The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 5:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who by the power of His Word “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20), dear fellow redeemed:
About the middle of this past week when I was attending our church camp with the youth, Kristin asked me if my time there seemed like work or like a getaway. As much as I enjoy camp—and we do have a good time—I told her that we pastors stay very busy with teaching, preaching, and chaperoning. And it’s not always clear what effect our efforts have. Do the campers leave camp with a clearer understanding of Law and Gospel? Have they grown in their faith? Has their love for God and for each other increased? Those things are difficult to measure.
We live in a results-driven society where everything gets measured. The success of a sports franchise is determined by how many titles it has won. Businesses are constantly doing cost and profit analyses to find their way in the market. Individuals are judged by their grades and their personal accomplishments. Even churches fall into the “results” trap and measure the effectiveness of their mission by their attendance totals or by how significant their financial holdings are.
Judged by this kind of standard, we would conclude that Simon, James, and John were not the greatest fishermen. They worked all through the night and didn’t catch a thing. What was the problem? Were their methods faulty? Had they chosen the wrong parts of the lake? Did they try at the wrong time? What exactly was keeping them from success?
But the message of today’s Gospel is not a tutorial from Jesus about how to maximize one’s success at fishing or anything else. The message is that no matter what skill and effort we might apply in our work, no matter what plans we make and what success we have had in the past, we cannot accomplish anything good apart from God’s mercy and the blessing of His Word.
The fishermen hadn’t done anything wrong in their approach to catching fish. They had been fishing for a long time, probably since they were kids. They wouldn’t stay up all night fishing unless they felt confident that the fish they would catch would outweigh the lack of sleep. They couldn’t explain why their nets came up empty. For whatever reason, the fish just weren’t there. They must have felt frustrated as they cleaned their nets on the shore. And tired.
But then something happened to take their attention away from their troubles. A great crowd had gathered on the lake shore. The people were listening to Jesus, that prophet from Nazareth, whom John the Baptizer identified as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Joh. 1:29). Everyone wanted to hear Jesus and get a good look at Him, so they pressed toward Him. It was similar to how people act around a famous person today, all crowding in to get a picture or an autograph.
Jesus decided that a change was needed, so the people could focus on His Word and not on how close they could get to Him. He saw fishing boats on the shore and asked Simon to take Him out a little ways. From His place in the boat, He continued teaching with Simon sitting there listening. When He was done speaking, He told Simon to row to a deeper part of the lake and let down his nets for a catch.
Conventional wisdom said that if the fish couldn’t be caught the previous night, they certainly couldn’t be caught that day. Simon said to Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” But he had been listening to what Jesus was saying that morning. He recognized that Jesus was a prophet of some sort. “[A]t Your word I will let down the nets,” he said.
He was shocked to see the fish swarming, the nets breaking, and the boats filling. Simon cast out the nets just as he had the night before. The method hadn’t changed. But now he had an abundance of fish whereas before he had none. What was the difference? The difference was the Word of Jesus. Jesus spoke the Word, and He gave the increase. Jesus gave success to Simon. Jesus put fish in the boats.
This should teach us to put our trust in the Lord’s Word. Look at what His Word accomplished! It moved the disciples to action even after their previous efforts had failed. It filled the nets that before had come up empty. And it caused them to leave behind their historic haul of fish to follow Jesus. His Word continues to do amazing things like these each and every day. The problem is that we don’t recognize the hand God has in supplying our daily needs and giving us success.
We imagine that our work succeeds because of how gifted we are and because of how hard we try. “Look at what I have accomplished,” we think. “Look at what my hands have built.” But if we take all the glory for our successes, don’t we deserve all the blame for our failures? That’s not often how it goes. We are glad to receive praise for the good things, but we quickly pass the blame for the bad things.
Or maybe we do see our failure in earthly things as proof that we are no good. We imagine that God frowns on us and that He must be punishing us. We approach our work with a defeatist attitude. “Why should I even try? It isn’t going to work anyway. If it failed once, it will certainly fail again.”
Both of those perspectives are sinful—the idea that everything good we have is a result of our efforts, and the idea that we’re better off not trying anymore when we have failed. Simon was right to fall down before Jesus and acknowledge his sins. Each of us should do the same. We should recognize and acknowledge every day that we are sinners.
When our prideful or despairing hearts have been pierced by the Law of God, the difference between His holiness and our sinfulness couldn’t be more obvious. We see that even our best moments in life did not put us close to the glory of God. The thought that we could ever be good enough to get ourselves to heaven is an outright lie of the devil, and it destroys saving faith.
Simon had just pulled in the greatest catch of fish that he had ever seen, but when he realized what had happened, his eyes shifted to Jesus. And when he saw Jesus, he felt as though all his sins were laid bare before the almighty God. He wanted to hide. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” he said. “I am not worthy to be in Your presence. I am not worthy to receive Your gifts.”
