The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 6:24-34
In Christ Jesus, whose promise to provide for us is far more powerful than our worries and troubles, dear fellow redeemed:
He says it five times!
- “Do not be anxious about your life.”
- “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
- “Why are you anxious about clothing?”
- “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’”
- “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.”
Jesus thinks we have an anxiousness problem, a worry problem, and Jesus is never wrong. He also identifies another problem: our little faith. Both of those go together—worry and a lack of faith. We worry because we do not believe God will do what He says, or at least we have doubts that He will provide for us in just the way and at just the time that we need it.
But what is it that causes our worry? What is our worry based on? Our worry is not based on anything we find in God’s Word. We don’t read about an arbitrary or a fickle God who sometimes chooses to bless His children and sometimes chooses to harm them. At times He does chasten and discipline us, because He wants to lead us to repentance and a stronger faith. But this is done out of love. He is always faithful. He does not change. So worry is not based on uncertainty about God’s will and work which are clearly revealed to us in His Word.
Worry is based on our own experience and the evidence we see around us in the world. We can think of times when we had more expenses than income, more responsibilities than we had the ability to meet. Maybe we were worried about paying our bills, and then more bills came. We didn’t know where the money would come from to cover even the essentials like food and utilities. Or one of our family members was sick, and we didn’t know if we could afford the medicine needed for healing.
We also look around us and see many people who go hungry, who can’t afford clothing, who have no place to go home to. If God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, why doesn’t He feed and clothe all people in need? And if doesn’t do this for the people who really need it, how can we be sure He will do this for us? So we worry. We give more weight to our experiences and doubts than to God’s promises.
When we allow worry to come in, we are taking matters that God wants to handle and holding those matters in our own hands. We keep the burden on ourselves of providing for our needs and fixing our own problems. Or we look for another provider, another god, whose promises seem more reliable.
This is how many people view the government. They trust the government to take care of all their needs. But as necessary as government is—and God has certainly ordained it for good order and for our protection—yet government is made up of sinners, who are often ready to take as much or more than they promise to give.
Our worries really come down to 1) having enough and 2) keeping what we have. A person just out of high school or a married couple with little children might especially worry about having enough. They do without new clothes, new cars, and a nice house. Retirement is a long way off—there’s lots of work to do! But older individuals whose work has been blessed and who are able to afford the finer things, now worry about having enough to retire on and having the good health and energy to enjoy it.
When we worry about the future like this, we behave like “the Gentiles.” Jesus says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Now many of us are Gentiles in the sense of not having Jewish background. But Jesus is referring to the unbelieving Gentiles, the ones who did not have the Scriptures. That isn’t us, but we act like the unbelievers when we worry about having what we need.
Instead of worry, Jesus teaches us to do this: “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He says that when we put our faith in God and His Word—little though our faith may be—, all the things we need for this earthly life will be provided to us. That’s quite a promise! It’s a promise that we have difficulty accepting.
We think that if we are going to prosper in this life, we have to make it happen. We have to outwork our co-workers, we have to come up with new solutions to get ourselves noticed by the “higher-ups.” We have to be in the right place at the right time. Then we will have a shot at our dreams. Then we can have a chance at the life we always wanted.
This is not a criticism of hard work. God wants every one of us to do our work to the best of our ability, whether we are in the classroom, in the workplace, in our homes, or at church. God never endorses laziness. In teaching us not to worry, Jesus is certainly not teaching us to sit back and wait for everything to drop in our lap. The apostle Paul couldn’t have said it more clearly than this: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2Th. 3:10).
The difference is working for selfish gain or working for godly gain. We work for godly gain when we recognize that God is the one who gives each of us our unique abilities and strengths to employ in His service. We trust that He will bless our efforts as He sees fit. He might give more to some of His children and less to others, but all of it is a gift from His gracious hand. So it is not helpful to compare what we have with what others have, since God is the Giver, and “He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (Psa. 136:1).
And how do we know this is true beyond any doubt, that God really is so good and merciful? We know this because the Father who created and provides for all things also gave the greatest gift of all—His only-begotten Son to save us. When Jesus says, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” He is referring to His own holy work.
God the Father sent Him to do for us what we could not accomplish, no matter how much we worried after it or worked for it. Jesus the Christ was born under the Law, so that He might redeem us, buy us back, by His own holy life. While we are anxious and doubtful about God’s care for us, He perfectly entrusted Himself to the Father’s will. He did not worry about tomorrow; He focused on God’s Word today.
