On Mission With Jesus

May 26th, 2019

Easter 6-C
May 26, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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We are on a mission with Jesus, the Son of God—a mission that comes directly from the heart of God the Father—a mission that is empowered by the Spirit of God! We ourselves have been rescued and saved by this very same mission. Our mission is to share God’s love and forgiveness, first through Word and Sacrament and then through our actions!  The words Jesus spoke to his first disciples still apply today; Listen: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” [Jn. 20:21 and Jn. 17:18]  The universal church, that is every local congregation and every Christian in it, is sent into the world to fulfill a definite, defined task. Jesus, the church’s Lord, has issued marching orders. Individually and corporately, all God’s people are now in the kingdom building business… we are to seek and save the lost!  We are to pass on the love of God!

This mission from God has three directives.  First and foremost, we have been called into the work of giving a worldwide witness, making disciples, and planting churches. [Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20; Mark 13:10; Luke 24:47-48]  We have been told that Jesus Christ is to be proclaimed everywhere as God in human flesh, Lord, and Savior  We are to make it clear that this is God’s only invitation to eternal life, and it can only be received by turning to Jesus in repentance and faith. [Matt. 22:1-10; Luke 14:16-24]  This message is to be delivered to the entire world. This morning, in our first reading (Acts 16:9-15), the ministry of church-planter Paul the evangelist models this primary commitment.

The second directive that all Christians, and therefore every Christian on earth, are called to practice is sacrificial love; acts of mercy and compassion.  We are to model a form of neighbor-love that responds willingly to all forms of human need as they present themselves. [Luke 10:25-27; Acts 16:15; Rom. 12:20-21] 

The third directive is to ask God the Father in the name of Jesus to give us both the means and the will to do these very things.  Well that’s a lot to receive this morning, so let’s get right into it!

In our first reading (Acts 16:9–15) we are immediately asked to consider a vision, St. Paul’s vision.  Now even though it comes to him at night, we are told that it is not a dream, but a vision from God!  What does God show him?  A man in Macedonia standing in front of him urging and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” [Acts 16:9 

Now one thing we need to be clear on right away; this vision was not a surprise for Paul and his three companions.  You see, they had been praying and planning on a vision from God for quite some time, but this is the first time that God actually made it clear to them where they needed to go!

Does this sound familiar to anyone this morning?  Have you ever had the Lord make something absolutely clear to you after praying and searching His Word for direction?  Certainly we as a congregation have experienced this!  Ten years ago before we began our outreach into our community, we began it with 40 days of prayer; we didn’t need to ask where we must go, because God had already established us at 7210 Lisbon St., right in the middle of the communities of Jamacha and Encanto!  So, that’s a no brainer, but then again so was the vision that Paul had.  They were asking “Where should we go and what should we do?”  And the answer was, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”  Help you do what?  “Help us obtain God’s love and mercy.  Help us receive salvation and then joy and peace!”

What’s interesting about this part of our reading is that in the Greek presentation of the first verse we would really read it like this: “A man of Macedonia was continually standing there, and he kept on urging him and saying,  “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” [Acts 16:9]  Do you see the difference?  In a vision, Paul was told that first it was urgent that he and his friends go to Macedonia, and second that their work there had to be continuous.

Friends, that is God’s call to us as well with the vision that He has given us.  We are to continually bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors with a long term strategy.  We aren’t to say, “Well, we’ll give it a try, and if it doesn’t seem to be working will just give up.”  No, remember, God has made it clear to us that our call to bring the gospel is urgent and continuous.

Now let’s go back to our reading to see how Paul responded to the vision.  Starting in the 13th verse we read, 

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.  And after she was baptized”. [Acts 16:13-15a]

The first thing we see in Paul is obedience.  He heard God’s call and he responded.  Once in Macedonia, he did three things—he searched for a place where spiritually minded people gathered, he looked for a person of peace that God had already been working within, and finally he shared the gospel.  

Now, let’s look at our circumstances here at Trinity and see how we compare.  First, we as well have responded obediently to God’s vision.  We have continued to reach out to our community with various ministries over the years, with our Pantry, Community Breakfast, Christian Martial Art’s Ministry, and our Recording Studio, which are still actively serving our neighbor’s Christ’s Word and Love. It is our prayer that people will continue to come to Trinity because first it is already known as a spiritual gathering place and second because we are willing to “sit down and talk with them” about things that are meaningful to them!

Another thing we see in our reading is God’s work because of Paul’s obedience.  We are told that one of the women that were present to hear Paul speak was a woman named Lydia.  She was a non-Jew who was already familiar with and worshiping the One True God.  Now remember when I pointed out the difference in the Greek language compared to the English in regards to the vision of the Macedonian?  Well we have something similar happening again.  In vs. 14, we simply read, “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia”, but in the Greek language it reads more like this, “One who kept on hearing us was a woman named Lydia”.  What’s the difference?  Well from this we learn that Paul did not just spend one Sabbath day with them and “presto-chango” she’s a Christian.  No he invested time in developing a relationship.  She probably heard many messages from Paul over a period of several weeks, but eventually in God’s time and power Lydia came to know Jesus Christ as “her” Lord and Savior.  Through the continued Word of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ she wanted God’s salvation to come to not just her alone but to her entire family.  And how did it come…. Through the washing of the water and the Word… through Holy Baptism!  Imagine that, her and all of her children were forgiven and born again.  Why?  Because God was faithful and Paul was obedient!

Paul could have passed by that little group of women as being insignificant.   But he didn’t.  He saw their needs and through the leading of the Holy Spirit he was moved to have compassion on them.  Lydia was baptized… born again unto eternal life.  She could have simply thanked Paul and dismissed him and his friends while she got back to her normal daily business routine, but she didn’t.  Instead, moved by the same Holy Spirit, she had compassion on Paul and his missionary friends, and asked them to not just live with her and her family, but to make her family’s home their missionary headquarters.  It only took a spark from the Holy Spirit’s presence to get a fire of Christian love and service going within the heart of the born-again Lydia!

Friends, consider this for a moment—hasn’t God already asked us here at Trinity to open up our worship home to new neighbors who are seeking a relationship of love and peace with God?  Haven’t we already been convinced that He is asking us to bring in new people who need to know about Jesus in a personal way?  When you stop and think about it, God is asking us to be simultaneously both like Paul and Lydia.  

We are like Paul in that we are asked to be on a mission from God and with Jesus, a mission to seek and save the lost.  And we do that by both proclaiming and teaching the gospel.  Some of the people we meet will have no idea about our faith or our Savior Jesus Christ.  Some, like Lydia will be familiar with God, even worshiping Him, but they aren’t yet experiencing His forgiving and unconditional love, which is theirs through Jesus Christ. 

