The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who gently guides us, knows our need, and well provides us (ELH #177, v. 1), dear fellow redeemed:
“I shouldn’t have to ask! You should just know what I need!” Have you ever said this to someone? Has anyone ever said it to you? Most married couples have experience with this. One person is shocked that the other could be so clueless. The other is surprised that he is expected to be able to read minds. The only way out of a dilemma like this is not sarcasm, not shouting, not tears. Believe it or not, the only way out is actual communication!
A healthy relationship requires communication. Communication is a two-way street. One person speaks, and the other person listens. One expresses a need, and the other responds. Prayer is the way we communicate with God. We express our needs and troubles to Him, and He hears us. He promises that when we ask, He will give; when we seek, we will find; and when we knock, He will open (Mat. 7:7).
But why should we have to pray? Doesn’t God know what we need without our asking Him? He certainly does, but that does not mean prayer is a waste of time. If prayer is a waste of time, then Jesus wasted a lot of time, because Jesus often prayed. His disciples noticed this about Him. On one occasion when Jesus had finished a time of prayer, one of the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luk. 11:1). Then Jesus gave them a basic framework for prayer, which we call the “Lord’s Prayer.”
In this prayer, Jesus taught us to pray for our earthly needs with the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In this petition, we acknowledge that our heavenly Father has the power to give us what we need. We also acknowledge that we don’t have this power. But is that really the case? It seems as though we are able to obtain on our own what we need for this life.
If I need a home, I can build one using materials found in the natural world. If I need clothing, there are various ways to produce it. If I need food, I can grow it, hunt for it, or buy it. Why do I need to ask God for the things that I can get myself? By teaching us this petition, Jesus wants us to recognize that although we have a part to play in harvesting and shaping goods for ourselves, they are ultimately gifts from God.
Where would we be if God stopped sending rain? Where would we be if He covered up the light of the sun? Where would we be if He took away all the trees? It is clear that the part we play in getting our daily bread is very small compared to what God does. We see this illustrated in today’s text. Nobody prompted Jesus to feed the crowd. As far as we know, no one begged Him for food. Jesus knew their need. “I have compassion on the crowd,” He said, “because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat.”
He knew they would not have the strength to get home if He sent them away. So He put the concern to His disciples. Even though they had previously witnessed His feeding of five thousand men from five loaves of bread and two fish, they did not bring that up here. Why didn’t they? How could that not be on their minds? It’s probably because they never knew when Jesus would perform a miracle.
I’m sure there were times they went without, days when they wished they had more food. And Jesus did not just snap His fingers and make bread appear. Maybe they, too, were hungry and tired along with the crowd. Maybe they were irritated and uncomfortable in the heat, and Jesus was asking them to do something they could not do.
But it was something He could do. When Jesus learned they had seven loaves of bread and a few fish, He had the crowd recline on the ground. Then He gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to distribute. Then He blessed the fish and had these distributed. The entire crowd of four thousand men, along with women and children (Mat. 15:38), had their fill of this food—so much so that seven large baskets of fragments were collected after the meal.
Now wouldn’t it be silly if the people who brought the seven loaves of bread and the fish took credit for everyone being fed? And wouldn’t it be offensive if the disciples went around bragging about how many people they had served? Isn’t it just as silly and offensive when we act like all our success on earth is due to our own hard work, our own intelligence, and so on? Sometimes we chalk up our success to “good fortune.” But the credit and glory should really go to our gracious God.
This is what we do when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We honor the Almighty God, the Maker and Preserver of all good things. God does not need to be reminded to give us the things we need. But we need to be reminded that He is the Giver, and there is no good apart from Him. And we need to remember to thank Him for His gifts. His gifts are not dependent on our thanks, or else we would probably have nothing. But only the arrogant or the rude refuse to give thanks when great gifts are given.
Our God knows exactly what we need—not just us as a people, but us as individuals. He knows what you need. He knows when you are in need of help and comfort and encouragement. And He also knows when you are in need of chastisement and training. He does not automatically give you everything you ask for. What you ask for might not be good for you, even if you think it is. What you need might actually be the opposite of what you ask for, or it might be something you haven’t even considered.
Jesus knew that His disciples needed to be presented with a problem they could not solve. He knew that their faith in Him was weak and needed strengthening. Even though they had witnessed Him perform miracle after miracle, they did not fully understand who He was and why He came. They were focused on earthly kingdoms and earthly glory. Jesus was focused on giving Himself as the atoning sacrifice for sinners. The disciples thought the main thing they lacked was bread. Jesus knew the main thing they lacked was faith.
So Jesus tested them, and then He showed them again that when He is present there is no need to worry. We need to be tested and taught like this as well. The Lord tests us through pain and trial and loss to teach us not to rely on ourselves but to trust in Him. We cannot get by on our own. We need to be shown our severe limitations. We need to know our weaknesses. We need to recognize how thoroughly sin has worked its way through us, and how deserving we are of death.
And we also need to know that the Lord still looks upon us with compassion. We need to know that “with the LORD there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption” (Psa. 130:7, NKJV). We need to know that He did not turn His back on us because of our sin, but that He gave Himself to pay for our sin.
The world’s most pressing want or desire is not the forgiveness Jesus won. Ask many people, and they will say our most pressing need is food for the starving, or peace for the nations at war, or justice for the hurting. But the world’s most pressing need is not these temporary things. As Moses reminded the people of Israel, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deu. 8:3). What the world needs most, what each one of us needs most, is God’s Word of grace and forgiveness.
And Jesus knows this. That’s why He instituted the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, by which we are cleansed of our sins. That’s why He appoints pastors to serve His people and speak His absolution for their sins. That’s why He established the Sacrament of the Altar, so that the faithful might kneel before Him and receive His body and blood for the remission of their sins.
Our celebration of the Lord’s Supper bears a striking resemblance to the feeding of the four thousand. At the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the people gathered around Him. At the institution of His Supper, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples (Mat. 26:27). And just as He blessed the fish before it was distributed, we also bless the wine with His own words (1Co. 10:16). Then we distribute His body with the bread and His blood with the wine.
The great crowd was completely satisfied with the bread and fish Jesus gave them. And we are completely satisfied when we come to the Lord’s Table. We trust that when we eat His body and drink His blood, we receive exactly what He promises—the full and free forgiveness of all our sins. There was no limit to the amount of people Jesus could have fed in the wilderness. And there is no limit to the amount of sinners Jesus wants to feed and cleanse with His own body and blood.
Jesus Knows Our Need. This is why we pray for His blessings. He knows what we need better than we do. In His compassion, He freely and abundantly provides for the needs of our body and soul. He teaches us to ask for these gifts with confidence and to believe that He will always give us what is best for us. We give thanks that He makes the impossible possible for the people He so dearly loves.
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 “The Last Supper” by Juan de Juanes, 1507-1579)
St. Mark the Evangelist – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Ephesians 4:4-16
In Christ Jesus, who nourishes and cherishes all believers as members of His own holy body (Eph. 5:29-30), dear fellow redeemed:
I expect some of you have space on a wall or a special board you have used to measure the growth of your children. My parents made marks on the back of a closet door, which worked fine until we grew past the top of the door! It’s fun to look back and see when the growth was the greatest and to imagine what it must have been like to keep us all properly clothed and fed.
