Festival of St. Michael and All Angels – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 18:1-10
In Christ Jesus, whom the holy angels gladly serve and obey, dear fellow redeemed:
If you could be an angel for a day, how would you spend your time? I’m guessing you would want to fly around a bit, testing your wings, maybe visiting some interesting places around the world. Of course you would want to have a good look at heaven and take in all the sights and sounds. Maybe you would even go to a place of major conflict to work on putting a stop to the fighting. You and I would want to do big things, things that were fulfilling to ourselves or helpful to a good many others.
But none of this describes the chief responsibilities of the holy angels. They are not interested in pursuing things that are personally fulfilling. They are content to take direction from God and carry out His will. They don’t spend their time sight-seeing; they spend their time serving—including service to the least in the world. They are perfectly devoted to the Almighty God who gave them life.
They are exactly opposite from the fallen angels—the devil and his fellow demons. These fallen angels were proud. They did not want to serve at God’s command. They did not want to worship Him alone. They wanted to be gods. They wanted all creation to bow to them. So they rebelled against their Creator. They led a revolt in heaven, which we heard about in today’s Epistle lesson (Rev. 12:7-12). They lost this battle and were thrown out of heaven. But they still operate on earth.
How exactly do they pursue their wicked agendas on earth? When we compare our day with the New Testament, it seems like the demons were much more active back then. We don’t observe obvious cases of demon-possession today like what we read about. But the demons haven’t given up. They aren’t taking a break. They are still active, most often in ways we don’t perceive.
When we face situations where we are tempted to sin, there is no doubt the demons are involved in it. They want us to put our own desires first and to rebel against God like they did. You know how intense these temptations can be. You are tempted to do something that you know you should not do. You are tempted to look at something that is not for you to see. You are tempted to repeat something about someone else that you know is unverified or unkind. You are powerfully pulled in the direction of the sin. You try to resist, but the desire grows more and more intense.
The devil and demons put the thought into your head that carrying out the sin is the only way to resolve the desire. They try to convince you that you can stay in control of the sin. “No one will find out,” you think. “It isn’t really that bad. Everybody does it.” But there is no excuse for sin. You and I do not have to sin. The demons cannot make us sin. They can only tempt us. The sin comes from our own hearts. Even those who are demon-possessed cannot say that the devil made them do bad things, because they are the ones who let the devil in in the first place.
Jesus warns us in today’s text about temptations to sin. He says that temptations will come. The world is sinful, and we are sinners. All of us have fallen for temptations many times. But we must not become comfortable with sinning. We must not let down our guard. Getting comfortable with sin has led many children of God to abandon the faith. They choose the pleasures of the world over the promises of God’s Word.
But Jesus says that it would be better to lose a hand or foot or eye in this life if they lead us to sin, than to enter hell with all members intact. We must fight these temptations to sin. And we stay vigilant and watchful not only about things that may tempt us, but also what may tempt those in our care.
This is particularly important for parents and grandparents to understand. Children are not aware of their vulnerability or of how hard the demons are working to destroy their faith. Children are trusting, and they may be tempted to trust the wrong people. They desperately want to be accepted and fit in, so they may spend time in bad company. It is a gross shirking of responsibility when parents or guardians let children decide who to hang out with or how to spend their time.
Besides peers who exert a bad influence on your kids, how else do you suppose the devil and demons try to tempt them? What would your children or grandchildren do every waking moment at home if you let them? That’s right, they would use a smartphone or other digital device like it was glued to the palm of their hand. If you want to know where the demons are most active today—and not just against the youth—look no further than the endless temptations to sin online.
If you were a fish, you could find some good food on the internet, but you would also find millions of worms dangling off shiny, sharp hooks. Those are the temptations to sin. You can find pleasure online. You can find material to fuel your hatred, your worries, and your doubts. You can find distractions, which do not seem bad in and of themselves, but which keep you from your Christian callings. If you have spent any time online, you know this from personal experience. It is shocking how easy it is to find bad things you weren’t even looking for in the first place.
But as active as the demons are in trying to destroy our faith, our reputation, and our very life, the holy angels are active too. If the holy angels were not fighting on our behalf, we would already be ruined. The devil and the demons would certainly overcome us.
This is clear from the account of Job. Job was a believer who was richly blessed by the LORD. When God and Satan conversed about Job, Satan said that Job had prospered only because the LORD had “put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has,” and “blessed the work of his hands” (Job 1:10). So the LORD gave Satan permission to attack everything Job had. In a matter of hours, all of Job’s oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels were either stolen away or destroyed, and his ten children died. That’s how quickly the good things we have would be taken away from us if God did not send His angels to protect us.
It is a remarkable thing that the mighty angels so willingly serve us lowly sinners. It is not because they have decided we are worth the time and effort. It is because they honor God and want to obey His will. And it is God’s will that these “ministering spirits” should serve “those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). The humble angels do just that. They encamp around those who fear Him (Psa. 34:7). They guard them in all their ways (Psa. 91:11). They turn back the constant assaults of the devil. They never grow tired of serving. They never take a break. They watch over us day and night.
Jesus says the angels are devoted to us because they are devoted to God. He says that the little children’s angels “always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” This means that whatever the angels do for us, they do because God directs them to do it. Their protection of us is His protection. Their care is His care. This is why we don’t pray to the angels. They don’t need or expect our thanks. All the glory is God’s.
Some people think that their loved ones who die become angels and watch over them. But that is not the case. The souls of believers go straight to heaven. God does not send them to help their loved ones. He sends the holy angels. Like the angels who look to God, we should too, so that we are not led away from what the Lord says in His Word.
When we have ignored the Word and given into temptation, it is not because the angels failed to do their job. God chastens His children when they sin, so that they are humbled and return to Him. He may let the devil do some damage, so that we become aware of our pride and repent. And when we repent, Jesus tells us that there is great joy in heaven, “joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luk. 15:10).
The angels rejoice because they know there is forgiveness for sin. They know what God did for mankind. He took on our flesh, so that He could be our Substitute. He suffered and died, so that every temptation into which we had fallen—every sin we had committed—would be blotted out.
That includes your sins and mine—sins committed in the public eye, and sins committed in the privacy of our homes. Jesus died for sins of the past that burden you and trouble your conscience even now. You can be freed from the guilt of those sins. Repent of them and believe Jesus’ word of absolution. He paid for that sin too. He forgives all your sins.
There is nothing you have done that the angels assigned to you have not witnessed. They have seen it all. But they are not ashamed or reluctant to serve you because of your sins. God loves you, so they do too. They marvel at God’s love for sinners. They rejoice that He is such a good and merciful Lord, and they want nothing more than for each of us to join them in God’s glorious kingdom.
This is why the Lord sends them to us. He wants the angels to do their part in humble service to Him, so we are not tempted away from the faith, but so that we retain a childlike faith in Him our Savior.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
Good Friday – Pr. Faugstad homilies
I. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus was innocent. He had only done what was right. He had helped a great many people. He gave the blind their sight, made the lame walk, cleansed lepers, brought hearing to the deaf, rescued the demon-possessed, and even raised the dead to life (Luk. 7:22). Yet by this time on Good Friday, Jesus had been struck in the face, spit on, punched, flogged, and crowned with a tangle of thorns. Besides this, He was verbally abused, lied about, and mocked. And now He was nailed to a cross and hoisted up in the air for all to see.
