What is This Bread?


April 18th, 2019

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019

On the night before He died, Jesus shared with His disciples the Passover, or the Seder meal. But in the midst of this meal, Jesus served and instituted another meal, a completely new meal, a meal that was to be repeated; it was His Last Supper, or “The Lord’s Supper.”   What is this bread that we and the earliest disciples share and eat?  It is God’s very means of sustaining, forgiving, delivering and protecting us from evil; the very thing we ask for at the end of the Prayer our Lord has taught us to pray!  Think of the last petitions in that prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread, forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.”

In the Greek the last part of the prayer is better translated as, “Deliver or preserve us from the Evil One, or the Wicked One.” In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus seems to be pointing to the devil as the ultimate source of everything that is evil in this world; it’s as if the entire substance of our prayer is directed against our archenemy. And that makes sense because it’s the devil and his minions who do their best to obstruct everything we have asked for in this prayer, which is simply that God’s name and honor, His kingdom and will, our daily bread, and a good and peaceful conscience be given to us.

Dear friends, in our Lord’s Supper we are given faith and strength to know that God the Father is with us, and that He hears every request we ask for in our Lord’s Prayer, and in Jesus name He answers yes!

Tonight as we allow God to prepare us to receive the Lord’s Supper, we also allow His Spirit to answer this question for us, “What is this meal?” 

I.  First, it is a historical meal.  In Exodus 12, we learn that the Seder meal was instituted as a way to help the Jews remember how God led them out of captivity in Egypt towards their promised land.  God alone did that. Not one Hebrew warrior stood against the mighty Egyptians; not one Israelite contributed anything in accomplishing their deliverance!  Freedom came in the blackest night while Hebrew slave families huddled around the Passover table, their bags packed, waiting for deliverance. Why was it called the Passover meal?  Well, it’s because the angel of death visited only the homes of the Egyptians and it passed over the homes of the Hebrew families because they had marked their homes as God directed them—with the blood of a lamb.  The Jews celebrate that event each year with humility and praise through the Seder meal.  In that meal they remember how God alone saved them; in this meal, there is no room for pride. For the children of Israel, independence from Egypt meant dependence on God. In fact, God comes back to this event throughout the Bible as a way of describing himself: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” 

Much later, in the upper room, Jesus would give Passover night an even broader significance. In a time when Jews throughout the world were bringing out their choice lambs to slaughter, eat, and remember the blood and deliverance, Jesus would now show the world that He had been selected as the TRUE Passover Lamb, not just for the Jews, but for all of humanity (1 Corinthians 5:7). The words “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13) came to convey a whole new meaning. The Lord’s Supper is now superior to the Passover meal in that it promises salvation not from physical slavery, but deliverance from the power of sin, death, and the devil.  But this meal is oh so much more than a historical event, because you see, it is also… 

II. A Memorial Meal That Remembers Christ’s Death on Behalf of Us All. St. Paul speaks of Holy Communion as a memorial meal in this way: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me (1 Cor. 11:23-25).

Did you notice that each time Jesus delivered the elements of His Holy Supper that he punctuated it with the need to Remember Him?  Since the bread eaten is Christ’s body “for us” and the wine drank “is the new covenant in (His) blood” then clearly this meal is a memorial or a way of remembering Christ’s atoning death. In churches all across the world, we can find other Christians partaking in the Lord’s Supper tonight and recognizing it as a meal that remembers Christ’s death. But sadly, sometime after the zeal of the Reformation wore off, some churches began to look at HIS Holy Supper as nothing more than a memorial meal.  Now it’s here that we need to turn our hearts towards God and receive everything that He’s lovingly giving to us in this meal, because it is so much more than a memorial meal, you see, it is also a….  

III. Holy Meal, because God’s very Word makes it holy.  When someone asks you “Why do you believe that the bread and wine are holy in the Lord’s Supper?” simply answer that “It is God’s Word that makes it holy!”  You see, the words of consecration that Christ spoke at the Last Supper and which we Pastors repeat each time this meal is served are the very power of God. Now, we do not say that a pastor by virtue of His ordination has the power to transform simple bread and wine into a holy meal, but rather it is the very Words of Christ spoken over the bread and wine that makes it holy; it is God’s Word that brings to us both bread and wine and Body and Blood. But why does God do this?  The answer to this question brings us to our next explanation of what kind of meal this is.   

IV. It is a meal in which God feeds us with forgiveness for all of our sins and serves us an overflowing cup of peace with Him.  In our Gospel reading you heard Christ Himself say, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Friends, if you can only remember one thing about this meal then remember this, IT IS A MEAL OF FORGIVENESS!  Take your sins to this meal and exchange them for God’s mercy and peace!  This is where we learn that this meal is in fact God’s means of delivering us from evil!  You see, just as the preached Gospel announces and gives forgiveness through the cross of Christ to everyone who believes and is baptized, so does this meal. In the Lord’s Supper, that once-and-for-all forgiveness is freely given to each one of us who have been baptized and by faith, believe in His promise.  Be certain of this truth tonight friends as you approach His table, God wants you to experience the assurance that all of your sins, including the ones that are heavy on your heart right now, are completely forgiven.

That’s why we teach that the Lord’s Supper is for real sinners.  If you are sorrowing and struggling over your sinfulness, then Jesus says “Come unto me ye weary and I will give you rest!”  Come unto me and believe that the devil cannot with all of His attacks separate you from God’s love that is yours through Christ Jesus!  This is a meal created only for God’s baptized children who cry out “Have mercy on me Lord Jesus, an unworthy sinner!” 
 

V. But this is also a meal where we confess that all of the miraculous things we receive are completely God’s Work for Us, and not our work for Him.  Just as the Hebrews played no part in their deliverance from the oppression of the Egyptians, we also play no part in our Salvation and the complete forgiveness of our sins.  This is all entirely the work of Jesus.  It was His blood that was poured out for the forgiveness of your sins. In this holy meal, Jesus invites us to eat and drink His forgiveness. Can you see that it is Jesus, not us, who is the one who offers, prepares, and serves this Divine Supper?  He serves us His body “which is given for you” (Luke 22:19). He serves us His blood “which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). All the emphasis is on what He does for us. Our “job” is only to receive. 

VI. Next, scripture makes it clear that that this is a Meal in Which We Eat and Drink Christ’s Body and Blood.  Now most Christian traditions affirm that Christ is present somehow in the Lord’s Supper. But it’s not enough to just say that Jesus is present in this meal. Some Christians today speak of Christ’s “real” presence in the bread and wine as being spiritual.  Some will say that when Christians eat and drink they spiritually ascend to Christ who is at the right hand of God. While these words may seem harmless, we must not be deceived; remember, IT IS HIS SUPPER, NOT OURS!  Jesus clearly says “This IS my body” and “This IS my blood.”  He did not say that this represents my body and blood; nor did he say ‘I am spiritually present in the bread and wine.”  No, our Savior clearly states that the bread IS His body and the fruit of the vine “IS (His) blood of the new covenant!”

Friends, like the ancient church before us, we do not try to explain how this can be? No, instead we simply accept the plain sense of the words that the bread, somehow, is also Christ’s body, and the wine, somehow, is also Christ’s blood and we let it remain within those words.

VII. But this meal is also a Family Meal that gives and Celebrates Unity among all of us who eat it together.  The Lord’s Supper has often been called the Sacrament of unity. Why? In part, because of the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:17 where he writes: “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”

These words hint towards two things. First, they tell us that the one bread broken and distributed signifies the oneness of the body of Christ, the Church. And while you may be receiving only one small piece of the loaf, every one here is being fed from the same source, Jesus Christ Himself.  

Second, the words of Paul infer that we who receive the one bread become one body; that is, the eating of this meal creates as well as celebrates unity within God’s people. St. Paul’s point is that it is wrong to enter into communion with those with which you have no true unity – and true unity includes recognizing all of the mysteries that are given in His Holy Supper.  For us here tonight, when we respond to His invitation to eat and drink, we are professing that we come together truly as a family that is one body in Christ, one in faith, and one in doctrine. When we eat this meal together, we will as one heart celebrate our Lord’s life, death and resurrection until He returns!

VIII. Finally, this is a Meal that is “a Foretaste of the Feast to Come.”  This phrase, beautifully expresses another aspect of the Lord’s Supper. It is a foretaste of that eternal, heavenly meal that we will enjoy with our God and with all of the dear saints that have gone to glory before us and those that go after us. So this meal points not only backwards but also forward in time. It looks to the past and remembers, looks to the present and receives and gives thanks, and looks to the future and anticipates!  It allows us to see how the Lord has by faith revealed to us that He is our Father in heaven who provides every good thing for us. In this meal God the Father has not only forgiven our sins, but He has also given us the ability and strength to forgive others who have sinned against us. In this foretaste of the Heavenly banquet to come, God is continually leading us away from temptation.  

And finally in the Lord’s Supper, God allows us to look forward into the future and see a time when there will be no more tears or pain, only joy and peace with the God who created us, redeemed us and sustains us in faith. Through this Holy Communion, we are assured that no matter how difficult our current circumstances may be, through our crucified and risen Savior, we shall overcome, and feast with Him in glory forevermore!  How can this Holy Supper do all of this?  Because He says so, and after all God always does what He says He will do!  I pray that God will richly bless each of us this evening as we approach His table to hear, see, touch, smell and taste forgiveness.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN and AMEN!

