The Second Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 14:16-24
In Christ Jesus, who mercifully invites us to partake of His great riches of salvation and life both now and forever, dear fellow redeemed:
I think it’s probably more fun to watch game shows than to take part in them. When you are simply a viewer, you don’t feel the pressure the contestants do. You can sit on your couch and second guess the decisions they make. You can question their mental abilities. You can think how you would have played it safe when they took chances, or how you would have taken chances when they played it safe. It’s easy to be an expert about these things when you have nothing on the line.
But suppose you were taking part in a game show, and you could see the prize behind door number one but not behind door number two. In one contest, the prize behind door number one is a new truck. In another, the prize is a new house. In another, the prize is a new plot of tillable land. And in each case, the contestants are assured that the prize behind door number two is even more valuable. Do you turn your back on door number one for a chance to open door number two?
We could understand if the contestants went with the prizes they could see. The prizes behind door number one are good prizes! But what if the host told the contestants that while the prizes behind door number one will last for a while and be useful for a while, the prizes behind door number two have eternal benefits? Would you go for the prize you can see and know what to do with, or for the prize you cannot see or comprehend?
Or let’s put it this way: The prizes behind door number one are things for our earthly life only. The prizes behind door number two are things for our spiritual life, both now and forever. Which is the better prize? Many choose the earthly things like the men did in Jesus’ parable. One man excused himself from the great banquet because he wanted to go check out a new field. Another man excused himself because he had to try out his new oxen. Another excused himself because he had a new wife.
Possessions—work—family—all of them are blessings from God. But none of these physical blessings should take priority over God’s spiritual blessings. Is a new truck better than the forgiveness of sins? Is family better than the faith that saves? Is temporarily owning land better than the eternal inheritance stored up for us in heaven?
Of course these earthly blessings are not better, but we can see them. And the things we can see have a powerful effect on us. We imagine the invitees to the great banquet wondering to themselves if it would really be all that “great.” “What if the banquet is boring? What if the food isn’t that good? What if I don’t like the company? Better to stick with what I know I like.” They figured they had more to lose in attending the banquet than they did in staying home.
But the great banquet that Jesus talks about is no common event with common goods. It is a feast of the richest of foods, foods that never make you feel uneasy or unfilled, foods that you never grow tired of eating. The great banquet is the feast of salvation which God invites sinners to partake of. He invites them to exchange their dirty rags with the wedding garments of righteousness, to be His honored guests at the head table, and to enjoy all the rich gifts He has to offer.
The Lord expects nothing of His guests except that they take His invitation seriously. Jesus’ parable shows clearly that the Lord does not choose the brightest and best and wealthiest and most impressive for His kingdom. He chooses “the poor and crippled and blind and lame,” anyone who can be found no matter their condition, no matter their station in life. He desires to fill His house, and He welcomes every sort.
The guests that attend the banquet may come from different areas and speak different languages. They may have very different backgrounds and customs. But they all have one thing in common: they are all sinners. The great banquet is for sinners. If you are not a sinner, you can ignore this invitation. If you are not a sinner, you can go your merry way. But if you are a sinner, you cannot ignore the Lord’s invitation. You cannot let anything keep you from attending the feast.
If your favorite singer personally sent you front row tickets to his concert and money for travel, you would do whatever you had to do to get there. If your favorite football team gave you tickets on the fifty yard line, you would be at that game. How much more important, then, to listen to God when He warmly invites you to the banquet of salvation!
The table has been set and the meal has been prepared for you. Each one of you is God’s honored guest. Each one of you has been chosen for salvation by His grace. Your salvation was secured when Jesus fulfilled the holy Law for you and died on the cross for your sins. Then He rose on the third day destroying the claim that death had on you.
This victory over sin and death is served up every time you listen to God’s Word and partake of His Sacraments. Jesus is the Food of this feast. You receive His righteousness, forgiveness, and life whenever you hear the promise of the Gospel and trust that God intends it for you. You taste His grace when you eat His body and drink His blood in His Holy Supper. Jesus is the Food, and you need to fill up!
But it isn’t enough just to come to church. If you are coming just to keep up appearances, if you are coming just to show people how good you are, then you might as well stay home. If all you can think about is how boring this banquet is, or how bland the food, or how little you like the company around you, then you can sit alone at home in your pajamas and rule over your own little kingdom with an easy chair as your throne and a smart phone or remote control as your scepter.
But if you know what you are to the depths of your heart—a sinner—, if you recognize how little you deserve the Lord’s invitation to salvation, if you can see that you have nothing good—nothing worth having—apart from your merciful Savior, then you are in the right place. You are in the place where Jesus promises to meet you. He is the one who died for you. He is the one who rose again from the dead for you. He is the one who is seated at the right hand of God the Father, ruling over all things for your good.
He is here to forgive your sins, to take them away as far as the east is from the west. He is here to strengthen your faith, so that you are not tempted away by the treasures of the world. He is here to comfort you in your trials and to give you courage to confess His saving name. Jesus is here, and He invites you to have everything that is His.
Why is the Lord so good to you? That’s what the “poor and crippled and blind and lame” wondered, the ones living in the back alleys and the back woods. Why should they be invited to a great banquet? The first guests who were invited thought they were better than the master and his banquet. They thought they were above him. The guests who actually attended knew they didn’t deserve such attention and riches. They could not imagine that a seat at the table was reserved for them. They had to be compelled to come.
You also must be compelled to come to the Lord’s banquet. You wouldn’t attend on your own. You know you don’t deserve it. You know all your sins which should disqualify you from being in His holy company. But the Holy Spirit comes through God’s Word of promise and works faith in your heart to believe that His promises are intended for you.
The Holy Spirit comes announcing your invitation to the banquet. When you hesitate about it or doubt it, He repeats the promise and keeps repeating it: “The Master expects you. Your seat is reserved. The food is prepared. Everything is now ready. Come!” “But no,” you say, “it can’t be. There must be some mistake.” So He peels open your fingers, and He presses into your hand the invitation to the banquet with your name on it. “At your Baptism, your name was officially registered on the guest list,” He says. “You are supposed to be at the great banquet. You belong there now, and your place is secure there forever.”
Without the Holy Spirit’s work through the Word, we would ignore God’s invitation. We would stick with door number one, the treasures of this world that pass away. We would never see the great riches behind door number two, the treasures of heaven which God gives to all who trust in Him.
To receive and retain these great riches, you have to be willing to walk away from some things that appear to be good. You may have to walk away from opportunities that would lead to more success and more glory on earth. But those things are not as grand as they seem. They are only temporary.
The riches that the Lord has stored up for you are far more and far better. He gives them to you now in abundance through His Word and Sacraments, and through them, He prepares you for the celebration to come when you join Him in great feasting and rejoicing in His glorious kingdom.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(woodcut of the poor, the blind, and the lame being invited to the banquet from the 1880 edition of The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation)
The First Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 16:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who in mercy brings down the mighty from their thrones and exalts those of humble estate, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty (Luk. 1:52-53), dear fellow redeemed:
In some places, you would hardly go a day without seeing a homeless person. In our communities, you might not see one in a calendar year. When you do happen to see one, what is your gut reaction? Is it disgust? Compassion? Curiosity? You probably find it hard to imagine how the person got to be in that situation. Isn’t there some family member or friend who could help them? Couldn’t they just get a job?
The solution to homelessness is hardly ever so simple. We can’t tell by looking at them what is in their past, what difficulties they might have experienced. Their homelessness might be self-inflicted due to poor choices they have made or even from laziness. Or they may be victims of circumstances outside of their control, like terrible mistreatment by others or serious mental illness.
From the information we have about Lazarus, we don’t know how he became a beggar. It could very well have been a mixture of wrongs done by others along with poor choices he had made. When we are introduced to him, he had already lost everything—a home, personal possessions, and good health.
We can picture him, skin and bones, dressed in rags, flies buzzing around, Lazarus groaning, hardly able to lift his face or an empty hand, dogs sniffing him and licking his sores. The best that he could hope for, the thing that filled his thoughts every day, was the possibility of table scraps. The rich man didn’t need those, Lazarus wouldn’t be any trouble, just let him have a little of what was heading for the landfill.
The status and appearance of the rich man was exactly the opposite. He was healthy, lots of meat on his bones, clothed in purple and fine linen, more than enough food, plenty of friends and admirers, thoughts filled with parties and pleasures. People wanted to know him. They wanted his attention. They wanted to be like him. He was the guy you hoped to see at a fundraiser, the guy you wanted on the board of directors. The rich man mattered. The beggar did not matter.
