The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Cody Anderson sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who never leaves us hungry but who fills us up abundantly, dear fellow redeemed:
Sometimes when I skip breakfast before going to church, I can often find myself saying that “I am starving” when it is time for lunch. We have other sayings that go along with hunger. One I remember hearing is always, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. Well, I’m pretty sure that I am not actually that hungry, and I know I definitely could not or would not want to eat a horse. And I also know that like the people in our text, I’ve never been to the point of where I thought I might collapse because of my hunger. That is where these people are. They have been with Jesus for three days and Jesus says that they are at the point that if they go to find food, they won’t make it.
Leading up to this point, the crowd following Jesus had become larger and larger. Jesus has been showing the power that he has over the diseases of the world. He has healed people who are sick. He brought a little girl back to life. The disciples witnessed him walk on water. This is a big deal. The people of Jesus day have only heard about God working miracles in the Old Testament when he used the prophets. Now here was Jesus, a man from Nazareth who was performing all of these signs and wonders. Only a couple of chapters before this account, Mark tells us that Jesus had already had a big crowd seated before him. There was over 5,000 people that Jesus fed with five loaves of bread and two fish. They picked up twelve little baskets full of leftovers, there was more than enough food. As Jesus shows his power to provide, and after he does a miracle of healing someone’s deaf ears, another crowd has gathered.
Now as Jesus is looking at this crowd with compassion about their needs, the disciples yet ask, “How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?” Jesus has shown them that before this they have nothing to worry about. The disciples have been watching Jesus perform miracle after miracle. We already listed what he has been doing. Jesus has been healing people’s physical ailments, and he performed this miracle already! What is 4,000 if he has already fed 5,000! So why did they respond, “How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?”
The disciples continue to doubt Jesus’ power, they were tested for a second time, knowing the outcome of what Jesus could do, and they failed. Can you imagine the patience that Jesus must have had with them? They saw a little girl brought back from the dead and over 5,000 people be fed by Jesus. Yet they failed. This place is too desolate Jesus, there is nothing here to feed the people. The disciples had forgotten what Jesus was capable of and this isn’t at all surprising as we also forget what Jesus is capable of.
We don’t fully understand how much compassion God has for us. He tells us not to worry about what will happen to us, by telling us that he will provide for our physical needs. God created the heavens and the earth. St. Matthew records, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matt 6:25-26) But we are often anxious and worrisome. We do not wait for God to feed us when we know that he can and he will but instead we look for more instant gratification. We start to think that we do not have enough stuff. We start to covet what our neighbor has. We might even overindulge even though we know that it could put us behind with our expenses.
When we take these matters into our own hands, we are doubting God’s care for us. We can hear what Jesus tells us, but as life gets hard, as budgets can get tight, we fail Jesus’ test too. Like the disciples, we doubt what God tells us in his Word, which puts us into despair. As we creep into despair, that doubt that we have, then turns into unbelief. How can something so simple turn into something so severe? That is what the devil wants. He wants us to doubt God. What are we fully doubting? Jesus only tells us the truth; He has never told a lie. As humans though the devil continues to use that same temptation. “Did God really say…” This can seem very small. Unfortunately, that is all it takes. One little doubt and we can start to think, “Well if God can’t do this, then what can He really do for me?”
The disciples did not understand the amount of compassion that Jesus had and neither do we. Jesus with great compassion, provided for the group of people with a great miracle. He fed them, saving their physical health, and providing for them. Jesus put the disciples doubt to rest. He puts our doubts to rest too. He provides our daily bread, all that we need for this life on earth. And He has also given Himself as the Bread of Life from heaven. As Jesus is able to feed our physical bodies, his great compassion stretched farther than that. He laid down His life for us. He paid for our sins, and then rose from the dead. Jesus has made sure that we will be provided for here on earth and forever in eternity.
Jesus wants to satisfy your spiritual hunger, which is deeper and more pressing than your physical hunger is. He continually feeds you through the Means of Grace. We receive this feeding every Sunday. As you come to church and listen to his Word, there he is with you. God’s Word gives you the strength to carry on when you think that you are on the verge of collapse. Your souls need to stay fed. When your souls get hungry, that is when your soul can fall into temptation which can lead to unbelief. As you continue to gather with your families with devotions and prayer, your souls continue to stay nourished. This isn’t just to make us feel good, this is for our survival. Our lives here on this earth are very short compared with living for eternity. He feeds us with his Word as it shows the life he lived in our place. Jesus shows us that we can’t make it on our own. All we can do is collapse on the way. Jesus is the one who has compassion and feeds us.
Jesus feeds us with his body and blood at the altar. Here, this holy food is taken and distributed to each of us hungry sinners. This is Christ coming to us. He comes to forgive us our sins, to assure us that those sins of coveting, those sins of doubt are not counted against us. Along with this medicine for our souls, Jesus is giving us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us. He doesn’t tell us to receive it occasionally. Or to receive it when we feel like it. Jesus tells us to receive of it often. We need this holy nourishment. This is a gift that we receive not based on our merits, but from Christ, who had compassion, who did not want to see us starve for eternity.
The people ate until they were satisfied. Jesus didn’t feed them a little morsel. He fed them so that they were full. It wasn’t partial mercy. God feeds us in abundance. He makes sure that we will be satisfied here on this earth by providing us with everything that we need. This is what we confess in the meaning of the Apostles’ creed. He provides for us clothing, food, land, and all that we own. All that we need for our bodily life. When life gets difficult, it can be hard for us to find the positives of life that we have. When there is financial burden, a loss of a loved one, that doubt will try to creep back in.
