The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, who heals the sick and rescues the dying, so they might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, dear fellow redeemed:
It started with little sores that stuck around, reddish spots, and some skin numbness. He wished it would go away, he wanted to ignore it, but he couldn’t. He went to the priest to have it examined, and the priest confirmed his greatest fear—it was leprosy. He had to leave his job, leave his home, leave his family. The Book of Leviticus describes the protocol for lepers: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (13:45-46).
It was a hard reality, but there was no known cure. A person with leprosy had to stay away for the good of others. But he wasn’t completely alone. Lepers often formed their own communities. We see that in today’s reading, when ten lepers called to Jesus outside a village between Samaria and Galilee. We learn something else about this group of men. It was a mixture of both Jews and Samaritans. That probably wouldn’t have happened if this terrible disease hadn’t drawn them together.
In general, the Jews and the Samaritans interacted with each other as little as possible. They had long lists of reasons why the other group was inferior and not worth their time and attention. But “misery loves company,” and these men were miserable. They set aside the animosity they may have felt toward one another and stuck together. But they were still of course on the outside. They were not where they wanted to be. They were part of a community of death, a community of the dying.
And that’s exactly what the world is apart from Christ. It is full of people afflicted by the disease of sin, surrounded by death and facing death themselves. Leprosy is a helpful picture for thinking about how sin works in us. In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther quotes Romans 7:18, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.” Then he says, “If St. Paul may speak this way about his flesh, we cannot assume to be better or more holy than him. But the fact that we do not feel our weakness just makes things worse. It is a sign that there is a leprous flesh in us that can’t feel anything. And yet, the leprosy rages and keeps spreading” (Part V, paras. 76-77).
Because of nerve damage, a leprous person does not always notice when he cuts himself or gets burned or injured. And we do not always notice when we are getting injured or burned by sin. The more we participate in what is unclean, the less we perceive the damage that is being done to us. We think that we can stay in control of the sin. We won’t let it overcome us. But when we can’t stop consuming what is destroying us, can’t stop doing what we should not do, we are not in control of sin; sin is in control of us.
If one of the lepers in today’s reading denied that he had leprosy, it wouldn’t have changed the fact. And “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1Jo. 1:8). It is important that we see ourselves among those lepers. By nature, we are sinful and unclean (ELH, pp. 41, 61). We are the outsiders. We are the ones standing at a distance, away from all that is good. We cannot change our situation; we cannot save ourselves.
But One has drawn near to our community of death, even coming to live among us, One who has the power to heal us of our sin and save us from death. This One is very different; His reputation precedes Him. He has not been overcome by sin, and when death tried to take Him down, He took down death! “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” we cry.
And why should He have mercy? He isn’t the reason for our troubles. He is not responsible for the state we are in, for the messes we have made in our sin. But He does have mercy. He had mercy upon Naaman, an Old Testament Gentile who was afflicted by leprosy, by having him wash seven times in the waters of the Jordan River until he was clean (2Ki. 5). And our Lord had mercy upon us by bringing us to the cleansing waters of Baptism, where He applied the healing medicine of His holy blood to each one of us.
St. Paul explains this beautifully in Ephesians 2. He writes, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh… remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (vv. 11,12). We were on the outside, and we couldn’t get in. We were stuck in our sin and death. Paul continues, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). We were far off from salvation, but Jesus has brought us close to Him.
He accomplished this by perfectly keeping the Law of God, not just for the Israelite people but for all people. And then He went to the cross carrying the whole world’s sin and shed His holy blood to wash it all away. He poured His perfect righteousness and His cleansing blood over you through the waters of Baptism. That is how He transferred you from the community of death in the world to His holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints. That is how He healed and cleansed you from the disease of sin that was killing you.
But many of the people He has done this for, whom He has joined to Himself in the waters of Baptism, continue on their way and forget what He has done. Like the nine lepers who were healed, they get caught up in “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luk. 8:14). They don’t continue to listen to His healing Word. They don’t remember to give Him thanks. So even though Jesus freed them from the community of death, they have returned to it again. They might feel like they are alive. They might think they are doing important things. But none of it can save them, and none of it will last apart from Christ.
This is what the devil tempts all of us to do. He wants us to walk away from the life we have in Jesus, to give all of that up so we can fit in with the world. We might even feel ashamed sometimes of our membership in the Christian Church. We don’t tell anyone about it. We carefully keep it hidden, so we can fit in with the people who seem to matter. We don’t want them to think we are strange. We don’t want to be left on the outside. We don’t want to be singled out and left all by ourselves.
These are natural thoughts to have. It is difficult to be a follower of Jesus in a hostile world. But even though you may feel like you have to face these difficulties alone, you are not alone. The Samaritan went against the majority and turned back to give thanks to Jesus. He didn’t have the company of his former friends anymore, but He wasn’t alone. Jesus was with him, and Jesus blessed him. “Rise and go your way,” He said; “your faith has made you well.” Or as the Greek word literally reads, “your faith has saved you.”
You are saved by faith in Jesus who conquered your sin and death, and shares with you His life. And you are not the only one who has received this life. Going back to Ephesians 2: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (vv. 19-21).
Look at how large your community is! You are a fellow citizen with all the saints, all the believers who have gone before you. You are a member of the household of God. You stand on the foundation built by the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus Himself is the cornerstone. You are part of an immense structure, a beautiful building, a holy temple in the Lord. You are most certainly not alone.
You are a member of the body of Christ. It is with Him that you belong. You will always find friendship, acceptance, and purpose in Him. He will not leave you by yourself. He visits you with His mercy in good times and bad, whether you are happy or sad, restful or anxious. He comes right to you through His Word and His Sacraments to cleanse you again with His holy blood and bless you with His promises.
Each time you receive these blessings, you praise Him and give thanks to Him, bowing down at His feet. And He looks upon you with love, and He says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Healing of Ten Lepers” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Lehne sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who always loves us, his neighbors, as himself, dear fellow redeemed:
The lawyer was not happy. After all, he was an expert in the Law. He knew what the Law said and what it meant. And yet, in a verse that came just before our text for today, Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Luke 10:21). Not only did this suggest that little children knew more about the Law than the lawyer did, but this also suggested that faith, given by God, was all that was required to understand the Holy Scriptures and to be saved. The lawyer had to prove that he understood the Law better than little children, better than Jesus. So, he put Jesus to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (verse 25)?
The Law clearly stated what a person had to do to be saved, so if Jesus’ answer showed that he did, in fact, believe that it was by faith that a person was saved, he would prove his ignorance. However, Jesus didn’t answer the lawyer’s question. Instead, Jesus turned it on him, saying, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it” (verse 26)? While not what the lawyer was expecting, he now had a chance to prove that he understood the Law. So, he summarized the Law by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (verse 27). Jesus then responded to the lawyer by saying, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (verse 28).
Wait, so Jesus didn’t think that a person was saved by faith alone? That’s what Jesus’ response sounded like to the lawyer. However, that’s not what Jesus meant. He was actually trying to get the lawyer to see that he couldn’t live up to what the Law demanded and that it was purely by God’s grace and mercy that he was saved. But the lawyer didn’t see what Jesus wanted him to see. Instead, the lawyer shifted his goal to justifying himself. Jesus had told him to “do this,” but he already thought that he had. He had loved God like he should and his neighbor as himself—as long as “neighbor” was defined in a certain way. To see if Jesus saw things the way he did, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
This question was intended to prove to Jesus that the lawyer was needed to legally define what a neighbor is. After all, in the lawyer’s mind, since the Law was given by Moses to the Jews at the Mount Siani, then a neighbor had to be someone within the Jewish community, and he wanted to make that belief law. However, Jesus didn’t give the lawyer the justification he was looking for. Instead, Jesus showed that everyone is our neighbor, and therefore, (1) we’re not to show our love just to those we think deserve it, but (2) we’re to show our love to everyone, just as Jesus loves all of us.