But we do know, and because we know, our lives have been changed, and because of that change God has given us a heart that responds both to His Word and His living presence within us.  With our new hearts, God is asking us us to respond to The leading of the Holy Spirit with our time, talents, and even our treasure.  But that can be a scary thing because you see it requires faith!  

Lydia must have been a little hesitant about opening her home up to strangers, even strangers that brought her eternal life through the gospel.  Like Lydia, we have God’s Word; we know His will and yet we begin to be uncertain.  So where do we go with our fears and worries?  We go to the Lord!  And what do we do?  We pray!

In our gospel reading (John 16:22-33) Jesus is speaking once again in that upper room just before His death and resurrection.  

He knows His disciples are worried and afraid, so He speaks to calm their fears and prepare them for the joy and confidence that will come after His resurrection and ascension, on the day of Pentecost.  After that day, the Holy Spirit will come and live within every Christian as a result of their baptism.  And His presence within them will lead them to ask for all things that are centered in the name of Jesus.  Listen once again to His Words of assurance: “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.  Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (vs. 23,24)   “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (vs. 26, 27)

Dear friends, Jesus tells His disciples, He tells us to ask “in (His) name.” And he seals this directive with a promise, “you shall receive” what you ask in my name. Why such a promise?  Well friends, so that our “joy may be fulfilled.”  By remembering that the Father loves us because we love His Son Jesus Christ our joy becomes fulfilled.  And as we experience this joy we begin to experience obedience as Jesus leads us out and  onto the mission field that is our community.  As we go out on our Heavenly Father’s mission with Jesus… to seek and save the lost, we remember Jesus Words, so we ask the Father, in Jesus name to open the doors and hearts of our neighbors to our gospel message, so that they too may know Jesus Christ unto salvation!

Do you want to find true joy in your life?  Stay close to Jesus and ask for the things He has promised to give you!  Walk where He leads you and let Him sacrificially love your neighbor through you.  And as you walk with Jesus, He will allow you to see a transformation in the people He loves through you.  After the people you witness to become disciples through faith, you will see them being transformed through daily contact with their Lord.  Through God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, they will develop such a strong and abiding love for the Father that nothing can ever move them.  So don’t grow weary from doing well friends.  Keep trusting and following your Lord, even when you have doubts.  Remember, even though you’re on a mission from God, you are with Jesus, His Son. And always remember, “in this world you will have tribulations (and trials).  But take heart (Jesus) has overcome the world! [John 16:33]

Such Joy!

May 19th, 2019

Easter 5-C
May 19, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22)

This morning, God’s Word teaches us about sorrow and joy.  We all know the bitter tears of sorrow.  What is sorrow?  Is it the absence of joy?  Well maybe; or just maybe it’s the feeling of being helpless and alone; the feeling that it’s you against the world!  But what happens when someone steps in to help us shoulder the burden were under?  We begin to feel a sense of relief… a sense of joy!  That’s what Jesus wants you to experience when He says, “Come unto me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  If you’ve experienced true forgiveness of sins through God’s Word and His Sacraments, then you know both rest and joy.

Friends, God doesn’t want you to feel like it’s you against the world, and He doesn’t want you to feel like it’s just you and Him against the world.  That’s why He’s called you into fellowship with other saints who have been saved by grace, through faith because of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  God the Father has called  you to be a part of the body of His Son, so that the other saints in His body can help you carry your burden and sorrows, as you help them carry theirs. 

But God doesn’t want you to think that it’s us against the world either.  He wants you to remember that your real enemy is the devil, not sinful people.  And to make this truth clear to you, think about where He sends you after you’ve been given both rest and joy;  He sends you right back out into the same sinful world that looks down upon you and your Lord.  He asks you to love those who belittle and demean you, even harm you, and He asks you to pray for them; He wants you to invite them to become part of His kingdom. 

In our gospel reading for today (John 16:12-22), we are shown a picture of confusion, worry and fear.   It’s the perfect illustration of “us against the world”!  

The disciples are gathered together in the upper room, just hours before our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus has washed their feet and said they must be servants.  He has revealed once and for all that He is God.  He has taught that He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are together God.  Three persons, yet one God.    Then He began talking about the world’s hatred towards Him and by proxy, for them.  But now comes the crushing blow; one of them will betray Him unto death and another will disown Him.  “How can this be?” they wondered.  “What am I going to do now?”

And to these fears, Jesus says: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” [v.12]   ‘Many things?  Oh Lord, if there anything like these other things, I don’t really care to hear them.’  But He continues, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me.  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”   In a little while, the disciples indeed shall feel alone in their grief.  They will be drowning in their own tears.  Their beloved Lord and master will die the death of a criminal upon a cross!  But the world… well that’s another thing.  It will rejoice and be glad in it!  

The devil, has worked his murderous plan upon the Author of Life and the world celebrates with unholy glee!  This is the “little while of sorrow” that Jesus spoke of.  But He also says “again a little while, and you will see me.”  Your sorrow will become joy!  And what was the source of their joy?  It was the Easter morning Resurrection!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  But in just a few short weeks He would leave them again when He ascends into heaven.  That’s why He reminded them and us that the Holy Spirit of God remains with us as our counselor, advocate and friend.  He reminds us that He has not left us as orphans.  No, we must never think that we are alone, because Jesus assures us that He remains with us in His Word and Sacraments through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And, He is within us and He is all around us through this  fellowship we have with each other!  “Lo, I am with you always” He says!

Dear friends Christ promises us that in this world we will experience both sorrow and joy; but He also assures us that He is still with us!  He comforts us with His Holy Word which is empowered by the Holy Spirit who lives within us!  He has washed us clean in the waters of our baptism… we are born again!  And He feeds us His very body and blood, through the bread and wine so that we may be continuously reminded that we are forgiven.  But He wants us to remember that we aren’t in this alone!  You see he has called us into His body, the church!  And together we learn to submit to His will, suffer and bear more than all other people.  We learn to take anything and everything the devil and this world can throw at us, because Jesus is still with us!  Who of us could have ever guessed in our youth that we would have gone through what we have gone through and are going through, with our faith in-tack?  

Let’s be honest friends, there is simply no way we could have made it through the troubles we’ve seen unless the Holy Spirit was guiding us!  He is called “the Spirit of truth” because in spite of what your sorrow and fears tell you, His message is always the same: “You are not alone!”  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the promises of the gospel breaks through our fears and feelings of defeat and abandonment, and He assures us that He is within us and around us!  Jesus lives within you and you are his child, his friend, and his brother.  What a joy to know that we are not alone!  God is with us and we are with Him together as His Church.  Can you see what a great joy it is to be part of His body, the Church?  Isn’t it a blessing to call the person next to you brother or sister?

But we still have sorrow, fears, and worry to contend with.  

So what do we do when trouble and sorrows surround us?  Well our sinful tendency is to huddle together and protect what we have instead of sharing it!  