Simon was right about that. But Jesus did not leave him. He said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Simon did not have to fear the wrath of God. Jesus had come to save sinners. He had come to atone for Simon’s sins and to give Simon special work—the work of preaching the Word of Jesus. Jesus’ Word which had filled Simon’s nets with fish would also fill God’s nets with repentant believers.
This is a net you want to be caught in, and which you are in through the saving Word. You were lost in the darkness, living without hope or a purpose like so many in the world today. And God drew you to Himself with the net of His Word. He called you out of darkness. He brought you forgiveness and life in the calm waters of Baptism. He claimed you as His own, and He still claims you.
But as you look back through your life, you know how much time you have wasted in pursuing your own plans. You know how prideful you have been when you have done well, and how you have failed to give glory to God for your success. And you know how easily you have given up when everything didn’t work out just the way you wanted. What kind of servant are you in the Lord’s kingdom? Why should He look kindly upon you? You can understand why Simon said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
But Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; I forgive you all your sins. I died and rose again for you. I will not depart from you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” His Word of grace restores you. It lifts you out of your sin and despair. It shifts your focus from the gifts to the Giver, from your successes to your Savior, from the nets full of blessings to the One who fills them.
And when you recognize that The Word of God Gives the Increase, then you are ready for the work He has called you to do. You are ready to give your best to your family and your employer, knowing that God has called you to these vocations and will bless your efforts. You are ready to work humbly, knowing that you do not deserve either the opportunities you have or the success.
All the good things you have in this life and in the life to come are from the powerful Word of God. The Word He has spoken makes the sun shine, the rain fall, and the plants grow. His Word brought about your existence through the union of your parents and keeps you going. His Word gives life all around the world. Hebrews 1 says that the Son of God “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (v. 3). And His Word brought the light of faith to your heart and makes your faith strong.
The Word of God can do what we consider impossible. It works even when the conditions don’t seem right and conventional wisdom says it will fall flat. The Word changes hearts. It comforts consciences. It is always effective. That means as the Word continues to be in your ears, in your mind, and in your heart, God will bring blessings in all that you do.
These blessings are not measurable according to the standards of the world. God’s Word may not appear to make much difference. But God is constantly at work through His Word. He promises that His Word will not return to Him empty, and that He will continue to give us blessing upon blessing each and every day.
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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(picture of the miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)
The First Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 21:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who came down to win salvation for sinners and who still comes to bless them until He takes them to heaven to live with Him in glory, dear fellow redeemed:
Have you ever been someplace where a famous person showed up unexpectedly? Maybe it was a popular actor or singer or professional athlete or maybe someone like the President of the United States. When they show up, the news of their appearance spreads like fire. A crowd starts to form, people getting excited, squeezing in to try to get a better view.
This is something like the scene in Jerusalem when Jesus arrived at the beginning of Holy Week. The streets and buildings were swollen with people who had come for the annual Passover celebration. Then word started to travel: “Jesus is coming!” Not everyone knew about Him: “Who is this?” they asked (Mat. 21:10). “He is the prophet from Nazareth! He does great signs and wonders! He even raised a man from the dead over in Bethany! That man Lazarus is alive and well!”
So a great crowd pushed toward the gate where Jesus would arrive drawing others along with them like a magnet attracting metal shavings. The people spilled out of the city and spread out along the road. By now, the idea was firmly planted in their minds that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. He was the mighty King who would free them from their enemies.
The people of the crowd were not rich dignitaries who could roll out a red carpet and welcome Jesus with impressive displays of pomp and circumstance. But they could offer their dusty cloaks and lay palm branches on the road as a carpet for his donkey. There were no professional musicians and singers organized for His approach. But the people had their own voices to employ, so they sang joyfully the words of the messianic Psalm (118:25-26), “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
Now is this the way Jesus would be received if He suddenly appeared somewhere close by today? I have no doubt that Jesus would draw a big crowd. And I think He would be welcomed with great rejoicing and hopefulness. But it wouldn’t take long before people labeled Him a disappointment. By the end of the first week, the crowd would be considerably smaller, and Jesus would be looking at more enemies than allies.
That’s what happened in Jerusalem. The people welcomed Him as the King who would restore the glory to Israel. He would assert His authority and lead them to freedom from the Romans. Besides that, He would bring them healing from their illnesses and pain. He would feed them with a never-ending supply of food. It would be a heaven on earth.
Isn’t that what people would expect from Jesus now? They would want Him to solve their earthly problems: “Lord, this person has cancer, this person is very ill, this person is severely depressed, this person has chronic back pain. Please heal them!” Others would come asking Him to fill their cupboards with food or help with their financial issues. And everyone would want to know His position on the hot topics of the day: “What political party do You endorse? What do You think about a mask mandate? Can we really trust the coronavirus vaccine?”
