The First Sunday after Michaelmas – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Ephesians 4:22-28
In Christ Jesus, whose blood cleanses us from every sin and frees us from our guilty conscience, so that we can live our lives in joyful service to Him, dear fellow redeemed:
A person who enters the witness protection program is required to leave behind nearly everything familiar to him. His immediate family may go with him, but he must walk away from his extended family and his friends. There can be no phone calls exchanged, no text messaging, and no social media contact. He can never return to the place where he lived in case someone there might recognize him.
Those in the program would have to get used to a totally new community in a new place with no family and friend network to help. This would be hard to do and lonely. But at the same time, there is something appealing about the idea. Haven’t you ever thought how nice it could be to have a completely fresh start? To go someplace where no one knows your family, no one knows your past, and you can just be you? There is comfort in the familiar, but there is excitement and possibility in the unknown.
In today’s Epistle, the apostle Paul urges us to Leave Our Sinful Past Behind, to walk away from our corrupt and destructive habits that weaken and endanger our faith. And he urges us to live in Jesus, to go forward in His righteousness and holiness with His blessing.
What are some of the things that should be left behind? Paul told the Christians in Ephesus to abandon an immature approach to spiritual things. They need to take God’s Word seriously and study it, so they are not “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). They should give up all sexual immorality, sensuality, and impurity (4:19, 5:3-5). And they should put away falsehood, anger, and thievery.
At the center of these words is the idea that the life and behavior of believers should look different than the life and behavior of unbelievers. What is it that makes them different? The believer and unbeliever may have had a similar upbringing. They may have grown up in the same community and worked at the same business. They may have participated in the same activities and had the same friends.
But as similar as they seem to be, they are very different. One of them walks in the light while the other walks in darkness. One of them is clothed in the spotless garments of Jesus’ righteousness, while the other displays the filthy rags of sin. One of them lives for his neighbor and looks for the life to come, while the other thinks of his own interests and focuses intently on this life. One of them lives under God’s favor, while the other lives under God’s frown.
Paul wrote to remind the Ephesian Christians of this tremendous difference. “You are not as you used to be,” he said. At one time they, like the unbelievers, were “separated from Christ… having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). But now they had been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). Now they had become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v. 19).
Through Holy Baptism, they were adopted as God’s sons. They were joined to the body of Christ and given new life in Him. They were cleansed of their sins and covered in His righteousness. They were no longer agents of Satan carrying out his plans. Now they were set apart for the Lord’s work, called to serve His purposes.
The Christians in Ephesus already knew these things. They knew what the Lord had done for them and what they were called to do. So why did Paul have to remind them? He had to remind them because it is easy to slip into old habits, to fall back into one’s “former manner of life.” This is because we still have the old Adam in us, the sinful nature, and the devil and the unbelieving world are working tirelessly to draw us away from what is good.
They succeed all too often. We’re at the point in our day that the way many Christians think about right and wrong is no different than the way non-Christians do. We see this across the board in views regarding sexuality, marriage, family, business practices, stewardship of money and possessions, and the treatment of another person’s reputation. God has called us to stand up for what is right, to push back against the corruption and deceit of the devil and our own flesh, and to speak the truth.
But we do the opposite. We go along with the world. We don’t want to stand out. We don’t want to have a target on our backs. We don’t want to be the bad guy or the prude, who tells people that what they are doing is wrong. So we keep our mouths shut. We might talk big when we are around those who agree with us, but otherwise we clam up. The silence is deafening, and for those we fail to warn, it could very well be damning.
You can think of times when you should have spoken up but didn’t, when you failed to tell the truth even if it was a hard truth. Maybe you wanted to keep peace in your family or maintain your standing in your workplace or community. Maybe you didn’t feel qualified to speak up because of your checkered past. Maybe you told yourself that someone else would step up and do the “heavy lifting” for you. Maybe the time to talk never seemed to present itself.
But as much as you tried to justify your inactivity, you feel guilty about it. You know what God says in His Word. You know His standard for moral conduct does not change no matter what the world thinks about it. You know that the person who speaks the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) has nothing to be ashamed of before God. So you are disgusted with yourself for lacking the courage to do and speak and live according to His will.
