The Eighth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 8:12-17
In Christ Jesus, whom we follow by the power of the Holy Spirit on the way of salvation and life, dear fellow redeemed:
How do you rate yourself as a driver? I consider myself a pretty good driver, and I imagine that many of you do too. At the same time, I would be reluctant to put a “How’s My Driving?” bumper sticker on my car with my employer’s phone number on it. I might think I’m a good driver, but I’m not a perfect one. When my driving hasn’t been so good, I prefer to stay anonymous.
It is probably easier to identify the bad driving around us than to admit our own bad habits on the road. We get annoyed when people drive too fast, follow too closely, pull out in front of us, or weave from side to side while using their cellphones. But all of us have probably done the same at one point or another. We have been distracted while driving, we have been overconfident, impatient toward others, and angry.
These same things that cause bad driving are also problems in our spiritual life. Take distractions. Drivers can be distracted by a lot of things—other people in the car, loud music, and the main culprit: cellphones. They forget their primary purpose, their most important mission, which is to safely navigate their vehicle from point A to point B at speeds typically higher than most land animals can run. Driving is inherently risky.
There is risk in our spiritual life, too, though we don’t always realize it. A driver can take his safety for granted and let his guard down, just as we can take our faith for granted and let our guard down. There are lots of distractions in our spiritual life. The devil, the world, and our own flesh want us to forget our goal; they want to sidetrack us from our journey to heaven. “Turn off here!” they say. “You’ll have plenty of time to get back on the main road. Check out this attraction! Drop your money on this! Do whatever you want to!” And the more we indulge the sinful desires of our flesh, the less we think about where we were going in the first place.
Distractions to our faith are closely connected to overconfidence in faith. We think our faith is invincible. We think we could not fall away from believing in Jesus. We think we can handle whatever challenges come our way. This is like the driver who thinks he knows the road so well, he could navigate it in his sleep. A high percentage of car accidents happen within a couple miles of home because people are less attentive. Temptations to sin also happen in those places where we think we are in good control of everything, places like home, work, and church.
Along with distractions and overconfidence, our spiritual life is harmed by impatience. The impatient driver puts himself and others at risk. He doesn’t see things clearly. All he can think of is his own plans, and he resents anyone who slows him down or gets in the way. This is how we can become toward God when His plans for us do not align with our plan. We want Him to help us and fix our problems and pains right now. When He doesn’t, we become resentful. We complain to Him and others. We wear ourselves thin with worry instead of giving over our troubles to Him in prayer.
The impatient driver is very likely to become an angry driver. He views the drivers around him differently than he views himself. They are the enemy. They are purposely trying to provoke him. He doesn’t see them as those who make mistakes, or as those who might be dealing with worse distractions and troubles than he is. This happens to Christians too. They pin the blame for their sin and unhappiness on others. They do not acknowledge their own faults. They do not seek to forgive. They hold grudges. They condemn. They seek to inflict the harm on others that they feel has been done to them.
All these things have affected our spiritual life in the past—distractions, overconfidence, impatience, and anger—and to some degree they are affecting us even now in the present. We are sinners. We don’t do everything right. We do and say and think a lot of things wrong. Really we are bad drivers. We do not belong in the spiritual driver’s seat. If that’s how we think we will get to our destination, we are certainly headed for a crash.
Well then who needs to drive? There are many who play a role in your spiritual life. Your parents, siblings, spouse, and children do. Your pastor and teachers do. Your fellow Christians do. But they are not in the driver’s seat. They are just as impaired by sin as you are. The one who drives your faith, who keeps you focused and moving in the right direction, is God the Holy Spirit.
In the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, we confess that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” You cannot bring yourself to faith in Jesus. You cannot navigate yourself from point A in this world to point B in heaven. But the Holy Spirit can and does. The way He does this is through the means of grace, the Holy Word and Sacraments. He “has called [you] by the Gospel, enlightened [you] with His gifts, sanctified and kept [you] in the true faith.”
This is the work of the Spirit that the apostle Paul describes in today’s text. He writes that the Holy Spirit brings us life. He has made us “sons of God” through spiritual adoption, and He leads us to recognize and call on God as our dear Father. He “bears witness with our spirit” that as “children of God” we are His heirs “and fellow heirs with Christ.” He brings us through suffering with Christ to glory with Christ.
By nature, we were driving ourselves to destruction. We were on the “highway to hell,” and that’s nothing to sing about. But the Holy Spirit turned us around. He changed our direction completely. He brought us out of the darkness of sin and death and into the light of Jesus. He opened our eyes through the Law to see all the damage we had inflicted on ourselves and others by our sin. And He showed us how all those sins, all that damage, was taken away by the innocent suffering and death of God’s only Son.
Jesus willingly accepted the countless blemishes on your driving record. He took responsibility for all the damages caused. He offered to cover what for you was an unpayable fine. He gave Himself to be punished for your sins of distraction, overconfidence, impatience, and anger. He paid the price for your sins by pouring out His own holy blood in death. Because of what He did, all those sins, all those serious, death-deserving infractions, are forgiven. In Him, your driving record is clean. Covered in His righteousness, the scratches, gouges, and corrosion of your sins do not show anymore.
The Holy Spirit’s work is to continue to call and compel and drive you to Jesus. He wants to lead you each day to hear the Gospel of Jesus’ grace, His own Word of Absolution. That powerful message of forgiveness reminds you that you are not on your own. You do not have to navigate your own way through this life. You are a child of God the Father because the Holy Spirit has caused you to believe in His only-begotten Son.
Your trust in Jesus means that God the Father now looks at you no differently than He looks upon His holy Son. That is why we are specifically called “sons of God” in today’s text. You and I have been joined to Jesus by faith. This means we possess everything He possesses. We live as He lives. We inherit what He inherits. It also means that we must suffer as He suffers.
He suffers by not receiving the devotion and honor that are His due. He suffers by watching so many people drive themselves away from Him and His grace. He suffers when they follow false prophets instead of His pure Word (Mat. 7:15-20), when they trust in their own efforts and actions to save themselves (vv. 21-23), when they choose “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” over Him (Luk. 8:14).
We suffer with Him when people make fun of us for not joining them in their misdeeds. We suffer when they ridicule our beliefs and our humble trust in God. We suffer when they reject the Word of God in favor of worldly wisdom and do everything in their power to make us deny the truth we hold so dear. A great many are driving on the wide path that “leads to destruction” (Mat. 7:13). In their eyes, we followers of Jesus are going the wrong way and need to be turned around. Our going against the grain of the world causes great difficulties for us. Jesus already warned us that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life” (v. 14).
So life in this fallen world is hardly a “joy ride.” There are many bumps in the road. There is danger in all directions. But you are not in the driver’s seat. The Holy Spirit is, and He knows the way you must go. He daily drives you to repentance for your sins, to “put to death the deeds of the body,” so that you are not led in the wrong direction. And He drives you always toward Jesus, so that you go forward in His light and are comforted in His grace and peace as you travel along the way.
With the Holy Spirit doing the driving through the powerful Word, you will remain in the Lord’s loving care and will be brought safely through suffering to your glorious destination.
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 stained-glass window at Saude)
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 6:3-11
In Christ Jesus, who renews us every day by His grace and forgiveness, dear fellow redeemed:
In this sinful world where things fall apart, break down, and decay, there is always something that needs replacing. The car that ran so well 50,000 or 150,000 miles ago is now parked for good in the junk yard. The top of the line smartphone you purchased a few years back seems to have aged as quickly as dogs do. “Out with the old! In with the new!” we say. Our society, more than many before us, is a disposable society. We love our things, and we also love to discard them for newer and better things.
In our country these days, this approach to things is also being applied to systems. We hear voices calling out more and more loudly that the old systems of governance, from local law enforcement to the founding principles of our country, need to be thrown out in favor of something new. “We can build something fairer and more just! We can cleanse out the bad! We can end all prejudice and discrimination! Out with the old! In with the new!”
While we might sympathize with some of the goals of these modern-day revolutionaries, we know that the problem is not so much the system of government in America. Granting that there is no perfect system devised by men, the people in this country enjoy more personal freedom than perhaps at any other time in history. The problem is not the system; the problem is sin. Our sin is what causes us to look down on others because their color or their culture are not like ours. Our sin shows itself in anger, hatred, and judgment toward those whom we should rather love as God commands us to do.