Wherever we have failed in our work through our worry, our selfishness, and our laziness, Jesus fulfilled the holy Law through His faith, His love, and His perfect commitment to the work of saving us sinners. “His righteousness” is the righteousness we must seek if we will stand before God in heaven. And this is the righteousness we already have by faith in Jesus.
Yes, our faith is “little” and never as strong as it should be. But even a little faith has salvation in Christ. Our eternal future does not depend on how strong our faith is, but on how strong our Savior and Lord is. And He is strong! He is stronger than hunger and want, stronger than worry and fear, stronger than sin, death, and the devil.
He suffered when He went to the cross, but He was not worried. Just before He took His last breath, He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luk. 23:46). Then He was taken off the cross and closed up in the tomb, but He was not worried. Death was no match for Him, and He rose from the dead on the third day to prove it.
It is this Conqueror of sin and death who tells you: “Do not be anxious; do not worry.” If your needs and concerns are like ten enemies threatening you with pocket knives and pitchforks, God’s care is like an entire army right behind you outfitted with the best weapons and equipment. Worldly cares are scattered by the powerful promise of God’s care.
He will provide for you. If He needs to say it again and again, even every day, He will: “Do not be anxious. I have not forgotten about your needs. I know how to turn trials into blessings. I will come and help you. Have no fear!” In His care for you, God the Father already sent His Son to rescue you from eternal death. That must mean He will not forsake you in your times of need (Rom. 8:32).
And you know this to be true. You know that your cares and worries have never done anything for you. You know that God’s care for you has never failed. Even when you were anxious, even when you complained, He kept on loving you. And if He didn’t give you everything you wanted at the time, He gave you everything you needed.
God knows your needs even better than you do. He gives you His kingdom and His righteousness for your eternal life, and He gives all that you need for this body and life besides.
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 Jesus and the lilies from stained glass at Jerico Lutheran Church)
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 8:1-13
In Christ Jesus, through whom we are Abraham’s offspring, heirs not by blood but by faith in our Lord’s promises, dear fellow redeemed:
It’s about time for church to start. You hear the door open and turn to look. Who would you most like to see walk through that door? Maybe it’s someone you haven’t seen in a while—a member of your family, a childhood friend, a co-worker, a neighbor. You make room next to you and motion them over. What a great surprise!
But is there anyone you would not want to see walk through that door? That’s a tough question. In general, we say that everyone is welcome at our churches. We want everyone to hear the truth and learn what Jesus has done for them. But some people have hurt us, sometimes very deeply. Even seeing them can bring back all the pain. We might think in our hearts that people like that do not belong in our churches. They can go somewhere else, but not here.
This shows how our love has limits. It is an imperfect love because our sin is mixed in with it. We keep inside ourselves a certain amount of bitterness, a certain amount of prejudice, against individuals or groups of people because of experiences we have had with them. We might say that we could never respect a person who supports a cause or a candidate that we totally disagree with. Or we might condemn all the members of a social class or people of a different nationality that we think only care about themselves. Or we justify our lack of love toward someone because of the wrongs he or she has done to us.
All of these things come not from a strong sense of righteousness and justice, but from our own pride. Our pride keeps us from the self-sacrificing, generous life that God calls us to live. When we read about Jesus in the Gospels, we see the contrast so clearly between how we should be and how we actually are.
In today’s Gospel reading, a man with a terrible, contagious skin disease knelt before Jesus begging Him to cleanse him. Lepers like this man were outcasts, banished to live in their own colonies. They had to announce their status—“unclean!”—whenever they came near people without leprosy. Probably quite a few people looked down on these lepers. They pitied their condition maybe, but they still stayed as far away as they could. I’m sure we would have too.
But when the man came up to Jesus, Jesus did not keep His distance. He could have just spoken a word and healed the man like He did with the centurion’s servant. But in this case, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched the man! No one could have seen that coming. It was something that non-leprous people simply didn’t and wouldn’t do. Why risk being infected with the same disease?
When Jesus reached across that great divide toward His suffering neighbor, it could be that the man shied away. He was not used to a compassionate action like this. He didn’t want Jesus to get what He had. And then suddenly his leprosy wasn’t there anymore. His skin was clean! Jesus directed this outsider to come back in, to show himself to the priest and return to his home and family.
