Come Into The Fortress (and Stay There)!

October 26th, 2014

Twentieth Sunday in Pentecost A, October 26, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

Matthew 22:34-46

In 1505, a young but brilliant German law student named Martin Luther found himself caught in an open field, on foot during a violent thunder  storm.  As lightening struck the ground all around him, Luther in fear for his life threw himself on the ground, and with his face in the mud, he  begged God to have mercy on him and spare his life.  He entered into “negotiations” with God by stating that while he knew he was a sinner, if  God would spare his life, he would then dedicate his life to Him and become a monk.

Luther did survive, and true to his word he became an Augustinian monk.  During his time in a monastery, Luther tried to work out his salvation  and become closer to God through study of the Psalms, prayer, fasting, meditation and hard work.  But no matter how hard he tried, he could  not seem to find peace for his troubled soul.  Nothing seemed to shake his feeling that he was a helpless sinner caught in the grasp of an angry  and vengeful God.

In 1507, Luther was ordained to the priesthood and licensed to preach and study Theology at the University of Wittenberg.  Luther’s superiors  soon discovered that God had gifted him with a brilliant mind, but yet he seemed to be held back by his now obvious feelings of guilt.  The  solution?  Luther must make the pilgrimage to Rome, where church tradition taught that the journey itself would earn merit with God and bring  the pilgrim closer to salvation.  Luther was also told that he could purchase certificates of forgiveness called indulgences, which were published by the Pope himself.  These indulgences guaranteed the purchaser of even more favor and love from God.  Well, Luther, ever the obedient monk did as he was told, but he found no peace in the pilgrimage or the possession of indulgences.

All of us, like Martin Luther hunger to be closer to God; we desire to do the things that please Him, but no matter how hard we try to do those good thing, sin, our sin is always there pulling us away from God.  This is the hard lesson Luther learned.  It was not until God, through His Word provided Luther with a faith to trust in Christ alone that Luther was finally freed from his guilt and his bondage to sin.  What does scripture say about faith?  Faith comes from hearing the Word of God, which is the Word of Jesus Christ. [Romans 10:17] Martin Luther discovered this one evening while studying God’s Word in the privacy of his own room.  Through his devotional reading of the Book of Romans, Luther received peace with God through God’s gift of faith.  Listen to the words that jumped out at Luther, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” [Rom. 3:21-24]

By those Words, Luther discovered that God is not angrily staying far away from us and we do not have to try hard to reach Him or please Him.  In fact, the opposite is true.  You and I though born sinful and distant from God are not lost at all, for God Himself through Jesus Christ, has come to us so that we who were once lost are now found and released from the bondage of sin.  Through Christ’s work alone upon the cross, and through the gift of new life given to you within the holy waters of your baptism, you are now right with God!  Now while this is certainly Good News, it is not new news, but rather it is the consistent and old gospel message of grace, which has been handed down from the very beginning; it had simply been overlaid and hidden by the traditions of men.

Luther discovered that God’s grace is like a fortress, a Mighty Fortress, the likes of which the devil Himself can not breech, nor overcome.  Lets look at our Gospel lesson (Matthew 22:34-46) and maybe we too can learn how to not just enter the Mighty Fortress we sang about, but stay in it for life!

Our gospel lesson starts out with the question of a seeker; one who wants to be close to God, but on his own terms. We know this is true, because he starts out on the wrong foot immediately.  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Another way to ask this is, “Which commandment should I consistently fulfill in order to please God?” Or yet another way to ask this is, “What must I do to be saved from my sin?”  Like Martin Luther, this young lawyer, a Pharisee was trapped by his inability to keep all of the commandments of God perfectly, and so he desired to know which commandment out of all of the others would buy favor with God if he can keep that one.

“And (Jesus) said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the greatest commandment.”  Uh oh… the young lawyer and all of the other Pharisees knew Jesus was right of course, but they also knew that each of them failed miserably in keeping this first great commandment.  You see, they knew something most of us know as well, but also like them we conveniently ignore.  The kind of love that Jesus is talking about is not a warm fussy feeling, but a commitment.  This kind of love that Jesus speaks of is the kind of love that God promises to those who love His law and meditate on it day and night.  God promises that no matter what happens, He will never leave nor forsake His child who likewise is committed to Him.  And there is the rub isn’t it?

Like the young lawyer, we too say that we love God, that we are committed to Him but then we do things, we say things… we think things that demonstrate something completely different.  Yes, the truth is we are far more often committed to ourselves than we are committed to God and His Word.  But Jesus is not quite done yet; He still has a little more to say about what we must do to be saved: “And a second (commandment) is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  In other words, Jesus is telling all of us, that if we want to impress God, if we want to be right with Him through our own work, we must love as He loves.

Here’s a little ditty that communicates the enormity of this task of loving like God: “To live above with saints I love, that will be pure heavenly glory, but to live below with saints I know… well that’s a different story!”

Friends, God’s love is a commitment to us to never stop loving us even when we are unlovable.  And in His commandments, He calls us; no He demands that we do the same.  That is the nature of God’s law, it demonstrates perfection in how God acts and then it demands that we do the same without giving any help to “do” that thing.  Now if this was all that God’s Word informed us, we would be no different than any other religion; in essence we would be in big trouble.  But that is not all that God’s Word says, is it?  No, God offers us another way… the way of the gospel; a way that becomes a Mighty Fortress that we must enter and stay in, and that way is Jesus Christ, both the son of David and the Son of God!  And this is the very truth that Jesus must now steer the hearts and minds of both the young lawyer and ourselves to this morning, and He does it with a question of His own.

““What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”

How sad.  Not only couldn’t they answer His question, but they never bothered to ask Him any follow up questions.  They would not, because they could not; their pride in their own righteousness just would not let them precede any further.  Yes, that is sad, because standing right in front of them was not just a son of David, but the very Son of God.  This is why David called his own descendant Adonai, or Lord, God.  So sad.  They had just heard the little children and thousands of people on Palm Sunday proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, with the word “Hosanna”, but they could not join in, because they were in bondage to their sinful wills and refused to submit to the will of God.  They could not agree with God the Father that Jesus, the son of  Mary, a simple carpenter was in fact the very Son of God.  But Jesus tried to open their eyes.  He tried to take their eyes off of the law of God as their source of salvation, and instead turn their hearts to God’s one and only means of salvation… Jesus the Christ, the very Son of God.

