, Jesus, come!”

Now, may the Father who gives us that peace that surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And all the faithful said, “Amen.”

OK, If You Say So!

February 10th, 2019

Epiphany 5-C
February 10, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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It’s been a long morning of hard work for Simon-Peter.  Fishing, fishing, and more fishing and not a single fish to show for his labor.  Peter is tired and he is discouraged!  He’s sitting at the edge of the lake cleaning his nets, hearing Jesus speak… hearing Him teach, but not really listening to the words.  He’s more concerned about how he’s going to care for his family.  Have you been there?  Do you know how Peter feels?

The crowds are pressing in on Jesus to hear the word of God. 

They seem hungry to hear it, and all Peter can think of is how hungry his family will be if he can’t put food on the table!  As the crowd presses in on Jesus, they’re also moving Him to the water’s edge. What’s Jesus answer to this dilemma?  He calls for a floating pulpit, a boat, Simon Peter’s boat to be exact.  Peter must have thought, “Well at least it’s good for something!  It sure didn’t do me any good today!”   Jesus climbs into the boat and begins to teach the people about God and His kingdom of grace. They are hanging on His every Word, because they are like sheep without a shepherd…  Within the voice of this shepherd, unlike false ones, they find an unexplainable sense of comfort and assurance within His words.

We don’t know exactly what Jesus preached that day because it isn’t recorded for us.  Peter probably didn’t know either, because He was more interested in cleaning his nets and providing for his family.  But we do know that He was most certainly preaching faith into the hearts of those who were listening!  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God,” which is always centered in the message of Christ Jesus!   What is that message?  Repent!  Turn away from your sinful notions about God and His Kingdom of righteousness; hear the truth about your sinful nature, and then hear how the Father of mercy and love has solved that fatal problem, and hear how He gives you new life through the forgiveness of your many sins!

Now when Jesus had finished His sermon, knowing that those Word’s were bringing new life into the hearts of the people, He turned to the one man who needed to be listening, but wasn’t.  

Jesus turned to Simon-Peter and said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  And Peter answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” [Luke. 5:4-5]

Could you hear the frustration in Peter’s words?  “Put out?!  What do you think we’ve been doing all morning?  But, ok Lord… if you say so!  But I’m not happy with this!”  

Some of us might find fault with Peter for throwing his little fit… I mean after all, this is the same Jesus who recently healed his mother-in-law from a life threatening illness!  “Come on man!” we might be thinking, “Where’s your appreciation?  Where’s your faith?”  But the proof of faith is in the fruit of service! Peter did as the living Word of God instructed, all be it reluctantly.  And in the end, he was blessed because of his obedience.

Friends, attitude and obedience are not the same thing!  Attitudes change like the winds, or like the waves upon the waters that are being fished!  But obedience and trust in God’s Word are the very thing that controls the winds and the waters, even the fish beneath them.  

While Peter was busy tending to the worries of life, hundreds of people were blessed with faith unto salvation, which came to them through the living Word of God.  This was a Word that Peter had probably heard many times.  Maybe he felt that he could afford to do something else with his time… this time, but Jesus had other ideas.  Jesus wanted Peter to be blessed also.  So He calls and Peter responds!  Reluctant but obedient!  

Peter needed to hear the Word… we need to hear it!  But what is that word?

It is the same message that the people on shore needed to hear… forgiveness!  

What was Peter’s reaction to the miraculous catch of fish that he, John and James took in?  He was ashamed!  Ashamed that he neglected the Words of His Master!  Ashamed that His heart was not centered on the miraculous Words of Jesus.  And so we hear his confession, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” [vs.8]   

Dear friends, in this simple story we see the loving care that Jesus demonstrates for all God’s children, even the ones who aren’t listening or won’t listen!  Peter’s ears had checked out because his heart was consumed by other things.  But He needed to hear the Word; he needed to hear about God’s love, so Jesus engaged his eyes in order to open his heart!  And so it is with us!

So many times we let the worries and cares, or maybe the fun and distractions of our lives drowned out God’s Word… His living presence in our lives.  And when we do this, we begin to lose perspective, God’s perspective; so He intervenes.  What is it that He’s trying to tell us?  That we need Him… we need His forgiveness… we need His Words of eternal life!  For in Him we live and breathe, and find our existence!  

And when He gets our attention, like Peter, we are ashamed and full of remorse!  We confess to Him that we’ve lived our lives as if He did not matter.  And praise God for this confession friends, because it is the very thing that moves Him to quickly speak His Words of love and forgiveness to us.  “Do not be afraid!  I have overcome sin, death and the devil!  You are saved from these things… you are forgiven.  But you are saved with a purpose!”

And what’s that purpose?  To be obedient!  Jesus wants you to follow Him where ever He leads!  He wants you to take His Word with you in your heart wherever you go!  What Word is that?  The same Word you received in your baptism… the same Word you hear preached and read for yourself… the same Word you eat and drink; the Word of repentance and forgiveness!  Jesus wants you to bring Him and His message of eternal life to your neighbor… He wants you to be a fisher of men!  And unlike the fishing that takes place in rivers, lakes, and oceans, where being caught means death, He wants to help you catch your neighbor so that He can bring them life!  He wants you to catch people unto eternal life!

Jesus asked Peter to leave everything and follow Him.  And for some, for pastors, chaplains, and missionaries, that is still His call!  While that certain call is admirable, it is not the only call!  Jesus calls each of us in whatever position of life we find ourselves to be fishers of men!  You don’t need to take a course on evangelism or persuasive speech to fish these waters!  All you need is a call!  All you need is a Word from God!  And my friends, each of us has this call, and each of us has the message.  We are to speak the Words of life… we are to speak of repentance and forgiveness.  The same message that saved us is the very message that will save our neighbors!

Dear friends, this story about Peter’s experience is recorded here for us, so that his experience will become ours; so that the same faith and energy that was created in Peter will be created in us.  

God wants us like Peter to have a strong faith that will overcome the doubts of this world, and then He wants us to have the obedience to follow Jesus and see others caught by the very same message.  

As you live your life friends, be ready to allow God to speak to you and through you… be ready to let Him call you and lead you.  And when you have an opportunity to speak for Him, share His message with your neighbors.  The ones that God has prepared friends will listen and they will follow you, just as the crowds on the lake shore hung on every Word that Jesus spoke.  And where will you lead them?  To the very same place that God dutifully ministers to you… right here in this very church!  Here where the baptism font waits to destroy the power of sin, death, and the devil!  Here to hear the Words of eternal life proclaimed!  Here to feast at His table where forgiveness is served through His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine!

Friends, after Jesus gave Peter his direction, and after Peter responded in obedience, the God given result was a catch of fish that was miraculous.  Seeing that this catch was far more than he could have imagined or handled alone, “(Peter) signaled to (his) partners in the other boat to come and help (him). And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.” [vs. 7]  

What we learn in these Words is that fishing for men is a team endeavor.  We need each of you if we are to fill this boat, Christ’s church, even this little boat we call Trinity.  That’s your calling; it’s the calling of each and every one of us!  And why should we fill this church?  So that the Word that is proclaimed may draw other “fishers of men” into the service of Christ, and so that the Kingdom may be expanded one forgiven sinner at a time!  

I pray for a blessed and fruitful catch, in Jesus name…. AMEN!

The Way of Love!

February 3rd, 2019

Epiphany 4-C
February 3, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

A woman was injured when a trolly derailed and veered onto a portion of the stations platform where she was standing. She was caught beneath one of the cars. The police sent for a crane to lift the car off her body. While waiting for the crane, a crowd of people gathered out of curiosity.
    One man pushed through the crowd, crawled beneath the car that had been derailed and was teetering precariously, and said to her, “Take my hand.” As she took his hand, he began to pray for her, and she felt warmth and courage. This calmed her and prevented her from going into shock.
    After the crane arrived and the woman was released, she said, “I never thought an outstretched hand could mean so much.”

We all love to hear heroic, self sacrificing stories like this one because they communicate some of the best qualities of love that people can display.  We celebrate this type of “self sacrificing” love when we hear about it, and God agrees… we should celebrate!  And yet, God doesn’t want you to just admire and celebrate this type of love, He insists that it should be alive and central within each of us!  He wants you to be a doer not just an admirer!  Listen to how Jesus uses love to sum up all of the 10 Commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” [Matthew 22:37–40]

This morning dear friends, God is stretching out His hand to you in this sinful world and He wants you to grab onto Him through His Word.  He wants His Word to change you and rearrange you so that this type of self giving even self sacrificing love WILL be natural within you.  He has already begun this great work within your heart through your Holy baptism, and now he wants to continue that work.  Listen to the Words God gave to St. Paul and let His Spirit work within you.  

