The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 7:31-37
In Christ Jesus, who promises that if we abide in His Word, we will know the truth and the truth will set us free (Joh. 8:31,32), dear fellow redeemed:
Three friends were riding in a car when a familiar song came on, a song they all liked. So they started to sing along. Feeding off one another’s enthusiasm, they started to sing louder and louder. But then something happened that brought the singing to a dead stop. One of them sang different words than the others. This started an argument about what the words actually were, an argument that could only be settled by looking up the lyrics. It turns out that one of the friends had learned the words wrong and had always sung the words wrong.
Something like this has happened to each of us. We have consistently sung the wrong thing or we mispronounced a word because we did not learn it the right way. Right hearing and learning is necessary for right speaking.
We see this in the case of the man in today’s text. He had two problems: he “was deaf and had a speech impediment.” Those problems typically go together. If he had been deaf for most of his life, he would have hardly if ever heard the sound of others speaking. Then how could he know how to shape sounds into words? Young children learn to speak by listening to and mimicking others. This man could make sounds, but it was very difficult for him to communicate.
Jesus took the man aside, touched his unhearing ears and unspeaking tongue and said, “Ephphatha”—“Be opened.” Then we are told that “his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” The word “plainly” is a translation of the Greek word orthos. This word is more commonly translated as “rightly” or “correctly.” We see this root word in “orthodontist,” the term for a person who works to correct or straighten your teeth. Or in “orthopedic,” the term for a person trying to correct deformities in the skeletal structure.
In theology, we have another ortho word in “orthodox.” This word describes those who believe, teach, and confess the right things on the basis of God’s Word. But it is not possible for a person to come to a right understanding and confession of the Word on his own. He must gain the correct and right beliefs by the power and working of God.
This faith can only come by the power of God the Holy Spirit working through the holy Word. This is what is taught in the tenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. There Paul asks, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?… So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (vv. 14,17).
We confess this in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith” (Luther’s Small Catechism). God does this work. He frees us from the chains of sin and death, so that we have life and hope in Him.
This language of “freeing from chains” is found in today’s text. When Jesus spoke the Word to the deaf man, the text literally says that the “bond” or “chain” of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke rightly. The man could not free himself from this bondage. Jesus had to release him. The same goes for our sinful state. Martin Luther described this in one of his hymns: “Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay; / Death brooded darkly o’er me. / Sin was my torment night and day; / In sin my mother bore me. / Yea, deep and deeper still I fell; / Life had become a living hell, / So firmly sin possessed me” (ELH 378, v. 2).
We were wrapped up in sin and death, and Satan had us in his grasp. But God sent His Son to crush Satan’s head and set us free. Jesus accomplished this by letting Himself be wrapped up in our sin and death. All the world’s wrongdoing was tightly bound to Him. As He suffered for our sins, He heard no word of comfort; His ears were closed to it. He spoke no word in His defense; His tongue stuck to His jaws (Psa. 22:15).
When His suffering was complete, He said, “It is finished.” This was like telling the gates of heaven to “be opened” wide—opened to you and me and all who would believe in Him. That is how we have access to heaven—not by our works—but by faith. Heaven is opened to us because Jesus freed us from our chains, and the Holy Spirit has brought us to faith in Him, the only Savior of mankind.
There are many today, even within the broader Christian church, who think that salvation can be found even in non-Christian religions. About a month ago, the largest Lutheran church body in America (the ELCA) met for its “Churchwide Assembly.” One of the policies adopted there was “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment.” Some of the things expressed in this document were fine, such as how we should love our neighbors no matter who they are. But it also states that “we must be careful about claiming to know God’s judgments regarding another religion or the individual human beings who practice it” (lines 639-641). And, “we also must be careful not to judge our neighbors only on the basis of their religious beliefs, as they may or may not tell us much about how our neighbors relate to God” (lines 644-646).
In other words, this statement says that we cannot assert that only those who believe in Jesus as their Savior from sin will be saved. And we cannot judge someone’s false beliefs, because they might have a closer relationship with God than their beliefs express. One brave delegate went to the microphone before the policy was adopted. He made the motion that these unbiblical statements be replaced with the words of Jesus in John 14:6 where He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This motion was defeated, and the policy was passed with more than 97% voting in favor.
This was not “orthodoxy” on display, or “right beliefs.” It was “heterodoxy,” or “different beliefs.” Heterodoxy does not come from the Bible. It comes from human thinking. Heterodoxy comes from a desire to please the world. Heterodox churches speak the wrong thing because they are hearing the wrong thing. They do not listen to and learn from the unchanging Word. They listen to and learn from the values and agendas of modern society and culture.
Orthodox churches, on the other hand, do not please the world. They call sinners to repentance and faith on the basis of the Word alone. Orthodox churches teach that only the Triune God should be worshiped, because He alone is the true God, and He commands us to have no other gods (First Commandment). Orthodox churches teach what the apostles did, that “there is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Act. 4:12).
This is the orthodox teaching that God has called us to hear and confess in this congregation and also to share with those who have not learned what is right. But just because we have the right teaching now does not mean we will always have it. The grandparents and great-grandparents of many in attendance at the “Churchwide Assembly” confessed the right teaching of the Bible in their lifetimes. But now that has been lost.
By God’s grace we still have the right teaching. We do not have it because we are somehow better or more gifted than others. We certainly do not deserve it. We all stand before God by nature with ears closed and tongues tied. But God’s mercy toward us is abundant. He reaches out to touch us through His Word and Sacraments, so that our ears are opened to the truth, and our tongues are freed to speak rightly.
Imagine how strange it must have been for the man when Jesus put His fingers into His ears and touched his tongue with spit-covered fingers! Jesus did not have to do this, but it was a visible way to show the man that Jesus was concerned about his disability. Similarly, Jesus did not have to give us the visible means of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to convey His blessings. But they are ways for Him to show us and remind us that He is present and wants to free us from the sins that trouble us.
This is what Jesus does for us every time we hear His Word of grace. He comes to attend to each one of us personally. He cares about us and knows the things that trouble us. He brings us the forgiveness of our sins, which He obtained on the cross for all people. He opens our hearts to believe that this forgiveness is certain for us.
He willingly shed His blood to atone for our weak desire to hear His Word, to atone for our reluctance to speak the truth, to atone for our sin of thinking we know better than He does. We are forgiven of all these sins by His grace delivered through His Word. And through the same Word, He sends the Holy Spirit to guide us to learn and grow in His truth, so that we believe, teach, and confess only what is right and reject all that is unholy or false.
How can we be so sure we have the truth? We can be sure because God’s Word is truth (Joh. 17:17). Where does God speak this truth? In the Bible. The Bible is God’s Word. We study the Bible so that we know the orthodox teaching. We don’t want to be caught with our ears plugged and our tongues silent when the devil leads an attack on God’s Word. We want to be prepared to say and to sing and even to think the right thing, so that God’s truth is proclaimed, His will is done, and His name is glorified.
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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(stained glass from Saude Lutheran Church)
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 19:41-48
In Christ Jesus, through whom we are justified and have peace with God (Rom. 5:1), dear fellow redeemed:
When Noah and his sons worked on building the ark, none of their neighbors thought a great flood would come. When the people of Sodom and Gomorrah tried to abuse Lot’s guests, none of them expected fire to rain down on them from heaven. When the leaders of Jerusalem conspired to kill Jesus, they did not imagine that Jesus’ prophecy about their beloved city would come to pass. But it did. In the year 70, the Roman army did what Jesus predicted. The Romans besieged the city of Jerusalem, breached its walls, killed its inhabitants, and burned the great temple to the ground.
Each of these examples—the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the overthrow of Jerusalem—teach us something about the human condition, about God’s wrath, and about God’s mercy. They show us how unaware or uncaring sinners are about the will of God. Noah’s neighbors heard his warnings about what was coming and ignored it. Lot’s neighbors saw his righteous example and despised it. The people of Jerusalem witnessed Jesus’ miracles and heard His teaching, and still they sent Him to His death.
Therefore God’s wrath burned against these hardened unbelievers. By the waters of the flood, He destroyed all life on the earth. By fire from heaven, He burned up everything in Sodom and Gomorrah. And by the hand of the Romans, He brought terrible suffering and death to Jerusalem.
On the other hand, these events show His mercy too. Many were drowned in the flood, but Noah and his family were preserved. Two cities were burned up, but Lot and his daughters were spared. Jerusalem was overcome, but the Christian inhabitants of the city were moved to relocate before the Romans arrived.
