Maundy Thursday – Vicar Anderson homily
Text: St. Luke 23:44-47
In Christ Jesus, who committed His spirit into His Father’s hands and brings all that He finished on the cross to you in His holy Supper, dear fellow redeemed:
The final words from Christ on the cross occur closely together, most likely only separated by a few seconds. He cried out with a loud voice, “it is finished” and then “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Most men who died by way of Roman crucifixion had no breath left in them, because the cause of death was usually suffocation. This was not the case for Jesus. He made sure to have plenty of breath for His final words. They were not said in weakness, but loudly and in triumph and victory. He wanted to cry out His final words as loud as He could so that all would know and never forget His almighty power over death.
Jesus had suffered eternal death in hell on the cross and still with life in Him declared it finished. He had fulfilled the great work of atonement for the sins of the entire world and now in His final words all the suffering and pain was approaching an end. The darkness that blotted out the sun for three hours was beginning to break and His Father’s countenance shone again on His beloved Son. Jesus commits His spirit into His Father’s hands and bows His head in death. It was a job well done indeed.
Death is hard for us to see; it’s even hard for us to talk or think about. This is especially true about our own death. It takes people quickly and far too young and sometimes it takes people slowly and painfully. Death is never a fair opponent. The world wants us to be afraid of death and hide us from it at all costs. But death for a Christian doesn’t need be scary and it doesn’t need to be thought of as only ugly and brutal. Jesus teaches us that death is only a sleep from which we will awake to be with Him in heavenly glory. (Luke 8:52) Death is only a portal into true life, life eternal with Jesus.
In the eyes of the unbelieving world Christ’s death is seen as defeat and as foolishness, but to the Christian it is powerful and the only way to salvation. (1 Corinthians 1:18) The sinless Son of God dies to save the sinful child of man. (ELH 292; 5) St. Paul writes, “Christ Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Phil. 2:8).
Jesus is our suffering servant who endured everything willingly. As Isaiah prophesied, “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). All the lashes and beatings He received were because of our sinfulness and not His own. He took the torture and ridicule we deserved without protest or hesitation.
All four evangelists refrain from using the language “He died” when describing Jesus’ death. Rather they all report that He breathed His last, gave up or yielded up His spirit. This language reflects the willingness He had when He bowed His head in death.
Christ had said earlier, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:17b-18) Although He truly died, Jesus didn’t lose His life; He gave up His life. Death’s power couldn’t take life from Jesus the Son of God. He entered into death and freely laid down His life (John 10:17–18) to rescue us from sin, suffering, pain and death. He met death and overcame it to save you and I from the jaws of death. What He has done is truly done. All is finished.
But how do we know that this soul saving and life giving work is ours? How do we know He finished it for us? Well, Jesus not only won life for us He also brings that life to us in His Word and Sacraments. All that He finished on the cross is brought to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He has worked faith in our heart and continues to strengthen our faith by directly coming to us in Word and Sacrament. Jesus strengthens and prepares our soul for heaven by feeding Himself to us, by feeding us His living body.
You and I need to be fed by Jesus because we will never be able to live like Him. We cannot meet God’s holy Law. Even if we tried our absolute hardest we would still fall short of the mark. Only Christ is holy and blameless, only He can meet God’s requirements of perfection. He is righteous and innocent and He came to redeem us by living perfectly under God’s Law. (Galatians 4:4–5)
We need a way for Jesus perfect life and righteousness to come to us, to penetrate our heart and make us glad. He does this by bringing us the forgiveness He won on the cross. A strength that only He can provide and forgiveness only His body and blood can grant us. Jesus by the power of His Word sets a glorious banquet before us saying, “come, for all things are now ready” (Luke 14:17).
On Maundy Thursday evening, the night He was betrayed and the night before His crucifixion Jesus instituted this great banquet feast. St. Matthew writes, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:26–28)
Jesus took and distributed the same body and blood to His disciples that will be distributed to you this evening. His Word is clear; “this is my body; this is my blood” and it is His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit that makes it so. In His wisdom Jesus gave all believers a way to be so close to Him that He truly dwells in us. As we sing in our beautiful hymn of thanksgiving, “my Savior dwells within me now, how blest am I how good art thou!” (ELH 325; 2)
In the Lord’s Supper He gives you His living flesh to eat, the same flesh torn by men’s hands, the scourging whip, and rusty nails that pounded His hands into the cross. He gives you His living blood to drink; the same blood that dripped down His face from the crown of thorns and poured out from His spear pierced side. He places on your tongue the body and blood that death could not hold, the same life giving, resurrected and ascended flesh and blood that reigns in all heavenly glory.