Our sin is the “old” that should concern us more than anything else. There is no forming a “more perfect Union” (Preamble to the U. S. Constitution) or improving our own life unless we deal with the rotting root deep inside us. The fifth chapter of the Letter to the Romans tells us how sin came to be buried in us. Paul writes that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin” (Rom. 5:12). Because Adam sinned, all his descendants inherited sin after him. “[B]y the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (v. 19).
There is nothing we can do to stop this transmission of sin. The hymnwriter describes our desperate state: “By Adam’s fall is all forlorn / Man’s nature and his thinking, / The poison’s there when we are born, / In sin yet deeper sinking” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #430, v. 1). This is hard for us to accept. We don’t want to believe that before we had a chance at living life, we were already poisoned with sin.
But as hard as it is to believe, God tells us that when we were born—looking so vibrant and full of life—we were actually dead. We were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1,5). Many people go through life never realizing how bad they have it. In their later years, they look back on their accomplishments and imagine they lived a pretty good life. But these poor souls never really lived. Their life was lived apart from Jesus, which means that even though their heart was beating, their brain was working, and they were getting stuff done, they weren’t really living. They were dying, only dying, and death is all they had to look forward to.
Jesus came to put an end to that futility, to reverse the poisonous effects of sin. He was the second Adam, the only-begotten Son of God the Father who became a man in the womb of the virgin Mary. His goal in coming was not to topple the Roman government or achieve social justice for all. It wasn’t to set up a new religion. His purpose was to fulfill the promises of God, spoken in ancient times even to the first sinners. He did not come to throw out the old order and replace it with something else. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” He said; “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mat. 5:17).
He fulfilled God’s Law for you and me. He accomplished what we never could—a perfect life before God. Adam’s disobedience made us sinners, but Jesus’ obedience earned our righteousness. Then He took all our acts of disobedience, all our sin, and brought them to the cross where He paid the atoning price for each and every one. This is where He personally dealt with all hatred, all prejudice, all injustice, all division. All of it was wiped away in the flood of His precious blood. And then He dealt with death by rising from the grave. He addressed our disobedience with His obedience, our sin with His sacrifice, and our death with His resurrection.
But how can we connect our life to the life that He won? How can we leave behind our legacy of sin inherited from the first Adam and enter into the blessed company of the second Adam? Some say that this is done through a personal decision: “I’ve decided to leave my life of sin and live for Jesus.” Others say it is more of a process, a gradual changing and growth away from bad things and toward good things. But both of those are done from our side of things, by our effort, which means that both approaches will most certainly fail.
Today’s text describes a different way. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” Here something is introduced that did not come from man and is not accomplished by us. This is Baptism, instituted by Jesus for the salvation of all people and carried out by His power and command (Mat. 28:18-19). It is not symbolic. The water does not symbolize the washing away of sin. The water and the Word of Baptism actually cleanse us from sin by joining us to Jesus.
Baptism into Christ is a baptism into His death. This means that the benefit of Jesus’ death is applied to the sinner. And what benefit is that? Forgiveness, the full and free forgiveness of all sin. This is why we bring infants to the font. It is because they are born in sin (Psa. 51:5). They need to be forgiven, so that they might live in Christ. Sin does not live in Jesus; therefore our sin must be forgiven if we are to live in Him.
But Baptism does even more for us. It not only joins us with Jesus’ atoning death, it also joins us with Jesus’ glorious resurrection. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.” For us who are baptized into Christ, death no longer has dominion over us. Death is not our lord anymore. Death is not the boss.
The two major problems in our life—sin and death—are dealt with at the baptismal font where Jesus meets us with His eternal blessings. It may not look like much happens at Baptism. Nothing changes in the appearance of the person who was baptized. But Baptism is an “Out with the Old! In with the New!” moment like no other. In the waters of Baptism our old Adam, our inherited sinful nature, is drowned. And our new life of faith rises to the surface. In another one of his letters, Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2Co. 5:17).
Sadly we do not always live as we are. Even though we know we should leave the old sins of the past behind us, covered by Jesus’ righteousness and cleansed by His blood, yet those old sins still hold some appeal. The devil tempts us to think that the old and new can coexist. “Just because we have faith doesn’t mean we have to stop having fun,” we say. And this is how we so easily find our way back to old passions, old habits, and old vices.
But you cannot live for Adam and for Jesus. You cannot feed the sin and expect righteousness to survive. You cannot despise the blessings of your Baptism and remain in Christ. Paul writes that “our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
You live in your Baptism by repenting every day of the sin that threatens to overcome you and destroy your faith. Repentance is how you “come clean,” so to speak. It is how you toss out the old, how you walk away from everything that draws, tempts, and pulls you away from your Savior Jesus. And every day you welcome the new by trusting in Jesus, hearing His saving Gospel, clinging to His promises, and striving by the power of the Holy Spirit to live the way God has called you to live.
The people of the world keep breaking down and building up in an attempt to create something that will last. But all their possessions, plans, and power are doomed to fail. All those new things will become old and be discarded in the landfill of history. Baptism gives you something that lasts. It gives you what you could never produce on your own. Baptism ties your past, present, and future to Jesus. It gives you the forgiveness and life He won. It gives you the comfort and peace of knowing you are a child of God. And it assures you that when this life comes to an end, you will live on as Jesus does.
No matter how many years are behind you or how long ago you were baptized, the blessings of Baptism never get old. In Baptism you were crucified and buried with Christ. You were raised with Christ. There His death became your death, and His life became your life. In Baptism, “[t]he old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
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 stained-glass Baptism window at Redeemer)
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 3:8-15
In Christ Jesus, who comforts us in our fears with the sure hope of salvation and eternal life, dear fellow redeemed:
A struggling economy. An unemployment rate in double figures. Plummeting crop prices. Unrest all across the country. This was the setting in 1933 when President Roosevelt gave his inaugural address. In the very first paragraph, he spoke words that have been repeated many times since: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He said that the collective fear of the population is a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
He was on to something. He recognized that fear is not a thing we are made to feel or experience. It does not come at us from the outside; it wells up inside us. So for example, spiders or snakes do not possess the power to make you afraid. This is clear from the fact that not everyone is afraid of spiders or snakes. Those who are afraid of them don’t like the way they crawl or slither. They don’t like coming across them unprepared. But ultimately, these animals are just a very small part of God’s vast creation.
Sometimes our fears developed from a traumatic experience in our youth. This may explain the fear people have of going to the dentist or of sleeping without a light on. But dentists are not inherently bad, and the darkness of night does not mean you are unsafe. This is all clear enough in the daylight with no dentist’s chair, snake, or spider present. But that doesn’t stop us from being afraid when we do face these things.
We have other fears these days, some of the same ones that were on people’s minds during the Great Depression. The economy is struggling. People are out of work. Demonstrations and riots are taking place across the country. A virus is spreading. There seem to be more questions at hand than answers. It won’t do to have someone tell us to just stop being afraid. Fear is not something we can turn on and off like a light switch.
But it is possible to redirect our fear. This is very important today when fear threatens to overwhelm both us and the people in our communities. Fear can make us do irrational and harmful things. Have you ever injured yourself in an attempt to destroy a tiny spider? The effort probably did not match the enemy. Fear can make us overreact to perceived threats around us. If others will not share our fear, it is easy to go on the attack—turn our backs on them, demonize them, maybe even physically harm them or hope for something bad to happen to them.
The apostle Peter urges a different approach in the Spirit-inspired words of today’s text. He calls on us to seek unity, to be sympathetic, to love others like they are members of your family, to have compassion, to be humble. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling,” he writes, “but on the contrary, bless.” Your neighbor is not your enemy. You are not called to fight him but to love him.
This of course is not easy. When we have been wronged, we don’t want to let someone off too easily. If we do, we are afraid that we will be wronged again. Or if we try to build bridges and make amends, we are afraid that our attempts will be rejected and our kindness thrown back in our face. But what we are afraid of more than anything is looking weak, taking the humble path, swallowing our pride, submitting to one another. This is difficult and even painful. Why should we have to do this?
We show love to our neighbors because it is right. It is the will of God, and His will is perfect. We are to “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18). God has the authority to demand this of us because He is the only God. His First Commandment says, “You shall have no other gods.” This means that “we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Luther’s explanation).
But what exactly does it mean to fear God? It means to fear His punishment if we sin against Him. This fear causes us to do one of two things. The first is to try to hide from Him like Adam and Eve tried to do. But as they learned, there is no way to hide from God. Peter attempted something like this when Jesus gave him and the other fishermen the great catch of fish. Seeing what had happened, “he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luk. 5:8). Peter’s sin made him want to escape the Lord’s presence.
