The Eighth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 7:15-23
In Christ Jesus, whose name is above every name (Phil. 2:9), dear fellow redeemed:
The Bible uses many titles to refer to God: the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Holy One, the Christ, the Savior, and so on. The personal name which God gave for Himself is “I AM,” or “Yahweh” in Hebrew. This is often printed as “LORD” in all capital letters in our Bibles. A name was also given to the Son of God after He was born of the Virgin Mary, the name “Jesus.”
The names and titles for God carry with them the weight of God Himself. This is why His name is not to be used lightly. After the First Commandment, which protects His glory, the LORD issued the Second, which protects His name: “You shall not take the name of the LORD [Yahweh], your God, in vain” (Ex. 20:7). There is a natural progression to the Commandments. If we do not “fear, love, and trust” in the one true God only, we will not respect His name, and then we will not listen to what He has to say, which is addressed in the Third Commandment.
Most people recognize that God’s name has significance, but that does not mean they use it with respect. “O my God,” “Good Lord,” and “Jesus Christ,” are appropriate ways to address God in prayer and thanksgiving. But they are totally inappropriate as expressions of surprise or disgust or frustration. Martin Luther explains that the Second Commandment means we should not curse by the Lord’s name, swear by His name, practice witchcraft by His name, lie by His name, or deceive by His name.
In today’s text from His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks about false teachers who lie and deceive by His name. He is referring to those who use His name like they would a good luck charm. They think that whatever they do “in the name of Jesus” is blessed, even if they are doing something contrary to love for God and neighbor. Others invoke the name of God as one might do in a seance to try to make something supernatural happen. They really don’t care where the power comes from as long as they get results. The evangelist Luke describes people like these, “the itinerant Jewish exorcists,” who “undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits” (Ac. 19:13). But the evil spirit replied, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” (v. 15). Then he attacked and overpowered all seven who had come to him.
But the primary misuse of God’s name is often more subtle than this. The devil did not come to Eve and say, “Go take a bite of that fruit over there.” He began with, “Did God really say?” (Gen. 3:1). That’s how it is today. False prophets go everywhere around the world and try to get God’s people to doubt His promises. “Did God really say?” they ask. We see this in the way that basic moral principles are reversed. What used to be recognized as sin is now praised as good. What used to lead to a preacher’s dismissal from a call is now met with a shrug of the shoulders or even with acceptance. The wolf is in the midst of the sheep, and the sheep are unconcerned! This is how the use of God’s name becomes hollow. His glory and honor are robbed for the sake of communion and peace in the world.
The Apostle John warns about this, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world…. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us” (1Jn. 4:1,5-6). What is the standard John refers to here for determining truth from error? The standard is apostolic doctrine inspired by the Holy Spirit—the standard is God’s holy Word. As soon as you hear a preacher call the Word of God into question, you know you are dealing with a false teacher.
Guarding and defending the Word of God is one of the ways that we hallow God’s name. We learned from the Catechism that “God’s name is hallowed when His Word is taught in its truth and purity.” We sing about this in the hymn verse: “God’s Word is our great heritage, / And shall be ours forever; / To spread its light from age to age / Shall be our chief endeavor. / Through life it guides our way; / In death it is our stay. / Lord, grant while worlds endure, / We keep its teachings pure, / Throughout all generations” (ELH #583). If we compromise God’s Word or lose sight of its central teaching, we have lost everything.
But we would never do that, would we? Ask yourself if you think our differences with other Christian church bodies are really that big of a deal. Are you committed to this church because of its teaching and not just family tradition? Do you “put up” with certain teachings of our church, but think they really ought to be changed? Do you, for example, question what we say about the roles of men and women, our position on moral issues, or on how we practice fellowship, including who may be admitted to the Lord’s Supper?
When we change our mind in these areas, it is usually to accommodate our sinful weaknesses or to avoid conflict with others. Taking a firm stand on the Word of God is uncomfortable. It forces us to face our weaknesses and acknowledge our sinful behavior. It also puts us at odds with the world. Many self-proclaimed Christians are willing to do this. They are willing to step away from the Word. As the Apostle Paul prophesied, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2Tim. 4:3-4).