Hosanna! Great is the Lord!

April 14th, 2019

Palm Sunday
April 14, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”” [Matt. 21:10,11]

This morning, as we begin Holy Week, God wants us to ask this question about Jesus: “who is this Jesus? Who is He to me?”  Prophet yes, but also so much more!  In His flesh a man, but not just a man; no, because you see He is also God… the living Word of God to be exact!  This is Jesus, our Prophet, our Priest and our King!  This is the One who has come and is coming again; He is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  He is the one who comes with all of God’s power and authority.  Why?  Because He is God!  He is the one who comes to us humbly, mounted upon a donkey.  He comes with compassion and mercy, but He also comes to judge and punish.  He is a God of contrasts, a God who comes to kill and make alive; to wound and to heal.  And when He acts, none can deliver out of His hand! [Deut. 32:39b]

In our Old Testament reading (Deuteronomy 32:36-39), Moses reminded the Jews about God’s anger for their past sins and He warned them about His coming anger for their future sins.  

But why was God angry?  What was this sin that angered Him so strongly that He would judge, punish, wound and kill? 

It was the sin of worshiping false Gods!  They did it in the past when they longed to return to Egypt as slaves, just so they could get their fill of the food they were accustomed to eating.  They did it when they tried to replace Moses as their leader, because they didn’t like the message.  And of course they did it when they created the golden calf to worship.  And now, God is telling His people that He will judge them.  He challenges them to turn to their false gods, their false means of hope for protection from His anger.  Listen to how God mocks their false gods: “Then (God) will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge”. [vs. 37] 

Through Moses, God reminded the Jews then and He reminds us today of our sinful tendency to set up false gods to worship and follow.  He reminds us in order to warn us.  “Return to the Lord your God, for He is faithful in steadfast love!”  What false gods do we set up in our lives?  Before you answer, remember that we are all by nature sinful and unclean. We are just like the Jews in Moses time, prone to wander.  One of the ways we wander from God is when we place our hope and trust in human authority and government.  When we listen to and trust the word of man more than the living Word of God.

Another false god in our lives can be found in our own self sufficiency.  Maybe you’ve experienced this sin as I have.  It happens when we trust ourselves and our own resourcefulness instead of having complete trust and confidence in God.

Another false god that we must consider is our family.  While it’s true that love for family is important, sometimes we can love them more than the God who gives us our family.  Sometimes our love for our children or other family members can lead us to do things that we know are wrong.

Finally, another false god can be the very comfort that God’s blessings bring to those of us who are part of Christ’s church.  We who are Christ’s body have been blessed with eternal life, washed clean in the waters of our baptism; forgiven of all our sins.  We enjoy a certain peace of mind and soul that no other person outside of grace can ever experience.  We are daily protected from the attacks of the devil and we have prospered.  We love our comfort and long for more of God’s blessings yet we ignore the leading of the very God who provides all of this for us.  How do we ignore Him?  By forgetting that we too need to cry out to Him like the crowds on the first Palm Sunday, Hosanna!  We need to live a life that demonstrates praise to our Savior God and to Him alone!

How do we do this?  By knowing God as He really is.  How do we know God?  

We know God by knowing Jesus!  

By knowing who Jesus is for us and who He is for our neighbor our lives will be transformed! God wants us to know that Jesus is more than just His Son; He wants us to know that He is also our brother.  He wants us to know that Jesus is at all times both God and man.  He is eternal; He is the Son of God, who together with the Father and the Holy Spirit are eternally worshiped and glorified, yet… Jesus was also born of the Virgin Mary.  What a mystery… God was born!  But even more mysterious, Jesus died… the God who is eternal and cannot die did in fact die—but not just any death… He died upon the cross.  He died the death of a slave, the death of a condemned criminal.  

And to all of this truth, our sinful minds question, “But how can any of this be?”  But asking how is the wrong question friends.  It is wrong because God’s ways are not our ways; His ways are far above ours.  The right question to ask is why?  If we understand the why, then the how becomes unimportant.  Hosanna!  Hosanna to the Savior God!

When the Son of God took on our flesh to save us, He chose to make Himself nothing by becoming our servant, so that as our servant, He could suffer and die in our place.  The God-man Jesus Christ humbled Himself for us, by dying for us!  From the moment He was conceived by the Holy Spirit He chose to be born in order to die.  Now here is where God’s ways become very mysterious to us; at no time did Jesus cease being God.  Not in the womb and not upon the cross.  Out of love for you, Christ put aside His deity and chose to live out your humanity.  At any time He could have walked away from our flesh, but if He would have done that, then He could not have paid the penalty for your sins.  If He would have allowed His angels to save Him from your death, the death that you should die, then He could not have won salvation for you!  

Dear friends, by taking on your flesh and dying your death for your sins, Jesus became your Warrior King.  When He rode into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, He indeed rode in as a warrior king.  But not the type of warrior king the people expected.  Warrior kings ride in on strong stallions, suited with armor and with sword and shield in hand.  But Jesus rode in on a donkey armed with only our flesh, our mind, and covered with our sin.  

He who is Spirit and truth, and without sin took on our flesh and our sins so that He could fight and win for us!  

But these strange weapons were exactly what He needed to defeat sin, death, and the devil.  They were in keeping with the work that He came to do.  He didn’t come to conquer nations or empires; He came to conquer your sin.  This was God’s means of waging war against our enemies.  Jesus had to be our substitute, and He could only do this by being obedient to the Father’s will; by suffering and dying to pay for our sins.  And make no mistake friends; He could not have done this without His full deity.  He had to attach the full weight of His deity to His human flesh in order to be obedient unto death, even death upon the cross.  And as we will proudly proclaim and celebrate next week on Easter morning, He must have all of His deity in order to rise from the dead.  Even in death, Jesus was mighty God so that by His death and resurrection we could be assured of the very same thing happening for us..  Hosanna!  Hosanna to our Savior King!

Dear friends, by knowing and believing in this truth our hearts can’t help but cry out Hosanna!  We will naturally cry out Hosanna when we know who our true Savior King is and how and for whom He came to save.  He came to save you dear friends, but not just you… He came to save your neighbor.  You have a message to declare… you have a story to tell.  It’s a story that God wants you to share with as many people as possible.  But what shall you tell them?  Tell them that they have a God who comes to them as a Savior; a Savior who put Himself to death so that they could live.  Tell them that by putting Himself to death for them God was able to heal the sins of the entire world… even their sins.  He is our true God and all that He asks from us in return is that we would worship Him and Him alone.  He asks us to trust only in His love for us and then rest in His presence and protection.

Friends, it’s no wonder that the crowds came out on that first Palm Sunday shouting “Hosanna in the highest!”  I pray that each of us will be moved to praise Him as well and share that message with whoever God puts in our path.  Let’s try to remember each day that it is the Lord alone who delivers us from all of our enemies, even sin, death, and the devil.  Let’s try to thank Him each day that He has not only given us grace, but the faith to believe that Jesus died for each of us.     

May we always say hosanna to our Savior God, because it’s He alone who saves us; He saves us from all harm.  He has defeated all of our enemies.  His name is great, and His name is Jesus, the most beautiful name that has ever been spoken.  And at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  AMEN

Forgetting What Lies Behind

April 7th, 2019

Lent 5-C
April 7, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 3:13b]

Perhaps you’ve seen a commercial on T.V. by J.G. Wentworth offering to help with structured law suit settlements. In each variation of the commercial, an average person shouts out, “It’s my money and I want it now!” They were playing on the inherit desire of the average person for instant gratification.

Unfortunately, they weren’t far off the mark.  We Americans do demand to have things immediately, and as Frank Sinatra sang, we want to do things our way.  We demand it from our politicians, from our auto manufactures, our computers, our schools, and I’m afraid even from our Creator!  But this morning, God wants us to know that our faith life is not like J.G. Wentworth’s commercial or Frank Sinatra’s song .  If we want life instantly our way, well then, we can’t have it God’s way!

This morning, we will be talking about our faith and our Christian life… God’s way.  This morning God is telling us to forget about our past… our former way of thinking and doing things.  He is saying, “Don’t consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” [Isaiah 43:18-19]   If you don’t perceive it, maybe it’s because you haven’t let go of your past?  Maybe you want to have your cake and eat it too?  Maybe you want the blessings of a relationship with God and not the change He is bringing into your life?  Maybe, just maybe, you want salvation on your terms and not God’s?  If so, then God wants you to know that you are deceiving yourself and the truth is not in you!

In our Epistle lesson this morning, St. Paul say’s that he “counts everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as (his) Lord!”  

He also says that for (Christ’s) sake, (he) has suffered the loss of all things, (and what’s more) he count(s) them as rubbish, in order that (he) may gain Christ and be found in him.”  [Philippians 3:8]  Wow!  Those are strong words.  I know personally, that there are several people here this morning who know what it means to lose everything.  One moment you were on the top of the world and the next…bang…the world is on top of you!  Everything you loved and cherished was stripped away.  Or was it?  You’re here this morning aren’t you?  So Paul would tell you that the most important thing you can ever have, the most important thing you’ll ever need is still yours.  That most needful thing is of course Jesus Christ!  

