Help For Our Unbelief!


September 16th, 2018

Pentecost 17B
September 16, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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Our text this morning is the 24th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:14-29]

The Christian life is “a land of hills and valleys” isn’t it?  In one day, we can move from what seems like the glory of heaven to the attacks of hell. In our gospel lesson this morning, we join our Lord returning from the Mt. of Transfiguration, where 3 of the apostles were allowed to see Jesus in His heavenly glory; a glory that would once again be His forever. But, Jesus knew that He must first begin His painful walk to the cross—a cross where He would once and for all, free us from sin, death, and the attacks of the devil.  Jesus knew that He would do all of this through His own death.  So down the mountain they went as Jesus had his face set towards the cross.

As Jesus and His the apostles came down off the mountain and joined the other nine, they found them enveloped in a problem: they were unable to deliver a boy from demonic control, and the scribes were debating with them and perhaps even taunting them because of their failure. And the demon… well it was doing its best to destroy the boy.  As always, it was Jesus who would step in to solve the problem. 

So what happened?  What went wrong?  Jesus had given all of His disciples authority to cast out demons [Mark 6:7, 13], and yet their ministry to the boy was a failure. Well, there was no time to dwell on their failure because the desperate father was now begging Jesus to help.  Wouldn’t you if that was your child?  But that poor father was not even sure that Jesus could succeed; after all His disciples had failed.  That’s why he said, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us.” [Mark 9:22] 

But something interesting is learned here and it is this, the father was honest enough to admit that he was having trouble believing in Jesus, and he asked the Lord to help him believe.  

The main lesson of this miracle is that faith in Jesus alone gives us the power to overcome worry and the fear of sin, death, and the devil. But then why had the nine disciples failed? Well they failed because they were afraid and worried.  And why was the father successful in seeing his son healed by Jesus?  Because he was afraid and worried.  You see, both are examples of how fear and worry can either have a negative effect or a positive effect on your faith.  

The nine apostles were worried because things weren’t working out the way they understood Jesus had said they would.  

Didn’t Jesus say that He had given them the authority to drive out demons? I can imagine them saying something like, “It worked before when He sent us out.  So why isn’t it working now?  Oh where is Jesus?  Why did he have to leave us alone like this?  What if He doesn’t come back soon?  Well if he doesn’t it won’t be our fault, after all, we’ve tried everything!”  Worry and panic began to take over.  But that wasn’t all; that demon was starting to get nasty with them, and to top it all off, those hypocrites called “the scribes” saw the whole thing and now they were ridiculing them.  OK, now their worry was giving way to fear. They must have been saying  “Oh where is Jesus?  Somebody do something…!”  And to this, the devil sneers and taunts and asks, “Where’s your faith?  Where’s your faith now?” 

Help was so close.  Jesus had taught them that with the faith the size of a mustard seed they could call out to God and if it was according to the Father’s will they could order a mountain to fall into the sea and it would! [Matt. 17:20]    Yet because of their fear and worry, they forgot that help was just a prayer away.  

Have you ever been there before?  So sure of yourself; so certain that you had everything under control and then– “BAMB!”… everything falls apart?  What the nine apostles forgot, and what we so very often forget, St. James gladly reminds us of in our epistle reading: “We all stumble in many ways.  And if anyone does not stumble in what he says (or in what he does), he is a perfect man…”  Oh how easily because of our pride, we forget that everything we have, our health, all of our talents, all of our gifts, and all of our finances are just a gift from God—every second of our lives are being guided by His loving hand.  And when things stop going the way we think they should go, when we’re done coasting downhill and seem to be stuck in the dark valley, we ask, “Where is God?  Why isn’t He here helping me?”

Friends, what do you do when you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis?  Well let me tell you what Jesus expects you to do.  Stop, remember God’s promise that He will never leave you, take a deep breath, relax, and then pray.  That’s what the disciples forgot to do, and so many times when tragedy strikes, that is also what we forget to do.  Why is that important?  Because prayer invites God into your dilemma and your small faith says, “Here Lord, take over.  I’m tired and ready to give up.  If you want this done please work through me and do it.”  The father of the boy told Jesus that His disciples didn’t have the strength to drive the demon out.  They did not have the strength because they didn’t ask for it.  So remember, stop and pray for God’s strength!

What the disciples forgot, the father of the demon possessed boy remembered.  

“Teacher, I’ve brought my son to you.”  Faith in Christ is compelled to bring its dilemmas and tragedies to Christ.  And when we bring these things to our Lord in faith, He asks us, “Do you believe I can help you?  Do you believe I will help you?  Remember, all things are possible for one who believes.”  It is at this point in our lives where little faith, small almost unobservable faith calls out in the same anguish as that father had for his only son, “I believe Lord; help my unbelief!  Teach me to believe….teach me to trust you.   You Lord Jesus Christ are my only source of hope!”

In these words friends, we hear pain; we hear worry and fear, but we also hear a confession.  “Forgive me for my unbelief O Lord, and help me to believe!”  Dear baptized friends, that is your confession—your confession when you know you should believe; you know you should believe, because of the many promises God has given you, you know you must believe, but for some reason your faith is very small, you are afraid, and you find it hard to believe.  Your privilege friend, as a baptized child of God, is that you can call out to Him and confess all of your sins, including the sin of doubt, and then know with a great certainty that He has heard your prayer.  

God wants you to know that not only does He forgive your doubt, but for the sake of your Savior Jesus Christ, He also gives you what you are asking for because He loves you and because what you are asking for is in keeping with His will.  Friends, the most important thing that God wants you to believe is that for Christ’s sake, you are forgiven of all your sins; forgiven unto eternal life!

But what if you pray and pray; what if you are always confessing your sins and you don’t feel peace—you just don’t feel comforted?  

What if you still feel fear and worry?  Does that mean that God isn’t listening to you?  No!!  Dear friends, faith—your faith is not based on how you feel, but on Jesus’ real presence in your life.  Just because one person feels peace and another still feels fear doesn’t mean that God is closer to one and farther from another.  God stands by all of His children…He stands by you!  

Listen friends, since faith is so important and vital to your spiritual well being don’t think for a moment that God wants you to remain captivated by your fear.  And don’t try to talk yourself out of your emotions, instead confess them to Him and then rest in His presence in your life.  You see, it’s the God of peace that will comfort you.  How?  By helping you to trust in His work in you!  Friends, through His Holy Spirit, God is moving your heart to turn away from your sin—to turn away from your lack of faith and turn to Him.  He wants you to look to Jesus Christ, the lamb who takes away the sin of the world—even the sin of doubt and fear, and then rest in Him by faith. That dear friends is big faith…very big faith!

So don’t be happy with only small faith, instead let the Lord grow your faith as you learn to rest in Christ’s love and then trust in His presence.  And you will need that big faith friends, because when you least expect it, the devil will attack your heart and try to take away that little faith.  When will this attack happen?  I can’t answer that for you, but I do know this, sooner or later we will all have our faith tested.  For sure, when it comes time for you to face your own death, or the death of a loved one, your faith will be tested!  And it’s at this time that you must already be trained to turn your eyes to God, because that is where we will all end our walk of faith.  This is the narrow gate, the straight path that our Lord taught us about. [Matt. 7:14]  God desires for all of us to joyfully walk down this path and then excitedly enter through that narrow gate into Paradise. 

How do you prepare for this journey?  By staying in God’s Word; by allowing the Holy Spirit to give you a hunger to read and hear it as often as possible.  You prepare for this journey by daily confessing your sins and knowing for certain that because of your baptism the sweet Words of absolution are really intended for you.  You prepare for this journey by feeding your hunger to know God’s love and forgiveness through the eating and drinking of His holy and true body and blood.  So receive all of these gifts of God, and then know by faith that He is truly giving you not just the forgiveness of your many sins, but a new life… an eternal life of joy and peace.

Dear friends, though our faith is weak, let us pray with great passion along with the apostles, “Lord increase our faith” and then let us pray along with the father of the demon possessed boy, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!”  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Saving Faith

September 9th, 2018

Pentecost 16B
September 9, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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Our text this morning is the 14th verse of our Epistle lesson.  And it comes to us in the form of a question: “What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?”

Indeed, that is the question, “Can that faith save him?”  Can someone who is without works find comfort in God’s gospel proclamation, like the one found in our OT lesson?  Listen, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”  James answers this question with a resounding NO!  Instead, James would say that a person who claims faith without works should hear this message more as Law instead of the gospel; perhaps more like this: “But say to those who have no anxious heart; who have no fear or dread because of their sinful hearts, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid!  Because the day of the Lord’s judgment is  approaching.”

What is faith?  

“Easy” you say, faith knows God through Jesus Christ, right?  Well…yes and no.  You see, if you know who God is, that is only a general kind of faith.  “But wait” you counter, I believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, that He suffered under Pontius Pilot, He was crucified, died, and was buried, and descended into Hell.  And I also believe that on the third day He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.”  Well, James would tell you that the devils believe that too, and yet they tremble with fear because they know that God’s judgment is coming very soon. [James 2:19]  “But wait Pastor” you say, “I know scripture pretty well, and didn’t Paul say, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”” [Rom. 10:17]?  Ah yes, an excellent proof text for reminding all of us how important it is to be in God’s Word every day.  But, you can bet the devils know that verse by heart, and many others as well.  What good does that do them?

