The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Lehne sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who always loves us, his neighbors, as himself, dear fellow redeemed:
The lawyer was not happy. After all, he was an expert in the Law. He knew what the Law said and what it meant. And yet, in a verse that came just before our text for today, Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Luke 10:21). Not only did this suggest that little children knew more about the Law than the lawyer did, but this also suggested that faith, given by God, was all that was required to understand the Holy Scriptures and to be saved. The lawyer had to prove that he understood the Law better than little children, better than Jesus. So, he put Jesus to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (verse 25)?
The Law clearly stated what a person had to do to be saved, so if Jesus’ answer showed that he did, in fact, believe that it was by faith that a person was saved, he would prove his ignorance. However, Jesus didn’t answer the lawyer’s question. Instead, Jesus turned it on him, saying, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it” (verse 26)? While not what the lawyer was expecting, he now had a chance to prove that he understood the Law. So, he summarized the Law by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (verse 27). Jesus then responded to the lawyer by saying, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (verse 28).
Wait, so Jesus didn’t think that a person was saved by faith alone? That’s what Jesus’ response sounded like to the lawyer. However, that’s not what Jesus meant. He was actually trying to get the lawyer to see that he couldn’t live up to what the Law demanded and that it was purely by God’s grace and mercy that he was saved. But the lawyer didn’t see what Jesus wanted him to see. Instead, the lawyer shifted his goal to justifying himself. Jesus had told him to “do this,” but he already thought that he had. He had loved God like he should and his neighbor as himself—as long as “neighbor” was defined in a certain way. To see if Jesus saw things the way he did, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
This question was intended to prove to Jesus that the lawyer was needed to legally define what a neighbor is. After all, in the lawyer’s mind, since the Law was given by Moses to the Jews at the Mount Siani, then a neighbor had to be someone within the Jewish community, and he wanted to make that belief law. However, Jesus didn’t give the lawyer the justification he was looking for. Instead, Jesus showed that everyone is our neighbor, and therefore, (1) we’re not to show our love just to those we think deserve it, but (2) we’re to show our love to everyone, just as Jesus loves all of us.
In the parable, Jesus not only put the priest and the Levite, whom the lawyer would associate himself with, in a bad light, but he also put the Samaritan in a good light. The Samaritans were certainly not people whom the Jews would consider to be their neighbors. They were a mixed race and didn’t follow the Old Testament to the letter like the Jews did. But by using the Samaritan as the good example, Jesus made his point abundantly clear, so that even the lawyer had to admit it when he said that the one who “proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers” (verse 36) was “[t]he one who showed him mercy” (verse 37), or the good Samaritan.
When we hear accounts from the Bible like these, we can often times think to ourselves, “Yeah! You tell them Jesus!” However, we fail to realize that Jesus was not just speaking to the lawyer. He was speaking to all of us. Like the lawyer, there are those whom we don’t think deserve our love. Maybe it’s because they are murderers. Maybe it’s because they committed adultery. Maybe it’s because they didn’t keep a promise that they made. Or maybe it’s simply because they don’t belong to our group, like how the Jews viewed the Samaritans.
There are even times when we don’t think that those whom we would normally consider to be our neighbors deserve our love. In times like these, we act like the priest and the Levite, who passed by a fellow Jew in need of their help, simply because it wasn’t convenient for them. We might be willing to help someone in need, as long as it’s convenient for us or it benefits us. But, if we think that people have to deserve our love, then we also have to admit that we don’t deserve God’s love.
Since we have to keep the entire Law in order to earn God’s love, as Jesus told the lawyer, then we have to admit that we’ve failed. Sure, on the surface it may look like we’ve kept the entire Law, but Jesus shows us that it doesn’t take much to break the Law. We may think that we haven’t murdered anyone, but Jesus says that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22). We may think that we haven’t committed adultery, but Jesus says that “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). We may think that we haven’t sworn falsely, but Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:37). We may think that we don’t have to show love to our enemies, like how the Jews thought they didn’t have to show love to the Samaritans, but Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). And these are just some of the ways that we fail to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We’re like the man who was attacked by robbers; beaten, bloody, and clinging to life; except we’re not the victim. We’re that way because of the sins that we committed, and Jesus would have every right to pass us by on the other side of the road and leave us to the fate that we brought upon ourselves. But he didn’t. Instead, like the good Samaritan, he came to help us in our time of need.