But Paul still has more to tell us.  He still has his heart set on something deeper… something that gets to the core of the matter.  Listen: He says I lost everything that was important to me so that I would be presented to God “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” [v. 9] But why was he stripped of everything?  Paul answers that question as well, “(So) that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” [vs. 10-11]

What was Paul stripped of?  Well, it was something that left no room for God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness… it was his own view of goodness and success; it was his self righteousness!  Paul back then was named Saul; he was a religious leader… he was a teacher of God’s Law.  He went to the finest schools and hung out with the most influential people.  He was living life his way!  He thought though, that he was living a life that pleased God.  He was teaching others how to do the same, and punishing others who refused to follow his example.  We could say that Saul was pleased with his life… he was having things his way!  But he forgot something very important… there is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it leads only to death… eternal separation from the very God he thought he was serving. [Proverbs 14:12]

Saul didn’t need to have things his way, but God’s way!  So on a dusty road to Damascus, which he was traveling on to find and punish Jews who believed Jesus was their Lord, he instead found Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ… Him crucified and resurrected.  In a flash of bright light, he was blinded and heard the voice of the Living God speak these words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And Saul said, “Who are you, Lord?” And (the voice) said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” [Acts 9:4]

Just like that, Saul was converted.  The super religious Jewish teacher Saul became a humbled blind Christian named Paul.  “So what?” you say.  “It’s only a name change and a change of religion.  What’s the big deal?”  The big deal friends, is that now he became the hunted instead of the hunter.  He was now a Christian… hated by the world, but loved by God!  Now He knew Jesus Christ as He truly was… the living Son of God!  Now he knew Him as His Lord and Savior.  Paul would tell you that he found an inward possession that was more precious than everything he lost.  What was that inward possession?  It was the forgiveness of all of his sins.  Paul was forced to admit what he always knew… all of his self righteousness was like filthy rags before his creator.  All of his hope in pleasing God through religion was useless.  

On that dusty road, he had only one hope, to throw himself at the feet of the living God and call out for mercy and forgiveness!  And miracle of all miracles… God forgave him through the very person he helped kill and was now persecuting… he was forgiven through Jesus Christ!  

Paul was a wanted man.  

He lost his home, his family, all of his possessions, his prestige and his standing within the community.  Paul lost everything, but he counted all that he lost as garbage compared to what he gained.  What did he gain?  Well he got his eye sight back but that was nothing compared to the surpassing knowledge of God through Jesus Christ.  The one thing he searched for all of his life, the one thing that eluded him in all his searching was now his… peace with God!  Paul now knew a God that loved him and spoke to him as a friend and as a brother.  Paul’s most prized possession was now given to him as a gift from God; forgiveness of all of his sins—past present and future—were now his through Christ’s work upon the cross.  Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, were now Paul’s suffering, death and resurrection!

Friends, the great purpose of Paul’s loss of all his worldly wealth in an instant was done in order to make him gain Christ, and through Christ in an instant, be given true righteousness.  In that very moment, Paul was allowed to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  For Paul, meeting and knowing Jesus unto salvation was immediate and dramatic.  His conversion was instantaneous!  

For all of us, our conversion was also instantaneous and for many of us, it happened within the waters of our baptism, but knowing Jesus has not been nearly as dramatic.  For most of us it has been continuous and gradual.  We’ve found that the longer we know him the deeper our understanding of God becomes.  

But we’re also like Paul in this way; we have a choice, we can either receive the change that God’s holiness brings in our lives or we can persecute Jesus.  

 “Persecute Jesus!  What do you mean?”  I mean friends, if you are not allowing God to steadily change you, to recreate you into His image more and more each day, then you are insisting on having things right now your way, and your way is not His way!  

If you are insisting that each day be some kind of award system for the good things you’ve done, then you are fighting against the very work of God that is happening within you now but will be rewarded latter in glory with Christ!  This is God’s truth!  Don’t you perceive it?  You either want things your way or God’s way.  Either you are a friend of the world or a friend of God’s.  You either want to be covered with the admiration and respect of people or the grace of Jesus Christ!  This morning, God is asking you, “Which will it be?!”

Do you know what God wants from you?  He wants you to look to the cross of Jesus and see the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin and then grasp Christ’s love and passion and never let it go!  He wants you to trust Him no matter what’s happening in your life.  He wants you to be filled with the new life He gave you in the waters of your baptism and be transformed with new spiritual power and abilities.  He wants you to hold on to this new life until it is time for the final grasp… when your eyes are closed on this earth for the last time. Then, on that day, He wants you to wake up and be with your Savior Jesus Christ forever!  God has you in His hand, but do you have Him in yours?

Dear friends, please don’t misunderstand what this grabbing hold of Christ means.  Your salvation is not up to you… everything you need to be assured of eternal life with God has been given to you within the waters of your baptism.  God indeed has hold of you; that is His active hold on you, but do you have Him?  You see there is also our passive grabbing hold of God.  We grab a hold of God in His means of Grace.  God gives us His Holy Word, our baptism, and His Holy Supper so that when trials, temptations, sin, sickness, and tragedy strike we will be strong enough to hold on; strong enough to know that our redeemer, our Savior, and our God lives and loves us.  He gives you these wonderful means of grace so that you can forget the past and the ways of the world and rest in the truth that He is always holding onto you… always loving you.  He gives you these things so that you can press on towards the goal… eternal life with Jesus Christ your brother; your Savior and your closest friend… even more than that your living and loving God!  I pray that you will hunger for His means of grace and hold onto Him, because He is holding onto you! 

 

Our Prodigal God!

March 31st, 2019

Lent 4-C
March 31, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Imagine in your mind’s eye that you’ve been transported back in time to a high school football stadium.  You’re seated in the bleachers, and you are drawn to one particular man seated amongst the sea of people.  He has such a big smile on his face and you see tears welling up in his eyes.  The hot sun is mercilessly beating down on him and pulling sweat from his body and soaking his neatly pressed dress shirt, but he’s oblivious to it. His eyes are focused on one young man on the football field. “Who are you looking at?” You whisper. “I am waiting for my son” he says. “Soon he will cross the stage and get his diploma. Then it is off to college. I am so proud of him.”

Now fast forward to two years in the future and you are once again with the same man. You’re sitting outside the county jail house.  He’s alone and he’s crying.  Quietly you sit next to him.  Finally you ask him, “What’s up?” “I am waiting for my son,” he sniffs, trying to hold back the tears. “The Police picked him up for DUI and I am afraid he’s on drugs, too.  He’s been so distant lately… it’s like I don’t even know him!”

Now fast forward eight years in the future, and you are with the same man.  This time you’re seated in a beautiful little church. The man is standing by his son at the front looking up the aisle. You walk up to him and whisper, “What’s up?” he whispers back, “I am waiting for my son to get married. His beautiful, bride will be walking down the aisle toward us in just a minute. I am so proud of him. I have been waiting ten years, but finally the wait is over. Drugs, alcohol, and jail are all behind him. He’s back in church and he’s landed a good job. I am so excited.”

     This father, if he was here this morning would tell you that he can read our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 15) with a real and special understanding. He knows what it means to wait for a son who seems lost to him and God. 

This morning, God wants us to see that He’s still looking and waiting for lost sons and daughters to come home. He’s still leaving the flock to go out and find stray lambs. This morning He wants us to know that we have a heavenly Father who loves us enough to spend everything on us. His open arms are waiting for every lost sinner to come home.  The welcome home party can be started in an instant, whenever they decide to come home.  And after they come home and they’ve enjoyed themselves at the party, they can join the Father in His waiting, watching and urging more lost children to come home. And when they come home, they can sit beside their elder brothers and sisters, and show them just how much the Father has always loved them, even if they never got to have a party thrown for them. All this and much more is waiting for sinners if they will just repent.  If they will just turn away from their sinful life and their sinful thinking, and then turn to God’s forgiving love through Jesus Christ!

Our gospel reading this morning (Luke 15:1–3, 11–32) for many is a familiar one.  

It starts out by introducing us to the sinful younger brother, who committed a huge sin by walking away from his position as his father’s son. He wanted nothing more to do with his father, but he did want the blessing of his father’s money!  Once he received what he wanted and not what his father said he needed, off he went!

Did you notice that it was the younger son who was on the move?  He wanted to get as far away from his father’s house and his father’s rules as he could!  But did you also notice that the father never moved?  He was standing still; still and waiting to see his son return someday. He was a busy man, a man of great wealth and business.  There was an entire corporation to run and it all depended on his leadership, yet he left his work to watch and wait for his lost son to return. 

To return from where?  Far away… about as far from his father and his people that he could get!  He was living large and spending money like it would never run out. “Finally” He thinks, “no rules!  I can do what I want and when I want to do it!”  The son has turned his back on his father… he’s turned his back on his father’s love!  

What a sad story.  It’s a sad story because it is the story that applies to real people who have rejected God’s love and grace which is there’s through Jesus Christ.  They’ve left the church and the communion of saints.  They counted their baptism as nothing really, simply a childhood memory.  They’re living far from God and His blessings, with the intent of enjoying the pleasure and promise of the sinful world!  But soon the good times end, and the sinner discovers that all that glitters isn’t gold at all.  Like a moth drawn into an open flame the world has devoured them and their hope of happiness. Their illusion of satisfaction found in the things of the world without the Creator and the Savior of the world has come to an end! 

So there they sit, alone and broke.  Not only did they loose their wealth, but they also lost their spiritual support to fall back on.  In essence, they have burned their bridges of return!  When sinners reach this point in their lives, the devil is ready to pounce on and devour them—many are led to suicide, either by a quick death or the slow death of substance abuse. But all is not lost, because…

The Father is still waiting… He’s waiting and He’s watching.  