You receive Jesus’ righteousness, life and forgiveness, which strengthen and preserve your soul every day and even in death. When it is time for your soul to depart this world you can confidently rest in His Words from the cross knowing that Jesus finished everything. You can depart in peace to your Father where He will welcome you into His loving arms as He did your Savior. 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, who spreads a table in the wilderness of this world and presents a rich feast to sustain and strengthen us, dear fellow redeemed:
It happens sometimes that we get so caught up in what we are doing that we lose track of time. We might be so focused that we even forget to eat or drink. It seems like this is what happened with Jesus and the crowds that followed Him. They followed Him right into a wilderness area near the Sea of Galilee. They were watching Him perform miracle after miracle as He healed the sick, and they were listening closely to what He said. But the shadows started to lengthen as the sun dropped lower in the sky.
Jesus didn’t seem to notice that so much time had passed. The evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that the twelve disciples approached Jesus and asked Him to send the crowd to the surrounding villages and countryside to find food and lodging. The disciples were concerned about the situation. “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late,” they said (Mar. 6:35). I imagine the disciples were hungry and tired too—it had been a long day.
Their request of Jesus was reasonable. This was no good place for a crowd of thousands to spend the night, and there was no food here for them. It was just common sense that the time had come to send the crowds away. Jesus did not agree. “You give them something to eat,” He said (Mar. 6:37, Luk. 9:13). Did Jesus think this was a game? Philip looked at the size of the crowd and replied that even a half year’s wages wouldn’t be enough to feed them. Andrew said that all they had at hand were five loaves of barley bread and two fish, “but what are they for so many?”
Good common sense thinking: the need is too great; our resources are too small. I’ve been there, and so have you. We didn’t know how we could possibly pay the bills. We couldn’t see our situation ever improving. We only saw trouble ahead. We prayed to our heavenly Father, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but we acted as though the problem was entirely in our hands. We worried, and we lost sleep, and our stress level rose higher and higher. “I don’t know how to get out of this,” we said. “There’s nothing I can do to fix this.”
What we didn’t realize is how close that is to, “Lord, have mercy.” That’s an uncomfortable step for us. We like to be in control. Philip would have been glad to say that they had prepared for an occasion like this and had plenty of provisions with them for the crowd. But the sun kept dropping lower, and Jesus had dropped an impossible task in their laps. The disciples were getting upset. Jesus was being unreasonable. Couldn’t He see what they were seeing?
He saw it alright, but He was not worried in the least. John shares the secret that Jesus had done this for a test, “for He Himself knew what He would do.” Jesus always knows what He will do. He is God. Nothing surprises Him. He clearly sees all the difficult situations we face, and He knows the best response for each one. That should teach us to put our trust in Him, because we can’t see the way out. We can’t fix every problem. Like the disciples, we see the magnitude of the issue. We see our lack of resources. But we so often forget to see Him.
Jesus had a perfect lesson planned for them and for us. He took that tiny amount of food—five loaves and two fish—, gave thanks, and handed them to the disciples to distribute to the people. What He started with was about enough food for the twelve disciples to have a light meal. What He ended with was twelve full baskets of fragments left over after the crowd of thousands had eaten their fill. The disciples thought that Jesus wasn’t seeing the problem. Now He could say to them, “Do you see what I have done? Do you see how much is left over? Do you see why you had no reason to worry?”
Do you see, dear friends in Christ, why you have no reason to worry? I know that all of you face problems in your life, difficult things that you don’t know how to fix. Life in this world is not perfect. There will always be trouble. But all of you had food to eat this morning if you wanted it. All of you have clothes to wear. All of you have a place to live. You don’t have everything you want, but God has richly provided all that you have. And when you look back at the toughest times in your life, you can see how God provided for you even then, and how He carried you out of that trouble.
Your God, the true God, loves you. He has compassion on you. In His love, God the Father sent His Son to join the human race and make our troubles His trouble. He came not only to take these things from us, but to give to us in return. He came to give us His life of perfect love toward God and neighbor. He came to give us His holiness and joy and peace. He came to give us His cleansing blood to wash away all our sins. He came to be a perfect sacrifice, so that eternal life and heaven would be ours.
Jesus joined us here in the wilderness of this world where we had nothing good going. Our needs were too great; our resources were too small. We could not save ourselves. We were sick. We were hungry. We were thirsty. And here is Jesus with living water to quench our thirst. Here He is with bread of life from heaven to satisfy our hunger. Here He is with medicine of immortality to heal us.