Are you confused?  Well let me give an illustration on what kind of faith is not saving faith.  Let’s imagine that there is a policeman who is issued a bullet proof vest but he refuses to wear it because it is just too hot and bulky.  One day he is tragically shot in an area that the vest would have protected, and he dies.  Is the vest to blame for his death? No, of course not!  You see, the vest can offer no protection if it isn’t put on; if it doesn’t become part of his daily routine.  And that is the way it is with faith that can’t save you.  You can know the entire Bible and be an expert in Christian doctrine, but if you aren’t living in that faith and allowing it to lead you and change you, it can’t save you!  It’s what we call only a general faith.

But, if you know that Jesus suffered and died upon the cross for you—if you admit that He needed to suffer and die for you; that he descended into hell and rose from the dead for you; if you know that He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God to someday judge you not guilty of being a sinner, but holy, perfect and righteous because you trusted in Him, well then my friend… you have saving faith!  So you see friends, true saving faith grabs onto Jesus and what he provides and it makes Him its personal Savior.

Well the question we might ask next is this, “What does faith look like?  Can you see that faith in action?”  Yes, most definitely.  You can see both general faith and saving faith in action, and you can easily tell them apart.  In our Epistle lesson [James. 2:14-18], James gives us a good illustration of general faith.

General faith sees a Christian brother or sister in trouble…in need of food and clothing and says, “I hope you find food, and I’ll pray you stay warm” and then walks away feeling good about themselves.  James asks us this morning, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  “What kind?” we ask.  Well, the kind of faith that is never seen in practical service towards God and neighbor.  Friends, the answer is no!  Any faith that doesn’t result in a changed heart… in a life that’s changed and desiring to do good for others, James says is really an empty faith.  

So you see friends, while it’s true that it’s faith alone that justifies, it is also true that justifying faith can never be alone… it can never be without works of love.  But saving faith, looks at its brother or sister in need, and because that saving faith is still holding on to Jesus, it is compelled to act.  As Christians who are led by the love of Christ, because of our saving faith, we are also compelled to help meet the needs of our neighbors as God provides.  St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians taught about this when he said, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all people, especially the needs of those who are of the household of faith.” [Gal. 6:10]  

Friends, when we serve our brothers and sisters in need, we can clearly hear Jesus reminding us with a smile, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it unto Me.” [Matt. 25:40] Friends, saving faith hears these words of Jesus, and it wants to always be working and serving others.  But saving faith doesn’t work because it thinks it will earn a reward, instead saving faith works because it is powered by the love of God through Christ Jesus and wants to please God.

Dear friends, we love Jesus because He first loved us and gave His life up for us.  Because He sacrificed Himself for us we find that we are also compelled by our saving faith to sacrifice ourselves for our neighbor as well.  When a Christian mother and father loves their child and teaches them about God’s love, and ensures that they are baptized, present at Sunday school, and latter confirmed, that is the love of saving faith being expressed in those Christian parents.  In fact, no matter what calling we find ourselves in whether it is parent, child, civil servant, employee, employer, student or teacher, if we serve our neighbor as Christ serves us, then my friends, that is saving faith in action.  

Well how do we know if we have saving faith?  

Friends, for the answer to this question let’s look at our gospel lesson this morning.  In the gospel we encounter Jesus healing a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  Listen: “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ef-fa-tha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” [Mark 7:33-35]   What a wonderful miracle!  Everyone who witnessed it agreed that it was most certainly a work of God.  The witnesses proclaimed, “He has done all things well.”  They concluded that Jesus could at any time give anyone who’s deaf the ability to hear and anyone who is speechless the ability to speak.  Did the crowd have saving faith? I don’t know.  They certainly were amazed, but yet, it wasn’t their ears that were given hearing and it wasn’t their mouth that was given speech.  But the man who was deaf and speechless, now that’s a different story.  How could He not have love for Jesus, the loving man that spoke ever so gently to him in a sign language that he could understand?  How could he not have been moved to trust Jesus in whatever He asked or told him?  Certainly he had to be moved to use his new voice to praise Jesus as the Savior, as his personal savior!

Dear friends, in your baptism, Jesus has done an even greater thing than this for you.  Through the water and the Word, He has opened your heart!  Through His Word, He has privately and in a very personal way taken you out of a sinful and dying world and secured you in His love.  Through the gift of faith, He has opened your ears so that you can hear His Word even the Word being preached right now and be changed!  Listen friends, your heart has been recreated so that it no longer fears God’s judgment, but instead it’s resting in His love.  By faith you are now able to live your life knowing that you have a God who through His Son Jesus, has forgiven all of your sins.  By faith friends, you now have a mouth that desires to share with others just how wonderfully God has demonstrated His love for you!  And by saving faith, you now have hands that are being moved to serve God out of love; not because they must serve but because they want to serve.  Your heart through saving faith wants to serve your neighbor here in this church, and there out in the community where there are thousands of people dying without knowing the life giving and life changing touch of the Savior of the world Jesus Christ.   

Dear friends, our faith, our saving faith, is a divine work that God does within us; it’s a work that changes us by killing the old self centered person and then daily replaces it with a personality of faith in action!  Your saving faith is a living, busy, and active faith that is mighty in the power of God.  Your saving faith doesn’t ask if there are any good works that must be done to be saved, but is already desiring to do the good out of love!  I pray that every day you fight to let this living and saving faith control you and lead you as you daily praise the Lord, in thought, word, and deed!  In Jesus name….AMEN!

Put It On

September 2nd, 2018

Pentecost 15B
September 2, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” [Ephesians 6:11]

There is a battle raging all around us; it is unseen but certainly not unfelt.  It is the classic battle of good vs. evil.  In this battle, God is protecting what is His.  He is protecting those little lambs of Jesus—those little lambs that He suffered and died for.  God is protecting you and me from the evil around us and the sin within us!  In regards to the evil around us, let me say this right off the bat, the devils are evil cowards.  They usually attack us when we are at our weakest, and that is usually when we are the furthest away spiritually from God. And when they attack us, they do it in away that will effect those people closest to and surrounding the person under attack. In physical warfare, we would call it collateral damage.  So the best target for devils is an unprotected target; someone who is not centered in the grace of Jesus Christ…someone who is counting on something else for their protection other than the whole armor of God!

Dear friends, evil is all around us.  

It is the unseen force that the devil uses to separate us from the Love of God which is ours in and through Christ Jesus.  It is a spiritual force, an army if you will, that is well organized under the leadership of the devil.  St. Paul in our Epistle reading breaks down this spiritual army of darkness into 4 divisions: Rulers, Authorities, Cosmic Powers, and Spiritual Forces of Evil.  If we were to put this in contemporary warfare terms we would say the Ruler is Satan Himself, and his Joint Chief of Staff or his generals are the Authorities, the Cosmic Powers would be those who control the Spiritual Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the Spiritual Forces of Evil would be his foot soldiers.  Their concentrated goal is to ensure that we are so overcome with evil that we will simply surrender our lives to them and hope for the best.  In other words, their attacks are meant to “shock and awe” us to the point that we are demoralized and give up!

This battle isn’t something that is distant and doesn’t merit your immediate concern.  It is much closer than you think.  It is raging all around you.  Just watch the news on any given night and see how our community, our nation and our world is being overrun by violence, crime, and hatred.  In fact, the enemy is so close that he is even battling within you!  But don’t take my word for it, listen to our Savior’s own Words found in our gospel lesson: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these things come from within, and they defile a person.”  There you have it friends—the battle is not so distant after all, is it?  

Now I know some of you are thinking, “Yes Pastor, but God’s Word says that I am saved…I am baptized!”  Very good!  You see God’s work for what it is, a work of love and protection from anything that separates us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus!  Indeed you are right that your baptism is God’s assurance that He will never leave nor forsake you.  And yet, the battle rages around us and within us.  Our old sinful nature loves to work against these precious baptismal promises.  It won’t admit that it has been crucified with Christ and drowned within the waters of Holy Baptism.  The singular goal of that sinful flesh and the powers of darkness that it clings to is to chip away at your faith a little at a time until you have lost your trust in Christ’s saving presence in your life.  But how?  By getting you to doubt the faithfulness of God’s Word.  This is the oldest trick the devils have, but it is still their greatest weapon.  It is the weapon they used against Eve in the garden, when the devil asked her, “Did God really say….?”  Eve’s error, her sin was not that she listened to the serpent, but that she did not silence him with the Word of God! One little Word from God and the devil would have fled.  One simple statement and he would’ve been defeated: “YES!” she should have said, “ Thus says the Lord our God, “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.”” [Gen 2:16-17]  If Eve would have responded with the true Word of God, the serpent would have slithered back into his hole!  But Eve entered into a battle with the master deceiver without the whole armor of God!

Friends, Eve discovered this truth after her error, after her own husband abandoned his role as spiritual leader and joined her in her sin.  If they and those after them could speak to us this morning, they would be encouraging us right now to take up the whole armor of God and “Put it on, put it on!”  What is this armor of God?  It is God’s own Word!

Friends, in your baptism, God has assured you that you are right now connected to His inexhaustible source of power, strength, and might.  You are never to think of yourself as helpless and defeated.  

You see, you have been joined together with a Lord who has conquered sin, death, and the devil.  He is the Stronger One who has defeated the strong one.  Because of your baptism, you are assured of a certain amount of power, but God every day desires to feed and sustain that power.  This is done when we allow Him to strengthen our relationship with Him through His Living Word.  It is through His Word that we are given daily strength to defeat our old sinful nature and silence all of the devils.  Through His Word, God assures us that He is always for us and never against us.  How do we acquire this Word?  Again, by putting on the whole armor of God!

