The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 5:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who by the power of His Word “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20), dear fellow redeemed:
About the middle of this past week when I was attending our church camp with the youth, Kristin asked me if my time there seemed like work or like a getaway. As much as I enjoy camp—and we do have a good time—I told her that we pastors stay very busy with teaching, preaching, and chaperoning. And it’s not always clear what effect our efforts have. Do the campers leave camp with a clearer understanding of Law and Gospel? Have they grown in their faith? Has their love for God and for each other increased? Those things are difficult to measure.
We live in a results-driven society where everything gets measured. The success of a sports franchise is determined by how many titles it has won. Businesses are constantly doing cost and profit analyses to find their way in the market. Individuals are judged by their grades and their personal accomplishments. Even churches fall into the “results” trap and measure the effectiveness of their mission by their attendance totals or by how significant their financial holdings are.
Judged by this kind of standard, we would conclude that Simon, James, and John were not the greatest fishermen. They worked all through the night and didn’t catch a thing. What was the problem? Were their methods faulty? Had they chosen the wrong parts of the lake? Did they try at the wrong time? What exactly was keeping them from success?
But the message of today’s Gospel is not a tutorial from Jesus about how to maximize one’s success at fishing or anything else. The message is that no matter what skill and effort we might apply in our work, no matter what plans we make and what success we have had in the past, we cannot accomplish anything good apart from God’s mercy and the blessing of His Word.
The fishermen hadn’t done anything wrong in their approach to catching fish. They had been fishing for a long time, probably since they were kids. They wouldn’t stay up all night fishing unless they felt confident that the fish they would catch would outweigh the lack of sleep. They couldn’t explain why their nets came up empty. For whatever reason, the fish just weren’t there. They must have felt frustrated as they cleaned their nets on the shore. And tired.
But then something happened to take their attention away from their troubles. A great crowd had gathered on the lake shore. The people were listening to Jesus, that prophet from Nazareth, whom John the Baptizer identified as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Joh. 1:29). Everyone wanted to hear Jesus and get a good look at Him, so they pressed toward Him. It was similar to how people act around a famous person today, all crowding in to get a picture or an autograph.
Jesus decided that a change was needed, so the people could focus on His Word and not on how close they could get to Him. He saw fishing boats on the shore and asked Simon to take Him out a little ways. From His place in the boat, He continued teaching with Simon sitting there listening. When He was done speaking, He told Simon to row to a deeper part of the lake and let down his nets for a catch.
Conventional wisdom said that if the fish couldn’t be caught the previous night, they certainly couldn’t be caught that day. Simon said to Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” But he had been listening to what Jesus was saying that morning. He recognized that Jesus was a prophet of some sort. “[A]t Your word I will let down the nets,” he said.
He was shocked to see the fish swarming, the nets breaking, and the boats filling. Simon cast out the nets just as he had the night before. The method hadn’t changed. But now he had an abundance of fish whereas before he had none. What was the difference? The difference was the Word of Jesus. Jesus spoke the Word, and He gave the increase. Jesus gave success to Simon. Jesus put fish in the boats.
This should teach us to put our trust in the Lord’s Word. Look at what His Word accomplished! It moved the disciples to action even after their previous efforts had failed. It filled the nets that before had come up empty. And it caused them to leave behind their historic haul of fish to follow Jesus. His Word continues to do amazing things like these each and every day. The problem is that we don’t recognize the hand God has in supplying our daily needs and giving us success.
We imagine that our work succeeds because of how gifted we are and because of how hard we try. “Look at what I have accomplished,” we think. “Look at what my hands have built.” But if we take all the glory for our successes, don’t we deserve all the blame for our failures? That’s not often how it goes. We are glad to receive praise for the good things, but we quickly pass the blame for the bad things.
Or maybe we do see our failure in earthly things as proof that we are no good. We imagine that God frowns on us and that He must be punishing us. We approach our work with a defeatist attitude. “Why should I even try? It isn’t going to work anyway. If it failed once, it will certainly fail again.”
Both of those perspectives are sinful—the idea that everything good we have is a result of our efforts, and the idea that we’re better off not trying anymore when we have failed. Simon was right to fall down before Jesus and acknowledge his sins. Each of us should do the same. We should recognize and acknowledge every day that we are sinners.
When our prideful or despairing hearts have been pierced by the Law of God, the difference between His holiness and our sinfulness couldn’t be more obvious. We see that even our best moments in life did not put us close to the glory of God. The thought that we could ever be good enough to get ourselves to heaven is an outright lie of the devil, and it destroys saving faith.
Simon had just pulled in the greatest catch of fish that he had ever seen, but when he realized what had happened, his eyes shifted to Jesus. And when he saw Jesus, he felt as though all his sins were laid bare before the almighty God. He wanted to hide. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” he said. “I am not worthy to be in Your presence. I am not worthy to receive Your gifts.”
Simon was right about that. But Jesus did not leave him. He said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Simon did not have to fear the wrath of God. Jesus had come to save sinners. He had come to atone for Simon’s sins and to give Simon special work—the work of preaching the Word of Jesus. Jesus’ Word which had filled Simon’s nets with fish would also fill God’s nets with repentant believers.
This is a net you want to be caught in, and which you are in through the saving Word. You were lost in the darkness, living without hope or a purpose like so many in the world today. And God drew you to Himself with the net of His Word. He called you out of darkness. He brought you forgiveness and life in the calm waters of Baptism. He claimed you as His own, and He still claims you.
But as you look back through your life, you know how much time you have wasted in pursuing your own plans. You know how prideful you have been when you have done well, and how you have failed to give glory to God for your success. And you know how easily you have given up when everything didn’t work out just the way you wanted. What kind of servant are you in the Lord’s kingdom? Why should He look kindly upon you? You can understand why Simon said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
But Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; I forgive you all your sins. I died and rose again for you. I will not depart from you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” His Word of grace restores you. It lifts you out of your sin and despair. It shifts your focus from the gifts to the Giver, from your successes to your Savior, from the nets full of blessings to the One who fills them.
And when you recognize that The Word of God Gives the Increase, then you are ready for the work He has called you to do. You are ready to give your best to your family and your employer, knowing that God has called you to these vocations and will bless your efforts. You are ready to work humbly, knowing that you do not deserve either the opportunities you have or the success.
All the good things you have in this life and in the life to come are from the powerful Word of God. The Word He has spoken makes the sun shine, the rain fall, and the plants grow. His Word brought about your existence through the union of your parents and keeps you going. His Word gives life all around the world. Hebrews 1 says that the Son of God “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (v. 3). And His Word brought the light of faith to your heart and makes your faith strong.
The Word of God can do what we consider impossible. It works even when the conditions don’t seem right and conventional wisdom says it will fall flat. The Word changes hearts. It comforts consciences. It is always effective. That means as the Word continues to be in your ears, in your mind, and in your heart, God will bring blessings in all that you do.
These blessings are not measurable according to the standards of the world. God’s Word may not appear to make much difference. But God is constantly at work through His Word. He promises that His Word will not return to Him empty, and that He will continue to give us blessing upon blessing each and every day.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture of the miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)
The Festival of Pentecost – Pr. Faugstad exordium & sermon
It was an astonishing event. First a sound from heaven “like a mighty rushing wind” filled the inside of the house where the disciples were. Then tongues of fire rested on each one of them. Then these common men—many of them Galilean fisherman—could instantly speak in other languages. The Holy Spirit had come just as Jesus had promised.
How could anyone deny the powerful working of God? How could anyone question His presence? How could anyone ignore the inspired message that came from the mouths of the disciples? But some did. They mocked the disciples and said, “They are filled with new wine” (Act. 2:13). “They are drunk!” they said. “Nothing to see here!”
Did the scoffers not know the difference between drunkenness and clear preaching? A drunk man is laughed at. A serious man speaking in a language he isn’t supposed to know is listened to. But no matter how true, no matter how compelling, no matter how wonderful their message was, the sinful nature of their opponents pushed against it.
That’s how all of us are by nature. We are skeptical about the things of God. We want everything to fit the way that we think. We want everything to make sense to our rational minds. That was not possible on Pentecost. Things were happening that could not be explained. God the Holy Spirit had been poured out, and by the end of the day against all odds, thousands of Jewish people heard the disciples’ preaching and believed it.