“Everyone who drinks of [regular] water will be thirsty again,” said Jesus, “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (Joh. 4:13-14). “Do not labor for the food that perishes,” He told the crowds, “but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (6:27, 51).
Jesus has life for you. He is life. His words are spirit and life (6:63). He sets a table, a rich feast, for you here in this wilderness. He speaks His saving Word to you. He gives His holy body and blood to you. “Come, everyone who thirsts,” He says, “come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price…. Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isa. 55:1,2). The spiritual gifts that Jesus gives to His disciples never go bad. They never spoil or make us sick. They never leave us feeling hungry or overfull. You can’t have too much of these blessings.
The gifts that God gives for our earthly needs are not like that. You can have too much of these earthly gifts. Expensive beverages are good but not when you drink too much. Delicious food is good but not if you consume too much of it. Money is good, but no matter how much you have, you think you could always use more. The problem is when we focus on the gift instead of the Giver. The same thing happened with the crowd that Jesus so mercifully fed. They came looking for Him the next day because they wanted more bread, more bread, more bread. The hunger of the flesh can never be satisfied.
Jesus wanted to give them something far better, something far more filling. He wanted to give His flesh and blood for their salvation. He wanted them to fill up on His Word. He offers the same rich gifts to you. The blessings of His Word and Sacraments never run dry no matter how often you hear His Word, no matter how often you partake of His Sacraments. “Abide in my word,” He says (Joh. 8:31). “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mar. 4:23). “Take, eat… drink of this cup. This is My body…. This is My blood… given and shed for you for the remission of sins.”
In that Galilean wilderness, Jesus appeared to have nothing, but all things were in His hands. He had more than enough to help the needy and fill the hungry. Jesus has enough and more than enough for you. He sees your troubles. He knows how you worry. He is here to multiply the fragments. He is here to feed you and sustain you. He is here to provide all you need for your body and especially all you need for your soul.
In Jesus, you are rich. The world may see you as lowly and poor, possessing nothing that matters or will last. But you know the exact opposite is true. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Co. 8:9). Because Jesus took your troubles on Himself and suffered and died for you, you are rich. You are rich in grace, rich in the love of God, rich with eternal life. Everything that Jesus has, He gives to you and keeps giving to you.
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)
The Baptism of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 3:13-17
In Christ Jesus, who came to take the sins that were ours and to give us the righteousness that is His, dear fellow redeemed:
We live in a time of “have it your way” Christianity. Beliefs about God are determined not so much by historic church teaching based on ancient holy texts. Beliefs about God are determined by people’s own feelings and ideas about God and how He seems to be working in their lives. So then what do they need the church for? They figure they can talk to God just as well at home or at work or out in nature as they can at church. They don’t need any pastor or know-it-all Christian telling them what to believe!
We can understand the frustration people have about “the church.” They see the church divided into tiny fragments with each one saying that it is the right one—Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Roman Catholics, various community churches. And there are even divisions within these groups like ELS Lutherans, LCMS Lutherans, ELCA Lutherans! People hear about scandals and abuses in the church, the manipulation of the vulnerable, the mismanagement of funds. Why would anyone want anything to do with the church?
But as imperfect as the church is in our eyes or anyone else’s eyes, God wants us to be part of it. When we speak about being part of the church, this includes both the “visible” and the “invisible” church. What we call the “visible” church is the church that can be seen, including all the different types of Christians. The visible church is divided, and because of sin it will continue to be divided until the end of time.
But the Bible also talks about the “invisible” church, the church of all believers who look to Jesus alone for their salvation. This church is perfectly united, and it is holy. This is the church the apostle Paul spoke about in his letter to the Ephesians: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:25-27).
So if we were choosing between the two, we would want to be members of the invisible church instead of the visible one, right? Actually it’s not an either/or. Simply being a part of the visible church does not save anyone. But those who are members of the invisible church by faith will also want to be members of the visible church. That is because God gathers His people around visible things: the preaching of the Word by a flesh and blood man like you and the administration of the Sacraments with the visible means of water, bread, and wine.
He calls us out of our homes and away from a solitary existence to join together with fellow believers. The author to the Hebrews writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (10:24-25).
That emphasis on joining together, on community and communion, is seen in our Lord’s institution of Baptism. He told the apostles that the discipling of all nations would happen and must happen through their personal interaction. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” He said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:19-20).