In a few short days, Jesus would demonstrate God’s final solution for bringing sinful men and women back to Him in a relationship of love and faith.  Jesus would prove His Father’s love for sinful men and women, by allowing Himself to be hung upon the cross.  Jesus would prove that He is in fact both the son of man and the Son of God, by dying as all men die and then taking His life back from the tomb, thus defeating death itself.  But Jesus did not die and come back to life to prove a point; that would simply be a demonstration of God’s wrath.  No, Jesus died and took His life back again so that we would know that God still loves us and that He has provided a way back to Him; a way that is greater than our mortal enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil.

In Jesus death and resurrection, He not only shows a way back to God, but by faith He takes us on that way.  Jesus shows us that it is He alone who can fulfill the commandments of God perfectly, by perfectly demonstrating God’s own love for us.  I doubt that Jesus had warm fuzzy feelings for any of us as He was whipped within an inch of His life, and then as He hung dying upon the cross was insulted and challenged.  While the Son of God may not have felt feelings of warmth He did demonstrate commitment to fulfill His promise of salvation, and that dear friends is divine love!  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” [1 John 4:10]  And “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]

The way of the Cross is the way to enter the Fortress and the way to stay within it. By that I mean to say along with the ancient church and the sainted Rev. Dr. Martin Luther that by grace you are saved through faith, and that this faith comes by scripture (God’s Holy Word, both the Law and the gospel) alone.  Christ’s death and resurrection is a fact that scripture proclaims, but it is a fact that you must both receive and believe.  But you cannot do this on your own; it must be received from God as a gift.  It is a gift that comes from the very heart of God the Father, and it is given through the sacrifice of His Son, but your heart must be taught to both desire and trust this gift of God, and that work is done through the power of the Holy Spirit through scripture alone.

It is Holy Scripture that teaches us the difference between God’s Law and His Gospel.  We are saved by the gospel, God’s work for us sinful men, but we are sustained and led by His Law, which teaches and moves us to love God and our neighbor just as Jesus loves.  The law and gospel work together though in different an opposite ways. (1) The Law teaches us the knowledge of sin, but the Gospel gives us forgiveness of sin; (2) the Law teaches what good works are, but the gospel produces true joy and both and desire and zeal to do those good works; (3) the Law checks our outward sinful behavior, and increases our inward secret sins, but the Gospel destroys both our outward sin and our inward sin.  So the difference between these two works of God can be explained this way, “The law tells us what we must do to be saved and the Gospel does that work for us and through us.”  Or another way to say this is that “The law kills the sinner, but not sin; the gospel kills sin, but not the sinner.”

This morning, you have been gathered together as a ragtag bunch of ragamuffins who have been saved by grace, through faith, which comes to you in God’s Word through the Law and Gospel.  You have been gathered into the Mighty Fortress of God.  And now you are called to both rest within this Mighty Fortress and to live, breath, and find your identity within it.  And our identity is shaped by a few central thoughts.  The first one is this, God does not need your love, He desires it; He wants you to be in a relationship of love with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.  And the second thought is like the first, in that God does not need your good works, your fulfillment of His law, but your neighbor does!  Your neighbor needs you to help them, and you help them when you keep the law of God; when you do your very best unto the Lord.  You see friends; God wants you to allow His love to overtake you so that you will willingly commit yourself to Him and your neighbor.

Who is your neighbor?  Your neighbor is your spouse, your children, your friends and family, even those people that you are afraid of, or those who have hurt you in the past.  But your neighbors are also here within this church, the very place that God gives His gifts to sinners; the very place that becomes the Mighty Fortress of forgiving love for them as well.  Your neighbor needs your love and so does your church.  We all need you to be committed to this place and its people, so that together, we will continue to be a place of refuge, forgiveness, peace, and love.  We need your love so that together we can continue reaching out to the lost and help them both enter and stay within the Mighty Fortress, which is our God and the body of Christ… His Church.

I pray that God will fill you with faith and His mighty love as together we do these very things through the power of God… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Life On the Edge!

October 12th, 2014

Eighteenth Sunday in Pentecost A, October 12, 2011

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

Matthew 22:1-14

Following Jesus is, well it’s… wonderful, amazing, fulfilling, exciting, and peaceful, but it isn’t easy.  It isn’t easy because it requires faith, and faith requires you to release control of your life and your decisions to God’s direction.  Faith is the substance of things that we hope for, but as of yet unseen!  To live a life following Jesus requires living by faith and not by sight!

This is the message that our gospel reading leads us to this morning; it was the message that Jesus was speaking to the Jewish leaders and others that were listening to Him teach, and it is the message that He is giving to us this morning.  This morning, Jesus speaks this message to all of us who are baptized: live a life of faith by living on the edge!  But as I said, this kind of life isn’t easy; it never has been.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of God here on earth, we have seen a picture of disappointment, fear, doubt; we see sin becoming stronger, while the joy, courage, and faith of those who live in and proclaim the kingdom seems to be getting progressively weaker.  Jesus story about a King who invited many to his son’s wedding banquet is told to illustrate this very point.  Like His story, the history of the Jews and even our history displays sinful people refusing God’s offer of grace.  Within the ranks of these sinful men are a mixture of open and defiant sinners and those who seem like real believers, but secretly they’re posers, unbelievers; Jesus says that the time is coming when they’ll be unmasked!  Within His story, Jesus has wonderfully compressed all of the New Testament time and even our time, into one story.

What we need to remember throughout the story is that the wedding and the invitations to attend it pictures God’s grace; His undeserved mercy, forgiveness, and love for all of sinful mankind.  But this grace can only come through Jesus Christ, the living Son of God!  The banquet table and the feast that’s being served on it represents the feast of victory for our God; a victory that celebrates first the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and then the very same thing that’s promised to each and every person who is seated at the feast of victory.  Well almost every person.  You see in Jesus’ story, there is one person who doesn’t belong there.  There’s one person who isn’t wearing the robe provided by God!  That one person represents a vast number of people who refuse to turn to Jesus as their Savior, Lord, and King.  And the change of clothes they refuse to be fitted with represents the new identity that each of us is offered and given in our baptisms.