In the parable, Jesus not only put the priest and the Levite, whom the lawyer would associate himself with, in a bad light, but he also put the Samaritan in a good light. The Samaritans were certainly not people whom the Jews would consider to be their neighbors. They were a mixed race and didn’t follow the Old Testament to the letter like the Jews did. But by using the Samaritan as the good example, Jesus made his point abundantly clear, so that even the lawyer had to admit it when he said that the one who “proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers” (verse 36) was “[t]he one who showed him mercy” (verse 37), or the good Samaritan.
When we hear accounts from the Bible like these, we can often times think to ourselves, “Yeah! You tell them Jesus!” However, we fail to realize that Jesus was not just speaking to the lawyer. He was speaking to all of us. Like the lawyer, there are those whom we don’t think deserve our love. Maybe it’s because they are murderers. Maybe it’s because they committed adultery. Maybe it’s because they didn’t keep a promise that they made. Or maybe it’s simply because they don’t belong to our group, like how the Jews viewed the Samaritans.
There are even times when we don’t think that those whom we would normally consider to be our neighbors deserve our love. In times like these, we act like the priest and the Levite, who passed by a fellow Jew in need of their help, simply because it wasn’t convenient for them. We might be willing to help someone in need, as long as it’s convenient for us or it benefits us. But, if we think that people have to deserve our love, then we also have to admit that we don’t deserve God’s love.
Since we have to keep the entire Law in order to earn God’s love, as Jesus told the lawyer, then we have to admit that we’ve failed. Sure, on the surface it may look like we’ve kept the entire Law, but Jesus shows us that it doesn’t take much to break the Law. We may think that we haven’t murdered anyone, but Jesus says that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22). We may think that we haven’t committed adultery, but Jesus says that “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). We may think that we haven’t sworn falsely, but Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:37). We may think that we don’t have to show love to our enemies, like how the Jews thought they didn’t have to show love to the Samaritans, but Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). And these are just some of the ways that we fail to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We’re like the man who was attacked by robbers; beaten, bloody, and clinging to life; except we’re not the victim. We’re that way because of the sins that we committed, and Jesus would have every right to pass us by on the other side of the road and leave us to the fate that we brought upon ourselves. But he didn’t. Instead, like the good Samaritan, he came to help us in our time of need.
During his life on earth, Jesus was a good Samaritan in every way that we failed to be. He had compassion on those in need, feeding those who were hungry, healing those who were sick, and casting out demons. He didn’t let the background of others stop him from helping them. In fact, he would often times associate with Samaritans and those whom the religious authorities considered sinners. He even showed love to his enemies, praying while he was on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And he wasn’t concerned for his own wellbeing, putting the wellbeing of others before his own, with the ultimate example of this being that he willingly laid down his own life for our benefit. As the apostle Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
On the cross, Jesus paid the price for all of the times that you didn’t show love to your neighbors. You did nothing to deserve the love that Jesus showed you, for you were completely helpless and dying on the side of the road. But Jesus washed your wounds with the waters of baptism, nursed you back to health by feeding you the medicine that is his own body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and clothed you with his own perfect and holy garments. Because of what Jesus did for you and still does for you, you haven’t just received the forgiveness of sins that he won for you, but his perfect fulfillment of the Law has also been applied to your life. Now, the Father no longer sees the beaten and bloody sinner that you once were, but only the new man that his only begotten Son, Jesus, made you. This is the same message that Jesus was trying to get the lawyer to understand, that he had come to save sinners and open heaven to all who trust in him.
The lawyer didn’t get the answer from Jesus that he was looking for. He thought that he had a better understanding of what a neighbor is than others did, and he thought that by showing love only to those whom he thought deserved it would earn him a place in heaven. Jesus showed him that his understanding of what a neighbor is was wrong and also that he needed the grace and mercy that only God can give in order to be saved. It is a message that the lawyer needed to hear, as well as all of us. We have not loved our neighbors like we should, but Jesus has loved us. Because of his love we now live, and because of his love we love one another as he has loved us.
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 “Parable of the Good Samaritan” by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 7:31-37
In Christ Jesus, who came to bring healing not just for bodies but also for souls, not just for this life but for the life to come, dear fellow redeemed:
If you could change one thing about your body, one thing that would make you happier and more content, what would it be? For some of us (maybe many of us), it would be our weight—“I wish I could trim off a few pounds.” Others of us might say, “I wish I were a little bit taller.” “I wish I were stronger.” “I wish I were prettier.” Most of these wishes have to do with how other people see us. We want them to think we look good, because that helps us feel better about ourselves.
Or maybe what you would like to change is not so much your appearance, but your health. “I wish this pain in my joints or my back would go away.” “I wish I could get back the energy and mobility I used to have.” “I wish my heart were more reliable.” “I wish this cancer were gone.” And there is no question that being healed of these things would be a great relief. But how far would it take you? Would you actually be happier and more content if you received exactly what you wanted?
Today we hear about a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. Those two things often go together. If you grow up being unable to hear, or unable to hear correctly, you won’t know how to control the sounds that you make with your mouth. Communication for this man was certainly difficult, but he had gotten along so far. He did not have a life-threatening illness or demon-possession like other people Jesus had healed. But the people figured that if Jesus could help with those things, He could “lay His hand on” this man and heal him too.
While the people had confidence in Jesus, it isn’t exactly the case that they believed in Him. They believed that He had special powers, and they were really hoping to see Him use them. But they did not believe He was the promised Savior of the world. What they were hoping for was a miracle of physical healing and not much more.
Jesus of course knew this about them. We see how He took the deaf man away from the crowd, because He wasn’t interested in making a spectacle of it. He sighed deeply—even groaned—as He looked toward heaven, saddened by the whole situation. And then after the miracle had been performed, He charged the people not to tell anyone what He had done—an order which they totally ignored.
But why would Jesus order them not to tell? Well what kind of message do you think they shared? Would you guess that they talked more about who He was, or about what He was able to do? “He has done all things well!” they cried. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak!” The message was that Jesus mattered because of the physical healing He could perform.
This message could have led some to wonder, “Who is Jesus anyway? How is He able to do the things He does?” Those are the questions all the people should have been asking. But many just looked at Him as a means to get what they wanted. “If Jesus could take away this problem, or this problem, I would be so free. Then I could do whatever I wanted again.”
You can see how getting healed by Jesus did not guarantee that people would follow Him. We see the same thing today. Our merciful Lord regularly blesses the medical treatment people receive, so that their life is extended. Or He preserves people from greater harm when they could have easily died. Many who have been through these things will even express that they have “a new lease on life.” But their attitude toward God doesn’t change. They don’t give thanks to the One who gives them their daily bread, who gives them everything they have and everything they need for this life.
And the same often goes for us. We might fervently pray for one thing, one physical gift, whether it be healing from an infection or disease, or for improved health. We say that we will dedicate our whole life to God if only He will fix this one thing. But how much changes for us if that healing comes? It usually doesn’t take long before we forget what God has done for us. And then we take up a new petition, a new concern, that would make our lives so much better if only God would help.
There is always another problem. This makes me think of the animated movie Aladdin by Disney. When dirt-poor Aladdin learned he had three wishes to ask for whatever he wanted, he figured he really only needed one and said he would happily use one of the wishes to free the genie. But that first wish didn’t accomplish everything Aladdin wanted. More issues and needs kept coming up. That’s how life is in this sinful world. We cannot have a perfect existence here.
Instead of looking for happiness and contentment through the relief of our physical problems, Jesus wants us to look to Him. That was the message for Paul, who pleaded for the Lord to remove his “thorn in the flesh.” Surely God would grant this request to His loyal servant, who endured tremendous affliction for preaching the Gospel! Paul prayed specifically for this three times, and this was the Lord’s answer, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Co. 12:9).
The question is not whether God has the power to heal us. Of course He does. The question is whether that healing is the best thing for us. God’s response to Paul was that his thorn in the flesh would be a reminder to Paul of His grace toward him. Paul would have to rely on the Lord’s strength instead of his own, which is what he realized and confessed. Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv. 9, 10).