Going on a little further, Jesus was met by the friends of a centurion who appealed for help for the centurion’s servant who had been paralyzed. This request was surprising. Why would any Roman military commander ask a Jewish man like Jesus for help? The Jews resented the Romans for their occupation of Judea and Galilee, and the Romans acted like a ruling party acts. But this centurion was different. The evangelist Luke tells us that he treated the people with kindness and supplied the funds they needed to build a synagogue in Capernaum (7:5).
Even so, Jesus was under no obligation to help the centurion’s servant. The centurion was a Gentile, and Jesus had come for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mat. 15:24). But just as He had compassion on the leprous man, He had compassion here too. After the centurion expressed his confidence that Jesus could heal his servant without even coming into the house where the servant was, Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.”
And Jesus said something else, something that applies directly to you and me today, thousands of years after that miracle in Capernaum. Jesus said, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are those patriarchs through whom the promise came. The LORD told them, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3; 28:14).
“All the families of the earth” is all-inclusive. The many who “will come from east and west” means people from around the world. It is not just the blood descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is all those who share the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who believe as they did in a Savior who takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus emphasized this again after His resurrection. He told His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:19-20). Jesus wants all the people of the world to know that His saving work was done for them. He was anointed at His Baptism to be their Savior. He was driven to the cross and shed His blood for their sins. He rose from the dead in triumph over their death.
He wants everyone from east to west to know that He has removed their transgressions from them “as far as the east is from the west” (Psa. 103:12). The apostle Paul brings it right home to you and me. Like the leper and the centurion, we were outcasts, outsiders. Most of us have no family line running back through Israel. We are part of the great mass of Gentiles, a bunch of nobodies whom very few will remember after we are gone.
But we matter to God. We are not strangers to Jesus. When He went to the cross, He was carrying your sins. He had your bitterness and prejudice slapping Him in the face. He was pierced by your pride. He felt all the world’s anger and hatred and animosity directed toward Him. And yet He still said, “Father, forgive them. I love them. I will die for them, to save their souls.”
Paul writes, “[I]n Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). His blood reconciled you with the holy God. His blood cleansed you at your Baptism and cleanses you through His Supper. It makes and keeps you His blood brother. You were an outsider, but you aren’t one anymore. “[F]or in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).
You are a member of the body of Christ, wearing the clothes of His righteousness, no more stained by your sin. And there is room for more sinners like you. There is room for murderers, adulterers, robbers, and liars—sins that all of us have committed in our hearts if not by our actions. There is room in Christ’s body for northerners, southerners, easterners, and westerners. There is room for your closest friends. There is room for your fiercest enemies.
As soon as we have understood that our salvation comes only by the grace of God, we can’t begrudge that salvation to anyone else. We don’t deserve it any more than they do. If in our pride we think that we belong in Christ’s kingdom more than others do, then we need to hear Jesus’ warning that “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.” He was speaking about the Israelites who thought their connection to Abraham’s family tree was the most important thing. What they ignored was Abraham’s humble faith.
We, too, will lose our salvation if we trust in our connection to other faithful people in our church or in our family, instead of daily repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus alone for forgiveness and life. Like that leper, we must admit that by nature we are unclean, sinful in our thoughts, words, and actions. Like the centurion’s servant, we are paralyzed if left to ourselves, suffering terribly.
We are not worthy to have Jesus love us. Our welcome gift for Him when He took on our flesh was anguish and cross. We sent Him to His death because of our sin. And He went forward willingly. He had mercy upon us. We were His enemies, but He called us friends. We were outsiders, and He welcomed us in.
He shows us the way we should be toward those who have hurt us and those who are nothing like us. We look upon them not with hatred but with love, not in judgment but with compassion. As Jesus meets us in His Word and Sacraments to heal us from past hurts, He also helps us to set aside our anger and grow in love toward those around us.
Then we begin to see others as He sees us, as poor sinners in need of forgiveness, as hurting souls in need of grace and mercy. Jesus did not give up on us, and He doesn’t want us to give up on others. Jesus Welcomes the Outsiders, outsiders like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, outsiders like you and me, and more outsiders from east and west—even many we would not expect.
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 a portion of a Byzantine mosaic in Sicily)
The Second Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 15:21-28
In Christ Jesus, who promises to show mercy and grace to all who ask, seek, and knock in His name (Mat. 7:7), dear fellow redeemed:
What do you value more: someone who is a good listener, or someone who is a good talker? Good talkers have their place, but we especially appreciate good listeners. It is important to us that we are heard. We all have needs that we want others to know about. We all have opinions. We all have advice or encouragement to share with those we care about. If no one listens to us anymore, that’s when we feel very alone.