I don’t think His answers would satisfy anyone. Whenever the Pharisees and teachers of the law tried to trap Jesus with their questions, they walked away frustrated. Instead of helping you score points against someone, Jesus would turn the focus back on you. “Why are you so eager to judge your neighbor? Why are you trying to remove a speck from your brother’s eye when there is a log in your own eye? Your duty is to love your neighbors—even your enemies—and to pray for those who persecute you” (Mat. 7:1-5, 5:44).
Many would come to Jesus looking for His help with other people’s sins. Few would come seeking His forgiveness for their own sins. And that is to misunderstand Jesus, to misunderstand God’s purpose in sending His Son to take on our flesh. Jesus did not come to make us secure in our self-made righteousness. That sounds something like this: “If you think and act like I do, then you are good. If you don’t think and act like I do, then you are bad.” That approach lacks both charity and humility.
The truth is that all of us are bad. By nature, all of us are self-centered and self-serving. We are stubborn and prideful and easily angered. And God sent His Son right into all our bitterness and in-fighting. Why? It’s because God loved the world, even this broken, evil world. He sent His Son to be the Light in our darkness, to be our Hope and our Righteousness and our Salvation.
This is why Jesus came. He came to redeem us sinners. He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday not to defeat the Romans or the Pharisees, but to overcome the works of darkness and conquer death itself. By Friday of that week, He was hanging on the cross suffering for your sins and mine and for the sins of the whole world. And then the following Sunday He was appearing again alive to His disciples who had deserted Him. He was not angry with them; He forgave them, just as He forgives you.
And this Jesus, your King, who humbly offered Himself as the sacrifice for your sins and who triumphed over your death, still comes to bless you today. He does not come visibly attracting a great crowd in some major city. He comes hidden in His Word and Sacraments. He comes to meet you in whatever trial or pain or struggle you are currently experiencing. He comes to apply His powerful healing through His Word and to strengthen your faith.
He even attaches His own body and blood to earthly elements, so you can be sure that He has come, sure that He has imparted the blessings He promises. We welcome Him here to our altar just as the people welcomed Him to Jerusalem so long ago: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” We do not lay down our cloaks or palm branches at the altar. We lay down the burden of our sin and guilt, our judgmental attitude toward our neighbor, our lack of love. We lay these things before the righteous Judge, and He says to us, “This is My body; this is My blood—given and shed for you for the remission of your sins.”
But His present coming in the means of grace is ignored by the world and even by some Christians. This year has exposed the way many people view the gathering of Christians. Unbelievers view it as unessential at best and as dangerous at worst. They really see it as no different than the gathering of any other worldly organization. If they believe there is a God, they don’t believe He actually comes down to meet us in physical things like words and water, bread and wine.
And then there are even some Christians who say, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian!” And, “Church is not a building; we are the church!” There is truth in both statements. If all we cared about was the church building, and how pretty it is, and how just sitting there makes us feel better, then we are putting too much stock in wood and plaster and paint. We Christians can do without a building. But we cannot do without Christ.
Christ’s holy Word and Sacraments are essential to us Christians. They are the lifeline between us and our gracious Lord. They are the way He gives us the healing, help, and strength that we cannot get anywhere else. We don’t need to receive these blessings in a church building, but we do need to receive them. And Jesus is glad to come to us. He is glad to deliver His gifts. He wants to ease our troubled conscience. He wants to alleviate our doubts and fears. He wants to bring us the assurance that when this life comes to an end, a much better life awaits.
We who gather around Jesus today are just a small part of the great multitude that has followed Him since time began. We face troubles that are unique to us, but that many have experienced before us. We are not the first of Jesus’ followers to suffer, and He has brought countless believers through suffering into glory. He has led His people through every imaginable distress and conflict, and He will do the same for us.
So we repent of our mistrust and our worry. Jesus is still here with us. He still brings us His rich blessings. Just as He entered Jerusalem to save, so He still comes among us to save. Here He is present in His Word and Sacraments to bless us. And soon He will come again visibly to unite the great multitude of believers in His kingdom which has no end.
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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(picture from “Entry of Christ into Jerusalem” by Pietro Lorenzetti, 1320)
The Festival of All Saints – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:1-12
In Christ Jesus, whose righteousness and blood have opened the way for us to heaven, dear fellow redeemed:
Parents spend a lot of time telling their children to “stick with it,” because “the hard work will pay off.” It may be in reference to schoolwork or practice for a particular sport. Or maybe a child has taken on a job that is harder than he realized. He feels like quitting, but his parents urge him on: “Stick with it! You can do this!”