But then something happened, something that put the beggar and the rich man on exactly the same level. That something does not care if a person is homeless or lives in a mansion, if he has mere pennies or millions of dollars. That something is death. No one can escape it. No amount of money can buy one’s way out of it. Lazarus might have died sooner than the rich man, but both of them died.
Some people might hear this and say, “It is true that death comes to everyone, but as long as we are here, we would rather live rich than poor!” So their whole focus in this life is gathering and growing, more things, nicer things, fun and games, parties and pleasures. Jesus told a parable about this, about a rich farmer who was so successful that he decided to do nothing but “relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luk. 12:19). He did not give thanks to God. He did not think about the needs of his neighbor. He thought only about himself. And God said, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (v. 20).
If we live only for the riches of this life, we might look impressive to the people around us—they might know our name—, but we really have nothing, nothing that matters. This is the central thought in today’s text. Everything is backward from how it appears. The wealthy one wasn’t really the rich man, it was Lazarus. The rich man appeared to have it all but lost everything he valued. The beggar appeared to have nothing but gained greater riches than this world can comprehend.
What was it that reversed their fortunes so completely? The difference was faith. Lazarus believed that even though he had nothing, even though he suffered, God still loved him and would take him to heaven by His grace. The rich man had no time for God, or if he mentioned God, it was only lip-service. He may have talked about “being blessed,” and “having God smile upon him,” but he really thought he was the master of his own success. He had everything he wanted—what more could he need from God?
The rich man was actually a beggar, but he didn’t know it. This is the fatal error that so many still make today. We are all beggars—all of us rich and poor, powerful and weak—every single one of us is a nobody and we have nothing apart from the merciful Lord. We need the spiritual gifts that only God can give us. And He wants to give them—He is eager to give them. How does He give them? It’s through “Moses and the Prophets.”
“Moses and the Prophets” is a shorthand way of talking about the entire Old Testament. The New Testament hadn’t been written down yet, so “Moses and the Prophets” referred to the whole of the inspired Word of God that the people had access to. That means they had the Law of God which revealed their sinfulness. And they had the clear promise of salvation through the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
Through this powerful Word, the Holy Spirit worked repentance and faith. He opened people’s eyes to recognize how far they had fallen away from God, and also to see His ongoing love and compassion toward them. This is how Lazarus came to possess everything spiritually though he had nothing physically. Whatever the reasons for his homelessness, he repented of his sins and trusted in his Savior. His stomach was empty, but his heart was full, full of faith, full of hope, full of love.
He had more than meets the eye. And the same is true for you. You may not have much that catches people’s attention. You might not wear the latest styles of clothing or have a very nice house. You may not be well-known or well-respected. Your best might never seem good enough. The fact is, you are just a temporary inhabitant of this world. You will come and go, and sooner or later your name will be forgotten.
The world will forget your name, but God does not. Ancient history books have no record of the beggar Lazarus whom we hear about in today’s Gospel reading, but God knew him. His name was recorded in the Book of Life. So is yours. Your name is written there because the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, poured out His blood to pay for your sins.
Your spiritual poverty was no one’s fault but your own. And Jesus took all your sins on Himself, all your filthy rags of unrighteousness, and He suffered and died in your place. Like Lazarus, He was put outside the gate. He was covered in painful wounds, bleeding, naked, nothing to satisfy His thirst, surrounded by dogs (Psa. 22:16), no one showing mercy. He did that for you, so that you would have a seat at the Master’s table, clothed in brilliant attire, eating and drinking to your heart’s content.
Jesus completely reversed your fortunes. You deserve what the rich man ended up with—eternal torment in hell. Instead you have what Lazarus received—life in the holy name of Jesus. You were dressed in the rags of your own works that could not hide your sins. Now through Holy Baptism, you are clothed in the garments of Jesus’ righteousness. You were hungry for forgiveness and peace with God, unable to come into His presence. Now through Holy Communion, Jesus comes to you and gives you His own holy body and cleansing blood for the remission of your sins.
You, my fellow beggars, are rich—rich beyond compare! You have everything you need for eternal life in heaven. But what if you don’t feel rich? What if the weight of the bad things you have done keeps getting heavier and heavier? What if you can’t shake the burden of guilt over the pain you have caused, the people you have hurt? What if your sins are more than meets the eye, way more than anybody else knows about? God knows about them. He knows all the reasons you are not worthy to stand before Him or receive His grace.
But He has also put me here to speak these words, and He has brought you here to listen to them. The words I am called to speak are these: Your sins are forgiven. You are no longer separated from God. He is not angry with you. He has redeemed you. He paid the price for your soul, because He wants you to spend eternity with Him in His bright kingdom. All of your sins have been erased from your record by the blood of Jesus. You might still remember them, others might know them, but God does not see them anymore.
You are no longer a beggar with nothing. You are a child of God who has everything. You have a Father in heaven who loves you so deeply that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son to save you. You have a Savior who is so gracious toward you that He wants you to have everything that is His, everything that He obtained by His own tears, sweat, and blood. You have the Holy Spirit who comes to you through the Word of God filling you with comfort, hope, and peace.
You Have More Than Meets the Eye. You don’t need what the rich man had. You need what Lazarus had. And you do have it by the grace of God. Through Moses and the Prophets, through the Evangelists and the Apostles, you have the gift of the Holy Spirit. You have faith in Jesus, who made Himself nothing for your sake (Phi. 2:7), “so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Co. 8:9).
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 painting of the beggar Lazarus by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1886)
The Festival of the Holy Trinity – Pr. Faugstad homilies
In Christ Jesus, who is one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit—one God uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty, and worthy of all praise—, dear fellow redeemed:
The Apostles’ Creed
Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus gave His disciples a great commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” He said. “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. 28:18-20). Now if they were to baptize in this way, they would need to teach people who the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are.
This is what the Apostles’ Creed does. But how did this Creed originate? An old tradition was that on Pentecost the twelve apostles gathered together, and each of them contributed a phrase to this statement of faith. While this is possible, the New Testament contains no mention of it happening. We call it the “Apostles’ Creed” not because it was written by the apostles, but because it summarizes the doctrine, or the teaching, of the apostles. We don’t know exactly when it was written, but a statement of faith with similar wording can be traced back to the year 150. So Christians have been reciting this Creed for nearly 2,000 years.
The Apostles’ Creed contains three parts, the first about God the Father, the second about God the Son, and the third about God the Holy Spirit. From an early time, the Apostles’ Creed was known as the “Baptismal Creed.” An adult who wished to be baptized was expected to recite this Creed and be able to explain its teachings before being baptized.
The shortest article of the Apostles’ Creed is about God the Father. He is described as “Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” The earth and everything in outer space did not come about by chance. All things were created by the Father. Every amazing detail came from His own creative brilliance. He was able to do this because there is no limit to what He can do. He is all-powerful, “Almighty.”
The second and longest article of the Apostles’ Creed is about God the Son. God the Father sent His only Son to take on human flesh in the virgin Mary’s womb. The purpose was so that He could suffer and die on the cross in the place of all sinners. Having completed His atoning work, Jesus descended into hell to declare His victory to the demons and to the damned (1Pe. 3:18-20, Col. 2:15). Then He rose from the dead and showed Himself alive to hundreds of His disciples before ascending visibly into heaven. He now rules over all things at the Father’s right hand until His visible return on the last day.
The third article of the Apostles’ Creed tells us how the saving work of Jesus comes to us today. It comes by the power of the Holy Spirit who works in the holy Christian Church. He works in the Church through the powerful Word and Sacraments of God—through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of Baptism and Holy Communion. Wherever the Gospel is, the Holy Spirit is, bringing the forgiveness of sins and preparing the saints of God for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
Let us confess our holy faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed.
The Nicene Creed
The details of the origin of the Nicene Creed are clearer than those of the Apostles’ Creed. The Nicene Creed was formulated at the Council of Nicea in the year 325 and finalized in 381. It was written to settle a doctrinal controversy about the nature of God. A theologian named Arius was trying to argue that God was not triune, but that only the Father was God from eternity. He said that the Son was perfect, but only a creature of God, which meant that “there was a time when he was not” (Arius’ slogan).