What Jesus does for us—that is what matters. Today’s Epistle lesson is about the change brought by our Savior’s coming. It contrasts the ministry of condemnation and death with the ministry of righteousness and life (2Co. 3:4-11). The ministry of condemnation is the work of God’s Law on our hearts which convicts us of our sin, sins like worry and impatience in our suffering, and sins like forgetting the mercy of God toward us. The ministry of righteousness is the Holy Spirit applying the gracious work of Jesus to us sinners.
God sent His Son to infuse life into this world of death. We see this so vividly in Jesus’ healing touch. The man’s ears and tongue which were “broken” because of sin in this world, Jesus touched with His holy hands. Then He spoke His powerful Word. The man didn’t have the physical ability to hear this Word, but Jesus’ Word made its way through the damaged parts of his outer ear, middle ear, or inner ear and into his brain and set all those mechanisms right again.
That’s what Jesus’ Word does, it sets everything right. His Word sets our hearts right and our minds right. His Word sets our homes right and the teaching of our churches right. His Word sets our priorities and our plans and our hopes right. When the man’s tongue was released, we are told that he was now able to speak rightly (Greek: orthos).
The people said, “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak,” as though that were the most he could do or the height of what He could do. But He came to do something much bigger and much better than physical healing. Putting His fingers into the man’s ears was just a small sign of who He is and what He came to do. The Son of God put His whole divine self into our human flesh. “For in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).
He came to be the Minister of Righteousness, to serve us in His righteousness and to distribute His righteous acts to us. All the good He accomplished according to the holy Law, fulfilling its demands in full, He gives to us. He credits us with His perfect listening which covers over all the times we used our hearing to listen to what is false and wrong. He credits us with His perfect speaking which covers over all the times we used our mouths to speak what is untrue and unkind. The life we have lived in our sin has been wrong in so many ways, and Jesus set us right again with the Father by His perfect life. And the debt we owed to God for breaking all His commands, Jesus paid it by shedding His holy blood on the cross.
So whether or not everything is all right for you or for me in our bodies and in the world, we are right with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This is our confidence and this is our comfort when we suffer. Our suffering might not quickly go away, and it may be God’s will that it does not go away as long as we live here. But He promises to keep touching us with His mercy and grace in both the good days and the bad ones.
He does not tire of coming to minister to us and serve us with His healing presence in the means of grace. He does not tire of encouraging us in our weakness. He does not tire of speaking His promises to us again and again, opening our ears and filling us with His righteousness and with His enduring peace. The people were right that Jesus “has done all things well,” but they didn’t fully appreciate what “all things” meant.
Jesus “has done all things well,” all things right, because He is Righteousness. He is the Righteousness of God sent down from heaven to free us from our bondage to sin and death, and free us to hear His Word rightly and confess His truth clearly. In Him, we can be happy and content, even if not everything is right with our bodies on the outside or the inside. Jesus, the Minister of Righteousness is the one blessing we truly need.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from the morning of the annual outdoor service)
The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Cody Anderson sermon
Text: St. Mark 7:31-37
In Christ Jesus, who has done all things well, making the deaf hear and the mute speak, dear fellow redeemed:
As a student, you probably remember the days when people came to test your vision and hearing. For the hearing test, you have to put on headphones. Once they were on, they gave you a buzzer that you would push when you heard the tone that they played, or maybe they had you raise your hand when you heard a sound in each ear. Now this tone would start out loud, but as it got softer and softer, and as you were concentrating, it would come to a point that you didn’t know if you could hear it at all. I had to take this text before starting my factory job. When the test was over, the lady who was administering the test told me that I had perfect hearing. I responded, “I can’t wait to get home and tell my mother that.” To which she responded, “I can’t control when you decide to listen.” The problem that we have isn’t that we choose when we want to listen. Spiritually the problem is much worse than that. Our sins have made it so that we can’t hear and are not able to speak. The text makes it clear that Jesus is the one who opens ears and loosens tongues.
Jesus shows that he did not only come to save the Jews but the Gentiles as well. The Jews were hoping that the Messiah would liberate them from the Roman government. But that is not what he came to do. Throughout the Old Testament God made it known that he would send a Savior for the whole world. That is who Jesus is. He didn’t come to save one race, or one group. He came to save the entire world. In Jesus ministry, we see that he continues to travel. He moves from Galilee, goes down to Jerusalem for the feasts and festivals, and then he goes back north. We see in our text that Jesus had left the area that was home, and he traveled with his disciples in the lands of the Gentiles. Jesus has come into the Decapolis which is an area of 10 gentile cities.
Now he performed a miracle in this area already. One of the well-known one is when he drove the demons out of the men and he sent them into a heard of pigs. This miracle created quite a stir in this area. Right before our text Jesus encounters the woman who had great faith. As Jesus told her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and feed it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet; even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:27-28). The news of Jesus is starting to gain traction since more know about him. Now here in our text yet another man has come to receive help from Jesus.
The people are beginning to have a wrong idea about what Jesus is doing. The people upon watching Jesus perform his miracles have had other thoughts about the Messiah. They want Jesus to be their king. It’s recorded in John, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15). The people are not really paying attention to Jesus’ message any more. They see the miracles that he is performing and they are starting to only see his power. What is Jesus to do? He wants people to hear and listen to the message of the kingdom of God. As Jesus has a man brought to him and he can’t hear or speak, Jesus continues to have compassion. He has a plan.
Jesus takes the man away, not to show off his powers. When Jesus performs his miracles in front of the crowds, he has a message that he wants the people to know. With this miracle Jesus doesn’t want the crowd to see. So, he pulls the man away from the crowd. The people want to tell all about the signs and wonders they are seeing; they are in awe. But Jesus tells them not to say anything. As Jesus is trying to get them to stop, they continue to tell others about it. The crowd isn’t looking for a message anymore.
Like the crowd that Jesus is trying to hush, like the man who was healed, our ears and tongues are also out of function. Jesus is telling us a message of repentance, that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We as Christians, we know his message and we want to hear it. But the world is so noisy. We want to listen to what the world has to offer. It’s like our favorite music drowning our cares away. When we are living in our sins, we are deaf to God’s Word. Our sinful nature sees how hard it is to follow God’s commands. Why should we listen to them? They are so hard to follow and the sins are so easy to commit. The sin that we most want to commit is like the crowd. We don’t want to listen to Jesus’ message and we want Jesus to listen to us and to do what we tell him to. Jesus is still trying to communicate to us yet often we don’t want to listen. We want our tongues to stay mute at times. That is our bodies wanting to stay in our sins. But as the crowds continue to not listen, as we fall into our weaknesses, Jesus continues to heal and he did not give up on his mission.
Jesus restores the man of his ailments, showing that he is the one who hears and speaks what his Father wants. Ephphatha, be opened. Jesus shows how powerful his Word is. He is able to restore the man to full health. Adam was created knowing language and hearing God, but then he closed his ears to God’s Word. Jesus restores what was lost in the fall. This major reversal reveals how much mercy God has. He wants the world to hear the precious message of the gospel. His son lived a perfect life, listening to everything that the Father had told him. Only listening and doing his will. He then fulfilled God’s Word to the letter. Jesus continued to listen to his Father, and he took his cup and drank it, going to the cross. How awesome that we have a Savior who willingly listened to his Father and died for us. Jesus removes our deafness and loosens our tongues by perfectly hearing and speaking for us and forgiving us our sins.
Isaiah foretold that Jesus would come and do this. Jesus would come and cause a stir. Isaiah’s prophecy is our Old Testament lesson for today, “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 29:18-19). The people of Jesus day were in great need of help. We also are in great need of help. The Holy One of Israel continues to come to open our ears and loosen our tongues. He brings us out of the darkness and into his marvelous light.