And because sinners know this, because they know the fathers love, they come to their senses and remember their Father’s mercy.  They remember their baptism, the day that the Father’s love was first given to them.  They remember that through Christ Jesus suffering and death upon the cross God made a way for them to come home.  “Can it really be true?  Is it really not too late for me to come home?” they wonder.  Now hungry, poor, and tired, they remember the Lord’s invitation, “Come unto me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”  And when they remember, they begin to hunger for the Lord’s forgiving love and the fellowship of their brothers and sisters.  Now, maybe for the first time, they begin to feel alone and empty; they feel shame and a need to confess their sin.  Will God take them back?  Will they be able to hear those sweet words once again? “You are forgiven!”  

But there is another son that’s lost. His story is entirely different from that of his younger brother.  Like his brother he too is lost, but not in some distant land.  No, he is lost in his own father’s house. How is that possible? Because of his self-righteousness. He is busy working hard within his father’s business.  Although he has been supported by his father’s wealth, he now considers himself critical for maintaining and protecting that wealth.  In fact, he’s convinced that since his younger brother abandoned the family business, his father would be out of business if it wasn’t for him!  The way he sees things, his father owes him big time!  It’s been a hard day of business and he’s beat, so he heads home. As he approaches the house he hears music and dancing.  “What’s this” he wonders, “A party?”

The first person he sees says, “Hurry!  Come inside.  Your father wants me to tell you that, well… your brother’s come home!”  “No!” he says.  “I will not celebrate the return of my sinful brother!”  Now, his father hears of the older brother’s anger, and he immediately leaves the celebration to go out to his oldest son.  But he’s not going out to order him to come in, but to plead with him to come in out of his love for his father.

And here is where the sinful heart of the older brother is revealed. “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 

Can you hear the pride and self-righteousness in the words of this son?  Can you hear yourself in these words?  Is it clear to you that our Heavenly Father has every right to punish this type of hard heart?  To be angry with their brother is one thing but to publicly defy and disrespect God is a completely different issue!  God has every right to strip these self-righteous people of everything.  These people must be humbled like the younger brother was!

Dear friends, both of these ungrateful sons deserved nothing but anger from their father.  Both had shown nothing but disrespect.  Yet both were loved and forgiven.  Can you see yourself in one of these sons?  Can you see God’s love in Jesus story about the Father?   Maybe you’ve known this story as the “Prodigal Son”?  But really it should be called the “Prodigal Father”.  Do you know what the word “prodigal” means?  It means extravagant!  Can you see the Fathers unending love and patience towards his two sons?  We could say that the father was extravagant in his patience and love for his sons.  

Dear friends, Jesus tells this story for two reasons.  First, He wants us to see ourselves within one of the two sons.  Second, He wants us to see our Heavenly Father within the character of the father.  Jesus wants us to know that God is extravagant—prodigal in His patience and love for us.  Just as the younger son was lovingly welcomed back home God has the very same heart for each of us.  Just as the youngest son was cleaned up and given a beautiful robe to wear, Jesus wants each of us to know that in our baptism, we too have been clothed in His own righteousness.  And the truth is, the oldest son had nothing to feel threatened over; he was still clothed in the very same righteousness.  

How does God treat lost sinners? He focuses his attention on them. 

He pours his love on them. He waits patiently for them to come to their senses, repent of their sins, and come back to him. God has centered his whole plan for creation on one expectation: Sinners will see the error of their ways and turn back to him so that through Jesus Christ he can complete what He began within the waters of their baptism.

Dear friends, when you leave here this morning God would like you to remember that His love and forgiveness are always yours through your baptism.  In fact through your baptism and your faith in Jesus Christ, all that the father has is yours!  You are part of the body of Christ.  You are part of his team.  He invites you to patiently wait with Him for the lost, maybe even someone you love to come home.  He is inviting you to go out with Him, to seek out the lost, and then along with all of heaven, He wants you to welcome them back home within the church.  He invites you to help them put back on Christ own righteousness.  It’s a robe that fits them perfectly.  Because God had it tailored just for them within the waters of their own baptism!

Let’s pray: Loving, compassionate God, our Father in heaven, thank you for waiting for us to come back from the far country. Thank you for teaching us how sinful we are and what we leave behind when we desert you in our willful sin. Thank you for giving us great joy when we hear your sweet words of forgiveness… thank you for waiting for us and bringing us back home!  Heavenly Father, show us where to go for you; show us where to seek the lost and give us boldness to invite them to come home to you and to the church.  May they come to know the joy that we have found in you through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Precious Lord… Forgive Me!

March 24th, 2019

Lent 3-C
March 24, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:5

Perhaps the most painful question Christians and non-Christians a-like whisper and sometimes scream into the ear of God in the dark of the night is “Why?”  Why does He allow the massacre of Christians in places like Africa, the Middle East, and the Philippines over and over again?  In 1993, why didn’t God protect those two young boys Charlie Keever and Jonathan Sellers who were killed in the South Bay, and why as we’ve heard in the news lately, does it seem like the killer keeps avoiding the prescribed course of justice? 

Why is there evil in the world if God is good and almighty?  This really is the ultimate question that sinful man most wants answered! We encounter variations of this question throughout our daily lives and it most often comes to us like this: Why did my sister die so young?  Why does God allow cancer? Why did I lose my job just before my pension was vested?   Why can’t I find the right person to spend the rest of my life with?   

“What did I do to deserve this?” we cry out, as we keep noticing that people without an apparent faith in Christ seem to be living a happy life!   

Jesus’ disciples posed a similar question to him more than once. 

On one occasion, His disciples wanted to know whether the man who had been born blind had brought his condition upon himself or whether his parents were at fault because of their sin. To this question, Jesus assured them that God had a purpose in the man’s blindness.  What was that purpose?  To that question and to all of its variations, Jesus remained silent.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus takes the same approach, as He addresses two tragedies that seemed to swallow up a lot of people in an unfair way.  Some of His disciples had just reported that Pilate’s police had murdered some Galileans while they were worshiping God and offering their sacrifices.  Jesus used this incident to meet the obvious question: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were guiltier than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Jesus refused to answer the question. Instead, he used these incidents to call for something much more important… Jesus called for repentance. He rejected the assumption that great evil falls only upon evil people. “No,” Jesus said. They were not the worst of the worst; those Galileans had not sinned more than their fellow Galileans. That kind of question misses the point. The only point that Jesus wanted them to see in the midst of those tragedies was each person’s need for personal repentance.  (Luke 13:1–5). He wanted each person then and each of us today, to turn away from our sins and turn to God’s mercy and say “Precious Lord… forgive me!”

Did they get it?  Probably not, and that is why Jesus began to tell the parable about the fig tree within the vineyard.  In this story, Jesus was making the analogy that the city of Jerusalem was like the fig tree… fruitless and close to being “chopped down” so that something else… something that would bear fruit could be planted.  After the parable, do you think they said, “Ah… yes I see, I am the fig tree!  I better confess my sin and then turn to God’s mercy.  Let me confess my sinfulness and seek His forgiving love!”  No, they did not!  In fact the proof that they did not or would not understand lies in the truth that they crucified their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  And because of this, they have been chopped down, and a new tree, one that will bear fruit has been planted in its place… that new tree is of course the Church.  It is you and me!

So now, these words of Jesus are being spoken to us.  Are you different than the Jewish nation?  Will you listen?  Will you repent and bear fruit?  That is the question God wants you to concentrate on this morning and each morning that he allows you to live.  He wants you to know that through Jesus Christ, He has given you His grace, His undeserved kindness.  And because of Jesus, God is continually caring for you just as He did in the parable of the fig tree.  He is tilling the soil of your heart and applying good fertilizer through His Word and Sacraments.  Do you recognize that you have been placed in the most favored position… you have been adopted as sons and daughters of the most high God!  Will you be fruitful or will you prevent His grace from changing you?  Will you bring to nothing, everything that Jesus has provided for you?  Will you turn your back on His passion for you… on His suffering and death for you?!  

Can you really do that?  Yes, He will allow you to reject His gift of love, but by doing that, you are sealing your own doom!  Will you really do that or will you repent?

In this world, even in the life of Christians, we are surrounded by countless sins, sins that God expects us to acknowledge and deplore with true and sincere repentance.  

He wants us to hear His cry within the gospel, “Repent and trust in Christ alone!”  He delivers these Words of both His Law and His Gospel to us so that we will be delivered from eternal destruction. 

This isn’t a new message, in fact it was the first sermon preached in paradise, when God cursed Adam and Eve after their fall from grace.  But after their fall, He immediately gave them complete forgiveness of their sin, and the promise of a future Savior, the son of Adam who is also the very Son of God! 

Repent and believe!  This has always been God’s Word to sinful men and women!  This is the sum of all of God’s Word and it is the message that He wants us to receive as long as we are alive in this world!  God wants each of us to read His Word, the entire Bible and hear this message come alive on each page.  He wants us to read all of the testimonies concerning His anger against sin, concerning personal and public tragedies, concerning all of the warnings about eternal punishments, and  He wants us to hear these Words and repent; He wants us to turn away from our sin and our certain punishment of death, and then turn to the death of Jesus. Why?  Why must we turn from our sin and see Jesus death upon the cross?  Because dear friends, Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross is the clearest possible proof concerning God’s anger and hatred against sin! 