Arius was very effective at spreading this unbiblical teaching, and many followed his ideas. With the church divided, the Roman emperor Constantine called for an ecumenical council, or a council for the entire Christian Church. 220 bishops traveled to Nicea for this council, including Arius. Through the efforts of a young pastor named Athanasius, who at the time was only twenty-nine years old, the council affirmed the teaching of the Bible that God is triune. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, of one substance, but are still three distinct Persons. By the grace of God, Arius’ false teaching had been rejected.
The Nicene Creed is similar in many ways to the Apostles’ Creed, but it is expanded for important reasons. God the Father is again confessed as the almighty Creator, but the phrase “of all things visible and invisible” is added. This is a reference to Colossians 1:16, which states that “by the Son,” the Father created “all things… in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” If the Son participated in every part of creation, He could not be a creature Himself.
The second part of the Nicene Creed clearly outlines the teaching that the Son is eternally God. The Son is “begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” If the truth of the Bible had not been preserved, the certainty of our salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection would have been lost. If the eternal Son of God was not there on the cross for us, the scales of God’s justice could not have been balanced. But because Jesus is true God, our guilt is atoned for and our sin is forgiven.
The third part of the Nicene Creed emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is also our eternal Lord. He is the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Because He is true God, He deserves to be worshipped and glorified. He inspired the words of the Bible by speaking through the prophets and apostles. And He continues to bring us the gifts of Jesus. Unlike the Apostles’ Creed, this Creed specifically confesses “one Baptism for the remission of sins.” This shows that the early Church rightly viewed Baptism not as our work for God as some of the Reformed and Baptist churches teach, but as God’s work for us.
Let us confess our holy faith in the words of the Nicene Creed.
The Athanasian Creed
The Athanasian Creed bears the name of the great defender of the faith, Athanasius, who helped guide the formation of the Nicene Creed. But like the Apostles’ Creed, which probably was not written by the apostles but is based on their teaching, so it is with the Athanasian Creed. The earliest evidence of this Creed dates to the mid-400s, fifty years or so after the death of Athanasius.
The Athanasian Creed is by far the longest of the three ecumenical creeds, and it is not structured like the other two. It was written to explain in detail the Bible’s teaching about the one true God. It teaches that God is triune, one God in three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that God is three people or that He has three personalities. “Triune” means that while distinctions can be made about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, they share the same substance; they are one God.
Our minds are not able to comprehend this truth and sort it out. But then it shouldn’t surprise us that there are things about the almighty, eternal God that are beyond our limited reason. We believe what God has revealed about Himself in His holy Word. We believe no more and no less than what the Bible teaches.
The very beginning of the Creed speaks about “the catholic faith.” The word “catholic” means “universal,” so the catholic faith is the universal Christian faith based on the Bible’s teaching. It does not mean the Roman Catholic faith, which is not always based on the Bible. The end of the Creed says something surprising. It says, “they that have done good will enter into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.” This is actually a direct quote from Jesus (Joh. 5:29). He is not teaching us to trust in our own good works. He is referring to the good that is only possible by faith in Him, and also to the evil that is counted against those who reject Him.
Let us confess our holy faith in the words of the Athanasian Creed.
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.
(Historical information from “I Believe: A Study of the Three Universal or Ecumenical Creeds” by Bjarne W. Teigen, 1976)
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(picture from painting of the First Council of Nicea in 325)
The Festival of Pentecost & Confirmation – Pr. Faugstad exordium and sermon
The difference between a little fire and a wildfire is the wind. You can’t control the wind. You can try to block it with trees or buildings, but you can’t make it stop. You can’t slow it down when it screams by like a locomotive, and you can’t grab it by its tail. “The wind blows where it wishes,” said Jesus, “and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Joh. 3:8).
With a sound “like a mighty rushing wind,” God the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on Pentecost and “tongues as of fire appeared” and rested on them (Act. 2:2-3). The disciples did not harness the Spirit; the Spirit harnessed them. He rushed into them and filled them with faith and boldness and understanding, and He gave them inspired words to speak.
They spoke about “the mighty works of God” (v. 11). They spoke about Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, who died and rose again for the salvation of sinners (vv. 22-32). They spoke about His exaltation at the right hand of God the Father and His pouring out of the Spirit just as He promised (v. 33).
And like a wildfire racing on the wind, the message of God’s grace toward sinners burned in the hearts of one after another in the crowd. They cried out to the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v. 37). And Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). Three thousand were born again that day through Baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And the fire and the wind of the Holy Spirit have continued to rush along and ignite faith in the hearts of sinners down to this very day. We hear the wind of the Spirit blowing in the Gospel message of our redemption and resurrection through Jesus. We see the fire of the Spirit burning when more and more are led to the baptismal font to be clothed with Christ and brought to the altar to be fed and filled by Christ.
We don’t control the Spirit, but God sends Him to kindle in us the fire of His holiness, His life, and His love. We now rise to sing our festival verse, hymn #399, “O Light of God’s Most Wondrous Love”:
O Light of God’s most wondrous love,
Who dost our darkness brighten,
Shed on Thy Church from heav’n above,
Our eye of faith enlighten!
As in Thy light we gather here,
Show us that Christ’s own promise clear
Is Yea and Amen ever.
O risen and ascended Lord,
We wait fulfillment of Thy Word;
O bless us with Thy favor!
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Sermon text: St. John 14:23-31
In Christ Jesus, who kept His promise that the Father and the Son would send out the Holy Spirit for our instruction, comfort, and salvation, dear fellow redeemed, and especially you, Kole/Wyatt, on your Confirmation Day:
When you were younger, you learned to sing the simple phrase, “Jesus loves me! This I know, For the Bible tells me so.” It comes from a children’s song, but it is the kind of children’s song that you never outgrow. No matter how many years God gives you, it will always be true that Jesus loves you. You know this, for the Bible tells you so.
But why should you trust what the Bible says? You can trust it because the Bible is not a collection of human opinions or thoughts. Paul said that he and the other apostles spoke “in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1Co. 2:13, ESV). Peter wrote that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2Pe. 1:21).
The Bible was written down by men, but it is God’s Word. That means the Bible is powerful. When God speaks, His Word is done. The Holy Spirit is the Person of God who carries out the commands of God. Jesus told His disciples that “[w]hen the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (Joh. 16:13).
The Holy Spirit’s first aim is to reveal our sin to us, so we recognize our need for a Savior. He does this through the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are God’s will for moral conduct that does not change whether it is the year 2021 B. C. or today. Even without studying the Commandments too deeply, we see that we have broken each one. And God makes it clear that the breakers of the Law could never be the fixers of the Law. The imperfect can never raise themselves to the level of His holiness. So the Holy Spirit brings us Jesus.
Jesus is the true Son of God begotten of the Father from eternity, and He is also true Man born of the virgin Mary. He saved us from the condemnation of the Law by fulfilling it completely in our place. And then He died on the cross to pay for our sins. The passages that our confirmands have chosen beautifully express what Jesus’ death means for us. Kole’s passage is 1 John 1:7: “The blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin.” And Wyatt’s is Ephesians 1:7: “In [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.”
The Holy Spirit brings you Jesus by imparting His holy life and His saving blood to you through the powerful Word and Sacraments of God. You were baptized into Jesus when His forgiveness was applied to you and His righteousness placed over you by water and the Spirit. You are filled with Jesus when the Holy Spirit gives you faith to believe that you eat Jesus’ true body and drink His true blood in the Supper for the remission of your sins.
There is no question that Jesus loves you. He proved it by His holy life and death to save you, and He still proves it by coming to you, even to your sinful heart and mind, to give you His gifts. But do you love Jesus? Loving Jesus is more than just saying so. We want our actions of love for Jesus to speak even more loudly than our words of love. Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.” What does it mean to “keep” His Word? The verb used here does not mean to “obey,” it means to “hold onto” or “pay attention to.” If we love Jesus, we will keep His Word close. We will listen to what He says. We will gladly hear and learn it.
So I ask again: Do you love Jesus? Kole/Wyatt, you have learned to study God’s Word more deeply and thoroughly in the last two years than ever before. You have committed many Bible passages to your memory. It has become clear to you what Jesus has done for you, and what He still does for you through His Word and Sacraments. But as much as you have grown in your faith, and as eager as you are to receive Jesus’ body and blood in His Supper, you know that you don’t love Jesus like you should. None of us does.
If we loved Jesus like we should, nothing would be more important to us than His Word. We would fill our whole day with its reading and meditation, and we still couldn’t get enough. We would eagerly live according to it. We would gladly speak its promises to others. We would willingly set aside every pursuit, every passion, every plan to follow the voice of our good Shepherd, to listen to and take comfort in His Word.