We see how God’s Word continues to perform miracles when the gospel is spread. The gospel is alive and active. It does not stay silent. It is meant for human ears to hear and Jesus commands us to go and share it. The gospel heals souls as it tells people about how God kept his promise and sent a Savior. When sinners hear the comfort of the gospel, they will exult the Holy One also. This is not a message for only some to hear. This is a message for everyone. Jesus says “Ephphatha, be opened”, so that all ears can hear the wonderful news that he has done. Fulfilling God’s promise of dying for our sins and taking them all away.
Jesus gives us comfort daily that our ears are opened, and our tongues are loosened. There may come a time where we have given into temptation and we think, “How can I share God’s Word with others?” We think that we should give up because we failed God and closed our ears to his Word in weakness. But the power to change hearts and reach souls is not ours. The power is in the Word, God calls sinners to speak it. God knows that we are sinful. He sees us here in this world. That is why he sent his son. It is Jesus who says “Ephphatha, be opened.” It’s not us saying those words. The Holy Spirit uses us as messengers to bring the sweet gospel to people’s ears. We can have confidence that is not our actions, and when we fail, Jesus still tells our ears to be opened. He knows the weaknesses that we go through. He is there with us in our temptations. He knows that we need to hear the word “Ephphatha” more than once in our lives. It is that comfort that allows us to continue to carry on and tell others about Jesus because we know how sweet it is to hear the gospel words of comfort.
This is how awesome our God is. As we used our selective hearing ever since the time of the fall, this has now been restored. God shows His power. He sent his Son to heal the deaf ears of the human race, all of us who were lost in our sins and deaf to God’s Word. The Holy Spirit opens our ears so that we can know that saving gospel. Our tongues are loosed so we can share it. We hear Christ loud and clear as he says, “Ephphatha,” “Be Opened.” So now that we have had our hearing tested and see that on our own it doesn’t exist, Jesus did have perfect hearing. That perfect hearing is now ours. Jesus makes it possible to hear and share his Word. To God be the glory that we hear “Ephphatha, be opened.” Amen.
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(picture from stained-glass window at Saude)
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Matthew 8:1-13
In Christ Jesus, who welcomes you despite your unworthiness and mercifully gives you what you do not deserve, dear fellow redeemed:
Last week we heard how Jesus performed His first sign at the Wedding of Cana, where He revealed His glory, showing He is not only a man He is also the Son of God.
Today we hear how He continued to reveal His glory in large groups with varying conditions and backgrounds. These groups of people following Jesus were not only of Israel, the Jews; some were Gentiles, from other nations, possibly hearing and learning of Christ for the first time. Jesus was making known to everyone that He was the Messiah the deliverer of the whole world, not only from illness and disease but also from sin and death.
At this time in history a leper was by law not permitted to be in public, he must remain in colonies with other lepers. If those who did not have leprosy approached him, he was to announce, “unclean, unclean” so others would know not to come too close. If others touched him they too would become unclean not because they would catch the disease, but because according to Jewish ceremonial law touching someone unclean made you unclean. Yet, we see this very sick man still approach Jesus, most likely as the crowd scattered in all directions to avoid contact with him. It was a bold move to approach Jesus and it shows the man’s great need for help.
The Centurion wasn’t of Jewish decent, he was a Gentile, and therefore it was surprising he would ask Jesus to come and help him. (Acts 10:28) But we learn that the Jewish elders clearly thought this man deserved Jesus’ help. St. Luke sheds light on the centurion’s good standing in the community, he records, “When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue” (Luke 7: 3–5).
Despite what the Jewish elders thought of him, this centurion recognized his sin and unworthiness. When he learns that Jesus is indeed coming to help he says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” (Matthew 8:8a). These men demonstrated great humility as they went to Jesus for help.
The world defines worthiness differently than Jesus does. Typically a person must prove their worthiness before they can receive something in return. To get respect one needs to earn it. Someone might be considered worthy after getting recognition from their boss and receives a promotion as a result of it. People strive to be worthy hoping it will earn them good things in return. Often time’s favors are done for those deemed worthy providing them with extra incentives, gifts and other nice things.
You have probably heard the saying, “It’s not about what you know it’s who you know,” or even more accurately, “it’s who knows you.” This phrase is heard most often in the corporate or business world referring to how someone advances in his or her position. Think about that for a minute. What if people did know us, completely? What if people knew the things we’ve said or done in secret, the things only we know and regret terribly.
We may have a prominent job with great responsibility, we might be highly valued and liked in the community, but we still know our sins. God also knows what we have done in secret. (Matt 6:4) Even if we have saved face in the public eye we haven’t always thought purely or acted honorably. We know the truth of our unworthiness. If the people around us knew our every thought and deed would they still treat us with love and mercy or would they treat us as an outcast?
The world will always regard the worthy more valuable than the unworthy. There will never be a time when people perfectly welcome the unclean, the sick, the foreigner and the dying. But there is One who did. Jesus has always had compassion on the unworthy and He still does today. Our Lord sees our unworthiness but doesn’t equate it with worthlessness; we are greatly valued by Him. (Luke 12:7)
Jesus knows us entirely. He knows the exact number of hairs on our head. (Luke 12:7) He knows the wickedness we have done but He reacts differently to us. He doesn’t cast us out like a leper or lowly servant, instead in mercy He welcomes us. St. Titus writes, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4–5) Jesus reaches out and welcomes us in mercy because of His great love for us.
St. Matthew writes, “And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:3). This man did not do anything to earn Jesus’ mercy. He could not heal himself, but he trusted that Jesus could. “Lord if you will, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2b). He was certain who Jesus was and knew the power that Jesus had.
The Lord wasn’t supposed to touch Him because it would have made Him unclean, but the opposite happened. Jesus deliberately reached out with His pure sinless flesh and touched this man, and completely removed his leprosy in front of everyone. Jesus did not become unclean; the man became clean!
The leper could have thought I’m hopeless and unworthy, why would anyone help me? The centurion could have thought, “I am a Gentile, why should this great teacher and miracle worker listen to me? But they heard the Word of God and their hearts were changed. They believed in Jesus. They trusted in the promises found in Christ their Savior, knowing that He is the only source for true healing and cleansing.
Like these faithful men, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we cling to God’s Word and to His promises. We also go to our Lord who promises to fix our ailments, heal our sicknesses and relieve our greatest problem, our sinfulness. No person or medicine can take away our sin only Jesus can. He is our comforter in sorrow and our strength when we are weak. He is our all-merciful Lord who suffered what we deserved to suffer. “By His wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5). He went through eternal death and hell to restore us. You and I rest securely in His hands, the hands He uses to cleanse our unclean hearts and the same precious hands that were outstretched and nailed to a wooden cross for all our sins.
These words recorded by St. Peter inform each of us that, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18b-19). The price to redeem you was the holy precious life of your Savior, who died and rose again after three days in the grave to make you righteous. The removal of your sins is what makes you worthy. He has mercifully granted this to you turning your unworthy heart into one worthy of the Lord’s eternal embrace and reunion with your loved ones in heaven.
You come before the Lord with a new heart trusting in Him above all else. (Ps. 51:10) You know that Jesus’ mercy never stops and He is constantly working in your life. He continues to work by His Word and His flesh. Christ’s Word is still spoken to you and in mercy He forgives your sin each new day. His flesh and blood still reach out and touch you in the Lord’s Supper. You kneel down before the Lord and He distributes to you the greatest medicine there is, the medicine of immortality. He provides you with His very flesh and blood bringing healing to your soul cleansing you from all sin.
Jesus welcomes you just as He did the man with leprosy and the centurion. He didn’t care about their status in the community or the public’s opinion of them. Jesus’ only cared about welcoming them into His kingdom and He only cares about welcoming you into His loving arms when you depart this world.
Your worthiness is dependent on someone far greater than yourself. It’s dependent on your Savior. Jesus made you worthy by His holy life and death. You are worthy of all that He gives you. Jesus’ arms are wide open; salvation is yours. He embraces you with His great love for all eternity. This is what true worthiness looks like!