God does not delight in destruction. He wants all sinners to repent and be saved. In Ezekiel chapter 18, He says, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone… so turn, and live” (v. 32). We see His compassion in the tears Jesus shed while looking over Jerusalem: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!”
The “things that make for peace” were the things Jesus was about to do in the city. He was going to offer Himself as the sacrifice for sinners. He would willingly let Himself be beaten, flogged, ridiculed, and crucified. He suffered and died to pay for all sin. This included the sins of the people in Noah’s day, the sins of Lot’s neighbors, and the sins of the people of Israel who rejected Him. He paid for their sins and everyone else’s sins besides.
He paid for sin, so that mankind might no longer be separated from its Creator. He is the One who could blot out the wrongdoing of thousands of years of human history. He could right the wrong begun in the Garden of Eden. He and only He could do this, and He did. He made peace “by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20).
But so many reject this peace. They want war, war with God. Who would go to war with God? Satan tried it and now he slithers along on his belly eating dust. That doesn’t stop others from doing what he did. They rebel. They go to war with God by acting like His Commandments are no longer in place. In our “enlightened” age, many now feel comfortable setting that “traditional morality” aside. Among other things, they ignore what God says about respecting authority, about guarding against harm to the body, and about keeping sexual intimacy within marriage only.
Many who take issue with the Bible’s teaching, however, still like what they see in Jesus. They like the Jesus who sticks up for the poor and hurting and who eats with social outcasts. But what do they make of the Jesus who forcefully drives out the sellers from the temple courts, as we heard in today’s text? Jesus is the Savior of all people. But He also clearly identified Himself as the Judge, who will condemn the unrepentant to hell on the last day (Mat. 25:31-46).
Early in His public work, Jesus went around preaching this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat. 4:17). Jesus called sinners to repentance. His primary mission was not to diagnose and treat people’s physical or social ills, but to address their spiritual ones. He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luk. 5:31-32).
Those who think they need no spiritual care are the self-righteous. They find it easy to point out the shortcomings of others. But they fail to see their own sins. They compare their lives with others and feel they must be on the right track. They haven’t made the mistakes that this person made. They haven’t acted like that person does. They have done a lot of good for a lot of people. Others could learn plenty from their example.
This was the attitude of the chief priests and scribes. They took pride in their holy living. They also hated Jesus. Our text says that they “were seeking to destroy Him.” Why were they fighting against Jesus? Why did they want Him dead? It’s because they did not want to acknowledge their sins and repent.
It is painful to admit our sins. We do not want to believe that we have been as bad as God’s law says we have. But by clinging to our self-righteousness and doing all we can to keep our sins buried, we only make things worse. Then we fail to recognize “the things that make for peace.” We fail to realize “the time of [our] visitation.” By refusing to repent of our sins, we show that we are opposed to Jesus, because He came to suffer and die for sinners.
But the Lord does not give up on stubborn sinners. He weeps for them. The Holy Spirit continues to work on their hearts through the law, so that their eyes are opened. He helps them to see the difference between God’s holiness and their sin. He shows them there is no hope for them without Jesus. There is no salvation apart from Him.
Jesus and only Jesus could bridge the gap between us and God. He is perfect God and perfect Man in one person. He came to live the life the law requires. He came to fulfill all righteousness for us, to do what only God can do. We sinners have fallen far short of God’s requirement, but Jesus met it. He met it for us.
And then He went to the cross absorbing the punishment for our violations of the law. He suffered for the people’s rejection of the truth in Jerusalem. He suffered for every time a Christian house of prayer is used to pedal the world’s goods. He suffered for our self-righteousness, our spiritual laziness, and our selfish attitudes.
Whether you own up to them or not, Jesus shed His blood for each and every one of your sins and my sins. The price has been paid. The payment is made. No bad deed went unpunished. Jesus bore the sins of all. He suffered death and hell for all. God and man have been reconciled. The sin that separated God and man was atoned for. Jesus made peace between us. That means you have nothing to lose by confessing your sins—nothing except your pride.
When you repent of your sin, God does not sit on His throne weighing the pros and cons of forgiving you. Your sin was already forgiven when Jesus hung on the cross. So then why should you have to confess your sins? Because you need to remember who you are in relation to God. You are the sinner. He is the Savior. There is no justification for your sinning. But there is justification for those who admit their sin and trust in the grace of God.
You cannot come to this understanding on your own. On your own, you would be at war with God, trying to show how you are better than He says you are. But the Holy Spirit humbles you through the law and then brings you peace through the Gospel. Through the law, He cleanses the temple of your body like Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. Through the Gospel He fills you with the righteousness and glory of God.
So the work is done for you. Your sins are forgiven. In Jesus, You Have the Things That Make for Peace. Is that it? Should each of us go back to our homes secure in the knowledge of God’s mercy and grace toward us? Yes! And day after day, we should retrace the spiritual steps that brought us this comfort. You and I sin every day, so we should repent every day. And every day we should replenish our hearts and souls with God’s message of peace. Then a week from now, we will have the opportunity to be fed again through Word and Sacrament in the divine service just as we have been fed today.
When Jesus was teaching daily in the temple, we are told that “all the people were hanging on His words.” They listened intently to Him. They did not want to miss anything, because Jesus had “the words of eternal life” (Joh. 6:68). He spoke words that they could not live without. He spoke words of peace, peace for the greatest and the smallest, peace for the good and the bad, peace for you and for me.
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 “Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 16:1-9
In Christ Jesus, whose saving light shines in the world through our clear confession of the Gospel and our humble service, dear fellow redeemed:
If we did not live at a time with access to electricity, our lives would be very different. All the things we rely on appliances for would need to be done by hand. There would be no digital screens to look at for work and entertainment. There would be no fixtures in place to flood each room with light. We could make use of oil lamps and candles. But for the most part our daily activities would be determined by the light of the sun and the occasional light of the moon.
In a scenario like this, it would be foolish for us to sleep until noon and stay up past midnight. By not using the daylight, we would squander our best working hours. It’s much easier to work when everything is lit up and in view than trying to get things done in the darkness.
In today’s text, we might say that the manager of the rich man’s goods stumbled because he was doing his work in the darkness. We know the manager was wasting his master’s possessions, but we do not know how. It could have been that he was lazy. Maybe he was too passive and not as involved in the work as he should have been. Possibly he was even embezzling some of his master’s riches.
Of the little we know about him, we can say that the manager was most concerned about himself. When he was being relieved of his duties, he showed no remorse for his mismanagement. Instead he worried about keeping up his standard of living going forward. “What shall I do?” he said. “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” That’s when he hatched the plan to mismanage his master’s goods still further in a way that would benefit him personally.
He did not act nobly and honestly. He acted selfishly. It is the kind of behavior we might expect from an unbeliever with a dull conscience. You maybe know someone like this, someone who does not think twice about using others to get what he wants. He doesn’t care about fairness or kindness or whether his actions cause harm as long as he succeeds. These are works done in darkness by someone who “does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1Jo. 2:11).
Believers in Christ, God’s own children, are called to act differently. They are not to be concerned only about their own needs, but about the needs of their neighbors. And their goal is not to try to outdo or even just keep up with others in their materialism. Believers know that having the biggest house on the block, the nicest possessions, and the greatest wealth is not important. Those riches are fleeting and one day will belong to someone else or will be buried in a landfill.
What we are called to do in each of our vocations is to work honestly and diligently and be thankful for whatever God gives us. This is how “the sons of light” should conduct themselves. Jesus contrasts “the sons of light” with “the sons of this world.” The “sons of light” are those who walk in the light of Jesus. They are not afraid or consumed with their own self-preservation like someone lost in deep darkness. They clearly see what is around them, both the good and bad. They see neighbors in need. They see the many blessings the Lord gives them along the way. They clearly see the path leading to the kingdom of everlasting light.
In these ways “the sons of light” have every advantage over “the sons of this world.” The sons of this world do not know where they are going. They have no clear purpose. They have no clear goal. When they reach their earthly end, they are without hope. They ultimately find that all their dealing in the darkness resulted in no lasting good.
This shows how crucial it is for “the sons of light” to shine in the world’s darkness. Jesus said, “[L]et your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:16). We let our lights shine by supporting those around us and helping them keep what is theirs. We let our lights shine by being generous with what we have and sharing with those in need.
But the primary way we shine the light of Jesus in this dark world is by sharing the Gospel individually and by supporting the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments both locally and around the world. We have the means to break sinners free from the chains of sin! We have the answer for the troubled conscience and despairing heart! We have Jesus, who shed His blood to redeem all people and rose in victory over death and hell!