But the better way to deal with the fear of God’s punishment is to repent of our sins, to kneel before Him and put ourselves in His mercy. We might be able to hide our sins from others, but we cannot hide them from God. He already knows them, and He will have justice. He does not play games. The author of Hebrews writes that “[i]t is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31). It would be terrifying to stand before Him without repentance and faith. Then all our sins would be brought up against us and held against us.
This is why He wants us to repent, repent of our lack of trust in Him, repent of our lack of love toward our neighbor, repent of our fearing so many things around us, but hardly fearing Him. And what does He do when we lay our hearts and minds open before Him? By admitting our wrongs, don’t we acknowledge that He has the right to punish us?
He does have that right, but He does not send His wrath upon the repentant. He gives His grace. Look how the Lord dealt with Peter. Peter had just admitted his sinfulness. He was terrified to be in the presence of the holy God and begged Jesus to leave. And the next words out of Jesus’ mouth were, “Do not be afraid” (Luk. 5:10).
This is how the Lord deals with each one of us. We have sinned against Him in so many ways, and He knows it! But His response is not to take revenge. It is not to demonize us or seek to harm us. His response is forgiveness. Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid of God’s wrath anymore because I took that righteous punishment for you. Do not be afraid that your Father in heaven will turn His back on you because He turned His back on Me instead. Do not be afraid of suffering in hell for your sins because I suffered hell for your sins.”
Because of what Jesus did, you are reconciled to God. He is not your enemy. He loves you. He seeks your good. Quoting Psalm 34, Peter writes that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer.” God considers you righteous because you trust in His holy Son. His ears are wide open to you. He wants to hear your fears. He wants you to turn them over to Him—fears about your relationships, fears about your finances, fears about the future, fears about your health and life.
The Lord promises that He will not abandon you to these fears. He will not leave you even if the whole world turns against you. “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” asks Peter. “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.” You are blessed in your suffering because the Lord is with you, and no evil can prevail against Him. The victory is already His over sin and death, world and devil. And that victory is yours by faith in your Savior Jesus.
You and I cannot control what may happen to us today or tomorrow or the next day. That can make us feel afraid; we like to be in control. But it is far better to put our trust in the Lord, to leave our lives in His control. He loves us with an unchanging love. He redeemed our lives by shedding His own precious blood. He graciously called us to faith so that we would become heirs of eternal life and salvation.
“Fear itself,” as President Roosevelt put it, is not the problem as much as what we fear. Our fear should be directed to the Lord alone. He is completely holy and just. He is all-powerful and knows all. He can end the troubles we face in a moment, or He can use them to shape us and to call us and those around us to repentance.
Whatever He does, we know that He does it out of love. Through Jesus our Savior, we do not need to fear His wrath or eternal punishment. The fear that makes us want to run and hide is replaced by the fear that loves Him, respects Him, and wants to “serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (Second Article explanation).
So we look to Him in this godly fear, entrusting our lives and our troubles and our futures to Him. And He looks upon us with grace as His own dear children and says, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture of the miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)
Festival of Pentecost & Jerico Confirmation – Pr. Faugstad exordium & sermon
Brought to the foot of Mt. Sinai after God had led them out of slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel were terrified. They were terrified because God came down on the mountain, and He didn’t come meekly. He came down in a raging fire. The whole mountain was wrapped in a thick cloud of swirling smoke. Lightning flashed, the ground trembled, and God spoke with a voice of thunder.
The LORD had come to give His holy Law to His people, to tell them how they should conduct themselves in their homes, in their communities, and in their gatherings to worship Him. The clear message was this: If you disobey this God, His fiery wrath is a terrible thing to face.
John the Baptizer indicated that the Messiah would come with such fire: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I…. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mat. 3:11-12).
Who could endure the day of His coming? Who could stand when the righteous God appeared (Mal. 5:2)? We have all disobeyed God’s holy Law. We have all invited His wrath against us. But Jesus did not come to destroy us; He came to save us. He came to face the hot anger of God and to step into the flames of hell in our place. He made peace with God for us. And He wants all sinners to know it.
This is why He sent out the Holy Spirit. Just like at Sinai, God came again in fire at Pentecost, but it was a much gentler fire. The Holy Spirit inspired in the apostles a message not primarily of Law and judgment, but of grace and hope. The people did not shrink back from this manifestation of God in fear; they drew closer in awe. They were glad to hear these Galileans speak in their own languages “the mighty works of God.”
The Holy Spirit had been poured out as Jesus promised to guide people in the truth. He was here to plant faith in sinful hearts through the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and to continue to shine the light of His grace and forgiveness into their hearts. In thanksgiving and prayer for the ongoing work of the Spirit, we rise to sing our festival verse, “O Light of God’s Most Wondrous Love” (ELH 399) / “O Holy Spirit, Enter In” (TLH 235, v. 1).
Text: Acts 2:1-13
In Christ Jesus, who delivered on His promise to send the Holy Spirit to His disciples, and who still sends out the Holy Spirit even now, dear fellow redeemed, and especially you, Karson, on your Confirmation Day:
When Lutherans hear the account of Pentecost, they come across some very familiar words in Acts 2:12. There the devout Jews in Jerusalem ask a simple question, “What does this mean?” We are used to asking that question. In the six chief parts of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, that question is specifically asked twenty-two times. It is a prompt for digging deeper, for coming to a clearer understanding of God’s Word.
But it isn’t just Lutherans who ask this question. Everyone does. The expressions may differ somewhat, but the idea is the same. A child may point to any number of things and ask, “What is that?” A person may examine evidence and try to figure out how things come together, saying: “What do we make of all this?” Or we may search for answers about why God allows certain things to happen: “What does this mean, God? Help us understand.”
The question is an important one. It acknowledges that we do not know everything. It expresses a desire to be taught. This is the position the Jerusalem Jews were in. It bewildered and perplexed them to hear these common Galileans speak in a multitude of languages. No matter where the people were from, they heard God’s truth in their own native tongue. “What does this mean?” they asked one another.
Peter told them. He cited the words of the Old Testament prophet Joel beginning with this statement, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Act. 2:17). And a few verses later, “it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v. 21). Then he went on to teach about Jesus of Nazareth. Though He was crucified, died, and was buried, yet God raised Him up. Peter said that the apostles were witnesses of His victory over death, and that this Jesus was the one who now poured out the Holy Spirit as the people were “hearing and seeing” (v. 33). Jesus was the reason the message of salvation was being delivered to them in their own languages.
Hearing Peter’s words, the people “were cut to the heart” (v. 37). They felt the guilt of what had been done to Jesus some fifty days before this. With their “What does this mean?” answered, they now they asked a different question, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v. 37). Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (vv. 38-39).
Peter described the way for them to be reconciled to God. He did not tell them they had to carry out some great work or give a significant gift for the cause. Grace was extended to them on the basis of Jesus’ work. This grace was for everyone, no exceptions. Everyone who believed and was baptized would be saved (Mar. 16:16). These baptized believers received the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The same is true today. Forgiveness in Jesus’ name and the gift of the Holy Spirit are still given to those who are baptized. Many of you here today have received these blessings. God claimed you as His child in Holy Baptism and has continued to strengthen your faith through His Word. As long as you are kept in this saving faith, you retain the forgiveness of all your sins no matter what they may be, and the Holy Spirit continues to dwell within you. Especially today, we celebrate God’s giving of these blessings to Karson. We give thanks that he is now ready to confess his faith publicly in the presence of the congregation and to join us at the altar to receive the body and blood of our Savior in Holy Communion.
The devil does not want us to partake of these means of grace through which the Holy Spirit works. He tries constantly to tempt us away from them. He puts other things in front of us to keep us occupied and distract us from God’s saving Word. These may be good things like work and family, or they may be bad things that actively lead us to sin against God. Ultimately, Satan wants us to regard the Word of God like those scoffers on Pentecost. These heard the preaching of the apostles, and instead of listening to what was said, they accused the disciples of being drunk on new wine.
This treating the Word as insignificant or turning away from it can happen to any of us, and in fact it has happened to all of us. We have viewed the Word of God as something common, something we can take or leave. Maybe we told ourselves that what matters most is how we live our lives. Or what matters most is not what God gives to us, but what we offer to Him. We have failed to eat and drink and absorb the Scriptures as God’s own revelation and truth for us. Thinking we have the Bible mastered, we do not pour over it, humbly and diligently asking at every point, “What Does This Mean?”