God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to hang upon the cross in the most violent manner so that you would know just how serious your sin is!  The death of Jesus isn’t just something for you to read about and consider like some book or movie … God wants it to scare the hunger for sin and Hell right out of you!  He wants you to see how serious His wrath against sin is.  He wants you to know beyond any doubt how serious, enormous, and indescribable your sin is.  He wants you to know that the only way you can be rescued from your sin is if the Son of God intercedes for you and is made a victim for you!  If you can see all of this and if you can agree with God that your sin is a huge problem, then repent!

Dear friends, God wants each of us to see ourselves in the words of our Epistle lesson this morning.  He wants us to see our own sinful lust as being identical to the Hebrews who rejected God’s law regarding sexual relations between a man and woman, within the structure of marriage.  He wants us to see ourselves within the story of those who continually tested Him by questioning His actions and His will!  He wants us to see that we are similar to those who murmured and complained about Him instead of trusting in Him and receiving from Him.  He wants us to see all of this within our own hearts and then confess these sins and turn away from them.

But still there is wickedness and suffering all around, isn’t there?  And maybe this is causing you to still struggle with the “why” of evil!  

Why does God allow such evil to flourish in this world?  And to this God answers, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”  And we ask, “Precious Lord, why won’t you answer my question?  Why won’t you tell me why there is evil?  And to this God says to each of us, “Because I care most about your love for me… I want you to trust me… trust that I am caring for you always!  You are who I suffered and died for!  You are the fig tree that I have planted within my vineyard, and you are the one that will give me fruit.  Turn back, repent from your own evil ways and love and obey me!  

Dear friends, the Father has planted you within His church.  He is nourishing you and tilling the soil of your heart so that you will bear much fruit.  What is that fruit?  It is the fruit of repentance; fruit that is called righteousness.  Fruit that trusts in Christ alone… fruit that does not lust after the riches and power of this world, but instead remains focused on what Christ has done for you.  Jesus is your fruit, and you can only find this fruit upon the tree of woe.  It is the sweet fruit of Golgotha…it is the fruit of righteousness unto eternal life!  “Take and eat” Jesus says, “This is my body!  Take and drink… this is my blood.”  Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your many sins and then rest in the truth that God forgives you; He still loves you and He still loves the world!

“But Lord” you cry out, “I am afraid that because of all this evil only a few will be saved?  I am afraid for my loved ones who will not repent!”  And Christ answers us by saying, “Friend, let me worry about that.  As for you, strive to enter through the narrow door.  Worry first about your relationship with Me and my gospel, only then will you be able to recognize and fight your own sin.”  

Dear friends, let God worry about the whys in life; you have enough to do just loving Him!  If you occupy yourself with this work, then when tragedy and suffering strike, you will be comforted and strengthened by Christ’s presence within you.  Only then will you begin to understand that true wisdom and comfort are not found in answering the why(s) but the HOW!

I pray that each of us will continue to grow in faith and be comforted by God’s love through Christ Jesus.  AMEN

BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD

March 17th, 2019

Lent 2-C
March 17, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” [Luke 13:31-35]

On August 30, 2005, at 4 AM, Coast Guard Lt Iain McConnell, along with the rest of his aircrew, was summoned to the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama. The air base soon became primary base of operations for Hurricane Katrina relief. Less than 24 hours after the storm initially hit New Orleans, Lt. McConnell and his crew were ordered to fly their H46 helicopter into the storm damaged area for what would be a heroic rescue effort.  They entered the area ahead of every news crew in the nation; they were not prepared for the devastation they were about to see, the entire city of New Orleans was flooding.  They began to pluck people from rooftops. They literally flew around the clock, returning to the base only to refuel and then head back out, despite their exhaustion and fatigue and the risk to their own lives; they continuously went back out onto the storm. On their first three missions that day they saved 89 people, three dogs, and two cats. 

In our Gospel lesson today, as Jesus continued His way to Jerusalem and the cross, we come face to face with the Son of God in the midst of the greatest rescue effort of all time.  All of Scripture, the entire Bible after Genesis chapter 2, points to this rescue mission — Despite all the obstacles in His way, Jesus would continue on to Jerusalem; He was going there to suffer and to die in order to save. The majority of His own people would reject Him. But that too was foretold a long time ago in Psalm 118, where it says: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Psalm 118:22)

Let’s look again at verses 33-34 of our Gospel lesson: Jesus said,  Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day [after that],” and He goes on, “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish [anywhere else but] Jerusalem.’  O Jerusalem… the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 

Jesus is referring to a coming day of judgment. He talks about the natural instinct of hens that would vigorously protect their young by gathering them under her wings.  If there were a bird of prey nearby, the hen would cackle and cluck and call her chicks to her so they could find protection under her wings.

One day, shortly after a devastating fire in Yellowstone National Park, a park ranger was walking through a burned field. He came across what appeared to be dead prairie chicken.  As he nudged the dead bird with his foot, three little chicks came running out from underneath the dead hen; they had survived the fire because their mother had given her life for them.  Make no doubt about it, there is a fire coming — and that fire is God’s judgment!

USA Today and Gallup conducted a poll in which they asked Americans about the likelihood of an apocalyptic end to the world:

  • 23% responded that this was “very likely,”
  • 16% said it was “somewhat unlikely,”
  • 16% said it was “very unlikely,”
  • 41% had “no opinion.”

For the most part, Americans are not too concerned about the end of the world, they aren’t concerned about the return of Jesus Christ or a day of judgment.

Jesus told us that on the Day of Judgment God is going to “…separate the wheat from the chaff.” (Matthew 3:12), He will sort “…the good fish from the bad fish.” (Matthew 13:48), and He will separate “…the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:32), God is going to sift and sort all the sinners (that’s everyone of us); He will separate those whose sins have been forgiven from those who have held on to their sins, and those that deny that they have any need for forgiveness.

Now before we leave this particular verse, I want to point out one more thing about Jesus saying, “How often I have longed to gather your children together…”

Last week in our Sunday morning Bible study, we were studying St. Paul’s first letter to the young pastor, Timothy.  In 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul tells us that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  God wants all people to be saved!

But do you see the paradox here? If God desires all people to be saved, doesn’t God get everything He wants?  God wants all men to be saved yet not all men are saved. Why is that?  Mistakenly, many have tried to solve this paradox by looking for some cause of salvation in human beings; that men can some how earn their own salvation. “Well,” they suppose, “If some one is a good and decent person, if they have enough love and enough good works, then surely they will be saved.” 

My brothers and sisters, Salvation is salvation! That means we can’t do anything to make it happen; to be saved means just that — to be saved. If we somehow helped with that, then we would have to say that we merely survived, rather than say that we have been saved.  Jesus answers the question of the paradox. God wants all people to be saved. Jesus wanted to gather all of Jerusalem, but Jesus said the people of Jerusalem were not willing! If a person is lost, it is because they made that choice. They were not willing to be saved!

Earlier, I mentioned the rescue efforts of Coast Guard Lt. McConnell and his aircrew. I told you about the first three missions they flew where they rescued an extraordinary amount of people. But on their fourth mission, despite twelve different flights into New Orleans, they were not able to save even one person. None! Everyone they encountered on that mission refused to board the helicopter. Instead they told the aircrew to bring them food and water so that they could wait out the storm. They were warned that this was extremely dangerous as the waters were still rising and were not going away anytime soon.  Sadly, when the dykes protecting the city broke, many of those people perished because of their refusal to be rescued.

So what does it mean to be saved spiritually? That is such an important question. I don’t want anyone to be lost on the Day of Judgment, and again St. Paul reminds us that God desires all people to be saved, so this is a very important matter.  Many people know about God, many believe that God exist, but that doesn’t mean they are saved.  The argument can be made that even the devil knows about God and even the devil believes that God exists…  Far too often people only look to God for “food and water” and believe they can wait out the storm on their own; they believe by being a good person with good intentions, they can sit out the coming wave of God’s judgment.

To be saved means that two things will happen to us. First, there must be a spiritual breakdown.  You’ve heard of nervous or emotional breakdowns — I’m talking about a spiritual breakdown. This means that we must come to the realization that, because of our sinful nature, we all are totally lost and condemned sinners. As Dr. Martin Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism to confess, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess to God all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Him, and justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment…” or as we confessed earlier in our service, “…we confess before God and before one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our own sinful condition.”

Many people don’t go through this spiritual breakdown because they truly believe that they are pretty decent people and they wrongly believe that’s good enough. They arrive at that conclusion by comparing themselves to the rest of this sinful world.

In our Epistle lesson today, St. Paul tells us about people like that, he says, “[They are] enemies of the cross of Christ… their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with [their] minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19) So if you compare yourselves to the rest of this sinful world, you might look pretty good too.  

But we will not be judged by the standard of this world. On the Day of Judgment, we will be judged by the standard of God — the standard of God according to His Law.  Now I don’t care who you are, there is not one of us here who are able to keep those commandments perfectly. We all have broken God’s Law and we all deserve the prescribed punishment, which is death. To be spiritually broken is to come to this realization, that we are lost and condemned sinners and that we cannot free ourselves from this sinful condition.

Secondly, salvation means that we come to the realization that we are under the protection of God’s grace and mercy. As the hen gathers her brood under her wings, so does Jesus gather repentant sinners like you and me under the wings of His grace and His mercy.