But you are here. You have not wandered off. If you have wandered before, God has lovingly brought you back to hear His Word. He wants you to call on His name in repentance. He wants you to admit where you have set His Word aside. He wants you to commit yourself again to hearing and learning it and to living your life by it. Above all else, He wants you to know that all your sins of stubbornness and of weakness are absolved. Jesus paid for them. They are not counted against you any longer. Like a diseased tree, He was “thrown into the fire” for your offenses, and He was raised again for your justification (Rom. 4:25). This is true because the Bible tells us so, and the Bible is God’s Word, and God’s Word is truth.
We hallow God’s name by making sure “His Word is taught in its truth and purity,” and also “when we as children of God live holy lives according to it.” The false prophet will not live according to God’s Word. As Jesus said, “the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” That is how false prophets are recognized, “by their fruits.” “Their fruits” refers not only to how they act, because a false prophet may live an outwardly good life. “Their fruits” are also evident in what they teach. Jesus explained, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” No one can honor God’s name by teaching contrary to His Word. On the last day, these will say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?” But the Lord will reply, “I never knew you.”
In the end, all who have failed to hallow God’s name will be judged for their transgressions. God cannot be tricked by empty words and actions. He will never mistake a bad tree for a good one. Unlike you and me, the LORD knows the heart (1Sam. 16:7). But your heart is not pure. It does not consistently and rightly hallow God’s name. Neither does mine. How do you know that God considers you a good tree, and that you will not be “cut down and thrown into the fire” on the last day?
You are a good tree in God’s sight because you know and humbly admit that you are a bad tree by nature. Your salvation does not come by the things you accomplish, like those false prophets who cite the “many mighty works” they did supposedly in the Lord’s name. Your salvation comes by the mighty works of Jesus. Jesus says that the one “will enter the kingdom of heaven… who does the will of [His] Father.” Jesus did this perfectly in your place. He obeyed His Father, whose will was that His Son should suffer and die to save sinners. God’s will for you is to hear His Word and believe it. He wants you to look upon His Son in faith and believe what Jesus did on your behalf (Jn. 6:40).
In this humble faith, you hallow the name of God. His name is certainly holy in itself, but you want it to be hallowed where you live, where you work, where you go to church. You hallow God’s name by gladly hearing and learning His Word and by living your life according to it. In these ways, God produces good fruit in you to give others a taste of His kindness and grace. It is our prayer that as the Lord’s name is hallowed among us, those around us who do not believe will also be brought to faith. And in this way, we will together avoid the punishment of fire that we all deserve, and we will be freed from this world of lawlessness to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Natvig Reunion at Saude
Text: Jeremiah 31:23-25
In Christ Jesus, who has gone to prepare a place for us, so that we may be with Him forever, dear fellow redeemed:
What is the place that you think of as your home? Is it where you currently live? Is it where you grew up? Those of you who have lived in the same place for decades might have an easier time answering this question. Others of you who have moved around a bit might identify “home” less with a location and more with family members or your belongings. For some of you, home might be this part of northeast Iowa where your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents lived, even though you never lived here yourself.
Abram grew up in the city of Ur in the southeastern part of modern-day Iraq and moved with his father to the city of Haran in the northern part of modern-day Syria. But neither of those places was to be his home. The LORD told him to leave his country and his father’s house and go to the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1). This was the land where his offspring would live. But Abram was a nomad, wandering from place to place with his herds and flocks. His son Isaac lived the same life, as did his sons Jacob and Esau. When Jacob’s son Joseph was made the second-in-command in Egypt, Jacob and all his children and grandchildren moved there.
In Egypt, the family multiplied to such an extent that a Pharaoh ruling long after Joseph’s death enslaved these “Israelites.” Now, God’s promise to give the land of Canaan to Abram’s descendants seemed like nothing but an empty dream. Pharaoh would never let them go. But the LORD called Moses to lead them out of Egypt, and they were delivered from slavery. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the LORD brought them to the land He had promised, the land of Canaan.