This is why the words of today’s text are so comforting. St. Paul was writing to people in Ephesus who are just like you and me, people who are weak, who struggle, who fall into old habits, and who fail to speak the truth when they should. The solution for them and for us? Repentance and faith in Jesus. Paul describes repentance as “putting off your old self.” “Cast aside the garments of your sin,” he says. “Take your sinful past to the cleaners. Admit your wrongs. Acknowledge your transgressions. Expose your sinful passions. Hang all that dirty business out to dry!”
And then he says, “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” Let your mind and heart be cleansed anew by the blood of Jesus, so that no guilt and sin remain. “[P]ut on the new self,” created and gifted by God in the image of His own righteousness and holiness. It sounds like we are responsible for doing these things—being renewed in our mind, putting on the new self. But this is really God’s work accomplished through His Word and Sacraments.
God does these things through the Gospel. The Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). The Gospel message of our salvation through Jesus at the same time brings us forgiveness and it strengthens us. It declares us righteous before God and increases our growth in righteousness in this life. It delivers both our justification and our sanctification.
The Gospel delivers our justification by delivering Jesus’ righteousness under the Law. His righteousness is the reason we are now counted righteous before God. And His atoning death on the cross is the reason we are forgiven. Whatever wrongs we have done in the past or whatever good we have left undone—all those sinful spots were washed out by the blood of Jesus. We no longer wear the filthy garment of sin. We wear the glorious robes of Jesus’ perfection. When the Father looks at us, He sees Jesus, His beloved Son.
The Gospel also delivers our sanctification by the work of Jesus in us. He comes to us to help us grow and improve in Christian living. He works in us the desire for and dedication to the truth by filling our ears with His saving Word of salvation. He frees us from the need for revenge by filling our hearts with His forgiveness. And He moves us to generosity by giving us more than enough for the needs of our body and soul.
He lays out a blessed future for us unaffected by the failures of our past. We may never live down the wrongs we have done among those who know us. But Jesus forgives every one of our sins—even the big ones. We don’t have to enter some sort of spiritual witness protection to hide our sins from others or from God Himself.
We deal with our sins before God by repenting of them, by putting them off and leaving them at the foot of Jesus’ cross. The cross is where Jesus paid for our sins completely and where He secured a bright future for us. Because of what He did, we are not stuck in our sinful past. In Jesus, We Leave Our Sinful Past Behind. Now we go forward in righteousness, in holiness, and in love according to His abundant grace.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “The Preaching of St. Paul at Ephesus” by Eustache Le Sueur, 1649)
The Resurrection of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad exordium and sermon
Was there really a fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last week? Well how do you know? Were you there? Did you watch it happen? As far as I know, none of you have just returned from Europe. And yet you are convinced there was a huge fire in that cathedral. Why? It’s because you have seen pictures and video of the fire, and you have heard reports from the eyewitnesses. But since you did not see it with your own eyes, would you call the Notre Dame fire a matter of faith or fact?
The same question could be asked about Jesus’ resurrection: Is it a matter of faith or fact? The apostle Paul called it a fact. Paul said that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, and then rose again on the third day (2Co. 15:3-4). If no one could verify His resurrection, if no one saw Jesus alive again, it could not be considered a fact. But Paul stated that “he appeared to Cephas [or Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (vv. 5-8).
If Paul were telling a lie, he wouldn’t name these names. He wouldn’t make the claim that five hundred people at one time saw Jesus alive after His death. That would be easy to disprove if it were a lie. But Paul said that most of the five hundred were still alive when he wrote his letter. That means people could, if they wanted to, find those witnesses and ask them what they saw. And they would all say the same thing. Like Paul, some of these witnesses also wrote about Jesus’ resurrection. Their testimony is included with Paul’s in the New Testament of the Bible. There are also sources outside the Bible that make the same claim, sources that date near the time of these events.