I imagine the Canaanite woman in today’s text felt very alone. Her daughter was “severely oppressed by a demon.” We don’t know what the demon did to this girl. In a different case recorded in the Bible, a demon possessing a boy tried to get him to throw himself into fire or water to destroy him (Mar. 9:22). Whatever the demon did to this little girl, it was a torment not only to her but to her mother also.
What could the mother do? She would do anything to make her daughter better. At first her neighbors sympathized with her. Maybe some doctors or spiritualists tried to help. But when the girl could not be cured, they grew tired of listening to her mother. “All she does is complain! What are we supposed to do? She’s driving us crazy!” So they stopped listening. They avoided her. The serious problem had not gone away, but now there was no one to offer comfort or help.
Perhaps you have felt like this woman before. Something was troubling you greatly, but either you didn’t feel like you could share it with others, or when you tried to share it you were ignored. So you carried it by yourself, and the weight only became bigger and heavier. Or maybe you have been on the other side of things, and as much as you wanted to help someone, you couldn’t make their problems go away. Their constant worrying and complaining overwhelmed you to the point that you decided to put some distance between yourself and that person.
Probably you have been in both of these camps—you have felt alone with no one seeming to understand or care, and you have avoided someone because you felt incapable of helping anymore. On the one hand, you learned that you don’t have perfect friends, and on the other, you realized that you are not a perfect friend.
But while her friends and neighbors may have closed their ears to this woman, her ears were not closed. At some point, word traveled to the region of Tyre and Sidon about a Jewish man who could heal. Tyre and Sidon were coastal cities on the Mediterranean Sea about 45 miles north of Nazareth where Jesus was raised. These coastal cities were beyond the borders of Jewish territory. So they were inhabited by Gentiles, people who did not have formal training in the Scriptures but who were undoubtedly aware of the laws and customs of the Jewish people.
Not only did word reach the Canaanite woman about a Jewish man who could heal, but she also heard some say that this man was the Messiah, the heir to King David’s throne, the long-promised Savior. This is how she referred to Jesus when she located Him. She came to Him crying out: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
But Jesus had come to this place near Tyre and Sidon to rest. He had recently fed the crowd of 5,000 from five loaves of bread and two fish. He had been clashing with the Pharisees and scribes. And now He “withdrew” to Gentile territory. He and His disciples needed time away. The evangelist Mark tells us that Jesus “entered a house and did not want anyone to know” (7:24). But then here comes this hysterical Canaanite woman begging Him to heal her daughter.
Jesus acted like He couldn’t hear her. “He did not answer her a word.” That could have been enough for the woman. When her cries went unanswered, she might have had some harsh words for Jesus about not being anything like the man she had heard about. She could have stomped off in disgust. But she persisted. The disciples heard her loud and clear. Her cries were so incessant that they now begged Jesus: “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”
Why wouldn’t Jesus listen to her and help her? He told His disciples: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He said the same thing to the woman: “It is not right to take the children’s bread—the saving Gospel for the Jews—and throw it to the dogs—the Gentile peoples.” The woman was listening; she was listening very carefully. The “dog” comment might have turned many people away. But the woman replied, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Jesus commended her not only for her dogged determination to be heard, but also because her faith had a foundation. It was not a faith-of-the-moment, or a faith of convenience if it could possibly help her daughter. Her faith was worked in her by God through His Word. She believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and she believed that if He had come to save the Jews, then He was able to save the Gentiles too. If God had “bread” for the Jews, surely He had some crumbs for the believing Gentiles.
This woman understood something that would not become clear to Jesus’ disciples until after Pentecost, that Jesus was the Savior not just of the Jews but of the whole world. The disciples’ ignorance explains why they showed no compassion toward this woman. To them she was no more than an annoying Canaanite. Not long before this, Jesus had chided “rock-solid” Peter, whose doubts caused him to sink like a stone in the water: “O you of little faith,” said Jesus, “why did you doubt?” (Mat. 14:31). But this Canaanite woman did not doubt, even when it seemed like Jesus wanted nothing to do with her. And Jesus said, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”
Jesus was listening to the woman’s cries all along, but He wanted to test her. Or maybe He was testing His disciples to see how they would respond to someone in need, even someone they would rather not be around. Jesus answered her cry for mercy because He is merciful—full of mercy. Mercy means that God does not give us what we deserve. He withholds judgment and punishment, not because we have earned it, not because we are somehow worthy, but because He is good and kind and compassionate.