Our text shows that God does not abandon us. He had so much compassion that he gave us the ultimate gift that we never deserved. He gave up his own Son so that we would be saved. When our journey on this world is over, God shows us that he has provided for our eternal lives as well. Our pains in this life, they are only in this life. They will soon cease to exist. Jesus tells us how he has prepared a place for us. His compassion is beyond our comprehension. He promises that someday, there will be no suffering, there will be no pain, and every tear will be wiped away from our eyes, because He has fed us.
The next time that we are hungry, more than likely soon as our service ends today, it is good to remember how Jesus feeds us with everything we need. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has had compassion on us. He had so much compassion that he gave his life for us. He will continue to provide for us even when we think that we don’t have enough. He gives us all that we need. We don’t deserve anything, yet he has given us everything. He will continue to bless us with the physical and spiritual things that we need in this life until he calls us home. Where we will eat at the heavenly banquet, forever and ever. Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture of the Judean mountains in Israel)
The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 6:1-15
In Christ Jesus, who spreads a table in the wilderness of this world and presents a rich feast to sustain and strengthen us, dear fellow redeemed:
It happens sometimes that we get so caught up in what we are doing that we lose track of time. We might be so focused that we even forget to eat or drink. It seems like this is what happened with Jesus and the crowds that followed Him. They followed Him right into a wilderness area near the Sea of Galilee. They were watching Him perform miracle after miracle as He healed the sick, and they were listening closely to what He said. But the shadows started to lengthen as the sun dropped lower in the sky.
Jesus didn’t seem to notice that so much time had passed. The evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that the twelve disciples approached Jesus and asked Him to send the crowd to the surrounding villages and countryside to find food and lodging. The disciples were concerned about the situation. “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late,” they said (Mar. 6:35). I imagine the disciples were hungry and tired too—it had been a long day.
Their request of Jesus was reasonable. This was no good place for a crowd of thousands to spend the night, and there was no food here for them. It was just common sense that the time had come to send the crowds away. Jesus did not agree. “You give them something to eat,” He said (Mar. 6:37, Luk. 9:13). Did Jesus think this was a game? Philip looked at the size of the crowd and replied that even a half year’s wages wouldn’t be enough to feed them. Andrew said that all they had at hand were five loaves of barley bread and two fish, “but what are they for so many?”
Good common sense thinking: the need is too great; our resources are too small. I’ve been there, and so have you. We didn’t know how we could possibly pay the bills. We couldn’t see our situation ever improving. We only saw trouble ahead. We prayed to our heavenly Father, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but we acted as though the problem was entirely in our hands. We worried, and we lost sleep, and our stress level rose higher and higher. “I don’t know how to get out of this,” we said. “There’s nothing I can do to fix this.”
What we didn’t realize is how close that is to, “Lord, have mercy.” That’s an uncomfortable step for us. We like to be in control. Philip would have been glad to say that they had prepared for an occasion like this and had plenty of provisions with them for the crowd. But the sun kept dropping lower, and Jesus had dropped an impossible task in their laps. The disciples were getting upset. Jesus was being unreasonable. Couldn’t He see what they were seeing?
He saw it alright, but He was not worried in the least. John shares the secret that Jesus had done this for a test, “for He Himself knew what He would do.” Jesus always knows what He will do. He is God. Nothing surprises Him. He clearly sees all the difficult situations we face, and He knows the best response for each one. That should teach us to put our trust in Him, because we can’t see the way out. We can’t fix every problem. Like the disciples, we see the magnitude of the issue. We see our lack of resources. But we so often forget to see Him.
Jesus had a perfect lesson planned for them and for us. He took that tiny amount of food—five loaves and two fish—, gave thanks, and handed them to the disciples to distribute to the people. What He started with was about enough food for the twelve disciples to have a light meal. What He ended with was twelve full baskets of fragments left over after the crowd of thousands had eaten their fill. The disciples thought that Jesus wasn’t seeing the problem. Now He could say to them, “Do you see what I have done? Do you see how much is left over? Do you see why you had no reason to worry?”
Do you see, dear friends in Christ, why you have no reason to worry? I know that all of you face problems in your life, difficult things that you don’t know how to fix. Life in this world is not perfect. There will always be trouble. But all of you had food to eat this morning if you wanted it. All of you have clothes to wear. All of you have a place to live. You don’t have everything you want, but God has richly provided all that you have. And when you look back at the toughest times in your life, you can see how God provided for you even then, and how He carried you out of that trouble.
Your God, the true God, loves you. He has compassion on you. In His love, God the Father sent His Son to join the human race and make our troubles His trouble. He came not only to take these things from us, but to give to us in return. He came to give us His life of perfect love toward God and neighbor. He came to give us His holiness and joy and peace. He came to give us His cleansing blood to wash away all our sins. He came to be a perfect sacrifice, so that eternal life and heaven would be ours.
Jesus joined us here in the wilderness of this world where we had nothing good going. Our needs were too great; our resources were too small. We could not save ourselves. We were sick. We were hungry. We were thirsty. And here is Jesus with living water to quench our thirst. Here He is with bread of life from heaven to satisfy our hunger. Here He is with medicine of immortality to heal us.