As we get older, the problems of life get more complex and serious, and we don’t always have the cheerleader in our corner urging us and helping us to “stick with it!” We feel as though the burden on our shoulders is more than we can carry. We feel like no one understands our troubles. Close relationships break apart, and we don’t see how they could ever be repaired. Our best efforts fail, and we are at a loss for what else to try. We imagine that there is no good solution to the difficulties we face.
Such feelings of helplessness are symptoms of life in a fallen world. In this world, righteousness and justice do not always win out. Kindness, love, and respect are not always returned. Wrongs are not always righted. Hard work is not always recognized. Sacrifices are not always appreciated. And the Gospel of Christ’s redemptive work is rejected by a great many.
It is because of the trials believers face in this world that Jesus spoke today’s words of comfort. His list of “Beatitudes” begins His “Sermon on the Mount,” which spans three chapters in the book of Matthew. Though some try to turn Jesus’ words into a creed for social justice, His words address spiritual and not social challenges.
The first blessing is for “the poor in spirit.” It is for you who recognize your spiritual bankruptcy. By nature, you have nothing good to present to God, nothing to offer that could make you acceptable to Him. You confess yourself to be a “poor sinner,” who can only “flee for refuge to [God’s] infinite mercy” (ELH “Confession of Sin,” p. 41). While despairing of yourself, you have the same confidence as the psalmist: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
The second blessing is for “those who mourn.” It is for you who regret the wrongs you have done and are sorry for them. As much as you would like to take back things that you have done or said, you know that you cannot do this. And so you look to your merciful Savior. The hymnist Paul Gerhardt expressed this hope beautifully, “Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted, / Who sit in deepest gloom, / Who mourn o’er joys departed, / And tremble at your doom; / Despair not, He is near you, / Yea, standing at the door, / Who best can help and cheer you, / And bid you weep no more” (ELH #94, v. 6).
The third blessing is for “the meek.” It is for you who have known injustice and unkindness, but who humbly commend your “body and soul and all things” into God’s loving hands (Luther’s Morning & Evening Prayers).
The fourth blessing is for “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” It is for you whose soul pants for God like a ragged deer searching for flowing streams. It is for the soul that thirsts “for the living God” (Ps. 42:2). The world is a spiritual desert, so you long for the spiritual oasis of God’s Word and Sacraments where your spirit can be refreshed and strengthened.
The fifth blessing is for “the merciful.” It is for you who take the burdens of others upon yourself by offering help and encouragement and by praying for them. You do not love your neighbor perfectly, but God is pleased by even your humble efforts. No good word or kind deed goes unnoticed by Him.
The sixth blessing is for “the pure in heart.” It is for you who want to live a God-pleasing life, who want to follow His will. You recognize that your heart is not pure like it should be, and you trust that God will graciously create “a clean heart” in you and “renew a right spirit” within you (Ps. 51:10).
The seventh blessing is for “the peacemakers.” It is for you who want to establish and keep peace not by compromising the truth, but by speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:25). You gently and patiently bear with others in love because you are “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
The eighth blessing is for “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” It is for you who are attacked for doing and saying the right thing. You willingly endure criticism and ridicule for your beliefs, because your trust is in God. You believe that nothing “will be able to separate [you] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
The ninth blessing is for “you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.” You know what it is like to have lies told about you, or to have unkind assumptions repeated about you. When these hateful words are spoken against you because of your confession of Jesus and His Word, you have the promise of God’s unchanging love and compassion for you.
As you have listened to the list of those to whom Jesus Gives His Holy Blessings, you might think that some of the descriptions apply to you, but some do not. Maybe you do feel “poor in spirit,” but you have not been much of a “peacemaker.” Maybe you have been “mourning” about your sin, because you have not been very “merciful.”
But here is the comforting truth: Wherever we have lacked righteousness—which is in every aspect of our lives—Jesus substitutes His perfection. All of our pride, our me-first attitude, our lack of mercy toward others, our inner uncleanness, our reluctant faith—all of it is covered over by the righteousness of Jesus. When God looks at His children by faith, He does not see our sin; He sees the holiness of Jesus. This is why we are called saints even while we bear a sinful nature in this sinful world.
Today, we remember the saints from our churches who have entered the church triumphant within the past year. We remember Edna, Godfrey, Mavis, Eunice, and Stella. It is common in our culture to speak about the dead as though they had reached perfection on this earth. The five people we remember today would not want us to do that. They knew their sin just as surely as we know our own sin. But they were saints on earth by faith in Jesus, and now their souls are in heaven, unencumbered by any pain, sorrow, or trouble.
They are part of the great host that we heard about in today’s Epistle lesson. They are among the countless number of saints “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9-10). We are glad for them, but we miss them. And we find it harder to face the troubles of this world without them.