This shows us how the Holy Spirit is able to overcome our sinful stubbornness. He is able to pierce our sin-hardened hearts, and He does it through the Word of God. We need Him to keep working in us through the Word, so that we ignore our know-it-all nature and put our only trust in the only God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
We now rise to sing our festival hymn—a prayer for the Holy Spirit’s continued blessing—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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Text: St. John 14:23-31
In Christ Jesus, who made peace between us and God by shedding His precious blood, and who imparts that peace to us by the power of the Holy Spirit, dear fellow redeemed:
What troubles you today? Is it a medical issue or some persistent aches and pains? Is it concerns about family members or friends? Is it the pressure of work that needs to get done? Is it the rising price of gas and food? Or maybe your troubles are deeper: a guilty conscience, a burden of grief, a sense of worthlessness.
“Let not your heart be troubled,” says Jesus in today’s reading. He said it first to His disciples the night before His death. It is clear that the weight of the moment and of Jesus’ predictions did trouble them. So Jesus spoke many comforting words to them (Joh. 14, ESV):
- “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (v. 3).
- “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (v. 14).
- “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (v. 16).
- “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (v. 18).
- “Because I live, you also will live” (v. 19).
Despite all these comforting words, Jesus still saw the turmoil in the hearts of His dear friends. They could not see His plan clearly yet, but they would. In time, they would understand why Jesus had to suffer and die. They would understand the significance of His resurrection and His ascension to the right hand of God the Father. They would understand these things because of the work of “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father [would] send in [Jesus’] name.”
The events of Pentecost were Jesus’ promise kept. God the Father and God the Son did send out God the Holy Spirit, and the change in Jesus’ disciples was immediate. Not only were they enabled to speak in languages which earlier that day had been foreign to them. But now they stepped forward boldly preaching the death and resurrection of Jesus in the same city where He had been arrested and crucified fifty-two days before.
Peter called out to the crowds, “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” (Act. 2:38). About three thousand souls were baptized that day. Countless more have been baptized since then, including you. That means you also have received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” that Peter talked about.
But how do you know you have the Holy Spirit? Could it be that He has come and gone since the day of your Baptism? You don’t hear “a sound like a mighty rushing wind” to show He is near. You can’t feel His presence inside you. As far as I know, you can’t speak in tongues like the apostles did. And besides all that, your heart is still often troubled. Would that be the case if the Holy Spirit were with you?
The tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost did not mean that the apostles’ troubles were all over. The Christian congregation in Jerusalem had a good beginning, but it wasn’t long before persecution set in at the instigation of a young man named Saul. Christians were arrested and thrown in jail. Some of them were killed. Many were displaced from their homes and fled to other cities and towns.
And the Holy Spirit was with them through it all. We know this because they had the Gospel. They had the message of what Jesus did to save sinners, and they rejoiced in it even as they were chased from their homes. They held onto the Word of Jesus as their most valuable possession. They paid attention to it. They kept it close. That’s what the word “keep” means when Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
Clinging to the pure Word of God, the Christians could be certain they had God Himself. This is still true. You can know God is with you as long as you are connected to His Word and hear and learn it with a humble faith. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit teaches you all things. He brings to your remembrance the comforting things Jesus said. And He gives you the gift that Jesus left behind when He ascended into heaven. He gives you peace.
But it is not peace like the world gives, says Jesus. The world offers peace through entertainment and pleasures—“Connect yourself to this thing, and you can escape the stresses of life for a while.” Or it offers peace through medication or other substances—“Take this pill, drink this down, and you will be able to cope.” The peace the world has can only be a temporary peace. The world is focused entirely on symptoms and not the underlying condition.
Peace is not possible where sin goes undiagnosed. The poison of sin inside us and around us in the world is the reason that peace seems so elusive. We want to escape our troubles, but we can’t. We want to feel better, but we don’t. In order to open our hearts to the peace of God, the Holy Spirit must expose those things within us that stand in the way of peace.
Our pride stands in the way of peace—refusing to forgive others who have sinned against us. Our bitterness stands in the way of peace—blaming everyone else for the troubles in our life. Our doubt stands in the way of peace—wondering if God’s Word really is trustworthy. These sinful thoughts are encouraged and magnified by the devil. He wants us to be discontent and cowardly. He wants to keep us from true and lasting peace.
The Holy Spirit counters this diabolical work. The Holy Spirit leads us to the Prince of Peace, the One who made peace between us and the mighty God. The peace He made is an everlasting peace, not a temporary one. It doesn’t just treat the symptoms of our spiritual condition; it gets to the very root of it. Jesus made peace by fulfilling each and every demand of God’s holy Law and by offering Himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
The shedding of His precious blood made peace with God. The peace that Jesus won on the cross means that heaven is open to you and the gates of hell are closed to you forever. The peace He won means that all your sins—no matter what they might be—are forgiven before God. Your pride is forgiven. Your bitterness and anger are forgiven. Your doubts and your weak faith are forgiven.
But your sins and my sins are so many. Can it really be true? You know it is true because God says it is. Whenever this becomes unclear to you, whenever you forget, the Holy Spirit comes powerfully through the Word to remind you. He comes to apply this peace to your heart. He works the peace of God within you each time you hear His Word and partake of His Sacraments.
And as He brings you “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phi. 4:7), you will find that the troubles in the world, the troubles at work, even the troubles in your home are not as severe as they seemed. None of these troubles is too much for God. None of them is beyond His help. Like the disciples, you may struggle for a time wondering how God can possibly turn your troubles into good. But the sun always chases away the darkness. The Lord’s mercies “are new every morning” (Lam. 3:23).
The holy God loves you. He is committed to your care. He knows what troubles you and promises to save you from it. Jesus did not leave His disciples to fend for themselves. As He did for them, so He does for you. He sends you the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit brings peace.
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 is stained glass at Saude Lutheran Church)
The Sunday after the Ascension – Vicar Colin Anderson sermon
Text: St. John 15:26-16:4
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow redeemed:
Most of us can think of a time when someone helped us, perhaps even at a time when we felt we needed it most. It might have been someone lending a hand to help bring in your groceries or offering an arm to help you cross the street or out of a chair. There are also times when people rally together after a natural disaster hits their community, such as a tornado or hurricane. Or instances where a person goes missing and people come together in a joint effort to search for them. We saw this call to action in our country after the attacks on 9/11 and we see it throughout history when nation attacks nation in War.
In our text today Jesus warned the disciples of a different kind of warfare, telling them that their lives were going to get harder. He said He would have to leave the disciples and when He goes people were going to hate them and even try to do them harm. The warfare they were about to face would be both physical and spiritual.
Jesus was going to die a brutal death on Good Friday at the hands of the Jews and then on Sunday He would rise from the dead. For the next forty days on earth, Jesus would appear to His disciples at least nine times.
At the end of these forty days Jesus visibly ascended in body before His disciples to the right hand of power, ruling over His kingdom for all eternity. Lifting off the ground and rising up high above the disciples, He would disappear behind the clouds never to be seen again until He returns on the last day.
The disciples would try and remember the words of their Lord. They would remember that their lives are going to become worse and now, it appears, as if Jesus leaves them alone to face this persecution. But, Jesus taught His disciples and us that His departure is also good for them. He said to them, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. (John 16:7) Jesus clearly tells them they will need a helper and that they will receive one from Him.
Just as Jesus faced opposition and persecution in His life now His followers will face the same. On their own the disciples would not be able to withstand the hardships ahead of them, and Jesus knew this. Jesus promised to send His helper to equip the disciples with the tools to proclaim this truth, first around Jerusalem and then to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) It is why he gave them, and us, the Holy Spirit.
At first it appears like this ‘helper’ Jesus speaks of isn’t all that helpful. Jesus warns, “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” (John 16:2) The Spirit of truth coming at Pentecost is offensive to the world because He comes to bear witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. (John 16:13)
It is becoming more and more prevalent in our society to look for help and comfort in the things of this world rather than in God’s Word. This isn’t surprising considering we rely so heavily on what we can see, feel, touch and smell for our comfort. Lately I’ve been hearing people use the statement, ‘as long as they feel better, that’s all that matters.’ Is receiving help based on lies and uncertainty good for us and really all that matters? Should we really promote “feeling better” based on lies and deception?
There are plenty of things that could make us feel better for a time, but are ultimately terrible for us. They may bring us temporary physical relief, but can they bring comfort to our soul? Every day people turn to vices, addictions, habits and pleasures to help the hurt and pain they are feeling inside. But, all of these do tremendous damage to their soul and God warns us to stay away from them for our own good.
These poisonous thoughts and beliefs are everywhere and Jesus’ Words are a warning to us as much as they were for His disciples. Being told you are a sinner is hard to hear and many people, even so called Christians, don’t want to hear it. Those who refuse to hear the truth will claim you are intolerant and closed-minded if you try to point towards their sin and speak the truth in love.