Throughout the life of every person ever created, there are God-created opportunities to receive this new identity, to put it on if you will, to walk around in it and become comfortable in it.  But God in His wisdom allows each of us to reject this new identity and that is what causes tension; it’s what makes us feel like we’re living on the edge of joy and disappointment; the edge of courage and fear; and the edge between faith and doubt!

Living on the edge means living between joy and disappointment.  Have you heard about the family that moved into the neighborhood of a local congregation?  Well the good saints of that church decided to reach out to that family when they heard that they had 12 kids and were for the most part poor. They invited the family to divine service and even brought a package of wonderful suits and dresses to them and said, “We want you to know” they said, “that you and your entire family are welcome at our church anytime. We have bought you these gifts and we want you to feel comfortable and at ease in our congregation. We hope you can use them” and they left. Well Sunday came and the congregation waited for the family, but they never showed. Wondering what could have possibly happened, some members of the board of elders returned to the home and found the family just getting back, all dressed in their new clothes.  “We don’t mean to be nosey but we would like to know what happened. We had hoped to see you this morning in church,” the head elder said.  The father answered, “Well, we got up this morning intending to come. And we sure do appreciate your invitation. But after we showered, shaved, and dressed, why we looked so good we wanted to show off our new look to the folks of my wife’s old church.”

Now that’s a funny way of talking about a serious problem. Invitations are sent to many to come to church but so few people respond. It’s frustrating. Many of you have reached out to neighbors or friends and asked them to come to church and you know all too well the disappointment, how few respond.

Maybe that is why we find this morning’s parable so familiar. But we must remember that Jesus has told us that the Kingdom of God has always been like this; it’s like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son and many would not come. They are just too busy to respond.  But not you… here you sit at the table!  You got in, so put aside your disappointment and receive the joy of the Lord.

Living on the edge means living between courage and fear.  In Jesus story the royalty, which represented the Jewish nation were the first ones invited to the feast!  As a group, they would not come, so they were destroyed.  In the year 70 AD the nation of Israel, the city of Jerusalem and more importantly their temple, their way of life and worship was destroyed, all because they would not come to a new Holy City, the Kingdom of God which can only be entered through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  But their empty seats will not even be noticed because God is no longer inviting a nation of people, but all people from every nation, tribe, and tongue; that means He is inviting you!

Now for some people this can cause fear; even fear that can paralyze them.  They see how God punished the nation of Israel for the way they mistreated their invitation, and so they see God as an angry and punishing God.  But if they see Him in this way, as if He has dark storm clouds draped across His face, they aren’t seeing Him correctly!  The very fact that He has invited you first in the waters of your baptism, and the fact that you are seated here right now hearing about His mercy and forgiveness proves that He is a God of love!  And because He loves you, He says to you this morning, “Take courage, put on your new baptismal identity and rest at my table of peace!”

Well finally, living on the edge means living between faith and doubt.  In Jesus’ story, the king invited everyone to the feast. Many have responded, and the dining hall is filled with guests, but there’s a problem. The king sees a man who isn’t wearing the appropriate wedding attire. He is wearing an old, perhaps tattered robe, obviously the garb that he wore in everyday life, his street clothes. “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe,” the king asks. The man was speechless, so the king had him bound and tossed into a place called outer darkness. Jesus concludes the parable with these solemn words: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

What we learn from Jesus story is that everyone is invited into the Kingdom of God, but not everyone will respond to that invitation.  But we also discover that even if you get in you’re not really in unless the King chooses you to stay!  And here is where doubt can creep in; here is where we begin to ask what does it take to really get in?

Well it all depends on what you are wearing!  In your baptism you have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness; in essence, you’ve put on Jesus’ robe of righteousness.  No work or accomplishment of your own can be included.  Naked you came into this world and naked you must leave, accept for the righteous robe of Christ.  Remember, when we’ve done all that we can we are still worthless servants, because we’ve only done that which was our duty to do. [Luke 17:10]

If our garment isn’t the good life we live on this earth for Jesus, then what is it?  It’s faith in what Jesus has done for us!  Theologians call this the imputed righteousness of Jesus which becomes our hope and the object of our faith.  Because faith is the garment that is put on us, all we can do then is rest in it or wear it.  Another way to think of this is to say that our faith is like a cup, it simply holds God’s free gift of righteousness.  In your baptism you can say that, “God has clothed me with His garments of salvation, and He has covered me with the robes of righteousness.”

And here you have the close of Jesus parable.  Oh wait, there is another little matter to address isn’t there?  If the banquet table represents the Kingdom of God, then how did that unbeliever get in there?  Isn’t there a great divided between heaven and hell so that none may cross?  Yes there is, so that means that the banquet table isn’t necessarily the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is the Kingdom of God!  Is there a difference?  Yes and no!  What we need to remember is that the Kingdom of God is where God’s people gather around His gifts.  What are His gifts?  Well they are His means of grace, or His means of faith!  Chief of all of these gifts is His Word, Holy Scripture, which is not just your invitation to the banquet but the very Son of the living God, Jesus Christ.  Within God’s Word you are given the gift of faith to believe that you really belong in God’s Kingdom, both here on earth and in heaven.  So what is the Kingdom of God here on earth?  It is the church, the very bride of Jesus Christ, which receives not just His Word but His Sacraments.  In your baptism, you have been ushered into the Kingdom and at His Table, the Holy Communion, you feast as royalty!  As each of us receive these gifts, we are reminded that we are living a life of dependence on God, a life of faith that’s filled with tension between heaven and hell.  But Jesus assures us that because we are resting in Him and receiving His gifts we will one day join Him at His eternal table of feasting where there will be no more suffering, pain, disappointment, fear, or doubt, and this is the gospel, the good news that gives us peace and joy.  But there are some here, in Christ’s church who will not put on this new baptismal identity.  There are some who are simply posers, mere impostors.  They refuse to be changed and they will not respond!  They already have the reward of living in God’s Kingdom, His Church, but they will not be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and eternally find their seat at His banquet table.

For these poor souls, there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth in a dark place where they will be forever bound and kept.  All because they would not receive the Word of God; all because they would not keep fighting to retain their baptismal identity; all because they would not confess their sinfulness and be fed their Lord’s meal of forgiveness!

Yes, living the life of faith is living on the edge, but if you are resting in the gifts of God through Jesus Christ you have been assured that even if you experience disappointment, fear, and doubt, one day very soon you will only know joy, love, and peace, all because you walked by faith and not by sight!

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen!