Were a little bit like porcupines.  You know, the colder it gets outside, and the more we feel threatened, the more we huddle together; but the problem with that is, the closer we get to each other, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills.  So the deeper our sorrows and fears become the more we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own in to the freezing cold.  If we aren’t mindful of this, we could freeze to death in our loneliness!  That’s how congregations eventually die out.  Why does this happen?  Because we forget to let the Living Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit lead us and change us!

Dear friends, when we develop this “us against the world” mentality we have forgotten that God’s Spirit is ever with us and sending us out into the world.  Instead of seeing ourselves as a missional outpost that raises up, equips, and sends out ambassadors to seek and save the lost, we can become more like a fortress; digging in and protecting what God says we must share.  If a congregation remains in this fortress mentality they will become unresponsive to the working of the Holy Spirit.  They become so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good!  It’s as if they’ve draw a line in the sand and said, “This is us and that’s them!”  But who is them?  Well, “them” becomes anyone who doesn’t think, act, talk, or worship like us!  In our first reading this morning [Acts 11:1-18] Peter along with all of us, have been warned by the Holy Spirit not to look upon as unclean what God has both declared and made clean.  

Like Peter, when we put up our walls of protection thinking that we are fulfilling God’s will, we may just find ourselves fighting against the work of the Holy Spirit.  Now don’t get me wrong, certainly like St. Peter, each of us are called to protect God’s Holy Word and Sacraments.  We must preach, teach, and confess both the Law and the Gospel in its proper form.  Our doctrine is pure, and we must fight to keep it that way.  Our Sacraments are precious and we must never let anyone rob us of God’s work that is given to us through them.  And our liturgical form of worship is a gift from God, which finds its origin in the very first days of worship that were centered on God’s Divine Service through His living Word.  Certainly there is no reason to abandon it now.  But what about those things that are not central to our faith?  

May God protect us from becoming so fixated on our historical Western heritage that we block out all other cultures and heritages.  God forbid we call unclean and unholy what the Holy Spirit has sanctified and called clean!

So what is the only way to ensure that we are working with the Holy Spirit and not against Him?  

By keeping our hearts centered on the gospel.  If we remember that God so loved the world, even you and me, that He gave His only Son that so that we all who believe might have eternal life, we will easily move from worry, fear, and sorrow into the joy of salvation and eternal life!

Dear friends, God wants each of us to leave here this morning knowing that there is the promise of joy even in the middle of sorrow, fear, worry and pain. And until our hour comes to leave this veil of tears, I pray that we will not only rejoice in the hope of salvation, but that we will also learn to rejoice in God Himself and each of us who comprise the body of Christ.  If we will simply rest in Christ, then through His Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit we will learn that Jesus’ love and presence are greater than any circumstance in our lives.  That he is fully adequate for every situation in our lives, and that just as He has promised, He is with us guiding us through all the adverse circumstances, all the crushing disappointments, and all the heartaches of life, giving us the very thing He is after, faith, forgiveness and joy in His gift of salvation and eternal life!

So hold on dear saints!  The day is coming soon when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. [Revelation 21:3-4]  Amen and Amen!

Pay Careful Attention!

May 13th, 2019

Easter 4-C
May 12, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,

to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Dear friends, I am not the Good Shepherd, I am just a called and equipped sheep from within the flock.  St. Paul is not the Good Shepherd, he is simply a called and inspired sheep from within the flock.  But Jesus is “the Good Shepherd,” [Jn. 10:11], because He alone is “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [I Pet. 2:25]

This Sunday we celebrate “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  Today we remember that Jesus as our Good Shepherd is the author and perfecter of our faith.  We remember that Jesus is still very much in control of His church, even our own little congregation that we call Trinity.  In all of our readings we are reminded of this.  In our Epistle reading we are comforted with these Words: “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” [Rev. 7:17] And in our Gospel reading Jesus Himself reassures us with the words: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” [Jn. 10:27-28]

Friends, we are Christ’s flock; the sheep of His pasture.  We are His church, a united flock, who both hear and recognize our Good Shepherds voice. We are a fellowship of sheep who hear our Good Shepherd proclaim forgiveness of sins and we believe that our many sins are forgiven. As His sheep we also share in other spiritual and mutual gifts. God creates this common fellowship by calling us into a relationship of faith with His Son so that we share in all of Christ’s works, blessings, glory, and goods. This fellowship, this flock is a union of believers in Christ, and it transcends race, politics, social status, and even death.  And it is a fellowship that is to be ever growing and expanding as God wills and equips it.

In our first reading (Acts 20:17-35), Paul speaks Christ’s Words for all of His flock, His Church, but they are especially meant to be a warning to all of us sheep who are called to be pastors with these Words, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” [Acts 20:28]

Dear friends, when you call a pastor to serve this congregation, you are calling him to serve with you and among you as another sheep who has been equipped and well trained.  It is another of our Lord’s great mysteries; a sheep equipped by our Lord to shepherd other sheep.  My ministry as your pastor is in fact, your ministry… it is our ministry together following our Good Shepherd.

Paul’s ministry and our ministry here at Trinity, must be entirely open and known to all.  It must be subject to the judgment of friends and enemies alike. So like Paul, each pastor’s ministry must be transparent and centered on working tirelessly towards building up the saints within his own congregation and then together with the saints, focused on working towards gathering other lost sheep within the community.  Dear friends, each of you have been called to work beside me, Pastor Rick, and Pastor Shamburger within this ministry as God has equipped you.  

As your pastors, Paul challenges us and all pastors to lead the Lord’s flock “with humble-mindedness and tears and trials.”  These three traits marked Paul’s own “work for the Lord” and they should be the marks of every pastor who has been called to shepherd Christ’s flock!   But friends, don’t be fooled into thinking that the tears that Paul is talking about were tears related to his trials or the attacks of men.  Paul withstood these things without so much as a whimper! No these tears that Paul speaks of were the tears that were drawn out of a heart wrenched with pain over the repeated rejection of the grace of Jesus Christ! Just as Jesus wept over the sinful and continuous rejection of His grace by the people of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), Paul also shed many tears for those from within his community who refused to be saved!  We, too, by the work of the Holy Spirit will also find ourselves moved to tears, by the continual rejection of God’s love and forgiveness from those within our families and community, which we have been sent to seek and save.  

And yet we are continually moved as pastors and as a congregation to continue on with our best efforts, proclaiming God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Together we are moved to proclaim the gospel and support the ministry of its proclamation no matter the cost!  

The entire gospel, which we have been commissioned to proclaim is centered only in “the repentance of sins toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”  

Friends, you must never let anyone from within this congregation preach or teach any other message except Christ crucified and resurrected, because God’s favor and grace can come in no other way!  We must always teach that within the heart of every forgiven sinner is an actual turning away from a sinful life and a turning to a life of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Only then can God’s forgiveness and love come and save a person.  So, repentance includes all of God’s law, and faith includes His entire gospel.  