Jesus might have been angry about all the injustice. He might have uttered threats and promised revenge. But instead He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He did what Isaiah prophesied He would do. He made “intercession for the transgressors” (53:12). Who were these transgressors? Whom did He ask God to forgive? It was the religious leaders who even now stood around the cross mocking Him. It was the Roman soldiers who cast lots for His clothing and mistreated Him.
But that was not all. Jesus was praying for you too, and for me. It was your sins and mine that caused Him to suffer and be nailed to the cross. It was your sins and mine that sent Him to His death, and your sins and mine that He died to forgive. We sing hymn #292, vv. 1, 3 (“O Dearest Jesus”).
II. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
The guilty man was hanging from a cross, and yet he thought he was in a position to judge another. He and his friend on the opposite side of Jesus joined the crowd in reviling Him: “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” (Mat. 27:40,44). But as his suffering intensified, this criminal began to see things differently. He heard people mocking Jesus as “the Christ” and “the King of the Jews.” He saw the sign above Jesus, “This is the King of the Jews” (Luk. 23:38). He saw how patiently Jesus took this abuse, and the Holy Spirit led him to see that he was not dying next to another criminal. He was hanging there with God in the flesh, the Savior!
So he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luk. 23:42). And Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Here is hope for all who have committed grievous sins, and for all who have despised and mocked the Lord. By His suffering and death, the Lord secured Paradise for sinners. He wants all to repent of their sins and believe in Him. He invites all—no matter how stained their past may be—to join Him forever in the Paradise of heaven. We sing hymn #334/335, vv. 1, 8 (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”).
III. “Woman, behold, your son!”—“Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Mary was there too, the mother who had carried Jesus in her womb and had given birth to Him. She had nursed Him and watched Him grow. She had followed Him all the way here to Jerusalem. And now she saw Him, her precious, holy Son, dying a terrible death on a cross. Simeon had predicted this moment in the temple when Jesus was brought there as a baby. He told Mary, “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luk. 2:35). That sword turned inside her as she watched her Son writhing on the cross.
Even while He suffered for all people, Jesus was concerned for His mother. He would no longer be her Son in the way they were accustomed. He would die and rise again, but nothing would return to the way it was before. So Jesus looked upon Mary and His disciple John and said, “Woman, behold, your son!” and “Behold, your mother!” Through His friend, Jesus provided for His mother’s care.
And so He continues to do for the single, the widowed, the lonely, and the outcast. “God settles the solitary in a home” (Psa. 68:6). He gives communion and community through the members of His family, the members of His Church, who gather together around His Word and Sacraments. We sing hymn #294, vv. 1, 3 (“Near the Cross Was Mary Weeping”).
IV. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)
Jesus was nailed to the cross at 9:00am. Then starting at 12:00 noon, “there was darkness over all the land” (Mat. 27:45). This lasted for three hours. It was dark through the lightest part of the day. This is when Jesus suffered our hell. This is when He suffered the eternal punishment that we deserve because of our sins. During this time, Jesus felt the full force of His Father’s wrath. God the Father took out His holy anger against sin on His Son, because His Son was made to be our sin (2Co. 5:21).
Suffering those eternal torments, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” How could the Father do this to His own Son? This is the price that had to be paid for your sin, so you would not have to pay it. This is what it took. It isn’t pretty. It should unsettle you to know how seriously God looks upon sin. Don’t turn your eyes away! This is your sin hanging on that cross. It is also your salvation. We sing hymn #297, vv. 2-3 (“Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”).
V. “I thirst.” (Psalm 69:21, John 19:29)
The next words of Jesus come from the 69th Psalm. There it says, “You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you. Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink” (vv. 19-21). This Psalm expresses Jesus’ anguish as He suffered hell on the cross. No one was there to comfort Him; He suffered alone. But now His suffering was coming to an end. And “to fulfill the Scripture” (Joh. 19:28), Jesus said, “I thirst.” He had consumed the cup of His Father’s wrath; He had emptied it to the bottom (Mat. 26:39,42).
Instead of this cup of suffering, the Lord now offers you the cup of salvation. He gives His own precious blood for you to drink, and His own holy body for you to eat. He received “sour wine” for His thirst (Joh. 19:29). You receive the sweet wine of His forgiveness, along with His promise of a hunger-free, thirst-free eternity in heaven. We sing hymn #331, vv. 8-9 (“A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth”).
VI. “It is finished!” (John 19:30, also Matthew 27:50, Mark 15:37, Luke 23:46)
Six hours on the cross—three of them in darkness—was that enough? Was Justice satisfied? Was the redemption of sinners accomplished? With a loud cry, Jesus said, “It is finished!” He did not say, “I’ve done My part, now you do yours!” He said the work is complete. Salvation does not require His works plus your works, His righteousness plus your righteousness. He did it all. All of it is yours by faith in Him.
But that does not mean you should feel secure in your sins. You should not think that you can do whatever you want and live however you like, since salvation does not depend on you. Jesus died on the cross to free you from sin, not to free you to sin. He broke the chains of your sin and death, so you could live for Him in His kingdom.
Looking upon the crucified Christ, no one should be prideful about his own goodness. And no one should despair because of his own sins. Jesus speaks these words, “It is finished!” for all people. Jesus willingly went to the cross for you. He is ever ready to forgive you and strengthen you for His blessed service. We sing hymn #284, vv. 2-3 (“Go to Dark Gethsemane”).
VII. “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” (Psalm 31:5, Luke 23:46)
With His final words, Jesus gives words to the faithful that they can confidently use at their death. Before breathing His last, Jesus said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” No longer was He forsaken by His Father. His work to save sinners was complete. But He still had to die. His soul had to separate from His body and be committed to His Father’s keeping, just as yours will be at your death.
Your life and death are completely in the hands of the Lord. Even Jesus’ own life was not taken from Him by the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, or by the Roman authorities. He very clearly stated, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (Joh. 10:17-18). Jesus laid down His life on Good Friday, but He would soon take it up again. So you also remain in the Lord’s keeping both in life and in death. We sing hymn #337, vv. 5-8 (“Our Blessed Savior Seven Times Spoke”).
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(“Cristo Crucificado” painting by Diego Velázquez, 1632)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 13:1-15
In Christ Jesus, the Lord of all but also the Servant of all, dear fellow redeemed:
If you knew you would die tomorrow, what would you do today? Would you eat at the fanciest restaurant you could find? Would you make a trip to a place you always wanted to visit? Would you spend as much time as you could with friends and family? Or would you do exactly what you are doing right now – listening to Jesus’ Word?
We do not know when our death will come. But Jesus did. Our text says that “Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.” So what did He do? He spent the night before His death in service. On Palm Sunday, He was hailed as a king. But now on Thursday, He knelt down and washed His disciples’ feet, one-by-one.
The disciples were not aware that Jesus’ death was so close. But they certainly recognized how strange it was that their Teacher and Lord should wash their feet. It should have been the other way around, except that none of the disciples had volunteered for the job. In fact, that same evening they spent their time arguing about “which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luk. 22:24).