Living in the Promised Land

October 5th, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (A), September 28, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” [Isaiah 5:1]

And let the church say Amen!  Amen to the reign of our beloved Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen to life in His vineyard, the church.  But most of us south of Temecula don’t really understand the nature of a vineyard, do we?  I understand that producing grapes is a lot of work, and yet it is completely foreign to me.  So, let’s talk about gardens instead.

Gardening, for many of you is a very satisfying and relaxing endeavor.  Your efforts are rewarded with beautiful flowers, plants, and produce.  But gardening is also a lot of work.  Many of us who worked these last two months to finish the rose garden on the east side of the sanctuary and the Polynesian garden on the west side of the garden can attest to that truth.  Many of us men have had sore backs days after working in those gardens.  We would almost swear to the truth that we perspired gallons of sweat and developed blisters larger than any we have ever had.  And yet, there outside of the windows of our sanctuary are the beautiful gardens, and they will be even more beautiful next year, God willing.

But sometimes you plant something that just doesn’t turn out to be what you expected it to be; it either never takes root or it grows in a wild way that you did not desire, and you know that if you don’t do something about it, it will ruin the entire garden.  So with those kinds of disasters, what is a gardener to do?  You uproot it and start over!

Yes, gardening is a lot of work, but God warned our first parents, Adam and Eve of this sad truth after they fell to sin.  Listen:  “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:17-9]  But God promised the faithful descendants of Adam and Eve, that one day He would send a Savior, who would first deliver them from their sins, and then He would also, through this coming Savior bring them back to Eden, the real “Promised Land!”

And that is the situation that the prophet Isaiah speaking for God, is describing in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 5:1-7) this morning.

The children of Israel, descendants of faithful Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been resting in God’s vineyard, the promised land for many long years now.  And when they first arrived there, they were told that it would be a land of milk and honey; in other words, God would provide all that they needed to live right and peaceably with Him, each other, and within the land itself.  All that they needed to do was trust in the promise of the coming Savior and then follow God’s commandments, which were to be a hedge of protection for them, and a wall that would separate them from the godless nations that surrounded them.  But…

They began to develop a national pride that caused them to not only look down on other nations but they also forgot about their God who actually planted them there.  There God was the One who prepared the Promised Land for them; He was the One who dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted them there as His choice vines.  He set up the watchtower, which was their form of worship of the One True God, and He was the One through the use of the Law and Gospel, worked within them to put to death their old sinful nature, and bring to life their new circumcised nature, a faithful nature, which waited patiently for the coming Savior.

And as they continued to live as if God did not matter, God took notice.  He sent many prophets and judges who spoke Words of warning and Words of encouragement, so that the people would remember the true God and then see their sinful need for a Savior.  But they would not take notice; they would not yield!

So now O church, judge between God and His vineyard.  What more was there for Him to do for His vineyard?  He looked for a yield of grapes, that is works produced by faith in the coming Savior and the promised return to Eden, but He found only wild grapes, works that glorified man and not their God.  Well there was one more thing that God would do; He would send His Son!

In our Gospel reading (Matthew 21:33-46), Jesus tells another story about a vineyard.  It is a story told to the same sort of religious leaders that Isaiah was speaking to in our Old Testament lesson.  A man planted a garden and rented it out to tenants. But when the owner sent servants (prophets of God) to collect the rent, the tenants killed the servants. In exasperation, he sent his son (His Only begotten Son), and they killed him. Jesus asked his hearers what the owner would do, and the crowd answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” (21:41). Looking for grapes, precious grapes, the owner instead got wild grapes, and on top of that, they killed his son too.

You see friends, this morning’s readings aren’t really about vineyards or gardening at all, instead they’re about the people of God, ancient Israel and you and me today.  It’s a warning that we must not become wild in our nature, but remain people of faith; faith in the Savior promised long ago who has come, and faith that one day very soon, He will come again to bring us once and for all back to Eden, the true Promised Land.

We may be tempted to ask God why He chose to place those disobedient people into His vineyard, knowing that they would be wild grapes and produce only bloodshed and outcries, but then we would have to ask Him also, why he brought us into His new vineyard, Christ’s church.  You see, today you and I are supposed to be God’s pleasant planting; we too are suppose to produce fruits, good works of righteousness, but many times we don’t; instead we produce wild grapes.  So why does God plant?  Because He loves His vineyard, His garden; God loves you!

The church, which for now is our promised land, is God’s planting, His vineyard.  It is easy to forget that this isn’t our church, but His.  And it is even easier to forget that it is God who does the real work within us and through us.  Like preparing a vineyard or garden, He plants us in Holy Baptism and then lovingly tends to our growth through His means of grace; His teaching, preaching, and Holy Supper.  It is His work within us that shapes us and prunes us into the very image of His Son, who was killed by the former tenants so that He would rise from that death and fulfill the promise of the coming Savior who would bring us one day back to the final promised land, the Kingdom of Heaven, which is Eden restored!

You see friends, this pleasant planting of the Lord we call the church is for now, as we wait, our promised land; it is where God provides for our needs, and prunes and tends to our growth.  All of this work of God is centered in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ who died, rose, and gives us His Holy Spirit.  Jesus assures us of this when He says, “I an the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15: 1, 5]

And here we are abiding; simultaneously resting and working within the promised land we call the church, and knowing full well that by God’s grace we will one day enter the final Promised Land.  And as we wait, we have two missions to fulfill.  The first is to grow in faith everyday as we are planted in the church, and the second is to seek out and bring other wild grapes into God’s vineyard through His Son Jesus Christ.

Today is LWML Sunday.  It is a day that we celebrate a very fruitful portion of God’s vineyard; a portion that continues over and over again to bear much fruit.  Through the collection of mites and their faithful service in mission, these faithful ladies not only wait for the return of their Lord, but they serve Him in their waiting with gladness and zeal.  They freely recognize that all of the hard work that they perform throughout the world is possible only because it is their Savior Jesus Christ, who is working in them and through them.

This morning, we recognize the ladies of the LWML because they are living proof that God still does marvelous things within His vineyard.  Where the ladies serve with gladness, the oil of gladness begins to impact those parts of the vine that they are attached to.  Where once a congregation may have been wild or shriveled and old lacking fruit, when the LWML is revived within that congregation, a new spirit of service, as a result of the Spirit of Christ begins to reshape that congregation.  This is why we celebrate the LWML this morning.  We are not celebrating the ladies who serve, but the Savior God within them that proves to all of us that God is still doing great and marvelous things around us, and that He wishes to call each of us into that mission so that He can do great and marvelous things within us and through us!