But we are sinners. We are weak. We often think the world has more to offer us than the Word. Sometimes we even “despise preaching and His Word” (Catechism, Third Commandment). We don’t want to hear it. We rebel against it. It seems like our sinful stubbornness and selfishness would cause Jesus to stop loving us, stop speaking to us, go and find others who would appreciate Him more. But that is not the case. He has brought us all safely here today because He wants us to hear His Word. He wants to come to us and dwell with us.
Jesus keeps coming through His Word day after day and week after week. The Father and the Holy Spirit come too. The Triune God is not ashamed to associate with us sinners. Our merciful and gracious God is eager to bless us. This is why We Hold the Word of God Sacred. God’s Word is our connection to His gifts. His Word is the channel, the conduit, the pipeline through which He comes down and meets us in all our sin, trouble, and doubt. He does not come to punish us or harm us. He comes to forgive us, comfort us, and save us.
We hold His Word close and pay attention to it, because we know that His Word is the way that God keeps us close and the way that He defends us from the attacks of the devil, the world, and our own flesh. We show our love for Jesus by holding tightly to His Word, and Jesus shows His love for us by coming and strengthening us in the faith through the same Word. Jesus says, “If you abide in my word—dwell in it, remain in it, live in it—, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Joh. 8:31-32).
We don’t like to think about it, but the opposite is also true. If we do not abide in His Word—if we do not dwell in it, remain in it, live in it—, we will no longer be His disciples, we will fall away from the truth, and we will return to the slavery of sin and death. Jesus says, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words”—this one does not “hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it” (Third Commandment).
God grant to our confirmands and to each one of us that we do not grow out of the Word as we grow older, but that we grow more and more into it; that we do not lose our handle on the Word, but hold it ever more tightly. God will not fail to bless us through His sacred Word. The all-powerful, all-gracious, all-holy Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will come to us and make their home with us. Then we will have all that we need, peace will fill our hearts, and His love will bring us joy and purpose for every day He gives us.
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(picture from stained glass by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, c. 1660)
The Sunday after the Ascension – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 15:26-16:4
In Christ Jesus, our risen and ascended Lord who continues to prepare us and strengthen us for coming trials and troubles through His holy means of grace, dear fellow redeemed:
The night before His death, Jesus told His disciples that He was going away. He told them He was returning to the Father. At the time, they didn’t understand what this meant. They didn’t see why He should have to die and rise again and ascend into heaven. And now all these things had taken place. Jesus had gone away. He had ascended to the right hand of His Father. Now what?
Jesus had prepared them for this too. He said that a Helper would come from God the Father and God the Son. This Helper is the Spirit of Truth, God the Holy Spirit. He would come to teach the disciples all things and bring to their remembrance all that Jesus told them (Joh. 14:26). He would come to guide them into all the truth of God (16:13) and glorify the Son through this Gospel teaching.
Along with the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus told His disciples He was sending them to proclaim salvation to all nations (Mat. 28:19-20, Mar. 16:15-16, Luk. 24:47). They were witnesses of His mighty words and actions during the three years of His public work, and they saw Him alive again after His death on the cross (Luk. 24:46-48). They would tell the whole world what Jesus had done to save sinners, so that more and more would repent and believe.
Jesus promised these things before His ascension and now He had gone, but nothing had happened yet. The disciples knew it wouldn’t be long. Jesus ordered them to “stay in [Jerusalem] until [they were] clothed with power from on high” (Luk. 24:49). So the disciples waited. But they were not idle.
The evangelist Luke writes that they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (v. 52). “[W]ith one accord,” they “were devoting themselves to prayer,” and they “were continually in the temple blessing God” (Act. 1:14, Luk. 24:53). That’s a far cry from the terror they felt when Jesus was crucified. Then they hid together in an out of the way place, worrying that Jesus’ enemies would come for them next. But now they were “continually in the temple”—out in the open, no longer afraid.
How could the disciples not be afraid? Jesus had warned them that because He chose them out of the world, therefore the world hated them (Joh. 15:19). And, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (v. 20). In today’s text, He told them, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”
If you were in their shoes, would you be afraid? There are a lot of things that scare us, and death is near the top of the list. But can you think of anything you might fear more than death? In other words, is there anything you would be willing to die for? Jesus’ disciples believed there was. They were willing to die for the truth. They were willing to die for Jesus. They were willing to do this because they now understood what He came to do for them. They realized that He died and rose again to save them and all sinners.
Nothing would be worse than to lose Jesus, to lose their Lord and Savior. They feared that more than anything. Even when Peter and John were brought before the very men who conspired to kill Jesus, they declared, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Act. 4:20). We must tell the truth, they said, even if it results in our death.
That sounds simple, but it isn’t so simple in practice. We like to think we would respond heroically if someone ordered us to deny Jesus or die. We can picture ourselves defiantly speaking the truth. But what if the stakes were higher than your own life? What if the lives of the people you love the most were threatened? Would you deny Jesus to save their lives?
Hard questions like these are the reason Jesus warned His disciples in advance about trials. He wanted them to be ready for the difficult times to come. He said that these troubles would continue until His return on the last day: “[T]hey will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death,” He said at another point, “and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mat. 24:9-13).
“[T]he one who endures to the end will be saved,” He says. But how can we endure under such troubling circumstances? As much as we like to imagine ourselves as brave and bold, it is not hard to think of times when we let our fears get the best of us. When the truth was needed, we went along with the lie. When God called us to stand out, we tried our best to fit in. When a fellow Christian needed support, we hid ourselves away.
In this, we have something in common with Jesus’ disciples. They fled when Jesus was arrested. Later that same night when Peter thought his life was in danger, he denied even knowing Jesus. And all the disciples huddled together in fear. How did those timid men become so courageous? It was not by the strength of their faith or the strength of their own will. It was by the strength that God supplied them. He supplies the same strength to you.
A soldier on the battlefront gains physical strength from good food and drink. And when the battle is raging, he is strengthened by encouraging words from his superior, “Hold your ground! Take courage! Fight!” The same goes for the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. Jesus strengthens us with the nourishing food and drink of His own body and blood. And He strengthens us by filling our ears with inspired words. That’s how He prepared those first disciples for the conflict, and it is how He prepares us.
Just because Jesus ascended into heaven visibly, does not mean He is no longer with us. He still works among us and in us. He is with us always through His powerful means of grace. Wherever His Gospel message of salvation is proclaimed, He is present, right here and now, delivering His gifts.
And “the Helper” is with Him, the Holy Spirit, who bears witness about Him. The Holy Spirit confirms the truth of Jesus’ saving work in our heart and mind. He brings us faith to believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was for our sins, and that His resurrection from the dead was the victory over our death.
The continued presence of Jesus through His Word and Sacraments, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through those same powerful means, explains the disciples’ new-found courage. This is why they were ready for the difficulties they faced. This is why they did not fear death. This is why when they were beaten for preaching the Gospel, they rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus]” (Act. 5:41).
You may be unsure if you are ready for this kind of suffering. And if you try to draw from some kind of strength and courage inside you or rely on preparations you have made, you will continue to doubt. God is the one who prepares you. He gets you battle-ready. Through Holy Baptism, He imparts the certain hope that His armor is covering you and that He will not leave your side in the battle. Through Holy Communion, He gives you the confidence that your strength will not fail, because He is in you to fight for you. And through the preaching of His Word, He gives you the courage of knowing that nothing can separate you from His love and mercy.
When the Lord gives you such hope and confidence and courage, then you are ready to suffer all things for the sake of His name and truth. You do not know what you will have to face in the future. You don’t know how the devil, the world, and your own flesh will conspire to destroy your faith. But you do know that the Lord is with you.
The disciples knew that too. Jesus was no longer visibly present, but He was still with them. They were not alone. They were not forgotten. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. Your Savior is preparing you even now for the trials and difficulties that lie ahead. He will not leave you to fend for yourself. He will strengthen you, and He will keep you in His constant care.
And at some point when the days He has numbered for you have all been counted, He will give you eternal relief from your current struggle here on earth. He will call your soul to His realm of glory and will let your body be laid to rest. Then finally the day will come that He has prepared, the day of ultimate victory, when He will return visibly with great power and will put an end to all conflict. Then in the flesh, made whole again and glorified, you will enter into the never-ending peace and gladness of the Father’s kingdom.