This is why Jesus promises the blessings He does in the Beatitudes. To you who are “poor in spirit,” Jesus gives “the kingdom of heaven.” To you who “mourn,” Jesus gives comfort. To you who are “meek,” Jesus gives the inheritance of all things. To you who “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus fills you with His holy food and drink. To you who are “merciful,” Jesus bestows His mercy. To you who are “pure in heart,” Jesus leads you into the glorious presence of God. To you who are “peacemakers,” Jesus calls you His brothers, the sons of God. To you who are “persecuted,” Jesus gives you the peace of heaven. To you who are reviled and lied about, Jesus gives you the eternal reward of Paradise.
These blessings are yours by faith in Jesus. You are among the suffering ones that He describes here. He is telling you that He understands your sorrow. He understands your pain. He understands the loneliness of life in the fallen world. If anyone knew these troubles, He did. He was despised and reviled and persecuted by all people in order to win for sinners the eternal riches of God.
This Lord who suffered on your behalf is now with you in your suffering. No matter how much it may feel like it at times, you are not alone. Jesus is here for you as you struggle through. He “opens His mouth” and speaks comforting words of forgiveness and healing to you through your pastor and other Christian friends. And He addresses your spiritual weakness by feeding you with His holy body and quenching your thirst with His precious blood. Jesus Gives His Holy Blessings Even to You.
This does more for you than a motivational “Stick with it!” or a “You can do this!” Instead Jesus says, “I can do this, and I have done it. All that you need, I have given to you. All that is Mine is yours. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” By faith in these promises, we will one day be free of all our troubles and will join those saints above, that joyful host clothed in white robes. Then together we will worship the Lamb, our Savior, forever.
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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(portion of “The Sermon of the Beatitudes” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
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 Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, God in the flesh, who fed the people by miraculous means, and who still fills hungry stomachs—and souls—today, dear fellow redeemed:
Much of human history is characterized by faithlessness and fear. We see this even in the first humans, Adam and Eve, who decided to go their own way and then tried to hide from the LORD. When people turn away from God and trust in their own plans and abilities, the world does not become better, but worse.
In the 1800s, some began to sound the alarm that the human population would soon outpace food production and lead to an international crisis. Others took this warning and shaped it into the horrible eugenics campaigns of the early 1900s. These programs were geared toward stopping the growth of certain portions of the population, especially through the sterilization of women. The targets of these programs were most often the poor and people of races that were considered inferior. These things happened in America and were sanctioned by the highest levels of government.
But as our country’s population increased in the last century, so did food production. Today, we have such an abundance of grain in America that we turn it into fuel and sell it to other countries. But there is still plenty of sin to go around. Many continue to work at curbing population growth, particularly through the killing of the unborn and the elderly. At the same time, others selfishly store up the plenty they have and ignore the needy. Still more believe they have the right to be as wasteful and reckless as they please with God’s good gifts.
They sin who think that whether or not we survive is in our hands. They also sin who think nothing about the Source of their earthly goods. Today’s Gospel lesson teaches us to set aside our fear and faithlessness and to see how The Lord Provides.
Should the crowd gathered around Jesus be criticized because they failed to plan for their trip into the wilderness? Isn’t it “Survival 101” to make sure you have an adequate supply of food and water before you go somewhere remote? We certainly don’t want to tempt God or expect our food to appear out of thin air. But the crowd was guilty of neither of these things. They were so eager to be with Jesus and listen to His teaching, that they hardly noticed their hunger. They were doing what Jesus commanded in His Sermon on the Mount, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt. 6:33). They looked to Jesus, and He supplied what they needed.
Our text does not say that the people asked Jesus for food. It says He had compassion on them. He recognized their need. He did not want to send them away hungry, because they would faint on the way. But where would the food come from? It was a “desolate place.” The land could not supply what the people’s stomachs demanded.
If a crowd of hungry people were out in the wilderness today, what solutions might be offered for the problem? Those concerned with overpopulation might say, “Send the people on their way, and nature will sort out the fit from the weak.” Some might make the wealthier members of the crowd responsible for the poorer ones and task a few with going to buy food for all. Others might fling up their hands like the disciples did and say there is no solution to the problem.
From our human perspective, there is no easy fix in a situation like this. We don’t have to look very far for examples of hunger and suffering in the world. There are vast amounts of people who do not know where they will find their next meal. There are even people like this in our own communities. We can understand why some might think overpopulation is a cause of these problems and take steps to reduce the population. But “two wrongs don’t make a right.” We can also recognize the appeal of wealth redistribution, so that everyone has the exact same. But wherever that has been forced on a people, the result is that almost all are impoverished, and none are motivated to work hard.
Humankind will never find solutions for all the world’s problems. Until the end of time, there will be hunger, there will be violence and war, there will be sickness and trouble. All these are effects of sin in the world. Naturally, the non-Christian and the Christian will address these problems in different ways. Non-Christians see these problems and think progress and change depend entirely on their own efforts. Christians recognize that they do not have the power to set everything right in the world, and they look to the merciful God.