These are who Jesus refers to when He said, they will think they are doing service to God; when they cast you out and make up their own truth claiming it’s for God’s Kingdom. (John 16:2) You can’t predict what you will face in your life, but you can be certain that affliction and persecution will come.
We too can find ourselves deceived by this way of thinking. When we are in need of help, do we always look to Jesus and His Word first? Many times we look for help and comfort apart from Him, wanting something to make us feel good, wanting something to numb the bad feelings we have. St. Paul urges us, to “watch out for these deceptive human philosophies of the world that are not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8) The devil and this world are always trying to entice you away from the truth by their deceptive teachings.
Thankfully the Holy Spirit has worked repentance in our heart through the Law and worked faith in our heart through the Gospel. He has shown us the truth about ourselves and the truth about our Savior. Jesus said, “but the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26) He reminds us that all of this is found in the words Jesus said. In His Word the Holy Spirit comes to us and helps us. In His Word that He bears witness to Christ and to the truth of all that He has done for us.
In the same way the Father sent Jesus purely as a gift so also is the helper sent by His Son. He is sent to pierce our ugly cold hearts and to turn them into beautiful warm hearts. The Spirit of truth does not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He speaks. (John 16:13) This is the truth the Holy Spirit taught the disciples and what He still teaches you today.
This is what He helps you to remember, especially when you are deeply burdened by your sins and failures. (John 16:4) He comforts you by coming to you through His Word and Sacraments and declaring only what He has been given to declare. He proceeds from the Father and the Son. He brings the gifts of the Father, which were obtained for you by the Son.
The help the world offers usually makes you feel good inside, but that is not always the case for the Holy Spirit. You’ll hear our opponents ask, ‘if you can’t feel Him how do you know He is there?’ You know He is here because He bears witness to the truth grounded in Jesus, the Son of God. Wherever God’s Word is taught in truth and purity, there is the Holy Spirit.
Emotions are deceptive; they are good and bad, feeling high one day and low the next even moment to moment. Feeling good isn’t always what we need and this is why our helper doesn’t promise to make us feel good. Jesus came to first and foremost address your heart and soul. The physical hurt and pain of this life matters to Him, but the cleansing of your soul matters far more. He came to take away your sin in order to hand you salvation and this goes deeper than feelings and emotions.
Jesus Sends You the Greatest Helper. He is the greatest helper because He bears witness about Jesus the Son of God who came to save you! He sends the Holy Spirit to speak about Him, not to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but instead to shape you and refine you through the means of God’s grace. He uses the visible means of bread and wine to bring the invisible forgiveness, mercy and life found only in Jesus given and shed body and blood.
He brings you the true body and blood of your Lord even though you can’t see them. He uses earthly elements to bring you heavenly gifts and blessings. Though not always seen or felt, the forgiveness and redemption won by Jesus is truly bestowed on each of you through the power of the Holy Spirit and this is far greater than feeling good because God’s promises are certain and are never deceiving.
The Holy Spirit is your helper; He picks you up and puts the strength of His power in you even as you feel like you can’t do it. He helps you depend on Jesus and His Word alone. Jesus said all of these things to you to keep you from falling away and it is with the help of the Holy Spirit that you can persevere. (John 16:1) He gives you the strength to speak up against false doctrine and motivates you to speak about the hope you have in Christ Jesus.
He is at work in you throughout your life. Working through your hardships and trials always turning you back to Jesus for your comfort. The process isn’t always pleasant and at times it is very hard, but through hardship the Holy Spirit is making you wiser, stronger, courageous and more humble always relying on Jesus.
The forgiveness won by Jesus Christ and brought you by the Holy Spirit forgives you of all the times you looked for help in other things and the things of this world. Jesus’ life and death brought to you by the Helper is the greatest help there is. It isn’t a false hope that only makes you feel better for a little while, it is a true hope that makes you feel better forever. He has come to bring comfort and relief for the burdens of your soul. Your soul rests in the truth that God sees you cleansed in the blood of Jesus.
The Helper brings the free gifts of heaven to earth, from our precious Savior to us unworthy sinners. He was sent by Jesus to bring you righteousness and salvation. He brings you everything you need for this life and for the life to come in heaven.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from stained glass at Saude Lutheran Church)
The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. John 16:16-23
In Christ Jesus, who by His death and resurrection turns sorrow into never ending joy, dear fellow redeemed;
Which lasts longer, sorrow or joy? Doesn’t it often feel like sorrow lingers on and on and joy only lasts a short time? We want our times of sorrow to come to an end and want our times of joy to never end. In our text Jesus promises that very thing, that our sorrow will only last a little while and our joy will last forever.
Jesus knew how his disciples were going to be treated after He left them. The world wouldn’t welcome this little church following the teachings of Jesus Christ just as it hadn’t welcomed Him. He said, “truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” (John 16:20)
Jesus said these words the night before He was crucified and He was speaking of His approaching death and resurrection three days later. The disciples would be filled with shock and sorrow when He is taken from them, beaten, killed and buried, but then filled with joy when they see Him alive again.
We have all lost things dear to us and most of us have lost people we love. Separated now by death we can no longer see them and this causes deep pain, grief and sadness. For a moment try and imagine losing your Savior. This is what the disciples would be facing. God incarnate, who healed all infirmities by His touch, cast out servants of the devil and wiped away death by a spoken word was going to die and be buried. To the disciples Jesus, who promised to save all mankind from sin and eternal death, appeared defeated.
Like the disciples we are faced with a great sadness. We live in a world that has rejected Jesus and His Word. Our soul is sad because the world, the devil and our sinful flesh are constantly waging war against us. They batter against us like waves crashing against the rocks. This sometimes makes it difficult to see Jesus and our sin appears so big that He begins to appear small.
Sorrow over sin sometimes makes us feel as though Jesus has forgotten us. Grief clouds our eyes of faith and makes seeing His love nearly impossible. Sin weakens our faith and drags us down. Where is this joy Jesus was talking about, should we look for it deep down in our heart? What if we search for joy and we can’t find it, has the joy Jesus promised vanished, didn’t He say no one could take it from us? (John 16:22)
When we see the unbelieving world thriving around us without a care in the world, it can be discouraging to us, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Jesus said the world would rejoice after He died. (John 16:20) Tragically, for them, the joy they experience will not last forever, it will only last a little while. When unbelievers die they will be abruptly met with a sorrow that will last for eternity.
We, also, struggle to address sorrow as we should. Sometimes we look inside ourselves to try and alleviate the sadness or we might look to our friends. But like Job maybe they aren’t the right friends? After Job was afflicted with painful boils from the sole of his foot to his head, his own wife encouraged him to, “curse God and die” (Job 2:9) But Job replied, “shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10)
Do we always faithfully accept adversity? Sadly, we do not. Instead we foolishly take a page out of the world’s playbook and begin looking for comfort and relief in earthly pleasures. We might turn to alcohol or prescription pills; maybe we turn to delicious food or something else to fill our dark pit of sadness. We attempt to numb the pain at all costs, even for just a short while.
It can appear like these are the answer to our problems, but when the bottle runs out or the last pill is swallowed we find ourselves in deeper sorrow than we were before. None of these have the answer and none can bring lasting comfort.
Jesus tells us in our text that women are filled with sorrow when the hour to deliver a baby comes. This is because anguish and uncertainty has settled in. However, those moments of sheer pain and sorrow are only for a little while and when the baby has arrived it brings tremendous joy and happiness. So much so Jesus says, “they no longer remember the anguish for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:21)
It is an honor and a privilege to assist the almighty God in bringing life into this world. On Mother’s Day we thank God for all the mothers who helped bring each one of us into the world. God uses mothers to carry out miracles each and every day. They provide for their children from the moment they find out they are expecting to the day they are separated in death. A mother’s love for her children is a small picture of the love God has for all of His children.
Jesus uses this picture of childbirth to portray to us how His atoning work on the cross brings us joy. Jesus’ death on the cross brought sorrow and grief to the disciples, but then it brought them eternal joy. The sorrow of the cross is deep and painful but it only lasts a little while. The Son of God appeared defeated; death and the devil appeared to have won, but Jesus rose triumphant from the grave and this brings joy that lasts forever.