We have the greatest Treasure that mankind has ever known or ever could know! It is ours! But what have we done with this Treasure? Have we buried it so no one knows we have it? Have we acted like it was everything to us one day but cast it aside the next? Or have we given our time, our talents, and our treasures to promote the work of the Gospel?
Look at what the world does when it finds a cause worthy of its attention. Look at how much money and energy people commit to their health, to their hobbies, and to their entertainment. The “sons of this world” are relentless in their pursuit of their interests, their causes, and their pleasures. We should be just as relentless in our confession of the truth and in spreading the Gospel to all corners of the earth. This is the point Jesus wants us to take from today’s text.
But first of all He says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” This is an indictment. Jesus is telling us that unbelievers are better at doing evil than we are at doing good. They are more shrewd about things that serve themselves than we are at things that serve our Lord and our neighbor. This is because sin is in us too. We know what is good, but we struggle to carry it out.
And yet, despite our mismanagement of the great riches God has given us, He has not removed us from our position. We are still “sons of light” by faith in Jesus. We are still His kinsmen. He claims us as His own. By His blood He has blotted out all of our wrongdoing. And by His righteous life He has credited to us all the good works we lacked.
He forgives us for the times we have been lazy about hearing and learning His Word, for the times we failed to speak up for the truth, for the times we sold out entirely and let sin overcome us. His perfect stewardship of God’s holy gifts counts for all who are guilty of mismanagement. All sinners who trust in Him alone for their salvation will never have to experience the terror of standing before the righteous God and hearing Him give the eternal verdict, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.”
Because of what Jesus has done to save us, we have no work to do to get ourselves to heaven. But we do have work to do on earth. Jesus explains, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Now take note that Jesus does not say, “make friends for yourselves by unrighteous means,” or by doing what unbelievers do, as though we should try to fit in with the world. He says to make friends by “unrighteous wealth.”
“Unrighteous wealth” is another term for earthly riches. We are to be shrewd and wise with our earthly means, so that the things of God—the good and holy and pure things—are promoted. This does not mean every penny needs to go in the offering plate or to a charitable fund. It does not mean we must live in a leaking shelter and get by on one change of clothes and simple bread and water for every meal.
But we can do more with what God has given us. We can be better managers. We can cut back on some of the things that are less important and focus on what is more important. You could purchase Bibles or devotion books for family members or friends. You could contribute toward our college or seminary or other educational institutions in our fellowship. You could adopt a home or foreign mission that our synod oversees. You could support efforts to assist the poor and hurting with both their physical and their spiritual needs.
Jesus promises that these efforts will bear fruit. His Word does not return to Him void. And when your efforts are exhausted and your earthly end has come, Jesus says that those who heard the saving Word and believed it will “receive you into the eternal dwellings.” They will welcome you into heaven, so that together you can praise God for His abundant grace and mercy.
In another place Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (Joh. 9:4). As long as we are here, we have the privilege and responsibility of managing all the spiritual and earthly riches God gives us. Now is not the time for getting lazy or failing to utilize the light. We Work While It Is Day.
We work in the bright light of Jesus, who puts no heavy burden on our shoulders. He has done the heavy lifting for us and for all sinners by sacrificing Himself in our place. We work knowing that He forgives our failures, and that He will accomplish great things even through our humble efforts. God grant that we may be continuously diligent and joyful in this work. Amen.
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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(“Parable of the Unjust Steward” etching by Jan Luyken, 1649-1712)
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who gives more than we ask for or could even imagine, dear fellow redeemed:
Two farmers planted their crops and closely watched the progress of their growth. One of them worried every step of the way. First he worried that the ground would dry out, so the seed could be planted. Then he worried that the plants would get the right amount of rain and sunshine. Rarely were the conditions on any given day perfect. If it was sunny and hot, he worried about the plants having enough moisture. If it was sunny and cool, he worried about slow growth. If it began to rain, he worried about too much or too little falling. He often thought about his bad fortune when things weren’t looking so good. There was not much joy in his work.
The other farmer considered all these factors, but he realized that hardly any of them were in his control. He had been at it long enough to know that the crop almost always turned out—some years a little better and some years a little worse. He didn’t get too excited by the highs or too depressed by the lows. Farming hadn’t made him rich, but it was a good way of life. He enjoyed his work.
The difference between these two men could be chalked up to personality—one was more easy-going, the other a worrier. But the difference could also be that one relied on the Lord to provide for his needs, while the other relied on himself. If your livelihood and success depended entirely on you, of course you would be full of worry and stress! But if you know that the living God cares for you, His dear child, you will confidently look for blessings from His hand.
We see a wonderful example of the Lord’s care in today’s Gospel lesson. A great crowd had been with Him for three days and had even followed Him into the wilderness. Any food they had brought with them was all but gone. But the text does not say that the people approached Jesus about their hunger.
They did not have to ask Jesus to feed them, because He already knew. His care for them came from His own heart of love. “I have compassion on the crowd,” He said. “And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” Not only was he aware of their hunger. He was aware that some had further to travel than others. He knew these people, and He cared for them deeply.
He wanted His disciples to have the same care for the people. He wanted them to love these neighbors of theirs and to participate in their help. But all they could produce was seven loaves of bread. How could such a small amount feed four thousand men? Reasonably speaking, it couldn’t. There probably wouldn’t even be one crumb available for each person who was present.
But God, as the Bible says, “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). We so often forget that. We assume that most everything in our lives depends on ourselves. This causes us to despair when things go bad or to be full of pride when things go well. We forget that it is the Lord who provides.
If we do well at our work, we should remember that God has given us the strength, the mental capacity, and the character traits to do a good job. This is what we recite in the First Article of the Creed: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them” (Small Catechism). If God did not give and preserve these qualities, we could not do anything. Our success comes entirely from Him.
But we don’t always succeed in our work. Does that mean the Lord has failed to provide for us, or that He has given up on us? We know this is not the case. He cares for us. Because He cares for us, He knows exactly what we need. He knows when to bless by giving and when to bless by withholding.
Sometimes He withholds because it would not be good for us to succeed. We don’t see the trouble ahead, but He does. He may also withhold to teach us patience and endurance, or to get us to step up and work harder. Whether we receive little or plenty, we should be thankful for the portion we have and use it to the glory of God.
Jesus here also teaches us how to respond to the gifts of God. What did He do before breaking apart the seven loaves and giving them to His disciples to distribute? He gave thanks. He gave thanks for seven loaves of bread and a few small fish as He looked upon a crowd of thousands. Proportionally that would be something like giving thanks to God for one grain of rice on an otherwise empty plate. No matter the amount of the gift, we learn from Jesus to be thankful and to give thanks. Seven loaves of bread were better than none; they were something. And the Lord knew how to turn them into much, much more.
What are some of the things in your life that are easy to take for granted but are great gifts from God? Your family, for one, and your house and health and job. Any of us here can open our cupboards and see how God provides food. We can open our closets and see how God provides clothing. We can open our contact list or directory and see how God provides friends.
God typically does not give the bare minimum—He blesses us in abundance. The crowd of four thousand men ate their fill of bread and fish, and there were still seven baskets left over! In the same way, our homes are filled with good things, enough to keep us happy and satisfied for a long time.
What is our response to these gifts? Imagine if the crowd of four thousand was enjoying its miraculous lunch, and one after another started to complain and ask for more. “Could we get a little butter for this bread?” “How about some salt?” “Is there anything for dessert?” By these demands for more, the people would seem discontent and ungrateful.
How is it for you? Are you content with the gifts the Lord has given you? If you are, how do you show it? Do you remember to thank Him for what you have? One of the best times to thank the Lord is when you take time out of your day to eat. Here the Lord is providing you with the nourishment you need to continue your work. Without food and drink you could not survive.
So you ask Him to bless the food before you that it may benefit your body and strengthen you. Some of you use the “Thank You Prayer.” It is a great prayer that comes directly from Scripture. Notice that this prayer is not simply saying thanks for the food. It is thanking the Lord for His goodness and His ongoing mercy that accompanies us into eternity: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.”
The Lord is good to us in so many ways, we cannot keep track of all of them. His earthly gifts aren’t even the best part of His care! The best part of our Father’s care is what He accomplished for us through His Son. Jesus’ greatest work was not turning seven loaves of bread into food for thousands. His greatest work was giving Himself up as the sacrificial Lamb on the cross and rising again from the dead in glory.