“But what has God done to solve the problems in the world?” You can imagine hearing that question. People want to know why there is hunger and other troubles if God has the power to help. So why doesn’t He? None of us knows the mind of the Lord. We cannot know for sure where and how He chooses to work.
What we do know is that He is a gracious and merciful God (Ex. 34:6). We know that His powerful Word is working to uphold and sustain creation (Heb. 1:3). We know that “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45). We know that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb. 12:6), so that His children are drawn closer to Him. It would not be good for us to get everything we wanted. If we did, then we would forget about God (Prov. 30:9). The Lord also lets our neighbors be in need, so that we have opportunities to show love to them.
If we have the attitude that we won’t take charity from anyone, and that we can make it on our own, don’t you think it is likely that we will feel the same way toward God? Regarding our physical needs, God has made it nearly impossible for us to go it alone. How do you make money? You need to be employed by someone, or have someone buy a product you are selling. How do you get food? You could hunt for what you need and have a big garden, but probably you will stop by the grocery store, which requires a long chain of people to get food on the shelf. How do you have support in the sad and difficult times of life? Often this comes from those around you who have experienced troubles of their own.
We were born to be in community, and we were born again (baptized) to become part of a Christian congregation. God provides for us both physically and spiritually through the efforts and hands of others. When we are not sure how to feed our families, God gives us kind neighbors to help us. When we are grieving, He gives us compassionate friends to comfort us. When we are burdened by our guilt and weaknesses, He sends us pastors to announce His gracious forgiveness and to distribute His life-giving food.
When you consider how much God has blessed you in your life through the hands of others, you will no longer criticize Him for what He has not done. Look at the family and friends you have. Look at how He has protected you from serious harm. Look at the ability He has given you to work. Look at the free and prosperous country where you live. In your sin, you do not deserve even seven loaves of bread and a few fish, but the Lord has blessed you many times over—so much that you can’t even remember it all.
Then why worry? Why “be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Mt. 6:31). Your heavenly Father knows what you need (v. 32). He has not forgotten about you. Even in your suffering, He has not forsaken you. He is with you even when you hit rock-bottom. He helps you get through what you could not get through on your own. The Lord does not require you to fix the problems in your life, much less the problems that plague the world. Instead He teaches you to look to Him, to trust Him. He provides for you.
He provides for you through others, just as He provides for others through you. King David wrote in Psalm 37, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing” (vv. 25-26). We have such an excellent example of the providence of God in today’s text. Jesus multiplied seven loaves of bread and a few fish, so that it fed 4000 hungry men and an unknown number of women and children! No one would have thought this was possible, but “nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37).
Why wouldn’t the Lord provide for your needs? He has already accomplished something far greater for you than filling your stomach. He bought back your soul with His precious blood to spare you from an eternity of suffering in hell. His blood blots out your anxiety and worry about not having enough, and it washes away your sin of not caring for your neighbors as you should. You are the blood-bought child of the heavenly Father, and He does not forsake His own.
No matter how hopeless a situation may seem, remember what your Savior has done for you and what more He still promises to do. Then you will see small blessings multiply, until your heart is overflowing with thankfulness toward Him.
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(picture of the Judean mountains in Israel)
Sexagesima Sunday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 8:4-15
In Christ Jesus, “the Sun of Righteousness” which rose “with healing in its wings” (Mal. 4:2), dear fellow redeemed:
In the classic movie, White Christmas, Bing Crosby shares a bit of advice with a friend. “When I’m worried, and I can’t sleep,” he croons, “I count my blessings instead of sheep. And I fall asleep counting my blessings.” It probably isn’t bad advice, but it is no easy thing to count blessings when things are going poorly. What would Job have thought if his friends had tried to comfort him after the loss of everything he had with a, “Cheer up, old boy! Look on the bright side! Count your blessings!” He would have called them miserable comforters, which they were, but for other reasons.
We should count our blessings. Every day we should give thanks for the good things God freely gives us, for the ability to think and work, for our food and clothing, our home and possessions, a God-fearing spouse and children, good friends and neighbors, peace in our land, seasonable weather, and much more. Then there are the spiritual gifts God provides, such as the forgiveness of our sins, the comfort and strength of the Holy Spirit, the protection of the angels, and so on. We have more blessings than we could begin to count.
But we have many troubles too, and the troubles can seem a lot bigger than the blessings. The troubles can seem so overwhelming that we stop seeing the blessings at all. We might even forget the blessings we had in the first place. Or we might just as easily lose sight of the blessings when everything seems to be going well. Then we think that our success is due to our own abilities and effort and has nothing to do with God.