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(picture from a portion of a Byzantine mosaic in Sicily)
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 17:11-19
In Christ Jesus, who came to bring mercy and salvation to the afflicted and the hurting, for which He deserves eternal thanksgiving, dear fellow redeemed:
When you are too busy to get something done, there are different ways you can address the problem. You can prioritize, and let the things drop that are less important. You can delegate the responsibility to someone else. Or you can hire somebody else to do the job. We do this when we hire lawnmowers and housecleaners, or when we go out for a meal at a restaurant.
What if you hired someone to do the spiritual things that you know you should do, but you just can’t seem to find the time for? You could hire someone to have devotions with your kids. You could hire someone to pray. You could hire someone to give thanks to God for your blessings. If you hired someone to be thankful on your behalf, what would that look like? As you start to think about the blessings God has given you personally, in your family, at home, at church, at work, in your community, you realize that giving thanks is hardly part-time work. It is ongoing, constant, something that should happen daily.
Even the world recognizes the importance of thankfulness. We hear people talk about how we should have an “attitude of gratitude” every day and not just once a year in November. But there should be more to our thankfulness than an attitude or a habit. An atheist can be thankful. A Muslim can be thankful. Our thankfulness as Christians is much different than theirs.
We see the difference in today’s Gospel reading. Ten men had leprosy. They had a skin disease that forced them to quarantine from others. They had to live outside the town in their own community. They could not continue in the jobs they had. They could not go near their families and friends. It was something like the stay-at-home orders of March 2020 but with no promise of things getting better. There was nothing for lepers except the constant presence of disease, the slow deterioration of their health, and the company of other sick and heartbroken people.
But at some point, they heard about a man named Jesus who had the power to heal. And then they learned that He was entering a village nearby. They stood at a distance and cried out to Him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Those are serious words. We don’t cry out for mercy when we miss a turn or run out of milk or butter. We cry out for mercy when we face something difficult that we don’t have the power to fix.
You may have cried out for mercy when a new virus made its way around the world, or when you were seriously ill at home. You may have cried out for mercy when someone you love was diagnosed with heart failure or cancer, or when someone close to you died. You may have cried out for mercy when things were not going well at home, at work, or at school.
Jesus hears those cries, just as He heard the cry of those lepers. He knows the anguish behind the cry, and He also sees the faith. No one looks to Him for mercy if they don’t believe He is merciful. No one looks to Him for mercy if they don’t believe He has the power and the desire to help. He is merciful, and He does want to help.
The ten lepers believed this—at least at that time. And when Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests, they went. As they were going, they realized that a miracle had happened. They had no more leprosy—their skin was healed! You heard what happened next. Only one of the ten came back to thank Jesus; the rest were too busy, too focused on their own plans. The one who came back would have seemed the least likely to return. He was a Samaritan, and the Samaritans and Jews generally avoided each other. But this Samaritan fell at Jesus’ feet and gave thanks to Him.
I imagine the other men were thankful too. How could they not be? They were thankful to be cleansed. They were thankful that they would be able to see their families again, thankful to return to normal life. But here is where we see the difference between the thankfulness of believers and the thankfulness of everyone else. The thankfulness of the nine men was a thankfulness for. The thankfulness of the one was especially a thankfulness to.
The nine were thankful for healing and for all the good things they were about to enjoy. The Samaritan was thankful for those things also, but most of all he was thankful to the merciful Lord. Jesus Himself made the distinction. He said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” All ten were thankful, but only one was thankful to God.
You can see how mere thankfulness is not acceptable before God. God is the one who has mercy. He is the Giver. So we should give thanks to Him. The Samaritan did this. He had cried out for mercy, and Jesus had answered. The man had not healed himself—Jesus had. Here was the evidence of the man’s faith. He was not too busy to give thanks. He didn’t have something more important to do. He gave all praise and glory to the Lord for his miraculous healing. And Jesus said, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well”—or as it can also be translated, “your faith has saved you.”
We want to learn to be thankful like this Samaritan, thankful to the Lord at all times. The apostle Paul often talks about the practice of Christian thankfulness. Paul had a lot of things to complain about. His was not a carefree life. But in his letter to the Thessalonians he wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Th. 5:16-18). And in his letter to the Ephesians he said, “[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20).
Both passages tell us why we can be thankful always, no matter what we are experiencing. We are thankful because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, willingly came into this world of trouble and death. He did not shrink back from sinners, like people would from a group of lepers. He took our sins to Himself and provided His holy blood as the antidote for our spiritual disease. His blood cleanses us from every sin (1Jo. 1:7). There is nothing that now keeps us from the eternal gifts God has stored up for us in heaven.
But maybe your back hurts. You don’t have the energy you used to. You wish you could lose a few pounds. You are not as secure financially as you want to be. You don’t get the support at work or at home that you need. We can always identify things we are not thankful for. It is very easy to make that list. But there is far more good in our lives than evil. The Lord is merciful toward us.
He has mercy upon us even when we don’t respond to it like we should. Jesus knew that nine of the lepers would not return to give thanks, and He still healed them. In the same way, He knows that we will get distracted by the things of this life. We will think we are too busy to hear His Word, pray to Him, and thank Him for His gifts. And yet His mercy endures.
In church each week, we cry out for this mercy. We acknowledge our sins and weaknesses. We admit that we are unable to fix all the wrongs we have done and save ourselves. From our own leper colony, from this congregation of sinners, we cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And He does. He comes to us through His Word and Sacraments. He returns us to the cleansing waters of Baptism through His absolution. He brings healing to our body and soul through His holy body and blood. And then He sends us home with His blessing, saying to us as He did to the Samaritan, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well”—“your faith has saved you.”
Faith trusts what Jesus promises in His Word even when we are experiencing great problems and troubles. Was Jesus merciful the day before the lepers cried out to Him? Yes, He was merciful even while they remained in their leprosy. Our pains and difficulties in this life are not signs of God’s disinterest or His lack of mercy toward us. He often uses these things for our good, to draw us closer to Him.
Think about your own life. When is it that you are the most thankful? Probably when you no longer have what you used to take for granted. You are not so thankful for good health until you are sick. You are not so thankful for a job until you are let go. You are not so thankful for your possessions until they are taken from you.
We give thanks in good times and bad because we see how our merciful Lord keeps bringing us blessings. We learn that His mercy toward us is constant. His love toward us does not change. He is always ready to help and strengthen us. He is always ready to forgive us even though we have failed so many times to be thankful.
His mercy does not depend on our thankfulness. But it does make Him glad when we, like the Samaritan, bring our thanks to Him for all the wonderful works He does in our lives. And so we join the psalmist in saying, “Oh give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!” (Psa. 106:1).
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(picture from “The Healing of Ten Lepers” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who taught us the way of compassion and mercy by giving Himself fully for the needs of His neighbors, dear fellow redeemed:
In the summertime, parents can be a little more lenient with their kids. With no bus to catch in the morning, they might let the kids sleep in a bit. With no homework to do or school deadlines to meet, kids have more flexibility with how they spend their time. But school is back in session. That means it’s time to buckle down again.
When school starts, parents become less accepting of non-committal answers. When they see their kids lounging around and wasting time, and they ask, “Is your homework finished?” they are not looking for an “almost,” or “it won’t take me long.” What they want to know is whether the homework is “done” or “not done.” When it comes to homework, those are the only two categories!
They are the same two categories that apply to God’s holy Law. God’s Law is either done or not done. Today’s reading tells us about an expert in the Law who seemed to recognize that his keeping of the Law was not done. He asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Then at Jesus’ prompting, he summarized the Ten Commandments: You shall love God perfectly and your neighbor as yourself. “You have answered correctly,” said Jesus, “do this, and you will live.”
Then we learn that the expert in the Law thought he actually had done what was required. He thought he was holy according to God’s Commandments. But he wasn’t. He might have understood the Law intellectually, but he did not know the Law spiritually. He might have appeared to keep the Law outwardly, but he had not kept it in his heart.