If we look back in history and measure the growth of the Church, how would that look? Would we see consistent growth, or would the curve look something like a roller coaster ride? Where would we see it at its height? We could always go by numbers, but numbers don’t tell the whole story. Numerically there are probably more Christians now than ever worldwide, but that does not mean the Church is healthier than ever. In America, the majority of people claim to be Christian, but America doesn’t exactly look like a Christian country.
The health of the Church is not determined by adding up the numbers, as though it were only the whole that mattered. The health of the Church is determined by the fitness of its individual members. We use the word “member” to describe our association to any number of organizations, including this congregation. We say that we are members here. But the word was originally used to describe the parts of the body—its members. This is a fitting way to think about the Christian Church.
St. Paul uses this language often to talk about how the Church functions here on earth. He says that each baptized Christian is a part of the whole. Individual Christians may come from different backgrounds, they may speak different languages, they may look nothing like one another, but they are all members of the same body in Christ.
In his epistle to the Christians in Ephesus, St. Paul wrote that Jesus is the Head of the body, who “fills all in all” (1:23). Whether a person comes from Jewish or Gentile background, in the body of Christ all are equally partakers and beneficiaries of the Gospel (3:6). All have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, they have life because of His resurrection, and they have peace with God through Him (2:13-17).
In today’s text from Ephesians chapter 4, we have a description of how the body of Christ grows and matures. This chapter speaks about the body as a whole, which means it is at the same time talking about each part of the body, each member. The body doesn’t grow unless each member grows. The body doesn’t function well unless its members work together.
So for equipping the saints, for carrying out the public work of the church, for building up the body, Jesus gave “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” He sent servants to distribute His gifts, the gifts He won by living a perfect life under the Law, by dying for sinners on the cross, and by rising from the dead in victory. And He still distributes these gifts today.
He distributes these gifts by the hands and mouths of specific individuals whom He has chosen for the task. These individuals are not better members of the body of Christ; they simply serve a unique function in the body. They are in need of the same gifts they offer to the other members of the body. This is the duty of your pastor, of me. My responsibility is not to share any special gifts or insights of my own, but to tell you what Jesus has done for you, to declare His forgiveness, His grace, His salvation.
Through this Gospel message, Jesus Gives Growth to the Body. He builds it up. He strengthens each of its members. When you hear His Word, He comes to each of you, each member of the body, assuring you of His love for you and of His promise to keep you with Him. When you open your mouth to receive His sacred Meal, He fills you with all that He is and has done for you by giving you His own body and blood. Through these means of His Word and Sacraments, He draws you closer to Him and makes you a productive member of His body. He keeps you spiritually healthy, and therefore keeps the body functioning well.
Without His continued work among us, the body would be in bad shape. In fact, there would be no body at all. He joins us together in Him. If He is absent, we cannot be united in any healthy way. Even with His presence, we members of His body do not perfectly carry out our functions. Sometimes we are a blessing to the body, to our fellow believers, by the loving things we say and do. But sometimes we hold the body back, we hinder it.
This can happen when we behave selfishly, when we are proud, when we let our insecurities and worries get the best of us. We can act like we are the most important members of Christ’s Church or at least of the congregation, and we expect to have things go our way. This is not how God has called us to be. In another of his letters, St. Paul says this: “God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1Co. 12:24-26).
Today we remember the life of St. Mark, who was one of the four evangelists. Mark is an excellent example of someone who, like us, could be both a hindrance and a blessing to the Church. The first time he is mentioned by name is in the book of Acts. After Peter was arrested, the Christians in Jerusalem were praying together at the home of Mark’s mother (Act. 12:12). So it is clear that Mark and his family were early adherents to Christianity. Then we hear that Mark set off with Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey (v. 25).
But something happened on that trip. For reasons unknown to us, Mark decided to abandon the work with Barnabas and Paul when they reached Pamphylia (Act. 15:38). Paul was so upset with Mark that when the time came for a second missionary journey, he refused to bring Mark along. The disagreement was so sharp that Barnabas took Mark and went one way while Paul went another way with Silas (vv. 39-40).
There was division in the body. This happens, and far more often than we want. We look around and see the visible Church fragmented in so many different pieces: Lutherans, other Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, and so on. The members of the visible Church are so often “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” as Paul writes. The devil is constantly trying to coax away God’s people from His saving Word.
And even in our own congregation, bitterness and anger can develop between brothers and sisters in Christ. This is why we need our Lord to bring us together and keep us together. Through the Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit works to break down the things that divide us and to produce humility and love in our hearts toward those around us. Paul writes that in this way, “we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Because of Christ’s presence with us and the Holy Spirit’s work among us, we members of Jesus’ body seek to serve one another in love. A body could not function if one foot were at odds with the other, or if each eye or ear wanted to do its own thing. The Lord brings us grace upon grace, so that we realize our life is in Him and Him alone. My life is not about me. It is about Him, the Head of His body, into which He has graciously brought me through Baptism.
And Jesus is able to bring healing to the body when there are divisions. He does this more often than we realize. Whenever He mends what is broken between two Christians, He is strengthening the body. This happened also in the case of Paul and Mark. The Lord moved Paul to forgive Mark for his failings. Paul even wrote to Timothy toward the end of his life: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2Ti. 4:11; see also Col. 4:10, Phi. 23-24).
Mark also provided excellent assistance to the apostle Peter, who thought so much of Mark that he referred to him as “my son” (1Pe. 5:13). In fact, the ancient church fathers widely regarded the Gospel of Mark as Peter’s Gospel, believing that Mark recorded the accounts shared with him by Peter.
So while Mark may not have always shined as a member of the Church, the Lord used him for important work. And the words that Mark recorded by inspiration of the Holy Spirit are still heard around the world today. You likewise have important work to do as a member of the Church. Your past weaknesses and failings have not disqualified you. All those sins are forgiven.
Jesus calls you to take up the tasks He gives you today, to love one another as He has loved you (Joh. 13:34), and to “[speak] the truth in love.” He promises to strengthen you for this work and to help you grow and mature in the faith, so that the whole body is built up, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
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 St. Mark and lion from 9th century illuminated manuscript)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
In Christ Jesus, whose message of grace and forgiveness is “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Co. 1:18), dear fellow redeemed:
Today is April Fools’ Day, a day of practical jokes, pranks, and hoaxes. It might not seem the right day to celebrate the events of Maundy Thursday. But in fact there are many who find the things that Jesus taught and did on this day to be very foolish. The same people would say it is foolish for you to take time out of your weekday to come to church and remember these things. We can see why people have questions about Maundy Thursday.
Even Jesus’ own disciples weren’t sure about His actions on that day. While they were all reclining at the table to observe the Passover celebration, Jesus got up, set aside His outer garments, tied a towel around His waist, and proceeded to wash and dry the disciples’ feet (Joh. 13:4-5). What He was doing was servants’ work, work considered far below His station. Peter protested, saying that it was foolishness for a Teacher to wash the feet of His disciples. “You shall never wash my feet!” He cried (v. 8).
Many have a similar view of the Lord’s Supper. The idea that the incarnate God comes to serve sinners by giving them His own body and blood in the bread and wine is utter foolishness to them. Why would God decide to bring forgiveness in this way? It just doesn’t stand to reason! We understand the skepticism some have about the Lord’s Supper, because we struggle with it too.
How could it be that Jesus keeps giving us His own flesh and blood? If that were true, wouldn’t His body get smaller and smaller until nothing was left? And how can we be certain that His body and blood are actually present? We could run any scientific test on the consecrated bread and wine, and we would find no skin or blood cells. Even many Christians agree that it is foolish to imagine that we actually take Jesus’ body and blood in our mouths along with the bread and wine.