Now Paul adds one more trait of a true pastor who is being led by the Good Shepherd… he must not shrink from proclaiming the full counsel of God! (vs. 27)   

If Paul was looking for an easy ministry, he might have easily placed his best efforts on the rich and influential.  He might have focused his best efforts on activities that would serve his own personal needs.  He might have kept back some parts of his teaching, because they seemed to run against Jewish bigotry, accepted cultural practices or the ignorance and narrow mindedness of fellow Christians. But Paul always remembered who he must give an account to on the last day. So he proclaimed “the full counsel of God,” the entire will of Jesus Christ.  

Paul spelled out every doctrine and every Holy truth, and he never altered or toned down a thing. He had no hidden agenda or any strange personal views. He never neglected a part of God’s Word because it seemed to be out of step with the spirit of the times. He put justification by faith into the center of his teaching because that’s right where God puts it!  This morning, God calls upon each of us to examine ourselves to ensure that we believe this message and that we are both contributing to support it and always ready to protect it.  Paul did this very thing with boldness.  He could confidently say that he was innocent of the blood of any man, because He had obediently declared the full counsel of God. [v. 27] I pray that we as a congregation can be as bold!  

Now, in verse 28, Paul moves from using his ministry as an example for future ministries, to addressing current and future threats that each congregation must contend with.  Listen…

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” [v. 28] 

Pastors who have been tasked with caring for others must first be mindful of their own sinfulness.  Paul is telling those of us who are pastors to be clean ourselves before we try to cleanse others. We must remember that we too are sheep who are prone to wonder.  And because we are sheep we must remember that we have also been justified by grace–God’s  own blood. The blood of Christ was and is the price of our salvation.  Pastors along with all of the Lord’s sheep have been bought with a great price.  Because of this price we have truly become His own! 

Why must pastors pay so close attention to their own living; to their own beliefs?  Why must congregations be so careful in how they call their pastor?  Well in verse 29 we get our answer: “Because there shall come fierce wolves (from) among you, who will not (spare) the flock.”  But that isn’t all; Paul warns us about yet another attack of the enemy.  In verse 30 he writes: “And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”  Yes friends, the enemy, the devil, will attack from outside and from within the body of Christ.  Paul sees the wolves coming. He knows how easily people can be misled and he knows the times. But he also remembers Jesus own warning to the church: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits.”  [Matt. 7:15-20]

Dear friends, Paul and our Lord are stating a certainty.  There will be wolves in sheep’s clothing who will invade the church. In fact, this has been the greatest battle throughout the history of the church.  Each generation brings its own false doctrine that must be defeated.  Every one of these false teachings tears at the very essence of Christ’s body. But Paul wouldn’t have us become paralyzed with fear; He would remind us that neither he nor your pastors are the good shepherd; Jesus Christ is the only Good Shepherd, and He Himself has built and protects the church.  This is a promise of protection that even the combined efforts of Hell and every demon cannot defeat.

And yet Christ calls us to join with Him in the work of building and protecting His kingdom.  So, like Paul, we are moved by God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit to pour our whole soul into God’s ministry here and throughout the world.  The love of Christ and the presence of God’s Spirit is compelling us to not only believe in His Word, but to ensure that it is proclaimed accurately to as many of our neighbors as possible. His living Word wells up from within our own hearts like a living stream. We don’t have to put our hearts into it; it comes out of our hearts. This is the very power of our congregation’s ministry here within our community.  And this is only possible through the mighty working of God’s Spirit.  God is with us, and He is protecting us!  Through His Word and Holy Sacraments He feeds us and teaches us.  He blesses us and leads us out into His mission field; out into our community.  

Dear friends, if we keep our hearts and minds centered on God and His means of Grace, then our Good Shepherd promises that we will not only be a congregation centered in Christ’s heart, but we will also be a healthy and growing congregation.  Here is a divine truth: Heavenly-mindedness does away with earthly-mindedness. It is the thought of our heavenly inheritance that waits for us, which continually leads us along with Paul to regard all material things as simply a tool to build God’s kingdom of grace here within our community.  With this common heart and mind, we will regard our time, talents, and treasure as a means to take care of the weak and the poor, and seek and save the lost!  And in order to help us remember this truth Paul shares with us the Words of our Lord Jesus Christ which are only found in this address of Paul: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Dear saints, through God’s work among us and within us, these Words amazingly become our heart’s desire; the desire of a congregation that is diligently working within the Lord’s kingdom.  Do you want to be truly blessed?  Then God says give!  Whatever the Lord has equipped and moved you to do for Him, that is your ministry! Are you a prayer warrior?  We all can pray, but some have that ability as a special gift.  If so, then give.  Be continually in the spirit of prayer for our ministry!  Do you have time and talents that would benefit our ministry?  Then give!  But what about your treasure?  Certainly God moves us to dedicate our money to ministry here in this church!  Do you see what a great calling you have in the ministry of this church? 

I know that however God leads you to support this ministry you will be blessed.  If you decide to pray for those of us who are here speaking and demonstrating God’s Word and love here in ministry, you will be blessed.  If you are led to volunteer and get involved with our ministry here, you will be blessed.  And if you decide to give towards this ministry above and beyond what you normally give you will be blessed, because “It is more blessed to give than to receive!  I pray that each of us will be made bold by the Holy Spirit to live out this truth, in Jesus name… AMEN!

FOLLOW ME

May 13th, 2019

Easter 3-C
May 5, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

When I was younger, when my older brother Ted was in high school, he had somehow come into possession of my grandfather’s old 1956 Chevy truck. It had been sitting in a relative’s yard and needed a lot of work to get it up and running.  I remember for a good amount of time, my dad and my brother spent every bit of their spare time, especially on Sundays after church, over at my uncle’s house working on that old truck. They had stripped the engine down to the blocks and completely rebuilt it by hand. Then one day, they were finally able to crank over the engine and start her up.  I’ll never forget the smiles on their faces as they pulled out of the driveway to take a test drive around the block. My brother loved that truck.

You know, that’s not a bad analogy for what we see happening in our Gospel lesson today. This passage is one of the most dramatic lessons of the post-Resurrection narratives. It captures the powerful restoration of the disciples that were present that morning. At the heart of the story is St. Peter, the bold and brash fisherman, who learned the hard way what it really means to love Jesus. Peter made wild and wonderful promises, only to fall short when the moment of truth came. On the night our Lord was betrayed, Peter claimed that he would “lay down [his] life for [Jesus].”  A short time later, when the chips were down, Peter’s self-confessed love failed and he would deny that he even knew Jesus. And we get to see Jesus, restoring his disciples by showering them with love, and care, and attention — restoring them to their former glory, and loving them throughout the process.