The sermon text for today deals with exactly these attitudes. Jesus calls on us to open our eyes and ears to the great blessings of God. To illustrate this, He described a sower casting seed in his field. Not wanting to miss any good ground, he liberally broadcast the seed. Some fell on the hard path where it would not grow, some upon rocks where it could not take root, some among thorns which choked it, and some in good soil where it grew and produced fruit. And He called out to those around Him, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
What did He mean? Wasn’t everyone gathered there to listen to Him? Weren’t their ears doing what they were supposed to? But Jesus was not simply concerned that people were close enough to hear what He was saying. He wanted them both to hear His words and believe in Him. He wanted them to consider how the things He taught applied to each one of them. He wanted everyone to do what His disciples did, which was to inquire of Him and to look into “what this parable meant.”
But many did not do this. Some of them might have been drawn away by other commitments; they had no more time to spend with Jesus. Others might have thought, “We are just simple folk; the theologians and philosophers can figure out these teachings!” Some might have imagined they had nothing more to learn, since they had a godly life pretty well sorted out. But they sure hoped this person and that one were listening!
The excuses haven’t changed. People still identify a million reasons why they don’t have time to listen to Jesus’ Word. Or they cloak laziness in humility and expect others to preserve the truth for them. These have no strong desire to advance in knowledge beyond what they learned as children so many years ago. Or they compare themselves to their ignorant and worldly friends and figure they are in as good a shape as anyone.
Then what happens when tests and temptations come? They might get sick, or lose their job, or lose someone they love. They are faced with questions they don’t remember how the Bible answers. They fall into sin and realize they are not all that different from the sinners around them. How are they supposed to deal with those things?
Some decide that God must not love them, or that He does not exist. Or they shape him into a more accommodating god, one that suits them better. These are the ones that let the devil take the Word from their hearts, “so that they may not believe and be saved.” Others wonder why the Word does not excite them like it used to, why it has become so difficult to motivate themselves to hear it. “It must have been a phase,” they think, “but it was empty. The Word did not supply what I thought it did.” And these fall away. Still others grow in the Word for a while, but they take it for granted. They get comfortable going through the motions but not actually engaging head and heart. They care very little about maintaining pure doctrine or living according to the Word. The faith in these is slowly choked and dies.
And how does it stand with you? Do you have ears to hear what Jesus says? Do you desire to grow in His Word and gladly hear and learn it? Do you “hold it fast in an honest and good heart”? Do you desire to “bear fruit with patience”? Sometimes you do. Sometimes you are that rich soil, in which the Word grows and produces fruit. But sometimes your heart is hard and unwilling to hear the Word, sometimes you haven’t let the Word sink deep roots and have the kind of stability and presence in you that it should, and sometimes you have considered your cares, riches, and pleasures to be more important than anything else.
Could it be, then, that you have only thought you were a Christian, but are not one in reality? Are you one that is condemned to “see but not see,” and to “hear but not understand”? The enemies that would coax us away from the saving Word of God are many, and they are formidable. We do not have the luxury of sometimes letting down our guard or just coasting along. Human history is full of people who trusted God for a time, but then rejected Him and died in unbelief. Some of them grew up the same way you did, had the same spiritual training as you, had every advantage that you have, and they threw it away.
But here you are. And the God who created you, who redeemed you, and who sanctifies you—He is here too. He is here with blessings to give you. He has secrets to reveal. You sit here today before Jesus, just as the people did in today’s text. And Jesus tells you this parable about a sower sowing his seed. What do you make of it? You don’t have to wonder at its meaning. But you do need to pay attention to it and humbly apply it to your life.
Jesus calls out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And then He picks you out of the crowd and draws you into the inner circle of His disciples. You hear the same words today that they heard so long ago. “To you,” He says, “it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.” Don’t you want to know those secrets? So many throughout history have wished they could be sitting where you are, and to hear what you hear. And this privilege has been given to you!
These secrets are not revealed to the unrepentant, or to the self-righteous, or to the proud. “God… gives grace to the humble” (1Pe. 5:5; Prov. 3:34). The penitent, the lowly, and the humble are those whose hard hearts have been crushed by the law. The Holy Spirit cracks opens their heart like a clam shell to reveal all the wickedness and sin hiding there. It must be cleansed. So Jesus pours in His holy blood to purify it (1Jn. 1:7). Cleansed of sin, the heart is ready to be filled with good things, to have faith grow, and to produce fruits.
It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that the bad ground of the heart becomes good soil receptive to the Word. By your own reason and strength, you cannot make God’s Word take root and grow in you. On your own, you can only get in the way. But God is both faithful and powerful. He wants you to hear His Word and believe it. He wants you to hear how Jesus lived perfectly in your place, how He gladly grew in the Word and did not let it get snatched away, scorched, or choked. He wants you to believe that Jesus took your sins—your sins of indifference and unfaithfulness and stubbornness—and paid in full for each one with His holy blood.
These are the secrets that the world neither knows nor cares about. But to you, they are secrets revealed. Peter writes that “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1Pe. 1:10-12).