These wings manifest themselves in two ways: First, in the promise of forgiveness found in God’s Word and, second, in the miracle of the Sacraments.  When you study the Bible you will find only three things promise salvation: salvation is found in God’s words of forgiveness; salvation is found in our Baptism when our sin was washed away and we were marked as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified; and, salvation is found in Holy Communion where Jesus Himself tells us, “this is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Here we can be sure and certain that God’s judgment on the world’s sin, and on our sin, will never reach us and cannot touch us.  Jesus came to the rescue, and He willfully gave His life to make sure of this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) We have to trust in this promise!

Now we come to the best and most important part of this passage. Jesus quotes Psalm 118: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Luke 13:35)  God is intent on saving; God desires all people to be saved. If a person is not saved, it is not for lack of God’s efforts. Remember at the beginning of this message I quoted Psalm 118, verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” A little further on, verse 24: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  And in verse 25: Save us, we pray, O Lord!  This is the only time this plea appears in the Bible in these words. 

The Hebrew word, “hoshi’a na,” is translated in Greek and pronounced in English, as “hosanna.” The original intent of the scripture is “God save us!” It is a plea for mercy.

Right after that, in verse 26, there is a shift from concern to confidence. Verse 26 says, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  This is where grace and mercy is found, it is found in He who comes in the name of the Lord!

And so we have: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Or, as we know it, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

Jesus gathers us under His wings of Grace and rescues us from death.  Jesus fills the gap that separates us from the Father, to bring us home into heaven.

The people of Jerusalem didn’t set out to reject God. They didn’t wake up one day and decide that, instead of listening to God, they would make it their mission to kill the Only Son of God. The people of Jerusalem were deceived. They were blinded of the truth. Deluded by their sin and the author of sin. And, as a result, they were unable and unwilling to hear the Word of the God. 

Everything in our readings today, from the Old Testament, the Epistle, and the Gospel readings set up the polarity of earth and heaven, of disgrace and glorification, humiliation and exaltation. We preach the cross, because it is the only way to glory. Just look at Jesus, who set His face toward Jerusalem, endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of power, with all things under His feet. Pastor Brian told us last week that Jesus choose way of the cross so that we would know that the only way to God the Father and eternity is through the cross.

It’s not about you, it’s not about who you are or what you’ve done (good or bad); it’s all about Jesus and it’s all about who He is and what He has done. We need to surrender to the fact that we are sinners and we cannot, with anything we do, free ourselves from that sinful condition.  

But we cling to the fact that Jesus is “He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35) He came to lay down His life for the sins of the world, for my sins and for your sins.

Jerusalem was blind to His gracious visitation, Blind to the presence of God among them, and they put Him to death like the prophets before Him. Yet, His sacrifice upon the cross became the cornerstone of His Church. Jesus visits us today in mercy with His preaching of forgiveness, to gather us to Himself, “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34). 

This is what God’s steadfast love is all about.  As we walk with Jesus to Jerusalem during this Lenten season, we realize just how complete and steadfast God’s love really is for this world. We need to take that love back out into the world, we need to show God’s saving grace, His mercy, and His love in how we treat our neighbors in the works we do.  We don’t do good works to be saved, we do good works because we are saved!  We love because he first loved us! (1 John 4:19)

A Day of Judgment is indeed coming one day, but God’s Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, has already come and rescued us, of this you can be confident!

Our help is in the name of the Lord! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.

Tempted!

March 10th, 2019

Lent 1C
March 10, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2a)

In a Hollywood depiction of the events during Joseph’s stay in Egypt, Potiphar’s wife tried her best to seduce him.  No matter what temptations she threw at him, he resisted.  Suddenly, out of frustration she ripped off her skirt and threw it over the statue of a pagan god.  “Now the gods will not see,” she said, thinking that her control over Joseph was complete.  And to this, Joseph replies, “But MY God sees!”

Facing life with Jesus as your Lord means walking down the same path He walked; it means facing the same temptations that He conquered all before a God who is all seeing!  For those of us who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, temptation often causes us a lot of distress, or as it is described in the book of Deuteronomy, we experience afflictions and even oppressions. [Deut. 26:7]  This morning, God’s Word assures us that He hears our cries for help and that He is near us… but He also assures us that in the end, because of Christ’s work upon the cross for us, we will not be put to shame! [Rom. 10:11b]

Have you ever felt like all of the forces of evil seemed to be pressing in against you?  

Well, imagine how Jesus must have felt… 40 days of tempting and testing.  No company… not even a stranger to speak to, and oh yes… no food!  He was tired, alone, and hungry, and on top of all of that, Satan himself appeared and was trying everything He could do to get Jesus to sin!  But Jesus, being both man and the Son of God was familiar with the ways of Satan.  He was there when Satan attacked Adam and Eve and led both of them and all of humanity into the captivity of sin.  He instructed Cain, before He killed His brother Able to fight the temptation of self pity with these words, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  Temptation seeks to test our resolve, our faith in God’s love, and even our motives for loving and worshiping Him. 

Isn’t it strange that temptation seems to always be the strongest just when we feel the strongest?  What I mean is, just when we feel like our walk of faith is finally going well… BAMB we are tested!  Many times temptation will attack us right after we leave church… or maybe even in church!  Where does this temptation come from?

Well there are three different sources of temptation that we need to be on the alert for if we are to become its master.  They are: the devil, our own desires and the ways of the world.  

The first and second temptation comes directly from the devil and from within ourselves.  

The devils are masters in the art of manipulation.  They will attack us where we are most vulnerable and susceptible.  Listen to how Eve, the mother of us all was deceived and you can see what I mean: “(The devil in the form of a serpent) said to (Eve), “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate… ” [Gen 3:1-6b]     

Did you notice how the devil attacked?  He used three weaknesses that Eve had in order to tempt her into sin.  They were her ignorance of God’s Word, her desire to possess things of beauty that were not hers, and her hunger to  know the mysteries of God.  First, God never said that Adam and Eve couldn’t touch the fruit, but instead He said that they couldn’t eat it.  Listen to God’s actual Words: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  If Eve had been more familiar… more intimate with God’s Word she would not have given the devil an opportunity to twist the meaning of God’s Word!  The second and third weakness of Eve is presented in these words: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.”  Oh dear Eve, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” [James 4:7b-8]  It is easy to find ourselves wondering what kind of tempting thoughts were going through Eve’s mind.  She must have thought, “God is love huh?  Well according to this serpent, He doesn’t love me enough to let me enjoy this pleasing fruit!  I wonder what else He’s holding back?  I’ll just take a bite and find out!”  

Now before we begin to be hyper-critical of Eve, let’s remember what God’s Word says about temptation, and how it attacks each of us: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” [1 Cor. 10:13]

Does this mean that Eve could have defeated the temptations of the devil and prevented the entire human race from falling into sin?  Absolutely!  Remember that both her and Adam were created perfect!  What we need to learn from this is that our biggest temptations always come from the devils and from within our own hearts.  

But there is a third source of temptation, and it comes to us from within this sinful world, specifically it comes by an exaggerated sense of self and a desire for material things.  Listen to how St. Paul sums up this truth in his letter to Timothy: “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. [Timothy 6:6-10]

So what are we to do?  How can we find rescue and relief from this oppressive temptation?  We turn to God and His Holy Word!  We turn to our God who sees all of our afflictions, toil, and the oppressions of the devil, and we let His Holy Word save us, teach us, and guide us.  We turn to our Savior, Jesus Christ who faced all of these same temptations and defeated them in our place, for us!  In fact, let’s do that right now… let’s let Jesus, the living Word of God demonstrate these truths for us in our gospel lesson.

Jesus, as our Champion faces Satan in our place and for our good.

Satan, seeing Jesus tired, alone, and hungry pounces upon Him like a roaring lion seeking to devour Him, and he says, “Prove you are a Son of God.  You’re hungry right?  Well serve yourself up some hot nourishing bread!  Just turn one of the stones into bread; you can do it easily … remember who you are Son of God!”  But Jesus answers back and says, “No Satan.  God’s Word has a better answer for me.  Let me take you to Deuteronomy 8:3, where we are taught that the Father has something a lot more substantial in mind for us than simple bread.  He promises that He will supply all of our needs.  He knows what I really need right now and He is supplying me with something a lot more satisfying than bread.  I need power from Him to enter into my ministry of proclaiming the gospel.  He is giving me what He knows I need, not what you would like to trick me into thinking I need.  I will listen to the Father and serve Him… not my own appetite!”

Having failed at the first test, Satan now begins the second one: “Ok, Son of God, you and I both know that in order  to take this kingdom from me and transfer all of these pathetic people from my kingdom of sin into your kingdom of  grace you are going to have to suffer greatly for them.  But let me save you all of the pain, anguish, and humiliation… let me just give it to you.  See, come up here and look down below.  What do you see?  You see everything don’t you?  Every kingdom and every power and authority on earth, right?  Well it’s all mine, and I can give it to anyone I want, so I choose to give it to you!  Oh, but there’s just one little thing you need to do for me… it’s nothing really… just quickly bow your knee to me, just a slight bend and I’ll give it all to you.  Once you do that, you can go back to being the obedient Son of God to your beloved Heavenly Father.”  

What a tempting trade off!  If it was one of us, perhaps we would say that the end justifies the means.  What’s wrong with just a moment of false worship for full time, eternal authority over the world?  But, this kind of thinking reveals something much deeper than convenience… it shows our devotion to our own self-interest and a hunger for personal power.  It shows our willingness to abandon God and to follow Satan’s path, a path that never leads to God.