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(picture from “The Stoning of Stephen” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Second Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 20:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who took our sins to His grave and rose from the dead with forgiveness, life, and peace for us, dear fellow redeemed:
When the ancient Pharaohs were buried, they were buried with all sorts of treasures and provisions. The tomb of King Tut contained over 5,000 items including a solid gold coffin, weapons of war, furniture, food, and clothing. The Egyptians believed they would need all these things in the afterlife. But ultimately those treasures lay unused until robbers or archaeologists found them. The Pharaohs were buried with great plenty but never lived again to use it.
Jesus was put in a tomb with nothing but burial cloths and the spices that accompanied them. The Jews did not believe like the Egyptians that earthly things could be taken into the eternal realm. The Jews believed that death was death, so they assumed that the amazing work of Jesus was over and done. They would not see Him again on earth.
Suppose they had believed Jesus’ promise that He would rise again. What do you think they would have buried with Him in the tomb? Maybe some food and clothes? Some ointment for His wounds? If they had believed His promise, I think they would have wanted to be there in the tomb with Him, waiting and watching for Him to start breathing again.
But His disciples did not believe, not yet. Today’s text describes what happened on the evening of Easter. Jesus had risen from the dead early that morning and appeared to several women who came to the tomb expecting to find His dead body. He had spoken to two of His followers on the road to Emmaus. And at some point that day, He had also appeared to Simon Peter.
But none of these appearances coaxed His disciples out of their fear and hiding. They remained huddled together in an out-of-the-way place in Jerusalem. They felt completely lost without their confident Leader. They probably tried to remember the things He had told them, but none of it seemed to do much good now that He was gone. They almost certainly felt ashamed for boasting that they would fight with Him to the death before deserting Him when He was arrested. As much as they would like to be with Him again, how could they bear to look Him in the eye?
Then suddenly Jesus was standing right there in the room, right in their midst! We expect the first words from Jesus’ mouth to be something like, “Now do you believe?” or, “Why didn’t you listen to what I said?” or, “Why are you here hiding?” But the first words from His mouth were, “Peace to you!” Jesus was not concerned about punishing His weak disciples or hatching a payback plan against those who beat Him and crucified Him. He did not come to “take names” or to “take revenge.” He came to give, to give gifts.
His sacrificial death brought peace with God. If Jesus had not suffered and died for our sins, we would still be opposed to God. We would be His enemies, and His wrath would be turned toward us (Rom. 5:9-10). Because we have proven ourselves to be no more faithful than the disciples. We wonder why they didn’t believe when Jesus told them He would rise again. But others could wonder why we haven’t lived the way God has told us to in His Ten Commandments. God always speaks clearly and truthfully, but we do not always listen to and follow Him faithfully.
We don’t deserve to have peace with God. But “Peace!” is what Jesus declared when He rose from the dead. He made peace by going to the cross and shedding His blood in payment for our sins (Col. 1:20). This is why He said, “It is finished!” just before He died (Joh. 19:30). But those words would have been empty if Jesus had not risen from the dead. He could have said whatever He wanted and made whatever promises, but none of them would have mattered if He stayed in the grave.
His resurrection proved that He truly was the Son of God and that His work to save sinners was complete. His empty tomb shows that peace was made between God and sinners. God is not at war with us. He wants to empty tombs, not fill them. He promises that all who trust in Jesus as their only Savior will rise just as Jesus rose. St. Paul writes that He “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 4:25-5:1).
So Jesus rose with a message of peace for His disciples. It wasn’t the first time He had promised them peace. Shortly before His death, He told them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Joh. 14:27). And how did He find them just a few days later? With troubled and fearful hearts (Luk. 24:38). But “the things that [made] for peace” had been accomplished (Luk. 19:42). He had died and risen again. The peace of His forgiveness and life was not dependent on their actions or attitude. The “Peace!” He declared was a gift coming from His saving work.
It was a gift He wanted others to have too. “Peace to you,” He said again. “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you. What a strange thing! The disciples might have expected Jesus to disown them for their weakness and faithlessness. Instead He commissioned them to bring His message of peace to the world.
Then we come across a detail in our text that causes us to scratch our heads a bit. St. John writes that after declaring “Peace!” for the second time, Jesus “breathed on them.” We don’t usually think of getting “breathed on” as a positive thing. Think back to when you were a kid. Did you ever tell your brother or sister to go away and stop breathing on you? And in our year of facemasks and social distancing, getting “breathed on” was avoided by people around the world.
But Jesus breathed on His disciples. His breathing on them was tied directly to the words that followed, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, so they would be equipped to bring His peace to others.
One Lutheran commentator argues that Jesus did not breathe on each disciple individually but on the group as a whole. If it had been individually, He would have done the same for Thomas when He appeared again a week later. But this breathing out of the Spirit was not just for these special individuals; it was for the Church of all time (The Wenzel Commentary, p. 792).
Jesus has given the Church the authority to forgive sins or to retain sins. This is called the “Office of the Keys.” To those who are sorry for their sins and believe in Jesus as their Savior, the Church declares “Peace!” We tell them that the door to heaven is open to them because of what Jesus has done. But for those who are not sorry for their sins, the Church cannot declare “Peace!” Peace was won for them by Jesus, but the unrepentant reject it by denying their sins. Until they admit their sins, heaven is closed to them.
No one can make another repent of their sins and trust Jesus’ Word of peace. It is not in our power to change hearts. But God can. He does this transformative work through His Word. Wherever the Word is, God the Holy Spirit is active. Jesus clearly tied together the message about what He had accomplished with the ongoing work of the Spirit. And we see the effect His Spirit-filled Word had on His disciples. They went from anxiety and doubt to comfort and confidence.
The Holy Spirit does the same for you when you hear the powerful Word of God. Through the Word and Sacraments, Jesus comes right here in our midst. He comes to you in the midst of your troubles and sorrows and doubts, and He says, “Peace to you!” He breathes His rich blessings of forgiveness and life upon you by sending the Holy Spirit to you. The Holy Spirit assures you that everything Jesus did was for you.
Anyone can know the facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection. But knowing the facts alone does not save you. You are saved by believing that Jesus’ death and resurrection were for you, that He reconciled you eternally with God, that He won your freedom from sin, death, and devil. This gives great comfort as you struggle along in this life and are afflicted by anxieties and fears. Jesus triumphed over all your enemies and continues to bring you the comfort, hope, and strength of His victory.
Those Pharaohs stored up treasures in their tombs out of greed and selfishness, but all of it was taken from them. Jesus took no riches into His tomb, but He emerged with wonderful gifts to give. Jesus gives these gifts every time you partake of the Word and Sacraments in church and as you encourage one another in personal conversation.
Wherever Jesus’ Word of peace is declared, the Holy Spirit is working to turn doubts into confidence and sorrows to gladness. The gifts of Jesus bring peace to our troubled hearts and prepare us to depart this world in peace to join Him in heavenly glory.
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(picture from “Doubting Thomas” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872
The Festival of the Reformation – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 1:16-17
In Christ Jesus, who “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Ti. 3:5), dear fellow redeemed:
Who is responsible for the Reformation movement? The answer that comes immediately to mind is Martin Luther, the bold monk from Wittenberg, Germany. But that is not really correct. The one who brought about the Reformation was God the Holy Spirit. The Reformation did not grow out of someone’s personality, personal strength, or intellectual ability. It grew out of the powerful Word of God.
To be specific, the Reformation can be said to have grown out of the short text before us today from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. It may seem straightforward and comforting to us, but it was terribly perplexing to Martin Luther. The part that troubled him the most was the part about “the righteousness of God.” He said these words “struck [his] conscience like lightning” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 54, p. 193), and that they were “like a thunderbolt in [his] heart” (LW, Vol. 54, pp. 308-309). He went as far as to say he hated these words.
He had been taught to understand “the righteousness of God” as referring to the vengeful God who punished unrighteous sinners. He explained it in this way: “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction [by the good works he had done]. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God” (LW, Vol. 34, pp. 336-337).
But as discouraged as he was by this text, he couldn’t leave it alone. He couldn’t shake the sense that he was missing something. The ideas didn’t seem to match up. On the one hand, Paul wrote about “the righteousness of God.” On the other hand, he cited a passage from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk about how “The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther had been taught and was convinced that no one could be righteous before God unless he did enough good works to please Him. But Paul was connecting righteousness to faith.