Jesus said to them that the pagan Gentiles are concerned about power and authority over others. But the disciples should practice humble service. “[L]et the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But,” said Jesus, “I am among you as the one who serves” (vv. 25-27).
His demonstration of humble service by washing the disciples’ feet was a small sample of what He would do on a large scale the next day. On Friday, He willingly walked the path of suffering to Golgotha and was crucified in every sinner’s place. He could have carried out no more humble service than this. He was regarded as “a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people” (Psa. 22:6). “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phi. 2:8).
If Jesus, the perfect Son of God, was willing to serve in this way, then we should be willing to serve in even the humblest circumstances. We should consider no one below us. We should be ready to help any who are in need. Jesus said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
This is not the message we hear from the world. The world does not tell you to put others first. The world tells you to look out for yourself, to stay true to you. You need to stand up for your rights and have others bow to you. Is it any wonder that civil discourse is hardly seen in the public square? Almost no one is concerned about serving their neighbor. They are all concerned about serving themselves.
This selfish spirit resides in our sinful nature. It is the reason we are often reluctant to serve those around us, and why we become upset when others do not serve us like we think they should. It is why spouses keep a record of wrongs, why children pout when they do not get their way, and why people feud with members of their congregation and members of their community. We want to be served, not serve.
That is why Jesus the Foot-Washer had to come. We could not rise above our selfishness and free ourselves from the sin that entangled us. Jesus had to do this. He had to save us and cleanse us from our unrighteousness. And He continues to do this work among us. Jesus told His disciples the night before His death that He had given them an example to follow. But that is not all He gave them. He also gave them His body and blood for their forgiveness and strengthening.
He took bread and said, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.” Then He took a cup of wine and said, “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.” In this way, Jesus would continue to come and serve them. He would come to cleanse them of their sins, and to equip them for their lives in the world.
He does this for us also. He still comes to serve us through His holy Supper. We do not deserve to have Him come to us; we do not deserve to be in His presence. And yet He visits us here. He comes to you and me—imperfect, stained, unworthy, guilty, unclean—and gives us His holy body and blood to eat and drink.
This is no symbolic exercise. It is not simply a way to remember Jesus, who is supposedly far, far away from us in heaven. It is not a time for going through the motions while our mind is set on other things. It is not a right we can demand simply because we have gone through the proper channels. Partaking of this holy Supper is a privilege, a privilege which should not be taken lightly.
Paul underscores this in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He said that it is possible to receive the Lord’s Supper to one’s harm. Imagine if the disciples had despised Jesus’ service to them as He washed their feet. Suppose one of them hardly acknowledged Jesus while his feet were being washed, as though it did not even matter. Or suppose another kicked over the wash basin and laughed at Jesus. We would say the recipient of Jesus’ service was not worthy of the gift.
In the same way, someone might come to the Lord’s Table who does not think that anything important is happening. Or he is not really concerned about repentance and amending his sinful life. Or another might reject Jesus’ words and laugh at the idea that Jesus would give His body and blood in this way. Paul addresses such thinking when he writes: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (11:27-28).
We examine ourselves by approaching the altar with humility, by recognizing that Jesus meets us here just as He says. He comes to serve us and bring us the forgiveness of our sins. This is not the time to insist on our own way, or to imagine like Peter that we know better than the Lord. We come to eat and drink trusting His Word, and we do not go away again empty.
Through His service to us in the Supper, Jesus prepares us to go and serve the people around us. He helps us to see the needy in our lives in the same way that He looks at us, with compassion and love. The same night He washed the disciples’ feet, He told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Joh. 13:34-35).
We confess our faith in Jesus not only by what we say, but also by how we live. We could quote a thousand Bible passages and demonstrate our extensive knowledge about what the Bible says. But if this is not coupled with a life of humble service toward our neighbors, our words will fall on deaf ears.
So whether we have many more years in this world, or whether our end is fast approaching, we spend our time by receiving Jesus’ blessings through His Word and Sacraments. Then we are continuously equipped to go out in our vocations to share His love with others. We pray that through our service, others will learn as we have that Jesus is not a vengeful Lord, one who is angry with us, but that Jesus Is Among Us as One Who Serves.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
Children’s Christmas Program at Jerico
December 16, 2018
CONGREGATION: #144.1-5 – “Thy Little Ones, Dear Lord, Are We”
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a hymn based on the “O Antiphons,” which have been in use since at least the 8th century. The “O Antiphons” are a series of seven responsive, or antiphonal, verses for Advent which lead into Christmas.
The arrangement of the antiphons is purposeful, progressing from before the creation of the universe, continuing through the messianic prophecies of Israel, and culminating in the incarnation and birth of Christ in Bethlehem.
One antiphon is assigned to each day from December 17-23 in this order:
December 17: O Wisdom (Sapientia)
December 18: O Lord (Adonai)
December 19: O Root of Jesse (Radix Jesse)
December 20: O Key of David (Clavis David)
December 21: O Dayspring (Oriens)
December 22: O King of the Nations (Rex Gentium)
December 23: O God with Us (Emmanuel)
Today we look more closely at the “O Antiphons” as we prepare again to celebrate the coming of Jesus, our Savior, at Christmas.
CONGREGATION: #144.6-8 – “Thy Little Ones, Dear Lord, Are We”
The coming Messiah identified Himself as “Wisdom” in Proverbs 8. He said that He was with the Lord “before the beginning of the earth” (v. 23), and that He was “beside Him, like a master workman” (v. 30). The evangelist John describes the same thing: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through Him” (John 1:1,3).
We pray: O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. Amen.
1 Corinthians 1:23,24
1 Corinthians 2:7
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who ord’rest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show
And teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
The Israelites were slaves in Egypt and had no one to lead them to the promised land of Canaan. Then the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush and told him to lead the people to freedom. Once they had been freed, the Lord delivered His Law to them from Mt. Sinai, so they would know His holy will. They had been rescued from slavery in Egypt, but they still needed to be rescued from their sins.
We pray: O Lord and ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us. Amen.
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O ROOT OF JESSE
After the Israelites settled in the land of Canaan, they desired to have a king like the nations around them. Their kings brought them glory for a time, but before long the kingdom faltered and fell. God promised another King, one whose kingdom would endure forever. This King would come from the line of Jesse, a shepherd in Bethlehem and the father of King David.
We pray: O Root of Jesse, who stands for an ensign before the people, before whom kings are mute and to whom the nations will do homage: Come quickly to deliver us. Amen.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem;
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust Thy mighty pow’r to save,
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O KEY OF DAVID
Before his death, Jacob prophesied to his son Judah, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him” (Genesis 49:10). Kings would come from the line of Judah. David was one of these. His kingdom flourished, but the scepter was not his to keep. It would be taken up again by Jesus, David’s Son and David’s Lord. This King would have the power to release his subjects from sin, death, and the devil.
We pray: O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and in the shadow of death. Amen.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
After the death of David’s son Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split in two. The northern half of the kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B. C. The southern half of the kingdom fell to the Babylonians in 586 B. C. Times were dark for the Israelites. Would the Lord keep His promise to send them a Savior? Would the light of God’s gracious countenance shine on them again?
We pray: O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Amen.