However foolish it may seem, Jesus says it is true. “This is My body,” He declares. “This cup is the New Testament in My blood.” St. Paul explained it the same way to the Christian congregation in Corinth. He said that all who eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner are guilty “concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” They are not guilty of mishandling mere bread and wine. They are guilty of sinning against Jesus Himself, since they do not recognize what is being distributed and received.
To commune in a worthy manner means believing that Jesus speaks the truth when He calls the bread His body and the wine His blood. What He serves at the altar here is His same holy body that hung on the cross for your sins and the same precious blood that ran from His wounds. “This is given and shed for you,” He says, “for the remission of sins” (Mat. 26:28).
Since Jesus is making this Sacrament available “for the remission of sins,” it is clear it is intended only for those who know and admit that they are sinful. St. Paul writes, “Let a person examine himself, then.” We might be able to fool others by keeping our sins covered up. But we can’t fool God. He sees everything in our heart. He knows how we have broken His Commandments down to the smallest detail.
There are many who think they are prepared to come to the Lord’s Supper, but actually they are not. They might acknowledge that they have some sin, but it does not bother them in any major way. They figure they are no worse than the other people taking Communion, so why shouldn’t they take it too? This is not repentance. Measuring the extent of your sin by how you compare with others is not the standard God has set.
God’s holy Law demands perfection. We are supposed to perfectly love Him, perfectly honor His name, perfectly hear and learn His Word, and perfectly love the people around us. Because we have not done this, God the Father sent His only Son to be punished in our place. Our countless sins put Jesus on the cross.
Your sin was very clear to Him as He suffered hell in your place on the cross. But is your sin clear to you? Is there any area of your life where you have not been living the way God commands you to live? Have you told yourself that it is no big deal, because everyone else does it too? Have you found yourself going through the motions at church and at the Lord’s Table and not considering it all that important?
It is foolish to take sin lightly as well as the Lord’s own antidote for sin in His Holy Supper. We have all been this kind of foolish, but our merciful Lord has not written us off. He calls us to come again to His Table. He calls us to bring our imperfect life, our guilty conscience, and our weak faith to the altar in repentance. And He promises to fill us with His forgiveness, His comfort, His strength.
You are one of those sinners for whom Jesus instituted His Supper. All sinners are fools in their own way. But the Lord’s Supper is only for those who know they are fools, and who confess their sinful foolishness. It is not for those who reject Jesus’ Word about what He gives in His Supper. It is not for those who believe they are righteous on their own.
Remember that this is not our Supper that we are free to offer to whomever and in whatever circumstances we please. This is the Lord’s Supper. He decides who is welcome at His Table and what the conditions are for participation. He wants all to partake of this glorious Meal, but He wants none to receive it to their harm. This is why we make sure our guests know what the Lord’s Supper is all about before they join us at the Communion rail.
The unbelieving world says this is all foolishness. But the world has no solution for sin and no hope for a life after this one. By the grace of God, we believe that Jesus has paid for our sins, and that He brings us His forgiveness and life every time we eat and drink His body and blood. If this trust in His saving Word makes us foolish in the world’s eyes, then we will gladly take “the foolishness of God” over the empty thoughts of men (1Co. 1:25).
In the “foolishness” of Maundy Thursday, Jesus instituted the precious Supper of His body and blood “for you.” It is for your forgiveness, your salvation, and your life. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 6:1-15
In Christ Jesus, the Food that our souls need so that we may live forever even though our bodies may die, dear fellow redeemed:
We could do without a lot of things we have in this life. We don’t need dressers and closets full of clothes. We don’t need TVs, computers, and smartphones. We don’t need large living spaces, nice vehicles, and most of our possessions. We could learn to live without all these things. But we can’t do without food. Food is essential to our survival. The body needs food like a car needs fuel—it can’t run without it.
We heard at the beginning of Lent how Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness. That’s a long time to go without food, and Jesus “was hungry” (Mat. 4:2). When the devil tempted Him to turn stones into bread to prove He was the Son of God, Jesus replied: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v. 4). He quoted these words from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. They were part of Moses’ message to the Israelites after they had wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of their disobedience.
God required those forty years of wandering to humble them and to test their faithfulness toward Him. In the wilderness, there was no way to find food for that large amount of people. The people had to rely on God to give them what they needed. Six days a week, He provided a type of bread for them called “manna.” When the morning dew lifted, the people would see the ground covered with “a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost” (Exo. 16:14). They stooped down and collected it, and they took it home to prepare it and eat it. God provided this food until they entered the Promised Land of Canaan (Jos. 5:12).
In today’s text, we find another group of Israelites in the wilderness without supplies of food. They followed Jesus because they saw how He healed the sick, and they wanted to hear His teaching (Mat. 6:34, Luk. 9:11). But now evening approached, and the people needed to eat. Jesus asked His disciples to give them something. “Impossible!” they said. “The crowd is too large! Our resources are too limited!” Andrew told Him: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
The disciples were thinking logically. But Jesus wasn’t looking for logic; He was looking for faith. He wanted them to trust in Him no matter how difficult the problem seemed to be. He wanted them to see that the God who provided bread for forty years in the wilderness was now sitting right there next to them. “Five barley loaves and two fish” were more than enough to feed the thousands gathered there.
When the people saw how Jesus multiplied the bread and fish to feed everyone, they weren’t slow to make the manna connection. “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” they said. Moses had prophesied long before that the LORD would raise up for the people a Prophet like him from among them (Deu. 18:15). “Just as Moses gave the people bread in the wilderness,” they thought, “now Jesus can give us bread!” They even plotted to take Him by force to make Him their king.
But the people had selective memories. They were so impressed by the bread that they forgot Moses’ emphasis on the Word. What was it that Moses had said? “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deu. 8:3). It isn’t that food for our bodies is unimportant. We do need it. But as much as we need physical food, spiritual nourishment is even more essential.
That isn’t really how we think. We hardly ever go a day without eating something. On the other hand, we might go a whole week or even longer without tending to the needs of our soul. A continued lack of food eventually leads to the death of the body. But a continued lack of spiritual nourishment is worse than that. It leads to spiritual death and then eternal death. Physical hunger comes to an end. But spiritual hunger never ends in hell, and it will never be satisfied.
Think about the rich man and the beggar Lazarus (Luk. 16:19-31). The rich man had all he wanted. He “feasted sumptuously every day.” Lazarus had nothing. He was sick and starving. Both men died, but they didn’t go to the same place. Lazarus went to heaven, and the rich man went to hell. Lazarus was actually the wealthy one. He did not have food or any of the finer things in life, but he had faith. He feasted on the Scriptures and died with confidence in God’s promise of eternal life. The rich man had plenty of food but no faith. He had his “good things” on earth but then entered eternal torment.
What good is it to have a full belly if your heart is not full of God’s Word? What good is a new car if you have no concern for your new life in Christ? What good is earthly wealth if you have no interest in the riches stored up for you in heaven? All these earthly things pass away. They get burned up, and they break down. They get stolen from us, and they slip through our fingers. God gives us our many earthly blessings for our use and enjoyment. He does not give them to us so we can make them into idols.
Earthly bread was the idol of that wilderness crowd. They were not interested in the better gift that Jesus wanted to give them. The day after the miraculous sign, they found Jesus. And Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (Joh. 6:26-27). And what was this eternal food? Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35).