“Everyone who drinks of [regular] water will be thirsty again,” said Jesus, “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (Joh. 4:13-14). “Do not labor for the food that perishes,” He told the crowds, “but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (6:27, 51).
Jesus has life for you. He is life. His words are spirit and life (6:63). He sets a table, a rich feast, for you here in this wilderness. He speaks His saving Word to you. He gives His holy body and blood to you. “Come, everyone who thirsts,” He says, “come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price…. Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isa. 55:1,2). The spiritual gifts that Jesus gives to His disciples never go bad. They never spoil or make us sick. They never leave us feeling hungry or overfull. You can’t have too much of these blessings.
The gifts that God gives for our earthly needs are not like that. You can have too much of these earthly gifts. Expensive beverages are good but not when you drink too much. Delicious food is good but not if you consume too much of it. Money is good, but no matter how much you have, you think you could always use more. The problem is when we focus on the gift instead of the Giver. The same thing happened with the crowd that Jesus so mercifully fed. They came looking for Him the next day because they wanted more bread, more bread, more bread. The hunger of the flesh can never be satisfied.
Jesus wanted to give them something far better, something far more filling. He wanted to give His flesh and blood for their salvation. He wanted them to fill up on His Word. He offers the same rich gifts to you. The blessings of His Word and Sacraments never run dry no matter how often you hear His Word, no matter how often you partake of His Sacraments. “Abide in my word,” He says (Joh. 8:31). “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mar. 4:23). “Take, eat… drink of this cup. This is My body…. This is My blood… given and shed for you for the remission of sins.”
In that Galilean wilderness, Jesus appeared to have nothing, but all things were in His hands. He had more than enough to help the needy and fill the hungry. Jesus has enough and more than enough for you. He sees your troubles. He knows how you worry. He is here to multiply the fragments. He is here to feed you and sustain you. He is here to provide all you need for your body and especially all you need for your soul.
In Jesus, you are rich. The world may see you as lowly and poor, possessing nothing that matters or will last. But you know the exact opposite is true. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Co. 8:9). Because Jesus took your troubles on Himself and suffered and died for you, you are rich. You are rich in grace, rich in the love of God, rich with eternal life. Everything that Jesus has, He gives to you and keeps giving to you.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, whose every thought, every word, and every action, were focused on your salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
His hair still dripping from His baptism, Jesus came out of the water. At that moment the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove and rested on Him. Then the voice of the Father rang out of the heavens, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:16-17). It was an impressive beginning, a fitting inauguration for the God incarnate, the only Son of the Father who came to save the world.
What would happen next? Not what we expect. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The evangelist Mark writes that the Holy Spirit “drove him out into the wilderness” (1:12). So much for the picture of the Spirit as a gentle dove! Why would the Spirit do this to the Son? It was the Father’s will. He had not sent His Son for glory here on earth, but for suffering.
Suffering was possible for Jesus because He was in His state of humiliation. He was not making full use of His divine powers. That meant He could feel weakness and temptation and pain. In today’s account, we see He could experience hunger. He fasted—went without food—for forty days and forty nights, and “He was hungry.” You have perhaps fasted for a day or two because of an illness. But when you recover, you feel a gnawing hunger. Your stomach is ready to be filled again!
Jesus went without eating for forty days. This is humanly possible and has been done by others, but it is not easy. As His fast extended, Jesus would have increasingly felt dull and weak. This helps us understand how the devil’s temptations were real trials for Jesus. The devil used Jesus’ hunger to attack His mission and His Person. “So You are the ‘beloved Son’ of the Father, are You? And He claims to be ‘well pleased’ with You, doesn’t He? That’s interesting because He doesn’t seem to care much about You right now. Here You are, all alone, hungry. If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
There is something reasonable about this. The devil is an expert at making wrong things seem reasonable. If Jesus is God, why shouldn’t He make some food for Himself? Why should His suffering have to continue? But the Spirit did not drive Jesus into the wilderness for rest and relaxation. It was to prepare Him for the hard work He came to do, the work of redeeming the world from sin and death. If it was the Father’s will that Jesus should be hungry, then He would be hungry. Quoting from the book of Deuteronomy, Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
“Oh, so You want to cite the Scriptures, do You,” thought the devil. “I can do that too! If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ Then the Father will prove His love for You! Then You can know this suffering isn’t for nothing!” Again Jesus replied with Scripture, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” God’s love for us is clear in His Word. He does not need to prove it on our terms, or bail us out if we do something foolish.
Then the devil got right to the heart of the matter. “So You’ve come here to reign, have You? All the kingdoms of the world and their glory are at my fingertips. They can all be Yours! All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me. No need to struggle, no need to be hungry, no need to suffer!” Jesus, even in His weakened state, had heard enough. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’” Forty days into a fast, out in the wilderness, terrible anguish and affliction looming in front of Him, and Jesus said: “I choose suffering.”
Only He could have done this. You and I don’t have the will or the strength. It isn’t that we always choose the easy path. There are plenty of examples of people choosing the hard road. A soldier exposes himself to enemy fire to save his friend. A wife cares for her ailing husband or a husband for his ailing wife. An employee stands up to an unethical boss. A young man or a young woman says “no” even when they know they will be ridiculed for it.