Love is patient and kind: A better word I think for patience is “longsuffering”.  Love is long-suffering and kind!  This world we live in is full of evil people; dare I say there are even evil people in Christ’s church.  When evil confronts us, when a Christian brother or sister deliberately sins against us, our society advises, “Pay them back!”  But God’s Word says, “No!  Because you are to love me, you must then let that love step in and take over.  Don’t pay evil for evil, instead love your enemy; pray for them.  Don’t follow your natural instinct because it is sinful, instead suffer long, and be kind to that person.”

I know, already we’ve been confronted with God’s Word in a way that really makes us uncomfortable, and yet that is the true meaning of what God demands from us within His commandments.  But our text this morning takes us even deeper; deeper to the point of despair.  Listen as God explains how we must love each other:

Love does not envy!  Another way to say that is, “Love does not speak or do evil out of jealousy!”  That green eyed monster called Jealousy is never happy with what it has, but it’s always eyeballing what someone else has and saying, “That should be mine.  I deserve that too!”  Why if we let it, that monster would trample over anything and anyone just to get what it wants.  But if you really love as God demands, you won’t let jealousy control you!

  

Love doesn’t boast or brag!  We know envy is wrong, and so, to combat it what do we do?  We brag about what we do have, knowing that these very words may lead others to become jealous!  So, love does not envy or boast! Not in words and not in actions!        

Love isn’t arrogant!  In other words, if you really love, you will not be “full of yourself” but full of God’s love for others; when your ego is bigger than your heart, someone will always get hurt.   

Love is not rude!  Another way to say this is, “Love never behaves improperly!”  True love is always concerned for what is right in God’s sight and then it goes out of its way not to offend others.  Paul uses this same word in other places when he talks about how people are shamefully and improperly led by their sexual desires.  If you really have love, then you will act properly!

Love doesn’t insist on its own way!  What this means friends, is that love is not self pleasing.  If you know others are watching you and will be offended by something you do or don’t do, don’t simply say, “Well I’m saved by grace so I can do or not do whatever I like!”  No friends, true love is always interested in the welfare of others!

Love isn’t irritable… it isn’t easily provoked into anger!  Well these words speak for themselves, so we’ll let them stand.  

Love isn’t resentful!  Or another way to say this is that love does not keep a list of wrongs on someone else.

Finally, love doesn’t rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth!  If we love friends, we will not keep silent when we see something happening that we know is wrong!  If we love, we will not let political correctness or peer pressure keep us from speaking the truth in love!  Wrong doing will hide the truth, but God’s love is displayed in His Word!

God’s Word… so full of love but so full of truth, and truth can be a hard pill to swallow!  God’s truthful Word comes to our sin like a bright search light searching for any threat to God’s perfect righteousness.  It shows us what we must discover…something we would rather not discover.  And when we see it, we try to pretend it isn’t there!


A wealthy old woman was at her city’s art museum, and she was intently staring at a framed image she had never seen before. She called to an employee and said, “Come here young man! What is the meaning of this awful picture you have displayed here?  I find the image shallow and revolting! What do you call it?” The employee answered without even the slightest expression, “That madam, is a mirror.” 

Dear friends, God’s Word is also a mirror. We may pick it up and read it simply to evaluate it with a critical eye, but in the end, we always find that we are the ones being evaluated. It shows us how we really look..  But if you are willing to force yourself to look, and if you will fight the urge to turn away, Jesus will show you a more excellent way!  He will step in front of your reflection and cover it with His own and say, “Let my reflection be yours!  Look at my image and then see your new reflection; a reflection that I gave to you within the waters of your baptism.  Look now at my love and let it change you!”

Well, let’s do just that.  Let’s look at the same list that describes perfect God-given love and see how Jesus did with it.  Let’s see what a marvelous reflection He’s exchanged for ours:

Love does not envy! Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” [Jn. 6:37-39]

Love does not boast or brag! As the all powerful Son of God hung upon the cross, “knowing that all was now finished, (He) said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” [Jn. 19:28]

Love is not arrogant! “But (He) made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” [Phil. 2:7]

Love is not rude!  “When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” [Jn. 18:22-23]

Love doesn’t insist on its own way!  “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent Me.” [Jn. 6:38]

Love isn’t irritable… it isn’t easily provoked into anger!  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem (Jesus said), the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” [Lk. 13:34]                   

Love isn’t resentful!  “And when they came to the place that is called (Golgotha) The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [Lk. 23:33-34]

Dear friends, Christ has really replaced your sinful reflection with His own.  

He has covered your “unrighteousness” with His righteousness; He did this long ago upon the cross… the tree of love and long-suffering.  He chose to be planted and crucified upon the hard rock called Golgotha so that by His pain, suffering, and death your hard rocky heart of sin might be smashed and rebuilt into a heart of love.  And all of this work was made yours in your baptism.  In your baptism, Jesus promised you that you are not alone!  Like the man in the story who crawled under the street car with the trapped and dying woman to hold her hand and encourage her to hang on, Jesus is with you!  He is reminding you that His love and long-suffering are now yours and He is encouraging you to take it.  This love friends, is a spiritual gift which moves your heart and hands to serve and become a Christ-like person for your neighbor.  True God given love dear friends, is the name not for the act of love, but for the heart that feels it!  This sinful world might be able to imitate the actions of love, but without Christ love implanted within their hearts, their work is simply as St. Paul says, “Like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  It is nothing!

This morning friends, if you find yourself falling short, go to the one who is long-suffering and patient, kind and loving!  Go to the only person who never fell to envy or pride!  Go to your brother, friend, and Lord, the one who is never arrogant or rude.  Go to Jesus Christ, who is also your God and your Savior.  Confess to Him how you’ve fallen short of His love and then hear His Words of forgiveness and restoration new and fresh!  

Believe that through His Word first given to you in the waters of Holy baptism you were born again.  Believe that through His Holy Meal you are allowed to hear, see, smell, touch, and taste forgiveness.  And then leave this place refreshed and forgiven for a purpose… you are to be Christ for your neighbor!  You are to be a person who lives for others!  

You will be this person, because He who began this good work in you long ago will complete it!  We pray this truth in Jesus name… AMEN!

One Baptism—One Body

January 27th, 2019

Epiphany 3-C
January 27, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” [1 Corinthians 12:13b]

First Corinthians is a letter, or an epistle from St. Paul to a church that God created out of nothing in a pagan city called Corinth.  In this letter, Paul continually reminds the Corinthians that they need to strive for unity within the body of Christ (12:12), because in God’s design there is only one body or Church, and one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism [12:4 ff., 13]. And yet, Paul has discovered the very opposite thing is being displayed in their church!  Instead of unity, there are divisions and factions.  Paul’s intention then, is to unite those factions and remove the confusion that’s been caused by bad doctrine or teaching.  If they will listen and follow God’s Word then it will be God Himself who will unite them! God would unite the Corinthians the same way he unites us, by reminding each of us of our own baptism.  Our baptism then reminds us that while we may be many members, we are all part of one body—while we may be many congregations, we are but one Church!

(vs. 12-13) Friends, Christ’s church, our church, is like the human body.  

Let’s consider the human body for a moment.  Within our bodies we see the very picture of unity and completeness through a lot of individual parts. Now, this is also true with Christ’s body, the Church. To illustrate this truth, Paul begins with the oneness of the body and then proceeds to its many parts through these words: “the body is one and has many members”; he then goes backward from the many parts to the oneness of the whole by saying: “and all the members of the body, being many, are one body.” And throughout His body, Jesus is always present and active in each one of us!  How?  Through God’s mysterious work done in each of our own baptisms.

In Holy Baptism friends, each one of us was baptized “in” one Spirit, the Holy Spirit in union with God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ.  Our baptism is a vital connection with Jesus. In our baptism, God’s Spirit is always present and always making a spiritual change within us—a change, which creates a new spiritual life within us and maintains a right spiritual relationship first with God, and then with the other members of Christ’s Church.  This mystical union of Christ with the church friends, is our true union with God. It’s a union that is identical within each of us, and it is also identically sustained within each of us through Christ’s own Word and sacraments.

Now, think about what this truth must have meant to the Corinthian church, and then think about what it means for us.  “Jews are equal to pagan Greeks?”  Friends, do you see how in Christ’s body… the Church, all members of the human race have been drawn together into Christ and then melted and fused together into one indistinguishable whole? What was lower than a slave, human property with almost no rights? Yet Paul is telling those rich folks and property owners, many of whom owned slaves, that their slaves are their equals! Christ is in their slaves just as he is in them… they are one!  It’s quite the wakeup call isn’t it?  The same is true with us friends; through our baptism, we are one with the butcher, the baker, the president, the junkie, the homeless, the parent and the child.  People of all races and back grounds, through their baptisms are “one body” just like the physical human body.