This unmatchable gift of Jesus means that our sins are no longer counted against us. Whenever we have worried that everything depended on our efforts, or despaired because our hard work did not pay off, or become prideful because of our success, or failed to give thanks to God in daily prayer, He declares us forgiven of these sins through the blood of Christ. Today is a new day, a fresh opportunity, to set aside those worries, put our trust totally in Him, and thank Him for His blessings both great and small.
God is not a vengeful overlord who will punish us for our failures. Nor does He award His gifts based on our merit. Nobody deserves the good things He gives. But He still has compassion on the crowd. He still provides for the needs of all people—and especially His dear children—on account of His loving care. If you are in need, He wants you to pray for His help. If He has given you plenty, He wants you to share with those who have little. If you have what you need but not all you want, He encourages you to pray for contentment.
The Lord loves you with a tremendous love, and He promises to provide for your needs. Jesus said, “[S]eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things—what you need for this body and life—will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33). When His Word is your priority, you will find like the crowd did that all your earthly needs will be taken care of.
Then you can go about your work with joy and thankfulness. Joy in knowing that our compassionate Lord is eager to give such gifts, and thankfulness for His abundant blessings.
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(picture of the Judean mountains in Israel)
The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 14:1-11
In Christ Jesus, in whom we have been raised up and with whom we have been seated in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), dear fellow redeemed:
It is ironic that the phrase “Taking the High Road” was most likely coined by a politician, since politics is where “taking the high road” almost never happens. Politicians watch for any slip-up by their opponents and then portray the mistake in the most negative light. The primary goal is not justice or the promotion of truth, but political victory. And if a career is ruined by the mud-slinging, so be it.
The Pharisees of today’s text were like our politicians. They hated Jesus. They wanted His efforts to fail. They wanted to discredit Him before the public, and if possible, to eliminate Him. One of these Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him on a particular Sabbath day. This sounds like a neighborly thing for the Pharisee to do, but he and his friends had ulterior motives. We are told that “they were watching him carefully.” Picture them watching Jesus like a hawk watches its unsuspecting prey. But Jesus was not unsuspecting. The trap they were setting for Him would not catch Him by surprise.
In the room was a man with dropsy, a condition causing fluid retention and swelling in the skin. Would Jesus heal him? On another occasion, a religious leader had criticized Jesus for healing a disabled woman on the Sabbath. “There are six days in which work ought to be done,” he said, “…and not on the Sabbath day” (Lk. 13:14). It may well be that the Pharisees now brought this man with dropsy before Jesus as a test. Would Jesus break Sabbath law with so many witnesses present?
Jesus perceived the trap; he knew what the Pharisees were thinking. The text says that “Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees.” He answered their thoughts even though they hadn’t verbalized them. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” He asked. They thought this would be forbidden according to the law. They believed that healing would be work, and God said no work should be done on the Sabbath. If Jesus healed on the Sabbath, He must not be from God. This is how their thinking went, but they did not say a word.
Then Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way. Now the Pharisees had Jesus where they wanted Him! But before they could level an accusation, Jesus asked how many of them would leave a son or an ox in a well on a Sabbath day. Would they call down that they would like to help, but it would just have to wait until tomorrow? Obviously not. They would do whatever it took to bring the son or the ox to safety.
What was Jesus’ point? His point was that the Pharisees should remember why the law was given. It was not given to promote an external righteousness, an outward keeping of the rules. God wanted His people to rely on Him and not on themselves. He required a day without work, so that people would set aside time to hear His Word and pray. This is how they would show love for Him according to the Third Commandment.
But this Sabbath requirement did not negate the other Commandments of God. If someone had fallen on the Sabbath, his neighbor should help him up. If someone were sick or hungry, his neighbor should carry medicine or food to his home. These things would show love for God by showing love to a neighbor.
Love for God and neighbor is the entire focus of God’s moral law (Lk. 10:27). When you wonder whether something is right or wrong, you should ask yourself if it is loving. Even if you know it is true, is it loving to spread gossip about a neighbor? Even if someone said a mean thing to you, is it loving to say something mean back? Even if someone invites you to share their bed outside of marriage—even if it is someone you love—is it loving toward God or the consenting partner to ignore the institution and commitment of marriage?
Today’s culture promotes a different definition of love. We are told that love means accepting and agreeing with whatever a person chooses to do. And if we question how others live their life, then we are called hateful. But Jesus questioned the Pharisees. Is it because He hated them? No, it is because they lacked the love that God requires, and He wanted them to recognize it. He wanted them to see that their concern was not for God or their neighbors; it was for themselves. That is the problem today. People are full of self-love. They think their choices are right even when God says they are wrong.
It is tempting for us to feel morally superior to these people. We do not do the things they do. We know what God’s moral law says, and we want to follow it. But self-love can work its way in there too. We imagine God must be pleased with us because we are not like the sinners around us.
But think about the parable Jesus told. Suppose you were invited to a wedding feast along with all sorts of criminals and sinners. Looking around, you hear some of the bad people boast about their evil deeds, while others hang their heads in shame. Then all are told to take seats at the table, but with this caveat: everyone is to sit down based on how good they are compared to others. The bad people not sorry for their sins immediately head for the best spots because they are only concerned about themselves. The bad people sorry for their sins shuffle toward the less honorable places.
But to which end of the table do you go? On the one hand, you could say that you have not fallen into the serious sins of either the boastful or the humbled criminals. You have not killed anyone. You have not stolen anything. You have tried to be a good neighbor. Certainly you should be seated higher than the bad people who are not sorry for their sins. But on the other hand, the standard of God’s law is perfection. Even if you have refrained from outward sins, what about the sins of your mind and heart? The scene could get ugly fast, with people fighting over the best places.
But Jesus says to you and me, “go and sit in the lowest place.” Take the High Road by taking the lowest place. The Letter to the Philippians says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (2:3). We should not concern ourselves with what we think we are (pretty good), or what we think others are (pretty bad). We should stick with what we know. We know that we are sinners who have not perfectly kept God’s law. If the table in Jesus’ parable were God’s table, then no one would belong at it either in the high or the low places.
But still, we are invited to the heavenly banquet. We are invited because Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). He gave up the highest place, which was His by right. No one even approaches His greatness. He left the highest place, and took the lowest. In fact, He gave up His seat at the table altogether, so that there would be plenty of room for everyone else.
He showed perfect love for all, but they did not all love Him in return. When the Pharisees could not find any sin in Jesus, they told lies about Him and twisted His words. Then they got Pilate to condemn Him to death. Jesus could have dragged all their hidden sins out in the open, and none of what He uncovered would be a lie. He could have shown the ugliness inside every religious leader. But He took the high road. He said nothing while false accusations were hurled His way. Then He took the high road, literally, when He carried His cross up the hill to Golgotha outside the walls of Jerusalem.
This is where the perfect Son of God was crucified, the humble Healer of dropsy, disability, and most importantly, the sinful heart. He poured out His blood to wash away each transgression, including yours. Every sinful stain of your past, every failure to do and say and think what God says, every prideful judgment of the imperfect lives of others, the Lord forgives it. You deserve the lowest place, but Jesus has taken you by the hand and said, “Friend, move up higher.”
You have not always taken the high road—with your siblings, your parents, your spouse, your classmates and co-workers, your fellow church members—, and these sins may still trouble you. But while others may hold your sins against you, God does not. He looks upon you in grace as though you had never done anything wrong.
That does not mean you and I can boast about our transgressions. Nor do we have the freedom to sin as much as we like, just because we know sin is paid for. Humble children of God do not embrace sin. They flee from sin, and when they fall into it, they repent of it.
God did not create us for sin, but for righteousness. He created us to love Him and our neighbor. When our neighbor attacks us despite our efforts to love, then we pick up the cross and take the high road after Jesus. Nothing good is gained by “digging up dirt” on others and “slinging mud.” But much good is gained by a humble disposition toward others and a humble trust in Jesus.
The Sabbath rest that no person could obtain by his own efforts, is freely given us by our loving Savior. He has lifted us out of the pit of sin we had fallen into and brought us with Him to be seated at His heavenly banquet. Because of His humble suffering and death, we will be exalted with Him for eternity.
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The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 7:11-17
In Christ Jesus, “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2Tim. 1:10), dear fellow redeemed:
The town of Nain still exists. It sits among rolling hills not far from the Sea of Galilee. If you visited at the right time of year, you could find red poppies growing on the slopes of the hills. It would be a pleasant place to stop for a while and enjoy the beauty of the area. The word “Nain” means just that—a charming or beautiful place. Traveling south from Capernaum where He healed a Roman centurion’s servant, Jesus decided to stop at this little town. His disciples and the crowd with Him probably thought it was a nice place to take a rest.