While I understand that many who love gardening believe that they are closest to God when they are in their garden, I believe, no I know that we are really closest to God, nearest to His heart, when we are in His church.  His presence among us through His means of grace moves our hearts to be thankful beyond words because He has made us a part of His pleasant planting through Jesus Christ.  It is then that each of us will be moved to serve the Lord with gladness!  AMEN!

Is Salvation a Work of God Or Not?

September 28th, 2014

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A), September 28, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org


Click here for audio of this message

“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” [Ezekiel 18:2]

Another way of saying that is, “How dare you say that God is not a just God.”  Have you ever found yourself questioning God; accusing Him of allowing things to happen that were not fair towards you or your family?  That was the situation that surrounded Our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 18:1–4, 25–32), which is essentially a conversation between God and His children of faith, the nation Judah, through the prophet Ezekiel.  They were the last remnant of Israel, and they were being led out to Babylon and into captivity.  And as they were saying goodbye to their old lives, they were accusing God of punishing them for the sins of their Fathers; the national sins of the past.  In essence, the people were accusing God of being unfair. Behind their complaint was the idea they were not as guilty as their fathers had been and didn’t deserve being exiled into Babylon. By quoting that proverb, they meant to say: “Our fathers sinned and the children have to suffer the consequences.”

So, in the words of Michael Turko (an investigative TV reporter in San Diego, CA), “It ain’t right!”  But God will not let this accusation of being unjust or unfair, go unanswered.  Listen…

“As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” [Vs. 3,4]

I think we tend to forget that the wages or payment for sin is death.  But we like to measure and quantify sins don’t we?  Don’t we like to think that a little sin is not as bad as a lot of sin?  You know how we think: There’s big sins and then there’s my sins!  Don’t we like to think that our sins aren’t nearly as bad as say the sins of an extremist group like ISIS?  Ok, that’s a little extreme so let me give you a somewhat easier example of how we play with this idea of grading sins, and how we affix blame to other people’s sins.

On December 11, 2008, Bernard Madoff was arrested by FBI agents and charged with one of the most devastating violations of Security Fraud ever committed against numerous financial agencies; it left thousands of investors broke, and it was the beginning of the great recession, which we are still in today.  In a kind of ripple effect, bad mortgage loans have been foreclosed and are still being foreclosed today and home loans are harder to come by, thus restricting access to the American middle class dream of home ownership.  So, in a sense, our teeth are set at edged because of the sins of Bernie Madoff.  We don’t have a problem with Bernie paying for his sin, but it doesn’t seem fair that nearly ten years latter, we are still paying for his and other peoples greed.

Did God allow Bernie Madoff to commit that great crime?  Yes.  Did God cause Bernie Madoff or anyone else who commits a crime, to sin?  No, but God does punish sin.  That punishment will come in eternity and there is no reprieve once it has been instituted.  But while sinners wait for that eternal penalty, or judgment of sin, we all suffer the temporary repercussions of that sin within the world that we live in.  Scripture makes it clear that these temporary discomforts caused by our sin or other peoples sins are nothing in comparison to the eternal punishment that awaits all sinners!

So what is the solution?  Is there a way out of this mess we call sin, or are we bound to it and it’s inevitable conclusion, like the collision of a train plowing through a vehicle stuck on the tracks?  Well, in verses 30 through 32, God gives us not only hope, but a solution to our sin problem.  Listen…

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.  Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” [Vs. 30-32]

Now O Christians you stand before a righteous judge; the Judge who knows your every sin; nothing is hidden from Him.  He has shown you that by your sin, every sin you are guilty of breaking the very first commandment.  You love yourself more than you love God.  You have made your own desires master of your soul.  And our Righteous God, our Creator judges you guilty and worthy of an eternal sentence of suffering and death.  How do you plea?  You must be honest if you hope for any leniency!  If you plead guilty, then listen to your only hope.  “Repent O Christian.  God does not desire the death of anyone, let alone one who has been purchased by the lifeblood of His Only Begotten Son!”

You see friends, Christianity is not a movement, an organization, or an attitude. It is a relationship between God and an individual person, and it’s  based on your faith in God’s only provision of mercy, Jesus Christ the Savior from sin. God is asking each of you to respond to what the Lord has given you in Christ, and then daily ask the Lord to help you live a life that reflects the righteousness that Jesus has given you. And so It becomes true, the righteous man “lives,” that is, he exists and will continue to do so under the blessings of God.

To attempt to base our relationships with God on ourselves without Jesus is to tell God that we think Christ’s work is neither necessary nor beneficial. Such a misguided life can take about any track it wants, but it is always headed away from the Lord and his blessings and waiting for the inevitable collision with eternal judgment. But there is a solution to this sinful life style, and it is one of repentance and baptism.

How you live out this new baptismal life will depend on how you answer this next question.  Is baptism a work of God or man?  Is salvation a gift from God or is it something you earn?

This is in essence the question that was set before the Pharisees in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 21:23-32) and it is the question set before every Christian today.  How you answer this question will not only affect how you live your life today but even how you spend your eternity.  Let me ask that question in another way, “Do you want to risk your eternity on your own efforts, trying to outweigh your sins with your own “good deeds”, like some kind of ponzie scheme, or do you want to take God’s promises by faith and rest in and trust them alone?