Now with this central truth stated about our physical bodies and the church, think of how ridiculous it would be if a toe no longer wanted to be part of the foot, or an eye thought that it was better than the ear.  We need all of our body parts to function the way God designed them so that we can have a complete and healthy body, and this is also the truth with Christ’s body the church! 

(Vs. 14-20) So why do some members of Christ’s Church feel inferior and jealous of others if all of us are baptized into the same body?  

To answer this question, let’s first go back to Paul’s illustration of the human body.  Why does the ear say, “Because I am not an eye, I’m not important so that must mean that I’m not really part of the body?”  Do the ears feelings change the fact that it truly is part of the body?  All of its griping won’t change a thing. It’s not only useless; it’s foolish, because the body can’t be just one member!  We need each member because each member has its own function. Wouldn’t it be foolish if the foot tried to grasp something or shake hands with somebody when it’s real purpose is to help the body walk and move from one place to another?  The same is true about an ear that wants to be an eye when the body really needs it for hearing.  This unity in diversity friends is what makes the body whole and functioning.  Instead of complaining about what it isn’t, each part should celebrate what it is, because without each part, the body wouldn’t be whole.  This is also true about each member of Christ’s church and our congregation. Suppose a member were actually what these complainers say: not a part of Christ’s body—well what would it be? Jesus answered this question clearly; He said it would be a dead branch, fit only to be burned. Dear friends, instead of wishing we were someone else or something “better,” we should thank God for the place he has assigned to us and then work with the Holy Spirit to do our part not only expertly but also joyfully!

Doesn’t all of this jealousy and envy sound like foolishness?  After all, wasn’t it “God (who) arranged (all of) the members in the body, each one of them, (just) as He chose(?) (If each of us were the same member), where would the body be?  (So, you see friends), there are many parts, yet one body.” [vs. 18-20]   All of this is part of God’s divine work of creation!  He did it all according to His will when He formed the human body and when He created His church!   He desired that both bodies would consist of many members. Each one He set into its perfect place within the body. Do we really want to find fault with what God did? Do we really have the audacity to think that we can improve on His work? 

Well, the fact stands: God made the true Church what it is and He made you as you are for a purpose… now we must live out that purpose as He leads us!

(Vs. 21-26) Ok, but then why do some people act like they’re superior or better than others?  Or as Paul says, 

“Why does the eye say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head to the feet, “Go away, you’re not needed”?  Why indeed and here we go again!  Once again there’s grumbling within the body; but this time it’s a different kind of grumbling.  Now it’s the eye and the head’s turn to voice their sinful feelings, each looking down on a different body part and thinking that they’re better than the other parts.  One looks down on the hand, and the other is looking down on the feet.  What’s going on here?  There seems to be trouble throughout the body!  And this is what Paul is saying about the church at Corinth.  And so we see him expertly using God’s law to attack their habit of looking down on others.  

 Let me ask you a question: When are we more likely to look down on others?   I think the answer is when we think that they’re not in our class!  Social status, education, health, and many other conditions fuel our disdain for others!  We’re inclined to look down on others when we feel that their talents or position seems lower than our own. To illustrate this, Paul lets the eye and the head speak. Now, because the eye is able to reach out to great distances it looks down on the hand which can only grasp what is in arms reach. And because the head is placed so high above all of the other members, it is prone to look down with disdain on the feet, which are dutifully plodding away on the hard and dirty streets below! So you see, those who have been given what seems to be greater gifts and talents might be tempted to foolishly think that they don’t need those who have what appears to be inferior gifts and talents, but in reality, once again each of us must remember that we are not individuals but part of a whole.  What each part has is only part of the whole body… a body designed by our Creator!

But what about our more humble parishioners; the very old, the sick, and the disabled?  Paul compares them with our private body parts; the ones we keep hidden—the parts that we might be ashamed of?  Listen to what he says: “And on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” [vs. 23-26] 

I pray that God will help each of us both desire and work together to ensure this very thing, and He will if we simply remember that it was the Creator who put all of us in our proper place within His Church and within this congregation!  But…

(Vs. 25-30) What if we find ourselves having trouble living out this truth, this Divine balance? 

How are we to be saved from this terrible sin that seeks to divide us?  Well friends, God does this very thing by taking each of us back to our own baptism—back to the truth of our equal standing as sinners before Him, and then through that same Word, He reminds each of us that He equally forgives us all of our many sins.  In this way, as members of God’s church, God assures each of us that we are equally loved by Him.  And friends, God wants us to demonstrate that same forgiving love and care to others who are also members of His church.  With His Holy Spirit living within us, He reminds us that if one of us suffers, then all of us suffer together; if one member is honored, then all of us will celebrate together. 

Let’s look to our own bodies one more time to illustrate this truth: If our foot is in pain, even if it’s the little toe, won’t our eye immediately look to see what’s wrong?  And won’t we use our fingers to hold it and caress it, as our face twists in pain and our whole body bends over to assist in its care?  And as the entire body is caring for this one ailing part, the entire body is benefited when the pain is soothed!   

Dear friends, isn’t it a blessing to be part of a body where “if one member suffers, all members suffer together, and if one member is honored, all members rejoice together?” 

Rejoice dear friends in the truth that Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross was equally given to each of us within the waters of our own baptism—for you see it is the same sin that was covered, but more than covered, it was the same sin that was drowned and destroyed.  It is that same sin that equally drives each of us to the font with the same need and the same identity… beggars in need of God’s grace.  And as we remember this truth let’s also rejoice together in yet another truth…He is still giving us that same grace through His Word and His Holy Supper!  Praise God dear friends!  Praise Him all creatures here below.  Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost…AMEN!

I Will Not Keep Silent!

January 20th, 2019

Epiphany 2_C
January 20, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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Grace, Mercy and Peace are yours, from God our Father and for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ!  AMEN

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness and her salvation as a burning torch.” [Isaiah 62:1]

A professor in a medical school once posed this medical situation — an ethical problem — to his students: “Here’s the family history: The father has syphilis. The mother has TB. They already have had four children. The first is blind. The second had died. The third is deaf. The fourth has TB. Now the mother is pregnant again.  So the parents have come to you for advice. They are willing to have an abortion, if you decide they should. What do you say?”

The students broke into small groups for “consultation.” All of the groups came back to report that they would recommend abortion.

“Congratulations,” the professor said, “You just took the life of Beethoven!”

Well that’s just a story pastor.  We live in the real world.  Ok, here’s a “real world” poll taken in New England, which revealed that, if parents were able to know these things in advance, 1 percent of them would abort a child on the basis of sex, 6 percent would abort a child likely to get Alzheimer’s disease, and an incredible 11 percent would abort a child predisposed to obesity.  In essence, they would abort many of us!

Sin is sin.  

God’s Word clearly identifies what is sinful and what is pleasing to Him.  There are no gray areas in God’s eyes, and yet we like to create these gray areas, don’t we?  We make the gray areas because we don’t like facing our own sinfulness.  Oh, and in case you think that claiming ignorance of God’s will might offer you some protection, listen to God answer you from the book of Proverbs: “If you say, “Surely we did not know this, “Does not He who weighs the heart consider it?  He who keeps your soul, does He not know it?  And will He not render to each man according to his deeds? [Proverbs 24:11-12]

Friends, we’ve been called by Jesus Christ, the living Word of God to be both His church and His voice of truth in this world of sin.  We are His prophets.  But before we can fulfill this role, we need to agree that God is right and we are wrong!  Now as your pastor, you have called me to speak and teach you that Word, so together we will hear His Word, be changed and strengthened by it, and then go out into our communities where we can be God’s salt and light.  Now here’s the fascinating part of this calling; if we are faithful, God assures us that to the world, we will be like a crown of beauty, a royal diadem in His hand.  In other words, we’ll bring Him glory here on earth!

Friends, if we are faithful in speaking for God to those we encounter, He promises that we will experience his blessings in a way that will change the very way we think and live.  In other words, God promises that through our obedience we will discover that we are not only precious in His sight, but we are in fact His delight.

But we have a slight problem; the enemy doesn’t want us to live out this new identity, so he’s set some traps in order to deceive us.  

These traps come to us through the use of science and the sinful society we live in; a society that loves to call evil good and good evil.  But even if we successfully avoid these traps, the enemy still has one more trick up his sleeve; he intends to stop us by overwhelming us with so much opposition and anger that we’ll no longer see the good of speaking God’s truth to such an evil society.  In other words, he wants to demoralize us to the point where we just simply give up.  