But faith is a part of it too. You could hear the facts but not believe them. Simply knowing the fact of Jesus’ resurrection does not save you. Salvation comes from knowing and believing that Jesus “was delivered up for [your] trespasses and raised for [your] justification” (Rom. 4:25). In confident faith, let us now rise to sing our exordium hymn, “He Is Arisen! Glorious Word!” (ELH 348, TLH 189).
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Text: St. Mark 16:1-8
In Christ Jesus, who accomplished everything He was sent to do to the glory of His Father and for the salvation of all people, dear fellow redeemed:
We can’t help but notice everyone’s surprise that Jesus rose from the dead. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had wrapped Him in burial cloths and closed Him up in a tomb. The disciples went into hiding while they mourned His death. The women made plans to return to the tomb after the Sabbath and apply more spices to Jesus’ dead body.
But by Sunday morning, there was no dead body to be found. An angel came down from heaven and rolled back the stone from the tomb (Mat. 28:2). Those who looked inside did not see what they expected to see. They found nothing but burial cloths. Jesus was gone! “He is not here,” said the angel, “for he has risen, as he said” (Mat. 28:6).
“He Has Risen, as He Said.” His resurrection was no secret. Jesus predicted it would happen. He told His disciples before these events that “he must go to Jerusalem… and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mat. 16:21). Again He said, “[men] will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day” (17:23). And again, “they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (20:18-19). Those were Jesus’ own words. They were very clear.
He had spoken about His resurrection at other times too, but not as clearly. Early in His public work, He had told the Jewish religious leaders, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Joh. 2:19). They thought He was talking about the temple building, but “he was speaking about the temple of his body” (v. 21). Another time, He told the scribes and Pharisees that He would be three days and nights “in the heart of the earth,” just as Jonah was three days and nights “in the belly of the great fish” (Mat. 12:40).
Ironically, it seems Jesus’ enemies took His words more seriously than His disciples did. The chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate the day after Jesus’ death and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first” (Mat. 27:63-64).
Isn’t that something? Jesus’ enemies heard the prediction loud and clear, but they did not want it to be true. Jesus’ disciples, on the other hand, did not understand or grasp what He said, even though they desperately wanted it to be true. I suppose we can’t be too hard on the disciples. We are likewise faced with the tension between what Jesus says and what our eyes see, between His promise and our experience.
We face this tension whenever we lay someone to rest in the tomb. It is obvious to us that the body is dead, that no life remains in it anymore. How can we be so sure that the body will rise again? No one has ever seen a dead person come back to life. Cemeteries do not typically shrink in size; they expand. So we are really in the same place as the disciples were from Good Friday evening to Easter Sunday morning. As far as we can observe, death is final.
But the Lord kept His Word; He did rise from the dead. The disciples could hardly believe what they were seeing. That’s why Jesus wanted them to cling to His Word. Our own sight, experience, and reason are not infallible, but the Word is. After His resurrection, the disciples remembered Jesus’ prediction, “and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (Joh. 2:22; also Luk. 24:6-7).
Does that mean we cannot be sure of our resurrection and the resurrection of our loved ones until we see it happen? Not at all. We can be sure of the resurrection of the body because of Jesus’ resurrection. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. 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). Even the night before His death He said, “Because I live, you also will live” (14:19).
Because Jesus lives, we will live. Because He rose again from the dead, we will rise again from the dead. Our life here and our eternal future are completely tied up in Him. This connection to the living Lord started for many of us at our baptism. Paul writes, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:4-5).
Paul says that if we died to sin through baptism, if our sins were buried with Christ, then they do not stick to us anymore. Jesus atoned for them on the cross, and they were buried with Him in the tomb. Those sins did not rise again with Jesus on Easter. They stayed buried. That means our sin is no longer counted against us. That means death no longer has dominion over us, because it “no longer has dominion over Jesus” (v. 9). Jesus’ resurrection means you “must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11).