You see friends, Baptism isn’t simply a custom of the church, but rather its a divine ordinance, the only way that God has provided so that sinners can be saved from their sins, and it is in force until the Last Day.  It is for all people no matter how early or late in life they embrace this wonderful means of grace. It is equal to the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of God’s Word. Jesus made them equal in force and power with His command: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” [Matt. 28:19–20)

As God’s solution to sin and His means of allowing us to stand before Him and be pardoned and given a new life in Christ, He has protected this holy washing of water and His Word and ensured that Christ’s church would continue this sacrament, which Jesus instituted before He ascended into heaven.  Since the day of Pentecost, we hear of this Holy Sacrament being offered to sinners who desired to be saved from their sins.  Listen to Peter’s proclaimed solution to the people's sin: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Dear Christian friends, above all else that you hear today, please remember this, Baptism is a means of grace.  It is God’s means of removing your old sinful identity and replacing it with the perfect identity of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  It creates faith in God who comes to you with His solution to your sin, which is the suffering and death of His Son upon the cross for the sins of the world.  In other words, Baptism is God’s means of making you sinless and exempt from the punishment for your many sins.  Or as the Apostle Peter declared “Baptism… now saves you also.” [1 Peter 3:2]

In your baptism, God put your sinful nature to death, by joining it in Baptism to Christ’s death. He buried that old nature in Christ’s tomb, the only place where He no longer looks. And then, miracle of miracles, He raises you up to a new life as his child. Your old self is crucified in Baptism by God’s Word, and in this death that Christ shares with you, you die to sin every day as you continue to hear that same Word, and are set free from the punishment of your many sins. So, through your baptismal death and resurrection, you have been given new life. [Rom. 8:17]

So I ask you, is God fair?  Do you prefer His means of grace, His way of dealing with the sins of the world, even your sins, or do you prefer that He punish all people according to their sins?  If you prefer the way of His grace, then can you see baptism as His means of grace?  Do you see it as a mystery or sacrament of His love for sinners or do you prefer to earn your forgiveness and work for your salvation?  In essence, “Is Baptism a work of God or a work of man?”  May God give you faith to see the answer clearly as you ponder the mystery and work of His Son Jesus Christ within His church and indeed, within your very life… AMEN!

It IS Well With My Soul

September 14th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 14A, September 14, 2014
Click here for audio of this message

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” [Genesis 50:19, 20]

These words from our Old Testament reading are the words of a Kingdom builder; they’re the Words of Jesus, the Lord of the Kingdom of God, which are simply being spoken by a subject of the King.  They are Words of restoration and peace; they are Words of forgiveness.  They are Words that make all things well with our souls!  With all of this being true, then why do we find it so hard to speak them?  Why is it such a battle to say, “I forgive you”?

Surely we have reasons, good reasons not to trust some people.  I would not put a convicted embezzler in charge of our church bank account, would you?  Would you want a convicted child molester teaching Sunday school?  Of course not, but does that also mean that we should withhold forgiveness, love, and restoration from them?

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 50:15-21) we encounter Joseph, a man who had every reason to be bitter, hold a grudge and get revenge.  His own brothers threw him in a well in the middle of the desert and then sold him  to slave dealers.  But Joseph experienced something that changed him forever; he experienced God’s presence and God’s protection.  In the home he was a slave, but he eventually became the head slave and had complete freedom to run the entire home and its business.  But trouble always seems to follow people who know they worship a merciful and loving God and Joseph was no exception.  Very soon he was falsely accused by the wife of the lord of the very home he was serving in.  Bam!  Joseph’s life was turned upside down.  Once again he was falsely imprisoned, but this time it wasn’t in a well but in a real prison!  But Joseph knew that like the well earlier, he wasn’t in that prison alone; he knew that the God of mercy was with Him and where ever God is, all is well with the soul of a child of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Once more God would prove to Joseph that He was a God who makes a way out of no way; He would prove that He was a God who never leaves or forsakes His little ones who serve in His Kingdom; Joseph was given the keys to the prison and allowed to run it!  But that’s not all is it?  No, eventually it became known to Pharro that Joseph was a man of God who could interpret dreams.  So as a result of one meeting with Joseph who spoke the Word of God truthfully, Joseph was made second in command of all of Egypt.

And now before him stands his brothers who did unthinkable evil against him; they were standing before the second most powerful person in the world.  So this was Joseph’s chance to make things right; to right the wrongs that were done to him.  And what does he do?  He makes things right; right in the Kingdom of God!  He offers forgiveness and restoration.  But why… how?  Because that is how the Kingdom of God operates!  You see, the Kingdom of God makes a way out of no way.  In an earthly kingdom where only death and punishment reign supreme, God’s Kingdom brings life and forgiveness. Out of fear and danger God assures His child that all is indeed well with his soul!

Do you think that Joseph had questions about the sincerity of his brother’s confession of sin?  Sure, but having questions, having doubts isn’t what is important here, it’s where you take those questions and doubts.  As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, Joseph immediately gave these things to God and He forgave all of them.  It’s as if he was saying to them, “If God’s forgiven you, who am I to do anything differently?  Don’t you see that what you meant for evil against me, God in His wonderful counsel has turned into something marvelous in our sight.  He’s not only frustrated your evil plan, but He’s used it to bring abundant life and blessing for both me and you!”  And that is always how things work in the Kingdom of God.  You see, as citizens of God’s Kingdom of grace, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

So we see, in this way God causes good to result from evil, not that He wants us to do evil, but in His goodness He can take even our great wickedness and turn it into good.  It’s God’s nature to forgive a fearful and sobbing sinner who is begging Him for mercy.  And this is the very lesson that Jesus was trying to get Peter to understand; it’s the lesson He wants each of us to go home with this morning.

In our gospel lesson (Matthew 18:21-35) Peter asked Jesus how many times he should keep forgiving someone for something they do against him over and over.  Now, the Jewish teachers said that three times is enough to satisfy the mercy of God, so that the justice of God could take over.  So Peter took that number and multiplied it by 2 and threw in one more for good measure and answered his own question with a question: “Seven times?”  Now don’t be too hard on Peter, because from a human standpoint, a flawed and sinful standpoint Peter did pretty well.  Even our own society today would call that excessive and a bit naïve.  You know the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me!”

So now learn the lesson about how things work in God’s Kingdom.  “Jesus said to (Peter), “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”  Now that’s excessive!  But the number isn’t the point of Jesus teaching, it’s the attitude or the spirit.  Jesus is teaching us that the new nature of a baptized child of God is the type of nature that doesn’t keep count.  Even if you did count how many times someone kept sinning against you, isn’t it true that you would lose count long before you got to 490?  So the nature of a citizen in God’s Kingdom simply does as Joseph did, He gives it to God and trusts that all things will work together for the good that God has determined.

Joseph learned to trust God and so did Peter.  They learned that even when it seems that things are at their worse, God is still present and in control!  Each of us must learn this as well, and God has made sure that we can do this very thing.  He did it by breaking into our existence, into our history through one event that has rendered everyone subject to One Judge… Jesus Christ Himself!  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has led not only the past, but it shapes the present, just as it will shape the future.  Joseph trusted in the coming Savior along with every other citizen of Heaven that came before and after Him.  And when the Son of God took on our flesh and broke into our present and our future, the words of Joseph become the Words of Jesus: “As for you and your sinful ways, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Through my suffering and death your sins have been wiped clean.  My death brought you life!  Will you rest in this gift or reject it?)”