Jesus is the Food of faith. He is the food our souls need. Apart from Him, we can only “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mat. 5:6). Apart from Him, we have nothing valuable to set before God. Even if we gathered together and piled up all the riches of the world, He would not accept it as payment for one person’s sins. God needs nothing from us. We have nothing to bargain with for our salvation.
And that’s why God did the bargaining. That’s why He supplied what was lacking. He did for us what we could not do. God the Father sent His only Son to save the sick and dying world. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (vv. 48-51).
There is no limit to this Food. Jesus is enough for the salvation of all sinners. His perfect life under the law is enough to satisfy the righteousness we sinners crave. We don’t have to prove we are important or special by how much earthly stuff we accumulate. Our worth before God is not measured by how successful we are here. Our worth before God is measured by how successful Jesus was here.
We are acceptable before God because of the life Jesus lived for us—perfect works, perfect words, perfect thoughts. And then He went to the cross to perfectly pay for all of our sins. Fragments remained after the people ate the bread and fish. But no fragments of our sin remain now that Jesus has given His holy body and blood to atone for them all.
Jesus has even instituted a special Meal to assure us of this forgiveness. Its benefit is not found in how well it pleases our palate, or in how much it satisfies our stomach. This Meal of His body and blood in Holy Communion is given for our spiritual health. And if it is given for our spiritual health, it has benefits that last for eternity.
Even though Jesus had not instituted His Holy Supper yet when He fed the five thousand, He used language at that time that anticipated this Meal. Jesus said to the people: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him…. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (vv. 53-56,58).
“Man Shall Not Live by Bread Alone,” said Jesus. Bread is important. It is right to pray for “daily bread,” which “includes everything needed for this life” (Fourth Petition, Lord’s Prayer). But Jesus gives us more and greater blessings through His Holy Word and Sacraments.
Jesus is our Bread of Life. We feast on His forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation and are filled up by Him every time we hear His Word and read it and think about it and speak it and sing it. His Word does not return to Him empty. Like the rain and snow that water the earth, “making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,” so our Lord’s Word is planted in our hearts, and it grows and nourishes us (Isa. 55:10-11). His Word brings food to the starving and life to the dying. His Word saves our souls.
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 “The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
St. Luke the Evangelist – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Timothy 4:5-15
In Christ Jesus, who heals the deep wounds of our sin through the holy Gospel of His forgiveness, dear fellow redeemed:
The apostle Paul wrote the words of today’s text from a prison in Rome. He was nearing the end of his life, and he knew it. It had been a hard life. Paul described some of those hardships in a letter to the church in Corinth: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; … in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2Co. 11:24-25,27).
In other words, Paul needed a good doctor. And he had one. As Paul languished in that prison, he wrote, “Luke alone is with me.” Luke was of Gentile background and may have first met Paul in Antioch, where Paul set off on each of his missionary journeys. Luke joined Paul during his second journey and again on his third journey. Paul referred to him as “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14).
But we have reason to question Luke’s aptitude as a doctor. He watched Paul endure great physical violence and pain for preaching the Gospel. If Paul didn’t stop, he could very well lose his life. What kind of doctor sits by and watches this happen to his patient? Doesn’t a good doctor urge the patient to avoid the things that are causing physical harm?
Luke did not do this, but it wasn’t because he was a poor doctor. Luke believed there was something more important than the care of the body, and that is the care of the soul. Paul had to carry on his mission work, even if it should lead to his death. The salvation of countless souls depended on it. So Luke did what he could to address Paul’s physical wounds, but the greatest help he provided Paul was spiritual.
You can hear Paul’s distress in his letter to Timothy. “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone,” he said. Crescens had gone. Titus had gone. He had sent Tychicus away. A coppersmith named Alexander had done him great harm and had strongly opposed Paul’s preaching and teaching. When he was put on trial, Paul wrote that “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2Ti. 4:16).
Paul had been all alone, but then Luke came. A movie was released two years ago that imagines the conversations between Paul and Luke in prison. It’s called Paul, Apostle of Christ and would be worth your time to watch. Luke was well-equipped to encourage and comfort Paul because he had done extensive research into the life and teaching of Jesus. At the beginning of his Gospel, Luke stated the purpose for the writing: “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (1:3-4).
Luke wrote so that Theophilus might have certainty, but Luke’s Gospel was for more than just Theophilus. Luke’s Gospel was for Paul’s certainty, for your certainty, and for my certainty. The four Gospels were all inspired by the Holy Spirit, but God used different authors to write for different audiences. The Gospel of the Gentile Luke was written for a Gentile audience. Just as Paul’s mission was to preach the Gospel to all the nations, so Luke’s Gospel was meant to be read by all the nations.
During Paul’s suffering and imprisonment, Luke was able to remind him of the never-changing love of God in Christ. In his younger years, Paul had been opposed to Jesus. He approved of the arrest and murder of Christians. He thought he was doing the Lord’s work but was actually doing the devil’s. Later on he stated that he “persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13). There was blood on Paul’s hands. Imagine how Luke might have comforted him as Paul thought of the horrible things he had done.
Luke might have reminded him about the account of the Good Samaritan (Luk. 10:25-37). Jesus, like the Good Samaritan, came to Paul on the side of the road and healed his wounded soul with His Word of grace and forgiveness. Or Luke might have shared Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep, where the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and looks for the one that was lost (15:1-7). Or the parable of the prodigal son, where the Father welcomes home his wayward child and forgives all wrongs (15:11-32).
Paul could have related to Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector, which only Luke recorded. The Pharisee went to the temple to boast about how righteous and faithful he was, like Paul who used to think that about himself. But God humbled him like the tax collector and gave him faith to believe that he was forgiven and righteous before God because of what Jesus had done for him (18:9-14).
Paul needed these reminders of God’s grace as all of us do. God sent Luke to do this for Paul as a brother in faith, as a compassionate friend. Luke was an “evangelist”—he was a “bringer of good news.” God likewise calls you to bring the good news to others. This world needs good news. Most of the news we hear is bad news. Every day, we hear about disagreements, divisions, and hatred. We hear about sicknesses, injuries, and death. We hear about hardships, deep hurts, and pain.
There’s no getting around the fact that sin has saturated this world, and that the devil is doing his best to sow wickedness and chaos wherever he can. We see that happening in the current political scene today. If you think the devil is only working on the other side and that your side is pure in all its motives and policies, you are mistaken. The devil is an equal opportunity adversary. He wants all of us to hate one another, attack one another, and think we are better than each other.
But all of us have failed to keep God’s Law. We have wounded one another with our hurtful words and actions, and where we have done well, we have not given all glory to God. It is crucial that we recognize this. The patient does himself no favors if he ignores a health condition or lies to his doctor. Just because a doctor is not informed about a health condition does not mean there is no problem.
You and I do have a problem. It’s a problem that causes death and not just the death of the body. We can try to cover up its symptoms. We can try to act like it isn’t there. But if our inner sinfulness is not addressed, it will overcome us and suffocate our soul. The first step is admitting the problem—not pointing out other people’s sins but acknowledging your own. The world would look a lot different if everyone did this.
Repentance requires humility, and humble people can work through their disagreements. But the proud have no love for others. The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus replied, “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). Do you see what that means? It means that if you own up to your sick spiritual condition, a Physician is here to save you.
Jesus is that Physician. We know that He was able to overcome physical illnesses. He healed people time after time during His three years of public work on earth. There was no end to the sick who came looking for Jesus. He laid His hands on these people and healed them (Luk. 4:40). Luke tells us that some were even healed by touching Him, “for power came out from him” (6:19). No problem was too great for Him, whether diseases, plagues, or evil spirits (7:21).