And yet, even though we have not listened to and applied God’s Word to ourselves as we should, God in His mercy has brought us again today to hear it. Whenever His Word is heard or read or meditated upon, the Holy Spirit is at work in us. Through the Word of the Law, He exposes the sins of our mind and heart, so that we realize how far we have fallen short of God’s glory. And through the Word of the Gospel, He points us to Jesus, who lived the perfect life for us that God requires, and who died to atone for all our sins.
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit led 3000 people to be baptized when they heard God’s powerful Word of grace. And so He continues to work in our hearts today. We might not speak in other languages when He comes or have tongues of fire rest upon us. But His power is by no means diminished. He still comes assuring us that our sins are forgiven, that we are justified—declared righteous and innocent—in God’s sight because of what Jesus has done. Through this Gospel message, He also strengthens our faith and sanctifies us to be bearers of light in a dark world.
We cannot do without these blessings of the Holy Spirit. We want them more and more. That is why we don’t put away the question, “What Does This Mean?” when we are confirmed. The youth confirmed this week and next would tell you that they have learned a lot in the last two years. But they know they have further to go. Our prayer for Karson and all our youth is that they never stop growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2Pe. 3:18), and that the Lord keeps them faithful to His altar.
Confirmation is much closer to our spiritual starting line than to the finish line. We never get to the point where we have learned everything we could possibly learn from the Bible. We want to continue to dig into the Word and to search for the treasures God has placed there. The Holy Spirit will uncover them for us and lead us to a deeper and clearer understanding of the great love God has for us.
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(picture from stained glass by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, c. 1660)
The Sunday after The Ascension – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Peter 4:7-11
In Christ Jesus, who when He ascended on high led a host of captives and gave gifts to men (Eph. 4:8), dear fellow redeemed:
On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember some of the major battles in America history and the heroic people who fought in them. To prepare them for the violent conflict to come, the commanding officer would remind them why they were there. He might invoke the principles of freedom, justice, and the cause of good to inspire them. He would urge them to take courage and not be afraid of the enemy. If each man did his part, victory would certainly be theirs.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He mustered His “troops” and gave them their “marching orders,” so to speak. His objective, however, was not physical conquest. The battle they were to engage in was a spiritual one. Their success and victory would not come by way of the sword, but by way of the Word. They were to make disciples for Jesus by baptizing and teaching all nations (Mat. 28:19-20). To equip them for this Jesus said, “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now,” and “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Act. 1:5,8).
Then Jesus was taken up from them into heaven. What was their next move now that their mighty Lord was no longer visibly present to lead them? They returned to Jerusalem and devoted themselves to prayer (Luk. 24:53, Act. 1:14). At this time, they certainly didn’t look like a force to be reckoned with. Their number was small, and no one expected much from them with Jesus out of the picture.
But then the Holy Spirit came upon them, which we will hear more about next weekend. On that Pentecost day, 3000 repented of their sin and were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The number of Christian disciples increased day after day, which alarmed the Jewish religious leaders and the governmental authorities. The Jewish leaders wanted the apostles to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. When threats did not work, they turned to violence (Act. 5:40). With their blessing, Saul led a persecution against the Christians beginning with the stoning of Stephen.
From the secular side, King Herod was also concerned with the growth of the Christian church. He wanted no unrest in his kingdom and wanted all honor and glory for himself. He did not want some Christian uprising to threaten his earthly authority. Herod got wrong what so many godless rulers have since. They see Christianity as a physical threat that must be suppressed by physical force. So Herod “laid violent hands” on some Christians and “killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Act. 12:1-2). He was glad to see that this pleased the Jews. But he was afraid of a violent reprisal from Christians. When he arrested the apostle Peter, he put him in prison and ordered four squads of soldiers to guard him.
And what were the Christians doing when this happened? Were they drawing up plans to sneak into the prison and overcome the guards? Were they sharpening their swords and knives for an attack? St. Luke writes that while Peter was in prison, “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Act. 12:5). That was the Christians’ response to this violence and trouble: they prayed. God answered their prayers for deliverance and sent an angel to release Peter from his chains and from prison.
Some years after this, Peter would record his First and Second Epistles. In today’s text from his First Epistle, he outlines what we might call “Marching Orders for the End Times.” The end times began when Jesus ascended into heaven. On that day, two angels told the disciples not to “stand looking into heaven,” and that Jesus “will come in the same way as you saw him go” (Act. 1:11). They told them He would return, but not right away.
Nearly 2000 years have passed since then, and Peter’s words are just as present and pressing now as ever: “The end of all things is at hand.” We are to live in expectation of Jesus’ return. We should constantly prepare for the last day. The clock is ticking. Our time and the world’s time are running out. But how exactly should we stay prepared?
We must “be self-controlled and sober-minded.” This means not letting the devil, the world, and our own flesh cloud our thinking. This happens when our plans are more important to us than God’s plan, when earthly riches mean more to us than heavenly riches, when personal pleasure and self-satisfaction keep our focus more than hearing God’s Word and doing His will.
We do not work to clear our minds of this clutter simply to feel more at peace or to “center ourselves” like the Eastern religions teach. We want clear and sober minds “for the sake of [our] prayers.” A mind distracted by worldly pursuits is not focused on the Lord and His promises. But when the Holy Spirit clears our minds by the power of the Word, we are ready to pray for our needs, for our fellow believers, and for all others. Time spent in humble prayer to the merciful God is never time wasted.
Besides prayer, God also calls us to “love one another earnestly” and to “show hospitality to one another.” Unbelievers generally expect believers to think and behave like they do, and in our sin we often do. But our light shines in the dark world when we do the unexpected. The world expects people to look out for themselves, to hold grudges, and to seek revenge. But God’s children love their neighbors as themselves, they forgive wrongs done against them, they respond with kindness when someone lashes out at them in anger or spite.
Peter writes that “love covers a multitude of sins.” If there were no love in us, think how many sins we could hold against others, big sins and little sins. The list would keep getting longer and longer. But then think how many sins God could bring up against us. We can’t imagine how long that list would be. No one has committed more sins against us than we have committed against God. And it’s not even close. But His love, in Christ, “covers a multitude of sins”—in fact, His love covers all of them.
This is what makes us willing and eager to take “marching orders” from the Lord. We know what He has done for us. We know the battle He had to fight to save us. We know what it cost. The God-Man Jesus had to suffer the eternal fires of hell in our place. He had to accept the full payment of God’s wrath for sin. He had to die.
If He was willing to do that to redeem you, to redeem me, that means we are not expendable in His eyes. He’s not going to send us to the front lines in a futile attempt to slow the enemy’s advance. He leads the way into battle. He fights for us and with us. He destroys the devil’s plans through His powerful Word, which motivates and guides our prayers and our lives of love. Wherever our love falls short, as it often has, His does not. His love covers over and hides our sins. Because our sins were put on Jesus, our heavenly Father does not find them on us anymore.
Forgiven of our sins, we are now able to approach the Father’s throne in confident prayer and to share His love with those around us. By His grace He bestows gifts upon us to use in service to others. But what gifts do we have? They are different for every person. No two people are alike in every way, having the same interests and abilities.
The Lord has equipped each of us in our vocations, our callings, to serve the people in our lives. What drives some people to serve is the recognition and thanks they receive. And if they are not recognized, they regret their service. But the good things we are able to do are not our own. We did not make these good things possible. We are not in control of their success.
God gives us our particular gifts like a master gives his goods to a servant. The servant does not take credit for the goods. He did not earn them or build them up. They belong to his master. He is simply a steward of the goods. He is given the job of management. So however the Lord has equipped you and whatever good you do, the glory belongs to Him and not to you. You are a steward of the gifts God graciously gives. You do not need to seek recognition for the things you do. You already have God’s approval in Christ, who lived a life of perfect love and service in your place. That perfect life is credited to you by faith in Him.
So these are the Christian’s Marching Orders for the End Times: pray, love, and serve in the name of Jesus. This kind of life will put you at odds with the world, which means you should expect to suffer. But you will not suffer alone. Your great and mighty King is with you in the conflict. He strengthens you when you are feeling faint and weak and are not sure you can carry on. He graciously forgives you and reinstates you by His Word of absolution when you fall into sin and desert your post. And He promises to relieve you from this struggle at the appointed time. He will come again in the same way the disciples saw Him go to take you to be with Him forever.
Not much has changed since the time that Peter wrote his epistle. The enemies are the same, and the sufferings and sorrows of this battle are the same. But our Lord’s commitment to us is the same too. His power to overcome whatever rises against us and His love and care for us as we struggle is unchanged. His promise to be with us and strengthen us is unchanged. His triumph over the forces of evil arrayed against us is unchanged.