But none of us would make the choice Jesus did. He chose intense suffering, the fires of hell, and death for the very people who sinned against Him. Many of them were glad to see Him die. Even while He hung on the cross, they mocked Him. St. Paul writes that “one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8). Paul goes on to say that we were all Jesus’ enemies; we were all against Him by nature (v. 10). And He suffered and died for us.
If we saw a future like that laid out before us, we wouldn’t go another step forward. We would turn the stones into bread. We would throw ourselves down from the temple. We would bow to the devil. We would do what was in our own best interest, and our track record proves it.
Often we have chosen to feed our hunger for the things of this life—more things, nicer things, newer things—all of them things that are temporary and will pass away. We have “put God to the test” by throwing ourselves into one sinful situation after another. We knew what we were doing was wrong, but we did it anyway. And we have bowed down to the devil by valuing glory in the world more than grace in the Word, by caring about the future of our own making more than the blessings prepared for us by our heavenly Father. When we should have said, “Be gone, Satan!” we said, “I like what I’m hearing. Stick around a while. Tell me more!”
It was because of our sin that Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness. It was a full forty days of fasting before the forty days of feasting after His resurrection. Forty comes up many times in the Bible. At the time of Noah, rain fell for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the world of its wickedness. Moses went without food and water for forty days and forty nights while he received the holy Law from God. The Israelites wandered for forty years in the wilderness until all those who rebelled against God had died.
Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights because of your hunger for worldly things. He wanted to do for you what you had neither the desire nor the ability to do for yourself. He chose to deny His own physical needs and “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mat. 6:33), so that you would receive the treasures of heaven that will last forever. He chose to do His Father’s will and endure hardship and pain, so that you would become the Father’s own dear child and an heir of everlasting life. He chose to be a humble servant and to give Himself as a sacrifice, so that you would reign with Him at the right hand of the Father and enjoy eternal glory.
Jesus did not choose the easy way out. He chose the path of suffering in order to save you. Jesus saw hunger, torment, and pain in His future. But He also saw you. He saw you, lost, helpless, hopeless. He saw you covered in your sins, spiritually starving, dying. And He loved you. “I will give My life for yours,” He said. “I will pay for your sins. I will take your punishment. I will suffer your hell. I will die your death.”
And nothing could steer Him from this path. Nothing that the devil tried succeeded. No temptation overcame Him. In every respect He was tempted as we are, but He did not sin (Heb. 4:15). To fail was to lose you and all sinners. So Jesus would not fail. He would not lose you.
He still fights for you, even now. He fights for you by coming to you in His Word and Sacraments. He comes to chase away the devil when you have gotten comfortable having him around. He comes to strengthen you for the temptations and trials ahead which would be too much for you. And He comes to comfort you for the hardships you have experienced and the pain you have endured as a Christian living in a fallen world.
Jesus will not forsake you. He suffered and died for you, and now He lives for you. He is with you in the wilderness as you wander through this world. He feeds you with His own body and blood. He bears you up in His arms of providence and power. And He lifts your eyes to the joys to come, the joys of heaven where sorrow and suffering will be no more.
Jesus remained faithful to His mission. He followed His Father’s will. The devil did not win. “[F]or the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). He gladly fasted, endured affliction, and died in order to redeem you. Jesus Chose Suffering for You, to save you.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Temptation of Christ by the Devil” by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1822-1907)
Ash Wednesday – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: St. Matthew 6:16-21
In Christ Jesus, who “fills the hungry with good things” (Luk. 1:53), dear fellow redeemed:
Some people give up dessert during Lent. Some give up TV. Some give up social media. Roman Catholics are required to give up meat every Friday of Lent. Are you giving up anything? While this can be a useful practice, the Bible does not require it. Some suggest that we should rather add things during Lent—more Bible study, more prayer, and so on. I think these things go together—whenever we give up one thing, we have space to add another. So if you give up time in front of the TV or smartphone, you are adding time that can be spent in other ways, such as Bible reading or prayer.
It’s important for us to take an inventory of how we spend our time. Typically we say we don’t have enough time to accomplish what we want to. But that isn’t a problem of time as much as it is a problem of scheduling or a problem of priority. We can always “make time” for the things that matter most to us. And if we don’t “make time” for what we say matters most, then it’s fair to ask if it really matters as much as we say.
For example, we all agree that prayer is important. We know that the God of heaven commands us to pray and that He promises to hear us. But how many of us regularly take the time to pray? Prayer takes time—it doesn’t have to take a lot of time—but it takes some time or at least some effort. And there is always so much to do, and our minds are occupied by so much, that prayer gets forgotten and neglected.
In today’s text, Jesus calls us away from worldly distractions and toward spiritual discipline. Our text is a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In the section just before our text, Jesus talks about giving to the needy: “when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mat. 6:3-4). Then He talks about prayer: “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 6). And then we have His encouragement to fast, to go without food for a time: “when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
There is a clear pattern here. First of all, Jesus does not command the people to give to the needy, pray, and fast. He just expects that they will: “when you give,” “when you pray,” “when you fast.” Second He says that as much as possible, we should hide our giving, our praying, and our fasting. These things are not meant for the eyes of others. They are meant for the eyes of our Heavenly Father, who rewards us according to His grace. That’s His third point: “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Perhaps the most surprising discipline on the list is fasting. You might have heard about how fasting can provide health benefits for adults without certain underlying conditions. I came across an “intermittent fasting” plan recently which suggests eating in an eight hour window each day and then fasting for sixteen hours to give the body time to burn fat.