His purpose in this healing was to reveal who He was, the Messiah. He did not come simply to be a healer of the body; He came to save souls. His purpose was to get to the root of our problem. He came to spare us from the punishment we deserved by being punished Himself. He came to stop our bleeding by shedding His own precious blood. Sin was the deadly infection, but Jesus’ holy life and atoning death were the perfect cure. Certain death was the prognosis, but Jesus’ resurrection changed our outcome to life.
Jesus is the medicine that saves us from our spiritual sickness. He cleanses our diseased hearts through the waters of holy Baptism and puts in our starving mouths the nourishing food and drink of His holy body and blood. He speaks powerful promises into our ears, “I have good news for you!” He says. “Your sins are all forgiven! You will not die, but live! I am the Great Physician; I know what I am saying. I do not lie.”
We need this good news, and so do all who are spiritually sick. The side effects of our sinful condition are many. Many things cause pain and distress in this world. And the Lord knows the suffering of every heart and soul. He wants to apply the healing grace of His Word, so that despair turns into hope and sorrow turns into joy.
Just as Luke proclaimed The Holy Gospel, which Heals the Hurting Soul, we declare the same Gospel to one another, both to those who believe and those we pray will believe in the future. We want all to join Luke and Paul and us in fighting the good fight, finishing the race, and keeping the faith. We want all to know that there is salvation for sinners, and that on the last day, the Lord promises to give “the crown of righteousness” to all who trust in Him.
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(picture from 15th century Greek painting of St. Luke)
The Second Sunday after Michaelmas – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Ephesians 5:15-21
In Christ Jesus, whom we will trust and will not be afraid, for the LORD is our strength and our song, and He has become our salvation (Isa. 12:2), dear fellow redeemed:
It’s hard to be very productive when you don’t feel good. If you have a pounding headache, even simple tasks can take a long time to accomplish. If your back is out, walking across the room or up the stairs can seem nearly impossible. Even something as small as a hangnail or a blister can steal away the satisfaction and joy you would normally have in your work. What happens to just one small part of the body can have a big effect on the whole.
The apostle Paul speaks this way about the Christian Church. He says that all believers form one body. They are brought together and held together by Jesus, who is “the head of the body” (Col. 1:17-18). When each believer is in good spiritual health, the body of Christ remains healthy and strong. But when a believer forgets that he is part of something bigger than himself, and he makes decisions that suit him alone, the whole body suffers.
Today’s text teaches us more about this. Paul explains how the body of Christ needs to walk together, think together, eat and drink and sing together—in other words how the body uses its legs, its mind, and its mouth.
Paul mentions walking together six times in his short Epistle to the Ephesians. He says that we must collectively watch our step, look carefully how we walk. There are obstacles, traps, and pitfalls all over the place where the devil wants believers to stumble and fall. We do not run recklessly along in this world assuming the road ahead will be smooth and easy. We choose our steps wisely and listen closely to the voice of our Good Shepherd as He leads us through this dark valley (Ps. 23:4).
But even though we know there is danger ahead, the Church does not sit still. We don’t hide under the bed. God has put us in this particular time and place for a reason. We might wish we lived in a different era, but God knows better. He has a purpose for us, and as long as He gives us breath, that purpose stands.
God has created and redeemed us, so that we might walk in the good works He has prepared for us (Eph. 2:10). He calls us to walk in humility, gentleness, patience, and love toward one another, eager to maintain our unity on the basis of His Word (4:1-3). He warns us not to walk like the unbelievers, “darkened in their understanding,” stubbornly set on sin (4:17-19). We “walk in love, as Christ loved us” (5:2). We walk “as children of light” because Jesus is the light (5:8).
If we decide to walk each in our own direction, doing whatever we feel like doing, the mission of Christ’s Church is harmed. But what if we are not sure what direction we should go? It often happens in life that we stand at a crossroads and face two choices or a number of choices that all seem good. This may happen if you have multiple job offers, or if you have talents and interests that could take you in any number of different directions.
Then it’s time to ask some questions:
- Am I focusing more on myself or others?
- Which opportunity would be most beneficial to my neighbor?
- Which one would most glorify God?
- Which one would best enable me to stay focused on my spiritual needs?
Many make their decisions about the future based on worldly considerations—what will be the best for them, what will earn the highest wage, what makes them the happiest. But we are called to “Set [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).
Today’s text says, “do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” We need to think about what God wants for us before we set off. Knowing comes before going. So what is His will for us? God’s will is that we believe the Gospel message. Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Joh. 6:40). God wants us to know and believe His promise of salvation, so we will join Him eternally in heaven.
He also wants us to avoid anything in this life that could cause us to lose our faith in him. He wants us to understand the evil forces that are working against us. He wants us to be diligent in prayer and the study of His Word, so we are not caught unprepared when trials and temptations come (see 1Th. 4:3-8, 5:16-18).
The functions of the body are all controlled and guided by the head. This is good news for us Christians, since Christ is the Head of His body, the Church. Jesus does not steer us wrong. He does not wish any harm to come to the body but wants it to grow stronger and healthier. He may allow trials to afflict us, so that we learn to follow His lead and put our trust in Him. This is what the athlete does when pushing his body beyond its comfort level and even into pain. The will of the mind tells the rest of the body to keep moving, keep working, keep fighting.
What Jesus has won for us and still gives us is worth the discomfort and pain we may feel in this world. God’s Son came among us in the flesh, so that He might satisfy the righteous requirements of the Law for us. He came to redeem us from all our sins. And He came to win the victory for us over our sin, death, and the devil. Jesus is the reigning Champion; He cannot be overcome. That means the Church, which is connected to Him, can’t lose either. Jesus will never give up on His Church, so the Church should never give up. “In the world you will have tribulation,” said Jesus. “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Joh. 16:33).
So we put our trust in Him. He will never lead us wrong. He won’t abandon us. We go forward step by step in the confidence of His promises. When we stumble and fall, He picks us up. When we let worries and fears overcome us, He forgives us. We live in His grace, a grace which never runs out, grace which applies equally to every part of the body, to strong and weak, to fearless or fearful.
We remind one another of His grace when we join together for worship. It is unnatural for the members of the body of Christ to be apart. Last spring you may have seen the hashtag “alonetogether” on TV or social media. In a state of isolation, we understood the “alone” part all too well, but not so much the “together” part. God intends for His children to join together to worship Him. This is how they comfort and encourage one another (Heb. 10:24-25).
We need this support from each other. We receive it in the divine service by listening to the words of the pastor who speaks as God’s representative. We also receive it by hearing our fellow Christians speak and sing around us. This is what Paul is describing when he talks about “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and “giving thanks” together. Every voice matters in our churches. The fewer the voices, the more isolated we feel. The more voices there are, the more we are reminded that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
We are part of a larger community as members of the body of Christ. So Paul urges us always to keep our brothers and sisters in Christ in mind. We are not to “get drunk with wine,” he says, “for that is debauchery”—that is to indulge oneself, to ignore those around us in fulfillment of our own desires. Instead we Christians should “be filled with the Spirit.”
Now alcohol is poured down the throat and enters our bloodstream. If consumed in large quantities, it impairs us—it makes our ability to walk and think and speak worse, not better. But being “filled with the Spirit” does the opposite. We are filled with the Holy Spirit by hearing the Word of Christ’s forgiveness. We even eat and drink this forgiveness when the Holy Spirit brings us Jesus’ true body and blood in His holy Supper.