The very fact that God’s Son was walking as a man among us shows us this. He did not come to bring down the wrath of God on a sinful world. He came to bring salvation. He came to offer up Himself as the atoning sacrifice for all sin. He came to suffer and be nailed to a cross and have the Father ignore His cries for mercy, so that justice would be done. Sin had to be paid for, and Jesus paid the penalty with His holy blood.
His death in our place proves that God is merciful toward us, and that He will hear our anguished cries. One of our hymns expresses this beautifully: “Jesus, in Thy cross are centered / All the marvels of Thy grace; / Thou, my Savior, once hast entered / Through Thy blood the holy place: / Thy sacrifice holy there wrought my redemption, / From Satan’s dominion I now have exemption; / The way is now free to the Father’s high throne, / Where I may approach Him, in Thy name alone” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #182, v. 8).
Jesus’ death in our place means that God the Father hears our prayers and cries even when it seems like He doesn’t. Often we become discouraged about prayer. We might think that God knows what we need anyway, so why bother praying. Or we might be disappointed that God did not give us something we wanted, so we gave up asking for anything. But our reluctance to pray, our doubts, and our impatience are problems with us, not God.
He invites and urges us to bring our requests and troubles to Him, whether they are large or small. He promises to hear them, every single one. And He promises to answer them, always in the way that is the best for us, even if we cannot see the good at the time. He wants us to pray like the Canaanite woman, trusting His Word, never giving up, coming to Him again and again even when it seems like His ears are closed.
His ears are not closed. They are wide open. They hear you, every cry, every question, every whimper, every whisper. Maybe no one else is listening, maybe no one else understands. But God hears. He understands. There is no anguish or pain you feel that Jesus did not feel. He can sympathize with you because He suffered all things in His time on earth. He endured this suffering out of love for you. He suffered to save you, to bring you into communion with Him and to prepare you for the eternal glories to come.
He wants you to cry out in His name for all your needs, to leave your deepest concerns and struggles with Him. Pray for your own health and strength. Pray for your children like the Canaanite woman did. Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for your leaders. Pray for your neighbors. Pray boldly and persistently knowing that The Merciful Lord Hears You. He wants you to pray. He wants you to draw near to His throne of grace with confidence, where He promises that you will find “mercy and grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
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 15 century French Gothic manuscript painting)
The Second Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 15:4-13
In Christ Jesus, on whose blood and righteousness our hope of eternal life is built, dear fellow redeemed:
If God let you see who in your community would be going to heaven, how do you think you would react? Maybe He would reveal crowns on their heads visible only to your eyes. I think what you saw would surprise you. “You mean that person is going to be saved? This can’t be right!” “But what about them? Where are their crowns? There must be some mistake!” It may well be that some of the good and kind people you know will not be counted among the believers on the last day. And some of those who seem especially wicked now may be standing next to you praising the Lord.
The Israelites in the Old Testament could hardly imagine that the unbelieving peoples around them might ever join them in worshiping the true God. These pagans worshiped false gods and ignored God’s moral law. The Scriptures refer to them as belonging to the “nations,” a word that is also translated “Gentiles” like it is in today’s Epistle. A “Gentile” was a non-Israelite, one who did not know the Scriptures.
The Israelites had strict instructions to stay away from the Gentiles, so they would not be tempted to sin like they did. The Israelites did not always listen to this warning. As we know from Old Testament history, they often joined the Gentiles in their wickedness and worshiped other gods. At the same time, we also have examples of Gentiles who repented of their former ways and joined the Israelites. Rahab was one of these. She left her life of prostitution, married an Israelite man, and was part of the ancestral line of Jesus (Mat. 1:5).
In other words, nationality or family background were not the determining factors for whether or not a person believed. If these were the only factors, faith would not matter. As long as you had the right bloodline, the right family tree, you wouldn’t have to think much about your behavior or your actions. This could only lead to entitlement thinking and racism to the highest degree. There’s enough of that in the world; we don’t need it in the church too.
In the world, one group rejects another because of the color of their skin, the language they use, or where they came from. None of those factors should make a bit of difference to the members of Christ’s church. If you and I were to exclude others because of their family origins or background, don’t we see that we should exclude ourselves as well? I think most if not all of us descended from those pagan nations, from the Gentiles. These were the peoples the LORD carefully guarded the Israelites from.