But Jesus is speaking here about the spiritual benefits of fasting. This wasn’t a foreign concept to the people of the Bible. The Israelites often fasted in Old Testament times, and always on the Day of Atonement. In New Testament times, Luke tells us about the widow Anna, who “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luk. 2:37). John the Baptizer and his disciples fasted in preparation for the Messiah’s coming (Mar. 2:18).
Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness as He began His public work. The Christians in Antioch fasted when Barnabas and Saul were sent off as missionaries (Act. 13:2-3). And when pastors were appointed in Asia as a result of these mission efforts, we are told that “with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Act. 14:23).
So why don’t we all have the habit of fasting today? In part, it’s because we don’t want to demand something that God has not. He did not give a law of fasting in the Ten Commandments. But it may also be that we don’t fast because we never have; it is a foreign concept to us.
It hasn’t always been a foreign concept among Lutherans. Think of the words of our Catechism which are printed on the front of the bulletin: “Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins’” (Proper Reception of the Sacrament).
We are right to say that fasting is not required, but that does not mean it is to be rejected. Luther wrote that “Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a fine outward training.” What makes fasting “a fine outward training”? Fasting prepares us to receive. It uncovers our hunger. It reveals our weaknesses. It exposes the idols of our heart. The purpose of fasting is not to offer it to God as a good work, which is often the way “giving something up for Lent” is understood. Fasting is rather a preparation to receive the good gifts of God.
Jesus promises that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” God does not reward us because we are so deserving. He always rewards us according to His grace. The humbling of our body through fasting along with the humbling of our spirit in repentance is seen by our merciful Father. He knows who we are. He knows our needs and our struggles and our sorrows. And He knows exactly how to address them.
He sends His Son Jesus to come to our aid. Jesus lived a holy life for us, including perfectly caring for the needy, perfectly praying, and perfectly fasting. And He was forsaken and rejected by the Father and swallowed up by death, so that we would be delivered from God’s eternal wrath and punishment. Jesus brings us these gifts of His righteousness, forgiveness, and life when He comes to us in His Word and Sacraments.
Through these means, Jesus addresses the sin, the weakness, and the hunger that fasting exposes. He does not come to punish us or lecture us. He comes to heal us and comfort us and strengthen us. When Jesus comes, we receive exactly what we need. He never leaves us empty-handed. He fills us with the gifts of His grace, and He gives us a taste of the heavenly treasures that we will enjoy in fullness for all eternity.
We fast now in joyful anticipation of the feast to come.
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(picture from “Jesus in Prison” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 6:1-15
In Christ Jesus, our priceless Treasure, who considered us worth the cost of His suffering and death, dear fellow redeemed:
The restaurants and retailers that advertise on TV, online, and in print are not concerned about how well you manage your money. They want you to buy their product, and they don’t want you to spend time thinking about it. They want you to act on your impulses. They want you to buy now. And we have all learned the hard way why this isn’t such a good idea. We end up with products cluttering our closets and countertops that we hardly use, and we find ourselves in a financial pinch when the bills come due.
So we want to be wise and responsible with our money. We are certainly free to spend it on things we need and even things we want. But it is also good to set some aside, to save it up for future expenses. The government manages the Social Security program as a way to help with this, and many businesses offer retirement plans to their employees.
But the person who has made all the right financial decisions and has more than enough money saved up for retirement still does not have everything he needs. In the end, that person will not be able to buy his way out of terminal illness, old age, or death.
And maybe this was on the people’s minds as they followed Jesus. They saw what He was doing for the sick, how He could heal them in an instant. Those watching may have thought to themselves that while they were healthy today, they could be in great need tomorrow. So they crowded around Jesus and followed Him even when He went to a remote area by the lake.
When evening came, the disciples thought Jesus should send the people away, so they could buy food for themselves (Mat. 14:15). But Jesus asked the disciples to provide the food. The disciples didn’t believe this was possible. The crowd was too big. The need was too great. One of them found a boy with five barley loaves and two fish, “but what are they for so many?” he asked.
Then, as you heard, Jesus took the loaves and fish, gave thanks, and distributed the fragments among the people, as much as they wanted. By this miracle, Jesus turned food for one family into food for five thousand men along with many women and children (Mat. 14:21). When everyone had eaten their fill, Jesus sent His disciples to gather up the leftover fragments, and it was enough to fill up twelve baskets.
That was a lot of food! Maybe the only place you have been around that many hungry people at once is a football stadium or sports arena. Imagine if 5,000 people came at the same time to one of our local grocery stores. How much food would be left on the shelves when they were done? Not much!
So the people had seen Jesus healing the sick, and now they saw Him turn a little amount of food into a lot. You can’t blame them for saying among themselves that as long as they were with Jesus, they had it made. They wouldn’t have to worry about work, because Jesus could provide their food. They wouldn’t have to worry about their health, because Jesus could make them well again. What more could they do to secure their future than make Jesus their king?
They could hardly wish for something better than this, but their reasons for wanting Jesus to be king were selfish. So Jesus withdrew from the crowd and went up the mountain alone. The next day, the people again came looking for Him. He wasted no time in showing their true motives: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (Joh. 6:26). They were not seeking to make Him king because they believed He was the promised Savior from sin. They wanted to make Him king to keep their bellies full.