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O KING OF THE NATIONS
After their captivity in Babylon, the LORD brought His people back to the land of Israel. Following a period of independence, Israel was taken over by the Romans. The Israelites hoped that the coming Messiah would free their land once again and restore the kingdom to the glory it had under King David. But the Messiah’s kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36). His reign would be over all things on earth and in heaven.
We pray: O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people: Come and save us all, whom You formed out of clay. Amen.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
The time for the world’s Savior had come. God the Father sent His Son to become man, so He could be placed under the law to keep it for sinners, and so He could suffer and die for their salvation. The desperate cry of sinners—“O come, O come, Emmanuel!”—had finally been answered. The Savior was here.
We pray: O Emmanuel, our King and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God. Amen.
Sung with the melody from the Norwegian Synod hymnbook of 1913:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
CHRISTMAS GOSPEL: St. Luke 2:1-7 (1st-8th)
CHILDREN: #119 – “Away in a Manger”
CHILDREN: #127.1-4 – “I Am So Glad when Christmas Comes”
(first verse in Norwegian: “Jeg er så glad hver julekveld”)
CHRISTMAS GOSPEL: St. Luke 2:8-12 (3rd-8th)
CHILDREN: #123.1-5 – “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”
CHRISTMAS GOSPEL: St. Luke 2:13-14 (PreK-8th)
CHRISTMAS GOSPEL: St. Luke 2:15-20 (7th-8th)
CHILDREN: “Dejlig er den himmel blå”
CONGREGATION: #120.1-4 – “Bright and Glorious Is the Sky”
OFFERING & LIGHTING OF THE CANDLES
CONGREGATION: #140 – “Silent Night”
PRAYERS & BENEDICTION
CONGREGATION: #138 – “Joy to the World”
(photo by Neil Shaffer)
Thanksgiving – Pr. Faugstad homily
In Christ Jesus, who both rules over and serves His creation, dear fellow redeemed:
Days of thanksgiving have been celebrated throughout history, but Thanksgiving did not become a national holiday in America until 1863. I am sure that not a few wondered at the timing of President Lincoln’s declaration. America was at war at the time—at war with itself. The northern and southern states fought violently against each other, in some cases brother against brother. As wives lost husbands, parents lost sons, and many others lost life and property, it would have been far easier to think of things to be un-thankful for.
Even now when we are not embroiled in civil war, our thoughts of what is going badly often overshadow our thoughts of what is going well. We have problems in our country, problems at work, problems in our homes, and problems in our bodies. And we don’t imagine the future will be much better. This is what sin has done to our world. It casts a gray cloud over all creation, and it clouds our thinking too.
The apostle Paul describes the effects of sin in this way: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23). We know that the world and we ourselves are not what God made us to be.
And yet we have reason both to be thankful and to rejoice in the Lord. The reasons for our thankfulness and rejoicing are given by David in Psalm 65. He invites us to join in praise to the God of Zion because the Lord atones for our transgressions. David says that “when iniquities prevail against me, you atone.” We are tied up in our sins. On our own, we cannot get free from them. The devil knows this, so he constantly accuses us. He wants us to believe there is no hope for us. He tells us to despair of God’s love. “How could God love a sinner like you?” he says.
But God does love us sinners. He showed His love by sending His only Son to atone for the sins of the whole world. In another of David’s psalms written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he says, “[The Lord] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:10-12). Your sins and mine are many, but Jesus atoned for them with His precious blood.
We hear this comforting absolution every time we attend divine services. And we receive this absolution in the Holy Supper of Jesus where He feeds us with His body and blood. These riches of God’s grace distributed to us in the Lord’s house cause us to join the psalmist in thanks to God: “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!”
What a marvel it is that the almighty God would “choose and bring near” such lowly sinners as us to receive His gifts. This is the God “who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.” This God, who made all things wonderfully and perfectly, and who rules over all creation, became our humble servant in the flesh in order to win our salvation.
Besides His great spiritual gifts, the Lord also serves us by providing for our physical needs. Some of these blessings are listed in the psalm, blessings that God gives through His creation:
- He visits, waters, and enriches the earth;
- He prepares and provides grain;
- He settles and softens the ground and blesses its growth;
- He crowns the year with abundance;
- He prepares rich pastures and vibrant hills;
- He clothes the meadows with livestock and decks the valleys with grain.
The picture that David paints here is of the Lord freeing His creation from the sin that binds it. He lets weeds be overcome and causes good plants to grow. He fills this dying world with life by the power of His creative Word (Heb. 1:3). We can look around us and see evidence all over of the death that sin brought into the world. But we can also see examples of God’s life-giving goodness in all places.
In His goodness, He waters the ground with snow in the wintertime, causes crops to grow through the spring and summer, and gives golden grain in the fall. This provides food for us and for our livestock and product for commerce. Through these means, the Lord has given us homes to live in, cupboards and freezers with food in them, closets full of clothes, and many more gifts besides.
There is certainly much in this life to be un-thankful for, but the blessings God gives are much greater than our hardships. So we give thanks for these blessings today and every day. We take our cue from the pastures, hills, meadows, and valleys and “shout and sing together for joy” in praise to God. We give thanks that He created and cares for us, that He atoned for our sins and won our salvation, and that He continues to comfort and strengthen us through His Word. We join in saying with the psalmist: “By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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The Festival of St. Michael and All Angels – Pr. Faugstad
Homilies and Hymns
I. Creation, Titles, and Ranks
The angels are unique creations of God. Though they are often depicted as people with wings and have even appeared as men, they are quite different from human beings. They do not reproduce like people (Mt. 22:30), and contrary to popular ideas about angels, Christians do not turn into angels when they die. As far as we know, no new angels have been added to the ranks since Creation.
Angels are a part of God’s creation that is invisible. The Bible says that “by [the Son of God] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16). The angels were made during the six days of creation, though we don’t know exactly which day. We do know that everything God made was “very good.” The angels recognized this too; they “shouted for joy” as God completed His work (Job 38:6-7).
But the angels did not all remain good. Satan, one of the angels, rebelled against God, and many angels joined him, perhaps as many as one third of them (Rev. 12:3-4). We commonly refer to these fallen angels as demons. God cast them all out of heaven and created hell for them (Mt. 25:41, 2Pet. 2:4).
But the majority of the angels remained in heaven, and these continue to serve God. The Bible assigns titles to the angels and divides them into ranks; it says Christ is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:21), which are titles for ranks of angels. These names indicate how strong the holy angels are. Psalm 103 calls them the “mighty ones” of the LORD (v. 20). They must be quite terrifying and awe-inspiring. In Scripture we notice that the first thing they often said when they appeared to people was: “Do not be afraid.” The Bible also describes different types of angels. The cherubim, for example, guarded the way to the Garden of Eden, which shows their great power. The seraphim are angels with six wings who sing the Lord’s praises in heaven (Is. 6).
Our first hymn mentions the ranks of the angels as all creation bows before God and worships Him “evermore and evermore.” We sing Hymn #181, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” vv. 1 & 5.
II. Honor and Glorify God
The angels’ entire purpose is centered on God’s glory and honor. They do not serve themselves, just as God does not want us to serve ourselves. They serve Him and those to whom He directs them. In the book of Revelation, St. John wanted to worship a mighty angel, but the angel told him: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you…. Worship God!” (22:9).