How we read the Law is very important. We don’t want to misunderstand it, and we don’t want to misapply it. Jesus’ interaction with the lawyer shows how easily both things can happen. You and I have something in common with this lawyer—we know what God demands in His Law. We know the Ten Commandments. There is another thing we have in common with this man. We think we have done a fair job of keeping the Commandments. We know we have not kept them perfectly, but compared to a lot of people around us, we think we have done pretty well at living the way God wants.
But this comparison with others is where we get into trouble. It shows a misunderstanding of the Law. When we think we have done better than others, we have actually set aside the Law. Remember that God’s Law is either done or not done. If we haven’t kept it fully, then there’s no use pointing out how we are better than others. That’s like boasting about a second-to-last finish in a field of a hundred competitors. And if we misunderstand our own failure to keep the Law, we will certainly misapply it. We will read it as though it condemns the sins of others while letting us off the hook.
The Law doesn’t let anyone off the hook. St. Paul couldn’t have said it more clearly in his letter to the Romans: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:20). He wrote the same thing in his letter to the Galatians: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law” (Gal. 3:10-11).
The primary job of the Law is to smash the pride that is constantly rearing its ugly head inside us. The Law functions kind of like those robbers lurking in the shadows. We walk along, thinking we’ve got it together. We find it easy to justify our sinful actions, words, and thoughts, and we are quick to judge the weaknesses of others. We are focused on ourselves and not on the needs of those around us.
And BOOM! the Law hits us. We often don’t see it coming. Suddenly our sin catches up to us, and we realize how flawed we really are. We see how lacking we are in love. We see how we have been living for ourselves and not for God. The Law knocks us flat on our backs and strips away everything we place our trust in in this life—our works, our accomplishments, our status. Nothing is left but our sins. The Law is ruthless. It shows no mercy. It gives no hope.
Suppose the Law had done its work, and you shared your guilt with a friend, laying bare all the ugly thoughts and intentions of your sinful heart. And your well-meaning friend tries to encourage you, “You are being too hard on yourself! You are a wonderful, good, kind person! You are one of the best!” That’s like a priest or a Levite seeing the man half-dead and passing by on the other side because “he’s going to be just fine!” Fluffy compliments or rosy sentiments are no help. When your eyes are open to your sin, when the Law shows you how you really are, you don’t need someone telling you that everything is okay.
What you need is a Good Samaritan. You need someone to bind up your wounds, carry you to safety, and nurse you back to health. That’s what Jesus does. He sees you in your sin, broken by the Law, and He has compassion on you. He knows what bad shape you and all sinners are in. That’s why He took on your flesh. He came “to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:5). He came to do what you are incapable of doing. He came to fulfill the Law.
The Law didn’t catch Him by surprise. It didn’t knock Him down. The Law is His. God established the Law as a reflection of His perfect nature. He gave it to show what it means to be right with Him. And before the first man and woman sinned, they were right with Him. Their lives perfectly conformed to His holy will. But their sin ruined that Paradise. Now nothing they tried to do was perfect. Everything was tainted by sin.
Jesus came to reverse and repair all that. He lived His life in total conformity to the Law. He was tempted in every way just as we are, but He never sinned (Heb. 4:15). He perfectly loved His heavenly Father with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind, and He perfectly loved His neighbor as Himself. He lived that life of perfect love for you. He kept the Law completely for you. His holy life is yours—credited to you—by faith.
And He went to the cross to make atonement for your all sins against the holy Law. Every infraction, large and small, was counted against Him on the cross. All your arrogance, all your pride, your judgmental attitude toward others, your denial of your own sinfulness, your failure to help a neighbor in need—Jesus accepted the full wrath of God for all of it. The blood He shed cleanses you from every sin. Each and every sin is forgiven.
But you might not always feel like your sins are forgiven. You might still feel guilty for the things you have done and said and the terrible things you have imagined. This is why Jesus gives His Word and Sacraments. These are the means for your healing and strength. Through His Word of Absolution, Jesus returns you to the cleansing waters of your Baptism, where the wounds of your sins are washed clean. And through the food and drink of His Supper, He applies the medicine of His body and blood to bring you spiritual healing and strength.
Jesus sees how you struggle. He knows the countless ways you have fallen short of the Commandments. But He does not leave you for dead on the treacherous highway of this life. He has compassion on you. He has compassion because His love is not fickle like ours is. His love does not change or diminish. His love is perfect.
That perfect love counts as your keeping of the holy Law. All that He is and all that He accomplished is yours by faith. By faith in Him, the Law is done for you. It is fulfilled. That’s what Romans 10:4 tells us: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” We no longer have the pressure of trying to be righteous through our works. Perfect righteousness is ours by faith.
But while the Law is done for us before God, there is plenty for us to do for our neighbors. There are so many around us beaten and broken by their own sin and the sin of others. There are so many crushed by the Law and feeling despair. Our neighbors don’t need priests and Levites who turn up their noses at the thought of being inconvenienced or getting their hands dirty. Our neighbors don’t need Christians who talk a good game but hardly lift a finger to help.
Our neighbors need compassion. They need mercy. We give them these things when we lend a sympathetic ear or a helping hand. And we also share with them what they need the most. We give them Jesus—His healing, His promise, His grace through the message of the Gospel. Jesus tells us to go and do this. The Good Samaritan is a picture for us, not of how we can fulfill the Law and get ourselves to heaven by our works. The Good Samaritan is a picture of Jesus’ love which He has shown to us, and which He gives us the opportunity and the privilege to show to others.
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(picture from “Parable of the Good Samaritan” by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
In Christ Jesus, who came to heal every wound and right every wrong, dear fellow redeemed:
About a week ago, I went to every door in our house one after the other, and I opened and closed them multiple times. No one thought it was strange. Why? Because I was fixing noisy hinges. Some of the doors groaned just about the entire span of their swing, but thankfully now they don’t make a sound. We need the newborn to sleep!
Old hinges are not the only source of groaning in the house, and I suspect the same is true or has been true for your home. There are groans when jobs are handed out and groans when mean parents say “no” to certain requests. Sometimes groans will also accompany the effort of getting out of a chair at the end of a long day.
There are still other reasons that we groan. St. Paul writes that “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23). The presence of sin in the world and in ourselves causes difficulties for us. One of those difficulties is physical trouble. We experience sickness, disease, injury, disability, pain.
In the Gospels, we find numerous references of Jesus healing people with such conditions. We meet one of them in today’s reading, “a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.” Those two conditions naturally go together. If he could not hear, he would not know how to correctly form sounds and words.
But the man could groan, and I’m sure he did. He could see how much was closed to him in his world of silence. He must have wondered why it had to be him. He saw everyone around him enjoying the normal operations of their ears and tongue. He thought about how much good he could accomplish if only he could hear and speak. But there was nothing he or his friends could do about it. It was his cross to bear.
We can’t say why certain things happen to certain individuals. We have all known scoundrels who seem perfectly healthy, and we have also known kind and wonderful people who endure constant pain. This makes no sense to us. We want to have a logical explanation for why some people seem to suffer more than others. We think it would be right if bad people should experience more trouble.
Jesus’ disciples thought the same way. When they passed by a man who had been blind his entire life, they asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Joh. 9:2,3). Jesus’ answer shows us that God has higher purposes for the crosses we bear than we often perceive.
If you are one who is afflicted with something that brings you significant pain or trouble, there is comfort in Jesus’ words. Your pain is not a sign of His anger or His abandonment. He has not sent it to harm you or to push you away from Him. He has allowed it in His wisdom and according to His good plan. He intends to work through it for your good and for the good of others. And if He has a purpose for your suffering, that means He has a purpose for you.
The deaf man had purpose too. He was not a mistake. He was not a lesser person in God’s eyes. Whether or not he had been healed, God loved him. God the Father sent His only Son to suffer and die for this man’s salvation. That was the man’s greatest need, just as it is our greatest need. But God also knows our lesser needs, and many times He brings us relief and healing from the things that burden us.