The arrival of a big crowd would have typically brought excitement to Nain. But not today. Today was a sad day. The people of the town joined a distraught widow who mourned the death of her only son, a young man in the prime of his life. A thousand unanswerable questions ran through the mind of this poor woman: What would she do now? Who would provide for her? Why did God let this happen—first her husband and then her son?
It was a sad scene. We have witnessed scenes like this in our own lives. Some of us have felt the sadness this woman felt. It is a rare person who does not have to face the death of loved ones at a young age. The longer we live, the closer death gets to us. Death takes our grandparents and parents, and then it comes to us. One Lutheran pastor described the reality of death in this way, “The whole earth is a graveyard, and the whole race of humanity a funeral procession.” But it is worse than that. He writes, “We don’t simply follow the dead when we walk behind a coffin; we carry death in ourselves and hasten to our own graves” (Laache, Book of Family Prayer, p. 577).
What does it mean that “we carry death in ourselves”? It means that we carry the germ of death inside. We have been infected with sin, even from the moment of our conception. We are something like the tire with a nail in it. It can run for a while, but eventually it goes flat. We can live with the thorn of sin for a time, but eventually our bodies give out. The Apostle Paul states that because of sin in our bodies, “our outer self—our physical life—is wasting away” (2Cor. 4:16).
If you have an injury, you let it rest until it heals. If there is an infection in your body, the doctor prescribes an antibiotic. If your weight is causing health problems, you try to eat better and exercise. But what can you do about sin? Some people act like it isn’t even there, or they try to cover it up. They point out the bad in others, but not in themselves. Some feel the burden of sin and try to make up for it. They volunteer and go out of their way to help others, not so much because they feel love for their neighbors, but because they hope it will look good to God. But no matter what people try to do about sin—ignoring it, covering it up, trying to make amends for it—they end up in the same place. They can’t escape death.
There is nothing more sobering than death. No scientist or strong man has successfully defeated it. All attempts have failed. Still, human beings boast continuously about what they have accomplished. Look at our power! Look at our ingenuity! Look at our social progress! Look at our success! And yet death marches on and fells the world’s heroes one after the other. The old 18th century saying suggests that nothing is as certain as “death and taxes,” but a person might be able to evade taxes. He cannot evade death.
If nothing else woke up the world to its own pride and vanity and weakness, it seems that death would do the job. The universal problem of death should make everyone seek God and His mercy. For those who don’t, there isn’t much comfort to be had at their funeral, or as it is commonly called, their “celebration of life.” Loved ones share memories and funny stories. Everyone cheers the deceased for “doing things his way.” They remember him saying that he didn’t always make the best choices, but nobody had as much fun as he did. And they imagine the deceased now being “in a better place”—often described as a perfect golf course or a prime fishing spot.
These are the ways unbelievers try to lessen the sting of death. But their self-comfort is empty. The reality is that the person they loved is gone and isn’t coming back. Death won again. Death always wins. Well, almost always.
When the two crowds met at the gates of Nain, it must have been awkward. The townspeople were mourning the death of one of their own. The crowd with Jesus was looking for a place to have rest and refreshment. The visitors would not have been greeted with welcoming smiles. They may have been met with frowns, since they were getting in the way of a very personal ceremony.
But instead of stepping aside, Jesus stepped right up to the grieving woman. Gently He said to her, “Do not weep.” But who was this? Had anyone seen Him before? Didn’t He understand what was going on? Jesus did not offer an explanation. He turned from the woman and touched the open coffin. Those carrying the dead man stood still. They didn’t realize it, but death was about to be stopped in its tracks too. Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
If there was any delay between Jesus’ words and the rising up of the man, who would have believed it could happen? But immediately the dead man sat up and began to speak! Then a mother’s tears of anguish became tears of joy. Here was her son, alive! But who was this strange Man?
This Man was the Son of God incarnate, and He was on a mission. He came to deliver sinners from the universal curse. He came to provide the solution for sin. That solution was a life of innocence and the shedding of His divine blood. The Living One, the Lord of Life, had to die, so that that the dying ones, slaves of death, might live. But it was one thing to raise a dead man to life. Could Jesus raise Himself? The answer came on the third day after His death. To the surprise of everyone—both His enemies and His friends—Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning.
Jesus’ victory over death was not just for Him. Before all this took place He had declared, “Because I live, you also will live” (Jn. 14:19). He said that His life would be not only His, but His disciples’ also. And how could they be assured of this life even while their bodies declined and they faced their death? Their assurance of life was their baptism into Christ. Baptism is your assurance too. The Letter to the Romans says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:4-5).
“We shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” This certainty is given us in baptism. In our baptism, we are joined with our Savior; we become part of His body. That means His victory is our victory. His life is our life. Because we are in Christ, death can no more prevail against us than it prevailed against Him. This is why we can laugh at death even as it seems to be winning. We can say along with the believers of Old and New Testament times, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (Hos. 13:14; 1Cor. 15:55).
The poet John Donne wrote an excellent poem on this theme. He starts by addressing death:
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
He says that death will not defeat him. And why is that? It is because of Jesus’ resurrection, and the life He delivered to us in our baptism. Donne concludes his poem with these confident words:
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
“Death shalt die” because the Life-Winner has triumphed over it. Death does its terrible work as long as there is sin in the world. But Jesus will soon return. Then the shadow of death will be dispelled in His bright light, and death will trouble us no more. This is our only comfort when we lay loved ones to rest in the tomb. We bury them with the confidence that their stay in the tomb is only temporary. To Jesus, they are only sleeping, and He can wake them with a word as easily as He raised the young man of Nain.
Death is all around us, and it is in us. But Jesus is in us and with us too, and He is stronger than death. When death takes a fellow child of God away from us, or when death comes for us, we can say with all boldness, “Death, Meet Life.” Death cannot harm our souls, which are safely in our Lord’s hands. He has even caused death to serve His purpose of delivering our souls to eternal life. It is in this bold confidence that we can sing with the hymnist,
I thank thee, death, thou leadest me
To that true life where I would be.
So cleansed by Christ, I fear not death.
Lord Jesus, strengthen Thou my faith. (ELH #530, v. 2)
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(painting of the “Resurrection of the Widow’s Son from Nain” by the Lutheran artist Lucas Cranch the Younger, c. 1569)
The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 6:24-34
In Christ Jesus, who clothed Himself in your sin, so you would be arrayed in His righteousness, dear fellow redeemed:
What would your life have to look like for you to be able to say, “I am content”? Would you say that if you had good health, but nothing else? How about good health, a good home, and a good-paying job, but no family or friends? How about good family and friends, but little in the way of earthly possessions? Contentment seems hard to come by. We think that this relationship, or this thing, or this promotion will finally bring us happiness. But when one goal is realized, we immediately face other troubles and problems.
There are some people who seem unaware of any difficulty. They generally have a positive outlook and a cheerful disposition. Whether they are experiencing ups or downs, they express thankfulness. This trait is most often demonstrated by the elderly, who have learned not to “sweat the small stuff,” and by the spiritually mature, who have learned to give their anxieties and troubles over to God.
But for most of us, our days are punctuated by one worry after another and a persistent discontentment. As our troubles increase, we wonder why God doesn’t step in and fix everything. Isn’t He able to set everything right? Doesn’t He care about our problems? Or could it be that there is no God at all? In other words, we question if God is all-powerful, if God is merciful, and if God is real.
Proving that God is not real is the first goal of the atheists. Assuming there is no God, they argue that there are no concrete moral rules to govern our behavior, so how we live our life is entirely our choice. And they say that when we die, there is no afterlife; we simply cease to exist. This is a tough sell for those who want to believe their life has purpose, and for those who are convinced that there is more to the universe than what our eyes can see and our hands can touch.
So then atheists move on to their next goal. If they cannot convince us there is no God, they will do their best to craft the sort of god we should believe in. Ultimately, this is the god of self, (which is really the atheist god). An atheist is not bothered by those who look for spiritual guidance inside themselves. He knows that “doing what I feel God wants me to do” is no different than “doing what I feel I want to do.” The god of our feelings does not trouble the atheist.
But atheists are very much troubled by the God of the Bible. He is their chief enemy. So if they cannot convince people there is no God, then they want to get people to reject the Christian God. And how do they do that? They point to the evil in the world, and ask why the Triune God—if He is so powerful and good—doesn’t end the evil. And then they look at the Christian—a self-proclaimed “child of God”—and ask why their “heavenly Father” allows them to suffer and be sad, and why they die just the same as everyone else. “If the Christian God is real,” they say, “then He isn’t a very good God. And what is the point of following a God who is not good?”