The main feature of the angels’ worship and service is humility. Everything they do points to the Almighty God. The prophet Isaiah described their subservient attitude in the sixth chapter of his book: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’” (vv. 1-3).
Revelation chapter 4 again depicts these six-winged seraphim: “And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures…. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (vv. 6,8). Their worship around the throne is never-ending. This is how we will worship the Lord in heaven too. Even now, we join the angels in their song. We sing Hymn #15, “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty,” vv. 2 & 4.
III. Messengers of Salvation
Christ is the Lord of hosts and the King of angels, but He isn’t one of them. He is their God; He is above them. We sing of this in the well-known hymn: “Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer, than all the angels in the sky” (ELH 54, v. 3). Hebrews chapter 1 says He has become “as much superior to angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (v. 4).
But the holy angels do not resent Christ’s exalted position like the devil and the other evil angels did. The holy angels live to glorify God, so they glorify Christ and His work as the Savior. The angels rejoice the most about the salvation Jesus won for us and all sinners. Jesus said: “[T]here is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:10). Contrary to the destructive and evil behavior of false teachers who would pull believers from the faith, “angels… do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against [believers] before the Lord” (2Pe. 2:11). The angels love us because God loves us. And they love what God prepared for the world through His Son.
The angels show this in how obediently they participated in the history of our salvation. They protected the people of Israel from whose line the Savior was born, especially on the night of the Passover when the angel of death “passed over” the Israelites’ houses but killed the Egyptians’ first-born. Many centuries later, angels strengthened Jesus after He was tempted in the wilderness and comforted Him when He suffered in Gethsemane. Jesus said “more than twelve legions of angels” (Mt. 26:53) stood ready to keep Him from death, but they were held back by His will.
Most importantly, they were “herald angels” or messengers. In fact, the word “angel” means “messenger.” We think of Gabriel who announced the forthcoming births of John the Baptizer to his father Zechariah and of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. Angels returned at three major points in the history of our salvation bringing the Gospel message:
Christmas: St. Luke 2:8-14
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” We sing v. 1 of Hymn #125, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
Easter: St. Matthew 28:1-7
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.” We sing Hymn #366, “Ye Sons and Daughters of the King,” vv. 1-3.
Ascension: Acts 1:9-11
And when [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” We sing vv. 2-4 of Hymn #389, “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing.”
IV. Carry out God’s Will
The holy angels continually see God face to face. In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew 18, Jesus says: “I tell you that in heaven [the little ones’] angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” The holy angels are constantly in the presence of God, just as we will be in heaven. In a dream God showed Jacob that angels were “ascending and descending” on a ladder that “reached to heaven” (Gen. 28:12). The angel Gabriel said to Zechariah: “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God” (Lk. 1:19).
In God’s presence, the angels always see His concern for His people and gladly go to help and protect them on earth. Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are they not all ministering spirits [angels] sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” At one point, the king of Syria dispatched his entire army to kill the prophet Elisha, and they surrounded the city where he was staying. Elisha’s servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” Elisha answered: “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Elisha asked the Lord to open the boy’s eyes, and then he saw the mountain “full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2Ki. 6:15-17)—not just one guardian angel but many of them protecting this child of God.
Philip Melanchthon, the chief co-worker of Martin Luther during the Reformation, wrote a wonderful hymn about the angels. Please turn to Hymn #545, “Lord God, We All to Thee Give Praise.” We sing the first 3 verses which teach about the angels’ service before God.
V. Needed on Earth
You and I are always in danger even though we cannot see it. God warns us that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pe. 5:8). The devil tries to take you from Christ back into the kingdom of darkness. After Michael and his angels defeated the devil and his angels and cast them out of heaven, a voice from heaven said, “[R]ejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev. 12:12). Ephesians chapter 6 warns us about “the schemes of the devil” and reminds us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (vv. 11-12).
The Scriptures record many attacks upon Christians, such as on Lot, Daniel, and Peter. But the Bible says that angels “brought [Lot] out” of Sodom and Gomorrah to safety (Gen. 19:16), “God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths” (Dan. 6:22) so Daniel was not hurt, and “the Lord sent His angel” (Ac. 12:11) to rescue Peter from prison. We sing of this danger and our help again in Hymn #545, vv. 4-8.
VI. Protect Christians at All Times
God’s gift of angels is very comforting because they are stronger than the devil and all his evil angels. Psalm 91:10-12 assures us: “[N]o evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”
Christians should know that angels are guarding them, just as baby Moses was kept from harm when his mother set him adrift in a little basket. This is a particular comfort for parents who worry about their children’s welfare. Martin Luther once said: “If it were not for the protection of the dear angels, no child would grow to full age, even if the parents took all possible care.”
Our guardian angels also protect us when we sleep. Psalm 121 says: “He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (vv. 3-4). One of the chief ways God protects us during the night is through His holy angels. This is why at nighttime and in the morning Lutherans pray: “Let Your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me.” We sing Hymn #569, “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow,” vv. 5-6.
VII. Bring Souls to Heaven
The angels are the Christian’s companion from infancy until death, from the waters of Baptism until their final breath. This means that no believer in Christ dies alone. In Luke 16, Jesus describes the death of the beggar Lazarus: “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side” (v. 22). This inspired another hymn we sing: “Lord, let at last Thine angels come, To Abram’s bosom bear me home, That I may die un-fearing” (ELH 406, v. 3).
The holy angels bear the soul of the believer up to heaven with utmost care and majesty, like the chariots of fire and horses of fire that carried Elijah into heaven (2Ki. 2:11). There, the soul is welcomed by all the heavenly host—the saints and the angels. This is what we sing about in Hymn #541, “Jerusalem, Thou City Fair and High,” vv. 2-3.
VIII. Accompany Christ on the Last Day
The angels will serve us one last time, when Jesus returns in glory. The Bible says that “the voice of an archangel” will announce Jesus’ coming (1Th. 4:16). On the Last Day, “all the angels” will be with Him (Mt. 25:31), and “before Him will be gathered all the nations” (Mt. 25:32). Jesus will raise the dead, but the angels will bring them before Him.
The holy angels will be a terrible sight for unbelievers. Jesus said that He “will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers…. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:41,49-50).
But the holy angels will be a beautiful, comforting sight for every Christian. Jesus promised that He “will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Mt. 24:31). The believers will hear Jesus say to them: “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25:34).
What a happy day that will be for all the saints and the angels! The angels will no longer need to protect us, and we will no longer need their protection. We will join their everlasting worship of Christ in His kingdom that has no end. “Oh, where shall joy be found? Where but on heav’nly ground? Where now the angels singing With all His saints unite, Their sweetest praises bringing In heavenly joy and light. May we praise Him there! May we praise Him there!” We sing Hymn #461, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” vv. 3-4.
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Edited from original homilies by the Rev. Jerry Gernander
(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
Good Friday – Pr. Faugstad homily
In Christ Jesus, who looks upon us with eyes full of mercy and grace, dear fellow redeemed:
How often did Mary kiss the face of the Christ-Child? How often did she gently touch His rosy cheeks as He drifted in and out of sleep? As she gazed at Him, did she think to herself that no woman ever had such a precious Child as she did? It was true—there was never a Child so precious. This Child was God’s gift to the world. It was God the Father’s only Son, begotten of Him from eternity, now clothed in human flesh.