Now, this same tactic has been used by the enemy in the past with great success.  It’s called institutionalized sin—sins that have been accepted by our society as normal.  If you don’t believe this truth, just look back no farther than 150 years ago when the institution of slavery—the trafficking of human beings was considered normal.  And even after a bloody civil war that nearly destroyed our nation, that sin still remains and it is still trying to capture the hearts and minds of our children.  This hatred of others is a sin that places “self” as the ultimate authority, which in turn allows us to see some people as less than human.

Today we celebrate “Sanctity of Life” Sunday.  This is the day that we as a church have set aside to remind us that God has declared all human life precious in His sight; the unborn, born, and even those who are frail and near death.  But science and our society tell us something very different—they say that the unborn are merely potential life, and the old and frail are just a life that’s already been lived.  They would have us believe that neither can really be counted important.  But listen to God speak through the voice of the Psalmist and let the voice of our enemy the devil and this sinful society be silenced: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” [Psalm 139:13-18]   And if that’s not enough for you, listen to the living Word of God drive home the message through the Apostle Paul: “(Don’t) you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]  

Friends, you have heard God’s Word… you know that there are no gray areas.  Right is right and wrong is wrong.  Now God wants to send you out into this world as His burning torch of truth and salvation.  But you say, “Pastor what can I do?  It’s the law of the land; abortion is legal, right?”  Well do you have a mouth?  Then for the sake of the unborn and for the credibility of the church, speak out.  Use your mouth to change hearts and minds, and use your vote to change the law.  And all the while, God wants you to pray!  Pray for your leaders and pray for your neighbors, and then work against the enemies of God who joyfully lead others astray by convincing them to take a life through abortion.  Pray that God will change both their hearts and minds so that this evil will be erased from our society.  Listen to St. Paul’s advice; he says, ” First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” [1 Timothy 2:1-4]  Pray dear friends, pray and don’t grow weary of prayer.  Don’t give up in speaking the truth; don’t surrender in the fight.  Keep on doing what you know is right.  Listen to God’s Living Word, and then be decided in your heart that you will do what Jesus tells you!

In our gospel reading this morning, Mary, the mother of God the Son, Jesus Christ had a dilemma.  

She was one of the matrons, or sponsors responsible for the smooth operation of a wedding party.  But the wine was running low, and the party was still jumping!  Now granted, when compared to other real life issues, running out of wine means very little in the large scheme of things, but at the time it was important to Mary.  She had doubts and fears; so where did she go?  She went to Jesus!  Now the fact that she went to Jesus isn’t that fascinating, after all, Jesus is her son, but what happened next would change everything.  It would change the way faithful people live and it would change the way faithful people think!

Have you ever wondered why Jesus called His own mother “woman” instead of “mother”?  

“Jesus?  Son?”  Mary called.  “They are almost out of wine,” she says.  And to this Jesus answers, “Woman, what does this have to do with (you and) me?  My hour (or my time) has not yet come.”  Here friends, Jesus mother turns to her son as she undoubtedly did so many times before, but this time it is different…it’s a critical moment where ordinary help won’t suffice.  She knew that Jesus had no money and as a stranger in this town he had no connections.  Yet they needed wine.  So why turn to Jesus?  Because friends, she never forgot that her son was also the Son of God, the Messiah… her Savior.  You see, in this small dilemma, ordinary help would fail; they had neither the time nor the means to get more wine, so Mary knew she must look for extraordinary help.  Mary didn’t need familial help, she needed divine hope.  And to give this hope, Jesus must first eternally change her relationship with Him.  

Friends, when Jesus called His mother woman, He was declaring to her that His position as a dutiful son was eternally ended.  He was telling her that from that moment on He would be assuming a much higher position; one as Savior and Redeemer.  And this divine work can only be done on God’s terms and in God’s time, not hers and not ours.  Like Mary, we too must learn that if we really want divine hope and help, we must first recognize who Jesus really is.  It is Jesus, the Son of God, together with the Father, and the Holy Spirit alone who determines when and how God will miraculously intervene—even in hopeless situations!

Friends, it was this first miraculous sign from Jesus—turning water into wine—that would forever direct both Mary and the entire church to ask and receive all things through Jesus Christ alone, and then simply trust that He would act according to His will and time!  It is in Him alone that we are to place our trust.  And with this new truth, Mary has a new teaching to share with her assistants at the party and with us…

 “Do whatever He tells you.” [John 2:5b]  Do you understand what this means friends?  It means that we must do whatever God’s Word says.  What God’s Word calls good, we are to call good.  What He calls sinful and evil we are to say also.  In His Word alone, we are to live, breath, and find our existence and fulfillment.  Yet we still sin daily.  We sin against God and we sin against each other.  Since this is most certainly true, it is critical that we hear what comes next.  

If there is anyone here this morning who has in the past had an abortion, assisted with or counseled for an abortion, performed an abortion, or has simply been indifferent to abortion, let God speak to your heart.  Let His Spirit convince you that abortion is a sin.  Has He shown you that it is your sin?  Are you sorry for this sin and all others that you have committed and do you sincerely repent of them?  Is it your intention to agree with God that this is an evil that must be defeated… that was defeated upon the cross of Jesus Christ?  Do you desire to be free of this evil now and for all eternity?  Then by faith in the name of Jesus and the will of God, you are forgiven!

Dear friends, because Jesus has defeated both the devil and all evil through His death upon the cross, and because He has given this victory to you through the washing of the water and the Word in your own baptism, hear the sweet words of the gospel, the forgiveness of your many sins.  You are forgiven!  You no longer need to live in shame and reproach.  Through God’s Holy work alone He has taken away your sorrow and shame and He has given you a new name…. you are called Christian.  You are a child of faith!  As a member of the Holy Christian Church you are now the beloved bride of Jesus Christ Himself!

Now dear saints, as the beloved bride of Christ, hear the words of mother Mary fresh and new… “Go, and do whatever our Lord tells you.”  What is He telling us?  Speak up for those who have no voice!  Call evil what it is!  Don’t be afraid of the ungodly, because they will soon have their punishment handed down to them.  Instead, speak up and speak out to those who will hear the Word of God and repent, just as you have.  Join your pastors and the whole church and witness to Christ Himself and His Holy Word until He comes again to judge the living and the dead.  Do whatever God’s Word tells you because He is your salvation, and let politics and this sinful society be damned!

Let this world and our sinful society see our Holy God’s righteousness shine through each of us as individuals and as His church so that all may see us as justified and equipped by God for this battle—not with the laws of man but with the highest law there is… the Living Word of God!

Dear friends, do whatever Jesus tells you.  Repent and be baptized.  Repent and believe you’ve been forgiven and changed.  This is the message we are to speak to our neighbors and even to our elected leaders.  Let’s speak this message in our conversations and let’s speak it through the ballot box.  We will not be silent… because we cannot be silent.  Yes we’ll be ridiculed and marginalized, but as I said in the beginning of this message, we must speak out, because we are God’s crown of beauty and we are a holy and royal diadem in His hand.  We alone can bring Him glory, because we alone are called by a new name…. Christian!  Jesus we are yours… save us!  AMEN!

Arthur’s Dash

January 16th, 2019

A Christian Funeral/Memorial Sermon for Arthur Lozier
January 16, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:6]  

Grace mercy and peace to you dear family and friends of Arthur James Lozier, from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ.

When I was a boy my brothers and I liked to walk around in the old cemetery near our home. We were fascinated by the old head stones dating back to the mid 1800’s.  They were for the most part simple and old granite head stones, which said something like, “John Doe 1804-1880.” As we walked around the head stones we wondered and talked about what kind of life they must have lived. Without more information, their entire lives seemed to be summed up with a dash that fell between their date of birth and their date of death. The dash simply acknowledged their life. 

Arthur Lozier’s dash, his life was rich and full. It was rich and full because the Lord Jesus Christ had claimed Art and had never left him!

Arthur’s life in Jesus began when as a small baby, he was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at Zion Lutheran Church, in Oakland, California.

It was there in the waters of Holy baptism where God promised to complete the good work of salvation that He began in both Art and you dear baptized Christians. Listen to a few more of those promises contained in your Bibles: 

1. “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. [Psalm 138:8]
2. “(God) will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [1 Cor. 1:8]
3. “This is the work of God, that you believe in (Jesus Christ) Whom He has sent.” [John 6:29]

Throughout Art’s life, God continued to complete His good work of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. As a boy, Art was instructed in the Word of God by Christian parents and the pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Berkley, CA. There at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Arthur was confirmed in His Christian faith and equipped by God to be able to approve what is excellent. Through this work of God, Art was promised that on the day of judgment he would be pronounced pure and blameless not because of the life he lived but because he trusted in Christ alone. 

It was then after the confirmation of His faith that Arthur as a young teen was invited to the Lord’s Table, and was offered and received Christ’s body and blood in with and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of faith, and the remembrance of the good work Christ both began and promised to complete throughout Art’s life.