But how does Jesus answer?  He responds, “The Bible has a better answer.  Deuteronomy 6:13 says that we are to worship God and no one else.  That means that every moment of our time is to be devoted to the worship and service of God the Father.  Sorry Satan, but that means there is no time left for you!  I’m going to do things the Father’s way, even if it leads to the cross, my suffering, and my death!  I will listen to God’s Word not you!

So now comes the third and final test.  

Satan says to our Lord: “Hey Son of God!  Why don’t you show the world who you really are?  Prove to them once and for all that you are Your Father’s Son!  Let the Father serve you for once, after all you are Co-equal and Co-eternal to Him and the Spirit!  Come on, let’s go to the temple and I’ll show you how to get what’s coming to you.  Look down there below on the holy city.  See all of those tiny—insignificant people down there?  They’ll come running to you quicker than you can blink an eye if they see you throw yourself off the wall and survive.  The Father’s Word says you can do it!  Listen to Psalm 91: “For He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.  On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” [vs. 11-12]  I am certain the Father will save you.  I’ll bet you won’t even stub a toe!  Why I’ll bet He’ll rescue you in midair.  Everyone will see it and fall at your feet and your mission will be accomplished!”

And to this Jesus answers:  “Satan, you sure know how to take God’s Word out of context and twist its meaning to suit your purpose!  Go back to the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 6 and read this Word: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test!”  You are a tempter, the one who puts God and His children to the test!  And what did it get you?  You were thrown out of heaven and stripped of your heavenly glory and your name!  God is not a tempter and He is never to be tempted!  I will trust the Father and do things His way!  Your way is slick and easy.  It might make great marketing sense but there is just one problem… it is not God’s way!  No thanks!  I will serve the Father and never ask Him to serve me.  Worshiping God isn’t a negotiation… give me this and I’ll give you that.  No, worshiping God is total devotion, no matter the cost!  I’ll follow Him even to the cross… to my death so that these “little” people that you harass and torture will have comfort and hope!  I’ll be obedient unto death, so that they will know that they have a champion… one who fights with them and beside them!  And, then I will ensure that these Words of mine are preserved for eternity so that when they hear them they will have faith… faith in my Father’s compassion and faith in my passion for them!  This is how I will save them!

Dear friends, Jesus is your champion!  He has walked among and conquered the temptations of the devil and this world!  But more importantly, He has walked the way of the cross, the way of suffering and death for you!  He did this so that you would not lose hope in the middle of your own trials and temptations.  He followed the way of the cross so that you would have the strength to overcome the many temptations of life.  But if you fall to temptation, He wants you to remember that He chose the way of the cross so that you would know the way back to God… through the message of the Gospel, which is the message of forgiveness, even for you. You are forgiven!  

In your baptism, Jesus, the Son of God spoke this truth to Satan regarding you: “Be gone Satan!  This one is loved by my Father and saved by my grace!”  But He also speaks to you… He speaks the word of the gospel, God’s forgiveness and love.  He speaks all of these things so that you may be assured of eternal life and so that you can resist the devil and order Him to flee!  Resist him by declaring, “I am baptized into Christ!  And in that holy washing of water and God’s Word of forgiveness, I have been sealed as His child forever in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… AMEN!”

Christ Alone

March 3rd, 2019

Transfiguration Sunday
March 3, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” (Luke 9:36a)

When I was a boy, I use to think that Lent was, well… depressing!  I dreaded going to Wednesday evening services.  Advent on the other hand was exciting… Christmas and all of the presents were just around the corner.  I wanted the high points of Advent and Christmas worship, the mountaintop experience, not the valleys of Lent!  Boy I had it wrong!  Do you ever find yourself looking only for the “highs” and avoiding the “lows”? But the truth is friends; we can’t avoid the “lows” because they are part of life.  In our Gospel reading this morning, the Apostles were probably feeling a little confused and depressed because Jesus had recently told them about his impending suffering and death upon the cross.  His disciples were afraid, and they were confused!  Perhaps Jesus saw that Peter, James and John needed a glimpse of heaven in order to make it through everything that was about to happen. And ever since, His church has also closed the season of Epiphany (or kicked off Lent) on the mountaintop of the Transfiguration.

So why are we here this morning? 

Are we here to close off the season of Epiphany with a big bang, just as we started it at Jesus’ Baptism? Do we need a big high in order to carry us through the dark valley until we finally arrive at Easter? If you think about it, we could ask the same question about every Sunday. Do we go to church in order to get away from the real world? Or do we go to God’s Divine Service so that through us, God can make something good happen when we return to the “real” world on Monday?

Now that sounds a little “other worldly” doesn’t it?  It makes our time on Sunday’s sound sort of “not of this world”? And that is the point of the Transfiguration story. It’s a real life account about a “not of this world” event. It was the kind of event that left two apostles speechless and another one speaking nonsense. It was so much “not of this world” that it’s recorded in all three of the Gospel accounts.  And each one of them ended with the need to leave the mountaintop experience with Jesus and re-enter “real life” with Him as well.

This morning, we learn that the world of mountaintop experiences is not enough to carry us through. Jesus and His disciples had to live in the real world, and so do we!  But Jesus knew that the experience was necessary for His innermost circle of apostles and because it is recorded for us in scripture, He is telling us that it is important for us as well!  Peter, James, and John needed to see His glory, and so do we!

What does it mean to see Jesus’ glory?  

Well I think our gospel lesson this morning gives us a pretty good picture of that.  Out of thin air, or maybe better put, out of the fog of prayer, appeared Moses and Elijah.  Our text says that they were talking to Jesus about His departure.  What departure?  Well His death upon the cross… his departure from this sinful world!  Why was that important?  Because it signified the fulfillment of all the promises that God had ever made about forgiveness and eternal life!  Those promises began way back in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15) when God first promised Adam and Eve that their descendant, the Messiah, would smash the head of the serpent (Satan), and rip away his ability to separate men and women from God’s love due to their sin!  But why Moses and Elijah?  Because they represented at the time all of God’s recorded Word, a Word which promised that their Savior was coming; a Savior Who would utterly destroy the power of sin, death, and the devil !  

Moses represented God’s Law which was given to Moses and the church to demonstrate that no one can find God’s love and presence outside of His mercy and forgiveness!  Through the Law, all of mankind  was to see that on their own, they are condemned to eternal death unless God intervenes!  And Elijah represents all of the prophets of God who continually warned God’s people that they were not keeping God’s Law, and frankly they didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping it!  But each of the prophets also promised something special, they promised that God’s means of rescue was coming to save them.  A messiah who was first promised to Adam and Eve would come and destroy Satan’s authority and release sinners from the captivity of sin and death if they would but wait in faith for the fulfillment of that promise, and trust in God’s forgiveness and love!

Peter, James, and John needed to see these two Old Testament Saints surrounded by Jesus’ glory because it meant that the promise was about to be fulfilled.  It meant that He didn’t come to simply rescue them from the temporary tyranny of a Caesar, but from the eternal tormenting of sin, death, and the devil!  The cavalry had arrived, and the counter attack was about to begin; not against an invading and occupying government of men, but against the spiritual and eternal occupation and captivity of evil!

Jesus knew that they must see His glory so that they could tell others about that glory… so that those who heard would have faith and know that God who is faithful had not left them alone to struggle against their enemies!  Jesus knew that they must see His glory so that when they saw Him suffering in great agony upon the cross, they would not lose hope; so that when He lay in the belly of the earth for three days they would not be afraid; and so that when He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven they would know that they were not alone!  He was still with them in His glory!

Jesus wanted them to understand once and for all that His glory has always been His and always shall be.  Yes He walked and talked with them, as one of them, but He never stopped being God… He never stopped being their Redeemer.  It was His glory; it was His to reveal or not to reveal as He desired.  They must have asked themselves as He hung upon the cross in agony and humiliation: “Why don’t you reveal your glory?  What are you doing?  You don’t have to do this!”  And to these thoughts, Jesus quietly reassures their fears and ours… “It is my glory.  Have faith.  Trust me and know that I will reveal my glory according to my own will and in my own means.  Accept my means of grace, and you will see my glory; the promise fulfilled… the promise of your salvation!”  

This is why they must see His glory, but none of this would make sense until He conquered sin and death once and for all.  None of it would make sense until they witnessed His resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven!

We too, must see His glory.  

Just like the apostles, we also need to learn to let go of our own sinful thoughts that get in the way of God’s work of salvation within our own hearts.  We need to admit that there is nothing we can do to please God or make things right with Him.  So to see Jesus’ glory is to first see our own sin… to see how hopeless we are without His rescue. To see His glory is to admit that we too are being held in bondage by the very same enemies that conquered and destroyed all men and women since the fall of Adam and Eve!  And second, if we are to see Jesus’ glory, we must see Him for who He really is for us personally… He is our only means of salvation… our only means of eternal life.  He is God our Savior!

And how does He save us?  How does He show us His glory?  This friends is the best part of all, He does it in an “out of this world” way… He does it according to His means and according to His will!  He does it with Words, His Holy Word’s, and He does it with simple elements; a splash of water, a scrap of bread, and a sip of wine.  The same God that spoke the world into existence speaks new life into you with the sweet words of the gospel… “You are forgiven!”  And with that same simple Word He takes even simpler things like water, bread, and wine, and He not only gives you forgiveness but the ability to believe in that forgiveness as well!  Dear friends, hear this good news and hear it well… You are forgiven!  You are loved by God!  Do you receive this message?  Will you let it change you?  