But not all looked upon the face of this Man with the love that Mary did. Many hated Him. They despised the words that came from His mouth. They turned away from His eyes so piercing, so true. The very sight of Him made them scowl. They wished to look upon Him no more. They wanted Him to die.
Their plotting caught the ear of Judas. Yes, he would be glad to betray Jesus to them at an opportune time—for a price. On Thursday evening, he saw his chance when Jesus went with the other disciples to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas came to the garden with the leaders of the Jews and a band of soldiers. He stepped up to Jesus and kissed His face with a kiss of betrayal.
Then Jesus was arrested and bound and brought before the high priest. There, He began to suffer both verbal and physical abuse. After being declared guilty and deserving of death, the officers and others present proceeded to “spit in his face and [strike] him. And some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?’” (Mt. 26:67-68). Then He was sent before Pontius Pilate, who ordered Him to be flogged. The Roman soldiers likewise struck Him in the face and drove a crown of thorns into His head.
Now that face, so precious to Mary and beloved by His followers, was hardly recognizable. Now it was swollen, bruised, and bleeding. The writer of our chief hymn tried to paint this picture in words: “O sacred Head, now wounded,” “scornfully surrounded With thorns,” “despised and gory,” “pale with anguish,” “from Thy cheeks has vanished Their color,” “From Thy red lips is banished The splendor” (ELH 334/335, vv. 1-3). Jesus was wretched to look upon.
Then He was led to Golgotha to be crucified. Swollen though they were, His eyes still looked compassionately at the thief who suffered nearby and at His mother Mary and John. But His eyes also beheld with pain the jeering crowd below. What He saw was recorded long before this day in the 22nd Psalm. “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’… Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion” (vv. 7-8, 12-13).
He should not have had to see and suffer these things. He had done no wrong. But the world had. All had sinned. All had turned their faces away from God and His Word. Even when God became Man, “the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (Jn. 1:10-11). It was as Isaiah had prophesied long before, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (53:2-3).
Men did not “hide their faces” from Him because He was so ugly or disfigured. “Men hide their faces” because they are ashamed of their sins. Our sin is the reason Jesus was abused. Our sin is the reason He was nailed to a cross. None of this would have happened if we had listened all along to God instead of the devil.
But God the Son was willing to endure this pain. He “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk. 9:51) and suffer “sore abuse and scorn,” because He wanted to save you. He went to the cross to blot out your sins. He went there to atone for the sinful things you have looked at, the ungodly things you have listened to, and the unkind words you have spoken. He offered His sacred head—so full of compassion and grace—for yours, so full of selfishness and sin.
He is not angry that your sins caused Him such anguish. He does not look upon you disdainfully. He looks upon you with favor. He wants to bless you by the sight of His Sacraments before your eyes and the sound of His Gospel in your ears. He wants to bring you His forgiveness and life, so that your eyes are not filled with tears or your mouth with weeping, but that you find eternal joy and gladness in Him.
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(portion of painting by Matthias Grunewald, c. 1510)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
St. John 13:1-15
In Christ Jesus, who is “patient and kind,” “does not envy or boast,” and “is not arrogant or rude” (1Cor. 13:4-5), dear fellow redeemed:
Someone who is consistently selfish and mean lacks the credibility to tell others how to be better friends and neighbors to the people around them. It would be easy to dismiss such a person with a quick, “Why don’t you take your own advice?”
But when Jesus says, “Live how I live,” and “Do as I do,” His credibility cannot be questioned. He could speak with authority about moral behavior, because He never committed a sin. Not only did Jesus avoid wrongdoing, He also gladly served His neighbors. His disciple John remarked that if His good deeds were all recorded, “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (Jn. 21:25).
Today, we are blessed to hear the account of how Jesus served His disciples the night before His death. He set aside His outer garments, and like a lowly servant would do, He proceeded to wash the feet of His disciples, one by one. The disciples were perplexed about this. What was Jesus doing? This was no job for Him! The others may have verbally questioned this, but only Peter’s protest is given: “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Despite Jesus’ gentle reply that Peter would understand this in time, Peter blurted out, “You shall never wash my feet.”
And why not? Why shouldn’t Jesus wash his feet? Was this below Him? Should His position as esteemed teacher exempt Him from doing the work of a servant? If these things were the case, then Jesus would not really be as humble as He appeared. But high standing does not mean a person no longer has to serve his neighbor. “The greater one is, the meeker he must be” (Laache, Book of Family Prayer, p. 268). Jesus considered no one as lower than Himself, even though He was the holy Son of God. He took “the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7).
There He was washing the feet of Judas, who in a matter of hours would betray Him to the Jewish authorities for money. There He was washing the feet of the other disciples who shortly would abandon Him. And there He was washing Peter’s feet, Peter who would vehemently deny that he even knew Jesus before the night was done. Jesus did not wash the feet of these men because they deserved it. He washed their feet because He loved them.
Love compelled Him to clean their dirty feet. And love propelled Him forward to His crucifixion and death. He would go to the cross to atone for the sins of His betrayer and His fearful disciples. He would go to the cross for the Jewish and Gentile leaders who had His “blood on their hands,” blood which no amount of water could wash off (Mt. 27:24). He would go to the cross for every sinner—for every rebel, murderer, adulterer, thief, and liar. What wondrous love is this!
His love did not end at the cross. His love did not stop with, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). His love for sinners continued. He rose from the dead to give them victory over death. Then He commissioned His disciples to share the message of His love with “all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Two thousand years later, His love is still present. It is given you through His Word and Sacraments. You may feel unworthy of His presence, but He is not ashamed to come to you. Are you too dirty to receive Him? Are you embarrassed for Him to see what sins you have done? But that is why He comes.
He comes to wash you. He comes to deal with even your most unpleasant, odorous wrongs, just as He lovingly washed the disciples’ dirty, sweaty feet. This is what He instituted His Sacrament to do, to wash you of your sins. As you bow at the Communion rail, Jesus draws your eye away from your sin, and to His body and His blood. These gifts are “given and shed for you”—why?—“for the remission of sins.” Here, your sins are blotted out. Here, your transgressions are removed “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12), as though they had never been committed.
Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus is telling the truth when He says your sins are completely forgiven in the Sacrament? It is hard to believe, since we are such great sinners. But He is a greater Savior, and He does not lie.
If we take His word of forgiveness seriously, as we should, then we should also pay attention to what He told His disciples in today’s text. He said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
You would not wish to be regarded like the spoiled child, who is glad to receive gifts and treats from his parents but despises their instruction. This is how people are who are glad to partake of the grace and comfort of Holy Communion, but who do not carry the love of Christ with them away from the rail. They are happy to hear that Jesus forgives them, but they are not about to forgive their neighbor who has wronged them. They are not about to take the humble servant’s role and see how they might better the lives of others, instead of giving the cold shoulder or trying to get revenge.
How often has this played out in your relationships? I am not talking about the times others have treated you poorly, but the times you have treated others poorly. Have you carried out your callings at home, at work, and at church “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”? (Eph. 4:2-3). Have you endeavored to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith”? (Gal. 6:10). Have you done what you promise to do in the Lord’s Prayer—forgiven those who have trespassed against you?