One day Luther was sitting in the tower at his monastery pondering the words before us today, when it suddenly dawned on him. He realized the problem was not with the text—the problem was with him! He said he now “began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God” (LW, Vol. 34, pp. 337). He learned that there was a difference between “the righteousness of the law” and “the righteousness of the gospel.”
The righteousness of the law is how God requires us to live according to the Ten Commandments. But the righteousness of the gospel is not about what we do at all. The righteousness of the gospel is all about what God gives to sinners according to His grace. What Luther learned in these two short verses is the proper distinction between God’s Law and God’s Gospel (LW, Vol. 54, pp. 442-443). He didn’t come to this understanding on his own. He gave all glory to God. He said, “The Holy Spirit unveiled the Scriptures for me” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 194).
This is why I said that God the Holy Spirit brought about the Reformation. But there are many who disagree. They wish the Reformation had never happened. They view it as the work of the devil. They feel this way because the Reformation caused the church to break in pieces like it never had before. Besides dividing the Lutherans and Roman Catholics, the Reformation also led to the formation of other Christian denominations like the Anabaptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists. (We’ll be studying these denominations in more detail in our next Bible Class.)
We, too, are sad that the church is so divided. But we thank God for the Reformation. Before the Reformation, the Gospel message of salvation had been obscured. Christians were not confident that their sins were forgiven because of what Jesus did. They were terrified of death because they thought they would be in purgatory a long, long time paying for their sins. This is why they jumped at the chance to buy indulgences authorized by the pope. They were told that as soon as they purchased an indulgence, they could send a loved one from purgatory to heaven and store up merit for themselves.
But an indulgence is not needed for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Jesus is. He stated this clearly when He said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Joh. 3:16). We call this “the Gospel in a nutshell.” This is the good news—that God the Father sent His Son to take on our flesh to save us. Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life under the Law for us, and He carried all our sins to the cross to atone for them there. We are saved because of what He did and not because of anything we do. As soon as we believe this good news by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have eternal life in Him.
This runs contrary to natural human thinking. We think that since we messed up, since we sinned, we have to fix it. We have to make up for our wrongs by doing lots of good. Even we who know this is not the case still beat ourselves up over past sins. We won’t let ourselves live in the grace of God. We won’t let ourselves rejoice in His wonderful love and goodness toward us. “I have sinned too much,” we think. “My faults are too many.”
Do you realize that is just another way of saying that Jesus is not much of a Savior? If your sins are too great, if your past is too horrible for God to forgive you, then He is a very limited God, and Jesus was wasting His time on the cross. Why was Jesus there if not for you? Why did He suffer if your sins could not be forgiven? Or was He there because your sins could be forgiven? And did He rise again from the dead because your sins are forgiven? This is why He suffered, died, and rose again: to blot out all of your sins with His precious blood and to win your eternal salvation.
You’re not alone in wondering if this message of the Gospel is too good to be true. Luther wondered this. So did the Apostle Paul. Paul admitted he was “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” of God. But, he said, “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1Ti. 1:14-15).
Paul spread this Gospel message all over Europe. No matter how much he was ridiculed and attacked, he would not stop preaching the good news. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” he wrote, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” It is hard for us to understand how a message, a collection of certain words, could have the power to save. Our words do not have this power. But God’s words do.
In His Gospel, God reveals His righteousness. He shows us that what we could not accomplish, He accomplished for us. He tells us that we are no longer His enemies doomed to eternal destruction. Now we are His children destined for eternal life. Everything He required of us in His Law, He gives to us in His Gospel.
The Gospel message is able to do this for us because the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work through it. Just as He opened Luther’s mind and heart to understand and believe the good news of what Jesus had done, so He does the same for us. He works faith in our hearts through the Gospel, and He continues to strengthen our faith in the same way.
This faith, a gift from God, joins us to Jesus and everything He did to save us. This is why God the Father counts all who believe in His Son as righteous. We are righteous because Jesus was perfectly righteous. His righteousness covers over all our sinfulness. And because Jesus rose from the dead, never to die again, so we live in Him. Jesus Himself promised, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Joh. 11:26).
When the Holy Spirit led Luther to understand the truth about what God had done for him, he could not contain his joy: “Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” Luther now realized that his sins were all forgiven, not because of anything he had done, but by faith in his Savior. “And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word ‘righteousness of God,’” he said. “Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise” (LW, Vol. 34, p. 337).
The Gospel of salvation through Jesus is our “gate to paradise” too. It is why we celebrate the Reformation. It is why we will not budge an inch from the Bible’s teaching for the sake of outward unity in the church. The Gospel is everything to us. If we lose the good news of what Jesus has done for us, we will go back to thinking salvation depends on ourselves. And then we are lost.
But as long as we have the Gospel, the Holy Spirit is at work cleansing, comforting, and strengthening us. He continues the work of reformation in our hearts just as in the church, so that we are pointed always to Jesus, our Savior.
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(picture from “Martin Luther at Worms” by Anton von Werner, 1877)
The Eighth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 8:12-17
In Christ Jesus, whom we follow by the power of the Holy Spirit on the way of salvation and life, dear fellow redeemed:
How do you rate yourself as a driver? I consider myself a pretty good driver, and I imagine that many of you do too. At the same time, I would be reluctant to put a “How’s My Driving?” bumper sticker on my car with my employer’s phone number on it. I might think I’m a good driver, but I’m not a perfect one. When my driving hasn’t been so good, I prefer to stay anonymous.
It is probably easier to identify the bad driving around us than to admit our own bad habits on the road. We get annoyed when people drive too fast, follow too closely, pull out in front of us, or weave from side to side while using their cellphones. But all of us have probably done the same at one point or another. We have been distracted while driving, we have been overconfident, impatient toward others, and angry.
These same things that cause bad driving are also problems in our spiritual life. Take distractions. Drivers can be distracted by a lot of things—other people in the car, loud music, and the main culprit: cellphones. They forget their primary purpose, their most important mission, which is to safely navigate their vehicle from point A to point B at speeds typically higher than most land animals can run. Driving is inherently risky.
There is risk in our spiritual life, too, though we don’t always realize it. A driver can take his safety for granted and let his guard down, just as we can take our faith for granted and let our guard down. There are lots of distractions in our spiritual life. The devil, the world, and our own flesh want us to forget our goal; they want to sidetrack us from our journey to heaven. “Turn off here!” they say. “You’ll have plenty of time to get back on the main road. Check out this attraction! Drop your money on this! Do whatever you want to!” And the more we indulge the sinful desires of our flesh, the less we think about where we were going in the first place.
Distractions to our faith are closely connected to overconfidence in faith. We think our faith is invincible. We think we could not fall away from believing in Jesus. We think we can handle whatever challenges come our way. This is like the driver who thinks he knows the road so well, he could navigate it in his sleep. A high percentage of car accidents happen within a couple miles of home because people are less attentive. Temptations to sin also happen in those places where we think we are in good control of everything, places like home, work, and church.
Along with distractions and overconfidence, our spiritual life is harmed by impatience. The impatient driver puts himself and others at risk. He doesn’t see things clearly. All he can think of is his own plans, and he resents anyone who slows him down or gets in the way. This is how we can become toward God when His plans for us do not align with our plan. We want Him to help us and fix our problems and pains right now. When He doesn’t, we become resentful. We complain to Him and others. We wear ourselves thin with worry instead of giving over our troubles to Him in prayer.
The impatient driver is very likely to become an angry driver. He views the drivers around him differently than he views himself. They are the enemy. They are purposely trying to provoke him. He doesn’t see them as those who make mistakes, or as those who might be dealing with worse distractions and troubles than he is. This happens to Christians too. They pin the blame for their sin and unhappiness on others. They do not acknowledge their own faults. They do not seek to forgive. They hold grudges. They condemn. They seek to inflict the harm on others that they feel has been done to them.
All these things have affected our spiritual life in the past—distractions, overconfidence, impatience, and anger—and to some degree they are affecting us even now in the present. We are sinners. We don’t do everything right. We do and say and think a lot of things wrong. Really we are bad drivers. We do not belong in the spiritual driver’s seat. If that’s how we think we will get to our destination, we are certainly headed for a crash.
Well then who needs to drive? There are many who play a role in your spiritual life. Your parents, siblings, spouse, and children do. Your pastor and teachers do. Your fellow Christians do. But they are not in the driver’s seat. They are just as impaired by sin as you are. The one who drives your faith, who keeps you focused and moving in the right direction, is God the Holy Spirit.