We are safe and secure in Him. We are on the winning side. He has given us the victory by faith in Him, and we will soon have our rest in His heavenly kingdom. “To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
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(picture from “Jesus Discourses with His Disciples” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The First Sunday after Michaelmas – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 9:1-8
In Christ Jesus, who was delivered over to death for our sins, and who imparts forgiveness to us through His powerful Word, dear fellow redeemed:
“Do you believe in the forgiveness of sins?” A fellow pastor said he posed that question to some Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to his door. It’s a great question. In fact it’s the perfect way to learn where people stand in spiritual matters. “Can sins be forgiven?”
People might like to know what you mean by “sins.” You explain that sins are anything we do which contradicts the Commandments of God. Those Commandments are summed up by love for God and love for neighbor. If we have not perfectly done these things day in and day out, we have sinned. Then they might want to know what “forgiveness” means. You explain that forgiveness means the sins are cancelled out or pardoned, as though they had never even happened.
“Well that sounds too good to be true!” they might say. “If we have broken God’s law, we can’t imagine those sins are so easily removed!” You reply that the Bible clearly teaches the forgiveness of sins, but that it certainly didn’t come easily. “I knew it!” they say. “God wouldn’t just tell us we are forgiven. We must have to do something to prove ourselves to Him.”
You tell them that there is nothing we could ever do to make up for our sins. There are too many of them. Our sins have separated us from God (Isa. 59:2). We could not make things right with Him. But He could make things right with us. God accomplished this by sending His holy Son to take on our flesh and live among us in the world. He followed God’s Commandments perfectly. He never sinned. Then He offered His perfect life as a sacrifice in our place by dying on the cross.
God’s Son had to die in our place. It was the only way to satisfy God’s wrath against sin. It was the only way to free us from our sins and the death we deserve. So, as you said, the forgiveness of sins did not come easily—God Himself had to die for it. But it is a free gift offered to all sinners. They do not have to make up for their own sins somehow. Jesus paid the penalty for them.
Most people in the world today do not believe in the forgiveness of sins. They do not believe that a lifetime of sins could be wiped away without any contribution on their part. But then we have the account in today’s Gospel. Four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus, because they heard about Jesus’ power to heal (Luk. 5:17). After some effort, they were able to set him before Jesus. Jesus looked at the man and said, “Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.”
Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record this account, but none of them includes the reaction of the paralyzed man and his friends. We imagine that Jesus’ statement shocked them. As far as we can tell, they did not come to Him for forgiveness. They came to Him so that He might make the paralyzed man walk. But Jesus had something better planned. Jesus was aware of the man’s need for forgiveness even if he himself was not.
This man did nothing to get this forgiveness. He did not make the case for why Jesus should bless him. He did not point to the good things he had done for God or others. He did not even ask for forgiveness! The scribes and Pharisees did not believe the forgiveness of sins could come so easily. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they thought (Mar. 2:7, Luk. 5:21). They did not believe Jesus had authority to forgive sins, because they did not believe Jesus was God.
Since that is how you feel, said Jesus, then I will prove who I am. I will demonstrate the power of My Word. So He said to the paralyzed man, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And the man did just that. The crowds were afraid and amazed when they saw this. They had seen Jesus perform miracles before, but now He proved He could forgive sins too. They glorified God that He had given this authority to men.
Here today I stand before you saying the same thing Jesus did, “Your sins are forgiven!” I say this not because I have the power within myself to forgive your sins. If I did, you should ask me to prove it by making a paralyzed man walk or by raising someone from the dead. But I do have the authority to declare this forgiveness. I have this authority from God, and so do you. Jesus granted this authority to the Church, which consists of all believers. He has given the Church on earth “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 16:19). Whoever the Church forgives on the basis of His Word, He forgives. Whoever the Church does not forgive, He does not forgive.
By the call of God extended through this congregation, I have been appointed to publicly administer God’s grace to you through Word and Sacrament. I have been appointed to declare your sins forgiven. When I speak this forgiveness, I am not expressing a wish that this happen for you. And it is not a forgiveness conditioned by something you have to do. Spiritually speaking, you are like the paralyzed man who can do nothing for himself and has to be brought to Jesus. The Holy Spirit brings you to Jesus through His Word. He brings you to Jesus, so that you can hear His Word from my mouth: “Take heart! Your sins are forgiven!”
But let me go back to the question I asked at the beginning of the sermon: Do you believe in the forgiveness of sins? Do you believe it is actually true? Could it be that God forgives the horrible things you said to your parents, your spouse, or your friend? Could it be that God forgives those bad things you did that still weigh you down with guilt? Could it be that God forgives you for the harm you caused and the lies you told?
Do you need God to give additional proof that these sins are forgiven before you believe it? Do you need Him to give you some sign to show you are right with Him? There is no other proof and no other sign God needs to show you besides the cross. That’s where Jesus went for you. That’s where He did the wretched work. That’s where each and every one of your sins was placed on Him. That’s where He atoned for your sins before God.
He did not simply pay for the small sins on the cross. He did not just pay for the usual ones that all people are guilty of. He paid for the unique sins too, the sins that make you think you are worse than everyone else around you. He paid for the big sins, even the sins that are so terrible, we can’t bring ourselves to mention them. John writes that “[Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1Jo. 2:2). God the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for all sin. Your sins are forgiven!
You know this, and I know this. But we don’t always act like our sins are forgiven. We know we are forgiven, but we still dwell on our failures in the past. We know we are forgiven, but we focus on our deficiencies rather than God’s grace. We know we are forgiven, but we are troubled by the memories of hurt and pain we caused others.
God’s forgiveness frees us from having to right our wrongs, which we couldn’t do even if we tried. It also frees us so that we may try to reconcile with those we have harmed. Maybe you are still bothered by something mean you said to a classmate or coworker years ago. Maybe you feel guilty because you failed to be there for someone who needed you. Maybe you realize that the grudge you and another have held against each other has gone on way too long.
Jesus says that if you “remember that your brother has something against you,” then go and “be reconciled to your brother” (Mat. 5:23,24). But what if that person rejects your apology and refuses to forgive? Then you can take comfort that the sin is forgiven by God. But what if acknowledging a secret sin causes a person you care about to turn against you? Then at least your conscience will be clear, and the burden you have long carried will be removed. You can also trust that God’s grace and forgiveness which comfort you will also work on the hearts of those whom you hurt.
After Jesus had forgiven the man’s sins, He told him to get up, pick up his mat, and go home. And when Jesus forgives your sins, He calls you to get up also. As He raised up the man from physical paralysis, so he raises you from spiritual paralysis. Your sins are forgiven—don’t sit there in despair! Your sins are forgiven—go forward in grace! Your sins are forgiven—declare what God has done for you! And let that joy start in your own home just like the previously paralyzed man did.
There is no way to get your sins forgiven apart from Jesus. But by faith in Him worked by the Holy Spirit, forgiveness is yours. Your sins were put on Jesus, so none of them cling to you anymore—not the sins of your youth, not the sins of a year ago, not the sins of yesterday. Your Sins Are Forgiven! Get Up! And give glory to God.
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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
Festival of St. Michael and All Angels – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 18:1-10
In Christ Jesus, whom the holy angels gladly serve and obey, dear fellow redeemed:
If you could be an angel for a day, how would you spend your time? I’m guessing you would want to fly around a bit, testing your wings, maybe visiting some interesting places around the world. Of course you would want to have a good look at heaven and take in all the sights and sounds. Maybe you would even go to a place of major conflict to work on putting a stop to the fighting. You and I would want to do big things, things that were fulfilling to ourselves or helpful to a good many others.
But none of this describes the chief responsibilities of the holy angels. They are not interested in pursuing things that are personally fulfilling. They are content to take direction from God and carry out His will. They don’t spend their time sight-seeing; they spend their time serving—including service to the least in the world. They are perfectly devoted to the Almighty God who gave them life.
They are exactly opposite from the fallen angels—the devil and his fellow demons. These fallen angels were proud. They did not want to serve at God’s command. They did not want to worship Him alone. They wanted to be gods. They wanted all creation to bow to them. So they rebelled against their Creator. They led a revolt in heaven, which we heard about in today’s Epistle lesson (Rev. 12:7-12). They lost this battle and were thrown out of heaven. But they still operate on earth.
How exactly do they pursue their wicked agendas on earth? When we compare our day with the New Testament, it seems like the demons were much more active back then. We don’t observe obvious cases of demon-possession today like what we read about. But the demons haven’t given up. They aren’t taking a break. They are still active, most often in ways we don’t perceive.