What do you think about that? How would you respond? Is God Good? If you focus only on the bad things in the world and the bad things that happen to you, you might wonder if God is good. But if you look at the many good things that happen even in this fallen world, you might think God is doing okay.
But how you and I think about God does not change how He is and always has been. He is not subject to our performance review. He does not have His fingers crossed hoping we approve of Him. He is God, “from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps. 90:2). He is the Creator of all things and the Lord over all. We are not called to critique Him. We are called to love Him. Today’s Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy 6 says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (v. 5). This command applies, not just when things are good for us, but also when things are bad.
But why should we love a God who seems to be ignoring us or even attacking us? It is something like asking why you should love your children if they don’t do exactly what you tell them. You love them because they are your children. Why should you love your spouse when he or she is unkind? Because he or she is your spouse. Why should you love your brothers or sisters even when they annoy you? Because they are your siblings. Whether or not God seems to be good, we love Him because He is our God, our Creator, our Father.
And He most certainly is good. To illustrate God’s goodness, Jesus points to the birds of the air. How many do you suppose there are in just one square mile of this part of Iowa? There must be hundreds. They don’t have barns or bank accounts, and yet they have enough food year round. “Are you not of more value than they?” says Jesus. Or what about the lilies of the field? Do they appear to be worried about having something to wear? But if God clothes them so beautifully, won’t He make sure you have the clothing you need?
The Lord has given each of us so much that our concern is not simply having food and drink, but having quality food and drink. We are not worried about having clothes to wear, but having fashionable clothes to wear. None of us who has a home to live in, food in the cupboards, clothes in the closet, and money in the bank should be discontent with our earthly mammon—our earthly possessions. And yet we often are. Why? On some level, it must be because we doubt that God is good. If we were convinced of His goodness, we would not doubt His care.
Jesus knows this about us. That is why He spoke these words. He wants to teach us to take an honest look at our own hearts. He wants us to recognize our divided loyalties, that we trust partly in God and partly in ourselves. And He wants us to repent of this sin of idolatry, of making a god out of ourselves. There is no “God and.” We cannot serve God and money, God and the world, God and our own plans. As Jesus told Satan, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Mt. 4:10).
When Jesus said this to the devil, He was in great need. He had eaten nothing for forty days. Why would His heavenly Father let Him suffer like this? But we don’t hear Jesus asking “Why?” and “How long?” We hear Him quoting from and clinging to the Scriptures. He did not put Himself first. He put love for God and His Word first. He tells us to do the same: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
We “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” by hearing and learning God’s Word. It is through God’s Word that the Holy Spirit applies Jesus’ righteousness to us. What we could not do ourselves, Jesus did for us. We fail to love God with all our heart, soul, and might, so Jesus loved God perfectly in our place. Our sins of worry and anxiety and doubt could not add “a single hour to [our] span of life,” much less save us from death, so Jesus won eternal life for us through His death and resurrection.
If we should worry about anything, it shouldn’t be how we will pay the bills or whether we will have enough for retirement. If anything, we should worry about how to remain in God’s favor. But we don’t even have to worry about this. God is not angry with us. He will not punish us for our sinful priorities and our “little faith.” His answer for our sin was the sending of His only-begotten Son. Jesus shed His blood for each time that you put your earthly plans and your earthly possessions before Him, for each time that you tried to serve both Him and the world, for each time that you stayed up all night worrying only to have everything work out better than you could have hoped.
The good God “knows [our] need, and well provides [us]” (ELH 177, v. 1). He promises that those who “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” will receive not only what they need spiritually, but also what they need for this body and life. The providence of our earthly needs is what Jesus refers to when He says, “and all these things will be added to you.” This does not mean that you will absolutely live in your dream house, or even that you will keep the house you have. It does mean that God will provide for you, one way or another, because that is what He promises to do. If He provides for the birds and the lilies, He will provide for you.
You are far more precious to Him than birds and lilies. Your heavenly Father sent His Son to be clothed in your flesh, so that you would be clothed in His righteousness. Saying that “God is good” is an understatement. He is a perfect God, a patient God, a merciful God, a faithful God, a forgiving God, a gracious God. He is the God who brings good out of evil and life out of death. He is a God in whom you can put your whole trust, because He will not fail to help you in your time of need and every other time besides.
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The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, whose comfort renders sweet ev’ry bitter cup we meet (ELH #293, v. 4), dear fellow redeemed:
He remembered the day when he first noticed the spot on his leg. It didn’t hurt when he touched it. He felt fine. Maybe it was just a little irritation or rash from something he ate or rubbed against. He tried to tell himself it was nothing to worry about, but it stayed on his mind. He started checking it every day and multiple times during the day. The light patch on his skin was expanding. The hairs inside the patch turned white. The thought of what this might be made him sick. He went to the priest. The priest looked at his leg and uttered the diagnosis he was dreading, “You have leprosy. You are unclean.”
The man knew what came next. The LORD had spelled it out clearly to Moses and Aaron many years before: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45-46). His home would not be his home anymore. He must leave his family. Very likely, he would never again hug them or share the joys and sorrows of life with them. His living quarters would be outside the city with others who had this disease, with others who were miserable like him. He was crushed beyond words.
None of us has been in a situation quite like this. But we have known sorrows and troubles for which there seemed to be no remedy. You or someone you love may have been diagnosed with a serious disease or injury, and no cure for it is available. A relationship may have soured, and you don’t know how to fix it. You are stuck in debt and don’t know how to get out. It is times like these that our glass looks half empty. You might even be suffering to such an extent that a half empty glass sounds like a great scenario. You feel so far in the depths; you are down to the dregs. So it was for the leprous man and others in his community.
But then the lepers heard whispers, whispers of hope. It was said that a man named Jesus had the power to heal. Who He was, no one knew for sure. The rumors could hardly be true. But if they were, if Jesus could do this, maybe He would heal them. Wherever Jesus went, a crowd followed Him. Ten lepers saw this crowd and were able to find out who the people were gathered around. From a distance, these men cried out with one voice, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Many people in the crowd probably didn’t notice, but Jesus heard them. They were about to find out if the rumors about Jesus’ power were true.
Jesus looked their way and said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” But why should they do that? The only reason they might go to the priest is if their leprosy had disappeared. This was not the case; their skin was still covered in it. It would have been easy for them to ignore Jesus and say, “I guess the rumors weren’t true. He couldn’t help us after all.” But they followed His direction; they trusted His word. This was a great test of their faith.
It is likewise a test of our faith when God promises to work all things for good (Rom. 8:28). What good can come of an injured back? What good can come of cancer? What good can come of a broken relationship? What good can come of money problems? What good can come of an addiction? It is easy to doubt that God can help. This is just what the devil wants. The devil wants us to doubt God’s promises. He wants us to be angry at God and at the people who hurt us. He wants us to grow bitter and to despair. He wants us to focus so much on our troubles here, that we no longer look forward with hope.
But the Lord is merciful to us. When Jesus sent the lepers on their way, He cleansed them. Those who used to call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” now cried with joy, “I’m clean! I’m clean!” Their faith in Jesus’ word was rewarded. Faith in Jesus is always rewarded, but not always in this way. Not all of our hurts are healed, not all of our problems are fixed simply because we trust in the Lord. God never promised this.
If we lived in a perfect world, we would experience no trouble. But the world is infected by sin and so is our body. Sin is the leprosy that afflicts all people. Some people show their sin a bit more on the outside, but all are the same on the inside. This is why the sinless One had to come. His blood held the cure for our disease. His body and blood were untainted by sin. He was holy. He offered up His holy life on behalf of sinners in fulfillment of God’s law, and He poured out His holy blood to counteract the effects of sin. “[T]he blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1Jn. 1:7).
Jesus shed His blood for all people. He invites all to believe in Him, just as the hymn says, “Come in poverty and meanness, / Come defiled, without, within; / From infection and uncleanness, / From the leprosy of sin, / Wash your robes and make them white; / Ye shall walk with God in light” (ELH #412, v. 2). Notice in today’s text that Jesus healed both Jewish and Gentile lepers. He made no distinction between them. His merciful goodness was the same for all.
We gather that nine of the leprous men were Jews, while one was a Samaritan Gentile. When they realized they were healed, only the Samaritan turned back, “praising God with a loud voice.” The one who had the least training in the Scriptures is the one who recognized what a gift he had received. We are often like the nine who did not return to give thanks. We can get so used to the gifts we receive from God, that we hardly notice them.