Arthur’s dash of earthly life also included the blessing of marriage and the birth of two sons, Karl and Kurt.

During this time, Art would move his family to Australia. But as is true for all of God’s baptized saints, trouble and sin were always near Art. Art found Christ’s promise of forgiveness and comfort to be personal and true after his marriage ended in divorce. It was then and there that this promise of Christ found Art: “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33]

Out of the tragedy of sin and divorce, Art was retaught a truth that all of us Christians learn over and over again; we live out our dash of life simultaneously as a baptized saint and a earth bound sinner. In the Word of God, the law of God forces us to look within our own hearts and discover sin and condemnation. But in that same Word of God we are daily taught that God’s Son Jesus Christ has overcome the world and our own sin; He has set us free from that sin with Words of forgiveness, redemption and new life. This Good News of forgiveness is what turned Art’s heart back to Christ’s cross and the waters of baptism. It is this very thing that continues to draw each of us back to God seeking a renewed life in Christ.

When Art left Australia and returned to the U.S., he felt the calling of God to reconnect to Christ’s Church, and he did that very thing right here at Trinity Lutheran Church in San Diego, and we his church family are glad he did!

Art’s dash, his earthly life here among us at Trinity was always centered around the promises of God through Jesus Christ. 

In God’s Word, Arthur found forgiveness for his many sins, and comfort and strength to live out his redeemed life in a broken world. He found comfort because God’s Word had convinced him that He was never outside of Jesus ability to save him. He found the strength to continue living in dark and sometimes lonely times, because he knew by faith that through Christ Jesus, God would never leave him nor forsake him.

Art was active in both growing and expressing his Christian faith here at Trinity. He was a regular member of both our Sunday and Wednesday morning Bible Studies where he dug deeper into God’s Word. He asked honest questions about the Christian faith and celebrated both the revealed will of God and the unrevealed will of God. For instance, Art celebrated the truth that through Christ’s death upon the cross and the life giving waters of baptism all are offered forgiveness, yet this truth some times irritated and saddened him, because he could not understand why so many baptized Christians seemed to happily reject God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life. As with most of us, Art found that he had no choice but to trust the same God who began the work of salvation to complete that good work as well. Art had faith that one day the people he knew and loved who rejected God’s gift of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ would finally surrender to Christ and find salvation.  

Art was active in the Men’s Club and served on the Board of Elders up until his death. Art also loved to read the Word of God publicly at Divine Service. All of you who are members here a Trinity can easily close your eyes and hear in your mind his strong base tone enunciating each syllable that made up the readings for the day!

Dear friends, Arthur James Lozier’s life must not be defined simply by a date of birth and a date of death but by the redeemed life that is represented in the dash. I end this message as we began this service with this proclamation of God’s own truth: In Holy Baptism Brother Arthur James Lozier was clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covered all his sin.  St. Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” Each of us then along with Art were buried therefore with Jesus by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. 

Art has found redemption and peace with God in a place not made with hands, but in a paradise prepared by Jesus Himself.  May God By faith confirm this promise in each of our hearts in Jesus name… Amen!

Gladly Say It!

January 13th, 2019

Baptism of the Lord-C
January 13, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” [Luke 3:21, 22]

This morning we will explore two questions by looking at our two natures.  The two questions are: 1. Why was Jesus baptized?  2. (And) Why is your baptism such a big deal?

First, Jesus was baptized because it was necessary to fulfill all righteousness.  What I mean by that is, when He entered into the Jordan that day to be baptized by John, He was announcing to this sinful world that His ministry to redeem and save it had begun; He was announcing to all sinful people and all the devils that the promise of the Savior was being fulfilled and would be accomplished once and for all by Him and Him alone.  When Jesus fulfilled all righteousness, He was declaring judgment upon the devil.  On that day He was declaring to you that He would be your righteousness; you would be spared the final judgment for your sins because He would take the punishment that you and your sins deserved.   

Now this is both good news and bad news.  It is good news for you, that is for your new baptismal nature that God has given to you in your baptism.  That new nature, the nature we identify with as a saint, rejoices in this proclamation of righteousness.  Our call to Worship hymn, “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” is in modern terms, the theme song of our baptismal life.  That new nature celebrates that Jesus has now sanctified the waters of baptism, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  No one has to convince it that God is love and has saved it; it’s very existence makes this self-evident.   But you have another nature; your old sinful nature that does not see this as good news, because it means that it must die.  This old nature will do everything it can to live.  That nature has many “theme songs”, but perhaps the song by Luther Ingram, “If Loving You is Wrong, I Don’t want to be Right” is the best.

Our old Nature says, “If loving you is wrong, then I just don’t care about being in the right.”  

The “you” in the song refers to a mistress who is in an adulterous relationship.  But in our lives, the mistress is anything that we might be tempted to call right, which God says is wrong.  God says that intimacy without marriage is wrong, and marriage is between a man and a woman; wrong says the sinful nature, if it feels good and makes me feel fulfilled, then it can’t be wrong.  In regards to our own bodies, God’s Word says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a (great) price.  So glorify God in your body.” [1 Corinthians 6:19, 20]  “Wrong” says the sinful flesh of today’s modern woman, “A woman’s body is hers alone and the life within her womb is hers to decide whether it will be born or not.”

God’s Word says, “Thou shalt not have any other god’s before or beside Me” and our sinful flesh shakes it’s fist at the law of God and follows the law of society which says, “If it feels good, just do it!”  So we as a people, as a nation pursue happiness at all costs because that is our right as one who is simply doing what feels good and seems right.  We pursue and procure all things that promise happiness and a better life.  “I have a right to this and a need for that.”  So we set out on the pursuit of things that this sinful world and our own sinful desires say are necessary.  And this pursuit that seems good right and salutary makes itself central to all things; and when our sinful nature becomes central to our existence, we become the god of our lives.  We can easily justify lying, stealing, coveting, and even murder, because after all, it makes us feel good.  So, “If loving (this or that) is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.”  

And God sees all of this and warns that there is a way that seems right to you but in the end, it really does lead to death.  You can’t agree that I am right and you are wrong, so I will come to you myself and not only show you the truth, but I will pay for your sins.  I will send my Son to you who will teach you and allow you to see all things clearly.  Through His Word, through His cross, through His empty tomb, you will know the truth and that truth will set you free.  I will cleanse you with the same water and Word that He Himself sanctified before He set His face to the cross in order to procure your salvation.  

Now since you are hearing His truth, hear this truth also.  “Baptism, which corresponds to (the ark, which saved Noah and his family from the flood) now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” [1 Peter 3:21] “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” [Romans 6:4] 

This is God’s promise to those of you who are worried about your sin; those things which cause you to fear that God no longer cares or loves you.  When you are cut to the heart and don’t know how you will ever know peace with God, listen to St. Peter, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” [Acts 2:37-39]

For you who long to hear words of comfort, hear the gospel in our call to worship hymn, and let it be your new natures theme song.  Let these Words speak to your heart.  Agree with God and shake your fist at the devil and your own old, sinful nature.


God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!  He, because I could not pay it, Gave my full redemption price.  Do I need earth’s treasures many?  I have one worth more than any, that brought me salvation free; lasting to eternity!  

Listen, I know my own self, and you know yourselves; we shouldn’t be God’s own child.  We know that in our old sinful nature, that is on our own, there is nothing worth loving or saving within us, and yet, God’s Word declares that He does love us and He has saved us through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son our Savior Jesus Christ.  That one gift is greater than anything the world has to offer.  Claim that gift that was first given to you in your baptism and rest in it forever!

Sin, disturb my soul no longer:  I am baptized into Christ!  I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.  Should a guilty conscience seize me since my Baptism did release me in a dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?

We do have guilty consciences don’t we?  Well, let the Word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ give you peace.  Jesus died to bring forgiveness to the world, and in your baptism, He came to give it to you personally.  You are forgiven!  Let that truth soak in and live out it’s truth.  Fight the sin that is within your old nature.  And when you fall into sin, don’t let that old you trick you into thinking you have sinned beyond God’s ability to save.  Shut its mouth with the Word of God and continue to remind it that “you have been baptized into Christ Jesus and into His death.  The old nature was buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, you too might walk in newness of life.” [Romans 6:1-11]

Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!  Drop your ugly accusation, I am not so soon enticed.  Now that to the font I’ve traveled, all your might has come unraveled, and, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!  

So when the devil begins to throw your sins into your face, and taunts you with a future of doubt and even fear of hell, simply tell him, “Devil you go to hell because that is what you desire; as for me, I admit that I am a sinner, what of it?  You see I know of One who is greater than my sin and He has conquered all of my fears and tormenters, even you!  His name is Jesus Christ, and where He is, there I will be one day with Him as well!”

Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!  When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise!  Though I lie in dust and ashes faith’s assurance brightly flashes: Baptism has the strength divine, to make life immortal mine.  

We’ve talked about the fear of death quite a bit this last season of Advent, but it bears repeating.  A Christian who fears their own death because they are uncertain about what or where their life will be after they leave this sinful earth, is a Christian who has small faith and lacks the joy of their salvation.  But small faith, the size of a mustard seed is better than no faith.  God shall one day take that small faith and show you what miracles He can and will do with it.  You will behold your God one day with your own eyes; you and not another for you, and He will say, “Welcome baptized Christian, come and enter your Fathers heaven, and rest in a place that He has prepared for you.”

There is nothing worth comparing to this lifelong comfort sure!  Open-eyed my grave is staring:     Even there I’ll sleep secure.  Though my flesh awaits its raising, still my soul continues praising: I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!  

Do you hear that dear friends? You are a baptized saint.  Your old sinful nature will never gladly celebrate this truth, in fact it will fight it until your last breath.  It knows that it has lost, and it knows that it must die, but like the devil it will not go quietly.  Together, your old sinful nature and the devil want only to cheat you out of your inheritance, but if you will simply hold onto the promises of God, rest in the cross of Christ and your own baptism, you will be clothed with divine strength, which in the end will provide to you eternal life and everlasting peace with God.  It is that nature which now and forever, with God’s means of grace protecting and providing for it declares now and forever: “By baptism, I am God’s own child, and I will gladly say it!  AMEN!”

THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD

January 6th, 2019

Epiphany-C
January 6, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark, Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

“And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

By fortunate circumstance due to the recurring and predictable nature of the calendar, the Epiphany of Our Lord falls on a Sunday this year. That Sunday is today. And by even greater circumstance, but by no means a random one, you get to be in the house of our Lord, listening to the Lord’s Word, on the day we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord.

Whether you’re our congregation’s youngest believer, or whether you’re pushing your way into your ninth or tenth decade of faith, you are not here on account of your own goodness. You are here because by God’s grace and by His election, you have received your own “epiphany of our Lord and Savior” somewhere along your life’s path

But just what is “Epiphany”?  Many in the secular world think that Epiphany, which always occurs 12 days after Christmas, is the standard allotted time to take down your Christmas decorations.  In some cultures of the world, Epiphany is a grander, larger scale, celebration than Christmas itself. And just to the south of us in Mexico, Epiphany is commonly celebrated with such things as cutting the “King cake” and gifts left in shoes for the children.

The word ‘Epiphany’ comes from Greek and literally means ‘a manifestation’. In other words, it has to do with something being revealed that has previously been hidden, or at least obscured for some time. Certainly the people of the old world, even the people of Israel, didn’t have a full understanding of just who God really is and how He was going to bring about their eternal salvation prior to the birth of Jesus.

There were plenty of prophecies of how all this would happen. This morning, our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah, foretold what would happen when God revealed His glory to the world: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you…”All people will be drawn into that glory, and all people will be drawn into God’s family.  And, from our Gospel lesson, we heard the quotation from Micah that was used by Herod’s advisors to direct the wise men to Bethlehem: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”

 These clues gave the people of ancient times a bit of a puzzle to consider. Each little revelation, each answer to a prophecy, put more and more information at their disposal. And, using that information, some eager souls attempted to predict the when, the where, and the how of the coming of the Messiah.

It’s kind of like our own day and age, where people attempt to use the far fuller content of the Scriptures to predict the end of times, or the time, the place, and the circumstances of the Savior’s Second Coming. Of course, to do this, they have to set aside Jesus’ own words, they have to disregard what Jesus Himself told us, that no one can predict it, “… for no one knows these things… only the Father.” Too often, though, in ancient times and now, all the speculation on the when, and the where, and the how of the coming of the Messiah misses the what — and, more importantly, it misses the whyof the Messiah’s coming.

Speculation like this will always happen. It is part of our sinful human nature to want to calculate, to speculate, or just plain guess about things which God, in His wisdom, has chosen to keep hidden from us for the time being. The ironic flip-side of that is, of course, that too many times we ignore that which God has already revealed to us.

Consider, for example, what we already know and what we don’t know about the wise men, or the “magi,” who came to worship the one born King of the Jews. We know that they came from the east, but what we don’t know is how far from the east, or that it was necessarily due east from Bethlehem. We can speculate, as others have, that they might have learned the teachings about the Messiah of Israel from Jewish exiles who lived in Babylon or more likely Persia. Or, they could’ve been from Arabia, or even from as far away as modern day India or China; we just don’t know. And, we need to be humble enough before God and with one another to admit that.

My apologies to Christmas card writers and the hymn writers, but we don’t know if these wise men were the “Three Kings of Orient Are.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say they were kings, nor does it say that there were three. (Most people assume there were three wise men because of the three gifts presented, the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which are mentioned in the Bible.) Isaiah does prophesy that kings will come to the brightness of the Messiah’s rising, but we can’t, with any certainty, connect that verse directly to this particular visit.

And what about the legend that the three wise men were named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, or any names similar to that? There’s no biblical mention of names. They are probably something that cropped up in the Middle Ages in misguided attempts to answer people’s curious questions, instead of redirecting them to what really is important in this story.

Also of legend, rather than biblical accuracy, is the idea that the wise men rode in on camels. Again, Isaiah mentions that camels of Midian and Ephah and Sheba shall come. But Matthew’s account doesn’t document the wise men’s mode of transportation. There’s nothing wrong with picturing the wise men coming on camels, but there’s nothing to make it a point of certainty, either.

So, about now you’re probably thinking, “What’s your point Vicar? Are purposely trying to ruin our sentimental impressions of Christmas and the manger scene? Are you trying to upset our childhood memories? Or, confuse us with lots of details?”

No, not really. My hope in pointing out such details is that you’ll be encouraged to read the Scriptures, not just more often, but with a greater eye for what they contain and what they do not contain. And I would pray that you will know the difference when you hear people talk. Quite often we hear people say (or we might even say ourselves), “Well, I think the Bible says such-and-such…” But unless we know actually what it does say, offering our opinion can be dangerous, both to them and to us.

Now in these things I brought up here today, it’s really like what Pastor Brian would say, “It’s adiaphora!” It really doesn’t matter because it doesn’t change the important aspects of the Biblical account. It doesn’t change what really matters!

When we actually turn to the Scriptures, we may find that what God’s Word has revealed to us is significantly different, or sometimes even silent on the topic. And, it is sinful for us to quote God’s Word inaccurately for the purpose of convincing people of our own ideas, rather than what God’s Word tells us. We have likely all fallen victim to it at sometime or another.

Another hope I have in suggesting that you consider the content of Scripture more discerningly is that you’ll begin to see the connections God has put there for us much more clearly. Yes, the Bible is a difficult and mysterious book in many ways. But sometimes we make it much more difficult than it needs to be, because we want to carve it up into isolated snippets rather than trying to see the rich, broad minutiae of its tapestry. Sometimes the temptation is to use a particular verse, maybe out of context, to win ego-building arguments, rather than to convey the wholeness of God’s Law and Gospel message to a fallen, lost, and dying world. And in doing so the true message of God’s Word get’s lost.

Again, we should repent of our failings, for the power of God’s Word is not to be used for our own purposes, but for the His glory, and for the benefit of sharing His grace with others. We should pray for the motivation to more diligently and deeply read and study Scripture, pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance for better clarity and understanding of it, and finally, pray for the courage and opportunities to share that understanding with others, so that they might have their own “epiphanies” with the Lord.

If we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, to seek a greater understanding, God will not disappoint us. He will overcome that sinful desire to shape or twist His Word for our own purposes, so that He might accomplish His greater good. He will help us to see how Matthew’s account of the wise men’s visit truly does connect with Isaiah’s prophecy, with Micah’s prophecy, and with the entirety of all the other Bible books, as well. After all, the Bible itself is ultimately the inspired work of God, and not the work of the individual writers.

The wise men’s visit shows us several things. First, it illuminates how the message of God’s salvation through the Messiah had reached out into the world even before Christ’s coming in the flesh. The wise men were not just sitting around one night, observing the sky, and suddenly came to the conclusion on their own that this new star indicated the birth of a king to the Jews. This idea had to have been planted in their minds from some source with an understanding that the coming of the Messiah would be accompanied by great signs, including a great light from the heavens.

Among these revelations, recorded in book of Numbers, chapter 24 Balaam prophesied, “…a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” A special star or other astronomical events such as comets or meteors was taken to symbolize divine validation of a king’s right to rule.

Balaam went on, “Edom shall be dispossessed.” Now it’s no coincidence that Herod, the king who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth, was not an Israelite king at all, but an Edomite who had been installed by the Romans as their puppet ruler.