When we face situations where we are tempted to sin, there is no doubt the demons are involved in it. They want us to put our own desires first and to rebel against God like they did. You know how intense these temptations can be. You are tempted to do something that you know you should not do. You are tempted to look at something that is not for you to see. You are tempted to repeat something about someone else that you know is unverified or unkind. You are powerfully pulled in the direction of the sin. You try to resist, but the desire grows more and more intense.
The devil and demons put the thought into your head that carrying out the sin is the only way to resolve the desire. They try to convince you that you can stay in control of the sin. “No one will find out,” you think. “It isn’t really that bad. Everybody does it.” But there is no excuse for sin. You and I do not have to sin. The demons cannot make us sin. They can only tempt us. The sin comes from our own hearts. Even those who are demon-possessed cannot say that the devil made them do bad things, because they are the ones who let the devil in in the first place.
Jesus warns us in today’s text about temptations to sin. He says that temptations will come. The world is sinful, and we are sinners. All of us have fallen for temptations many times. But we must not become comfortable with sinning. We must not let down our guard. Getting comfortable with sin has led many children of God to abandon the faith. They choose the pleasures of the world over the promises of God’s Word.
But Jesus says that it would be better to lose a hand or foot or eye in this life if they lead us to sin, than to enter hell with all members intact. We must fight these temptations to sin. And we stay vigilant and watchful not only about things that may tempt us, but also what may tempt those in our care.
This is particularly important for parents and grandparents to understand. Children are not aware of their vulnerability or of how hard the demons are working to destroy their faith. Children are trusting, and they may be tempted to trust the wrong people. They desperately want to be accepted and fit in, so they may spend time in bad company. It is a gross shirking of responsibility when parents or guardians let children decide who to hang out with or how to spend their time.
Besides peers who exert a bad influence on your kids, how else do you suppose the devil and demons try to tempt them? What would your children or grandchildren do every waking moment at home if you let them? That’s right, they would use a smartphone or other digital device like it was glued to the palm of their hand. If you want to know where the demons are most active today—and not just against the youth—look no further than the endless temptations to sin online.
If you were a fish, you could find some good food on the internet, but you would also find millions of worms dangling off shiny, sharp hooks. Those are the temptations to sin. You can find pleasure online. You can find material to fuel your hatred, your worries, and your doubts. You can find distractions, which do not seem bad in and of themselves, but which keep you from your Christian callings. If you have spent any time online, you know this from personal experience. It is shocking how easy it is to find bad things you weren’t even looking for in the first place.
But as active as the demons are in trying to destroy our faith, our reputation, and our very life, the holy angels are active too. If the holy angels were not fighting on our behalf, we would already be ruined. The devil and the demons would certainly overcome us.
This is clear from the account of Job. Job was a believer who was richly blessed by the LORD. When God and Satan conversed about Job, Satan said that Job had prospered only because the LORD had “put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has,” and “blessed the work of his hands” (Job 1:10). So the LORD gave Satan permission to attack everything Job had. In a matter of hours, all of Job’s oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels were either stolen away or destroyed, and his ten children died. That’s how quickly the good things we have would be taken away from us if God did not send His angels to protect us.
It is a remarkable thing that the mighty angels so willingly serve us lowly sinners. It is not because they have decided we are worth the time and effort. It is because they honor God and want to obey His will. And it is God’s will that these “ministering spirits” should serve “those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). The humble angels do just that. They encamp around those who fear Him (Psa. 34:7). They guard them in all their ways (Psa. 91:11). They turn back the constant assaults of the devil. They never grow tired of serving. They never take a break. They watch over us day and night.
Jesus says the angels are devoted to us because they are devoted to God. He says that the little children’s angels “always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” This means that whatever the angels do for us, they do because God directs them to do it. Their protection of us is His protection. Their care is His care. This is why we don’t pray to the angels. They don’t need or expect our thanks. All the glory is God’s.
Some people think that their loved ones who die become angels and watch over them. But that is not the case. The souls of believers go straight to heaven. God does not send them to help their loved ones. He sends the holy angels. Like the angels who look to God, we should too, so that we are not led away from what the Lord says in His Word.
When we have ignored the Word and given into temptation, it is not because the angels failed to do their job. God chastens His children when they sin, so that they are humbled and return to Him. He may let the devil do some damage, so that we become aware of our pride and repent. And when we repent, Jesus tells us that there is great joy in heaven, “joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luk. 15:10).
The angels rejoice because they know there is forgiveness for sin. They know what God did for mankind. He took on our flesh, so that He could be our Substitute. He suffered and died, so that every temptation into which we had fallen—every sin we had committed—would be blotted out.
That includes your sins and mine—sins committed in the public eye, and sins committed in the privacy of our homes. Jesus died for sins of the past that burden you and trouble your conscience even now. You can be freed from the guilt of those sins. Repent of them and believe Jesus’ word of absolution. He paid for that sin too. He forgives all your sins.
There is nothing you have done that the angels assigned to you have not witnessed. They have seen it all. But they are not ashamed or reluctant to serve you because of your sins. God loves you, so they do too. They marvel at God’s love for sinners. They rejoice that He is such a good and merciful Lord, and they want nothing more than for each of us to join them in God’s glorious kingdom.
This is why the Lord sends them to us. He wants the angels to do their part in humble service to Him, so we are not tempted away from the faith, but so that we retain a childlike faith in Him our Savior.
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(woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 19:41-48
In Christ Jesus, through whom we are justified and have peace with God (Rom. 5:1), dear fellow redeemed:
When Noah and his sons worked on building the ark, none of their neighbors thought a great flood would come. When the people of Sodom and Gomorrah tried to abuse Lot’s guests, none of them expected fire to rain down on them from heaven. When the leaders of Jerusalem conspired to kill Jesus, they did not imagine that Jesus’ prophecy about their beloved city would come to pass. But it did. In the year 70, the Roman army did what Jesus predicted. The Romans besieged the city of Jerusalem, breached its walls, killed its inhabitants, and burned the great temple to the ground.
Each of these examples—the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the overthrow of Jerusalem—teach us something about the human condition, about God’s wrath, and about God’s mercy. They show us how unaware or uncaring sinners are about the will of God. Noah’s neighbors heard his warnings about what was coming and ignored it. Lot’s neighbors saw his righteous example and despised it. The people of Jerusalem witnessed Jesus’ miracles and heard His teaching, and still they sent Him to His death.
Therefore God’s wrath burned against these hardened unbelievers. By the waters of the flood, He destroyed all life on the earth. By fire from heaven, He burned up everything in Sodom and Gomorrah. And by the hand of the Romans, He brought terrible suffering and death to Jerusalem.
On the other hand, these events show His mercy too. Many were drowned in the flood, but Noah and his family were preserved. Two cities were burned up, but Lot and his daughters were spared. Jerusalem was overcome, but the Christian inhabitants of the city were moved to relocate before the Romans arrived.
God does not delight in destruction. He wants all sinners to repent and be saved. In Ezekiel chapter 18, He says, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone… so turn, and live” (v. 32). We see His compassion in the tears Jesus shed while looking over Jerusalem: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!”
The “things that make for peace” were the things Jesus was about to do in the city. He was going to offer Himself as the sacrifice for sinners. He would willingly let Himself be beaten, flogged, ridiculed, and crucified. He suffered and died to pay for all sin. This included the sins of the people in Noah’s day, the sins of Lot’s neighbors, and the sins of the people of Israel who rejected Him. He paid for their sins and everyone else’s sins besides.
He paid for sin, so that mankind might no longer be separated from its Creator. He is the One who could blot out the wrongdoing of thousands of years of human history. He could right the wrong begun in the Garden of Eden. He and only He could do this, and He did. He made peace “by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20).
But so many reject this peace. They want war, war with God. Who would go to war with God? Satan tried it and now he slithers along on his belly eating dust. That doesn’t stop others from doing what he did. They rebel. They go to war with God by acting like His Commandments are no longer in place. In our “enlightened” age, many now feel comfortable setting that “traditional morality” aside. Among other things, they ignore what God says about respecting authority, about guarding against harm to the body, and about keeping sexual intimacy within marriage only.
Many who take issue with the Bible’s teaching, however, still like what they see in Jesus. They like the Jesus who sticks up for the poor and hurting and who eats with social outcasts. But what do they make of the Jesus who forcefully drives out the sellers from the temple courts, as we heard in today’s text? Jesus is the Savior of all people. But He also clearly identified Himself as the Judge, who will condemn the unrepentant to hell on the last day (Mat. 25:31-46).