See What Has Been Given to You! The salvation and grace that prophets longed to see, that angels long to look into, these are yours. You don’t have to look for a Savior that will come; the Son of God already became incarnate for you. You don’t have to hope that you will be forgiven; Jesus died in your place for your sins. You don’t have to worry what your enemies might do to you or what will happen to you when you die; Jesus rose from dead for you and declared His victory yours.
Through the living waters of His Word, the Lord continues to nourish and strengthen your faith in Him. He brings that tender plant to maturity and finally to harvest. When you are gathered in with the heavenly harvest, nothing will block your view of the countless blessings of God. No earthly riches and pleasures will be missed, no sin will be remembered. Then you, God’s cherished plant, will bask eternally in the bright, warm light of God’s Son.
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(picture from Hortus Diliciarum, a book compiled by Herrad of Landsberg, a nun living in the 12th century)
Thanksgiving – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 4:26-29
In Christ Jesus, who is both the reason for and the focus of our thanksgiving, dear fellow redeemed:
Only a farmer knows how much work goes into planting and harvesting a crop. In the winter and spring, he prepares his equipment, so that it is ready to go when the weather changes. He purchases seed, watches the forecast, and checks the ground, so planting can begin whenever that window of opportunity opens. Then he watches the growth of the crop and applies time and products as needed to ensure healthy growth. As fall approaches, there is more work to do on equipment. And then the harvest begins, bringing long hours and hopefully a good yield.
But for all the time the farmer puts in, he has no control over the actual growth of the plant. He cannot make a plant do what it naturally does through the right amount of rain and sunshine. This is what Jesus points out in today’s text. He says in St. Mark 4:26-29: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Imagine if every plant had to be tended twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, in order for it to grow the fruit or grain that we needed. We would look at produce much differently than we do now. Tremendous resources would be required simply for our survival. But our Lord is happy to do that diligent work for us. He is pleased to provide us our daily bread. The psalmist says, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (145:15-16). If God did not apply His blessed work on a growing plant every moment of every day, no plant would survive and come to maturity.
This is not just the case with plants. This is how it was in our formation as well. Even more miraculous than the growth of a plant from a seed, is the growth of a human being from a fertilized egg. How that tiny egg could produce such a complex being is beyond our comprehension. It is a work that only God can do. The growing child is nourished by its mother, but she does not cause the child’s organs to form, its heart to start beating, or its arms and legs to take shape.
Psalm 139 tells who is responsible for these things, “For you [O LORD] formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (vv. 13-16).
The formation of our physical life is a miracle, and so is the formation of our spiritual life. Our spiritual life began with the sowing of a seed, but a seed without any form or shape. God caused the seed of His Word to be sown in our hearts. The ground of our heart was like soil that is rocky and polluted. Nothing good could grow there. But through His Word, God cleansed the soil and cultivated it, planting faith and life where before there was nothing but death.
This is how the kingdom of heaven grows. God has the seed of His Word sown, even in places where we would least expect it to do anything, and the seed sprouts and grows—we know not how. We only know that God’s Word does not return to Him empty, and that it accomplishes the purpose that He intends (Is. 55:11). The person who sows the Word is not important. What is important is that the Word is proclaimed, through which the Holy Spirit does the work. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1Cor. 3:7).
That spiritual growth happens throughout a Christian’s life. The Holy Spirit not only plants the seed of faith in the heart through the Word, but He also nurtures that faith. He brings Jesus to the penitent sinner, who gives Himself as food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, and strength for the weak. Just as surely as He carried the burden of all sin to the cross, so He relieves your burdens of guilt, pain, and sorrow and gives you rest.
Through a lifetime of hardships, setbacks, and struggles, the Lord refines and purifies your faith, so that you grow to maturity and are ready to be harvested for heaven on the Last Day. This is when the angels will gather you to the side of your Savior, along with all those who were grown and preserved by His grace. On that day, you will not think to yourself how your salvation was possible because of all your hard work, or because you were such a skilled Christian. The glory will be and is God’s alone.
This is why, whether we are talking about earthly or eternal blessings, we do not give thanks today in the way that so many do. We do not give thanks that we are such hard workers, or that we have earned wonderful things for ourselves, or that we are so gifted and good, so deserving of the things we call our own. No, we “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (Ps. 107:1, NKJV). He is the one who has blessed us not just every now and then, not just every day, but every moment.
Our Lord produces miracles for us constantly. It is by His miraculous power alone that we have the food, home, clothing, family, and friends that we enjoy. It is by His miraculous power that we have life at all. It is by His miraculous power that we believe in a Savior who has rescued us from the destruction we deserved. And so we are thankful always, Thankful for the Every Moment Miracles, thankful to the God who is good, and whose mercy does endure forever.
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