Then Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (v. 27). What does that mean, “Do not labor for the food that perishes”? Doesn’t the Bible say somewhere, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2Th. 3:10)? Jesus is not telling us here to take it easy and be lazy. What He is saying is that we must keep work and the pursuit of wealth in their proper place.
Those things are for this life only. Our wealth and belongings do not last forever, and we cannot take them with us when we die. They are for our use and enjoyment here, but they must not become our gods. You know how fleeting earthly treasurers are. Think of what was most precious to you when you were five years old; when you were ten; when you were twenty or forty or sixty. Think what thing was most precious to you just a couple years ago. It has probably been replaced by something different today.
If we labor only for the food that perishes, we will live a very empty and disappointing life. More money is great, but what good are extra jobs and overtime hours if they keep husband and wife from spending time with each other or their children? What good is it if work keeps the Christian from regularly hearing and learning God’s Word?
How much would you be willing to give up for your family? And how much would you be willing to give up for the Word of God? If these things are your priority, then everything else should adjust around them. Of course this is a hard thing. Many of us are driven to do more, to push forward, to achieve greater success. We get so occupied in chasing “the food that perishes,” that we lose sight of “the food that endures to eternal life.”
So in striving for earthly wealth, we can endanger our inheritance of heavenly wealth, which God wants to give us. Our priorities are often self-centered and skewed, but His purposes are full of grace and always intended for our good. In fact, God put an eternal savings plan in place for each one of us and for all the people in the world. Your pension plan could be taken away from you, and there may not be any Social Security money available by the time you are old enough to use it. But God’s Eternal Savings Plan is a sure thing.
God’s Eternal Savings Plan isn’t dependent on the government, your employer, or even you. Hi Plan is dependent on His love and faithfulness toward sinners. His love compelled Him to give His only-begotten Son to suffer and die in your place. And His Son willingly went to the cross and grave. The apostle Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Co. 8:9).
Jesus left the glories of heaven, so that He could take your sins upon Himself – the sins of your greed and selfishness, the sins of caring most about the things of this life instead of the things to come. Jesus considered your soul worth the price of redemption. He did not run from the agony and suffering. He did not free Himself from the nails of the cross. You were too valuable to Him. For you, He would go all the way to His death.
Because He did that, your debt of sin has been marked “paid in full.” God forgives your sins, all of them. In their place, He credits you with the perfect righteousness of Jesus. These blessings are gifts from Him—they are not obtained by anything you do. These blessings are yours by the faith He has worked in your heart.
But faith is not something that once you have it, you can’t lose it. As the body must be fed physically to survive, faith must be fed spiritually. Jesus said to the crowd, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35). Faith is fed by hungering for Jesus and His righteousness. It is fed when sinners bring their sins to Him in repentance and drink from His cleansing absolution. Faith is fed by feasting on God’s Word. Once a week in church does not satisfy the soul’s need. Twice a week doesn’t do the job either. The body needs food every day and so does the soul.
Jesus freely gives Himself for our spiritual nourishment. He is “the bread of life.” In words which offended many in the crowd, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (vv. 53-56).
What Jesus was telling them is that there is nothing worth having in the world apart from Him. Nothing else can bring hope. Nothing else can give life. Apart from Jesus, all we have is to chase after things that are destined to break down, spoil, and die. But in Jesus, we labor and persevere toward things that will last—not just for a while, but for eternity.
The eternal blessings of heaven are yours. God has them all stored up for you. They cost Jesus His life, but they don’t cost you a dime. Jesus has prepared for you a great heavenly feast, so that you will never again hunger or thirst or lack anything, but will find eternal fulfillment and satisfaction in Him alone.
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(“The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Mark 8:1-9
In Christ Jesus, God in the flesh, who fed the people by miraculous means, and who still fills hungry stomachs—and souls—today, dear fellow redeemed:
Much of human history is characterized by faithlessness and fear. We see this even in the first humans, Adam and Eve, who decided to go their own way and then tried to hide from the LORD. When people turn away from God and trust in their own plans and abilities, the world does not become better, but worse.
In the 1800s, some began to sound the alarm that the human population would soon outpace food production and lead to an international crisis. Others took this warning and shaped it into the horrible eugenics campaigns of the early 1900s. These programs were geared toward stopping the growth of certain portions of the population, especially through the sterilization of women. The targets of these programs were most often the poor and people of races that were considered inferior. These things happened in America and were sanctioned by the highest levels of government.
But as our country’s population increased in the last century, so did food production. Today, we have such an abundance of grain in America that we turn it into fuel and sell it to other countries. But there is still plenty of sin to go around. Many continue to work at curbing population growth, particularly through the killing of the unborn and the elderly. At the same time, others selfishly store up the plenty they have and ignore the needy. Still more believe they have the right to be as wasteful and reckless as they please with God’s good gifts.
They sin who think that whether or not we survive is in our hands. They also sin who think nothing about the Source of their earthly goods. Today’s Gospel lesson teaches us to set aside our fear and faithlessness and to see how The Lord Provides.
Should the crowd gathered around Jesus be criticized because they failed to plan for their trip into the wilderness? Isn’t it “Survival 101” to make sure you have an adequate supply of food and water before you go somewhere remote? We certainly don’t want to tempt God or expect our food to appear out of thin air. But the crowd was guilty of neither of these things. They were so eager to be with Jesus and listen to His teaching, that they hardly noticed their hunger. They were doing what Jesus commanded in His Sermon on the Mount, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt. 6:33). They looked to Jesus, and He supplied what they needed.