But where else do we find the full and free forgiveness of all our sins? Where else do we hear about God’s love and care for us in every area of our lives? Where else can we be covered in the righteousness of God and receive the body and blood of Jesus on our tongues? If these amazing gifts do not move us to give thanks to God, what could? And there are so many other gifts besides. The good Lord also provides for us everything that we need for this body and life.
Now imagine you have two empty glasses in front of you. One glass is for the difficulties in your life, and the other is for your blessings. On small pieces of paper, first write down your troubles, one at a time. This glass is for the guilt you feel, for your sadness, your aches and pains, your anxiety and stress, your loneliness, your depression, your doubts, your fears, your difficulties at home and at work. This would take some time—there is much that troubles us.
The other glass is for your blessings. These might be harder to think of initially, but they will come. You write down what you are thankful for: your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, your spouse, your children, a home to live in, food to eat, clothes to wear, a car, good friends, a good church, good health, air to breathe, pets to keep you company, beautiful trees and flowers, music, the warmth of the sun, rain and snow to water the ground, a free country, angels to guard you, the Law to teach you, the Gospel to cheer you, and heaven for eternity.
Which of these two glasses is fuller? Many days, it seems that the glass of our troubles is overflowing while the glass of our blessings is empty. But that is only how it seems. It seems this way because we are weak by nature. We do not wish to take up our cross and follow after Jesus. We think that other people deserve to suffer like this, but not us. This is sinful. It is prideful to think that we deserve anything good.
But what we do not deserve, God freely gives us. He is as He told Moses, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). Our sinful mind tricks us to think the glass of our troubles is full. It isn’t; it’s empty. Jesus emptied it. He took all our guilt and pain and trouble upon Himself, and when He rose again from the tomb, all of that stayed buried.
Because of His life and death in your place, the cup of your blessings overflows. How can one who stands in God’s favor be without hope? How can one adopted by the mighty God go thirsty? Our journey through this fallen world is not easy; it is not without its great trials. But we go forward with the Lord’s clear Word in our ear. We go forward with the nourishment of His holy body and blood. Through His Word and Sacraments, the leprosy of our sin does not spread uncontrollably. It does not lead to a lonely and troubled death.
Our Lord’s Gospel of grace strengthens and keeps us in the saving faith. His promises fill our hearts with peace and with thankfulness for all the mercies He has shown us. Therefore, like the Samaritan, we go on our way rejoicing and praising God from whom all blessings flow.
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(“The Healing of Ten Lepers” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who counts our kindnesses toward our neighbor as having been done for Him (Mt. 25:45), dear fellow redeemed:
Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” was shocking to the lawyer. The only individuals in Jesus’ example who acted like they would be expected to act were the robbers. The robbers did not care if the man they attacked lived or died. They just wanted whatever clothes or possessions he had. They did what selfish criminals do.
The priest and the Levite did not do what was expected. They belonged to the “clergy class” of the Israelites. They knew the Scriptures. They knew what should be done for a neighbor in need. But they passed by the man lying half dead by the road as though he was not even there! They had their reasons, no doubt. This was dangerous country. Maybe the man only appeared to be injured. Maybe this was a trap to lure them in. Besides, what could they do for this man if he really was seriously injured? There were no cell phones to call for help. Probably someone else would be coming along soon who would be more qualified to assist him. However they justified their decision, these church workers did not do what they should have done.
The Samaritan also acted unexpectedly, but not in the same way as the priest and Levite. Many would have understood if the Samaritan passed by this Jewish man. The Samaritans and Jews did not get along. For this Samaritan, coming across a wounded Jewish man was something like coming across a wounded enemy on the battlefield. Three things could be done in this situation: kill him, ignore him, or help him.
You also have some choices when you come into contact with neighbors you have known for a while, or neighbors you are meeting for the first time. According to the Bible’s definition, your neighbor is anyone around you, anyone you interact with. The neighbors you have most frequent contact with are the ones that live with you in your home. These neighbors are in a position to share your best moments with you and your worst. They can be the objects of your love and affection, but they can also be the recipients of your impatience and unkindness.
Besides the neighbors in your home, you come into contact with other neighbors on a daily basis. Your classmates and co-workers are your neighbors. The people you share the road with and pass by in the store are your neighbors. The friends you communicate with on social media are your neighbors. It is relatively easy to be nice to our neighbors when they are nice to us. But what about when our neighbors act like our enemies? What should we do when they go out of their way to criticize us, or jump in line ahead of us, or attack our beliefs and values?
The last seven Commandments are summarized with, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These Commandments refer to all your neighbors, not just the ones you like. Jesus says that your enemies are your neighbors too. “Love your enemies,” He says, “and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). Your love for your neighbors is not based on what they do for you but on what you are called to do for them. The dying man on the side of the road could not do anything for the Samaritan man. But that did not sway the Samaritan. He saw a neighbor in need, and “he had compassion” on him.
When you come across a neighbor, whether he is polite or ill-mannered, selfless or self-centered, thoughtful or impetuous, your job is to have compassion, to show love, to be kind. Jesus never tells us to treat people like they deserve. He said, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Mt. 7:12).
In the home a husband might wish that his wife didn’t nag him so much. “After all,” he thinks, “doesn’t the Bible say that a wife should submit to her husband?” His wife might wish that he paid more attention to her and the family. “After all,” she thinks, “doesn’t the Bible say a husband should be willing to sacrifice even his own life for his wife?” Both are focusing on what their neighbor should be doing for them. But it is not the husband’s job to make his wife submit to him. And it is not the wife’s job to make her husband sacrifice for her. When a husband out of love sacrifices for his wife, and when a wife out of love submits to her husband, then the marriage functions as God intended it, and the home is blessed (Eph. 5:22-33).
If you view your spouse or your children or anyone else around you as a burden and a hindrance to your happiness, then you will be like the priest and Levite who passed by a neighbor in need. But if you see your neighbors with eyes of compassion, as those who need mercy and love, then you will see them as God sees them. Then you will see them as God sees you.
God saw you and all sinners in a condition much like the man who had been robbed and beaten on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. He saw you stripped of all righteousness, battered by your sin, and dying. He could not bear to see you in this state. So He sent down His beloved Son to save you.
Jesus gave Himself to be attacked in your place. He took the beating you deserved for your sins. Isaiah writes that “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (53:5). The holy blood flowing from His wounds brought about your healing. A beautiful stanza in one of our hymns about death says, “I fall asleep in Jesus’ wounds; / There pardon for my sins abounds. / Yea, Jesus’ blood and righteousness / My jewels are, my glorious dress. / In these before my God I’ll stand / When I shall reach the heav’nly land” (ELH 530, v. 1).
Through the shedding of His blood, Jesus won forgiveness for sinners. We did nothing to deserve this compassion and grace. We had gotten ourselves into trouble. We had wandered off the safe path. Like foolish sheep, we had gone our own way (Is. 53:6). But the Lord had mercy upon us. Like the Good Samaritan, He began to heal the wounds of our sin by pouring on the oil and wine of His saving Gospel. He brought us into the inn of His Church through the waters of Baptism, and He continues to care for us there through His Word and Sacraments. Jesus’ forgiveness cost Him His life, but it doesn’t cost us anything. The forgiveness of our sins is a free gift bestowed on us for our soul’s salvation.
Jesus was motivated to save us totally by His own love. If He waited to save people until they proved their worthiness, no one would be saved. In this, we learn how we should be toward our neighbors. Our love should not wait until our neighbors prove themselves worthy of it. Our Christian love should have no boundaries or limitations. No one has sinned against us more than we sinned against God, and yet He still loves us with a love that cannot be measured.
None of us has loved our neighbors as we should. There have been plenty of times that we left a neighbor lying by the side of the road. Maybe we were too busy with our own plans. Maybe we were tired of dealing with our neighbor’s self-inflicted wounds. Maybe we were bitter because our neighbor was not there for us when we were in need. At the time, our action—or inaction—may have seemed justified, but now we regret not being there and trying to help. We cannot make up for these missed opportunities. But we can move forward in grace. Jesus forgives our lack of love toward others.
His love for us is unchanging, and He does not give up on us. He has more opportunities planned for us—opportunities every day, every hour—to show love to our neighbors. But why does He keep entrusting us with the love and care of our neighbors, when we have failed so often? God knows how to accomplish great things even through weak hands and feeble efforts. Through imperfect marriages, He provides stability and security for the family. Through imperfect employees, He provides a vast array of products and services. Through imperfect congregation members and pastors, He provides for the administration of the means of grace.