This was the third time that Jesus had revealed Himself to his disciples since the resurrection. The first time was in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, in the upper room, when Thomas wasn’t there. (This was the same room where they celebrated Passover with Jesus on the night one of the disciples betrayed Him and He was arrested.) The second time Jesus appeared to them was in the same room, eight days later, when Thomas was there and Jesus invited him to touch his wounds and place his hand in his side. And here, Jesus again reveals himself to the disciples, this time by the Sea of Tiberius, which is also known as the Sea of Galilee.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, He was appearing to broken and vulnerable men who had possibly lost hope for the future. Disciples who, like us, were desperately in need of a fresh start with God, who were desperately in need of finding value, and worth, and a sense of identity, and they needed to know that they were still loved.

Our lesson begins with the scene of weary fishermen after an unsuccessful night of fishing. Suddenly, a stranger appears on the shore and He called out to them: “Children, do you have any fish?” 

Jesus called them “Children.” He didn’t call them ‘Men.’ or ‘Friends,’ or ‘Brothers,’ He called them ‘children’. What a beautiful and personal way to address His disciples.  He knows how weak and vulnerable they were feeling. He knows how confused they were. He knows how much they were hurting. And so He called them His children – an indication of the depth of love and sense of protection He has over them.

Jesus was restoring them.

Jesus told them to throw their nets off the right side of the boat. What he says does not make sense to them.  They sill don’t realize it’s Jesus. But for some reason they did it anyway.  And suddenly, their nets are full of fish; so full in fact that they couldn’t pull the net in.  And with this very act, Jesus showed them how much he loves them and wants to abundantly provide for them everything they would ever need. 

This story may remind you of another encounter, three years earlier, when Jesus is standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and He told a fisherman Simon, and his brother Andrew, to push out further into deeper water and let down the nets. Simon told Jesus that they had fished all night and had caught nothing. But they put down the nets anyway. And when they did, they caught so many fish their nets where beginning to break. They called for James and John to come help them. When all was said and done they had filled both boats so full of fish, they were on the brink of sinking. Simon was in such awe he bowed at Jesus’ feet. Simon said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid. Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And the Bible tells us they left their boats and everything they had and they followed Jesus. (Luke 5:1-10; Matthew 4:18-22)

Here is Jesus coming to the disciples, after all their failures since they celebrated Passover together, after they had run away, after they had denied knowing Him, after they had given up hope and went back to their old lives…

Here is Jesus greeting them the same way he greeted them on that first day, doing the same thing that introduced them to Him as their Lord in the beginning. And it’s as if Jesus was saying, “Do you remember how it was before all this mess happened? It will be like that again. Let’s start anew. I love you, I forgive you, and I am still calling you. You will always be my children.” This is such a beautiful act of grace and mercy.

Jesus was restoring them.

And it is at this point in time that John recognizes Jesus and proclaims, “It is the Lord!” 

Peter, ever the impetuous disciple, grabs his clothes and swims to shore, leaving the other disciples with the hard work of getting the boat and the net full of fish back to shore.

When they get back to land, they find Jesus and Peter sitting together near a charcoal fire. And yet again, another beautiful detail that shows the depth of Jesus’ love. The last time that Jesus and Peter had been together near a charcoal fire was in the courtyard of the High Priest, Caiaphas on the night that Jesus was being tried. 

That night, Peter sat by a fire in the courtyard while Jesus is being interrogated and when he was asked if he was with Jesus, Peter denied even knowing Jesus and immediately the rooster crowed, and at that very moment Jesus turned and locked eyes with Peter. The Bible tells us Peter remembered Jesus telling him that he would deny him, and Peter responded, “Not me Lord! I could never do that!” It must have been the worst feeling in the world for Peter because he ran away and he wept bitterly.

But here they are now, sitting together by a fire and Jesus, again, is looking straight at Peter. There is no judgment in His eyes; Jesus looks at Peter with nothing but mercy, compassion and loving kindness.

Jesus was restoring him. 

And as they sit down to eat breakfast together ‘Jesus gave them bread and fish’. How reminiscent that would have been for the disciples of the last time that Jesus gave them bread at the Last Supper, before the betrayals, before the cowardice, and before the denials all began. But here is Jesus sitting with them and sharing bread with them. Jesus was still offering them hospitality, Jesus was still serving them, and Jesus still loved them.

Jesus was restoring them.

But the critical moment is not the disciples’ breakfast on the beach with Jesus, but rather the dialogue between Jesus and Peter that followed.

Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” OK, Jesus just called Peter by his true, by his full name and title – Simon, son of John. In my experience, full names are used in one of two circumstances. The most common is when we are in trouble. Growing up, our sons knew when they were in trouble when either my wife or I would call out, ‘Corey Michael (or Adam Christopher) come here!” Usually our full names are used when we are in trouble. Maybe Peter thought he was in trouble when Jesus looked at him and called him, ‘Simon, son of John…’ 

But the other circumstance where we are called by our full name is when we are about to make a covenant type contract or vow… when an important relational commitment is about to be formed. When you sign a contract you sign with your full name. When you were baptized and when you were confirmed your full name was used.

But in this passage, by using his full name, ‘Simon, son of John’, Peter was not in trouble but Jesus was about to commission him for something special. 

Peter had nothing to fear, Jesus was restoring him.

It’s important to look at the details of these questions when Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” To understand what’s really happening here, we need to know that in English, we only have the one word for “love” but in Greek, there are different words for the different kinds of love. And, in this passage, in the original Greek, there are two different words used. One is “agape,” which is an unconditional love, like the love God has for us; it’s the deepest and most profound type of love there is. The second word used is “phileo,” which indicates a brotherly type of love found in a deep friendship.

The first question Jesus asked Peter was, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” And the word Jesus uses is “agape”: “Do you love me unconditionally, with a total and utter commitment? Do you love me more than these men? Do you love me more than these things? More than your boat and your nets?  Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” But the word Peter replied with was “phileo.”  Kind of like he was saying, “Jesus, I love you. But to be honest, the way I betrayed you, the way I ran away shows that I only love you like a brother – and not as I should.”  Jesus looked at Peter and said, “[That’s OK.] Feed my lambs.”

Jesus was restoring him.

Then again, Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Again, He asked using “agape” type of love. — “Aren’t you the one who promised you’d never leave me? Aren’t you the one who promised to live and die for me? Are you saying that you don’t have “agape” love for me?” Peter is again confronted by his own weaknesses and failures, and again, he answers Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” – again, “phileo” type love – brotherly type love. “I’m sorry, Lord. I tried and I failed. I do love you, I really do. But I can’t live up to those words. I know I bragged about my loyalty. I know I thought I was the greatest of the disciples, but at the end of the day, I can’t live up to that.”  Jesus said, “[That’s OK, do the best you can.] Tend my sheep.”