What a gift the LORD had given them! No more wandering. No more longing for a place to call their own. They were finally home! But it wasn’t long before they forgot the One who brought them out of slavery and gave them this land. They began to think that their success was due to their own strength. They thought that they could blend the religious practices of the people around them into their own culture without losing sight of who they were. It wasn’t long before their hearts were given over to the false gods of the Gentile nations. Even when they performed the ceremonial rites that God commanded, they were only going through the motions.
God sent the Assyrians against the northern kingdom of Israel, and in 722 B. C. the Israelites were either killed or exiled, never to be heard from again. The southern kingdom of Judah survived awhile longer, until its people were also exiled in the year 586. God had given them a good home, “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Jer. 32:22), but they had forgotten Him. They praised themselves for their prosperity, and trusted in their own efforts and abilities. The LORD said through the prophet Jeremiah, “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely…. Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, “We will not walk in it”’” (6:13,16).
However the LORD did not forget His people. He brought them back from their captivity in Babylon. He returned them to the home promised to their forefathers so long before. He did exactly what He said He would do in today’s text, “And Judah and all its cities shall dwell [in the land] together, and the farmers and those who wander with their flocks. For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”
For many of you, your forefathers set out from the lands of Europe many years ago. The people who formed the congregations of Jerico and Saude were Norwegian immigrants. They left Norway because the population there was expanding, and they heard about land for the taking in America. Men, women, and children left their families and the only home they had ever known, and got aboard overcrowded ships to make the long journey to a new country. These families could bring along only the most essential items. Among these items could almost always be found a Bible, a Catechism, and a Lutheran hymnbook.
They arrived with hardly anything to their name but trusted that their gracious LORD would provide for them. And He did. Like the Israelites of old, He led them to their own land. And He gave them the strength and the will to cultivate the land and make a home for themselves. It was hard work, but the LORD blessed it. These humble settlers gave credit where credit was due. They confessed along with their first pastor, the Rev. U. V. Koren, the words we just sang, “Not we, but the Lord is our Maker, our God: / Glory be to God! / His people we are, and the sheep led by His rod; / Sing praise unto God out of Zion!” (ELH #56, v. 2).
But the land could not provide everything that these industrious settlers needed. It gave them the materials required for barns and shelters. It produced food for themselves and their livestock. It satisfied their physical needs well enough. But the land could not provide for their spiritual needs. Only the Word of God can do that.
Before I came to serve this parish, I was a pastor in the western part of Washington in the city of Tacoma, south of Seattle. The religious culture in the Pacific Northwest is not what it is here. Many do not go to church or have any interest in organized religion. When they have free time (typically on the weekends), people like to go hiking in the mountains or spend time on the coast. They imagine that nature is their connection to the divine, if there is a god at all.
This mentality is not as obvious in the Midwest, but we are not far behind. Our culture likes to present religious teaching something like the menu at a restaurant. “Oh, I’ll take this, but could you bring it without this and this? I just can’t stand that. I don’t know how anyone could swallow that.” It used to be for our grandparents and great-grandparents that whatever the Bible said was the truth. Now we hear talk about how Jesus’ apostles were chauvinistic or homophobic. Jesus Himself is recast as a good teacher whose core message is that we should love and accept everyone just the way they are.
But is that why the Son of God became Man? Was it His mission to deliver the message that everyone is perfect just the way they are? Our ancestors knew better, and I hope we do too. Jesus described His mission in this way, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10). Who are the lost? He was not referring to the Israelites exiled by the Assyrians, or to the Judeans taken by the Babylonians. He is talking about you and me and all sinners. We are those who are lost in our sins by nature. We have wandered far off the right path and cannot find our way back again. In our sin, we have no prospect of a good home or a bright future.
But some do not think they are lost. They think they have all they need in this life. “The weak and the small-minded might go for what the Bible says, but not me.” But then where is your hope? What purpose does your life have? What good will all your earthly wealth do when death comes? Our beloved ancestors buried around this church do not have bank accounts anymore. They do not own land. They wouldn’t care if they did. They left behind their temporary riches in this world for eternal riches in heaven. They left their good homes here for a far better home where the LORD dwells.