Never in the Bible do we read about a person baptizing himself, in the same way that the Bible does not teach us to forgive ourselves or privately give ourselves Communion. These gifts come to us from God through others. If anyone would have seemed qualified to baptize Himself or give Communion to Himself, it was Jesus. But Jesus did not do this.
Look at what happened at His Baptism. Jesus came to the Jordan River where John was baptizing, and He stepped down in the water. John knew enough about Jesus to know that he was in the presence of a godly man. “I need to be baptized by You,” said John, “and do You come to me?” And in the first words we hear from Jesus as an adult, He said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Jesus let a sinful man baptize Him, even though He was perfectly holy. So what was the Baptism for? Everyone else was coming to John to be baptized because they recognized how sinful they were. Jesus came declaring His righteousness: “Baptize Me,” He said, “in order to fulfill all righteousness.”
You might think of Jesus’ Baptism as the reverse of our Baptism. We were baptized for the forgiveness of sin, to receive the righteousness of God through faith. Jesus was baptized not to receive forgiveness, but to receive our sin—not to become righteous which He already was, but to take our unrighteousness upon Himself.
Jesus submitted to Baptism as the public beginning of His work to save us sinners. It was as though He said, “I accept the task. I am ready for the trial. I will give Myself for all sinners. I will suffer and die their death.” That was His message when He told John, “thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then the heavens opened, and Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. And the Father said from above, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
All of this has great significance for your Baptism. Most of you were brought by others to the font—you didn’t bring yourself. And all of you were baptized by another sinner’s hand. (Some of you here today were even baptized by this sinner.) Through Baptism you became a member of both the visible church where you were baptized and the invisible church which is the holy body of Jesus. You were joined to the company of others—sinners, yes, but also saints cleansed “by the washing of water with the word… holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26,27).
This is not something you chose. Your Baptism was a gift from God to you. At your Baptism, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit came upon you, and the Father said through His holy Word, “You are My beloved Child, with whom I am well pleased.” God looks at you in this way because your Baptism was a Baptism into the death and resurrection of His holy Son (Rom. 6:4). The forgiveness Jesus won for you on the cross was given to you at your Baptism, and so was the victory He won over your death.
God did all this for you. He brought you into His holy church. But just because you were brought into the church at one point, does not mean your membership is permanent. We see all the time members leaving the visible church, and God also sees members leave the invisible church. They leave by denying their sinfulness and their need to repent. They leave because they have elevated their own will and desires over God’s will.
This is how the devil and our own sinful flesh tempt each one of us. They tempt us to embrace the “have it your way” mentality. “Why should you have to worry about anyone else?” they say. “Live the way you want to! Make the decisions that are best for you! Don’t be bothered by the outdated rules of God’s Word. He will accept you no matter what you do!”
But God is not mocked. He did not claim us out of the world, baptize us into His holy name, make us His children and heirs of eternal life so that we would live as though none of that happened. He chose us out of the world. He delivered us from the devil’s kingdom of darkness. He rescued us from eternal death. He did all that so that we would have life in Him. He did all that so that we would live for Him.
Why did Jesus step down into that water? It was to “fulfill all righteousness.” Only He could do that because only He has ever been righteous. Except for Him, the Bible says that “there is none who does good, not even one” (Psa. 14:3). You and I have not done any good on our own. There is no good apart from God. All of us have sinned. And yet our merciful Lord called us to His gracious waters of life.
He brought you to the baptismal font by the hands of your parents or sponsors. He spoke His powerful, life-giving words through the mouth of your pastor. At your Baptism, He Poured His Righteousness over You, He washed your sins out of you, and He took up residence inside of you.
You did nothing in Baptism—all of it was done for you. That’s what makes it so comforting. Even knowing how your future would look, how you would at times despise His good gifts and choose to follow your way instead of His, He still brought you to those waters of life. And now He calls you to continuously return to those waters.
You return to the cleansing waters of His forgiveness and righteousness by repenting of your sins and trusting His promise of grace toward you. As He speaks His absolution to you, He strengthens you to deny the desires of your sinful flesh and live for Him. And He also invites you to be renewed and refreshed by His holy body and blood as you make your journey through this life.
You do not walk alone. You walk together with all the baptized—those who confess the faith with you in this congregation, and those who are living members of the body of Christ Jesus. His righteousness covers over you and all who trust in Him, and it makes you fit to enter His heavenly kingdom.
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 1895 painting by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior)
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.”
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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.
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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)