In the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, we confess that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” You cannot bring yourself to faith in Jesus. You cannot navigate yourself from point A in this world to point B in heaven. But the Holy Spirit can and does. The way He does this is through the means of grace, the Holy Word and Sacraments. He “has called [you] by the Gospel, enlightened [you] with His gifts, sanctified and kept [you] in the true faith.”
This is the work of the Spirit that the apostle Paul describes in today’s text. He writes that the Holy Spirit brings us life. He has made us “sons of God” through spiritual adoption, and He leads us to recognize and call on God as our dear Father. He “bears witness with our spirit” that as “children of God” we are His heirs “and fellow heirs with Christ.” He brings us through suffering with Christ to glory with Christ.
By nature, we were driving ourselves to destruction. We were on the “highway to hell,” and that’s nothing to sing about. But the Holy Spirit turned us around. He changed our direction completely. He brought us out of the darkness of sin and death and into the light of Jesus. He opened our eyes through the Law to see all the damage we had inflicted on ourselves and others by our sin. And He showed us how all those sins, all that damage, was taken away by the innocent suffering and death of God’s only Son.
Jesus willingly accepted the countless blemishes on your driving record. He took responsibility for all the damages caused. He offered to cover what for you was an unpayable fine. He gave Himself to be punished for your sins of distraction, overconfidence, impatience, and anger. He paid the price for your sins by pouring out His own holy blood in death. Because of what He did, all those sins, all those serious, death-deserving infractions, are forgiven. In Him, your driving record is clean. Covered in His righteousness, the scratches, gouges, and corrosion of your sins do not show anymore.
The Holy Spirit’s work is to continue to call and compel and drive you to Jesus. He wants to lead you each day to hear the Gospel of Jesus’ grace, His own Word of Absolution. That powerful message of forgiveness reminds you that you are not on your own. You do not have to navigate your own way through this life. You are a child of God the Father because the Holy Spirit has caused you to believe in His only-begotten Son.
Your trust in Jesus means that God the Father now looks at you no differently than He looks upon His holy Son. That is why we are specifically called “sons of God” in today’s text. You and I have been joined to Jesus by faith. This means we possess everything He possesses. We live as He lives. We inherit what He inherits. It also means that we must suffer as He suffers.
He suffers by not receiving the devotion and honor that are His due. He suffers by watching so many people drive themselves away from Him and His grace. He suffers when they follow false prophets instead of His pure Word (Mat. 7:15-20), when they trust in their own efforts and actions to save themselves (vv. 21-23), when they choose “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” over Him (Luk. 8:14).
We suffer with Him when people make fun of us for not joining them in their misdeeds. We suffer when they ridicule our beliefs and our humble trust in God. We suffer when they reject the Word of God in favor of worldly wisdom and do everything in their power to make us deny the truth we hold so dear. A great many are driving on the wide path that “leads to destruction” (Mat. 7:13). In their eyes, we followers of Jesus are going the wrong way and need to be turned around. Our going against the grain of the world causes great difficulties for us. Jesus already warned us that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life” (v. 14).
So life in this fallen world is hardly a “joy ride.” There are many bumps in the road. There is danger in all directions. But you are not in the driver’s seat. The Holy Spirit is, and He knows the way you must go. He daily drives you to repentance for your sins, to “put to death the deeds of the body,” so that you are not led in the wrong direction. And He drives you always toward Jesus, so that you go forward in His light and are comforted in His grace and peace as you travel along the way.
With the Holy Spirit doing the driving through the powerful Word, you will remain in the Lord’s loving care and will be brought safely through suffering to your glorious destination.
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(picture from stained-glass window at Saude)
Festival of Pentecost & Jerico Confirmation – Pr. Faugstad exordium & sermon
Brought to the foot of Mt. Sinai after God had led them out of slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel were terrified. They were terrified because God came down on the mountain, and He didn’t come meekly. He came down in a raging fire. The whole mountain was wrapped in a thick cloud of swirling smoke. Lightning flashed, the ground trembled, and God spoke with a voice of thunder.
The LORD had come to give His holy Law to His people, to tell them how they should conduct themselves in their homes, in their communities, and in their gatherings to worship Him. The clear message was this: If you disobey this God, His fiery wrath is a terrible thing to face.
John the Baptizer indicated that the Messiah would come with such fire: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I…. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mat. 3:11-12).
Who could endure the day of His coming? Who could stand when the righteous God appeared (Mal. 5:2)? We have all disobeyed God’s holy Law. We have all invited His wrath against us. But Jesus did not come to destroy us; He came to save us. He came to face the hot anger of God and to step into the flames of hell in our place. He made peace with God for us. And He wants all sinners to know it.
This is why He sent out the Holy Spirit. Just like at Sinai, God came again in fire at Pentecost, but it was a much gentler fire. The Holy Spirit inspired in the apostles a message not primarily of Law and judgment, but of grace and hope. The people did not shrink back from this manifestation of God in fear; they drew closer in awe. They were glad to hear these Galileans speak in their own languages “the mighty works of God.”
The Holy Spirit had been poured out as Jesus promised to guide people in the truth. He was here to plant faith in sinful hearts through the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and to continue to shine the light of His grace and forgiveness into their hearts. In thanksgiving and prayer for the ongoing work of the Spirit, we rise to sing our festival verse, “O Light of God’s Most Wondrous Love” (ELH 399) / “O Holy Spirit, Enter In” (TLH 235, v. 1).
Text: Acts 2:1-13
In Christ Jesus, who delivered on His promise to send the Holy Spirit to His disciples, and who still sends out the Holy Spirit even now, dear fellow redeemed, and especially you, Karson, on your Confirmation Day:
When Lutherans hear the account of Pentecost, they come across some very familiar words in Acts 2:12. There the devout Jews in Jerusalem ask a simple question, “What does this mean?” We are used to asking that question. In the six chief parts of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, that question is specifically asked twenty-two times. It is a prompt for digging deeper, for coming to a clearer understanding of God’s Word.
But it isn’t just Lutherans who ask this question. Everyone does. The expressions may differ somewhat, but the idea is the same. A child may point to any number of things and ask, “What is that?” A person may examine evidence and try to figure out how things come together, saying: “What do we make of all this?” Or we may search for answers about why God allows certain things to happen: “What does this mean, God? Help us understand.”
The question is an important one. It acknowledges that we do not know everything. It expresses a desire to be taught. This is the position the Jerusalem Jews were in. It bewildered and perplexed them to hear these common Galileans speak in a multitude of languages. No matter where the people were from, they heard God’s truth in their own native tongue. “What does this mean?” they asked one another.
Peter told them. He cited the words of the Old Testament prophet Joel beginning with this statement, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Act. 2:17). And a few verses later, “it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v. 21). Then he went on to teach about Jesus of Nazareth. Though He was crucified, died, and was buried, yet God raised Him up. Peter said that the apostles were witnesses of His victory over death, and that this Jesus was the one who now poured out the Holy Spirit as the people were “hearing and seeing” (v. 33). Jesus was the reason the message of salvation was being delivered to them in their own languages.
Hearing Peter’s words, the people “were cut to the heart” (v. 37). They felt the guilt of what had been done to Jesus some fifty days before this. With their “What does this mean?” answered, they now they asked a different question, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v. 37). Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (vv. 38-39).
Peter described the way for them to be reconciled to God. He did not tell them they had to carry out some great work or give a significant gift for the cause. Grace was extended to them on the basis of Jesus’ work. This grace was for everyone, no exceptions. Everyone who believed and was baptized would be saved (Mar. 16:16). These baptized believers received the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The same is true today. Forgiveness in Jesus’ name and the gift of the Holy Spirit are still given to those who are baptized. Many of you here today have received these blessings. God claimed you as His child in Holy Baptism and has continued to strengthen your faith through His Word. As long as you are kept in this saving faith, you retain the forgiveness of all your sins no matter what they may be, and the Holy Spirit continues to dwell within you. Especially today, we celebrate God’s giving of these blessings to Karson. We give thanks that he is now ready to confess his faith publicly in the presence of the congregation and to join us at the altar to receive the body and blood of our Savior in Holy Communion.
The devil does not want us to partake of these means of grace through which the Holy Spirit works. He tries constantly to tempt us away from them. He puts other things in front of us to keep us occupied and distract us from God’s saving Word. These may be good things like work and family, or they may be bad things that actively lead us to sin against God. Ultimately, Satan wants us to regard the Word of God like those scoffers on Pentecost. These heard the preaching of the apostles, and instead of listening to what was said, they accused the disciples of being drunk on new wine.