Our text does not say that the people asked Jesus for food. It says He had compassion on them. He recognized their need. He did not want to send them away hungry, because they would faint on the way. But where would the food come from? It was a “desolate place.” The land could not supply what the people’s stomachs demanded.
If a crowd of hungry people were out in the wilderness today, what solutions might be offered for the problem? Those concerned with overpopulation might say, “Send the people on their way, and nature will sort out the fit from the weak.” Some might make the wealthier members of the crowd responsible for the poorer ones and task a few with going to buy food for all. Others might fling up their hands like the disciples did and say there is no solution to the problem.
From our human perspective, there is no easy fix in a situation like this. We don’t have to look very far for examples of hunger and suffering in the world. There are vast amounts of people who do not know where they will find their next meal. There are even people like this in our own communities. We can understand why some might think overpopulation is a cause of these problems and take steps to reduce the population. But “two wrongs don’t make a right.” We can also recognize the appeal of wealth redistribution, so that everyone has the exact same. But wherever that has been forced on a people, the result is that almost all are impoverished, and none are motivated to work hard.
Humankind will never find solutions for all the world’s problems. Until the end of time, there will be hunger, there will be violence and war, there will be sickness and trouble. All these are effects of sin in the world. Naturally, the non-Christian and the Christian will address these problems in different ways. Non-Christians see these problems and think progress and change depend entirely on their own efforts. Christians recognize that they do not have the power to set everything right in the world, and they look to the merciful God.
“But what has God done to solve the problems in the world?” You can imagine hearing that question. People want to know why there is hunger and other troubles if God has the power to help. So why doesn’t He? None of us knows the mind of the Lord. We cannot know for sure where and how He chooses to work.
What we do know is that He is a gracious and merciful God (Ex. 34:6). We know that His powerful Word is working to uphold and sustain creation (Heb. 1:3). We know that “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45). We know that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb. 12:6), so that His children are drawn closer to Him. It would not be good for us to get everything we wanted. If we did, then we would forget about God (Prov. 30:9). The Lord also lets our neighbors be in need, so that we have opportunities to show love to them.
If we have the attitude that we won’t take charity from anyone, and that we can make it on our own, don’t you think it is likely that we will feel the same way toward God? Regarding our physical needs, God has made it nearly impossible for us to go it alone. How do you make money? You need to be employed by someone, or have someone buy a product you are selling. How do you get food? You could hunt for what you need and have a big garden, but probably you will stop by the grocery store, which requires a long chain of people to get food on the shelf. How do you have support in the sad and difficult times of life? Often this comes from those around you who have experienced troubles of their own.
We were born to be in community, and we were born again (baptized) to become part of a Christian congregation. God provides for us both physically and spiritually through the efforts and hands of others. When we are not sure how to feed our families, God gives us kind neighbors to help us. When we are grieving, He gives us compassionate friends to comfort us. When we are burdened by our guilt and weaknesses, He sends us pastors to announce His gracious forgiveness and to distribute His life-giving food.
When you consider how much God has blessed you in your life through the hands of others, you will no longer criticize Him for what He has not done. Look at the family and friends you have. Look at how He has protected you from serious harm. Look at the ability He has given you to work. Look at the free and prosperous country where you live. In your sin, you do not deserve even seven loaves of bread and a few fish, but the Lord has blessed you many times over—so much that you can’t even remember it all.
Then why worry? Why “be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Mt. 6:31). Your heavenly Father knows what you need (v. 32). He has not forgotten about you. Even in your suffering, He has not forsaken you. He is with you even when you hit rock-bottom. He helps you get through what you could not get through on your own. The Lord does not require you to fix the problems in your life, much less the problems that plague the world. Instead He teaches you to look to Him, to trust Him. He provides for you.
He provides for you through others, just as He provides for others through you. King David wrote in Psalm 37, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing” (vv. 25-26). We have such an excellent example of the providence of God in today’s text. Jesus multiplied seven loaves of bread and a few fish, so that it fed 4000 hungry men and an unknown number of women and children! No one would have thought this was possible, but “nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37).
Why wouldn’t the Lord provide for your needs? He has already accomplished something far greater for you than filling your stomach. He bought back your soul with His precious blood to spare you from an eternity of suffering in hell. His blood blots out your anxiety and worry about not having enough, and it washes away your sin of not caring for your neighbors as you should. You are the blood-bought child of the heavenly Father, and He does not forsake His own.
No matter how hopeless a situation may seem, remember what your Savior has done for you and what more He still promises to do. Then you will see small blessings multiply, until your heart is overflowing with thankfulness toward Him.
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(picture of the Judean mountains in Israel)
The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 6:1-15
In Christ Jesus, who came to give life to the world through His flesh and blood, dear fellow redeemed:
They had been free for one month. No longer were they under the harsh rule of the Egyptians. The LORD had led them out of Egypt by His servant Moses. He even opened up a path for them to walk through the Red Sea. But the people of Israel were dissatisfied. Their bellies growled with hunger, and they began to wish they were back in Egypt where at least they had something to eat. The LORD heard their cry; He had not forgotten His people. He said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not” (Ex. 16:4).