The pain of childbirth is short, the joy of a child lasts a lifetime. Though there is sadness in our own lives and the lives of our children it is just a short while compared to the eternal life that awaits us. In heaven we won’t remember sadness, pain, or worry, all we will know is perfect and complete joy. We will dwell in a place of true happiness, contentment and love with our Savior forever. We can say like St. Paul, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
The joy born by Christ’s death is an eternal joy because it is a birth that brings eternal life, righteousness and salvation. “[The Pharisee:] Nicodemus said to Jesus, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:4–5)
In our Baptism we have been born by water and the Spirit, that is where our birth of faith in Christ’s work took place. It produces an overflowing joy in our heart that never runs dry. Our joy is secured in the blood of the lamb, the blood of God the Son. He drowns our sorrows in His blood and in it He washes all of them away.
This joy can never be taken from you because it can never be taken from your Lord. It isn’t found inside you and it isn’t found in temporal pleasures. It is found in Jesus Christ and His flesh and blood given and shed for you on the cross. Like a beautiful paradox, where on the cross the deepest and darkest sorrow was experienced we find our greatest joy. Where our God and brother Jesus drank the cup of sorrow is where our eternal joy was born.
Jesus said, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22) Your sorrow lasts a little while; your joy lasts forever. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:38)
Jesus’ cross is how He gained joy for you because there is no true joy without the forgiveness of sins. Jesus comes in the midst of your sorrow to bring you lasting joy. Jesus took away your sins and He doesn’t stop there; He also intercedes for you even as you struggle against your sin. He is constantly visiting your failures with His gracious victory.
In your sorrow and regret Jesus brings you His forgiveness and fills your soul with eternal rejoicing. He forgives the times you look for answers to pain in worldly pleasures and He forgives when you fall back into sin after you promised you wouldn’t. Jesus doesn’t wait for you to pull yourself out of sadness; He meets your sorrow with everlasting comfort, relief, and joy. The cross of Christ fills you with the perfect life of Jesus and a joy that lasts forever.
Why should cross and trial grieve me?
Christ is near with His cheer;
Never will He leave me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
That God’s Son, for my own;
To my faith hath given? (ELH 377 vs. 1)
(picture from “Jesus Discourses with His Disciples” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
St. Philip & St. James, Apostles – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 14:1-14
In Christ Jesus, whom we did not choose, but who chose us, and appointed us to go and bear fruit in His name (Joh. 15:16), dear fellow redeemed:
What do you want to be remembered for? Being a hard worker and achieving success in your job? Winning at the highest level of competition? Making a better life for yourself and your family? Being a pillar in the community? A good neighbor? A nice person? All of those are proper goals. But in all likelihood, most of what we do will not be remembered—at least not a few decades from now and certainly not 100 or 200 years from now.
The only reason we remember anything about the apostles Philip and James is because of their connection to Jesus. If He did not call them to follow Him, they would have been completely lost to history. As it is, we still know very little about them.
We know a little more about Philip. After Jesus was revealed as the Messiah at His Baptism and was tempted for forty days in the wilderness, He then went north to Galilee. He entered the town of Bethsaida where Andrew and Peter lived, and He found Philip. “Follow me,” He said (Joh. 1:43). Philip in turn found Nathanael, and from then on, both of them followed Jesus.
The other times that Philip is specifically mentioned in the Gospels, he seems most closely connected with Andrew. When Jesus put the question to Philip about feeding the crowd of 5,000, Philip replied that the need was too great (Joh. 6:7). Then Andrew chimed in that a boy had “five barley loaves and two fish” (v. 9). But what good could they do for such a large crowd? Another time, some Greeks approached Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (Joh. 12:21). Instead of going right to Jesus, Philip told Andrew, and both of them went to Jesus. And then we heard the exchange between Jesus and Philip about seeing the Father.
James was there too at all those occasions, but we have no record of his words like we do for Philip. There were two Jameses among the apostles. This one is not the fisherman brother of John, who was part of Jesus’ inner circle. The Gospels identify this James as “James the son of Alphaeus.” Matthew’s father was also named Alphaeus (Mar. 2:14), so it is possible that James and Matthew were brothers.
James’ mother was one of the Marys who followed Jesus from Galilee, who stood at His cross, watched His burial, and was greeted by the angel at the empty tomb on Easter morning. So his mother witnessed the most important events in Jesus’ life, which James missed because he was afraid and had gone into hiding along with most of the other disciples. James is referred to as “the younger” or “the less” to distinguish him from the other apostle of the same name (Mar. 15:40).
The reason Philip and James are remembered together on May 1st is because their supposed remains were transported to Rome at the same time in the sixth century. So then they began to be commemorated in the church on the same day. That’s about all we know of these two apostles.
While we might want to know more about them, there is something good about knowing so little. It makes it easier for us to imagine ourselves in their place. We see how Philip failed the test that Jesus gave him at the feeding of the 5,000. We see how he failed to understand Jesus’ words in today’s text. In both cases, Philip was concerned about having “enough.” “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (Joh. 6:7), he said. And in today’s Gospel, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Philip worried about having enough for physical needs and enough for spiritual needs.
We can certainly relate to that. We often worry about having enough money, enough strength, enough patience, enough support. “What are we going to do? How will we make it?” Jesus gave us a prayer for times like these, a very simple petition: “Give us this day our daily bread.” But how can we be certain that our Father in heaven hears us? And why should we have to pray for what He already knows we need? And if He already knows we need it, why hasn’t He given it?
So our concerns about physical things quickly turn into spiritual concerns. We always want more from God—more assurance of His love, more proof of His power, more evidence that He really is in charge and will provide for all our needs. If only God would give us a glimpse of His glory. If only we had more to go on than Jesus’ Word. “Lord, show us the Father,” we say, “and it is enough for us.”
We can relate to James too, James who didn’t say or do anything that needed to be recorded in the inspired pages of the Bible. Maybe he was quiet and introverted, hardly noticed. Maybe he felt ashamed that he didn’t have the courage of Thomas who was ready to die with Jesus (Joh. 11:16), or of Peter who drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. Maybe he wondered what caused Jesus to choose a person like him in the first place.
But Jesus did not choose the disciples for what they could do for Him; He chose them for what He could do for them. When Jesus asked Philip about feeding the 5,000 in the wilderness, He did it to strengthen Philip’s faith. “He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do” (Joh. 6:6). And when Philip wanted more evidence of Jesus’ connection to the Father, Jesus taught the disciples that they already had everything they needed.
He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also…. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works.” Everything Jesus said and did, He received from His Father. God the Father and God the Son worked perfectly together. One was not before or after the other; one was not greater or less than the other (Athanasian Creed).
This is the God who loves you. His love for you is seen most clearly in the cross. When Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” He said it because of what He was about to accomplish. He was going to the cross to pay for their sins. He was going to pay for their sins of doubt and fear, and for their sins of wanting more when they already had everything in Him.
In the disciples, we see ourselves. We see our own weaknesses and fears. We see our own doubt and discontentment. We feel like we need more from God than what He has given us, even though we already have more than we can comprehend. It sounds foolish to hear Philip say, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus is God incarnate! The disciples had seen Him heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead! What more did they need to see?
But we are no better. We have the living Word of God breathed out by the Holy Spirit—a Word that has brought us out of death to life, that has given us tremendous comfort and hope and strength, that has given us clear purpose and confidence for living out our life in the world. We know everything that Jesus did for our salvation. We have the clear eyewitness accounts of those who saw what He did.
And yet we think the Word is not enough. We are quick to become impatient when God does not answer our prayers as fast as we want or the way we want. We don’t trust Him to give us our daily bread as He has promised, and we put more stock in our work, our efforts. God’s Word is life, but we would rather pursue the things of this world that will all be forgotten, that will all pass away.
That’s why we needed Jesus to go to the cross in obedience to His Father. We needed Him to take the scourging and mockery and death that we deserved. We couldn’t pay the price for our sins, but He could. He did. And then He rose again to assure us that we have a place in heaven. We have a place there not because we earned it, not because we have proved ourselves worthy. We have a place in heaven because God is merciful. Jesus made our sin His own and has given His righteousness to us.
He is “the way, and the truth, and the life.” He is the Way to the Father because of His death and resurrection. He is the Truth because He spoke by the authority of His Father and carried out all things that His Father gave Him to do. He is the Life because death could not hold Him; He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. “No one comes to the Father except through [Him],” which is to say that all who trust in Jesus are children of God the Father.
You are a child of God. He cares for you and provides for you like a shepherd tends his sheep. Your sinful weakness and stubbornness have not caused Him to reject you. As He patiently guided and instructed the twelve disciples, so He guides and instructs you. As He strengthened and comforted them through His Word, so He strengthens and comforts you. As He fed them with His holy Sacraments, so He feeds you.