They did not get there by hard work or a noble character. They got there by grace. God the Father sent His Son to gather up the lost like a good shepherd gathers his wandering sheep [which is depicted so nicely on the altar painting at Saude]. Jesus came to save each weary soul, every person languishing in sin, all those who had fainted along the way. He came to save you. He came to give you what you cannot earn or buy or manufacture or produce. He came to win for you the forgiveness of your sins, which could only be obtained through the shedding of His holy blood.
This is the heart of Christian teaching, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). This is the Gospel truth that has been passed down to us from generation to generation. It never goes out of style. It never needs to change. It is God’s timeless promise to the world of sinners. Whoever comes to Him with a humble heart, repenting of all sins, trusting His gracious Word—these He will never cast out (Jn. 6:37).
The LORD loves to forgive sins. He loves to provide living water from the well of His Word. He loves to feed the hungry with His own body and blood. And He loves to bring the weary and faint to Himself in heaven. There, our struggle will be over, our hard labor ended, and our longing for a lasting home satisfied. As our Norwegian ancestors sang, “In heav’n above, in heav’n above, / No tears of pain are shed, / For nothing there can fade or die; / Life’s fullness round is spread, / And like an ocean, joy o’erflows, / And with immortal mercy glows / Our God, the Lord of hosts!” (ELH #542, v. 3).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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The Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:20-26
In Christ Jesus, our Righteousness, who has taken from us what is ours and given us what is His, dear fellow redeemed:
Those of you who have played team sports know that confidence is not equivalent to ability. You may have a teammate who is supremely confident in his or her ability to be a game changer. They are always looking for the ball, for the tough assignment, for the challenge of crunch time. The problem is that they are unaware of what they lack. They routinely trip and fall down, miss the big shot, or commit an ill-advised penalty. To make matters worse, then they act surprised, as though the outcome was beyond their control. When the next game or match rolls around, they show they have learned nothing about the game or themselves.
As a child of God through faith in Jesus, you are a member of the holy Christian Church. But what kind of member are you? Are you the kind that is well-attuned to the plans of your own life, but care little about the lives of others? In sports terms, you might be called a “ball hog.” Do you attend church from time to time but neglect to read or study God’s Word during the week? Then you might be called a “benchwarmer.” Are you the kind of Christian that talks a good game but fails to back it up with any meaningful actions? Then you would be like the teammate I described who is high on confidence but poor on the follow through. Or do you seek to make the lives of your neighbors better through acts of kindness and prayer? That would make you a “team player” and a great asset to the church.
The truth is, these descriptions have applied to each of us in the past, and they no doubt will again in the future. Sometimes we are selfish, sometimes we are weak in the faith, sometimes we are overconfident of our spiritual strength, and sometimes we are a great blessing to our neighbors. The danger is when we think we have Christian living all figured out, when we no longer recognize how the devil is tempting us, and how we “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
This is the predicament the scribes and Pharisees were in. They had two major problems: 1) They were not righteous before God, but 2) they thought they were. Though they lacked the spiritual ability that God requires, they were confident they had it. But how could they possibly have imagined that they were right with God through their own works?
Well, imagine that everyone in your neighborhood and surrounding community claimed to be Christian. But then they publicly and regularly break God’s Commandments. They loudly take His name in vain. They often choose family outings and entertainment over attending church. They sneak over and take their neighbors’ things. They tell lies and gossip about others. But you stand out. You watch what you say. You attend church every Sunday. You freely share the good things you have. You try to anticipate your neighbors’ needs and volunteer to help.
Wouldn’t it be tempting to judge the level of your righteousness in comparison with others? Wouldn’t it be obvious that you take God’s Word seriously, and are therefore a better Christian than they are? This is what the scribes and Pharisees thought. They were the Jewish people who were serious about God’s Word. They wanted to live according to His Ten Commandments, and follow all the Old Testament ceremonial and civil regulations besides. After all, God hadn’t made His law optional. He told His people to keep it, to conform their lives to it.
But as hard as the scribes and Pharisees tried, they could not meet the standard God had set. Jesus told the crowd gathered to hear His preaching on the mountain, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus said that the scribes and Pharisees had not done enough. Not even those holy people! God requires a righteousness that exceeds this level.