Why did He do that? The LORD wanted the Israelites to be separate in order to preserve the promise, His promise. He said to Abraham, “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). “All the nations” would be blessed through Abraham, because the Savior would come through Abraham. So God had to preserve a remnant who would know this promise and hand it down through the generations. This was done through the teaching of the Scriptures. The Scriptures were sometimes tucked away in a closet and forgotten about, but they were never lost.
We still have the Old Testament Scriptures today. That was by God’s design. In today’s Epistle, St. Paul states, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Then Paul goes on to quote the Scriptures. He quotes from the inspired words of David in Psalm 18(:49), then from Moses (Deu. 32:43), then from another Psalm (117:1), then from Isaiah (11:10). What do all these say? They tell us that God planned salvation not only for His chosen people, but for the Gentiles too.
This is good news for us! It means it is possible for anyone to be saved. We tell our kids that it is possible they could be the president of the United States one day. But that possibility does not apply to everyone. It only applies to those who were born as citizens of this country, who have lived here at least fourteen years, and are at least thirty-five years old.
The Gospel promise is for all people in all places. Jesus came to atone for everyone’s sins. Each person’s sin was counted against the Lord, not just the sins of those who would enter heaven someday. Jesus died in the place of both Jews and Gentiles, both males and females, both the outwardly good and the outwardly bad.
This shows us how great the mercy of the Lord is. It’s one thing to have mercy on someone you like, who displays humility and respect, and who showers thanks upon you for your kindness. But what about someone who curses your name, spits in your face, and casts your gifts aside? This is how we and the rest of the world were toward Jesus. Collectively we sinners sent Him to the cross. We sent Him there as though He were the wrongdoer, as though He were the law-breaker, as though He were the worst sinner—much worse than we are.
Jesus endured all this for us. That’s how merciful He is! That’s how much He loves us. Earlier in his Epistle to the Romans, Paul writes, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:7-8). Christ died for sinners. That means He died for you.
When you pray for His mercy, you don’t have to wonder if He will give it. He has, He does, and He will. He is merciful even when we are not. Maybe we look at some members of our community as “second class.” Or we pick on people because of how they look. Or we love to remind others of the mistakes they have made. Or we treat those who disagree with us as less than human. Or we refuse to forgive someone because we want them to suffer like we have.
Mercy is not a natural component of human nature. Our sinful nature directs us toward selfishness, revenge, and a judgmental attitude. God had to teach us what mercy is, and He taught it through His Son. He did not give us what we deserved, which is eternal torment in hell for our sins. He gave us grace and forgiveness. He did this because His Son willingly took our place. His perfect Son was willing to bear the holy wrath of God, so we would have His mercy. God will not punish you for your sins, either now or in eternity. He punished His Son in your place instead.
Jesus died for you, but not just for you. He died for everyone around you too. Instead of imagining the people of our community as likely or not likely to join us in heaven based on their background, their circumstances, or their outward appearance, we should look at them as God does. God looks upon them with mercy. They are still living and breathing. Their fate—as far as we know—is not sealed. They need grace and forgiveness and hope just as much as we do. “Therefore welcome one another,” writes Paul, “as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
The Roman congregation to which Paul first addressed his letter was not perfectly united. It consisted of both Jewish and Gentile converts. Their backgrounds and customs were very different. One was a background of strict obedience to God’s law. The other was a background of license and freedom. How could the two ever come together? Their common ground was Christ, who fulfilled the Commandments for both, and who shed His holy blood for them all.
This is what has brought us together here as well. We do not all think the same. We do not see everything the same way. Sometimes our personalities clash, and we find it difficult to get along. But we are drawn together and kept together by the blood of Jesus. None of us is above another. None of us has more to boast about than another. None of us is more treasured in God’s sight than another. Each of us is equally forgiven of our sins, and each is clothed in the spotless garment of Jesus’ righteousness.
This, dear friends in Christ, is our hope. It is not an uncertain hope, a desperate hanging-on-by-our-fingertips kind of hope. Our hope is securely rooted in Jesus. It is a sure hope. This is the hope Paul writes about, which is planted and grows in us by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word. Where this hope is, there is faith toward God and love toward our neighbor, and there is a joyful anticipation of Christ’s return.
Do not let the devil, the world, and your own sinful weakness lead you to despair. The Lord looks upon you with mercy, and He will soon come again to free you from this world of trouble. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
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(picture is window from Jerico Lutheran Church)