The work of the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments makes us spiritually healthier. He works through these means to increase our collective strength, sharpen our spiritual focus, and cause us to clearly speak of Him with one voice. And He inspires us to sing of the hope we have “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with [our] heart[s].” He moves us to sing the Gospel to each other, the good news of our life, our forgiveness, and our salvation in Christ.
This powerful Gospel message is how the Lord draws us closer together. If we fail to partake of His Word and Sacraments, or if we decide to go our own way, we weaken the unity and fellowship God has blessed us with. But walking with Jesus by faith, meditating together on His Word, and proclaiming His grace to one another, our unity and fellowship are strengthened.
God does not intend for us to fight our spiritual battles alone or to go through this life alone. We are too weak for that. He brings us here to build us up. He reminds us that We’re in This Together. By His grace, He helps us to walk forward more confidently, think more clearly, and sing more joyfully.
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(picture of Jerico church interior)
Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
In Christ Jesus, who freely gives Himself to us as food and drink, dear fellow redeemed:
We know the account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper very well. In fact we review its details every time we partake of the Sacrament: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread” and so on. But it is easy to forget about the context of this Supper. Jesus instituted this Holy Meal while He and His disciples enjoyed another holy meal: the Passover. It was no accident that these two meals should be joined together.
The Passover meal was a reminder of the LORD’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt. At that first Passover, each household slaughtered a blemish-free male lamb, consumed its flesh roasted over the fire, and painted its blood on the doorposts of the house. When the Angel of the LORD saw the blood of the lamb, He passed over that house, and everyone inside was saved from death.
God told His people to celebrate this Passover deliverance annually, so they would remember what He had done for them. This is why Jesus now reclined with His disciples in the upper room enjoying the Passover meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and wine. It was a meal for looking back, for thanking the LORD for His mercy upon His people. The disciples could not have guessed that Jesus was about to institute something new out of the Passover meal, something for the present and for the future.
He took some unleavened bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.” How unexpected! How strange! Jesus told them to eat His body, and He said it is given in the bread! Then Jesus took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.” His blood in the cup! How can this be? As hard as it was to understand, Jesus’ words were clear. He was instituting a special Supper in which His body was the food and His blood was the drink.
But there are many who do not believe these words of Jesus. They do not believe He gives His own body and blood in the Supper for us to consume. And until they are led by the Holy Spirit to believe His Word, this Supper is not for them. St. Paul writes by inspiration that whoever “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
This would be something like an Israelite at the first Passover saying that he is glad to eat the roasted lamb, but he isn’t about to paint his doorposts with blood. Death would have come to that house because the person did not believe God’s Word. In the same way, Paul writes that those who deny what Jesus says He gives in His Supper sin against Him, and they eat and drink judgment on themselves.
So how can we be certain that we will receive His Supper properly? First of all, we take Jesus at His Word. This is a matter of faith. We can’t see any change take place when the Words of Jesus are spoken over the bread and wine. There is no scientific proof that His body and blood are present. But Jesus says they are, and He does not lie.
Second, we eat and drink His body and blood “in remembrance of” Him. This means to remember all that Jesus did to save us, how He perfectly kept the Law for us, how He died in payment of all our sins, and how He rose again on the third day. We don’t go to the Lord’s Supper thinking of all the good things we have done for God or for others. We go with humble hearts, trusting in Jesus alone as our Savior.
This brings us to the third part of our preparation to receive the Supper. Paul writes that a person must “examine himself” before this eating and drinking. The Lord’s Supper is no ordinary meal. Jesus is present, and He knows our hearts. We come repenting of the sins He already knows about, and we ask Him to strengthen us and help us to change our sinful ways and do better. When we prepare for the Lord’s Supper in this way—trusting what Jesus says, remembering what He did to save us, and repenting of our sins—we can be sure we will receive His body and blood with blessing.
The Passover was a meal for looking back, and there was no spiritual benefit gained from eating the lamb and unleavened bread and drinking the wine. But now in the Lord’s Supper, we eat Jesus’ body with the bread and drink His blood with the wine “for the remission of sins.” The first Passover saved the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians and from temporal death. The Lord’s Supper saves us from even more—our slavery to sin and eternal death.
Jesus instituted the new Supper of His body and blood at the Passover meal to show that He is the fulfillment of the Passover. The Passover lamb pointed to Him. His holy body given in His Supper is nourishment and strength for our journey, and His holy blood cleanses us from all our sins (1Jo. 1:7). Jesus is the Lamb of God, who gladly gives His body and blood for our eternal good. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
The Second Sunday after Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 12:6-16
In Christ Jesus, whose grace and compassion and patience toward sinners never changes and never runs out, dear fellow redeemed:
What is the point of marriage? This is one of the major questions of our time. Many have answered that there is no point to marriage. Some see it as nothing more than a traditional practice that one can take or leave. Others see it as a needless restriction that keeps people from living their lives however they want. Whatever people think it is, they have to acknowledge that marriage has been around for a long time. They would be hard-pressed to name a civilization or time where an official joining together of man and woman did not take place.
Jesus certainly approved of marriage. He defended it against those who would make it a non-binding contract (Mat. 19:3-9). And He Himself attended weddings, like the one we heard about in today’s Gospel (Joh. 2:1-11). But there is an even stronger testimony and support for the Lord’s positive view of marriage. He called Himself the Bridegroom of the Church His bride (Mat. 9:15, 25:1-13). By referring to His relationship with penitent sinners in this way, Jesus showed that marriage is a sacred institution. It is an institution established by God and given by Him as a gift.
Through marriage, God gives many blessings. He gives companionship, stability, and protection. He gives intimacy and the joy of sexual union. He gives children, family, and community. But marriage fails when it is seen solely for what one spouse or the other can get out of it. It thrives when each spouse considers what they can give to each other. A marriage characterized by mutual self-sacrifice will be a healthy and happy marriage.
The same goes for our other relationships in life. Our calling as God’s children is not to put ourselves first and expect everyone to serve us, but to put others first and see how we can serve them. This is what St. Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans. At the beginning of chapter 12 which we heard last week, Paul urged the recipients of the letter “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (v. 1). Along with this, he said we should humbly follow God’s Word and recognize that we are part of something big—the body of Christ.
The next portion of chapter 12, today’s reading, outlines our responsibilities toward one another in the body of Christ. Paul writes: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” He says that the gifts Jesus gives to the members of His body differ. The members of Christ’s body do not all have the same function.
What this means is that those believers who form the body of Christ with you, may not be all that much like you. Their personality may be entirely different than yours. They may not think the way you think. They may not be motivated by the same things you are, or have the same priorities that you do. The things that are meaningful to you might have little meaning to them. The way you see things and the plans you have for the future may look very different than theirs. And yet, you are part of the same body!
But this is how the human body works, doesn’t it? There is not much about the eye that is similar to the ear, and not much about the head that is like the foot. But what would a body be without the great assortment of its parts? Or to ask it another way: what parts of your body would you rather not have? What parts could you do without? Every part works together for the whole. If one part suffers—like a sore back or a broken bone—the whole body suffers. A person can live without eyesight or hearing or a leg, but life is more difficult when this happens.