All of the armor described by Paul is just a different application of being in God’s Word!  Let me give you 6 contemporary presentations that explain this armor: #1 God’s Word is truth.  Truth is always truth, but for it to be your truth you must experience it and live it out.  “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” [Jn. 8:32]  But how do we know the truth?  By reading and hearing the Word of God.  We must make time and take time for our own private and personal study of God’s Word!  #2 Because many times, our personal study time leaves us with many questions, we discover that we need to be part of an organized Bible Study group that will help us find answers and grow in the Lord.  #3 Liturgical worship is just another way that we take in the Word of God.  In our Lutheran worship, God speaks His Word to us and we speak and even sing it back to Him.  #4 In the Holy Sacraments, God’s Word speaks His forgiveness of our many sins to us, which then causes us to confess even more sins to Him, which then in turn moves Him to speak once again the gospel—the forgiveness of sins for His Son’s sake.  In the sacraments the Word comes alive for us so that we can hear, see, touch, smell, and even taste forgiveness!  #5 When we memorize God’s Word, it becomes an offensive weapon that we can use to drive away the devil.  Luther said it best in the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” listen: “though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, We tremble not, unmoved we stand; They cannot over power us.  Let this world’s tyrant rage; In battle we’ll engage.  His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!  One little word subdues him.”

What is this little word?  It is a verse of scripture that you have memorized for the sole purpose of silencing the devil!  There are many verses to choose from; the more you have the greater your courage.  Here are some good ones: “Baptism now saves you” [1 Pe. 3:21]. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Philip. 4:13] “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Gal. 2:20] “  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. [Jn. 6:68]  Anyone of these little words and many others WILL silence the devil, make him tremble, and flee for his life, because you are letting him know that you know that Jesus destroyed his hold over you upon the cross.  And in your baptism this victory of Christ was made yours!  “But isn’t it hard to memorize scripture?”  Not at all, in fact I’ll bet you already have a few simple words memorized.  If you have been singing and saying our liturgy, you already have quite a bit ready to use.  Dear friends, have your sword, the word of God ready and you will send the devil and the temptations of sin scurrying away like a whimpering puppy!

Finally, #6, the armor of God is with you when you are simply living out your calling as a saved and redeemed child of God.  When you live as a Christian parent, child, neighbor, policeman, lawyer, plumber, or whatever other station of life you find yourself in, you are wearing your gospel shoes.  You are demonstrating and speaking the love of God to your neighbor.  You are witnessing the truth of John 3:16, which says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  We are to do this as individuals and we are to do this as a congregation.  

It is my prayer that you are individually living out this calling everyday as God leads you in life.  It is my hope for this congregation that we will also be continually and intentionally looking for ways to engage our community in gospel conversations.  We can do this when we find ways to serve our neighbor and sacrificially love them as Christ first loved us.  Why?  So that they too may know how to obtain and put on the full armor of God.  This dear friends is the will of God for us… it is why Jesus died for us.  It is God’s means to save us and then equip us to tell everyone what He has done for them. 

To complete our message this morning, we have one more thing to discuss… one more piece of armor and that is PRAYER!  As God’s Word is the power of victory over sin, death, and the devil, prayer is the energy that keeps us engaged in the battle!

Pray always, or as Paul says it elsewhere, be unceasing in prayer.  Now this doesn’t mean that we are always saying prayers, because Jesus Himself said that we are not heard for our “much speaking” [Matt. 6:7], but instead it means that we should always be in communion with the Lord. [1 Thess. 5:17]  In other words, we should keep the receiver off the hook and be in a constant attitude of prayer.  What should we pray for?  All things!  Whatever the Lord’s Spirit is leading us to pray, then that is what we should pray for.  Thank Him for little things and big things.  Thank Him for your spiritual leaders; for pastors, elders, spouse, parents, teachers, and the like.  And ask God to continue to bless them with great wisdom so they can continue to lead and become even better leaders.  Pray and ask Him to teach you how you can be a more effective witness to His love and forgiveness with your neighbor, and pray and ask Him to show you how you and our church can sacrificially serve our community.  Ask Him how you can help Trinity reach and teach the lost about God’s love through Jesus Christ, and then just jump in and give it a try.  Don’t wait for some miraculous sign…just get involved.  Remember, idle hands are the devils work shop!

Finally, sometimes we don’t know what to pray for, but we do feel the uncontrollable urge to do it.  When this feeling hits you, as soon as you are able, find a private place, fall on your knees or even on your face and simply cry out to the Lord!  Pray with groaning that only your deep and troubled spirit can understand.  Don’t worry about words, because the Holy Spirit who dwells within your heart knows what to ask for and what to say.  He will take your prayer before the Father in Heaven who will hear you because of His Son’s grace, and He will answer your prayer with just what your spirit needs.

So there you have it friends, the whole armor of God, His Word and your prayers.  You don’t have to look for it, because it has all been yours since your baptism.  Take it up, and put it on…wear it always.  Demonstrate its power to your neighbor so they will also one day want to have it as their own.  And remember, one day, in the darkest hour of your life, perhaps when death is close, hordes of devils will test your armor; they will try to cause you to loose hope, but don’t worry because you are in the hands of your loving Father who has saved you from all of your fears, even sin, death, and all of the devils.  May this be so always for each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Traditions!

August 26th, 2018

Pentecost 14B
August 26, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark-Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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The play, or movie, “Fiddler on the Roof” is a classic story about a Jewish-Russian family in the early 1900’s, just before the great revolution in Russia.

It’s one of those stories you don’t forget. One thing the story does is that it gives you a feeling for the Jewish love of tradition.  The Jews, especially the Orthodox Jews, have a very prideful sense of history.  They love their traditions. They love their festivals. They love their rituals.  Of all the people on earth, the Jews are some of the most tradition loving people that we know of.

The main characters are Tevye, the old, bumbling Jewish patriarch, and a poor farmer; his wife, Golda, the resilient Jewish mother; and their five lovely daughters, three of whom needed to be married.  The plot of the story is the marrying-off of these three daughters.  So Tevye and Golda employ a matchmaker to match their three daughters to prospective husbands.  The twist is the girls don’t want to use the matchmaker; they want to choose their own husbands based on love.  Those old traditions are beginning to crumble.  

Can you imagine? People actually wanting to choose their own mates and marrying for love, that’s unheard of for the times! Their traditions are changing!

 

In the opening scene, Tevye tries to explain their traditions, he says:

“…In our little village of Anatevka, you might say everyone of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. 

You may ask, ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word, TRADITION!”

Tevye goes on to explain, “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years… we have traditions for everything: how to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God.

You may ask: How did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you… I don’t know, but it’s a tradition! And, because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”

Oh really Tevye?  “Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do?”  

Is tradition really such a clear indicator of God’s will? Is tradition even a good thing?  You may not think so after listening to Jesus in our Gospel lesson today. Jesus seems pretty set against tradition. 

Listen again to what Jesus says. First, He calls the Pharisees “hypocrites” and then He rebukes them, saying, “You have let go of the commandment of God and you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” Then He said to them, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” He goes on to say, “You nullify the Word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”

It sounds like Jesus is thumbing His nose at tradition.

So, if that’s the case, if tradition is bad, then what should we do about this in the Church today? Some might say we need to get rid of our traditions. Many “new age” churches are doing just that. Some churches have rid their sanctuaries of any crucifixes or any crosses; they’re afraid it might turn people off.  They say let’s get rid of the liturgy. We don’t need our pastors to wear these hot robes. Let’s get rid of the organ and these old hymns we sing. Oh, and let’s stop making the sign of the cross.  Many would say these things are old and boring, and a lot of it is just way too Catholic.  Many of these people would point to today’s text in Mark, chapter 7, to support their case. 

But many of these things are something our good pastor would refer to as “adiaphora,” How many of you have heard him use that phrase?   Adiaphora are those things that are neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture. You’re not commanded to make the sign of the cross to remember your baptism. You’re not commanded to use the liturgy as laid out in the Lutheran Service Book. You don’t have to worship in this style. And, you don’t have to do any of these things to gain salvation.

But what was it that Jesus was really objecting to? Was Jesus attacking the tradition or was there something more to the story?

Let’s see what the Bible says and we’ll allow Scripture to speak for Scripture.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Himself kept many of the Hebrew traditions. 

  • Jesus went up to Jerusalem for annual pilgrimages and festivals 
  • Jesus regularly attended synagogue – the Gospels state “as it was His custom”
    • As did many of the apostles after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection
    • Custom is another word for tradition

So it appears Jesus was not completely against “traditions.”

The word “tradition” means “something that is handed down from one generation to the next.”  It could be a traditional teaching or it could be a traditional practice. But the teaching or the practice is neither good nor bad simply because it has been handed down as a tradition.  There are other factors that come into play.

St. Paul uses the word “tradition” many times in a positive sense. In his first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 11, Paul said, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” Here Paul is talking about good worship practices. A little later in this same chapter Paul says, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…” Paul said, ‘This is what I passed on to you.’ That’s tradition!

Likewise, in 1 Corinthians, in chapter 15, Paul writes, “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… [Paul says again] 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…”

Does that sound familiar? They should. Paul’s words – the tradition that he passed on -found its way into the church’s creeds. Those creeds have now become tradition within the worship of the church.

Paul is speaking of passing on that which has been received. And this “tradition” reminds people they are saved and this “tradition” gives hope to those that want to be saved! Tradition does this when the teaching or the practice passed along is one that is centered in the Word of God, the teaching and work of Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. This is tradition in the good sense.

There are many passages throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament, commending tradition, and yet, Jesus speaks against it in our text today. Why? 