This treating the Word as insignificant or turning away from it can happen to any of us, and in fact it has happened to all of us. We have viewed the Word of God as something common, something we can take or leave. Maybe we told ourselves that what matters most is how we live our lives. Or what matters most is not what God gives to us, but what we offer to Him. We have failed to eat and drink and absorb the Scriptures as God’s own revelation and truth for us. Thinking we have the Bible mastered, we do not pour over it, humbly and diligently asking at every point, “What Does This Mean?”
And yet, even though we have not listened to and applied God’s Word to ourselves as we should, God in His mercy has brought us again today to hear it. Whenever His Word is heard or read or meditated upon, the Holy Spirit is at work in us. Through the Word of the Law, He exposes the sins of our mind and heart, so that we realize how far we have fallen short of God’s glory. And through the Word of the Gospel, He points us to Jesus, who lived the perfect life for us that God requires, and who died to atone for all our sins.
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit led 3000 people to be baptized when they heard God’s powerful Word of grace. And so He continues to work in our hearts today. We might not speak in other languages when He comes or have tongues of fire rest upon us. But His power is by no means diminished. He still comes assuring us that our sins are forgiven, that we are justified—declared righteous and innocent—in God’s sight because of what Jesus has done. Through this Gospel message, He also strengthens our faith and sanctifies us to be bearers of light in a dark world.
We cannot do without these blessings of the Holy Spirit. We want them more and more. That is why we don’t put away the question, “What Does This Mean?” when we are confirmed. The youth confirmed this week and next would tell you that they have learned a lot in the last two years. But they know they have further to go. Our prayer for Karson and all our youth is that they never stop growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2Pe. 3:18), and that the Lord keeps them faithful to His altar.
Confirmation is much closer to our spiritual starting line than to the finish line. We never get to the point where we have learned everything we could possibly learn from the Bible. We want to continue to dig into the Word and to search for the treasures God has placed there. The Holy Spirit will uncover them for us and lead us to a deeper and clearer understanding of the great love God has for us.
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(picture from stained glass by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, c. 1660)
The First Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Philippians 4:4-7
In Christ Jesus, our joy, our crown, our Lord (ELH 127, v. 4), dear fellow redeemed:
Do you have a favorite Christmas? Was there one year in particular that ranks on top because of something special that happened or because of some gift you received? Maybe a family member made it home when they weren’t expected. Or your parents told you that the gift you wanted was too much, but there it was under the tree.
For some of you, your favorite Christmas may have happened a while ago. You expect that no Christmas in the future could compare to the good ones of your youth. When you think back, there is a certain warmth in those memories that present Christmases do not have. Now you might feel the pressure to deliver that feeling to your kids or grandkids. You have to remember all the little traditions. You have to get the right gifts. You have to prepare the favorite foods. Some people thrive on these preparations, but others feel overwhelmed and stressed.
Still others would rather not have Christmas at all. It reminds them of loss, of a parent that is no longer here, or a spouse, or a friend, or a child. Christmas is supposed to be a warm and happy time, a time for family. But Christmas only makes them feel more alone. Others feel resentment at Christmas, resentment toward those who hurt them, who did not appreciate the sacrifices they made.
In today’s Epistle lesson, the Holy Spirit has given us words of encouragement and comfort at times like these. The Spirit inspired Paul to write this letter to the church in Philippi while he was kept in a Roman prison. It wasn’t the first time he was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. In fact, his first visit to Philippi included a night in jail after he was targeted by a mob. On that occasion, Paul and his fellow worker Silas—their feet fastened in stocks—prayed and sang hymns to God late into the night (Act. 16:25).
Their joyful confidence in that setting seemed just as out of place as the words we have today. From his cell in a Roman prison Paul wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” In case his readers should quickly pass over or miss what he said, he repeated the message: “again I will say, Rejoice!” It doesn’t seem like Paul could be joyful at a time like this. But he was, and in his Letter to the Philippians, he recounted the things that brought him this joy.
He said that he always prayed for the Philippian Christians with joy because of their support and encouragement of his work (1:4-5). He rejoiced that his imprisonment served to advance the Gospel among the imperial guard and to embolden others to proclaim God’s grace (1:12-18). He rejoiced that God’s will would be done whether in Paul’s life or his death (1:18-20). And He rejoiced at the Philippian congregation’s faithfulness to the Word (2:2,17-18, 4:1).
Paul’s joyful attitude was not simply a “glass-half-full” rather than a “glass-half-empty” approach. His focus was not on the power of positive thinking. His joy was “in the Lord.” He explained this more toward the end of his letter. He wrote: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:11-13).
When people cite the last part of that passage, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” their focus is typically more on the “I can do all things” than on the “through him who strengthens.” Athletes cite this passage as they try to up their game. Entrepreneurs cite it while trying to reach their business goals. Students cite it while studying for a big test.
But Paul’s focus was always on the teaching and preaching of the Gospel. He did not care about any personal achievements. He did not apply these words to his tent-making. He said, “I can be brought low, I can be hungry and in need, and yet I will rejoice because I have Jesus.” As he said in another letter: “when I am weak [weak in himself], then I am strong” [strong in the Lord] (2Co. 12:10).
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” It’s important to understand that joy is not the same as happiness. You and I can rejoice even when we are not feeling happy.
- As we deal with mistreatment and unkindness from others, we can rejoice that God loves us and gives us fellow believers to encourage us.
- As we struggle with physical and mental pain, we can rejoice that Jesus personally endured such pain and promises to carry us through it.
- As we experience financial trouble, we can rejoice that the things of this world are only temporary, and that Jesus has obtained true riches for us in heaven.
- As we carry the burden of guilt for sins we have committed, we can rejoice that Jesus paid for all these sins on the cross and forgives them all.
- As we mourn the death of someone we love, we can rejoice that Jesus rose in victory over death and will come again to raise the dead on the last day.
Our joy in the Lord is not a feeling we can get better at if we practice it enough. Our joy is produced in us by the Holy Spirit through hearing the Word of Christ. The Holy Spirit leads us to believe that His Word is meant for each one of us. The angel said to the shepherds, “behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luk. 2:10), which means these “good tidings of great joy” are meant for you. John the Baptizer said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Joh. 1:29), so the Lamb came to take away your sin.
The Lord wants you to know and believe these things because He loves you. He cares about every aspect of your life. He knows you better than a mother knows her child. He knows you better than you know yourself. He sees you in your pain, your stress, your sadness, and your loneliness, and He comes to help and strengthen you. In his great Advent hymn, Paul Gerhardt spoke about the Lord’s gracious presence with us:
Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted, / Who sit in deepest gloom,
Who mourn o’er joys departed, / And tremble at your doom;
Despair not, He is near you, / Yea, standing at the door,
Who best can help and cheer you, / And bid you weep no more. (ELH 94, v. 6)
In today’s text, the Apostle Paul wrote that “The Lord is at hand.” He is not far away; He is near you. He hears when you cry out to Him. He hears your prayer of repentance. He hears your call for help. This is why there is no need to “be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Your Lord hears every petition you make, and He answers each one in the best way and at the right time.
Through His Word and Sacraments, the Lord is present to give you peace. The peace He brings “surpasses all understanding.” It is not the peace of having a day all to yourself, or finally finishing a project that has taken you a long time, or getting your whole family under one roof. The Lord gives a peace which the world cannot give. He brings the peace of sins forgiven, of God’s anger appeased, of salvation won, of eternal life secured.
This peace with God had nothing to do with our goodness, our efforts, or our abilities. This is why it is so beyond our understanding. Why would God send His Son to make peace with sinners? Why would He give so much when we had nothing to give Him? This was a work of pure mercy and grace, and it is why our confidence in our salvation can be so rock-solid. Our salvation does not depend on us; it was secured entirely by Him. So we do have peace with God, and no earthly thing can take that away from us.
This promise of peace with God is what now guards our hearts and our minds. This Gospel message keeps the devil away with all his temptations and lies. It keeps the world from filling our eyes and ears with false hope. And it keeps our sinful nature from destroying our faith. The peace of forgiveness and salvation that we have through Jesus – this is our reason for rejoicing.
So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow heirs of God, partakers of peace by faith in Jesus: if this Christmas week finds you hurting or afraid or lonely or sad or overwhelmed—you can still rejoice! You can rejoice that Jesus came to save you. You can rejoice that He still comes to strengthen you. And you can rejoice that soon He will come again in His glory. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!”
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