Early in His public work, Jesus went around preaching this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat. 4:17). Jesus called sinners to repentance. His primary mission was not to diagnose and treat people’s physical or social ills, but to address their spiritual ones. He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luk. 5:31-32).
Those who think they need no spiritual care are the self-righteous. They find it easy to point out the shortcomings of others. But they fail to see their own sins. They compare their lives with others and feel they must be on the right track. They haven’t made the mistakes that this person made. They haven’t acted like that person does. They have done a lot of good for a lot of people. Others could learn plenty from their example.
This was the attitude of the chief priests and scribes. They took pride in their holy living. They also hated Jesus. Our text says that they “were seeking to destroy Him.” Why were they fighting against Jesus? Why did they want Him dead? It’s because they did not want to acknowledge their sins and repent.
It is painful to admit our sins. We do not want to believe that we have been as bad as God’s law says we have. But by clinging to our self-righteousness and doing all we can to keep our sins buried, we only make things worse. Then we fail to recognize “the things that make for peace.” We fail to realize “the time of [our] visitation.” By refusing to repent of our sins, we show that we are opposed to Jesus, because He came to suffer and die for sinners.
But the Lord does not give up on stubborn sinners. He weeps for them. The Holy Spirit continues to work on their hearts through the law, so that their eyes are opened. He helps them to see the difference between God’s holiness and their sin. He shows them there is no hope for them without Jesus. There is no salvation apart from Him.
Jesus and only Jesus could bridge the gap between us and God. He is perfect God and perfect Man in one person. He came to live the life the law requires. He came to fulfill all righteousness for us, to do what only God can do. We sinners have fallen far short of God’s requirement, but Jesus met it. He met it for us.
And then He went to the cross absorbing the punishment for our violations of the law. He suffered for the people’s rejection of the truth in Jerusalem. He suffered for every time a Christian house of prayer is used to pedal the world’s goods. He suffered for our self-righteousness, our spiritual laziness, and our selfish attitudes.
Whether you own up to them or not, Jesus shed His blood for each and every one of your sins and my sins. The price has been paid. The payment is made. No bad deed went unpunished. Jesus bore the sins of all. He suffered death and hell for all. God and man have been reconciled. The sin that separated God and man was atoned for. Jesus made peace between us. That means you have nothing to lose by confessing your sins—nothing except your pride.
When you repent of your sin, God does not sit on His throne weighing the pros and cons of forgiving you. Your sin was already forgiven when Jesus hung on the cross. So then why should you have to confess your sins? Because you need to remember who you are in relation to God. You are the sinner. He is the Savior. There is no justification for your sinning. But there is justification for those who admit their sin and trust in the grace of God.
You cannot come to this understanding on your own. On your own, you would be at war with God, trying to show how you are better than He says you are. But the Holy Spirit humbles you through the law and then brings you peace through the Gospel. Through the law, He cleanses the temple of your body like Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. Through the Gospel He fills you with the righteousness and glory of God.
So the work is done for you. Your sins are forgiven. In Jesus, You Have the Things That Make for Peace. Is that it? Should each of us go back to our homes secure in the knowledge of God’s mercy and grace toward us? Yes! And day after day, we should retrace the spiritual steps that brought us this comfort. You and I sin every day, so we should repent every day. And every day we should replenish our hearts and souls with God’s message of peace. Then a week from now, we will have the opportunity to be fed again through Word and Sacrament in the divine service just as we have been fed today.
When Jesus was teaching daily in the temple, we are told that “all the people were hanging on His words.” They listened intently to Him. They did not want to miss anything, because Jesus had “the words of eternal life” (Joh. 6:68). He spoke words that they could not live without. He spoke words of peace, peace for the greatest and the smallest, peace for the good and the bad, peace for you and for me.
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(painting of the “Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 5:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who casts out the net of His Word, so that more and more sinners might be drawn to Him in repentance and faith, dear fellow redeemed:
You and I have had moments like the fishermen in today’s text. These experienced men worked through the night, but they did not catch anything. In the same way, we can think of many times that we expended great effort and had nothing to show for it. Maybe it was spending hours upon hours training and practicing for a competition and then coming in last. Or maybe it was staying up late to get the crop in only to have it wash out in the next storm. Or maybe it was pouring time into forming and fine-tuning a plan that ultimately got discarded.
Those experiences are disheartening. All that work for nothing! This is when we feel like it is hard to get ahead—“one step forward, two steps back.” It may even feel like God is opposed to us at these times. Here we are spending all this energy in our work, pursuing things that are good as far as we can tell, and we don’t get anywhere. Why doesn’t God bless us?
But what we don’t know is that God may be protecting us from harm due to our success, harm that could come from materialism or power or fame. Or it may be that He allows failure today, so that He can give even bigger blessings tomorrow. That was the case with the fishermen. He kept them from catching fish during the night, from finding success through their skilled labor, so that He might demonstrate His power and mercy.
They had been fishing in the best spots at the best time of day, and they failed. Then Jesus sent them out again to a poorer spot at a worse time, and their nets were filled! So we see what the Lord can do. I’m sure you could give examples of His goodness working in your life. There were times that you thought you would fail, and you succeeded. You had given up hope, and help came through. The Lord knows how to bless us, and He does it in ways we could not expect.
The disciples looked at their full nets and sinking boats, and you can just imagine the looks on their faces – eyes wide, jaws hitting the floor. Then a new sensation washed over Peter. He realized that this Man with him in the boat was not just a man. An ordinary man could not predict this monstrous haul of fish where seasoned fisherman had been working all night. Peter now felt guilt. He was in the presence of the holy Lord, but he himself was not holy. “Depart from me,” he said, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
If Jesus had abandoned Peter and all sinful men, He could have had no disciples, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Instead Jesus said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Then Peter and his associates James and John left everything—including that great catch of fish—and followed Jesus. What is a whole load of fish compared with the One who gives those fish simply by saying a word?
But suppose those disciples could look into the future at that point. Suppose they could preview what following Jesus would mean up to the day of His death. Would they have been as eager to go with Him? They could look ahead and see things like the great crowds, the amazing miracles, and Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. But they would also see times when food would be scarce and sleep hard to come by. They would see the opposition of the religious leaders and the anger of the people. They would see that after three years of hard work traveling all over the region, Jesus would be arrested, tried, and crucified. And they, His own disciples, would forsake Him and run away. If they could have seen all that, would they have still gone with Him?
What about you? If you could see your whole life play out in front of you all the way to your death, would you follow Jesus today? Would you follow Him today if you saw how people would take advantage of you in the future, how they would attack you and harm you? Would you follow Him today if you saw how your family would struggle, and how you would lose those closest to you? Would you follow Him today if you saw how your body would break down and how you would struggle physically and mentally?
As enjoyable as it would be to see the good things of our life all at once, it would be terrifying to see all the bad things at once. If we could see all the bad things in advance, we might wonder if the Lord actually cared about us, or if He was actually present with us in this life. It is good that we do not have this view. It is not for us to know these things. No matter what the future may hold, Jesus calls us to follow Him one step at a time.
This is how a toddler learns how to walk. He is not motivated by the marathon he may run in his 20s or 30s. He just wants to go! He wants to get from here to there, and he thinks he might get there faster by walking than by crawling. He cannot see how his running around will lead to bumps and bruises. He is not worried about the broken bones in his future. He is not troubled by the effects of aging which eventually will turn his stride into a shuffle. He just goes!
This is what you and I are called to do: go forward. We can’t go back. We must go forward doing the work God has given us to do. Our work is to be constantly occupied in showing love to our neighbors. This starts with the neighbors living in each of our homes—our parents, our siblings, our spouse, our children—and it branches out from there. We show love in our interactions with others in our place of work, in the community, on the internet, and in our congregations.
We know how this love should look and how it should be carried out, because we have the example of Jesus. Think about how kids play “Follow the Leader.” It is not just about walking over the same ground as the leader, but it is even mimicking his steps. If he takes a big step, so do the followers. If he hops from one place to another, so do they. Our goal as disciples of Jesus is to mimic Him in every way. We want to love one another as He loved us. We want to give to one another as He gives to us.
But as much as we want to do this, our steps often falter. The apostle Paul described our stumbling because of sin in this way: “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:18-19). Jesus takes one step forward, and we take two steps back. He beckons us forward, and we retreat. He calls us to be courageous, and we wilt.