But often the opposite seems to be true. Sin and death seem very alive in us, while hope and life seem dead. We are troubled by the things we have done. We knew something was wrong, but we did it anyway. We are bothered by the bad thoughts that keep flying around in our heads. We can’t get over the guilt of our failures, both the big ones and the small ones. We hardly look like the redeemed and righteous children of God that we became at our baptism.
This is why we return every day to the waters of our baptism by repentance and faith. We drown our old Adam with its sins and evil lusts, and we cling to the sure promises of Jesus. We also return each week to be comforted and strengthened by God’s Word in the Divine Service. This is why we have come here today. We have come to hear the words of the angel: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen!” (Mar. 16:6).
Jesus was crucified for you, for all your sins. He paid the debt you owed. The work to save you was, as He said, “finished!” (John 19:30). And His empty tomb proves that His saving work was accepted by God the Father. God is not angry with you. He forgives you. Christ’s resurrection is your justification. It is the declaration of your innocence before God.
You can’t know this forgiveness by feeling it. You may not always feel forgiven, but you are. You are forgiven because “He Has Risen, as He Said.” Jesus kept His Word. He did what He said He would do. He always keeps His Word. This is why you can be certain that your sins are forgiven, and that you and all the dead will rise again on the last day. You will rise again because Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture of Easter morning sunrise at Saude Lutheran Church)
The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 18:9-14
In Christ Jesus, who opposes the proud and promotes the humble, dear fellow redeemed:
It’s the first day of school. You are excited, but mostly nervous. You are especially nervous about science class. Science just isn’t your subject. You get your books together and find your seat in the back of the classroom. But something is missing: the teacher isn’t there! Minutes pass as the chatter among the students gets louder and louder. Then the principal walks into the room. “Sorry for the delay,” he says, “your teacher was not able to make it. We have decided to elect one of you to lead the class today.” And then he looks right at you! How would you feel about that? Probably only the class clown would be excited about that opportunity, and not much teaching or learning would take place.
As a student, your job is not to teach, but to learn. Your teacher might call on you to answer a question and share with the class what you know. But nothing annoys classmates (and a teacher) as much as the student who acts like she knows everything. Not only does she raise her hand to answer every question, but she also takes it upon herself to correct the teacher! Her know-it-all behavior exposes how much she does not understand. The proverb comes to mind: “Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt!”
But we so often see this arrogant behavior in our culture. When the latest popular social movement sweeps across the country, the unbelieving world takes it upon itself to lecture those who follow God’s Word, the Bible. The world expects the church to march along with it in lock-step. It is shocked when this does not happen. “You think marriage is only between a man and a woman!?!” “You think a person’s gender is defined by their body parts!?!” Then comes the lecture. There is no respect for ancient writings that speak clearly about moral issues and have been read and confessed for thousands of years. There is no respect for conscience or a difference of opinion. They say, “If you do not agree with us, then you are full of hatred, and you shouldn’t have the right to speak!”
What does it say about the state of learning in our country, when there is a refusal even to engage someone in a discussion who has a different viewpoint? Christians are often warned that if they do not change their beliefs, they will find themselves “on the wrong side of history.” But who is the infallible authority in this world that is able to say what the “right side” is? There is no unchanging standard in the world. History shows that what is considered right and good in one era is condemned as evil in another. But God has provided an unchanging standard of righteousness. He has given the moral law. It is a law to govern not just believers, but all people. That is why He has printed His law on every human heart. He wants every individual and state and country to abide by this law.
But just like it was with Satan, and then with Adam and Eve, and all their descendants, we think we can teach and do righteousness better than God can. The Pharisees are prime examples of this. Jesus referred to one who stood up in the temple to pray. He said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” He wanted it known that he even went above and beyond what God commanded. What a good person! What an upstanding citizen! But God was not impressed. What He saw in the Pharisee’s heart was only self-righteousness and pride – not faith (1Sam. 16:7).