When the wise men appeared, telling Herod that a star had arisen in Israel to indicate the birth of a Jewish king, he had good reason to fear for his rule. The Scriptures said that Edom would be dispossessed. You see, Herod was not an Israelite king at all, but an Edomite who had been installed by the Romans as their puppet ruler. Herod knew enough of Israel’s history and of the Jewish religion to realize that God often worked on behalf of Israel through supernatural means. However, the deception and violence Herod used in response, were manifestations of the same evil inclinations that we exhibit whenever we seek to shape things to our own desires, apart from the revealed will of God.

The second important point of this lesson is that prophecies in the Scriptures are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Even though Herod used Micah’s prophecy about the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem for despicable purposes, that was to kill innocent children, it nevertheless shows that Jesus’ miraculous birth took place exactly where God had revealed it would, the way God had said it would. For nearly 700 years, since the time of Micah, that information might have seemed of little importance. But in the prophecy’s fulfillment, those few verses take on immeasurable significance.

Thirdly, when the star finally stopped where Jesus was, and the wise men reached the end of their journey, they were pleased beyond measure. The text says, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” They were beside themselves with joy! (similar to the joy we heard bout with Simeon last week.) They may not have realized just what sort of king they were about to encounter, and even though he was merely a child at this point, they knew that something great and miraculous had come into their lives.

If only we could experience such joy when we come into contact with our heavenly King who came from God the Father, was born as an infant to suffer and die on that old rugged cross for our sins! And our life of faith is more than just an emotional experience!

How often do we allow our faith to be lived out in cold drudgery or in a bland routine? The Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier of the world has revealed Himself to you! He has chosen you to be His own, to receive the full favor of His grace, to receive forgiveness and to give you eternal life with Him in heaven! You should not just be excited about that, you should be joyful, thrilled, energized, and motivated to seek and follow His will!

A final key point of this lesson is that God continued to reveal Himself to the wise men even after they had followed the star and met the miracle of God in the flesh. He used another miraculous means—a dream—to show them His will. And, He prevented them from going back to Jerusalem, and protected the Holy family and the young Baby Jesus, so that His plan and timetable of salvation would not be interrupted or short-circuited by Herod.

You know, God does this for you, too, even today. He continues to reveal Himself to you in miraculous ways: The spoken word brings God’s power into your lives, each and every time you hear the declaration of absolution and the proclamation of the Gospel for the forgiveness of your sins. He doesn’t bring you gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but far more precious gifts of His own body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, satisfying your spiritual hunger and quenching your soul’s thirst, even as it burns away your sins with a power brighter and hotter than that of any star.

Maybe faith came to you as an infant or young child as you were baptized by loving, believing parents and given the Holy Spirit’s gifts by water and Word. Maybe, like others, you were reached later in life through the proclamation of that same Living Word, and the Spirit chose to enlighten your heart with the wisdom of the Gospel and then you received the gifts of the Holy Spirit through your baptism.

Either way is fine, really. God has chosen those means—Sacrament and Word, Word and Sacrament—to reveal Himself to us and to draw us near to Him. Through them, He grants us our own epiphanies. They may be personal ones, but they are by no means “little ones”, for the granting of faith is like a tectonic plate shifting in our lives and in our standing in God’s eyes. No longer are you aliens, strangers, and enemies to God. Instead, you are family, made His very own children—reborn, not as kings or queens of the Jews, but as princes and princess of heaven and earth – children of God, redeemed by Christ the Crucified, and royal citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Rejoice that the Lord’s Epiphany has come to you, revealing who He is and re-creating who you are, so that you may join the wise men in “rejoicing with exceedingly great joy” at His coming to the world for your salvation.

In the holy name of our God, who has been made flesh and was revealed to the nations, for all to see, and for all to believe, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Song of Simeon

December 30th, 2018

Christmas 1-C
December 30, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark, Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

…and when [Mary and Joseph] brought in the child Jesus [into the temple], to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, [Simeon] took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Are you ready to go?

What I mean is, are you ready to leave? No, I don’t mean right now, right at this very moment; it would be nice if you would stick around till the end of the service.

But, at the end of the service, will you be ready to leave? And by that, I mean, will you be ready to leave in peace — satisfied and content — ready for whatever comes next?

What makes us ready to leave — to leave any situation?

For example, this year is coming to a close. Are you ready to put 2018 behind you and move on to whatever 2019 may bring? (That sounds so weird…2019)

But what makes us ready to leave, even to the point of leaving this life? That day could happen any time, you know, any day, any hour. And if that were to happen, would you be ready? If the Lord were to decide to call you home today, are you ready to go? And if not, why not? And if you’re not sure, what would make the difference? What would change your mind?

Today in our Gospel reading, we meet a man who was ready to go. He was ready for whatever might happen next. And we find out in this text why he was ready, what made that difference. The man’s name was Simeon, and I think we can learn something from him today about what it means to “Depart in Peace.”

Let me set the scene for you. It’s eight days after the birth of Jesus. We’re in Jerusalem. We’re going to the temple. Why? Because eight days after the birth of a firstborn son, the father and mother were supposed to go to the temple and offer up a sacrifice to the Lord. It’s in the Law of Moses.

God commands the Israelites: The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me. (Exodus 22:29b-30)

 

Because, in the Passover, the firstborn sons of Israel were spared from death in Egypt, those boys were to be dedicated to the Lord and his service. Theoretically, they were supposed to serve in the temple. But the Lord God set apart the whole tribe of Levi to take the place of the boys from the other tribes.

Back to the temple. there are several families bringing young boys into the temple. Only, today, on this occasion, there is a firstborn son from the tribe of Judah, the tribe of kings, coming into the temple, this Son will also go on to be the Priest Supreme and the Lamb of God, making the ultimate sacrifice for all people. Can you picture it?

Over there. Mary and Joseph are carrying Jesus into the temple now. Do you see him? No? Again, there are many families bringing young boys into the temple today. How can we tell which couple carrying a baby into the temple is the one I’m talking about? There was nothing special, no special effects, no angels singing, no halos, and no beams of light to distinguish this Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus from all the other families there that day. That’s the point. And that’s how it would have appeared to Simeon, too, had the Lord not made it known to him through special revelation by the Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel lesson tells us, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And [that day] he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God.”

It says Simeon was waiting for “the consolation of Israel”. He was waiting for the comfort the Lord had promised to his people. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”the prophet Isaiah had spoken centuries before, and Simeon was waiting and wanting to see the fulfillment of thatpromise. Now, here it comes. The consolation, the comfort, the Christ child, is being carried in right before his very eyes.

The consolation comes in the person of this little baby. The Holy Spirit reveals to Simeon that he is seeing the Lord’s Christ. This is the Messiah — the Christ –the promised deliverer-king, who will bring God’s kingdom of comfort and consolation. God’s Promise fulfilled. The Lord had told Simeon he would not die before the arrival of the Messiah. Now the Christ has come. And Simeon thanks God for fulfilling this special promise to him, and so now Simeon –presumably an old man — now Simeon is ready to die, if that is what God has in store for him.

Simeon takes the baby Jesus in his arms and utters this beautiful song of praise:

“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Now here’s what it means to be ready to “Depart in Peace.” It’s to know and to experience the salvation that the Lord has prepared and promised — that same salvation that the Lord has prepared and promised for you and me in the waters of Holy Baptism.

That’s what Simeon experienced when he saw the baby Jesus with his own eyes and held Him in his own arms. Because of his hope in God’s promise, the hope of salvation come in the person of Baby Jesus, now Simeon knew that he was at peace and ready for whatever might come next, even his own death. Now he could “Depart in Peace.” Those same promises wee given to us in Baptism.

How would that consolation, that salvation, that peace, come about? That’s where our text goes next.

We read that Mary and Joseph marveled at what Simeon said about their baby. And Simeon blesses them and says to Mary his mother: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

 

This is the first time in the short life of the Baby Jesus that the Cross is referenced. The consolation will come through conflict. The salvation will come through suffering and sorrow. And peace will come through a Cross. And Simeon tells the mother, Mary that she will experience sorrow, like a sword piercing her soul, when one day she will see her son suffering shame and humiliation and death on a cross. But that is how the salvation will come. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the son of Mary, true God and true man, He will suffer and die for the sins of all men, winning our forgiveness for eternity.  And with His sacrificial death on the Cross comes the consolation, and the salvation, and the peace we all need so very much.

St Paul tells us in Romans, chapter 3: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like his [then] we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)

So how is it with you, dear brothers and sisters? Are you ready to depart in peace? Can you say with Simeon, “Yes, Lord, I’m ready to go, I’m ready for whatever comes next”?