We are not much like Jesus. We are more like Peter, uncertain how casting out our nets in the middle of the day will do any good. Like Peter, we are afraid because we underestimate the power and mercy of the Lord. Like Peter, we are aware of our many sins. It is hard to follow Jesus when we perceive so many obstacles in front of us and inside of us.
But Jesus is greater than any sins or trials or sorrows we may face. Unlike us, He could see all the suffering that was waiting for Him. Still He stayed focused on His mission. He followed His Father’s will all the way to the punishments and torments of the cross. It was terrible work He had to do. It meant immeasurable pain for Him, while the very ones He came to save mocked, blasphemed, and abandoned Him.
He moved forward one agonizing step at a time because the salvation of your soul was that important to Him. He willingly died in your place because He wanted you to live. He wanted you to be freed from all your sins and covered in His holiness. He wanted to deliver you a good conscience, one that is not focused on your sins of the past but on His grace in the present.
This is why you follow Jesus. He is more than your example of love. He is your Savior. He is your Lord who died for you to secure the forgiveness of all your sins. If He was willing to do this for you, He will certainly not forget your daily needs. Your hard work may not always seem to pay off, but He will bless your efforts done in His name. In time, you will see that you have received more blessings from His hand than you could have hoped for.
Jesus does not ask us to endure the sorrows and struggles of life all at once, or to go through any of them alone. He calls us to hear His Word, like the crowd did by the lake of Gennesaret, and like Peter did when told to let down the nets. His Word is sure and will never steer us wrong. Through His Word, the Lord is guiding us through the perils and troubles of this life all the way to heaven. Hearing His voice, We Follow Jesus One Step at a Time.
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(painting of the miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)
The Third Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 15:1-10
In Christ Jesus, who “is patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2Pe. 3:9), dear fellow redeemed:
You don’t realize how much a music soundtrack and sound effects change the movie-watching experience until the sound is removed. Without sound, an action sequence is not as impressive, and a scene of suspense is not as compelling. Sound makes the image much more powerful and impactful.
When our thoughts turn toward heaven, and we imagine what heaven is like, I think we often picture heaven without much sound. We might imagine shouts of joy when family members and friends are reunited there. But otherwise, we may think of a peaceful setting, something like a walk through a meadow or time spent by a river or lake.
Heaven is a bit noisier than that. Isaiah wrote about the angels in heaven calling to one another in voices powerful enough to shake “the foundations of the thresholds.” They say, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3-4). The apostle John wrote about heaven being filled with the sound of trumpets and described “flashes of lightning, and rumblings, and peals of thunder” coming from the throne (Rev. 4:5). He said the “Holy, holy, holy” cry does not cease day or night, and the twenty-four elders respond with their own song of praise (4:8-11). The saints in heaven also join in these songs of praise. John speaks about hearing “the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns!’” (19:6).
What we hear in heaven will far surpass what is produced by the greatest musicians and singers here on earth. Unlike here, the sounds that come from our mouths in heaven will always be beautiful and holy and right. There is no imperfection in heaven. That includes imperfections in our singing and hearing.
I expect that in heaven, we will be able to detect and appreciate layers of sound unknown to us now. Just think of those trumpets and rumblings and shouts and singing blending together in a rich and holy song that our ears will never tire of hearing. Four-part harmony will not impress us in heaven like it does here. Maybe heaven will feature forty-part harmony or four-hundred-part harmony.
But why this emphasis today on the sounds of heaven? It is because Jesus says in today’s text that “there will be more joy in heaven/there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” A celebration without sound wouldn’t be much of a celebration, no matter how amazing it looks. When a sinner repents, the halls of heaven ring with the sound of thanksgiving—thanksgiving to God for His abundant grace.
But why is it that repentance causes this reaction? Repentance is not something the world celebrates. The world celebrates things like birthdays, graduations, promotions at work, and the purchase of a home. The world has even taken to celebrating when a person dies, focusing on happy memories of that person’s life because it cannot bear to face the reality of death. The saints and angels in heaven do not celebrate these things, as significant as they may seem to us here. They celebrate our repentance. And if that is what the saints and angels celebrate around God’s throne, this must be what God celebrates too.
So what exactly is this repentance? The word for “repent” means “to change one’s mind,” “to turn back.” We change our minds all the time, such as what we want to eat or what we want to do with our day. But the repentance Jesus talks about here is a spiritual turning, a spiritual changing of the mind. This is necessary because the unconverted mind, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God,” as Scripture says; “it does not submit to God’s law” (Rom. 8:7).
The first table of God’s law demands that we love Him “with all [our] mind” (Mat. 22:37). The second table demands that we “love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]” (v. 39). No human being born of a sinful father and mother has done these things, because each person has inherited the sin of his parents, passed down through the generations all the way from Adam and Eve. By nature, we are opposed to God; we do not want to live by His rules. We want to make our own rules. We are self-centered and selfish. In this state, we are ruled by the devil and are stuck in his kingdom of darkness without any way of getting ourselves out.
But the merciful Lord is firmly invested in freeing us from this hopeless life. God the Father sent His eternal Son to enter the fallen world and lead us into His marvelous light. That is easier said than done! In order to free us from our chains of sin and death, Jesus had to pay the price. He had to pay the debt we owed by shedding His holy blood and giving Himself up to the jaws of death. This was the only way to satisfy the Father’s wrath against sin. It was the only way to overcome the devil’s hold on sinners.
His saving work was done for all sinners, but not all sinners believe it. It is a mystery to us why some hear the Word of God and repent, while others hear the Word but do not repent. We are all equally sinful. We are all equally lost in the darkness by nature. None of us deserves to be forgiven by God. But by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word, some are converted. Some are led to repentance and faith.
If we think that our conversion must depend in some way on ourselves, today’s text—among many others—says otherwise. Jesus describes a sheep that wandered away, referring to a person who has wandered away from God into sin. The shepherd does not sit around waiting for the sheep to come back on its own. He goes after it. And when he finds it, he puts it on his shoulders and carries it to safety. That does not sound like cooperation in conversion.
But for those who would say that the sheep could possibly have returned on its own, what about the next example Jesus gave? How likely is it that a lost coin by its own power could roll itself back into the purse of its owner? Ephesians 2 says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (vv. 8-9).
When the Holy Spirit turns back the sinner from the path of destruction and works a spiritual change in his mind and heart, this is when heaven erupts in celebration. We can’t always know when this celebration happens. It certainly happens when a baby is baptized and when an adult confesses the true faith. But in some cases, a person’s confession is not honest, and his repentance is not heartfelt. The Bible tells us there are some who may appear to be model Christians, but who live otherwise than they confess, or who think otherwise than they say.
It is one thing to fall into sin unintentionally. Maybe you got caught up in a crowd that behaved badly. Or you stumbled across something you were not seeking out but which led you to sin. This can happen when you spend time on the internet or look for something to watch on TV. Or maybe unkind, impure, or judgmental thoughts enter your mind about another person, and you are immediately sorry for thinking in those ways. These sins are not faith-destroying, and God will help us fight these temptations.
But intentionally and willfully doing what God condemns can and does destroy faith. Christians are not immune to these sins. In fact the devil works harder to pull us from the faith than he works on those who are already in darkness. Some Christians fall into sin and instead of acknowledging the sin—even if the consequences would be severe—they try to cover them up, hide them. But nothing can be hidden from God, and what the unrepentant will face on the last day is far worse than anything they might experience here.
All of us have need of repentance. We sin many times every day. We have all done things we knew were wrong, but we did them anyway—and often more than once. None of us is righteous. But the Lord is gracious. He works to bring us back when we fall into sin. Like those tax collectors and sinners, the Lord moves us to repent through His law, and He draws us near to hear His Word of grace. He wants us to know that all our sin is forgiven, all the things that trouble our conscience and make us feel ashamed. All of it was set on Jesus, who suffered and died in our place so that we might live.
The Good Shepherd loves to hear us humbly repent of our sins and rejoice in His forgiveness. We are ones whom He has brought back from our wanderings, and whom He still brings back. Through daily repentance, He leads us again and again to the still waters of our Baptism and guides us to the green pastures of His Word and Sacrament. These great spiritual blessings which God showers down upon us are a cause for continuous celebration in heaven.
We do not see or hear the saints and angels in their songs of praise, but by faith in Jesus we are already counted in their number. We join these songs of praise imperfectly here on earth as we thank God for His mercy toward us. And we look forward to being among the great host in heaven, where we will forever rejoice in the Lord’s great love for us.
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(portion of “The Good Shepherd” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)