We’ve established it’s not tradition in itself that is bad, but the reason behind the tradition, what is being honored in the tradition, and why it’s being done that Jesus calls into question in today’s Gospel lesson.  Jesus wasn’t attacking tradition; He was attacking the Pharisees’ for the heart in which they did the traditions and for sticking to their traditions despite the obvious contradiction to God’s Word.

The primary lesson for today raises the question of conflict between the will of God in the lives and performance of his people, and how those people actually interpret and follow God’s will. 

The Pharisees and scribes wanted to know why Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands in accordance with the traditions of the elders. They were serious about their question – for the Jews there is a huge distinction between the clean and the unclean – a sharp religious distinction that was established by God. There were “unclean” people – for example a woman after childbirth, a leper, or a Gentile (a non-believer). And Jewish people became unclean if they had any contact with any of these people. The type of contact was hard to avoid in a crowded marketplace like it explained in our lesson, so by deduction, everyone coming from the marketplace was considered indirectly “unclean” through mere contact with others. To compensate for this, the tradition of the elders spelled out the rules and procedures to restore oneself to a state religious cleanliness, such as the washing of one’s hands, body and clothing; this was not done for hygienic purity (to actually get clean), but more for the way the hands were washed which was purely for the sake of ceremonial purity. 

So for the Pharisees, these “man-made” traditions were seen as necessary. You had to wash your hands at certain times and in a certain way before you could eat. But this specific tradition was not something that was commanded by God. It was a tradition that was created by the elders. Jesus made the point that these traditions were not absolute as though they were coming from God.

Secondly, these traditions were seen as meritorious, that is, by doing these things you were somehow earning your salvation, or at least contributing toward it.  This was another thing wrong with these traditions; the idea that if you did these things, and followed the traditions you were taught, that somehow you were piling up points with God.  

Don’t we all devise our own reasons in an attempt to justify ourselves and our actions before God? Don’t we all use our traditions to appear more pious before others so that when we come across people that do things differently, the way we do them is always right. 

This is exactly what Jesus meant, this kind of attitude, Jesus describes as an effort to “honor God with our lips.” When we do our traditions in an effort to secure God’s confirmation, or at least our own confirmation, that we’re OK with our values and ideas and we refuse to open our hearts to His changing, invigorating Spirit. We want God to say “Amen” to us and our actions rather than speaking and living our “Amen” to His will.

The truth is, we are all broken people in a broken world and we as sinners cannot keep God’s commandments, let alone all the extra traditions men have added on.

So, when man-made tradition is taught as being absolutely necessary, when it is done in order to earn merit before God, or when it is used to take precedence over God’s clear Word and commandments, then that kind of tradition is definitely wrong. That is what Jesus condemns and that is what we should condemn as well.

But that is not the case with many of the good traditions that we have here in the church. Those traditions we would be wise to keep and pass on to the next generation. For example, included among those good traditions would be the Creeds. In the Creeds we have the teaching of the apostles, passed on for centuries in the church, and preserved for us in a concise, memorable form. The Creeds pass on the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, which we have received, and in which we stand, and by which we are saved. 

What tradition could be better than the Nicene Creed, for instance, which teaches us of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven . . . and was crucified also for us,” and who “rose again according to the Scriptures,” and so on?

You see, that is the Gospel itself, which is what the apostles preached, and which is what we believe, and which is what delivers to us all the saving benefits of Jesus Christ. Our works won’t gain us entry into heaven. Our hands, like the disciples, are defiled with sin, and all the hand washing, and all our self-chosen works cannot and will not get that stain out. Only the blood of Jesus, God’s own Son, will do that. And it does! Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all our sins. The washing God does in Holy Baptism applies the forgiveness that Christ won for us on the cross. This is the Gospel! And this Gospel has been passed on to us in Word and Sacrament; this Gospel delivers all the salvation that we need. This is the value of tradition in the good sense. This is what we should preserve and pass on the next generation.

And so our liturgy, the Lutheran Church’s historic liturgical form, handed down and shaped over many centuries – yes, the structure and texts of the Divine Service, which we have and use every Sunday, the hymns and the organ music – this is something worth preserving and passing on. The church’s liturgy has stood the test of time. The liturgy both expresses and teaches the beautiful Gospel of Jesus Christ better than anything else that some individual could come up with on his own from week to week. So there’s no need to throw out the liturgy. It’s better to learn and use it and to do it well. It’s a good tradition that we have received.  The liturgy is what makes us Lutheran, not what makes us Christian.  And lest we forget, we are Christians by faith and Lutherans by practice. It does good to remind us of who we are and Who’s we are!

Our friend Tevye would tell us, “Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” Well, not exactly. If our traditions get in the way of the Word of God, then no, the traditions of the elders are bad. But when tradition serves the Word of God, to help pass along the one and only saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we can say – and sing out without shame: “Tradition!”

May the Peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Eat to Live!

August 19th, 2018

Pentecost 13B
August 19, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:54]

Have you ever heard the saying “Eat to live, don’t live to eat”?  It’s a common catch phrase that the nutrition industry has come up with in an effort to help us reexamine our diets, and there is good reason for doing that.  Did you know that about 36 % of Americans are classified as obese?  And did you know that if the current trend holds, which experts believe it will, by the year 2030 a whopping 42% of Americans may end up obese?  But wait, it gets worse, of that 42%, experts feel that 11% of them could be severely obese, which is about 100 or more pounds over a healthy weight.

So yes, there is reason to examine just what it is we are eating and why we are eating it.  If we are living to eat, that is living for the enjoyment of eating, the statistics are warning us that we could be in for big trouble.  And that is the message from God for us today.  It’s a message about eating and drinking, but it isn’t talking about our physical diet so much as our spiritual diet!

Our Old Testament lesson (Proverbs 9:1–10)  sets the table so to speak for the spiritual banquet that God has prepared for us this morning, listen: “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”  To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Leave your simple ways, and live and walk in the way of insight.”

The Bible seems to always be reminding us that there’s two different kinds of eating, physical and spiritual, and that the spiritual food is a lot more important than the physical food: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every Word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” [Deuteronomy 8:3]  

This morning, wisdom is inviting us to feast on God’s Word; to continue developing the practice of going to church, attending Bible study, reading and sharing the Word of God at home and with friends and neighbors.  Wisdom of course is present and received through the Word of God.  So really, the invitation to come to the banquet is an invitation to get to know God.  But before we will accept wisdom’s invitation, we have to first admit that we need it; we have to admit that we need God.  We have to admit that we are simple and lost sinners, lost in darkness and lacking judgment.  That is, on our own, we can only think of physical eating and drinking; we live to eat.  This morning, God is asking us to admit that there’s a greater kind of eating and drinking, a spiritual one that we can’t understand or see the need for unless He intervenes!

And right now, in His Word, God is doing just that; He is intervening in your life, in a mysterious and powerful way.  This morning God wants you to see that everything you consume physically is dead.  Your meat is dead, your grain is dead, your fruits are dead, and your vegetables are dead.  Once you start munching them down they are dead.  We are simply dead people munching on dead things, unless… unless God intervenes.

In our gospel reading (John 6:51-69), God does just that.  Today, God comes to you by faith in the real presence of His Son Jesus Christ and says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” [Vs. 51]  

Does that offend you?  Does it confuse you?  It may, if you simply hear those Words and stop listening.  You may be confused if you are thinking about living to eat and not eating to live!

Standing before our eyes of faith this morning is Jesus Christ, the son of Mary but also the true Son of God.  Like the people in last week’s gospel, we might be tempted to grumble to ourselves and even out loud that this is only Jesus who was born of a woman named Mary.  He was a man like us in every way, wasn’t He?  So how can He say He will give us anything that will make us live forever?  Well the answer is in the origin of Jesus.  As the Living Bread, He is the Living Bread that came down from Heaven.  In other words, Jesus is reminding us that while He was born into our human existence as one of us, His origin is not from among us; He has come from heaven.  Jesus is telling us that before His birth He was with His Father and with us, and after His death, He tells us that He always shall be.

Who is Jesus?  He is the voice of wisdom calling out to the simpletons and sinners; He is calling out to you and me.  He calls us to come, eat of His bread and drink of His wine; a banquet meal that He and He alone has prepared for you.  This morning Jesus tells us that we can’t settle for any other diet.  It must be His bread, His body given for us.

But Jesus, ever the gracious host, offers you more than just food, He offers you a refreshing and life giving drink as well.  ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [Vs. 54-55]  

Now this is the point where the grumblers try to turn Jesus’ Words into something a bit more palatable (pun intended)!  They say, “Ok, surely He doesn’t mean we can eat His body and drink His blood.  That would be cannibalism.  So this must be one of those wise philosophical sayings that says one thing but means another.”  So the grumblers keep on listening and keep on looking for ways to be “comfortable” with His Words.  But Jesus isn’t done; not by a long shot! Listen…

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. [Vs. 56, 57]  Now the grumblers are really becoming uncomfortable.  Jesus is still insisting that we eat His flesh and drink His blood, but instead of giving us the meaning of this saying, He makes the assertion that if we want to live forever, we really need to feed on Him, because that’s what God sent Him for!

What is causing the confusion?  What is causing the offense?  Is it Jesus or those who listen to His Words?  It’s those who are listening!  They are still living to eat and do not understand the need to eat to live.  So Jesus will give the grumbling munchers one more bit of wisdom in the form of a question.

“Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” [Vs. 61b]  

Do you take offense at that?  Do you see only the meal that is spread before you and fail to see the host who offers it?  Jesus is the son of Mary, but He is also the Son of God.  His flesh and blood are not simply like any flesh and blood; they are divine.  They have now somehow in a mysterious way become God’s flesh and blood.  The host has become the meal!  He who is Spirit has taken on flesh, and now He has become a new kind of flesh and blood; it is the flesh and blood of the God man Jesus Christ that you are offered to feed upon today.

In His Word He offers you real food; He shows you your sins and if you will see them, if you will eat that bitter herb, He quickly offers you the sweet delicacies of the gospel; He offers you forgiveness of all sins and peace with God your creator.  In your baptism He assigned you a permanent seat at His banquet table.  It is your place that He prepared for you at the beginning of creation.  Only you may sit there… only you!  And at that seat He prepared you for, He also dresses you like a prince, because that is what He has made you to be!  And in His Word, at His heavenly banquet He says, read, listen, and receive my Word, my flesh and blood.  Take and eat, this is MY body, which is given for you.  Here is the cup of thanksgiving; take and drink of it all of you; this cup is the new testament in MY blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. 

Do you hear the Words MY body, MY blood repeated over and over again.  It is truly His flesh and blood that He gives to us in His Word, in His Washing, and in His Holy Meal.  This morning Jesus wants you to see that by receiving His Holy Food, you are receiving Him. You receive His life and His death. 

What the disciples who grumbled and complained could not see, and what many of those who live to eat today can’t see is that unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus the son of Mary and the Son of God, you can’t have life.  Instead of eating to live, you will be living to eat.  What many can’t see is that in the heavenly food that Jesus gives is true life that comes from true sacrifice.  Upon the cross, the Son of God allowed men to take His life from Him.  He who is eternal, who can’t die, died; He died because He became one of us, for us.  He died because He gave His body and shed His blood for the sins of the world.  He died for you!  

When Jesus says take and eat, take and drink, He is giving to you real food and real drink.  He is giving to you Himself; His life and death for the forgiveness of sins… your sins!  Will you eat to live, or will you continue to live to eat?  Do you see your great need for this mysterious eating and drinking or will you simply turn away as another grumbling muncher?

As for me, I will answer with St. Peter, “Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the Words of eternal life”.  Alleluia, alleluia!

If It Had Not Been For The Lord…

August 12th, 2018

Pentecost 12B
August 12, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” [John 6:39]

This morning our gospel reading drives home the point that Jesus is the solution, our solution to feeling lost, alone, and afraid. He’s even our solution to death.  He says Himself that He has come to give life for the world!  He repeats the message that we heard last week, that He alone is the Bread of Life, but this time He points out that if you don’t receive this bread (if you won’t receive Him), you will die.  But if you will eat the bread that He offers, well then you will have life, an abundant life, even if you sometimes don’t feel like eating that bread!

In our Old Testament reading [1 Kings 19:1-8], we jump smack dab in the middle of a crisis.  

It was a dark moment in the life of the prophet Elijah.  By dark, I mean Elijah was in the middle of deep depression; so deep, all he wanted to do was lie down and die.  Have you ever been there?  I’d like each of you to pause for just a moment and recall that time in your life; a time where all you felt was loneliness and perhaps hopelessness.

Isn’t it true that sometimes, that feeling of depression can sneak up on you when you least expect it?  For Elijah it came immediately after a huge victory.  He was sent by God to confront the wicked Queen Jezebel and her false prophets of Baal.  He was sent to prove to the people of Israel who their true God was and is!  It was a perfect day; Elijah called down the fire of heaven and left the false prophets and the people of Israel speechless.  There was one problem though… the sinful Queen was enraged.  She swore that she would get her revenge quickly by taking Elijah’s life; he was a wanted man. 

So off he ran, into the wilderness where he sought refuge in a place of seclusion.  Alone with his thoughts and weary from being zealous for God, he laid down under a shade tree; he laid down to die!  He asked God to take his life and end his existence.  He was tired of doing the right thing and then paying the price.  You could say that he found a degree of truth to the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished!”  

Have you ever felt like that?  Did you ever lay down in your bed, completely happy with never opening your eyes again?  Have you ever felt like everything was set against you?  And yet you are still here; you are no longer in that dark place.  Something happened that got you out of that dark place and carried you to another place.  Maybe you can look back at some of those darker days and say, “If it had not been for the Lord… well I don’t know where I’d be right now!”  And that is certainly how Elijah must have felt; for you see, in the middle of his dark and depressed sleep, God sent His angel to wake Him.  There at his feet was a nutritious meal, and an angel who said, “(Elijah) Arise and Eat.”  

Now scripture doesn’t say what Elijah’s answer was, but I can’t help but think that he must have grumbled; he must have responded in a way that any of us would who were camped out in that valley of darkness would: “No!  Leave me alone; I’m not hungry!”  And to that God must have told him, “Eat any how; it will be good for you.”  Not wanting to devote any more time to fighting God or dealing with any of the problems He led him into, I can see Elijah saying, “Fine.  I’ll eat, if after that you will just leave me alone to die.”

And what happened next?  A few hours later, after he had eaten, the Lord sent the angel again to wake him and have him eat again!  This time though, he was feeling just a little better, and besides that, there was not only Word from the Lord, but purpose; God had given him a reason to live another day and a new mission: “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”  And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” [1 Kings 19:7-9]

We can learn something wonderful from this story about a depressed man of God; something wonderful that can help us through our own dark moments, but before we do there is one question that needs to be answered.  

Why was God taking Elijah to a mountain far away named Horeb?  Does anyone know why that mountain was important to Elijah or anyone from the old church?  Well, it was the very same Mt. Horeb where God first spoke to Moses and proclaimed that He saw His people held in captivity in Egypt, and He was then going to do something about it.  It is also the same mountain where God later spoke to Moses and sent him down to his people with the Law of God; a law that would protect His people and prepare them to enter the promised land of milk and honey!

If it had not been for God, where would Elijah be?  If it had not been for God, where would the old church be?  If it had not been for God speaking tenderly but sternly to you, where would you be?  When you were lost and alone, when you thought you lost your way, He spoke to you also and said, “Arise and eat!  Remember my promise to you in my Word!  Arise and read!  Go to church and hear the Word preached to you!”  

Oh we are not much different than Elijah; we too have had many times in our lives where the Lord has had to spoon feed us so to speak; “I don’t want to go to church; I don’t want to hear a sermon; I don’t want to hear that I am a forgiven sinner.”  And to that God’s consistent message has been, “Do it anyhow, because your journey and your purpose is not complete.  You will need the strength!”  Oh, if it had not been for the Lord, I don’t know where I’d be right now!

 And just what is it that the Lord has done for us?  In our 2nd reading (Ephesians 4:17-5:2), we get the answer, and oh what an answer it is!  

He has not only fed us, he has given us a holy appetite for heavenly-spiritual food; food that not only nourishes us but continually recreates us!  Just as God made Elijah go back to the beginning at Mt. Horeb, St. Paul does the same thing for us this morning.  He takes us back to the beginning of our new baptized nature.  There in that holy washing with simple water and God’s powerful Word, he points us to His mysterious work that is daily transforming us again and again.  This morning, God is asking you to look backwards in order to reestablish your bearings; in order to see your life as He sees it; you have a purpose!

In your baptism, and every day since, you have been learning to live a life walking with the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  You have learned that in your baptism, your old dark nature has been crucified with Jesus; put to death, and yet you still live, or Rather the mind and heart of Jesus lives within you leading you and strengthening you.  You are taught every day to put off your old self.  You must put it to death because that is the self that is prone to doubt, grumble, and wander away.

In your baptism, you are told, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (who lives within you), because you belong to God; you are His beloved child.  If you want meaning in your life, you can’t give up; instead you have to continue receiving God’s nourishment.  You will need that nourishment if you are to imitate your Savior, your Bread of Heaven.  So arise and eat!  Even if you don’t feel like it, get out of bed; with every source of energy you can muster stand up within your depression and get to the place where you are fed the Word of God; with every exhausted muscle in your body turn yourself towards Jesus and receive the Words of life… YOU ARE FORGIVEN!  

Hear, read, listen, and receive that nourishment, because without it you really are headed for death, and not the kind of death that leads from trouble to peace, but an eternal death that forever knows nothing but trouble and never a moment of peace.

In our gospel lesson (John 6:35-51), Jesus was pleading with the people to eat that true bread of heaven; bread that would bring them life.  

In last week’s gospel lesson, they bragged that their ancestors ate manna from heaven, but this morning, Jesus counters that by saying while it was true that they ate that bread, it was also true that they were all dead.  “So,” says Jesus, “eat the Bread of Heaven, and you will live forever!”

The people in Jesus audience grumbled and complained and wanted to know how they would live forever!  “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’”

And to this grumbling spirit that is born in the darkness of sin; sin that gives birth to doubt and the hopeless feeling of depression, Jesus speaks not in the thundering threats of the Law; He doesn’t demand faith but instead in the still soft voice of the Gospel, He gives faith by saying: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day… Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes (in me) has eternal life.  I am the Bread of Life.”

And there in those sweet Words, Jesus speaks faith into each of us by taking us back to our baptism.  He reminds us that we did not choose Him, but He chose us; the Father, His Father chose us.  He sealed us to Himself within our baptism, and He daily draws us into Himself.   In those words, Jesus reminds us that just as He has been crucified and resurrected, so it is true with our own identities.  