Today friends, we who are baptized into Christ Jesus can confidently say “I am a citizen of heaven.  I was saved by Christ’s death on the cross, and through that work of the cross, forgiveness of sins was given to me in my baptism! I haven’t refused that forgiveness and I pray for it every day.  Daily through the power of God’s Word, I continue to see the sin that is still within me, but through that same Word I am given the promise of forgiveness and the ability to fight and destroy that sin, as I turn to Jesus and His cross for forgiveness!  Every day I see the unthankful forgiven sinner within me holding grudges and planning revenge against my brother who sins against me, but I take this nature and I drown it in the waters of my baptism; I crucify it upon the cross of Jesus!  Every day I fight to allow God to love my brothers and sisters through me even when they sin against me.  I do this not because they deserve it but because God has done and always will do this very thing for me!”  This dear friends is the life of a child who lives in the Kingdom of God.

Now I could end here and we would have a wonderful message about forgiving our brothers and sisters, but then you wouldn’t have God’s entire message.  In order to complete our message, we must import one more bit of scripture.  In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus has one more group of people that we must learn to love and forgive… our enemies!  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” [Matthew 5:43-45]

Now this can be a hard lesson for all of us to accept, especially right after the thirteenth year anniversary of the September 11th attack against our nation by Muslim terrorists; right after Islamist warriors have decapitated three journalists, two of them Americans, and yet God is asking us to not only accept His will but to fulfill it!  Here the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ gives us a command; we must love those who hate us and attack us.  We must pray for the ability to forgive them and also pray that they would turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration.  This kind of love can exist only in the Kingdom of God; indeed it is the very thing that separates it from all other kingdoms.

Now don’t misunderstand, God isn’t asking you to put your arm around your enemy; He knows that we have reason not to trust them or like them.  But He is asking you to be filled with the love of Jesus and let Him do His work within you!  This is a higher form of love that can only come from God.  It’s the kind of love that says “I know that I will never like a murderous terrorist, or a criminal who may have robbed me or threatened my life; I can’t like a false and lying, slanderous person who has attacked my character over and over again; but I can by the grace of Jesus Christ love them all; I can see what’s wrong with them and follow God’s Spirit within me and work to do them good.  I can pray that God will free them from their vicious ways just as He has done and is doing for me!”

Is living in the Kingdom of God easy?  No, of course not!  It requires the same things that Joseph had and that Peter received.  It requires faith and trust in a God who promises that all things will work together for the good for those who love Him and trust in His calling and purpose!  Will you struggle with this command to forgive?  Yes!  Will you fail sometimes and fall back into a spirit and mindset of the world, probably so!  But remember, its God’s presence and mercy; it’s His forgiveness for you that will carry you through until the end and deliver you safely into His Kingdom!

If  we will remember that we are “children of our Heavenly Father” not because of a decision but because we are reborn by grace through faith in the Son of God, we will not only be able to love and forgive our brothers and sisters, but even our enemies because that is how our Heavenly Father loves them.  As we struggle every day to remember this, we keep turning to Jesus; we keep running to His cross, and we can truly say, “It is well with my soul!”  In Jesus name… AMEN!

AN EXPOSITION OF SAINT MATTHEW 18:1-22

September 7th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 13A, September 7, 2014

Click here for audio of this message.

INTRODUCTION: This morning we will discuss a topic near and dear to me, and it is my prayer in Christ’s name that by the end of this message, it will be near and dear to you as well.  Specifically, we will be discussing the application of Matthew 18 in our lives and in the life of our parish.  Have any of you ever heard me speak of Matthew 18 in say the last 2 years?  Well now, with the leading of the Holy Spirit you will understand completely what I meant before and what Jesus desires you to learn today.  And it is also my prayer that these words will bring new life and love to this parish, which IS Christ’s church.

This morning, Jesus declares, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 18:3]

I. Why did Jesus say those words to His own apostles, the ones who were closest to Him, and by default, likely the most spiritually mature of all of the disciples?  Because in fact they were not spiritually mature.  They were trying to understand the coming of God’s kingdom in terms of how the world thinks as oppose to how God thinks.  They had a false idea of what it meant to be the greatest and the best.  To them, to be the greatest meant to be the most powerful, second to Jesus of course.  But that is not how God’s Kingdom operates; His way is the opposite of man’s way.  So Jesus addressing the twelve, calls a small toddler to come to Him, probably motioning to it with open arms, and then He most likely picks up the child who comes quickly and easily, and says… “If you want to be someone important in heaven, then REPENT, that is turn to me in love and trust just as this child did.”

Small children trust so easy and they forgive even easier.  This child most likely had never known Jesus before, but it was attracted by Christ’s love; by His soothing voice and the welcoming gesture.  So it came to Jesus quickly.  And once in Jesus’ embrace, it did not think, “I am such a wise child.  I must be great to be welcomed so easy by this gentle man.”  Little children do not think like that; they simply trust and obey, and the reward from Jesus is more love!

TRANSITION: So, do you want to be someone important in heaven; maybe you want to be a big shot around here?  Good then humble yourself in both the sight of the Lord and your church family here, and Jesus Himself will pick you up. [James 4:10]  But maybe you say that you have already tried that years ago and now you are already mature and in a position of leadership here in Christ’s church.  Ok, then welcome others who are still struggling with pride, fear, and doubts.  Welcome those who are still rough around the edges and difficult to get along with.  Repent, again and again, and hear these words of Christ fresh and new every day: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” [Vs. 5, 6]

I trust that our Lord has your attention now?  Good, then what He says next will definitely move your heart to cry out for His mercy.  Listen…

II. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!  And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

Now, I have preached and taught this portion of Matthew 18 many times and each time it is brought up, it causes some fear and confusion within your hearts.  I seem to have to repeat the teaching of this portion more than any other.  Now this morning I will say briefly and concisely that these words are meant to teach you that it is impossible for you to please God by being good!  You cannot earn a place in heaven by trying to be sinless.  If that was the case, then you should, by all means cut off your offending body parts, and keep cutting and cutting until there is NOTHING left of you, but perfection!  But that is not God’s way of grace.  Christ has the better way; He gives to us the way of the cross, which is the way of baptism.  Repent, turn to Jesus and become nothing so that He becomes everything.  Repent from your desire to be Mr. or Mrs. Big Shot, and become humble like a child, like your Savior.  In this way of the cross, repentance not only brings forgiveness of all sins, but it also brings to you a new ability to welcome, value, and protect those who are by nature and spiritual stature, weaker and less mature than you.