During his life on earth, Jesus was a good Samaritan in every way that we failed to be. He had compassion on those in need, feeding those who were hungry, healing those who were sick, and casting out demons. He didn’t let the background of others stop him from helping them. In fact, he would often times associate with Samaritans and those whom the religious authorities considered sinners. He even showed love to his enemies, praying while he was on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And he wasn’t concerned for his own wellbeing, putting the wellbeing of others before his own, with the ultimate example of this being that he willingly laid down his own life for our benefit. As the apostle Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
On the cross, Jesus paid the price for all of the times that you didn’t show love to your neighbors. You did nothing to deserve the love that Jesus showed you, for you were completely helpless and dying on the side of the road. But Jesus washed your wounds with the waters of baptism, nursed you back to health by feeding you the medicine that is his own body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and clothed you with his own perfect and holy garments. Because of what Jesus did for you and still does for you, you haven’t just received the forgiveness of sins that he won for you, but his perfect fulfillment of the Law has also been applied to your life. Now, the Father no longer sees the beaten and bloody sinner that you once were, but only the new man that his only begotten Son, Jesus, made you. This is the same message that Jesus was trying to get the lawyer to understand, that he had come to save sinners and open heaven to all who trust in him.
The lawyer didn’t get the answer from Jesus that he was looking for. He thought that he had a better understanding of what a neighbor is than others did, and he thought that by showing love only to those whom he thought deserved it would earn him a place in heaven. Jesus showed him that his understanding of what a neighbor is was wrong and also that he needed the grace and mercy that only God can give in order to be saved. It is a message that the lawyer needed to hear, as well as all of us. We have not loved our neighbors like we should, but Jesus has loved us. Because of his love we now live, and because of his love we love one another as he has loved us.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from “Parable of the Good Samaritan” by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 18:9-14
In Christ Jesus, who rewards us not because of what we have done, but because of what He has done, dear fellow redeemed:
The opening words of today’s reading state: “[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” Is this parable really for you? Is it for me? Are we people who trust in our own righteousness? Do we treat others with contempt? We find the Pharisee and his praying to be offensive. We admire the humility of the tax collector. So do we really need to hear this parable today?
Let me change the characters a little, make it more personal, and see if it gives us a different angle to consider it. “Two people went up into the temple to pray, one of them was you and the other Jesus.” In that comparison, we know which one is the prideful and arrogant one, and which one is humble. We might not step out and boldly say the things the Pharisee did, but Jesus wants us to examine the pride we have in our hearts and minds.
We can hardly imagine saying the things publicly that the Pharisee said. But we certainly have thought them. We have looked around us at the extortioners, unjust, adulterers, and cheats and stood a little taller—“I’m glad I’m not like them!” On the other hand, we have counted up the good things we have done and thought we were in pretty good shape.
Our natural tendency according to our sinful flesh is to get the object of our love wrong. The Commandments direct us to love the Lord our God with all our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our love should be focused outward, not inward. And yet, what motivates us is often what pleases us, what makes us feel good, what benefits us. That’s the attitude that puts us in the place of the Pharisee.
The Pharisee said the words, “God, I thank You,” but it’s obvious he was really thanking himself. His “prayer” does not read like a humble offering but as a prideful recounting of all the reasons God should be pleased with him. What do our lists look like? “God, I thank You that I’m not lazy and dishonest like my co-workers are—that I’m not mean like my classmates—that I’m so good to my family—that I do so many wonderful things for others.”
It is not the good works that are the problem, but where we think the credit belongs for those good works. Why are you a hard worker? Why are you nice? Why are you good to your family? Why have you done so many wonderful things for others? If you think it is because you are such a good person and better than most, then you are most certainly the Pharisee. But if you humbly confess that the good you do is not really from you but is a gift of God, then you are the tax collector.
Now the tax collector was undoubtedly sinful. Tax collectors had the reputation of charging more taxes than required. We get a sense of this from Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector whom Jesus spotted up in a sycamore tree. When Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ home for a meal, all the people grumbled that He had “gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner” (Luk. 19:7). But Zacchaeus’ heart had changed. He stood up and vowed to Jesus, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (v. 8).
The tax collector in the temple was also troubled by his sins. He stood way off to the side. He didn’t want to draw any attention to himself. He kept his eyes downcast. It’s as though no one were there except him and God. He struck his chest and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Notice what he did not do. He did not put on airs, as though he were too important to show any weakness. He did not point out the Pharisee’s pride or exchange words with him: “Oh yeah, well what about when you did this and this!” All he could see was his own sins and God’s faithfulness.
That is the model for humility and repentance that Jesus sets before us. But we never do this perfectly. I have mentioned before the lesson my classmates and I learned from a college professor, who asked if we thought we were more like the Pharisee or the tax collector in this parable. Of course, we identified with the tax collector. “If you think you are more like the tax collector,” he said, “you are probably the Pharisee.” Yes, we can be proud even of our humility.
Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” We are humbled not by our own doing, as though it were a good quality in us. We are humbled by the Holy Spirit working on us through the Law of God. We are humbled by being shown we are not as good as we want to think. We are humbled by having our self-focused love exposed. We need the Holy Spirit to continue to do this humbling work, because the old Adam in us always thinks he knows best. But that fruit is still rotten to the taste.
The second Adam never tasted that fruit. He never sinned. He humbled Himself completely, perfectly. The apostle Paul writes that God’s Son, Christ Jesus, “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phi. 2:7-8). Jesus humbled Himself all the way. He did not maintain any dignity or honor for Himself. He never put Himself first. He put Himself right in our place and accepted all our sins as His own. He was no sinner, but He appealed to His heavenly Father to consider Him the sinner.
And the Father did. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2Co. 5:21). Jesus was cast outside the city, ridiculed by self-righteous men, and forsaken by God. There would be no mercy. He had to be the object of the Father’s wrath, so we sinners would not be. He had to make the payment, because we had nothing to offer. He had to atone for all sin with His holy blood.
His perfect humility, His perfect sacrifice, means that God no longer condemns us. Jesus did the work in our place that we could not do. He fulfilled God’s holy Law of love for us, and He cancelled the whole debt of our sins that we could never pay. Because of these works of Jesus, we are justified before God, pronounced righteous, declared innocent of any wrongdoing.
Comparing the results of Adam’s sin and Jesus’ righteousness, Paul declares, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:18-19). What Adam did, Jesus undid. What Adam ruined, Jesus restored. You are just as guilty as Adam because of your sin, and you are just as righteous as Jesus because He credits His righteousness to you.
There is no need to boast in your own works like a Pharisee. Far better works are yours by faith in Jesus. Everything He obtained by His humble work, He shares with you. He even shares His glory with you. That glory is hidden now while the world seems to be king and the members of Christ’s Church seem so lowly and powerless. But that glory will be revealed when Jesus returns with a shout and the sound of a trumpet on the last day.
Then we who are justified by the grace of God will also be glorified. We who are humbled will be exalted. We walk in our Lord’s footsteps. We live the life He has laid out for us. We take up our cross and follow after Him. It may not be a life that seems very impressive. We may be looked down on as those whom no one would desire to be. Accusing fingers identifying our faults will be pointed our way.
We don’t have to play the world’s game, a game in which everyone loses. It is not for us to sling mud with the self-righteous Pharisees. We carry out our humble callings, off to the side, eyes looking down with compassion on our neighbors in need, always with a prayer for God’s mercy on our lips. He hears these prayers. He does have mercy on us. He sends us to our homes and to our work justified.
Knowing that we are right with God makes us joyful in our work and eager to serve. We don’t need to prove our worth to God, to others, or even to ourselves. Our worth is firmly established in God’s Son, who took on our flesh, suffered and died for us, so that we would have life and purpose and fulfillment in Him.
Let us pray: God, we thank You that though we are just like all others in our sin and have not lived the life of love You commanded, yet You have had mercy on us poor sinners. You have judged us righteous by faith in Your Son, who humbly gave Himself in our place and is now exalted above all things. To You alone be the 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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(woodcut from “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 5:20-26
In Christ Jesus, who came not to abolish the Law of God but to fulfill it for our righteousness, dear fellow redeemed:
The words of Jesus for today come from the early part of His “Sermon on the Mount.” In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes what a righteous life before God looks like. A righteous life is a life that matches up with what God says in His Commandments. It is to be just, right with God, blameless. Two times in His sermon, Jesus tells us to desire such a life. He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mat. 5:6, 6:33).
In both of these passages, He describes a righteousness that is outside us. What we are to hunger and thirst for and seek first is God’s righteousness. That’s because our own personal righteousness is not enough. “For I tell you,” says Jesus, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees were seen as the holiest people there were, and Jesus said their righteousness still fell short.
Then He illustrated the ways our righteousness falls short by explaining that the Commandments of God are about more than outward actions, outward conformity. You haven’t kept the Fifth Commandment simply by refraining from murder. Jesus explains that this Commandment is also broken in the mind and the heart when you hold grudges, when you have anger toward another, or when you insult someone. The Fifth Commandment, along with all of the other Commandments, is fulfilled by love. If you have anger or want revenge against others, you have no love for them.
But if you think right now about the people who have been mean to you, who have been unkind to you, who have hurt you, it is easy to justify the anger or even the hatred that you feel. You gave them the benefit of the doubt, but they abused your trust. You tried to be nice, but they only got worse. So you are going to treat them how they have treated you. You are going to give them what they deserve—and it isn’t love.