And the Pharisee’s prayer was not really a prayer at all. It was a message to God that He better take notice. A holy man had entered the building! Get the heavenly reward ready! But the Lord listens to no sinner who would presume to teach Him. What does God have to learn from sinners? It is not just unbelievers who think this way. Christians do too. We might read something in the Bible that is just too sharp for our tastes. We wish God would tone that teaching down a bit, since it simply doesn’t fit our time. Or maybe something goes badly in our lives and instead of trusting God’s merciful plan for us, we blame Him and criticize His inaction. We think that if God did what we wanted, our lives—and the world—would be a better place.
Suppose that happened. Suppose the Lord stepped aside for a day and gave you all of His power AND all of His responsibility. Now you’re in charge. What would you do first? Before you could even think, you would have a million prayers hitting your ear at the same time. You would have the concern of keeping the planets and stars in their orbits. You would feel the pressure of providing for countless humans and animals through plants and crops that require just the right amount of sun and rain. You would have the angels to command, who would constantly be looking to you for orders. Do you think you could manage? And yet you and I are going to tell God where He has failed and what He should be doing differently!?
We have nothing to teach God, and we have everything to learn from Him. The proper attitude to have toward God is exemplified by a tax collector, of all people. The tax collectors in Jesus’ day were viewed as sell-outs. They contracted with the oppressive Romans to level taxes against the Jews. Besides that, they had the reputation of charging more than required. They were not on anyone’s list of righteous people. But that does not mean they were beyond the Lord’s saving grace. Remember that the apostle Matthew was once a tax collector, whom Jesus called away from his station (Mt. 9:9). And Jesus also visited and ate with many tax collectors and other undesirable characters, saying that “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 13).
The patient, tender call of the Lord reached the tax collector in Jesus’ parable. He made his way to the temple and stood in a corner praying. He felt like any of us would who had fallen into sin and neglected the means of grace. Even though the divine service where God dispenses His gifts of forgiveness and healing is exactly what we need, the church doors can feel like the hardest thing to walk through. We anticipate judgment instead of love. We picture the people there looking down on us. But even if those things happened (and I don’t expect they would), it still would not change what God wants to do for you through His Word and Sacraments. He wants you to repent of your sins and hear the Gospel message of full and free forgiveness.
This is why the tax collector came to the temple. He came because he wanted to be right with God. He knew his wicked deeds and his wicked heart. The Pharisee was right—he was no righteous man. But the tax collector was sorry for his sins. He bowed his head, beat his breast, and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” His money could not buy forgiveness. Good behavior could not ease his guilty conscience. Only God could help him. Only God could save him. And that is just what the Lord did. Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified.”
He went home “justified,” or counted as righteous before God. But why? Our gracious Lord does not turn away the penitent. In fact, He is the One who works that repentance. He is the One who drives the heart to despair of its own righteousness, and to trust in Him alone for salvation. That is what He must do to turn arrogant teachers, which we are by nature, into His humble students.
Once He has us in the right place, sitting at His feet and listening to what He says, then He continuously imparts to us a knowledge, an understanding, a wisdom that we could never obtain even if we sat before the great teachers of the world for 1000 years. Paul writes, “‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1Cor. 2:9-10). The Holy Spirit reveals to us that in His love, God the Father sent His only Son to humble Himself and shoulder our sin, so that we might be covered in His righteousness and exalted.
Even though you, like the Pharisee, have often looked down on others in your pride and thought that you were someone impressive, your Father forgives your sins. He counts you among the justified through faith in His Son. It is Jesus who lived the humble life of obedience that God’s law requires. He deserved nothing but glory, but in all humility, He set it aside out of love for you. He said to His disciples, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Lk. 22:27). Even on the cross, His prayer was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (23:34).
The Lord forgives you just as He did the tax collector. But your training is not complete. You have more learning to do. Humble students must continuously acknowledge their weaknesses and inabilities. As the apostle Peter wrote, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1Pe. 5:5-6).
The unbelieving world, the devil, and your own flesh are going to attack you and your God-given beliefs. They are going to point their finger at you like the self-righteous Pharisee and consign you to the company of the wicked. But the Lord is merciful. He gives grace to the humble. He will not ignore the one who cries to Him for help. He sends you on your way justified. And He promises at the proper time to exalt you and give you a share in His glory.
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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