Jesus was restoring him.

The third time, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” But this time, Jesus used the word “phileo.” “Simon, you say you have brotherly love for me. But what kind of a man betrays his brother? What kind of a brother denies even knowing him? And what kind of a brother runs away to save his own skin? Peter, do you even have “phileo” brotherly love for me?” And it says that Peter was sad because he knew deep in his heart that he could not even claim to have brotherly love for Jesus, as such was the depth of his sin and his betrayal. Peter replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And it is “phileo” love, which Peter used here. And again, Jesus said, “[That’s OK.] Feed my sheep.”

Three times Peter had denied Jesus; three times Jesus forgave Peter; three times Jesus restored Peter.

Each and every one of us, when we search our own hearts, we can empathize with Peter; we can put ourselves in his place. We can look at Jesus, and we can sense him looking at us, and we say, “Lord, I love you. I want to serve you. I really want to do what is right. My intentions are good… but I am weak and I am frail and I get it wrong so often. Lord, I let you down, I betray you, at times I run away from you. Sometimes I feel my best just isn’t good enough. But Lord, you know everything; you know that despite my behavior, I really do love you to the best of my ability. The love I have for you is not what you deserve, but sometimes it’s the best that I can offer.”

And Jesus looks back at us; He looks you in the eye and He looks me in the eye and He says to us: “That’s OK. Do your best, I can work with that. I love you. I forgive you. You are my children and you will always be my children.”

Jesus restores us.

And, as Jesus restores us, he asks only one thing of us: ‘Take care of my sheep’.

  • Take care of one another.
  • Forgive one another.
  • Have compassion on one another.
  • Show kindness and tolerance and patience towards one another.
  • More importantly, love one another.

That is all that Jesus asks of us.

After all our sin and betrayal. After all our denying him in our thoughts and with our words and with our actions, after all the apathy we have shown in our faith, after all our cowardice we have shown in our discipleship — after all that — Jesus continues to restore us and says, “It’s OK. I still love you. You will always be my children, just love one another as I have loved you.”

And so we come to the end of this incredible encounter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; an encounter through which Jesus restored the disciples, an encounter through which Jesus restored Peter, an encounter that give us the assurance that Jesus restores us. And the closing words are this: Then Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” 

Now, after all that has happened – the ups and downs, the highs, the lows, the crowds, the healings, the raising of people from the dead, the adventures of faith and missions, — the torture, the betrayal, the death, and the resurrection — after all this, Jesus was back on the same shore. He was looking at the same fisherman named Simon, now called Peter, and Jesus re-commissioned him with the same words, “Follow me.”

Jesus has restored him. All has been made right in this moment of reconciliation and restoration.

The same is true for us today. Jesus has reconciled Himself to us He has restored us. Jesus is with us every day. He continues to reconcile and restore us, every day.  All our failings and all our sins have been forgiven and forgotten. This is a new moment, a new beginning.

Jesus has restored us. Such is the grace, and mercy, the “agape” love and compassion of our God.

Everyday Jesus calls to each and every one of us, “Follow me.”

These Things Are Written That You May Believe!

April 28th, 2019

Easter 2C
April 28, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead so that you can know for certain that sin, death, and the devil have no power over you!  That is the good news of the cross and the empty tomb!  We need to know this because each of us has a real and natural fear of death.  

On February 27, 1991, a few hours before President Bush announced the end of the Gulf War, a young soldier named Clayton Carpenter stepped on a land mine somewhere in the desert sands of Iraq.  In the confusion of battle, he was reported to have died.  That report was first given to his command and then delivered to his mother back in the U.S.  But three days later that same command discovered that this was a case of mistaken identity; Clayton Carpenter was still alive!  Clayton’s command quickly picked up the phone and called Clayton’s mother with the good news, “Clayton is alive!”  She would not believe it; she was still too deep in her grief!  Then her son called her; still it seemed like a dream… it seemed too good to be true!  So, she began to ask him questions she felt only he would know the answer to.  A short time latter two army officers arrived at her front door and assured her that it was true, her son was alive!

In a similar way, on a rocky hill called Golgotha, Jesus was crucified, but three days later, the Word was delivered, “He is risen!  He’s alive!”  The evidence kept pouring in hour after hour, more and more people were encountering their risen Lord and Savior, but for some it seemed too good to be true!

This is the tension that should be read into our gospel reading this morning.  

You see, it isn’t simply a historical account of events that happened long ago, but instead it is something that is happening in the here and now!  Jesus has risen, and yet so many people, maybe even our own loved ones refuse to believe.  To them it seems too good to be true!  

We can become discouraged when we share our faith; we may begin to doubt the effectiveness of our faith story, because after all we weren’t eye witnesses.  But that is not how God wants you to approach His mission of spreading the gospel, because believing and receiving the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ is a work that He does within the hearts of sinful people; it is a work that He did even in your own heart!  You believe because of God’s Word and the gift of faith that He gave to you in His Word!  You believe because you see, but you do not see with physical eyes but eyes of faith!

You see, God has caused you to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.  And by God’s power (you) are being guarded through faith for a salvation (that is) ready to be revealed in the last (day). [1 Pet. 1:3b-5]

All of this is the same work that God began on Easter morning and it is a work that He continues today.  He does this work through two gifts: The gift of faith and the gift of mission!

Because faith is a gift from God, it only makes sense that He gives that gift in a way He desires, isn’t that true?  

Listen to how he first gave faith to a bunch of frightened disciples who were locked away in a room. “On (Easter evening) the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When He said this, He showed them His hands and His side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” [John 20:19-20]  Now, many will read this and think, “See He let them see Him!  Why can’t He do that today?”  But friends, the fact that they saw Him isn’t what gave them faith; instead it was only the tool God used to open their hearts to the same gift of faith that has saved you.  And what is it that God always uses to give faith?  What does scripture say?  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word about Christ.” [Rom. 10:17]

What Word did Jesus speak that gave them faith?  It was “Peace be with you!”  Don’t hear these words just as a standard greeting; you see when Jesus speaks them He gives exactly what He offers.  He gives faith that believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  He gives faith that believes that Jesus has overcome the grave.  He gives faith to believe that Jesus has defeated the devil and completely removed the consequence of your sin!  That is the kind of peace that Jesus offers and gives to those who don’t reject it!  That is the very message of the cross and empty tomb that He wanted these frightened disciples who were locked away to receive!  

But He had another gift to give to them; one that would carry the same power of God out into a sinful and dying world.