In the account from today’s Gospel, Jesus in His mercy chose to bring physical healing to the man. First He took him aside from the crowd. This wasn’t for the sake of modesty or humility. He wanted to keep the people from being distracted by the miracles. He wanted them to understand the primary reason for His coming—not for miracles, but for their salvation. He was the Messiah. That’s the reason He had power to heal. He was God in the flesh, who had come to redeem the world of sinners.
Because He was God in the flesh, His touch had healing power. His flesh is life-giving flesh. He pressed those life-giving fingers into the man’s deadened ears. He put life-giving saliva on the man’s imprisoned tongue. He spoke a life-giving Word into that world of dead silence. But before Jesus spoke, He sighed. Or rather, He groaned. He groaned toward heaven. This groan was a prayer to His Father, expressing the trouble of this man and the troubles of all sinners.
Jesus willingly took that trouble on Himself. He felt every pain, every sorrow, every hurt. Healing went out from Him, while He stored up every affliction. Jesus was a Magnet that drew all our sin and all the effects of our sin to Himself. This is why He groaned toward heaven and why He would groan in agony in the Garden and on the cross.
His groaning was for you. He made your groans His own. Whatever has caused you pain or sorrow or weakness, whatever has made you cry out for mercy and brought you to your knees, He took that to Himself. He put in on His shoulders. His shoulders are stronger than yours or anyone else’s. His can carry the load. “Surely,” says the prophet Isaiah—“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4).
Jesus went to the cross, weighed down, carrying all those things for you. Your groaning and the groaning of all the fallen in the history of the world hung in His ears. And it pushed Him forward. He went to the cross to free you from everything that drags you down in this life. He went there to provide the answer for every groan. That answer is His grace.
Grace is what we find in Jesus. “Be opened,” He said to the deaf man, and “his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” In his first condition, the man could neither hear nor speak. Now he heard plainly and spoke rightly. Before Jesus came to us with grace, our hearts were hardened and our ears were unhearing. “Be opened,” He said through His powerful Word. And our ears were opened, our tongues were released, and we could speak rightly. We could speak the truth—the truth about ourselves and the truth about God and His salvation.
We can speak rightly, but we don’t always do it. Sometimes we don’t think that God has things quite right in His Word. We think that leniency or compromise are called for, when He says, “Stand firm!” According to the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (3:7). But we often get those things backwards.
That’s what the people in the crowd did. Jesus charged them not to tell anyone about the deaf man’s healing. But we’re told “the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” We almost feel proud of the people. Even Jesus couldn’t stop them from telling the marvelous truth about the amazing thing He had done!
But Jesus didn’t tell them to stay quiet with a smile and a wink. The people were telling the truth about Him, but they were spreading a less important truth. They weren’t telling people about Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Savior. They were telling people about Jesus the Miracle Man. This distracted from the primary work Jesus came to do. The crowds around Him may have often been very large, but we find that very few were looking for eternal salvation.
We want to look to Jesus for the right thing. We don’t hinge our faith on whether or not He fixes our earthly pains and troubles. We don’t conclude that if He allows us to suffer, He must not love us. We cling to Him—and even more tightly—while we suffer. We trust that He will be with us in our anguish because He says He will be.
He promises to reach out and meet us in our pain with the healing touch of His Word and Sacraments. He comes through these means to provide spiritual relief and strength and to help us stay focused on Him. We may not feel His fingers in our ears or on our tongue as the deaf man did. But we partake of the same life-giving flesh when we eat Jesus’ holy body and drink His precious blood in the Supper.
When Jesus comes to heal, He also brings with Him the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comforts us and increases our faith in the midst of our suffering. And He expresses to the heavenly Father those things we can’t find the words for. St. Paul says that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). Not only did Jesus groan for us—so does the Holy Spirit.
It is clear we have a God who loves us. He knows our troubles, and He urges us to set those troubles before Him. He does not promise to grant us everything we ask for just the way we want it. He does not promise us a life without trouble on earth. But He does promise us His grace. When His grace fills our ears through the hearing of His Word, His healing medicine flows through our body and soul. Then our tongues find their release, and we speak rightly, clearly, loudly of our gracious Savior and Lord, who has “done all things well.”
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(picture from “Jesus in Prison” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Thanksgiving – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Psalm 103
In Christ Jesus, “the Lord merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy,” dear fellow redeemed:
In a typical year, we would celebrate Thanksgiving by getting together with family members and friends. We would all converge in one place, extend our tables, and cram in extra chairs. We would feast together, laugh together, enjoy being together. We would count our many blessings, starting with the loved ones with us in the room.
This is not a typical year. If you are getting together with loved ones, the group will probably be smaller than usual. Grown children may not be “coming home” like they usually do. Grandparents may not get to hug their grandchildren. Some of you are facing a Thanksgiving by yourself, perhaps the first time that has happened. Across the nation, this could go down as one of the most stressful, loneliest Thanksgivings we have ever had.
Today’s Psalm doesn’t really seem to fit the mood. It begins with joyful praise: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!” Is it praise and thanks to God that fills your thoughts right now? Or is it concerns about your health and the health of the people you care about? Or concerns about our country and its social and political disharmony? Or concerns about the future and the challenges you may have to face?
You might wonder what God’s plan is in all of this. Why doesn’t He just end all sickness? Why doesn’t He destroy the efforts of the wicked? You may not want to admit it, but part of you deep down questions whether God is seeing things clearly, whether He sees your struggle, whether He really loves you like He says He does. You might even be angry with God.
Now it isn’t wrong to complain to God. There are a great many Psalms that do this, that call Him to address the tension between His promises and our experiences. God wants to hear all our prayers—not just the ones offered in joyful thanksgiving, but also the ones expressed with heartfelt cries and groanings. So is today the day for thanksgiving to God or complaint?
We don’t know the situation in which Psalm 103 was written. It is a Psalm attributed to King David. It sounds like David was in a good mood when he wrote this Psalm. But hope-filled words do not come exclusively from good times. In fact, the hopeful words of believers often come from terrible times, times of suffering, times of persecution. Many of our best and most powerful hymns were written not in days of peace and prosperity, but in days of great trouble and hardship.
Whether you are filled with joy and thanksgiving today or with distresses and doubts, this Psalm was inspired by God for your comfort and encouragement. The second verse of the Psalm says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits.” It is easy to forget all that the Lord does for us. Sometimes we forget because in our pride we think we are responsible for all the good things we have. Or sometimes we forget because in our difficulties all we can see is our trouble.
This is why we need to be reminded to remember—to “forget not” all the Lord’s benefits. His kind and merciful actions toward us are so many we could not count them all. The psalmist lists some of them: He forgives all our iniquities. He heals all our diseases. He redeems our life from destruction. He crowns us with lovingkindness and tender mercies. He satisfies our mouth with good things. He executes righteousness and justice for the oppressed.
It might seem like David overstates God’s work here. If, as he writes, the Lord “heals all [our] diseases,” why do some still get sick? If He “executes righteousness and justice” for the oppressed, why do some still suffer? David does not claim that God keeps His people from ever getting sick or ever experiencing hardship. Sickness and hardship are part of life in this fallen world. So is our sinfulness. Just as we need the Lord’s forgiveness for every sin, so we need His healing for every sickness and His help in every trouble.
We may not always have healing in our sickness and help in our trouble as quickly or as completely as we want. But the Lord brings it about in His time. He may even decide to free us from our diseases and our oppression by calling our soul out of this life of trouble. Our faith does not rest in what our eyes can see, in the proofs of God’s love that we demand. Our faith rests in His holy Word, in what He has promised to all who trust in Him.
It may seem that God is angry with you or punishing you because of the suffering and pain that you experience. But you know that cannot be. God is not angry with you anymore because His holy Son atoned for your sins. Your sins were taken off you and put on Him. He suffered the wrath of God in your place. He was punished for every single one of your wrongs. “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed [your] transgressions from [you].”