Every morning, there was dew around the camp. “And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground” (v. 14). The people were encouraged to gather as much of this as they could eat, but they were not to keep any until the next day. The exception to this was on Friday when they must gather twice as much, so that no collecting would be needed on the Sabbath day, the day of rest. Whoever did not listen to the LORD and kept bread overnight any day but Friday, found that in the morning it had worms and stunk. This was to teach the people to rely on the LORD for food day after day. The people called the bread “manna,” or “what is it?” because they had never seen anything like it before. God gave them this bread for forty years until they came into the Promised Land of Canaan.
Nearly 1500 years later, the people of Israel followed Jesus into the wilderness by the Sea of Galilee. No one had ever done the signs He was doing; He healed the sick. No one had ever taught like He had; His teaching cut to the heart, but it also comforted. So focused were they on the things Jesus was doing that they had brought no provisions with them. As the shadows lengthened, the twelve disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves” (Mt. 14:15). Jesus had another solution. A boy shared with Him five barley loaves and two fish. He gave thanks for this gift and proceeded to distribute bread and fish to all who were gathered there—five thousand men with women and children besides.
They had never seen a miracle like this! And then the wheels started turning. This abundant food in the wilderness reminded them of something. They thought of Moses’ words, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Deu. 18:15). The people said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” They wanted to make Him their king, but Jesus quietly left them and went up the mountain by Himself to pray.
The next day, the resolve of the people had not changed. Full of anticipation, they located Jesus. But their conversation with Him did not go as they had hoped. Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (Jn. 6:26-27). Jesus exposed the plans of the people that they were looking not for a Savior from sin, but for a savior from hunger. If they wanted a Savior from sin, they should expect to find this in the One who performed all these wonderful miracles. But the people just wanted their physical needs satisfied, and following Jesus seemed like the way to accomplish this. They focused on the gift when they should have been focusing on the Giver.
This was true of the Old Testament Israelites also, but forty years of continuous manna from heaven taught them something. Before they entered the land of Canaan, Moses recounted the people’s journey through the wilderness. He said, “And [the LORD] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deu. 8:3).
Our bodies certainly need food. That is how the LORD designed them even before the fall into sin. But we are not to live “by bread alone.” This means that our days and our lives should be occupied with more than the pursuit of daily bread. We learn in the Catechism that “daily bread includes everything needed for this life.” We also learn that it is God who gives daily bread, even to all the wicked. We know by experience this is true. Each of us can say that God has given us earthly blessings far beyond our basic needs, like the large amount of leftovers collected after Jesus fed the multitude.
But these earthly gifts can only do so much for us. They only go so far. Their usefulness is limited to our short life on earth. Jesus pointed out to the people that “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died” (Jn. 6:49). It was bread from heaven, but it did not bring with it the promise of eternal life. In the same way, Jesus could continue to produce for the people vast amounts of food from very little or even out of nothing, but what good would this do for their souls?
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (vv. 35,51). And how did the people react to this? They “disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (v. 52). Well, how could He? He had already told them. “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life” (40). Jesus, the Bread of Life, is consumed by all who believe the Gospel message. God’s gracious Word is the platter that serves up Jesus. His flesh and blood are the main course which satisfies the hungry soul.
But does your soul feel hunger pains for Jesus? Are you more concerned about “the food that perishes,” or “the food that endures to eternal life”? This is a real struggle. You know very well when your stomach is empty. And you can see when your earthly goods need to be fixed or replaced. But it is not as obvious when faith is running near empty, or when your understanding about God and your perspective on life in the world needs to be fixed or replaced. If you go without food for twenty-four hours, your body lets you know. There is discomfort and pain. But you can go twenty-four or forty-eight hours, or seven days, a few weeks, or even a number of months without realizing that your faith is starving.
Faith is not some mountain to climb or goal to reach, that once you have gotten there and know the facts, you never need to return again. Faith hungers for the Bread of Life, for Jesus. If faith does not hear Jesus and receive Jesus and be filled up with Jesus, then it cannot last. But if faith is given a steady diet of Jesus through home devotions and the administration of the Word and Sacraments at church, the Lord promises that it will not expire. It will be rejuvenated and strengthened just as your body is whenever you eat.
There is no better food for your soul. Your soul hungers for forgiveness and life, because by nature you have sin and death. This sin is what tricks you into thinking that you have no pressing spiritual need, and that your pursuit of earthly riches is more important than anything else. But the world’s goods go the same way as the manna the Israelites sinfully tried to stockpile overnight. They leave a bad taste in the mouth, and in the end they are worthless. The food, clothing, and home that you have are gifts from God. But they must never take the place of Jesus and His Word.
When Jesus comes to you through the Gospel, He counteracts the sin and death in you. He chokes the old Adam which is trying to choke you. He starves the death that is hungry for you. He has the power to do that because sin already did its worst against Him, and death already swallowed Him up in the grave. Neither was able to destroy Him, and He emerged victorious over sin, death, and hell. Whenever you consume Jesus by faith, whether by hearing His Word, or by eating and drinking His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, you are partaking of His victory and filling yourself with His life.
For all who hunger and thirst for righteousness believing in His name, Jesus Gives the Food That Endures to Eternal Life. He gives you the food of Himself which never grows old, never spoils, and never runs out. This Bread of Life is the rich nourishment your soul needs—a holy food offered to you for this life and for the life to come.
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