Jesus gave them a mission; to not only announce the forgiveness of sins and victory over death and the devil, but to also provide these very things in His name and through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  Listen: “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [Jn. 20:21-23]

Now Jesus makes it clear that this peace that He is giving is not just for the “eyewitnesses” but it is for the entire world!  It is divine power for building, nurturing, and protecting His church.  It is the very thing that God uses to build His kingdom.  This peace first comes to the church, you and me and then it is sent out through us to a dying world!  So you see, in order to bring and give Christ peace we must first have that peace.  So what is that peace?  It is God’s power to forgive sins!  When Jesus breathed on them, He was giving the Holy Spirit not just to them but through them!  He was blessing their sharing of the peace through their sharing of God’s gospel or good news.  What is that good news?  Again, it is the forgiveness of sins.  Which sins?  All sins; the sins of the world!

But there is a condition isn’t there?  Yes, the one being forgiven must first admit that he has sinned.  If he will not agree that he needs God’s forgiveness then He will not receive that forgiveness!  The greatest sin is the refusal to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead!  If you will not receive that resurrection peace, then you cannot receive the gospel peace which frees you from sin, death, and the devil.  And that takes us to Thomas and his unbelief.

On that Easter evening, there was one person who was absent when Jesus appeared and gave them peace; a person who said that he was ready to die with Jesus!  So they went out and found him and told him, “(Thomas) We have seen the Lord!  He has risen!!”  

Poor old Thomas, he seems to be a skeptic lifted right out of our own community.  He responds to all of their joy and excitement with, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.  (No way and no how!)” [vs. 25]

And so it is with the world today, maybe even some of our own friends and family!  But we shouldn’t be too hard on them, because doubt is understandable.  After all Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried!  No doubt about it, Jesus was dead!  And to that doubt, the disciples must have pleaded, “But we saw him!  We touched Him!  He spoke with us and even ate with some of us!”  And to that Thomas then and the doubting Thomases that live with us today, the response is, “Nope!  I won’t believe until He shows me Himself!”  How sad these cases of doubt are; it locks people away with their own sins and fears.  As long as they doubt and remain fearful they also remain miserable and lost.  How can we change them?  Well we can’t; only Jesus can give them His peace; all we can do is wait and pray!

“Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put your hand (out), and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  (And) Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!” 

How did Jesus give Thomas saving faith?  The same way He always does; through the power of His Word, a Word of gospel peace!  It was the same Word of forgiveness that He still gives today!  What about your unbelieving friends and family, and those throughout our community who doubt?  Where and how shall they receive the peace of the Lord, the forgiveness of sins?  Through that same Gospel Word of peace and forgiveness!  Keep on praying for them!  Keep on asking God to open their eyes of faith!  Keep on loving them, sharing God’s Word with them, and inviting them here to hear it for themselves!  It is the Word alone that brings that peace and Jesus will not give up on them, and neither shall we; after all, He died for them too!

(Let me close by reminding you that it is Christ’s resurrection alone that gives you complete victory on the final Day of Judgment.  That is why we confess, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”  Christ has risen bodily, strong and victorious over death.  His resurrection wasn’t just a spiritual victory but also a bodily victory for us!  As He rose from the dead so shall we!  We can’t understand this, or imagine what kind of body we will have, but we know that it will be like our Lords; Holy, perfect, and righteous, just as it was in the beginning in the garden.  And because by faith, we know this is true, we can stomp on the grave and say, “Where, O death, is your victory” Thanks be to God!  He gives the victory (to each of us who know this truth by faith through the power of His Living Word) our Lord Jesus Christ!” [1 Cor. 15:55, 57]  Christ has risen!  He has risen indeed!

It’s a Fact!

April 21st, 2019

Easter Sunday-C
April 21, 2019
Rev. Brian T. Henderson, Senior Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” [1 Corinthians 15:19]

He is risen.  He is risen indeed?  Are you sure of that?  Can you be sure?  And so begins the incessant drip, drip, drip, of doubt and the voice of skeptics and atheists.  If you don’t believe me, turn on the Discovery or History channels on your televisions and see how they twist and turn, pick apart our hope in the empty tomb.  See how they love to cast doubt on the completed work of our crucified and resurrected Savior and King, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  I say, through the power of God, let them babble on, because I know by faith my Savior lives.  He IS risen!  He HAS risen indeed! And that’s a fact Jack.

And yet, even good Christians like yourself, when you hear the Easter story, the report about a man who is also God, whose tomb was empty when his friends came to visit, and who was claimed by two angels — in dazzling white to be risen from the dead, you may be tempted to dismiss it — or if not that, to doubt it, and attempt to come up with a rational explanation; attempting to make the miraculous scientifically palatable. Why do people do this?  One reason may be that, they feel it’s just too good to be true and therefore it can’t be true.  It’s must just be a preposterous hoax. But wait just a minute there.  Isn’t the promise that all of our tears will be dried, that all our sorrows will be turned to joy, that all our tragedies will be transformed to triumphs, that beyond our death there is life, isn’t that really the universal hope of all people?  Then why should we dismiss that hope it if it might just be true?

Another reason for dismissing the resurrection may be because nothing like it has ever been reported before or since.  Most thinking people will gladly tell you that precedents are always indications that thinking people must proceed with caution and really dig into the facts. “Don’t be so gullible” the unbelievers tell us. “It’s an event without comparison. No one else has ever been raised from the dead never to die again; this story about Jesus’ resurrection is just to unique.”  But why should that surprise or confound any of us? History is, after all, a collection of unique events. No two wars are the same. No two artists or musical composers are the same. No two sunrises are the same. No two earthquakes are the same. Think of your friends; are any two of them the same? Only machines — like the copier in the church office, are able to duplicate documents and pictures precisely; and that has nothing to do with human interactions that make up events that, in turn, make up history. Yes, Jesus’ resurrection is a unique event — perhaps a little more, but certainly no less than any other. We must get over the truth that it can’t be repeated for scrutiny by scientists. But does its uniqueness disqualify it from having happened in history?

Now another reason, some of your doubting friends will encourage you to reject the miracles recorded in scripture, especially the resurrection of our Lord is the fact that the gospel accounts don’t seem to be reporting the exact same pieces of information.  They will tell you that obviously either the witnesses or the recorders of the witnesses statements didn’t get all of the facts straight. They want the testimonies to mesh like fine gears in an expensive watch, and if they don’t, “Well” they’ll tell you, “you’ll just have to agree that the story is mostly fable.” But these differences in witness statements shouldn’t surprise us. I was a law enforcement officer for 30 years, and I can tell you with certainty that eyewitnesses at the scene of a major accident or crime seldom agree precisely as they relate their impressions of what happened. And if they did, the investigating officers are always suspicious, and then they begin to look for another crime, collusion, or witness tampering.  You see, perception is always colored by emotional involvement. And yet all witnesses of a crime can agree that the crime really happened and what’s more, they saw it! And so it is with the Easter stories — the women, the disciples, whoever else were involved — they didn’t see Jesus actually rise, but they saw that He had risen, because they saw and spoke to Him!