The love that we show to our neighbors does not come from some storehouse of good inside us. It comes from Him. The Lord uses our mouths, our hands and feet, our talents and abilities to carry out His work of mercy and love in the world. This love has the power to disrupt the regular pattern of sin in the world. The world expects you to look out for yourself first and foremost. But what if in humility you put your neighbor first? Others will probably look at you wide-eyed, like the innkeeper must have looked at the Good Samaritan for going so far out of his way to help a stranger. Then you may have the opportunity to share with them the source of your love.
You love because God first loved you (1Jn. 4:19). You serve because He served you (Mt. 20:28). You sacrifice because He sacrificed Himself for you. Your life of compassion and care for your neighbors is simply a reflection of the greater love God has for you. He is the one who comforts you when you are mistreated by your neighbor. And He is the one who strengthens you to look with compassionate eyes at those around you, so that through you, they also may come to know His undying mercy and love.
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(“Parable of the Good Samaritan” painting by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 2 Corinthians 3:4-11
In Christ Jesus, whose words to us are “spirit and life” (Jn. 6:63), and whose healing gifts of righteousness and forgiveness are applied to us by the power of the Holy Spirit, dear fellow redeemed:
There are a lot of health problems that we can treat on our own. If we are feeling hungry, we eat. If we are tired, we go to bed. If a headache develops, we take a pill or two. If we sustain a minor cut or scrape, we apply a bandage. But if something more major happens, we seek help from medical professionals.
In order for these medical professionals to help us, it is absolutely necessary that they tell us the truth, even if the truth hurts. We want to know if we have some sort of serious condition or injury, so we can work on treating it. Having a doctor tell us that we couldn’t be healthier when he detects cancer in our bodies or malfunctioning organs will not do us any good. We trust our doctors to diagnose us as well as they are able and to treat the problem with the best tools at their disposal.
But for all that medical professionals are able to do, they can only do so much. Surgeons can cut out cancerous tumors, but they cannot stop more tumors from developing. Psychiatrists can help people work through mental difficulties, but they cannot take away all anxieties. No matter how well-trained health professionals are, they can offer only temporary help and temporary healing. They cannot give us what we need the most.
What we need the most is not physical healing but spiritual healing. Physical deficiencies may trouble us in this life, but spiritual deficiencies can result in suffering for eternity. Before we can receive treatment, an accurate diagnosis of our spiritual condition is required. This can be hard to come by. There are a great many spiritual practitioners out there who are not qualified for the work in any way.
They are like the doctors who are known for prescribing opioids in excessive amounts. They leave the decision to the patient and are happy to take the patient’s money. Or these spiritual practitioners downplay the seriousness of the sinner’s condition, so that he or she feels no strong motivation to address the problem. Or they prescribe the wrong treatment for a problem that only makes things worse.
The truth is that by nature, we are in bad shape. One of our hymns lays it all out in the open: “What God doth in His law demand, / No man to Him could render. / Before this Judge all guilty stand; / His law speaks curse in thunder. / The law demands a perfect heart; / We were defiled in ev’ry part, / And lost was our condition” (ELH 226, v. 2). As the hymn verse says, our spiritual sickness is diagnosed only by God’s unchangeable law.
God’s law does not make promises; it makes demands. It demands perfection. His law tells us “how we are to be, and what we are to do and not to do” (2001 ELS Catechism, question 11). Any spiritual physician who teaches that it does not matter how we live, or who says that God’s Commandments are flexible, or who teaches that we can make ourselves right with God, is a liar. There is no wiggle room and no comfort to be found in the law. God’s law is His line in the sand, and death is waiting for any who cross it.
The moral law has always been written on human hearts (Rom. 2:15). But because the conscience can grow dull, the LORD gave Moses the Ten Commandments first on two stone tablets and then on the pages of Scripture. He gave other laws besides, which regulated every aspect of life in the church and in society.
When Moses received these laws in the LORD’s presence, his face absorbed the rays of God’s brilliant light. He did not know this was happening until he returned to the Israelites’ camp. The people were afraid to come near him since his face shone so brightly. So Moses put a veil over his face while he talked with the people, but he removed it when he came before God (Ex. 34:29-35).
Moses’ shining face reminded the people that the law he delivered to them was from the holy God. The law was something to pay attention to. It was something to take very seriously. But while the law helped them keep their behavior in line, it could not save them. They did not perfectly meet God’s strict standard. They were sinners, law-breakers. So the law, which came to them in such a glorious way, nevertheless condemned them. Or as Paul said, “the letter kills.” The Old Testament law with its demand of perfection kills any hope we have of saving ourselves.
The law is like the doctor for whom “good” is never “good enough.” “You lost some weight, but you still have a lot more to go.” “You stopped one bad habit, but what about all the rest?” “No matter how hard you try, you cannot undo the damage from years past.” The spiritual physician prescribes the wrong medicine when he says that the cure for a sinful heart and a guilty conscience is to try harder to be better. Can the patient with a serious infection improve simply by trying to feel better? Neither can the sinner improve his own spiritual condition.
But it is possible for spiritual health to improve, just as physical health can improve. Every day, countless people are healed from their various illnesses and injuries. Waiting for that healing to happen can be a real test of patience. We wish that Jesus would heal us instantly like He healed the deaf and mute man in today’s Gospel (Mk. 7:31-37). But while Jesus could bring us physical healing instantly with a touch or a word, He does not tell us to expect this.
The way our Savior continues His healing work today is through means. To address your physical, mental, or emotional pain, He gives trained professionals to diagnose and treat the problem. He uses them to carry out His merciful work, even though they are flawed and do not carry out the work perfectly. Honest doctors will tell you that they do not have the answers all—or even most—of the time. But they promise to try their best. As they go about their work, God directs their efforts to bring healing and relief to many people.
The way Jesus provides spiritual healing is also through means. He sends pastors to diagnose the sinner’s spiritual condition through the law, and to apply help and healing through the Gospel. But no pastor carries out his work perfectly. He may misdiagnose the problem between feuding family members, friends, or congregation members. He can perceive stubbornness when the problem is weakness. He can be too direct with the law or too soft. The pastor learns every day how little he can control and how imperfectly he has carried out his duties.
Speaking for his fellow apostles, Paul plainly stated, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us.” On their own, they were unequal to the task their Lord had given them. “[B]ut,” he said, “our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.”
Spiritual healing happens when a pastor points the people in his care to Jesus. Jesus is the one who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4). He carried all our pain, every pain that results from sin in the world and sin in us. There is no physical, mental, or spiritual anguish you have felt that He did not feel. Maybe no one else around you seems to understand your struggle. But Jesus does. You may feel hopeless or sad or worthless. But you are not alone. The Son of God became your Brother in flesh to be with you in your worst moments and to carry you through your darkest trials.
He knows how the devil relentlessly attacks believers to try to get them to despair. Jesus silenced the devil by keeping God’s holy law perfectly for all people and paying for their sins on the cross. When Satan gets you thinking that your troubles are a punishment from God, or that God has forgotten about you, or that there is no hope, Jesus wants you lift your eyes to Him. He shed His holy blood for you, to cover over your sins. He rose again to give you confidence even while your death seems to be closing in.
This good news of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus is what you need the most. Only this can bring you spiritual healing, so that you see joy and life in your future instead of pain and death. The law cannot give you this hope—“the letter kills.” But the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel and given you a living faith in Christ—“the Spirit gives life.” The Holy Spirit brings this life to you through the means of grace, through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments.
The Holy Spirit’s work through the means of grace does not make all problems go away. Your aches and pains might not subside. But the Holy Spirit will help you bear your cross after Jesus and grow in patience. Your griefs and sorrows might not go away. But the Holy Spirit will lead you to Him who has carried those sorrows. You might often feel empty or inadequate or alone. But the Holy Spirit will remind you of your worth in Christ and will show you how you can be a blessing to others and share His love with them through encouragement, assistance, and prayer.
The glory of the Spirit’s work through the Gospel far surpasses the glory of the law. God does not want you to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” and put all your focus on being better. He wants you to believe His promises, to trust that the righteousness the law demands is credited to you by faith, and that full payment has been made for your sins. He wants you to regularly receive the benefits of Christ’s saving work through His Word and Sacraments. Not only will this bring you comfort, but it will also strengthen you to do the good things that God has created you to do.
Honest doctors who can address your physical and mental pain are a great blessing. But Only the Holy Spirit Can Give Healing Which Lasts. He brings you Jesus, and in Him is life (Jn. 1:4).
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