This is what it means to love your neighbor. Love means stooping down in service like Jesus did. It means “washing the feet,” so to speak, of those who have betrayed you, lied to you, or hurt you. It means “washing the feet” of those who have been unkind or uncaring. It means “washing the feet” even of those who act like your friends but then abandon you in your hour of greatest need.
That is exactly what was done to Jesus. He knew it was coming, and yet He still loved. He loved the unloving. This kind of sacrificial love is what sets a follower of Jesus apart from an unbeliever. In that same upper room, our Lord said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34-35).
But that is so hard to do! How can Jesus expect us to love like He did? We cannot find such a storehouse, such strength to love, inside of us. But we can find it in Him. If He could love those who crucified Him, if He could love you and me, He can help us love those who have wronged us in ways great or small. He brings us the strength to do this through His powerful Word and Sacraments. Through these means, He invites us to feast on His grace and to drink deeply of His love. Then His love enters us and enlivens our hearts and moves us to do for others as He does for us. “We Love, Because He First Loved Us” (1Jn. 4:19).
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(portion of painting by Giotto di Bondone, c. 1267-1337)
Palm Sunday / The Annunciation – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Philippians 2:5-11
In Christ Jesus, “The King of heavenly grace,” who “Came down from His exalted throne / To save our fallen race” (ELH 127, v. 2), dear fellow redeemed:
I have never heard of a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company giving up the job to become a minimum-wage worker of the same company. It is possible that this could happen, but not very likely. An “undercover boss” might spend some time with workers at the bottom of the corporate ladder, but he will not stay there. Human beings are not inclined to give up what they have gained and move down instead of up. We want to have more success, better our standing, rise higher. This is why no one could have imagined what God would do for mankind, and how He would go about it.
Suppose you were the CEO of a company: What would you do if an employee of yours broke all the rules for the job, attacked the people around him, stole from the company, and threatened you? Not only would you fire him, you would also expect him to be arrested and punished for his crimes. In the same way we who have broken God’s holy Commandments again and again should expect to be removed from His gracious employ and punished for all our sins.
But that is not what happened. Instead, God sent one of His angels to inform a young, poor woman named Mary: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk. 1:31-33). It is not impossible, though not very likely, for a king to rise up from such poor circumstances. But this was not just any king; this was the Messiah. This was God come in the flesh.
Human reason cannot comprehend these things. How could a virgin be pregnant? How could the tiny Child in her womb be the eternal God? How could the Lord’s death win life for us? This is so difficult to grasp because Jesus’ power and glory are not displayed like we would expect them to be.
If we were to plan the arrival of God on earth, we would envision it much differently than how it happened. First of all, we would choose a woman of different status—certainly someone known for her good deeds, but someone more prominent than Mary of Nazareth. When told that Jesus was from that town, one of His future disciples remarked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46). Then we would also expect the God-Man to step onto the world’s stage with stunning demonstrations of heavenly power and with swift judgment against the wicked. In short, we would imagine that the Lord of All would act like the Lord of All.
But the Lord of heaven, begotten of the Father from eternity, “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” This is an even greater step down than CEO to minimum-wage earner. In that case, it is still exchanging one human position for another. But God the Son stepped down from His position of power and authority over heaven and earth to become the Servant of men.
What caused Him to do this? Was it because He considered the human race worthy of the effort? Did He see enough goodness, enough promise in man, that He was willing to help them out? No, the “redeeming quality” was in God, not in people. It was God the Father’s love for the pinnacle of His creation that caused Him to send His Son to become Man (Jn. 3:16). He did not have to talk His Son into it; His Son obeyed Him without hesitation. His will perfectly conformed to His Father’s, even though He must endure intense agony and punishment for sin. The text says, “And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
It was in humility that Jesus revealed His greatness and glory. Many people rejected Him as Lord because He did not fit their picture of the Messiah. He did not act like they would if they were God incarnate. Which was exactly the point. Jesus was the opposite of what mankind had become since the fall into sin. He came without a hint of pride and without any pressure to prove Himself to the satisfaction of sinners.
All of this was quite unexpected—The Lord of All Becomes Servant of All?! The disciples did not understand why their great Teacher must go to Jerusalem to die an ugly death. The people on Palm Sunday did not understand His purpose in coming to Jerusalem “humble and mounted on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). Pontius Pilate did not understand why, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,… he opened not his mouth” (Is. 53:7) when false accusations were leveled against Him. No one can rightly understand Jesus’ sacrifice in our place. It required a humility unknown and unobtainable by any of us.
And yet our text says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” We should have the attitude that Jesus had and conduct ourselves as He did. In the verses just before today’s text, we are urged to “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (vv. 3-4). This is the how Jesus was. He told His disciples that although He was their Lord, yet He was among them as one who serves (Lk. 22:27). He stooped down and washed their feet just as they “also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn. 13:14).
This is not how our self-centered, entitlement culture operates. We are taught to demand respect. We should fight for the benefits we deserve. We should never let anyone question the decisions we make or how we live our lives. We should never have to back down from anyone. So in other words, everyone else should serve our interests and make sacrifices for us, but they better not expect the same treatment in return.
Isn’t it obvious why there is so much hatred and bitterness in our society? It is not the fault of our political leaders or the media or anything else outside of us. The problem is in our hearts. Our hearts are full of selfishness and pride. If we loved our neighbor as God demands, we would view no one as below us. Serving others would never feel like a chore. We would give with no thought of recognition or reward. We would show respect even when the same courtesy was not returned to us.
If anyone had cause to be offended by others, it was Jesus. He did wrong to no one. He was the perfect neighbor. Yet He was betrayed, tortured, and crucified. How did He respond to such indignities, such injustice? “Father, forgive them,” He said, “for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Who can comprehend the sacrifice? Who can understand the humility?
In a sermon on this text, Martin Luther said that “Were we similarly to humble ourselves, and even to go beyond Christ in humility—a thing, however, impossible—we should do nothing extraordinary. Our humility would still reek of sin in comparison with his. Suppose Christ [were] to humble himself in the least degree—but a hair’s breadth, so to speak—below the most exalted angels; and suppose we were to humble ourselves to a position a thousand times more abased than the devils in hell; yet our humility would not compare in the least with that of Christ.” (Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 7, p. 170)
Nothing like this had ever happened before or ever would again. God became Man. Would you become a mosquito to save the mosquitos? Probably not—better to have them die. But God became Man to save sinful mankind. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary when the angel visited her on that history-altering day. The Church remembers this annunciation—this announcement to Mary—on March 25th, which is exactly nine months before Christmas.
This year, March 25th also marks the start of Holy Week. This week, we see why God became Man, why He humbled Himself so completely. One of our Christmas hymns makes the connection:
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!” (ELH 145, v. 2).
The Lord “made Himself nothing,” so you could have everything. The first pastor of this parish, the Rev. U. V. Koren, explained that “God’s Son came down to bring us up to God. He became poor to make us rich. He took our condition on Himself to give us His. He reconciled God to us so that we might be reconciled to God” (U. V. Koren’s Works, Vol. 1, p. 166). He did not come to serve us because we are worthy of His service. By nature, we are just as self-focused, prideful, impatient, unkind, and unloving as everybody else.