Do You Have Enough in Jesus? Yes, and more than enough. He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies; He anoints your head with oil; your cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psa. 23:5-6).
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(picture of Philip and James from painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1311)
The Resurrection of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad exordium & sermon
When Job lost nearly everything he had on earth, he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21). What Job said was true. “[W]e brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1Ti. 6:7).
The same was true for Jesus. He was born into poverty with an animal’s manger for His bed. And He died with nothing—no home, no money, not even any clothes. He had no earthly possessions to His name.
It’s funny how so many through the ages have desperately tried to collect earthly things connected to Jesus—wood slivers from His cross, the old nails, the cloth He was wrapped in when He was buried. But even if you held in your hands the real cross, the real nails, the real burial shroud, none of them could save you. There is no power in these things.
There is power in Jesus. Power in a dead man? But He’s not dead anymore—He lives! And He did not come back from the dead empty-handed. He doesn’t have earthly riches to give to you—money, mansions, the kinds of things the world thinks this life is all about.
Jesus has better gifts for you. He has forgiveness for all your sins, which He earned by His suffering and death on the cross. He has life for you, which He won by His victory over death. He has hope for you, the sure hope of eternal life in heaven with all who trust in Him.
So when you die empty-handed, taking none of your earthly treasures with you, you will still have everything you need. You are baptized into Jesus. His blood cleanses you. By faith in Him, His righteousness counts as your righteousness, His victory as your victory.
Since “death no longer has dominion over [Christ]” (Rom. 6:9), it has no dominion over you. And so we rejoice today and every day that: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Please rise for the hymn, “He Is Arisen! Glorious Word!” (#348):
He is arisen! Glorious Word!
Now reconciled is God, my Lord;
The gates of heaven are open.
My Jesus died triumphantly,
And Satan’s arrows broken lie,
Destroyed hell’s direst weapon.
Life He giveth—
He was dead, but see, He liveth!
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Sermon text: St. Mark 16:1-8
In Christ Jesus, by whom death is no more, and life is ours forevermore, dear fellow redeemed:
After the women saw where Jesus was laid in the tomb on Good Friday, they made plans to return and give Him a more proper burial. They would dress the body with spices and oils and no doubt with their tears. But as they made their way to the tomb after the Sabbath day early on Sunday morning, they faced a significant problem. “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” The stone was very large—so large that these women could not possibly move it. They could not get to their beloved Teacher and Lord. A great barrier stood in their way.
This is similar to the way we feel when someone we love dies. We still want to be close to them, but a great barrier stands in our way. The door of death has slammed shut, and we can’t open it. Always ready to cash in on our trouble, the world has some solutions to offer. “We can take the remains of your loved one and make a keepsake that you can always have with you.” “We can mix their ashes with ink and tattoo a memorial onto your arm. Wouldn’t that be a great way to stay connected?” But that doesn’t change the fact that the person we love is dead. “Well then we can try to connect with their spirit. Just pay this fee, and we’ll have you communicating in no time.” These are the ways of the world, but they are not the way of God and His Word.
The women were separated from Jesus, but it wasn’t the stone that stood in their way. It was their lack of faith. The same was true of the eleven disciples who were hiding behind closed doors on that sunny Sunday morning. None of them believed Jesus when He told them He would rise from the dead on the third day. The women expected to find a dead man in the tomb, if only they could get inside.
In reality, the tomb was already empty as they made their way to the cemetery, and that large stone wasn’t going to be a problem either. A mighty angel of the Lord came down from heaven in bright white clothing and rolled away the stone (Mat. 28:2-3). He did not roll it away to let Jesus out. Jesus was already gone. He had risen, and the thick stone walls of the tomb could not hold Him any more than death could. Now in His exalted state, Jesus could pass through those walls. “He is not here,” said the angel. “See the place where they laid Him.”
The evangelist Luke also records a question that the angel asked the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (24:5). The women didn’t know what to say. Everything they had set out to do that morning, everything they thought they knew about the situation, had been turned on its head. The angel recognized how perplexed they were: “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (vv. 6-7). Then the women “remembered his words” (v. 8). Their eyes were starting to open.
Nothing had happened to Jesus that He didn’t expect to happen. Nothing had taken Him by surprise. Everything had gone according to His plan. And it all hinged on “the third day.” Either He would rise from the dead, which would verify every word He said and every promise He made. Or He would not rise and be remembered as a liar or a lunatic. He rose.
But what did it all mean? That’s what the women were trying to figure out. They ran back to the disciples with trembling and amazement. Today’s Gospel reading even says, “they were afraid.” What were they afraid of? They were afraid because they realized they did not know what they thought they knew. They realized Jesus had a different plan than they did, and they hadn’t been listening to Him carefully enough. They were afraid because they had just come face to face with one of God’s angels. It was a lot to take in!
It’s helpful for us to see the women like this. They were with Jesus for the better part of three years, listening to His teaching, watching His miracles—and they still missed the most important thing. They hadn’t seen things clearly. Their faith was weak.
The death of our loved ones exposes the same weaknesses in us. We think the way to keep them closest is by our efforts, by what we do. We try to reach back in the past and hold onto every special moment, every unique experience, we had with them. We dedicate ourselves to “keeping their memory alive,” as though the deceased expect it of us and will somehow be angry if we fail. But carrying that sort of burden brings no comfort, and it doesn’t bring them back from the dead.
Only Jesus can bring them back from the dead, and that is exactly what He promises to do. He says, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Joh. 11:25-26). Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” (v. 25). He is the One who died a death that any coroner would sign off on. And then on the third day, He came alive again. That is where our comfort is to be found—in the One who overcame death and assures all who trust in Him of the same victory.
That victory is yours, dear friends in Christ. It became yours at the death that happened at the baptismal font. Your sinful nature was drowned through the water and Word of baptism, and your new life of faith began. “[You] were buried therefore with [Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, [you] too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Or as the apostle Paul wrote in another place, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Jesus Christ, the One who rose from the dead on Easter morning, now lives in you. This means that even though you are dying, you live. And even though you will die one day and be buried in a grave, you will rise again. What happened with Jesus is a preview of what will happen with you. His empty tomb is what your tomb will look like on the last day. The world says death is final. The Word says death is nothing more than a sleep, from which Jesus will wake up all the dead and raise all believers in Him to the blessedness of eternal life.
It is good to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who have died, whom God gave for our love, our support, and our joy. And it is natural to grieve their loss. But we do not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1Th. 4:13). We grieve without hope if we try to keep the dead alive among us by the things we do. We grieve with hope when we keep our eyes focused on Jesus who overcame death, not just for Himself but for all who trust in Him.
The way to stay close to our loved ones is to stay close to Jesus. He is present here, right now, to bring comfort and encouragement to our grief-stricken hearts. He is always present and eager to bless us through His holy Word and Sacraments. And He promises to come again in glory on the last day to wake up all the sleeping. He is the Conqueror of death, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1Co. 15:20).
Because He rose from the dead, you also will rise. “Because [he lives], you also will live” (Joh. 14:19). “He has risen, as he said” (Mat. 28:6). He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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(woodcut from “The Empty Tomb” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The First Sunday in Lent – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who battled the devil and defeated Him, dear fellow redeemed:
After Jesus’ baptism He immediately went out into the wilderness to be tempted. The apostle Mark records that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus out. (Mark 1:12–13) This means God purposely brought Him out in the wilderness to face off against the devil. It wasn’t as though Jesus had second thoughts and needed motivation but that He consented to His Father’s will.
Not a moment is wasted as the first battle between the prince of light and the prince of darkness begins. Satan knew who Jesus was and since He was fully man the devil attempted to coax Him into sin. He also knew that Jesus would be feeling hungry after fasting for forty days.
Satan tried to use the bodies’ natural need for food to his advantage and it calls to mind how he used food in the Garden of Eden to trap our first parents Adam and Eve. Again the devil thought this was a perfect opportunity to strike. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” He attempted to break the trust Jesus had in His Father. Then the devil says, “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.’” Here he tries to use scripture to provoke Jesus into testing His Father’s promises.
When this also fails, he offers Jesus all power and authority over the kingdoms of the earth. This of course he has no right to offer and yet still foolishly taunts Jesus. He knows what Jesus must do to redeem the world and establish His Kingdom so he tells a lie to try and tempt Jesus away from this salvific work. As if to say, ‘just bow to me and I’ll make things much easier for you; you can avoid all the suffering you have ahead.’