III. The way of the cross will also help prevent you from looking down on other folks.  Or rather, it will help you understand what Jesus means when He says: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?  And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” [Vs. 10-14]

Being humble, being as a child forever running into the arms of Jesus can be a wonderful life, if you will simply embrace it with the faith that God provides, but it can also be a trying and difficult life as well.  What do you do when one of the little immature ones is wandering away from the faith?  What do you do when they are behaving badly, and embracing the way of the world more than the way of the Kingdom of Heaven?  Well, you could look at all of the work involved in helping them come back to the Kingdom way of life and say, “Forget it!  Let someone else worry about So and So.” Or, you yourself, can become like a child, run to Jesus and then follow the real Good Shepherd as He leads you out to find and bring back your lost brother or sister.  You could do that if you truly desire to be humble and willing to be led yourself.

TRANSITION: But don’t some people deserve to be lost and punished for their sins.  Isn’t there a time when we just let some people go to the devil to be tormented and perhaps scared back into the fold?  Well remember now, we are talking about little ones, helpless children in the eyes of God.  If you saw a toddler separated from it’s mother wandering along a dangerous highway, would you say, “Let him go.  If he doesn’t get killed, maybe his fear of this danger will teach him to make better choices next time.”

By now, some of you are catching on to what Christ is teaching us, and some of you are having trouble letting go of your idea of justice.  And perhaps you are thinking, “But pastor, there are times when someone has committed a gross sin, and they simply will not repent.  Are you saying that Christ wants us to ignore that?”  Certainly not!  He wants you to be jared by it like a slap in the face, and then He wants you to do something about it.  He wants you to do everything within the power and abilities that He has given you, to bring that little sinning child back to a forgiven relationship with God; back to a state of grace within Christ’s church.  He does not want you to stop pursuing your brother or sister until they are safe once again within the heart of Christ, within the bosom of His church.  Listen to Christ’s way, the way of the cross…

IV. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” [Vs. 15-17]

A common theme of frustration, which I hear over and over again from dear saints who believe they are following this portion of Matthew 18 is this: “Pastor I have already tried that.  They will not listen to me.”  And my answer, which is also Christ’s answer is, “Try again.”  And the response I get is, “I didn’t read that in Matthew 18!”  And to that response I counter with, “Oh but when Peter asked in verse 21, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered him in verse 22, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  In other words there is not an assigned number of times where you simply give up on one of Christ’s little ones.

But at some point, you will begin to become discouraged and even tired of the tension that your brother’s sinful state is causing both to you and others.  At this point, you should look for both strength and wisdom in the presence of others.  Proverbs 15:22 teaches us that “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”  When you share your burden for your lost brother or sister, you are admitting that you are small and incapable of finding a way of changing the lost ones heart, so you naturally reach out to others who are also aware of the lost one’s state, so that they may assist you in your rescue mission.  And the first thing that you must do as a group is pray to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and then allow the Holy Spirit to formulate a plan that will lead you towards recovering your erring brother or sister.  But I warn you, the others may tell you something you may not want to hear; they may tell you that you are making a much bigger deal out of the behavior of the one you have labeled lost; they may tell you truthfully that what you are experiencing is not sin, but a portion of the other person’s personality that is still immature, but open to growth and change.  In other words, they may tell you that you are making a mountain out of a mole hill.

But if, within the multitude of counselors, there is common agreement that your brother or sister has committed a gross sin against you or Christ’s heart, the church, then you will approach that little one, in love for the purpose of helping that person turn back to Christ and away from the sin that has trapped them.  Again, there is no assigned number of attempts; you simply keep trying until once again, you are exhausted.  When you reach that point, and only that point, are you free to make that lost brother or sister’s sin public, and you do that by telling it to the church.

The church is not the pastor, but he is part of the church.  The church is not the Board of Elders, but they are part of the church.  The church is not only the body of Christ, but it is the place where you find His very heart; it is His bosom of love, where each of us through baptism are brought to nestle safely within.  When you tell it to the church, the church does not respond as the judge, jury, and executioner, but instead they respond as the heart of Christ; they respond in love.

TRANSITION: The church gathered together listens to the perceived danger of the lost little one, and then, and then…

V. And then they pray!  “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” [VS. 18-20]

Binding and loosening is serious business; it has eternal consequences both here and in heaven.  We are talking about either granting forgiveness of sins or withholding it.  This is a matter of heaven or hell.  So the church must pray; we must intercede for our lost brother or sister, but then at the time appointed by God and displayed with the peace of the Holy Spirit’s presence, we must finally confront our lost brother or sister.  “Do you repent of this gross and public sin or do you not?  Do you desire to be part of Christ’s body, protected within His sacred heart or do you not.  Do you repent?”

When this question is asked let the entire church give into their trembling and weak legs and fall onto their faces before God, interceding before His thrown of grace, asking that He please move the heart of their lost brother or sister, so that they will see their sin and return to Christ and His church.  And if they will not repent…

CONCLUSION: Oh, my… how sad.  My heart is broken because resting in the heart of my Lord, I know that His heart is broken too.  If they will not repent, then we have lost our brother; we have lost our sister.  But perhaps there is still hope?  Doesn’t our Lord promise that “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”?  And so we never give up; even if our brother or sister has chosen to be like one apart from Christ, we still wait, hope, and pray that one day they too will return, repent like us; become like a humble child and rest safely and securely in Christ’s Kingdom of grace.

So I ask you now, have you really followed Matthew 18 in the past?  May each of us be moved to follow our Lord’s Words recorded here for the rest of our lives, by the power and love of Christ that compels us… AMEN!

The Cross Is Love

August 31st, 2014

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trinity Lutheran Church Plans New Polynesian Garden

August 25th, 2014

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

August 24th, 2014

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Color Me… Christian!

August 17th, 2014

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This brings us to our next point…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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