So “having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,” we use them. Paul lists seven of these gifts that believers employ for each other’s good. Some have the gift of prophecy; they are able to clearly understand and explain what the Bible says. Some have the gift of service; they gladly carry out the tasks they have been assigned. Some have the gift of teaching; they love to share what they have learned. Some have the gift of exhortation; they encourage those around them to continue in their Christian faith and life. Some have the gift of generosity; they give out of love and not for show. Some have the gift of leadership or oversight; they work to keep the body united in Christ. And some have the gift of mercy; they are eager and happy to help those around them.
As much as we would like to excel at all of these things, we probably don’t. Some of them come more naturally to us than others. That is why they are called “gifts.” They are given to us by our gracious God. But just because we have been given one gift over another, does not mean we can ignore the rest of them. We may not believe we have the gifts of prophecy or teaching or exhortation, but that does not mean we can ignore the study of God’s Word and leave it to someone else. We may not think we have the gifts of service or generosity, but that does not mean we should withhold our time, talents, or treasures when and where they are needed.
Our perception of the gifts God has given us may also be skewed by our own sinful desires. It is a little too convenient to say I lack the gifts exactly in those areas where I have no interest in serving my neighbor. That sounds like something much more human than divine. It is not for us to decide what gifts we have. It is for God to give them as He wills. So if you find yourself in a situation where service is required of you, you can trust God to equip you to serve. Or if you find that what is most needed is teaching or leadership or mercy, you can pray for God’s guidance to complete the task until He turns it over to someone else.
God does not give His gifts for your own self-fulfillment or self-enjoyment, though there is certainly fulfillment and enjoyment in doing what God calls us to do. God gives so that the members of Christ’s body can be a blessing and strength to one another and a blessing to their community as well. God Gives so We May Give. That is why we are here, to share the grace and glory of God that we have received through the kindness and compassion of our Savior Jesus.
This selfless giving is something we have to be reminded to do, because our sinful nature likes to put itself first. That’s why we call it the “old Adam.” Just like Adam and Eve put themselves over God and one another, this is what our sinful nature wants to have us do. But the new self, the new man of faith wants the opposite. The new man of faith wants to serve God and neighbor. It wants to show the love God has shown us.
These acts and attitudes of love are spelled out by Paul in his letter, that we be loving, kind, joyful, hopeful, patient, prayerful, generous, hospitable, humble. But what if my neighbor is unkind? What if he or she throws my good efforts back in my face? What if he or she treats me like dirt? Jesus doesn’t teach us to treat people the way they treat us. He teaches us to treat them the way He treats us.
And how does He treat us? With patience, bearing with us even when we sin and grow bitter toward others. With grace, loving us even when there is little love in our hearts. With forgiveness, removing all our transgressions from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psa. 103:12). With humility, coming to us through His Word and Sacraments, so He might strengthen and keep us in the faith.
God’s gifts delivered according to His grace never run out. He does not run out of love and compassion and mercy toward us. He is not like us. He does not give up when we offend Him. He does not keep a record of our wrongs. He does not turn His back on us or close the door when we wander away from Him. He comes after us like a shepherd searching for His sheep until we are found.
This is the attitude we should have in our relationships, whether in our marriages, families, communities, or congregation. We want to show patience with no expiration date. We want to show love with no limit. We want to forgive with no strings attached. You and I cannot produce these godly virtues on our own. But God can work them in us, and He promises to do exactly that.
Apart from God, we have nothing good to give. But connected to Him by faith and continuously receiving His gifts through His powerful Word, we are filled up and supplied with all that we need to do good for others. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Then we will be a joy and a strength to one another, and God will be glorified.
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(picture is stained glass at the Redeemer church)
The First Sunday after Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 12:1-5
In Christ Jesus, who by His suffering, death, and resurrection redeemed the world of sinners, so that they might have purpose, contentment, and hope, dear fellow redeemed:
Nobody expected the twelve-year-old Jesus to do what He did. He and His parents had gone to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When the massive crowd began to fan out and start their journey home, Joseph and Mary assumed Jesus was with relatives or friends. When He did not turn up, they went looking for Him and found Him three days letter in the temple. He was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luk. 2:46). All on His own, Jesus went to the temple, His “Father’s house” (v. 49), so He could hear and learn the Scriptures. That was not typical twelve-year-old behavior. But then Jesus was not the typical twelve-year-old.
What are the kinds of things we expect from twelve-year-olds today? This is a time when major changes are happening in their lives. There are huge physical, cognitive, and emotional changes going on. There are signs of maturity and maybe more mood swings. The twelve-year-old is in the process of transforming from a child to an adult. But he or she is not an adult yet. Twelve-year-olds need love, guidance, discipline, and clear expectations, just as all young people do. They need to be molded into God-fearing members of the church and responsible members of society.
It always makes me cringe when parents say that they will wait to let their children choose their own religious path when they are older. This is another way of saying that there is no clear teaching about God, that there is no such thing as objective truth, that one religion is no better than another. What foolishness! We have our kids listen to our favorite music, watch our favorite movies, cheer for the right sports teams, and follow our lead in so many other areas. But we’re not going to teach them anything about God?!
Whatever we do not actively teach our children, they will learn from someone else. Everything we know was learned. Think about yourself: how much of your personality and preferences have formed with no outside influence from others? I’m not sure it is even possible. We are products of the place where we are and the people we are around. On a spiritual level, we are influenced by the living God through His Word, or by the tugging and tempting of our own sinful nature, the devil, and the world.
In his letter to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul urged them not to “be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” To “be conformed to this world” is to be shaped and molded by the unbelieving world rather than by the divine Word. We feel this pressure to conform in so many ways, and we can think of many times that we have given in to this pressure.
Maybe we have softened our stance on sexual morality and say with the world that as long as a sexual relationship is consensual, there is no problem with it. Or we have changed our views on marriage and divorce, and we support the breaking apart of what God has joined together if husband and wife don’t love each other like they used to. Or we adopt the world’s thinking that nothing is more important than self-fulfillment, recognition for one’s work, and financial security.
Every single one of us is influenced by the unbelieving culture we live in. The devil is eager to see that this happens, and our sinful nature is happy to cooperate. We have “conformed to this world” in ways we are not even aware of. We begin to recognize this conformity when we ask ourselves how much our thoughts are directed toward doing God’s will in a given day or week and how much we are focused on doing our own will.
“Do not be conformed to this world,” says Paul. But going against the world is not easy. It is much easier to swim with the cultural current. Every young person who has faced peer pressure knows this is the case. It is hard to say no. It is hard to be singled out when we want so much to fit in. It is hard to be laughed at and attacked. It is hard to be alone.
Going against the world and living by the Word is not comfortable. It requires sacrifice. Jesus knows this. He lived that life. His own people wanted Him to be their earthly king. They wanted Him to lead them, feed them, and heal them. The religious leaders wanted His endorsement, His stamp of approval. Nobody got what they wanted.
What Jesus got for denying their expectations was hatred, rejection, ridicule, and pain—immeasurable pain. Crowds of people had flocked to Him, even up to the Sunday before His death. But then He was sentenced and nailed to a cross, all alone, forsaken even by His own Father in heaven. Jesus had not “conformed to this world,” and it ended with a lonely death.
He knows it is no easy charge when He says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luk. 9:23). He knows what will happen to those who refuse the world and their own desires and follow His Word. They will carry a cross like He did, and they will suffer. But they will not have to suffer like He suffered. He suffered alone, bearing the sins of the whole world. He suffered the eternal punishment of hell in the place of all sinners.