The devil is called the father of lies and the inventor of sin, but these are just a few of his names. In our text Jesus calls him Satan, this comes from the Hebrew language and it means adversary, or in the more literal sense “one lying in ambush for.” In first Peter we hear, “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) This fits the definition of Satan quite well, he is our “adversary” and he stalks us like a lion waiting to ambush its prey. Satan learns all our weaknesses and makes plans on how he is going to devour us.
He makes these plans against those who are baptized in the name of the Triune God. Once you are marked as a Child of God, Satan uses this mark as a target on your back. You are now his main rival and he will do whatever it takes to tear you away from God and drag you back into the wilderness of sin and death.
We are born with original sin, or as Luther refers to it, the “old Adam.” We have wicked thoughts and desires and without the grace of God temptation is impossible to overcome. No matter how hard we fight our sinful human nature gives in to temptation. St. Paul writes, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3) While we live here on earth we are both saint and sinner. We have been justified by Christ’s work but our sinful nature still clings to us.
Because of this reality Satan’s assaults continue. He plants the seed of doubt. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4–5) All it takes is for us to question God once and Satan has caught us in his trap; he’s already convinced us that we know better than God.
All of us have the innate desire to push the limits of sin, almost as if we fear danger and yet also have an odd fascination with it. We live in a culture that accepts and praises just about anything. They tell us, ‘go for it, as long as it isn’t hurting anyone else it’s not a big deal’. This impacts even the way Christians think, ‘just one more little look won’t hurt anyone, just a tiny bit more won’t cause any harm’.
We foolishly put ourselves in danger and think; I shouldn’t be here right now but I’ll be okay, I can take care of myself. We want so badly to be accepted by others or find the right spouse that we look for them in the wrong places. We think, ‘I don’t agree with what my friends do, but they’re all I have and I’ll never let myself become like them.’ We justify our actions and the people we choose to surround ourselves with because we don’t want to admit we are wrong and we tell ourselves lies to avoid the truth.
These thoughts come from the devil and from our own sinful flesh. When we act in these ways we test God and become our own god. (Deuteronomy 6:16) (Exodus 20:3) We arrogantly think we can keep from sinning even when we recklessly place ourselves in temptation. That’s like placing your hand in an open flame thinking you won’t get burned. Thankfully for our sake the Spirit brought Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.
The wilderness is where Satan first tried to stop the work of Christ but it continued throughout His life. (Luke 4:13) Satan even used the disciples to try and trip Him up. Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me” (Matthew 16:23) and a later time the devil entered the heart of Judas Iscariot before he betrayed Jesus. (John 13:2)
Jesus was tempted in every way that Peter, Judas and you and me are. The writer to the Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Being both God and man Jesus had a perfect human nature. He went into the wilderness fully capable of resisting all temptation and sin. Jesus didn’t need to make full use of His divine attributes to defeat the devil; He didn’t do any miracles to keep the devil at bay. Jesus resisted the devil’s attack as a perfect human with flesh and blood like you and me!
He is mankind in its perfection and defeated our adversary and all temptation, restoring what the first Adam lost. Jesus was sent into the wilderness and there He rebuked every temptation the devil threw at Him, so that you would be led out of the wilderness of sin into the life He won for you.
Jesus was winning salvation and giving you the right to call His Father your Father. He never desired to fit in with the world, instead He came to make you fit into His family, making you a child of God through faith in Him. Now you are a part of Jesus’ body the Church and there is nothing greater than that. He has clothed you with the garment of salvation and made you richer and more powerful than any earthly kingdom could offer!
He speaks to you through His Word and shows you that it does absolutely no good to be around people who add temptations to your life and entice you to sin. But it does a lot of good to stay connected to Jesus’ Word and Sacraments, through which He comes to strengthen you against temptation and fight for you.
We would have fallen for the devil’s tricks in the wilderness but thankfully God sent a perfect man to save us. The one who is good and holy never sought out danger or pushed the limits of sin. He never lied or needed to justify His actions. Jesus our warrior stood up against Satan and would not lose. He used His powerful Word to throw the devil back down to his rightful place of silence and incompetence.
“Jesus said to him, for it is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:10). Our Lord resisted the temptation of putting His wants and needs above His Father’s and always faithfully served Him. He did this in service to you, for the times you wanted to go your own way instead of following God’s Word.
He depended on the Word for His strength and for His weapon to fend off the devil. Through His Spirit He gave you power over your enemy arming you with the same weapons He used against Satan. With Jesus by your side, you fight with, “the shield of faith, which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:16–17). He has also given the power of prayer; where you can ask for His help and He promises to answer.
Martin Luther writes, “If you try to help yourself by your own thoughts and counsel, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil more space. For he has a serpent’s head [Revelation 12:9], if it finds an opening into which it can slip, the whole body will follow without stopping. But prayer can prevent him and drive him back.” (LC; Part III, 111)
Jesus taught you in the Lord’s Prayer to run to your heavenly Father and ask that you not fall because of temptation, but be delivered from the evil one. You run to Him because you know it would be unwise to try and rely on your own power and He promises to help you.
Our Lord willingly entered into the wilderness of sin to resist for us all Satan’s temptation. When affliction and temptation come, because they will come, ask your heavenly Father to help you remind Satan what Jesus has already done to him. Jesus already defeated your adversary; the serpent’s head is crushed. You can fearlessly say as your Lord did, “Be gone, Satan.” (Matthew 4:10)
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(picture from “The Temptation of Christ by the Devil” by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1822-1907)
The Circumcision & Name of Jesus – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 2:21
In Christ Jesus, who willingly suffered even as a baby to win your eternal salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
Today’s verse follows right after the conclusion of the Christmas account: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them” (v. 20). Now a week had passed. During that time, Mary was getting used to being a mother, while Joseph did what he could to keep her comfortable. I expect that the shepherds visited again, along with others who heard their exciting report about a multitude of angels lighting up the night sky and proclaiming the arrival of a special baby, “who is Christ the Lord” (v. 11).
And now it was the eighth day. The eighth day was when all newborn Israelite males were circumcised and officially given their name. So Jesus was too. But why was this strange custom practiced among the Jews? It started with Abraham about two thousand years before this. Abraham was ninety-nine years old, but he and his wife Sarah had no children together. Even in Abraham’s old age, God promised to make him “the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:4). He would be “exceedingly fruitful,” and kings would come from him (v. 6). God would make an everlasting covenant with Abraham and his offspring, and the land of Canaan would be their “everlasting possession” (v. 8).
The sign that would mark Abraham and his offspring as heirs of this covenant was circumcision. “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised,” said the LORD. “So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant” (vv. 12,13). Males who had been circumcised would be constantly reminded of God’s promise, which had its ultimate fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah. A King would be born in the land of Canaan who would rule an everlasting kingdom.
That King was Jesus. There was no question about what name to give Him. The angel Gabriel told Mary, “you shall call his name Jesus” (Luk. 1:31). An angel gave the same instruction to Joseph, because Mary’s son, said the angel, “will save his people from their sins” (Mat. 1:21). “Jesus” is the Greek form of the name “Joshua,” a fairly common name at that time. But this Jesus is the only one who would perfectly wear the name. “Jesus” means “The LORD saves,” or “Savior.”
This Savior was born of Mary, but He came from heaven. Mary’s little baby boy was the eternal Son of God incarnate. When Mary held her baby, she was holding God in her arms. How could anyone comprehend it? If the angels hadn’t said what they said to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, no one at this point would have believed that Jesus is God. But He was. God in a manger. God in diapers. God under a knife on the eighth day.
As the circumcision was carried out, Jesus felt the pain of the procedure. Blood dripped from His skin and soaked into a cloth. Circumcision marked Jesus as an heir of God’s covenant with Abraham—a covenant that He had come to fulfill. Through circumcision, Jesus was also officially placed under the holy Law of God—a Law that He had come to keep.
The day of His circumcision was only the beginning of Jesus’ work, the beginning of His suffering. On this day, for the first time ever, the eternal, almighty God bled. It didn’t take Him by surprise like when kryptonite rendered Superman weak and vulnerable. God chose this suffering. He chose to bleed. God the Father chose to send His only Son to take on our flesh, and the Son willingly obeyed His Father.
God the Son knew what was in store for Him on earth. He knew He would not receive the welcome He deserved. He knew that the manger was waiting for Him and the knife and the whip, the thorns, and the nails. He knew blood would pour from countless wounds. His blood was red like every person’s is, but it was different in this way: His blood was holy. Jesus was without sin. When blood dripped from His wounds, it was never because He deserved it. It was not just punishment for wrongs He had done. He shed His blood for you.