Now you may not have laid your eyes on the Baby Jesus, being carried into the temple. You have not held that little baby in your arms. But here’s what you do have. You have the same Word of God given to Simeon. Your ears have heard the Word of the Lord. Your eyes have seen, with the eyes of faith, what God has laid before you: the consolation, the salvation, and the path of peace, leading all the way to heaven, through faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ. And you have received, and you will receive once again today, the very body and blood of your Savior in His Holy Sacrament. Dear Christian brothers and sisters, Simeon has nothing on you. You are just as blessed. You are just as comforted. And you are just as ready to go.

You know, that is why the church sings Simeon’s song right after receiving the Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament and right before the end of our service. It’s because we can identify with what Simeon experienced that day. We have received the same Comforter, the same Savior, and the same Lord as Simeon. And so we sing Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis. “Nunc Dimittis” is simply the Latin words for, “Now depart.”  We sing: “O Lord, now let Your servant depart in heavenly peace, for I have seen the glory of Your redeeming grace: A light to lead the Gentiles unto Your holy hill, the glory of Your people, Your chosen Israel.”

Yes, we too can sing out like Simeon! And we do! With joy and gladness we praise God for the salvation that comes to us, freely and fully, in the person of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now we can face whatever comes at us this week, or in this new year to come. Whether it means, health issues, financial issues, broken relationships, struggles with depression or loneliness — whatever comes our way, we are ready. And even death, if the Lord should decide it’s our time to go; we are ready. Not because of our merits or anything we have done. But because of the Lord’s Christ, our Jesus Christ, the infant Messiah, the man who died on the cross, and the God who rose as our Redeemer and Savior. This is the one who speaks to us His words of peace. This is the one who has the words of eternal life. And this is God’s promise to you, that you have forgiveness and peace –and with them, everlasting life — because of this Baby Jesus.

 

What great hope for the new year! What peace we have that surpasses all human understanding! What a joy it is to know this Savior! What a blessing it brings to you and your family and to this congregation! There is nothing else like it. Nothing else can fill the void and vacuum that we would have apart from Christ.But with Christ, we are ready to face whatever comes our way. For Christ has come into this temple, and the Holy Spirit has revealed Him to us here also. And we are ready to “Depart in Peace.”

And now may that same peace, the peace the surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Word Became Flesh!


December 23rd, 2018

Advent 4-C
December 23, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” [John 1:1-3]

Just when we think we have God all figured out, He comes out of left field and does something we never even considered. How many times have you encountered what you thought was a hopeless situation, only to have the whole thing turned around?  Oh we of little faith!

The Jews knew that biting accusation all too well!  They were anxiously waiting for a warrior-king, a descendant of King David to come, who would make them a worldwide super power once again.  Oh their king came, a descendant of David certainly, but He didn’t come in a way they expected.  You see, there was no army carrying their king into battle; instead He was carried by a pregnant teenager who was about to give birth to their true king, God in human flesh.  Instead of defeating Rome and the Emperor, this King came to defeat sin, death, and the devil!

How did the Jews get so confused? 

Maybe they missed what God was doing because they concentrated on temporal things instead of eternal things.  Maybe they decided on concentrating on snippets of prophecy instead on the whole prophecy.  Maybe they used only portions of God’s Word, like those found in Micah, our Old Testament lesson this morning: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”  So far, that sounds like help is on the way.  Let’s see what else they may have read that gave them hope that their warrior-king was coming to fight for them.  How about this: “And He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.”  Well that sounds like a super power God for a super power nation, doesn’t it?

The problem was, they were only paying attention to the parts of God’s Word that they liked, and they were ignoring the parts of His Word that continuously reminded them that they were not living as God desired… they were not living as people of faith who trusted in, and patiently waited on their God to provide for them.  Listen to just a few of the many reminders God gave them: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” [Proverbs 21:2,3]

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. [Isaiah 1:11]

“But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” [Jeremiah 7:23-25]

Israel thought that by observing a few religious rules God would wink at their sin.  They thought they could hide the evil in their hearts by appeasing God with a few sacrifices.  But do you know what God calls someone who only listens to parts of His Word, while comfortably ignoring the other parts?  Lost and damned in their sins!

Friends, God’s Word always comes to us in two parts, the Law and the Gospel.  

When we only pick out the good news, the Word that speaks of God’s forgiving love, then we are sure to miss the way that He wants to bring us that good news… through our confession to Him that we are sinful.  We must be told by His Word that our hearts are sinful and we must admit it to Him before He will forgive.  His Word must show us that we are self-serving and prideful.  And by that same Word we must be convinced that the only way to know and experience God’s love is by confessing this truth.  If we do this as He asks, He in turn promises to make us self-giving and humble.  We must obey His call to confession and then admit our need for Him to change us before He will allow us to hear His Gospel Word of love and forgiveness.  

If we will not approach Him just as He desires, with a broken spirit and a contrite heart, then we, like the Jews will miss the true Gospel found in our reading from Micah: “Therefore He shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of His brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their peace.” [Micah 5:3-5]  

Like the Jews, all of mankind is lost unless we receive our Savior as He comes, as a baby; lowly and humble, through the womb of a teenaged virgin. 

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]  

Dear friends, the warrior king that the Jews waited so long for did come, but He didn’t come as they expected; that is He wasn’t the kind of king they looked for.  If they had only drawn more deeply into God’s whole Word, it would have been so clear.  Their great King David, a man after God’s own heart spoke to them clearly in Psalm 40 about what this greater king and Messiah would do, listen: “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but a body you have prepared for me.  Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” [Psalm 40:6-10 LXX]

In these very Words friends, God was telling Israel and the world today, that He is saving sinful man in a way that we would never expect.  He comes to us in our own flesh; because we could never on our own delight to do God’s will, so God sends His Living Word to us to do it for us.  Listen now to that same Psalm as explained by the writer of our Epistle lesson: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but you have now prepared a body for me; (hear the truth sinful children, God does) not delight in (your religious sacrifices)—in your burnt offerings and sin offerings (He takes) no pleasure. (But now Jesus says), ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in (their prophecies).”

 

Dear friends, when Jesus Christ, the Word which became flesh said that God neither desires nor takes pleasure in the sacrifices and offerings of the Jews, He is speaking to us as well.  He is saying that our attempts to please Him by being good, by doing our best are not what He is looking for in us.  If these were good enough, then what need would any of us have for a Savior? Why must God the Father prepare a body for God the Son?  My friends, so that He could do what we cannot; so that in our flesh He can obey God in our place! But friends, obedience wasn’t the only reason that Christ was given a body!  No, you see because of our many sins, something much costlier is required in order to make things right with God.  Willful sin has been committed on our part, and an acceptable sacrifice must be given… a life must be taken and blood must be spilled.  You see friends, Christ’s obedience is much greater than simply living a life that pleases God; His obedience also includes a sin offering, the offering of the very blood and life of God the Son.  This is the true and final sacrifice for sin, because it is the ultimate sacrifice, which according to prophecy, God desired to be made, and friends He made it for you!

Just think about the grandness of God’s love friends.  

Hear the words of our Savior as He speaks them for you… as He speaks them to you in a way to make it clear that He alone can save you from the sin that has entrapped you.  With you on His heart He loudly speaks: “No, he will not die.  No she will not pay.  Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God.  Send me in their place!”  In that spirit, the spirit of love for the Father and love for you, Jesus offered his life to the Father. It was that very same love that motivated him (John 4:34) and guided Him all the way to Calvary. What a great cost He has bought you with!  Think of Him wrestling in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane and you will begin to understand the cost.  Think of Him calling out alone upon the cross as the last of His life giving blood and the love of the Father left Him: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  

This Christmas friends, it is good to remember the manger and the infant lowly, but do not lose sight of the cross!  Remember the cross, because to remember it is to remember a truth that will change the way you worship and the way you live your life in service to God: Jesus was born to die for you!  

Friends, do you want to live a life that pleases God?  Well the first step in doing that is by remembering the gifts of forgiveness and new life, which He gave you within the waters of your baptism, and then confess to Him that you can’t live the life of perfection His law demands.  Confess your sinfulness to Him and then put His Law that terrifies you aside and hear the Gospel.  Hear the Good News that assures you that God does love you and He forgives you of all of your sins because of what Jesus has done for you.  Hear this good news often.  Come every week to this place of worship and let Him strengthen your faith and nourish your spirit.  Let Him change you from the inside out.  And as you do that, something new and different will happen, you will begin to find yourself becoming more and more like your Savior-King who died for you.  

And then friends, when God begins to look for your obedience in small things you will begin to find yourself saying: Here I am—Lord—I have come to do your will, O God.  Send me… use me!”  May the love of God through Christ Jesus move our hearts and minds to do this very thing…. I ask this in Jesus name…. AMEN!