Our old sinful nature is behind us and we are to look forward every day to our own resurrected life.  And to reassure us every day that this is not only our new identity, but also our eternal future, Jesus speaks in that still soft voice, “Arise and eat!  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, He will live forever.  And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.  (My flesh crucified for the sins of the world; even your sins)!  And in those Words we find hope; we find peace with God.  OH, IF IT HAD NOT BEEN FOR THE LORD…!  AMEN! 

THE Bread of Heaven

August 5th, 2018

Pentecost 11B
August 5, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

There’s a famous Saturday Night Live segment that was known as “Hans and Franz Pump You Up!”  In this segment, two wannabe, phony body builders named Hans and Franz are speaking in contrived Austrian accents, as they tell the viewing audience that they are there to pump them up.  At the time, everyone knew that they were of course making fun of movie-star, body builder, and future Governator of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In one episode, Arnold even walked out on the stage in the middle of their skit and confronted their phony portrayal of body builders.   

Now as funny as that skit was to me, it also had a degree of truth.  And it was this: If left on our own, we can be a lot like those posers pretending to be body builders; we will pretend to be Christians.  And instead of making Arnold sick, we make ourselves sick; sick with sin!  Now if you are happy with living a life that satisfies only your physical needs you probably won’t be interested in our message this morning.  And if that is the case, then your sin-sickness will lead to death.  But if you’re willing to let God’s Word speak to you this morning, you will begin to understand the need, your need to see all things in a spiritual way.  You will begin to say with the crowd in Capernaum, “Sir, give us this bread always.” [John 6:34]

In the last few weeks, we’ve heard about Jesus feeding well over 5,000 people with a few fish and loaves of bread, we’ve witnessed Him seeing an emergency at sea that no human eyes could have seen, we’ve heard about Him walking on water and then calming the sea, and we also heard about Him healing the sick and even raising the dead!  

That’s a lot to take in; a lot to process.  Imagine how the people who were there were struggling with that information overload.  And instead of processing the information and making a conclusion about who Jesus must be, they asked for more of the experience.  More information to overload their limited minds.  “Sir, give us this bread always!  We want more of your wonder bread.”  They wanted more demonstrations of God’s power through this insignificant son of a carpenter.  They were ready to settle for food that spoils and reject God’s presence and gifts that were within the “wonder bread” given by the God-man Jesus Christ.

In this simple retelling of an actual event that took place in Capernaum, God would have us notice two things about the people then and people today.  We all are very quick to settle for things that spoil, rust, and rot, and we can quickly become bored with who Jesus really is, the Son of God.  And if we aren’t mindful of this, we might find ourselves conveniently placing our relationship with God on a shelf, relegating Jesus and His Words to just another religion, another way to live right.

In our gospel reading the people of Capernaum demonstrated that they were not all that different from their ancestors, the people God led out of bondage in Egypt.  

In our Old Testament reading, we heard how the former Hebrew slaves grumbled when the miracles that provided for their physical needs seemed to dry up.  They began to long for the good old days.  They grumbled just weeks after being freed from their bondage, “(Oh, that we were still by our) meat pots (in Egypt where we) ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” [Exodus 16:3]  And the people of Capernaum in our Gospel reading, grumbled just a few hours after Jesus fed them bread out of nowhere; wonder bread that satisfied their hunger for an evening, “What (additional) sign do you do” they asked, “that we may see and believe you? What other miracle will you perform to get us to keep following you?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Will you give us this same bread?

And what about us; what do we grumble about?  Perhaps it’s the way God answers our prayers?  Maybe it’s the lack of respect we feel that others give us?  Maybe our economic condition is the thing that seems most unfair?  Or maybe we grumble about the need to go to church and Bible study every week.  For some it might be the type of music we sing during worship or the length of the service!  Or maybe you just don’t like the pastor and his personality?

Like the people then we too can get so hung up on the physical representation of God’s gifts, that we loose sight of the giver.  When that happens, we can get caught up in a grumbling spirit and miss the more important spiritual work He’s doing within us through His Word.  In essence when we physically or mentally check out we have cut off our true spiritual connection with God! 

So how do we restore that right condition, that spiritual condition within us.  How do we reconnect with God?  We do it by receiving Jesus for who He is and then simply listen to His Words!

Who is Jesus and what is it that He wants to give to us?  

Well let’s let Him answer that for Himself: “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” [John 6:32, 33]

Who is Jesus?  He is the bread of heaven; He is the One Who comes down from heaven to give you all good gifts from above.  He is your Creator and God.  What He gives to you in physical gifts are given so that you will hear and receive His Word, and then see the Giver behind the gift with eyes of faith.  And once He has given you faith, you are able to see the true gift that He gives behind the physical gift.  He gives to you Himself!

Jesus says to you this morning, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” [vs. 35]  “Take and eat this is my body, which is given for you.  This do in remembrance of Me.”  (Take and) drink of it all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.  This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” [Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25]

What is it that Jesus gives to you?  He gives you Himself; He gives you His body and blood in with and under the gift of bread and wine, and when He gives you Himself, He gives you life… new life; He gives you forgiveness of sins.

So Why do we grumble and complain?  

Listen, forget the physical reason you might be tempted to gripe, and listen to the truth, the spiritual reason you grumble and fail to see your Savior active in your life.  You grumble because like the Hebrews that God used Moses to save, you are really groaning under bondage; you are in bondage, you are enslaved in your sin.  

Your sin is the reason that you so quickly get caught up in the physical blessings and ignore the eternal spiritual blessings.  Your sin is the reason that you so easily forget about your bondage to it, and then forget about your sinfulness; and when you forget about your sinfulness, you also forget about your need for a Savior.  You forget that yours is not a religion like all of the others, a religion where you must work and work to hopefully please an angry god; no yours is a relationship of love and trust with your Creator who has come to you just as you were and done the only work necessary to save you… He has died to take away your sins and set you free!

In the life, the suffering, and the death of Jesus, the Son of God, you have received The Bread of Life, come down from heaven.  He alone satisfies your hunger and gives life to the world.  By His cross only, God has taken away the sins of the World.  And in your baptism, this great gift of forgiveness has been given to you personally!  In your baptism, Jesus has shared God’s Spirit with you; He alone gives you and always fills you with the power to love and live for others.

And as you live your life loving others, forgiving others, you are also leading them to the same source of strength that has recreated you, the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ.  In His Word, Jesus not only washed you clean, but He renews your mind and is constantly recreating you into His image.  He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  He speaks these few precious Words to you over and over again so you will truly receive the Giver behind the gift… “You are forgiven!”

It is my prayer and God’s will that you will keep coming to this place to receive His gifts and hear the Word that is behind each gift.  As He fills you, it isn’t a phony pumping up like Hans and Franz, but it’s an actual re-creation and healing; it’s real change!  It is my prayer and God’s will that you will keep saying along with the people of Capernaum, “Sir, keep giving us this bread always.”  

Heavenly Father, keep filling us with your forgiving love and power, so that we may give these same gifts to our neighbors by bringing them to the same source, the bread of life, Jesus Christ.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

A Promise is a Promise!

July 29th, 2018

Pentecost 10B
July 29, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida.” [Mark 6:45a]

Another way to say that is, Jesus compelled them; no He insisted that they get into the boat.  He had them get into a boat that He knew would soon be in all kinds of trouble.  He had them get into a boat that He knew was headed into a storm that was about to kick up on the lake.  But He also knew that when the storm was raging in its fierceness, in conditions that would cause grown men to cry out in fear like children, He would walk out on the water to them. Why?

When all three of my boys were younger I had the distinct joy that I sometimes think only a Dad can truly appreciate; I took the training wheels off of their bicycles and made them learn to ride their bikes.  I did it knowing that they would fall, scrape their knees, and maybe even bloody their lips; I did it because I wanted them to experience freedom from fear.  I wanted them to learn that they could trust me and their bike.  I promised each of them that they could learn to ride a bike without the training wheels.  And after a few falls and encouragement from me, they learned that I was right, they could ride a bike!

So why did Jesus compel the disciples to get into that boat.   So that they would learn that God keeps His promises!  They needed to learn that Jesus would never leave nor forsake them; even when it seemed that He wasn’t with them He really was.  He was watching them from a secret location that they were not aware of.  They needed to learn that Jesus is the God-man who even controls the wind and sea; why He even controls sickness and disease.

So what things does God compel us to do today?  

Well certainly as we pray every day in the Lord’s Prayer, we discover that He compels us to pray for His Kingdom and His will to be done every day here on earth as it is done in heaven.  But when we pray those petitions, He is also inviting us to experience His kingdom as He leads and guides us every day of our lives.  As Luther taught long ago, God’s kingdom and His will come and are done whether we pray for them or not, but in the Lord’s Prayer we are invited to ask God that they would first come in us and then be done through us.

Now I believe there is a question that begs to be asked; I really must ask it, even if it causes fear.  Do you really want God’s Kingdom to take over your life?  Do you really want His will to be done in your life?

What if having His kingdom come in your life means that you must admit that He is right and you are wrong?  What if it means that you must agree with God and admit that a certain style of living that our society says is ok, is really a sin? And what if agreeing with God about that sin will upset a whole bunch of people who are close to you?

What if having God’s will being done in your life means that you must leave a place of employment, a good job, because it builds and celebrates a kingdom of darkness instead of God’s kingdom of grace?  What if God’s will being done in and through you means that He may allow you to become sick with an illness or disease?  Do you still have the courage to pray for that will?