What would you be thinking if you were a scribe or a Pharisee standing in the crowd that day? You would have probably been offended. Because you could look at the people around you and say to yourself, “I’m not good enough!?! But I have always kept the Sabbath, unlike so-and-so over there! And I respect and honor my parents, unlike them! And I have never cheated on my spouse, like she has and he has!” Your whole concept of righteousness would be built upon the notion that if you could only show how you were better than everyone around you, then you were good enough for God.
But Jesus was not finished. He explained what His statement about righteousness meant. He cited the proper teaching that a murderer is liable to judgment. But refraining from murder does not mean the Fifth Commandment has been kept. He explained that “everyone who is angry with his brother,” or “insults his brother,” or wrongly says “You fool!” will be “liable to judgment”—even “to the hell of fire.” Jesus said that the same goes for the Sixth Commandment. Not just the unfaithful spouse, but “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent” (Mt. 5:28), has committed adultery. In other words, no natural born human being is capable of the righteousness God requires. As King David was inspired to write 1000 years earlier, “there is none who does good, not even one” (Ps. 14:3, 53:5).
So what now? God demands righteous living and speaking and even thinking according to His law, but no one can meet the standard. This seems like producing a doggy treat for your pet but holding it way above his ability to reach it. The goal is within view, but the task is impossible.
Rather than some cruel exercise, God’s standard of righteousness is actually a blessing. Can you imagine life without the moral law of God written on every human heart? No, you can’t. The world would be a terrifying place, and you wouldn’t live very long. Nothing would be in place to restrain the sinful impulses of mankind. God’s law can be a heavy burden on the guilty conscience, but it is a far better burden than unchecked wickedness.
Besides this, God’s law provides the picture of what true righteousness looks like. It consists of perfect love and communion with God and perfect love and communion with one another. The law’s standard is not “try your best,” be “better than,” or “pretty good.” This would be the same as having no standard at all, because everyone would decide for himself and herself what “try your best,” “better than,” and “pretty good” mean.
No matter how confident we are that we can keep the law, it is far beyond our ability. Today’s chief hymn explains why: “By Adam’s fall is all forlorn / Man’s nature and his thinking, / The poison’s there when we are born, / In sin yet deeper sinking” (ELH #430, v. 1). As much as we want to be righteous and as hard as we may try, we still fail. We fail because we are sinners, who inherited the propensity to sin from our parents, who got it from their parents, and so on. Adam and Eve had perfect righteousness, but they threw it away because the devil convinced them that they could have something more. It was the greatest lie of “the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44).
But God speaks truth, and He promised a Savior from this unrighteousness. The Son of God became man, so He could do what nobody on earth could manage to do since the fall into sin. He kept the law of God perfectly. He met that high standard. He achieved perfect love. His life was not simply “good enough.” It was flawless, holy. He told the crowd, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt. 5:17). That’s quite a statement! But He could say it with confidence knowing He actually had the ability to back it up.
But what good does Jesus’ perfect life do? Is it just another example along with the law to show you how much you have failed? No. Jesus lived His life for you, for your benefit, on your behalf. He lived a perfect life according to the law, so that it could be credited to you by faith. The Apostle Paul writes, “For as by the one man’s disobedience [that is, Adam] the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience [that is, Jesus] the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). Again, he says that the Christian life is not about “having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9).
Since you freely receive this righteousness from God by faith, there is no reason to compare your life with others or try to make yourself out to be more than you are. You are nothing more than a humble recipient of God’s grace. Though you have not deserved it, God has given you every spiritual blessing, including the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life.
This is why you now seek to help and befriend your neighbor, and to reconcile with a brother or sister in Christ when you find yourselves at odds. You don’t do these things out of a desperate attempt to please God. He is already pleased with you in Christ. You show kindness and love to your neighbor because God loves you. You forgive one another because God has forgiven you (Eph. 4:32).
So what do you say? Are You Good Enough for God? Not “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.” And by your own efforts, it does not. But you are righteous and holy and pure in God’s sight through faith in His Son. Put your confidence in Him who was able to singlehandedly win the victory for the whole team—for the world of sinners—through His death and resurrection.
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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