When you suffer, you do not suffer alone. You join Jesus in His suffering; or rather He joins you. And He also connects you with other godly sufferers, with others who reject the false promises of the world. The believers around you have been “transformed” like you have “by the renewal of your mind.” You see things differently now. You have changed. The Greek word for “transformed” is where we get our word “metamorphosis.” It is the same word used for Jesus’ transformation on the mountain when “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Mat. 17:2).
You and I were transformed from darkness to light, from death to life, from unbelief to belief when the Holy Spirit brought us to faith in Jesus through His Gospel. We were changed “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” in holy Baptism (Ti. 3:5). Like a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon a butterfly, we were “born again” (Joh. 3:3). In the waters of baptism, we were wrapped in the cocoon of Christ’s death, and we emerged with Him in His resurrection (Rom. 6:4).
We have “newness of life” now that we have been joined to Christ. By faith in Him we have gained all the benefits of His perfect life and atoning death. His perfect keeping of the law covers over our less-than-holy record. His cleansing blood washes away all our sins of choosing the world over the Word, from the sins of our youth to the present day. Jesus has freed us from the hopeless expectations and empty promises of the world. He has freed us to live—truly live—to live with purpose in this life and to die with the joy-filled expectation of the life to come.
It may feel lonely to go against what the world wants you to do, but you are not alone. You Are Part of Something Big—much bigger than the world. You are part of the body of Christ. You are joined to Him “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Out of love for you and on your behalf, He conquered the devil, destroyed death, and overcame the world. In Jesus, you are no loser, even if the world calls you one for following Him.
As a Christian, you may feel alone in your classroom, at your job, in your community. This is why God called you to be part of a congregation, to be connected with fellow Christians who are dealing with the same things you are. They are here to encourage, help, and support you on your journey through life. They are here to walk with you through good and bad times. They are here to comfort you in your pain and grief and to warn you if you start to separate from the body. You are not alone. As Paul writes, “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
That is something big—bigger than this world and bigger than this life. We are just one link in a long chain of believers that stretches back to Adam and Eve. The temptations and challenges we face today are nothing new. We are not the first to struggle. We are not the first to fail. But we have a Savior who loves us, and who sacrificed Himself to save us. He is the Head of His body the Church. He is the One who works for us and in us, so that “by the mercies of God,” we might “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”
By faith in Jesus, we are acceptable in God’s sight. Our sacrifices for Him are acceptable because of Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing more that we could be or do or accomplish that Jesus has not already completed. So whether you are twelve or twenty or sixty or whatever age, in Christ you have everything that you need. There is nothing you lack before God. You Are Part of Something Big!
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Maundy Thursday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 13:1-15
In Christ Jesus, the Lord of all but also the Servant of all, dear fellow redeemed:
If you knew you would die tomorrow, what would you do today? Would you eat at the fanciest restaurant you could find? Would you make a trip to a place you always wanted to visit? Would you spend as much time as you could with friends and family? Or would you do exactly what you are doing right now – listening to Jesus’ Word?
We do not know when our death will come. But Jesus did. Our text says that “Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.” So what did He do? He spent the night before His death in service. On Palm Sunday, He was hailed as a king. But now on Thursday, He knelt down and washed His disciples’ feet, one-by-one.
The disciples were not aware that Jesus’ death was so close. But they certainly recognized how strange it was that their Teacher and Lord should wash their feet. It should have been the other way around, except that none of the disciples had volunteered for the job. In fact, that same evening they spent their time arguing about “which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luk. 22:24).
Jesus said to them that the pagan Gentiles are concerned about power and authority over others. But the disciples should practice humble service. “[L]et the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But,” said Jesus, “I am among you as the one who serves” (vv. 25-27).
His demonstration of humble service by washing the disciples’ feet was a small sample of what He would do on a large scale the next day. On Friday, He willingly walked the path of suffering to Golgotha and was crucified in every sinner’s place. He could have carried out no more humble service than this. He was regarded as “a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people” (Psa. 22:6). “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phi. 2:8).
If Jesus, the perfect Son of God, was willing to serve in this way, then we should be willing to serve in even the humblest circumstances. We should consider no one below us. We should be ready to help any who are in need. Jesus said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
This is not the message we hear from the world. The world does not tell you to put others first. The world tells you to look out for yourself, to stay true to you. You need to stand up for your rights and have others bow to you. Is it any wonder that civil discourse is hardly seen in the public square? Almost no one is concerned about serving their neighbor. They are all concerned about serving themselves.
This selfish spirit resides in our sinful nature. It is the reason we are often reluctant to serve those around us, and why we become upset when others do not serve us like we think they should. It is why spouses keep a record of wrongs, why children pout when they do not get their way, and why people feud with members of their congregation and members of their community. We want to be served, not serve.
That is why Jesus the Foot-Washer had to come. We could not rise above our selfishness and free ourselves from the sin that entangled us. Jesus had to do this. He had to save us and cleanse us from our unrighteousness. And He continues to do this work among us. Jesus told His disciples the night before His death that He had given them an example to follow. But that is not all He gave them. He also gave them His body and blood for their forgiveness and strengthening.
He took bread and said, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.” Then He took a cup of wine and said, “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.” In this way, Jesus would continue to come and serve them. He would come to cleanse them of their sins, and to equip them for their lives in the world.
He does this for us also. He still comes to serve us through His holy Supper. We do not deserve to have Him come to us; we do not deserve to be in His presence. And yet He visits us here. He comes to you and me—imperfect, stained, unworthy, guilty, unclean—and gives us His holy body and blood to eat and drink.
This is no symbolic exercise. It is not simply a way to remember Jesus, who is supposedly far, far away from us in heaven. It is not a time for going through the motions while our mind is set on other things. It is not a right we can demand simply because we have gone through the proper channels. Partaking of this holy Supper is a privilege, a privilege which should not be taken lightly.
Paul underscores this in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He said that it is possible to receive the Lord’s Supper to one’s harm. Imagine if the disciples had despised Jesus’ service to them as He washed their feet. Suppose one of them hardly acknowledged Jesus while his feet were being washed, as though it did not even matter. Or suppose another kicked over the wash basin and laughed at Jesus. We would say the recipient of Jesus’ service was not worthy of the gift.
In the same way, someone might come to the Lord’s Table who does not think that anything important is happening. Or he is not really concerned about repentance and amending his sinful life. Or another might reject Jesus’ words and laugh at the idea that Jesus would give His body and blood in this way. Paul addresses such thinking when he writes: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (11:27-28).
We examine ourselves by approaching the altar with humility, by recognizing that Jesus meets us here just as He says. He comes to serve us and bring us the forgiveness of our sins. This is not the time to insist on our own way, or to imagine like Peter that we know better than the Lord. We come to eat and drink trusting His Word, and we do not go away again empty.
Through His service to us in the Supper, Jesus prepares us to go and serve the people around us. He helps us to see the needy in our lives in the same way that He looks at us, with compassion and love. The same night He washed the disciples’ feet, He told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Joh. 13:34-35).
We confess our faith in Jesus not only by what we say, but also by how we live. We could quote a thousand Bible passages and demonstrate our extensive knowledge about what the Bible says. But if this is not coupled with a life of humble service toward our neighbors, our words will fall on deaf ears.
So whether we have many more years in this world, or whether our end is fast approaching, we spend our time by receiving Jesus’ blessings through His Word and Sacraments. Then we are continuously equipped to go out in our vocations to share His love with others. We pray that through our service, others will learn as we have that Jesus is not a vengeful Lord, one who is angry with us, but that Jesus Is Among Us as One Who Serves.
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(painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685)