You will, if you remember who it is that is with you.  It is Jesus, He who sees all things, even things we cannot see or understand.  It is Jesus who not only walks on water but controls everything that makes you afraid.  And just as Jesus spoke Words of comfort to the apostles in the boat, He speaks Words of comfort to you this morning: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” [Mark 6:50]  This morning, Jesus would like you to remember that He has always been with you and He always will be.  He promises that He will never leave nor forsake you and no one can snatch you out of His hand.

Dear friends, God’s promises are always powerful and they are always reliable.  

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 9:8-17), God promised Noah and His family (and all of us) that He would never again destroy the earth by way of a flood.  And to be sure that they (and we) would remember that promise and count on it, He placed that promise behind a sign in the sky, the rainbow!

Listen don’t worry about things like how the rainbow is naturally made when raindrops act like a prism and reflect sunlight, breaking white sunlight into colors.  That is simply an explanation of how we see a rainbow; we need to concentrate on the why we see it!  We see the rainbow because God knew that we needed to have a sign of life, not death.  We needed to learn that we could count on His blessing and good will.  We need that sign to bring us comfort not fear.  We need to remember that God keeps His promises!

That rainbow like all of the other signs that God gives to us, should remind us to thank God and give Him praise for His goodness and forgiving love.  Every time we see the rainbow we should remember that God’s anger over our sin has been replaced by His forgiving love that is ours through the cross of Jesus.  Through Jesus’s life blood that was poured out for our sins, we no longer have an angry God, but instead we have a loving and forgiving God!  And in your baptism, God gave you another great sign; He gave you the sign of that very cross that sets you free.  

In your baptism the sign of the cross was made upon your heart and your brow to mark you as God’s own child.  You have been sealed with the promise that God through Jesus Christ has won you; He has redeemed you as His very own.  And because you are His own, He promises that He will never leave you nor forsake you!  But the promise is not just for you it is for the entire world; for anyone who will not reject that Holy washing; for anyone who will simply trust and rest in God’s divine power to do exactly as He says He will do… save you from sin, death, and the devil himself!

An elderly Christian was in much distress as she lay dying. “Oh, Pastor,” she said, “for years I have relied upon the promises of God, but now in my time of death I can’t remember a single one to comfort me.” Knowing that Satan was disturbing her, the preacher said, “My Sister, do you think that GOD will forget any of His promises?” A smile came over the old woman’s face as she exclaimed joyfully. “No, no! He won’t! Praise the Lord, now I can fall asleep in Jesus and trust Him to remember them all and bring me safely to Heaven.” Peace flooded her soul, and a short time later she was ushered by the angels into the light of God’s eternal day.

Dear friends, in your baptism God has given you not only His promise that He is with you and that all things will work for your good and your eternal salvation, but He has also given you a sign.  

Whenever you are afraid, whenever you are lonely and unsure of your life, remember God’s promises by remembering your baptism, and then make the sign of the cross and thank and praise God for His goodness!  Remember as St. Paul said in our Epistle reading (Ephesians 3:14-21), He has given you everything you need to be strengthened with His power through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  And then remember that wherever the Holy Spirit is, there Jesus is as well.  Do you hear that good news?  Jesus is always with you living in your hearts by faith.  And through that wonderful gift of faith, God gives you peace by assuring you that Jesus is always with you, strengthening and protecting you, just as His Word promised long ago in your baptism, when He first washed you clean.  It is that same Word you hear preached to you now, and it is the same Word you will soon receive in our Lord’s meal of forgiveness.  Oh, God is so good!

And just as God was with Noah and His family before, during, and after the flood He is with you now.  Just as the Son of God was with the apostles before, during, and after the storm on the lake, He is with you now and always will be.  He lives in His Word, in the promises it makes about forgiveness of sin and eternal life, and He lives, He dwells within you in power.  

Within each of you is the fullness of God; it fills you and if you will trust it, it will well up within you and come out of you like living water.  No matter the cost to living out God’s will, He provides everything you need to know that He is with you.  As you rest in His kingdom, He is not only protecting you, he is living in you, attracting and inviting others to experience that very same presence of God.  And God’s presence not only lives in you, but it also goes before you as you trust His promises of presence and forgiveness and as you speak those promises to others.

Dear Lord may your kingdom come and your will be done in us and through us in Jesus name… AMEN!

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” [Ephesians 3:20-21] 

Gathering the Scattered!

July 22nd, 2018

Pentecost 9B
July 22, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were
 like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” [Mark 6:34]

Do you know what happens to sheep when they don’t have a true shepherd?  That’s right, they scatter!   And once they scatter they can get into all kinds of trouble; trouble that usually ends in their death.  Why even sheep who have a shepherd can get themselves into a whole lot of trouble; that’s why the shepherd will leave the 99 to search for the one who has wandered off. 

An American, traveling in Syria, saw three native shepherds bring their flocks to the same brook, and the flocks drank there together. After a few minutes, one of the shepherds got up and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah! ,” the Arabic word for “follow me.” His sheep came out of the mixed herd and followed him up the hillside. The next shepherd did the same, and his sheep went away with him, and neither shepherd even stopped to count them. 

The American said to the remaining shepherd, “Give me your turban and staff, and let’s see if they’ll follow me like they follow you.” So he put on the shepherd’s dress and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah!” Not a single sheep moved.  “Will your flock never follow anybody but you?” inquired the American. The Syrian shepherd replied, “Never, unless their sick, then they will follow any one.”

This morning I want to talk about two distinct kinds of sheep; those with a shepherd and those without.  

You could also call them Christians and non-Christians, or the righteous and the unrighteous.  St. Paul, in our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 2:11-22) called them Jew and gentile.  But he also pointed out that that old classification no longer existed, because the True Shepherd had come and taken down the wall or fence that separated them.  That separation of course was the Law of God that shepherded the Jews, and condemned sinners like you and me.  In Paul’s time, many well-meaning Jewish Christians were insisting that gentiles had to first become Jews before they could become Christians, or in other words, they had to be Jewish sheep before they could be Jesus’ sheep.  Paul’s goal was to show them that this was not only incorrect thinking, but dangerous thinking; it would serve to scatter and divide God’s people of faith, rather than gathering them into one family, one body, one sanctuary, which is the body of Christ, His church.

So let’s look at the two groups of people that live all around us today, Christians and non-Christians.  But before we do, let me share another story with you. 

A newspaper in Camden, Maine, ran two photos on the front page; one showed the city council of Camden gathered together at a meeting, and the other picture was of a flock of sheep. The editor mistakenly reversed the captions of the two photos. Under the picture of the sheep, the caption identified them, left to right, as town officials; under the other photo of the city council, the caption read, “The Sheep Fold—naive and vulnerable, they huddle for security against the uncertainties of the outside world.”

Now as funny as that story is, I think that it describes both Christian and non-Christian alike; we are naïve and vulnerable.  And like the sick sheep in my other story, we Christians when we are tired, lonely, sick, or afraid might follow any old voice that seems sympathetic and able to help.  That is why we all need to learn, know, and follow our true Shepherd’s voice.  We all need the gift of faith to hear Jesus’ voice and to grow in that faith so that we will never follow another.

In our gospel reading (Mark 6:30-44), the contrast between the two groups of people is evident; the over-worked, under-appreciated, and tired disciples, who were ready for a break, and those who were lost, “like sheep without a shepherd.”  

We might also call them people with a mission and vision and the people without a vision who were wandering in life aimlessly.  This morning, in our gospel lesson, Jesus spoke to them both.  This morning Jesus speaks to both of those classes of people who are gathered here at Trinity.

This morning there are some of you who are just plain tired. You have been active in your Lord’s church for most of your life, and some have in the last eight or so years given the best of your time, talent, and treasure, to help make Trinity a city on a hill, a bright light here in Southeast San Diego, Southwest Spring Valley, and Southeast Lemmon Grove.  You have done so much and gone so far, that now you are just plain tired.  Many of you along with me, have the feeling of always being “on-call,” with more demands on your time than you could ever hope to meet.  I know your heart, because it is centered in God’s love for the wandering sheep; you are afraid of letting people down, and so you push yourselves past the limits.  You dream of getting away from it all and you pray that there would be more people to help shoulder the burden.

Well this morning Jesus, who is your Sabbath rest, knows your fatigue; He sees it and He speaks to you as He spoke to His disciples in our gospel reading.  “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” [v. 31]  

Many of you know the need for rest and you have been intentional on setting aside vacation time; you have had your rest already, and some of you have scheduled your vacation for a future date.  But the truth is, even when we are on vacation, we are never really away from it all.  It seems that the troubles of this world follow us every-where we go.  Even the best planned vacations don’t work out as planned.  There are always more demands for our time, and more needs to meet.  Sometimes we don’t even have time to eat!

So where do we go for true rest; for real peace?  It isn’t found in our vacations; it doesn’t happen when we try to get away from it all; no it’s only found when we get back to Jesus; back to the true Shepherd of our souls.  Our refreshment and new energy will not be found simply by going to a certain place, but instead it is found in Him who takes us to that place.  The disciples weren’t able to get away from it all because the crowds found them; but they were able to be close to Jesus and His miraculous presence; a presence which still stands ready in all situations to help us today.

For the non-Christians, those who are counted among the sheep without a shepherd, their days are spent in endless hours of useless activity meant to fill each day with meaning.  Whether its sports, politics, careers, partying, or just staring out a window they find little fulfillment and joy in the gift of life.  They feel like “aliens and strangers” [Ephesians 2:12] separated from the joy of really knowing God and His will for them.