But Jesus did not let the nastiness of His neighbors turn His love away. He continued on His mission with a clear conscience, a definite purpose, and an obedient heart. He lived a perfect life for you, me, and all sinners who are not as we should be, and He willingly gave Himself over to death to obtain our forgiveness.
God the Father accepted His humble sacrifice on our behalf and raised Jesus from the dead. Now “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.” But our Brother in flesh did not return to the Father’s right hand alone. He came down to our level, in order to bring us up to His. He lifts us up from our low and despised position in this world to reign with Him in heaven. As another of our Christmas hymns says,
He serves that I a lord may be;
A great exchange indeed!
Could Jesus’ love do more for me
To help me in my need,
To help me in my need? (ELH 148, v. 7)
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(painting is “The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
New Year’s Eve – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 13:6-9
In Christ Jesus, who patiently and diligently calls us to repentance and faith, dear fellow redeemed:
When making New Year’s resolutions, not many will seriously resolve to do things that are bad. Almost no one says, “I am going to eat and drink too much, so I can be unhealthy.” “I am going to be a lazy worker and take advantage of my employer.” “I am going to hurt the people around me with my short temper and selfish behavior.” “I am going to assume the worst and be easily offended.” Typically, our resolutions have to do with adopting a healthier lifestyle, working harder, treating the people around us better, and having a positive outlook on life.
But for all the promise that a new year brings, our plans do not always play out like we hope. Before too long, our good intentions fail, and we often revert to the same old habits. That doesn’t mean we should give up on our resolutions. Having the desire to be and do better is important even if we fail to really improve. Even if we do improve and succeed at our resolutions, this will not guarantee a happy new year for each of us. Our joy in the new year is not about carrying out our own plans, but on following God’s plan for us, a plan which has two major parts.
The first part of His plan does not start with what you will do, but what you already have done. His plan for you starts with your repentance, the acknowledgement of your sins. Everyone making new year’s resolutions does this, but only in part. People don’t make resolutions unless they recognize they have failed in some way. They resolve to lose weight because they have maintained a poor diet and insufficient exercise habits. They resolve to treat others better because they have often treated them poorly.
But backed into a corner, most will try to pin their failures on others. “I am overweight and out of shape because of my work and family responsibilities.” “I would have treated my family members and co-workers better if they showed me some respect and didn’t expect me to do everything for them.” So even though there is recognition of failure, there is not necessarily repentance.
Repentance comes from the heart. It is a breaking down of all my excuses, all my pride, all my bravado, and stating the matter exactly as it is. I am a sinner. I am not what I should be. I have not done what I should do. I deserve to feel the holy wrath of God for eternity. Repentance is to speak as David did after his adultery, murder, and lies had been uncovered. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me,” he said to God. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Ps. 51:3-4).
Until the LORD brought David to repentance, he had fallen from grace. He was an unbeliever—even David, whom the LORD had called “a man after his own heart” (1Sam. 13:14, Ac. 13:20). If the great King David could fall, who penned our most beautiful Psalms, then any of us could as well. The devil is only too happy to take our hand and help us along the path toward unbelief. Like David who was overcome with lust when he saw a woman bathing, so the devil uses pornographic images to draw men away from healthy sexual behavior and from marriage. He tempts people to abuse drink and drugs, so that they think of little else. He fills hearts and heads with stubbornness and selfishness, causing an epidemic of people who are eagle-eyed about what they can get from others and blind to what they should give.
Maybe you haven’t succumbed to these addictions and bad behaviors. Maybe you are the one people think of when they hear the adjectives “kind,” “faithful,” and “generous.” Then you need to watch out for the temptations to pride and self-reliance. You certainly should resolve to do good things and live better, but you should not imagine that you have accomplished everything God has given you to do.
If you were to measure yourself against the people around you, you might think you are doing pretty well. But God tells you to measure yourself against His holy law. His law is a mirror that shows you a true reflection of your sinful nature. Notice in Jesus’ parable how the owner of the vineyard clearly saw the problem with his fig tree: three years with no fruit. The fig tree did not judge itself. If it could think, it might have regarded itself as a lovely tree, with beautiful branches and leaves. It provided a place for birds to nest and a nice spot in the shade for anyone looking for relief from the sun. What did it matter whether it had fruit or not?
This is how it goes for the person who does not measure himself against God’s law. He thinks he is living a virtuous life. She thinks that God must be happy with her. But that cannot be true when there is no repentance.
The second part of God’s plan after your repentance is for you is that you look to Him in faith. If all you had were His law, you could do nothing but hang your head in shame and wait for His judgment. But God has given you hope. He has given you His Son. God’s Son arrived on earth with resolutions of His own. He resolved to perfectly keep the law of God on behalf of sinners. And He resolved to atone for all sin and crush Satan by His death on the cross. These were not empty promises. God set His mind to save sinners, and He would not let anything derail His plans.
Your God did for you exactly what He said He would. He did live a holy life in your place, and He did redeem you from your sin and death. Your status before God does not depend on your improving and getting holier day after day. His love for you will not change even when you fall into sin. While you should repent of all your sins committed in the past year, you should also believe that those sins are erased from God’s ledger. They are already forgiven. The tension between your sinfulness and God’s law is resolved in Jesus, who gave Himself for you.
Now you could hear what I just said and let the devil twist it like this: “Well, if Jesus forgives my sins, then I might as well just go on sinning.” And why not? Whether I do well or poorly, won’t Jesus love me just the same? Here’s the problem with this thinking: You can’t have Jesus while hating His Word. Whenever you willfully do something that the Bible says you should not do, you show what little respect you have for God. Then you are in danger of being the fruitless fig tree that the master of the vineyard orders to be cut down and destroyed.
Believers in Jesus want to live according to His Word. They want to do what pleases Him. They willingly repent of their sins knowing that God is already aware of the wrongs committed and already forgives it. They humbly commit their life, their work, and their future to God’s hands trusting that He will bless them and bless others through them.
And He does. Even through us weak sinners, the Lord brings blessings to those around us. He brings love and stability to our families through our feeble efforts, He gives daily bread to others through our imperfect work, and He provides help to our neighbors even though our service is not always so willing. You may not be living the life you dreamed you would when you were younger. But God has put you where you are now to love and serve your neighbors.
Your acts of love and kindness are the fruits of faith produced in you by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul listed such fruits in his letter to the Galatians. They are the fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22-23). God produces these fruits by applying and reapplying the potent fertilizer of His Word. His Word keeps your faith fed and your spiritual life growing. His law shows you where you have fallen short and what needs to change in your life. His Gospel gives you the eternal blessings won by Jesus. The Gospel is like a tree full of fruit providing exactly what your hungry soul needs—the righteousness, forgiveness, and life of your Savior. The Gospel also motivates you to share the love of Jesus with others.
This is how God’s Plan for You in the New Year is carried out. He leads you to repentance and faith through His Word. Peter in today’s Epistle lesson describes the Word of God as “living and abiding,” a Word that “remains forever” (1Pe. 1:23,25). You were planted in God’s kingdom through the imperishable seed of this Word, and it is through this living Word that God keeps your faith alive and growing. You may or may not keep your resolutions in the coming year, but God will keep His. He will comfort and strengthen you through His Word as He has promised, and He will bring you the same heavenly blessings in the coming year as He has given you in years past.
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(picture is from a painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)