Now God wouldn’t do that for you and then forget about you when you suffer in this life. He wouldn’t send His perfect Son to the cross for you and then leave you all alone in your trials. “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him”—He has mercy on you. “For He knows [your] frame; He remembers that [you] are dust.” He knows that it doesn’t take much to discourage you. He knows how hard the devil, the unbelieving world, and your own sinful flesh work to steal away your faith. He sees how often they succeed. He knows that you don’t always remember Him. But He remembers you.
The Lord God Almighty Remembers You. And He will not forget you. He cannot forget you. You are joined by faith to His only-begotten Son, that Son with whom He is well pleased (Mat. 3:17, 17:5). So He is well pleased with you. “[T]he mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children.”
This year has not gone like you expected, and neither have your Thanksgiving plans. But you are not alone. The Lord whose “throne [is] in heaven” and whose “kingdom rules over all” knows you. The God whom the mighty angels and all the host of heaven worship loves you and cares about you. He will not leave you no matter what you have to face in the days to come. And that is cause for joy; that is reason for thanksgiving. “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits.” Amen.
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St. Luke the Evangelist – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Timothy 4:5-15
In Christ Jesus, who heals the deep wounds of our sin through the holy Gospel of His forgiveness, dear fellow redeemed:
The apostle Paul wrote the words of today’s text from a prison in Rome. He was nearing the end of his life, and he knew it. It had been a hard life. Paul described some of those hardships in a letter to the church in Corinth: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; … in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2Co. 11:24-25,27).
In other words, Paul needed a good doctor. And he had one. As Paul languished in that prison, he wrote, “Luke alone is with me.” Luke was of Gentile background and may have first met Paul in Antioch, where Paul set off on each of his missionary journeys. Luke joined Paul during his second journey and again on his third journey. Paul referred to him as “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14).
But we have reason to question Luke’s aptitude as a doctor. He watched Paul endure great physical violence and pain for preaching the Gospel. If Paul didn’t stop, he could very well lose his life. What kind of doctor sits by and watches this happen to his patient? Doesn’t a good doctor urge the patient to avoid the things that are causing physical harm?
Luke did not do this, but it wasn’t because he was a poor doctor. Luke believed there was something more important than the care of the body, and that is the care of the soul. Paul had to carry on his mission work, even if it should lead to his death. The salvation of countless souls depended on it. So Luke did what he could to address Paul’s physical wounds, but the greatest help he provided Paul was spiritual.
You can hear Paul’s distress in his letter to Timothy. “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone,” he said. Crescens had gone. Titus had gone. He had sent Tychicus away. A coppersmith named Alexander had done him great harm and had strongly opposed Paul’s preaching and teaching. When he was put on trial, Paul wrote that “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2Ti. 4:16).
Paul had been all alone, but then Luke came. A movie was released two years ago that imagines the conversations between Paul and Luke in prison. It’s called Paul, Apostle of Christ and would be worth your time to watch. Luke was well-equipped to encourage and comfort Paul because he had done extensive research into the life and teaching of Jesus. At the beginning of his Gospel, Luke stated the purpose for the writing: “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (1:3-4).
Luke wrote so that Theophilus might have certainty, but Luke’s Gospel was for more than just Theophilus. Luke’s Gospel was for Paul’s certainty, for your certainty, and for my certainty. The four Gospels were all inspired by the Holy Spirit, but God used different authors to write for different audiences. The Gospel of the Gentile Luke was written for a Gentile audience. Just as Paul’s mission was to preach the Gospel to all the nations, so Luke’s Gospel was meant to be read by all the nations.
During Paul’s suffering and imprisonment, Luke was able to remind him of the never-changing love of God in Christ. In his younger years, Paul had been opposed to Jesus. He approved of the arrest and murder of Christians. He thought he was doing the Lord’s work but was actually doing the devil’s. Later on he stated that he “persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13). There was blood on Paul’s hands. Imagine how Luke might have comforted him as Paul thought of the horrible things he had done.
Luke might have reminded him about the account of the Good Samaritan (Luk. 10:25-37). Jesus, like the Good Samaritan, came to Paul on the side of the road and healed his wounded soul with His Word of grace and forgiveness. Or Luke might have shared Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep, where the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and looks for the one that was lost (15:1-7). Or the parable of the prodigal son, where the Father welcomes home his wayward child and forgives all wrongs (15:11-32).
Paul could have related to Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector, which only Luke recorded. The Pharisee went to the temple to boast about how righteous and faithful he was, like Paul who used to think that about himself. But God humbled him like the tax collector and gave him faith to believe that he was forgiven and righteous before God because of what Jesus had done for him (18:9-14).
Paul needed these reminders of God’s grace as all of us do. God sent Luke to do this for Paul as a brother in faith, as a compassionate friend. Luke was an “evangelist”—he was a “bringer of good news.” God likewise calls you to bring the good news to others. This world needs good news. Most of the news we hear is bad news. Every day, we hear about disagreements, divisions, and hatred. We hear about sicknesses, injuries, and death. We hear about hardships, deep hurts, and pain.
There’s no getting around the fact that sin has saturated this world, and that the devil is doing his best to sow wickedness and chaos wherever he can. We see that happening in the current political scene today. If you think the devil is only working on the other side and that your side is pure in all its motives and policies, you are mistaken. The devil is an equal opportunity adversary. He wants all of us to hate one another, attack one another, and think we are better than each other.
But all of us have failed to keep God’s Law. We have wounded one another with our hurtful words and actions, and where we have done well, we have not given all glory to God. It is crucial that we recognize this. The patient does himself no favors if he ignores a health condition or lies to his doctor. Just because a doctor is not informed about a health condition does not mean there is no problem.
You and I do have a problem. It’s a problem that causes death and not just the death of the body. We can try to cover up its symptoms. We can try to act like it isn’t there. But if our inner sinfulness is not addressed, it will overcome us and suffocate our soul. The first step is admitting the problem—not pointing out other people’s sins but acknowledging your own. The world would look a lot different if everyone did this.
Repentance requires humility, and humble people can work through their disagreements. But the proud have no love for others. The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luk. 5:31-32). Do you see what that means? It means that if you own up to your sick spiritual condition, a Physician is here to save you.
Jesus is that Physician. We know that He was able to overcome physical illnesses. He healed people time after time during His three years of public work on earth. There was no end to the sick who came looking for Jesus. He laid His hands on these people and healed them (Luk. 4:40). Luke tells us that some were even healed by touching Him, “for power came out from him” (6:19). No problem was too great for Him, whether diseases, plagues, or evil spirits (7:21).
His purpose in this healing was to reveal who He was, the Messiah. He did not come simply to be a healer of the body; He came to save souls. His purpose was to get to the root of our problem. He came to spare us from the punishment we deserved by being punished Himself. He came to stop our bleeding by shedding His own precious blood. Sin was the deadly infection, but Jesus’ holy life and atoning death were the perfect cure. Certain death was the prognosis, but Jesus’ resurrection changed our outcome to life.
Jesus is the medicine that saves us from our spiritual sickness. He cleanses our diseased hearts through the waters of holy Baptism and puts in our starving mouths the nourishing food and drink of His holy body and blood. He speaks powerful promises into our ears, “I have good news for you!” He says. “Your sins are all forgiven! You will not die, but live! I am the Great Physician; I know what I am saying. I do not lie.”
We need this good news, and so do all who are spiritually sick. The side effects of our sinful condition are many. Many things cause pain and distress in this world. And the Lord knows the suffering of every heart and soul. He wants to apply the healing grace of His Word, so that despair turns into hope and sorrow turns into joy.
Just as Luke proclaimed The Holy Gospel, which Heals the Hurting Soul, we declare the same Gospel to one another, both to those who believe and those we pray will believe in the future. We want all to join Luke and Paul and us in fighting the good fight, finishing the race, and keeping the faith. We want all to know that there is salvation for sinners, and that on the last day, the Lord promises to give “the crown of righteousness” to all who trust in Him.
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(picture from 15th century Greek painting of St. Luke)