Like sheep without a shepherd, their wandering sinful nature looks for meaning through self-pleasing activities, but eventually all of their attempts to find happiness end in failure.  So they set out on an endless search looking for meaning.  Some end up in cults and false religions.  Others find themselves in a church, which speaks the Word of the true Shepherd, but clouds that Word in philosophy, legalism, or liberalism.  Undoubtedly, these were some of the things that Jesus also saw as He looked out on that great crowd of people who were like “sheep without a shepherd.”

And Jesus had compassion on them.  He didn’t look at them as “no good” sinners, but as part of His scattered flock.  He claimed them as His own, and He taught them.  They were always His own, His purpose for coming; He came to bring them into His flock.  He came so that the scattered and the gathered might come together and know peace; peace with God, and peace with each other.  He came to give us all rest!

This morning, Jesus speaks to both groups and calls us together as one.  

He shows us that each of us have a common reconciliation… Himself!  Through His work alone upon the cross He makes all men and women right; He makes us righteous with His Father.  You who were at one time separated from God because of your sins are now gathered into His forgiving heart through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  By His blood He has purchased you, redeemed you from a commonwealth of judgment and eternal punishment, and transferred you into His Kingdom of grace and forgiving love. 

You who were once separated from God are now part of His body, the church.  You are one of many countless living stones set upon the Rock of Ages, the Cornerstone of God’s Eternal Sanctuary.  You are set upon Jesus Christ along with many other saints and together you are a living and ever-growing sanctuary.  How does the sanctuary, the body of Christ grow?  By the very same means that you were converted into a living stone; through the Word of Jesus Christ, the message of His gospel.

And this is the message that God would have you hear today.  You are forgiven through Jesus Christ.  In that message alone, God really gives you rest, fulfillment and joy.  But in that message, God also wants your life to have meaning and purpose.  You are here to live under and work out the will of God in your life.  And what is His will?  That you would rest in His Kingdom of grace and see it grow, one forgiven sinner at a time.  (Talk about inviting others.)

Jesus’ disciples and the scattered hungry were all fed by the very same Word.  Christ’s own personal preaching was full of peace for both Gentiles and Jews.  But what about now; do we still have that same care and concern?  Yes!  What we must always remember is that when Christ sent his message out into the world, he told His messengers: “I am with you always, even to the end of the world,” (Matt. 28:20). He assured them and He assures us that “He who hears you also hears me,” Luke 10:16; “Truly, truly, I say to you,” He said, “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” John 13:20. 

So congratulations to all of you here today; you who are tired may find rest in the same Jesus who invigorated the apostles.  He is here with you now!  You who were once scattered and lost, are now gathered and found, by Jesus Himself.  He has gathered you into the kingdom of God through the message of His cross; He has washed you clean in the waters of baptism and recreated you to live a life of peace. He himself is your peace and rest, now go and share that same peace, share that same rest with those who are still counted as scattered!  I pray you would do this very thing, and I ask it in Jesus name…Amen.

Victory in Rejection

July 15th, 2018

Pentecost 8B
July 15, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” [Ephesians 1:3, 4]

Did you hear that good news!  You dear saints who have gathered here at Trinity Lutheran Church around God’s Word and Sacraments are blessed!  In Christ, or because of Christ you have every spiritual blessing; you have everything that you could ever need to keep you in God’s forgiving and blessing love.  But there is a condition.  You must remain in Him!  In whom?  In the Father’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  How?  By staying in His Word and agreeing with Him in His Word.  What Word is that?  All of it of course, but especially this one simple word… REPENT!

What does repent mean?  

It means turning to God and agreeing with Him.  It means admitting that God is right and you and this whole sinful world are wrong.  It means turning in agreement to God and facing your only hope… Jesus Christ.  Jesus is either your Savior or your judge, and which one He is for you hinges on your repentance or your lack of repentance.  

So the good news, the spreading of the gospel is always flowing from the church’s message of repentance.  That doesn’t sound like a very effective evangelism or outreach program does it?  And because that message is so simple and so abrasive to many, an untold number of books have been written to help the “church” develop an improved outreach program.  Now don’t get me wrong, social programs and strategies that will help make the church active in improving our community are important; they’re important if a congregation wants to be relevant in the eyes of a dying world, but they are not evangelism.  So then, what is?  Well it’s the preaching and sharing of that simple message… repent!  Turn to Jesus and be saved.  Agree with God that you are a sinner and then receive His forgiveness.

As a congregation, we can’t ignore the message of  repentance simply because many feel it’s offensive or divisive.  We can’t water down that Word and replace it with something else that’s more inclusive and attractive.  If we begin to turn away from the message of repentance and water down God’s Word, we will also be separating ourselves from God’s grace; from His forgiving love.  If we cease to speak God’s message of repentance, we will no longer be counting on God’s power and presence to preserve us as a church, but instead we will be trusting in our own resourcefulness.  And if we do that, we will very soon discover how limited our ability really is.  

The truth is, if we choose to agree with the world and not God, we have failed.  But if we fail we can be saved by hearing that same message we had refused to speak… Repent! And when we repent, we will always discover that God’s grace is sufficient for us.  We discover that it’s ok to fail, as long as we keep turning to God in agreement, saying that He is right and we are wrong; that He alone is righteous and we are sinful.  We need Him always and He is with us all the time.

If you recall, last week in our gospel lesson, Jesus sent out His disciples in His own authority.  It was an authority that backed a message, a message that was full of power; power that would never run out, but authority and power that could be rejected.  One simple Word brought the kingdom of God to sinful men and women… repent, and one simple word could refuse God’s forgiveness… NO!

If this Word of repentance was received, those who did not reject it would know God’s forgiving love, but if it was rejected, well then they would be condemned in their sins.  This was a message that was entirely between the  person listening and God.  If it was rejected, they weren’t rejecting the messenger, they were rejecting their God.  

And this was exactly the position that Amos found himself in, in our Old Testament lesson.  

God sent Amos to preach repentance; and God’s message alone is what was rejected, not Amos the messenger.  The fact that the King and Amaziah the priest rejected Amos’ proclamation of repentance was ultimately not Amos’ problem.  Amos was free to live his life as he saw fit.  He could return to tending his sycamore figs and the care of his sheep, just as the disciples of Jesus when they went out and were rejected were free to shake the dust from their feet.

But Amos didn’t go back to his old way of living and the disciples of Jesus didn’t quit going out proclaiming the good news after shaking the dust off of their feet in one village.  They continued to agree with God and speak God’s plan of salvation!  God’s call to repentance remained as valid to them as it ever was.

God’s plan, the only way to eternal life will always be contemporary and relevant because we will always be sinners who need Him.   God will always be the One with the authority and power to send His disciples to preach, teach, and confess His message of repentance and forgiveness of sins through His Son Jesus Christ, Who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

It is Jesus alone who chose us… destined us in love… bestowed on us, lavished upon us, and made known to us the forgiving love of God.  In other words, Jesus alone does all of this for us.  He gives us the gift to fail and then hear God’s Word again as His only means of correction and assurance of forgiveness.  This gift of freedom of both failure and forgiveness depends entirely on Him who first chose us.  His authority is always a resource that never fails. 

This morning, God is asking us to trust in Him alone.  

Amos did, and some sinners heard and were saved.  John the Baptist did, even when he knew that it would cost him his life, and the result was the preparation for ministry of some of Jesus first and greatest disciples .  And we can do it too, if we remember that the entire evangelism process is something that is completely in the hands of the One and only One with Authority.  Jesus alone does the choosing, the empowering, the granting of authority, and the uniting of all things in Him, at the fullness of time!

So now, you may be feeling ready to go out and share your witness and tell your neighbor about God’s forgiving love through His Son Jesus Christ.  You may be ready to see our little congregation grow and grow with other forgiven sinners just like you, and you may be thinking, “So how will we plan for this outreach program, and how can we motivate others to get involved.  And to that God is responding to all of us: Don’t you see how quickly you fell back on yourselves as a resource?  Do you really think that it is your job to motivate others to get involved in building My Kingdom?  Repent!

What is in this little word of repentance? Well everything. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ; the very “message of our salvation.” “The gospel” defines “the Word,” and “our salvation” describes “the truth” of that Word. The Word which deals with the truth, the gospel is that message of Christ’s cross, which saves us from our sins. The Word is, indeed, “the glad message” that has reached our ears through the grace of God. That message says turn from your sins by turning to Christ’s cross where those sins are forever removed from you. It is a message that actually gives you both the power and ability to repent. In the cross of Jesus we have a “Savior” who is able “to save” the world completely. And in the Holy waters of your Baptism, this message of salvation was made entirely yours by the power of the Holy Spirit, for “In connection with Christ you were sealed with the Spirit through the promise of God almighty.”

The truth is that the One with Authority who was able to motivate a country shepherd to confront a corrupt and powerful religious government is still working among us today. And the One who was able to collect and send out a sorry bunch of disciples is able to give us every spiritual blessing that we will need to leave this place of worship and go out into our community, our jobs, our neighborhoods, and even our families and use us to accomplish His perfect will in accordance to His own way and time; He alone will use us “for the praise of His glory.”

Now that may not be the message that you wanted to hear.  No one wants to hear that our mission may seem like a failure and that many will reject the message that we are sent out with.  But remember, there are untold spiritual blessings ahead for those who simply trust and follow Jesus.  And it is my prayer, that as you are being obedient to God’s authority and direction you will share His message with whoever will listen. It is also my prayer that as a result of your obedience to His Word of repentance you will invite them to gather here at Trinity Lutheran Church with us, and that will be how we will begin to see the Word of God grow in our presence.  I ask this in Jesus name…  AMEN!