So now, let all God’s people say AMEN!  Can I get a witness?!?   Peter had it right; the mountain top is good!  

Hey, let’s stay with this feeling as long as we can!  Peter wanted to do just that… he wanted to pitch a few tents so that the experience would last, so that his little glimpse into heaven would continue. But then He heard the voice of God speak, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!”  And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone…. alone with Peter, James, and John, just as He will be alone with you when you leave this sanctuary.  And just as He led the three down the mountaintop into the “real” world where real life is happening, He is leading you out into that same world.  A world that is still being held captive by sin, death, and the devil.  A broken world that is still living in fear and stressed out with the worries of this life!  

On Monday morning, you will find yourself in enemy territory… behind enemy lines, but have no fear Jesus is with you.  His glory remains upon you, even within you because you have been forgiven and saved by His Holy Word, washed clean by His Holy baptismal waters, and nourished by His very body and blood within His supper, and all of this was done for a purpose.  So that you may bring others into His presence, into His glory here in this very sanctuary so that they too may say by faith, “Master, it is good that we are here!” Amen.

Loving Like Jesus

February 24th, 2019

Epiphany 7-C
February 124, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” [Luke 6:27-30]

Wow! That’s some kind of “crazy love right”? Love is beautiful! Love is messy! Love makes the world go ‘round. There are more songs written about love than any other topic. People will tell you that love is what makes us unique from all other creatures. But this morning Jesus is telling us that what we think love is, is not the kind of love He’s given us or wants us to demonstrate to this unbelieving world. If you settle for the kind of love that the world thinks is good, then you don’t yet know God’s love. You say, “Well I really love my family and close friends”, and to that Jesus says, “If you just love those who love you, so what, even sinners who won’t receive me as the Son of God and their Savior do that.” If you counter that deficiency by saying, “But I always try to do good for them, even when it is a sacrifice.” Jesus responds, “So what, even the worst of sinners will do good for people they know and like.” And to that you say, “But Lord, I’m a giving person and I try to give when ever I can.” And to that Jesus says, “Is that right? Well even judged and condemned sinners say the same thing.”

So what is going on here? If we are no better than those who don’t know Jesus, how can we be sure that God loves us and saves us? Well let’s look at the rest of our gospel lesson and try to understand what Jesus is saying and also offering us this morning.

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” [Luke 6:31]

A person of this world, that is a person without Jesus sees these words as a challenge or a goal. It hears them as the Golden Rule, you know… “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This worldly person considers the golden rule and says, “You know, I like that rule; I’ve tried to follow it most of my life, and for the most part I’ve done pretty good with it. But sometimes, considering the people I’m dealing with, there are exceptions. With some people, the rule, my rule is either avoid them or “Do unto them before they do unto me.”

For people of this world and even for Christians who have allowed this world to cloud their judgment, this “Golden Rule” has become a bronze suggestion. And instead of feeling guilt when they cannot love the way Jesus asks us to love, they congratulate themselves for a good try. They no longer see the perfection of God in His Word or in their life, instead they see it as an unreachable goal but worthy of keeping as a standard. When they do this they’ve downgraded Jesus as simply another lifestyle coach.

These worldly people are easy to spot and their just as easy to mix with. And when we mix with them long enough, we can get lost in the midst of them. But thank God Jesus promises in our Baptism, that He will never leave nor forsake us! Thank God that through the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us richly, we hear in both the Golden Rule and the rest of our Gospel lesson both the impossible perfection of God and the mercy, love, and forgiveness of God!

“Become merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” [Luke 6:36]

A Baptized child of God hears the Words of Jesus this morning, and recognizes the perfection of God; a perfection which can never be attained by sinful men and women like us. A baptized child of God has been taught to look at the things of this world and see them as they are, sinful and unclean. You see, our new baptized nature calls a thing what it is; it admits that on its own it could never truly possess and reflect the kind of love that Jesus is calling for, because in its nature, that is if left alone, it is sinful and unclean, left without hope or health. It knows that this kind of sacrificial love can only come as a gift from God. 

Through this message of Jesus Christ we are forced to see God’s perfection, and then we are moved to confess to Him that we have fallen short and deserve only His punishment. But in that same message, we are shown God’s mercy for the world. And through the cross of Jesus Christ we are moved to hope that this same mercy would be ours. In God’s Gospel of mercy and forgiveness, we hear the Words,  “God so loved the “world” that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” and we hope that these Words, this kind of love, mercy, and forgiveness would include us in the “whoever” part. And God in His love hears our cry for mercy and forgiveness and makes this gift of love personal, for you! God gives to you who turn to Him forgiveness. And now, that which was very public (for the world), has become very personal; you have become the whoever. He gives you this personal love and mercy in the waters of your baptism. 

To you who both believe and receive the gift of His Son Jesus, you have been born again by the mercy of God. Born again by the forgiveness of God. Born again through the cross of Jesus Christ. You have been recreated through the washing of the water and the Word. You have been saved, recreated solely through the work of God’s Holy Spirit. And now, God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus lives within you. You who are baptized have been transformed, are being transformed, and will be transformed by the renewing of your mind and heart. This new nature is called the baptismal life.

This new baptized nature of yours has been created through God’s forgiving love and shown to you in mercy for the sake of Jesus Christ. This forgiven nature of yours can’t help but love as Jesus loves; it can’t help but show mercy and forgiveness just at you were given these things. But there is just one problem, your old sinful nature is not quite dead yet. So your new nature must be encouraged with Words like…

“Give and it will be given to you.” [Luke 6:38]

In order for us to be filled with and express God’s forgiving love, we are encouraged every day to fight our sinful nature. We are asked to crucify it with Christ and to drown it in the waters of our own baptism. And as we fight this “good fight” we will come to know both victory and defeat. When the victories come, and they will, let us remember to thank God for His work of love, mercy and forgiveness within us and through us. And when defeats come, that is when we sin, let us be quick to confess this to God and then turn to Jesus and His cross where we are reminded constantly that through Him, God the Father has come to us in love, and in our Baptism He has forgiven us of all our sins and loves us eternally. This rhythm of life is called repentance and it alone produces divine love and forgiveness, which can only come through Christ.

For a moment, let’s allow our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 45:3–15) to illustrate this truth. Remember Joseph has been through a lot.   He was sold.  He was accused of sleeping with another man’s wife…and he did not.  He was put in jail. He was almost forgotten about….but through it all God did not forget about him.   In the sight of God, we are all on a level playing field.   God does not forget about us.  God does not forsake us.  His eye is always on the sparrow and He’s always watching out for us. When he reveals Himself to his brothers now…they are probably trembling in their sandals.   Joseph has made it to the top.   Joseph is at the top, but not because of Joseph, but rather this is God’s doing.  Joseph said, God sent me here.  Joseph acknowledged  that he was where he was, he had what he had, he was blessed as he was, because it was God who had brought him through all that he had been through.  He wasn’t mad at his brothers, though we certainly would understand if he was. He was not getting even with his brothers, he was not judging his brothers because of the wrong that they had done.  Perhaps he remembered the “silver rule”, which says that two wrongs don’t make a right?  If someone else is wrong, don’t join them in their wrongness.  Wrong is wrong….no matter who is doing it or saying it.    I think I remember hearing  somebody said, “When they go low, we go high?”

You know friends, our life in Christ is so much more than keeping the Golden Rule or the Silver Rule, isn’t it? In our Gospel lesson Jesus isn’t just telling us that if we follow His rules precisely we’ll be saved, because even our combined best “good deeds” can’t even put a dent in our personal debt of sin, let alone humanity’s sin. If doing our best to keep rules was all that was needed to overcome humanity’s ills, there wouldn’t have needed to be a cross to provide lasting forgiveness. 

Ultimately, we can’t please God by being good, only Jesus can do that. But, Jesus is inviting us to receive the goodness that He has paid for; to receive it in faith and to let it work within us. He’s asking us to hand over the grudges, the hurts, the sins to Him and let Him remove them through the power of His forgiveness. He’s asking you to receive His mercy by grace so that He can unleash the power of His forgiving love through your life to others. That’s God at work in Jesus’ love and passion through Christians like us; encouraging us to give to others as He has given so much to us.

Listen, God knows forgiveness is difficult. He knows that it takes courage and strength to offer mercy where it is undeserved. God the Father paid the highest price for our sins by sending His only begotten Son Jesus to an undeserving, gruesome death. But he also wants us to live out the truth that Jesus rose from the dead so that we would know that one day so shall we. But in the mean time Jesus invites us to live as He lives, bringing one forgiven sinner at a time the love and mercy of God through the forgiveness of sins. Through the work of Christ, God has wiped your slate clean so that he has restored His relationship of love with us. And now he asks you to become a minister of reconciliation to all who have ever hurt you. He longs to overwhelm you with his love and mercy to the degree that offering others mercy and love comes from a place of overflow rather than your own strength. He longs to fill you with courage and perspective so that you can forgive those who need a glimpse of God’s forgiving love and mercy, unearned and given only through Jesus Christ. AMEN.

CHRIST IS RISEN!

February 18th, 2019

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, Paul tells us in Romans, chapter 6:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And all the faithful said, “Amen.”