 Others may shy away from taking Easter too seriously because if they did, they’d react just like the women at the tomb — with their eyes cast down. That is to say, if it is real, that Christ really did rise from the dead, well then He must really be the Son of God, and if He really is the Son of God, then all of those who doubt or attack the resurrection are really attacking God Himself; in other words, they’re in big trouble!  

You see, if the resurrection is for real, then it brings sinners face-to-face with a perfect and righteous God. Like the women at the tomb, they too may think that no one can see God and live, so they stare at the ground so as not to die if they should happen to look God in the eye. For all of our talk about Easter joy, there is a certain amount of terror that Easter strikes.  The first ones who knew the resurrection was a fact, were “terrified,” says St. Luke. They ran away “afraid”, says St. Mark. Indeed, the resurrection means that God really has forced His way into our reality, and His mighty arm has struck a deadly blow—to death. The fact that God has used divine power, can and should make weak and sinful men shudder.  It should make sinners fall over in terror.  Because you see, if Jesus really did rise from the dead, that means that death is not the end, and if death isn’t the end, then there really is a place that we will live eternally.  And because there is an eternity, then there must really be only two places that we will spend that eternity… in Heaven, or… in HELL!  If that is true then that means that we really are accountable for how we live; we are accountable for every sin we have ever committed.  And if all of this is true, then that means we really do need God’s intervening help; we really do need a Savior.

And this is really what Easter is finally about.  The resurrection is God’s final physical miracle to prove the ultimate spiritual truth… we need God and His intervention; we need His Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Yes it’s true that if the resurrection were not true, we of all people, we Christians are to be pitied above all others, because while we were living a life of sacrifice under the cross, we could have been living a life with no rules; a life that every day sought out all manner of pleasures, just like the rest of the unbelieving world.  

It is as if we have been living our lives like a mountain climber, clinging to the face of a giant mountain, following a very small ledge for most of the climb, while all others have been walking on a spacious road, complete with safety rails.  Below us is death, and above us are only clouds and more rock.  We know that we can’t go back, because the path has crumbled behind us.  So we push on ahead, and for that the others on that broad and spacious path laugh at us.  But we know that ahead of us, where some might see uncertainty, we see and push on towards the promise of rest and reward.  So we push on following our resurrected Lord, until one day, maybe sooner than we think, the ledge will lead to a wide path, which will connect to solid ground; to a meadow of lush and inviting vegetation.  And there in front of us at the end of a short path, is the beautiful city of Zion. 

And as we enter our new eternal home, we will hear our Savior King, Jesus Christ declare, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But (here in your eternal home), be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create (a new) Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.  I will rejoice in (this new) Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.”  [Isaiah 65:17-19]

Oh what a day that will be; a day when we will finally see our God and Savior face to face.  It will be a time where we rejoice in His presence and He rejoices in gladness that we are finally home.  But for now, we must live our lives by faith; faith in the promise of what is to come.  We must hear the Words which proclaim, “He is risen” and know that “as in Adam all in sin die, so also in Christ all (people of faith) shall be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ (as) the firstfruits, then at His coming (again) those who belong to Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:22, 23]  Oh what a glorious day that will be. Christ is Risen… Amen!

What Jesus Passion Means For You

April 20th, 2019

Good Friday, April 19, 2019

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of

Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

The last petition of the Lord’s Prayer requests that God would “Deliver us from evil.”  Tonight that is exactly what we both remember and meditate on.  In Christ’s passion God has delivered us from evil.

“For if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” 

So goes the argument of St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians. [Galatians 2:21]  If we were somehow able to pay for our own sins, or if we could find the wherewithal to repent of them on our own without the leading of the Holy Spirit, then God may have been able to spare His own Son the agony of the cross, thereby removing His need to drink from the bitter cup of our salvation.  But since those things are in fact impossible for sinful men and women like us, God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, and we can be assured that there was no other way but through the cross to defeat not just our sin, but even death and the devil.

Holy Scripture clearly testifies again and again that Christ Jesus suffered a painful death for us ungodly people, so that God could make righteous people out of unrighteous sinners through faith in the work of His Son Jesus.  And now this evening, we gather as a peculiar people redeemed for God and by God through the death of His Son.  It was His Son’s passion, that is His divine love that turned Him to the cross to suffer and die for you.  It was His love for you that caused Him to be obedient unto death, even death upon a cross so that by His stripes you may be healed; by His atoning death, you may be forgiven.  

It was the death of Jesus Christ that disarmed the principalities and powers of sin, death, and the devil and opened wide the very gates of heaven for miserable sinners like us.

A principal teaching of the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins.  

And the scriptures add a very important addendum to this truth: “We have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.” [2 Corinthians 5:14]  Or as the prophet Isaiah said, “(Christ) died as our substitute.” [Isaiah 53:6]  It was our sins that He carried with Him upon the cross.  That is why you should care very deeply about this evening and our Lord’s passion.  He was wounded for your transgressions.  And with His stripes you have been healed, that is forgiven of all of your sins.  On that cursed, yet for us a blessed tree, Jesus chose to taste death, and for we sinners and our salvation, He experienced for the first time what it means to be forsaken of God and cast away from His presence.  As St. Paul said, “Christ became a curse for us.”  And by this, He redeemed us from the curse of the law.  In His kingdom there will never again be condemnation for sinners such as us; we who turn to Jesus, His passion, His death, and the gift of new life that He gives through the cross.

The absolute assurance that you have all of this work assuring your salvation is found in your baptism.  There you were baptized into the death of Christ and there you became a partaker of everything that He won through His passion and death.  In other words, baptism is your guarantee that while Christ suffered upon the cross, He had you on His mind and in His heart. Because you have been baptized into both Christ’s passion and death, baptism is not just confined to one act in your life, whether you were baptized as a child or an adult.  No, but rather it is the beginning of a life which is to be lived in fellowship with the crucified Christ and His passion to save sinners.  So, to live as a baptized child of God, that is as a Christian is to live “by faith in the Son of God, who loved (you) and gave Himself (up) for (you).” [Galatians 2:20]

Even though the death of Christ is the most world shaking event in history, it is also a constant source of assurance, joy, and thankfulness, because in His passion He has delivered you from sin, death, and the devil.  Because Christ Jesus died forsaken on the cross, any one who trusts in Him needs never be afraid that they will die forsaken and abandoned by God.  Because in His passion on Good Friday, Christ bore the sins of the whole world, we sinners can live our entire lives not as strangers to God, but as His own dear children by faith in Him who first loved us and died for us.  AMEN!

What is This Bread?


April 18th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hosanna! Great is the Lord!

April 14th, 2019

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We know God by knowing Jesus!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgetting What Lies Behind

April 7th, 2019

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

Click here for audio of this message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul was a wanted man.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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