For you—nothing more wonderful can be said about Jesus’ work. His Advent is for you. Christmas is for you. Epiphany is for you. Holy Week is for you. Easter is for you. Ascension is for you. Pentecost is for you. The whole Christian Church Year is intended to proclaim what Jesus did for you—for your salvation.
Some people think the most important thing about Jesus is the example He set of a holy life. “If we want to honor Him,” they say, “then we need to try to live like Him.” But that isn’t Jesus for you. That is you for Jesus. And when you get it backwards like that, you lose all comfort. Then your focus isn’t really on Jesus your Savior; your focus is on yourself, a sinner.
That is especially tempting this time of year. This is the time that we make our New Year’s resolutions: I resolve to be healthier; I resolve to be more active; I resolve to be more helpful; I resolve to be more patient. Those are good things. But if they are not coupled with a humble faith in Jesus, they will turn either into occasions for boasting or into sources for more guilt.
We will never be as disciplined or as perfect as we want to be. Thank God our salvation does not depend on it! What our salvation depends on is Jesus’ discipline, Jesus’ perfection. Those things began for us on the day of His circumcision. On that day, Jesus accepted the entire burden of the holy Law to keep it for mankind. The Son of God was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).
Jesus came to redeem us. He “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). He perfectly fulfilled the Law in our place, following God’s commands to the smallest detail. And then He willingly stretched out His arms on the altar of the cross to shed His blood for our sins.
Jesus has redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature, purchasing and winning you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. He didn’t purchase you with anything on earth. He won you with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death (Luther’s explanation to the Second Article). God Bled for You at His circumcision, and He bled for you on the cross to secure your eternal redemption.
But how do you know it really was for you? You know it was for you because God made a covenant with you like the one He made with Abraham. Often we think of a covenant as a contract between two parties in which both sides have their own work to do. But when God makes a covenant, He does the work. He no longer requires circumcision for eight-day-old baby boys. That covenant was fulfilled by the coming of Jesus. The covenant God makes that binds us to Him today is Holy Baptism.
St. Paul explains how the baptism of babies in the New Testament has replaced the circumcision of babies in the Old Testament. He writes, “In [Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism…. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses” (Col. 2:11-12,13). Baptism brings you the forgiveness Jesus obtained by His death and the victory He won by His resurrection. You are now united with Him. All that is His in triumph has become yours by faith.
Along with Baptism, Jesus gives you another testimony and sign of His grace and forgiveness. “Are you troubled by your sins?” He asks. “Do you recognize your failures and want to do better? Do you believe that I am here to save? Then take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you…. Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you.”
God’s holy Means of Grace, His Word and Sacraments, are the way the cleansing blood of Jesus is applied to you. The same blood that dripped from His tender skin and fell from His nail-pierced hands and feet washes you clean of all your sin. Every part of you that is marked and stained by sin because of your own willful transgressions against God’s holy Law, is purified by Jesus’ precious blood.
You will need this cleansing in 2022 just as you have in years past. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mar. 14:38). You will not fulfill all your promises and resolutions to do better. But the gracious covenant God has made with you will not fail. You are His own dear child, adopted as His son and heir.
You are baptized into Christ. All that He did was for your righteousness. All that He patiently endured was for your redemption. All that He suffered was for your salvation. He was born for you. He bled for you. He perfectly fulfilled the Law and won the victory for you.
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(picture from “The Nativity at Night” by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, c. 1490)
Festival of All Saints – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:1–12
In Christ Jesus, who has blessed you His Saints, by His all-powerful Word on behalf of all He has accomplished for you, dear fellow redeemed:
To our world a blessing is something you can see with your eyes or grasp in your hands. The world measures blessings by the amount of success or wealth someone has or the amount of popularity they have. People don’t boast about their failures, instead professional athletes and prominent politicians only boast when things appear to be going well for them. To consider oneself blessed when that clearly doesn’t appear to be the case would be foolishness to them.
On this All Saints Sunday it is fitting for us to hear what it actually means to be blessed. Today we remember the Lord’s saints, all those in the faith who have gone before us to their heavenly home, all of us here on earth continuing in the good fight of faith and all those after us who will complete the race. Today we hear in what we often call the Beatitudes that the Lord’s saints are blessed in a far different way than the world tends to think.
Jesus taught the people saying (Matt. 5:1–2), “blessed are the poor in spirit,” those who lack spiritual resources on their own and must depend on someone providing these resources for them. “Blessed are the mourning,” the ones saddened by their sins, dealing with the consequences of their own poor choices. “Blessed are the meek,” the gentle and submissive, those who are pushed around and imposed upon.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst,” people searching because they recognize they lack what they need. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” This means that those who are blessed are people like you and me.
In the eyes of the world the Lord’s saints look anything but blessed. They think we are fools because we put our faith and trust in something we can’t see or grasp. This can impact our way of thinking and seep into how we as Christians look at our life. We are tempted to begin searching for evidence of blessings; if we can’t feel them then they must not be there.
We start to base the objective truth of our blessings from Christ upon our subjective emotions, which wax and wane day-by-day, or even moment-to-moment. We feel happy one moment and feel like the world is crumbling all around us the next. This only causes us to question God. Our troubles in life feel more like God’s abandonment than His love. We start to doubt whether or not God is good, because how could a good God allow such turmoil and trouble to inflict us?
Some Christians believe that blessings come only to those who earn them. They tell us, “good things are coming your way, work harder, keep God at the center of your life and things will be better,” believe stronger, think more positively and the Lord will bless you, you’ll see.” Well, what if things don’t improve, or what if they continue to get worse? That is why this is a false kind of gospel.
Christ never promises that we will have a comfortable earthly life if we follow him, in fact His Word tells us to expect the opposite. St. Peter writes, “beloved do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12–14)
What if the happiness and goodness of life depended on our efforts or the strength of our faith? Imagine if forgiveness depended on our loyalty to God, or the proof of our faith was dependent on our obedience to God’s Law. What kind of a life would that look like for us? It would be one full of angst and regret, one of uncertainty and doubt, the definition of a truly un-blessed life!
Thankfully this is not how our merciful God wants us to live. Instead He wants us to look outside ourselves to our Savior on the cross of Calvary for the certainty of our happiness and goodness in life. To see that Jesus was tempted in every way like us but did not sin; He suffered grief and insult in His life yet remained silent. We share in His sufferings and He in ours. Even more God abandoned His own Son on the cross, suffering the eternal agony of hell, so that you and I would never have to.
Jesus’ perfect life and His atoning death are the source of your blessed life. He does not meet you halfway, instead Jesus went the whole way. He lived with perfect and complete obedience to God’s Law in your place, always faithful to God the Father. Your Lord does not say, “if you do this, I will do this,” His grace is not conditional, it is a promise already kept for you.
The Lord has created His saints by declaring you forgiven of all your sins. He forgives the moments you doubt His goodness and the times you are convinced He has abandoned you. He forgives selfishness in the times of your success, when you give Him no honor for His help and guidance. He forgives the times you get stuck staring at yourself instead of looking to Him.
In order for us to look to Christ it first requires us to despair of ourselves and recognize how powerless we are against sin and the devil. We must in repentance acknowledge that we are helpless and lack the ability on our own to resist sin. The Lord’s saints hate their sin because it stands in the way of enjoying all the blessings He has given them.
We look to Christ who did what God required of all of us, but what we were unable to do (Romans 8:3–4). Christ is not another lawgiver; the Beatitudes are not a new law. Jesus tells us He came to fulfill the Law by His life and death—not to abolish it or add to it (Matt 5:17). Jesus is the one who has cleansed us from all guilt and shame and God blesses you on account of that fact, not on account of anything you do.
We His saints still struggle with sinful thoughts and sinful actions and want to do better but we can’t do it on our own. St. Paul knew this well, he writes, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18–19).
Jesus did not abandon St. Paul and He does not abandon you. He has provided the means to continuously uplift and sustain you. God brought you to faith and now He continues to shower grace upon you through His Word and Sacrament. The Lord forgives us our sin, strengthens us and keeps us in His embrace. We kneel at the rail communing with all the saints in heaven and on earth where He distributes forgiveness to us in the Lord’s Supper, freely giving us eternal salvation and a renewal of life.
Jesus opens His mouth and the Word that comes out from it effects change. The same Word of Christ that made water into wine makes the poor in spirit rich in spirit. You are no longer spiritually poor; He has supplied everything for you. The same powerful Word of Christ that raises the dead to life turns sinners into saints and the unblessed into the blessed. It has the power to quicken those spiritually dead to a new life in Christ. This new life starts here but continues on for you in heaven.
Jesus tells you, “great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). There He gives you a reward of immortality and infinite wealth. He has reserved a place for you where there are many mansions (John 14:2). Even greater than all of this, after your resurrection from the grave you will dwell both body and soul in the glory of your Savior, in His fullness and without end. “Rejoice and be glad” (Matthew 5:12), because all of this has been given to you.
The Lord has blessed you by His resurrection. His resurrection is proof that God the Father has accepted the sacrifice on the cross. It is a declaration of righteousness and forgiveness over all people. God declares you righteous on account of His Son’s life and death, which overpowers death and hell for you. His resurrection means that God no longer sees you as a sinner, but as a saint.
God’s wrath is not directed at you; instead His loving face shines upon you. You hear these words of the Lord spoken over you every time the benediction occurs in church. “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24–27).
God’s face is like the warmth of the sun upon you. It sends beams of sunshine into a heart in need of salvation, making it a recipient of His grace. Jesus teaches in the Beatitudes that because of God’s grace you are blessed no matter what circumstance you find yourself in. Jesus gave Himself for you so that a rich supply of goodness would pour down to you from God’s good favor.
The Lord never ceases to speak His Word, in order that you who are called His own might gladly hear and forever hold firmly to it. When your time comes you will join the host of saints in heaven, arrayed in white, who rest from their labors in everlasting blessedness.
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(picture from “The Sermon of the Beatitudes” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
Mission Festival – Rev. Prof. Thomas Rank sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:38-42
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,
If you lose Jesus Christ and His Gospel, then you as a congregation, need not exist. If you lose Jesus, then this building, with your Sunday services, with your Sunday School and other programs, can be closed. That is, in summary, what it means if you lose what Jesus teaches when He speaks of the “one thing needful.”
This truth, the fundamental confession of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, is not only for congregations, but for our work as a synod, and our work at Bethany Lutheran College. It is our motto, and its meaning is to permeate what we desire for the students who attend.
There are many good things that your families, community organizations, volunteers of all kinds, food banks, and so on – there are many good things that all of these are able to provide for the welfare of your children, other people in your community, and beyond the confines of your local area. Each of you in your various vocations, where God has put you, have many appropriate and God-pleasing avenues for helping others.
This same variety of avenues to provide for others is found at Bethany. Whether it be Administration, or Staff, or the Faculty in the variety of academic disciplines, there is a desire to help our students in the horizontal aspects of their lives. What does it mean to have academic integrity? Why should I care? How do I live with others in charity and compassion? How do I love my neighbor?
These are important questions. But their answers—how we live—do not make us right with God or keep us right with God. If questions and answers for this life, our earthly vocations, become primary at Bethany, then we are failing in our primary work. The horizontal aspect of our lives, with other people, with our students, do not make right or kept right with God. This is active righteousness, doing, loving your neighbor. A great and blessed work. It is something we desire students and ourselves to learn, to grow in. But it is not the “one thing.”
Martha exemplifies this horizontal action toward others, human to human. Martha welcomed Jesus to her home. Martha, as a good hostess, directed her attention to serving Jesus and the others in her home. This was a great gift of kindness that she showed Jesus. Yet she was admonished by Jesus when she complained about her sister Mary. “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore, tell her to help me.”
This is an understandable reaction on the part of Martha. She thought that at that point in time, with Jesus as her guest, with serving needing to be done in a timely manner, that it was the most important thing. Surely Jesus will know this, agree with her, and direct Mary to help her. It seemed like the right thing to do.
But was it? What we learn in this short episode in the life of our Savior is not so much a distinction between what is right and wrong, but the distinction between primary and secondary things. Actions of love toward others, as Martha is showing here, are subordinate to the “one thing needful.” That is what Jesus teaches Martha. Her actions which in and of themselves are good, have become ways by which she has been pulled away from what should come first. She is distracted with the ‘other things,’ and so has become worried and troubled. Her desire to act, as laudable as it might otherwise be, has been made primary for her, and in that way she has failed.
Mary is depicted here by St. Luke as passive. “Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.” Mary is not giving, she is receiving. And for the Christian, this is primary. This is first. This is the ‘one thing needful,’ hearing Jesus, hearing His Word. This is what has been the heart of Bethany Lutheran College since its founding in 1927. It is what we pray we can retain in the challenges we face.
Passive righteousness is hard for us because we humans, due to our alienation from God, are driven by the need to act, the need to try and show God how worthy we are. It is finally a condition that the Law of God must break in us. No matter how dedicated we are, no matter how kind we are, no matter how charitable we are, these are not what will decide our eternal fate. Heaven and eternal life are not won by us, by our deeds, by the intensity of our desire to act. Heaven and eternal life are won by Jesus; they are then given as gifts to you. And how is that done? By sitting at His feet, hearing His word, and faith which trusts that Word. Passivity.
In his wonderful commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther gave this counsel which very much applies as we learn this distinction between Mary and Martha:
“Therefore I admonish you, especially those of you who are to become instructors of consciences, as well as each of you individually, that you exercise yourselves continually by study, by reading, by meditation and by prayer, so that in temptation you will be able to instruct consciences, both your own and others, and take them from the law to grace, from active righteous to passive righteousness, in short from Moses to Christ.” (LW 26:10).
Do you see what is at stake here if we get the ‘one thing needful’ confused? If I, as a professor in my religions classes, speak to students on the topic of death, and seek to provide comfort for that uncomfortable truth of death, do I bring comfort by telling them what honest and well-mannered students they are, how they are such a great class, and that such actions on their part serve to stave off the fear of death? If that is my focus, students’ active righteousness, what am I actually doing? I am implicitly telling them not to rely on Jesus.
In the book “The Hammer of God,” a required text in freshman religion, and one which many of you may be familiar with, there is an episode in the first part of the book where a young and inexperienced pastor tries to console a dying man. The young pastor tries to provide consolation by telling the dying man: ‘Johannes, out of all the people in the village, you have certainly lived a virtuous life.’ To which Johannes responds: ‘God will not judge me by comparing me to the people of this town, but by His law.’ Thankfully, a pious and well-catechized Christian woman also visited Johannes and gave him the comfort of God’s Word of promise and forgiveness. She pointed him to Jesus, and away from himself. In that way, hearing the One Thing Needful, Johannes was given comfort as he died.
Let me repeat: Martha’s actions, her desire to give to Jesus, are not wrong. But she has placed them where they do not belong. They have become distractions. They have prevented her from sitting at the feet of Jesus and receiving His Word, His teaching, His grace. Mary had chosen the good part, listening, receiving.
While a goal of Bethany is to provide a solid education that will enable students to be good and productive citizens, it is not the primary goal. Remember how I started the sermon: If you lose Jesus Christ and His Gospel, then there is no reason to exist, either as congregations here in northeast Iowa, nor as a Lutheran college in south central Minnesota. That is, in summary, what it means if you lose what Jesus teaches when He speaks of the “one thing needful.”
It is about putting first things first. So as you look to this fall and the opportunities provided you to gather around God’s Word, and as we teach students at Bethany Lutheran College, what is the point of it all? It is to direct you and our students to Jesus, to teach you and give you the Gospel: you are forgiven, through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who lived, died, and rose again, for you.
We meet Mary and Martha later in Gospels. In John 11 we hear of them and the death of their brother Lazarus. A time of sorrow has fallen on their home. But now we see and hear of the fruit of Jesus’ teaching, especially for Martha. Jesus will not give her hope because her brother was a kind man. No, but what will Jesus do? He will give hope by teaching who He is, and what He does. Jesus does the action for our salvation, He is the subject of the verbs.
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (Jn. 11:25-27 NKJ)
Do you think that Martha believed ‘the one thing needful?’ Clearly she did. She makes that powerful confession which comes only from hearing and believing Jesus: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of God.’
There you have the one thing needful: Jesus, Jesus for you. In Him you are forgiven, in Him you have resurrection hope, even now. That is the hope that permeates the life of your congregation and of your college. It is the hope that lies at very heart of what we desire to believe, to teach, to confess. It is here because you have Jesus, and His Word of grace.
It is my prayer that this ‘one thing needful’ continue to be your foundation, and that of our college. It is the bedrock of saving faith on which you may depend regardless of the storm winds of life. God grant it to you all, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
(picture from stained glass in Bethany Lutheran College Old Main building)