Imagine if Jesus took this approach. If Jesus took this approach, I would have no good word to share with you today, no comfort to impart. If Jesus treated us like we deserved, He would never have come down to make peace between us and God. He would never have suffered the wrath of man and of God and let Himself be nailed to the cross in our place. If Jesus treated us like we deserved, He would condemn us for our sins and send us to eternal suffering in hell.
But the Son of God did not become man to give us what we deserved. He came to show God’s mercy and grace toward the world of sinners. Look at what love and compassion He had for the sick and hurting! So many came to Him for healing, that He often went without meals and without sleep. And He did this fully knowing where this was all going, knowing the suffering and anguish that the collective sin of humanity would cause Him.
He loved perfectly. He didn’t work with an angle in mind. He didn’t serve with conditions. He constantly focused on the needs of His neighbors and how He could bless them. His life is what the righteous life that God requires looks like. It is not the way our lives look. But Jesus does not look down on us or flaunt His righteousness in front of us. He lived a life of perfect righteousness for us.
His righteous keeping of God’s Commandments counted for you. Because He is true God and true Man, whatever He did in the flesh was done on behalf of all people. This means that all who deny their own self-righteousness and trust in Him are credited with His righteousness. You will find no peace in running over and over again the wrongs done to you by others or in trying to convince yourself that you have a right to your bitterness and anger.
You will find peace in Jesus. He died for all sin—both your sin and the sin of those who have wronged you. His blood cleanses you of all of it (1Jo. 1:7). And His righteous life, His life of perfect love, covers you completely. You are a holy one by faith in Him. God is not angry with you for your many sins. He poured out His wrath against His Son, who fully atoned for all your sins. By faith in Him, your righteousness does exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, because you have His righteousness. That means you will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Everything God required of you, He supplied you. There is nothing keeping you out of heaven. Eternal life is yours—this is most certainly true! But it is not time for heaven yet. As long as you are here, God has important work for you to do. It isn’t that He needs anything from you; after all, everything on earth is His, because He made all things. But the people around you do have needs, and God has called you to love and serve them. He calls you to share with others what you have received from Him.
This is where our identity as His “righteous ones” is tested. We are glad to hear that He forgives our sins and declares us righteous, but we find it difficult to treat other people how He treats us. We can be “good with God” but not so good with others. But look at how Jesus takes the beam of love we have toward God and trains it on our neighbors. He says, “if you are offering your gift at the altar—dedicating your prayers, thanksgivings, and offerings to God—and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
First things first, says Jesus. Do what you can to amend your wrong toward someone, so that you can offer your gifts to God with a cheerful heart and a clear conscience. Now there are some interpersonal issues that are difficult for us to fix. Someone might have something against us because they choose too and not because we are guilty of wronging them. These are people we show love and kindness to and pray for God to soften their hearts.
But here, Jesus is speaking about people that we have wronged by something we did to them, something we said to them, or some other way we caused offense. This applies to everyone whom we have hurt, and especially to our brothers—our fellow believers. It is always troubling and sad when there is a division within the family of faith, within the body of Christ.
But taking that first step toward reconciliation is a difficult one. As we said before, it is easy to justify the reasons we have treated others like we have. “They started it!” “What he did was worse than anything I ever did!” “I was only giving her what she gave to me!” Those responses are self-righteousness. What we are concerned about is Jesus-righteousness. We are willing to humble ourselves and serve and suffer just as He did for us.
Jesus is the prime example of how we are to interact with our neighbors. He never stopped loving, even when all He received was hatred. Think of His first words after being violently nailed to the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34). But Jesus is far more than our example. He is our righteousness, our forgiveness, our power source for stepping outside what we want and stepping toward a neighbor in need.
All our neighbors have to deal with our sins, so we also want to deal out Jesus’ gifts to them. It is with Jesus’ love and sacrifice in mind that we can have courage and strength to say those three difficult words, “I am sorry.” And it is with His love and sacrifice in mind that we can respond to those who have hurt us with those other three difficult words, “I forgive you.”
“[B]e reconciled to your brother,” said Jesus, “and then come and offer your gift.” It may even happen, by the grace of God, that when you return to offer your gift, the brother with whom you had been at odds will be kneeling right beside you, offering his gift of praise and thanksgiving to God. This is what we are privileged to do each week as we receive Holy Communion. Husbands and wives who have hurt each other with unkind words come to receive Jesus’ powerful healing through His body and blood, given and shed for the remission of their sins. The same goes for parents and children who have been fighting, or for any others in the congregation whom Satan has tried to divide.
We all come forward, not trusting in our own righteousness, but humbly trusting in Jesus’ righteousness. We know how lacking our love for our neighbors has been, but we firmly believe that Jesus still forgives us and that He will strengthen us to do better. This is a beautiful pattern that repeats each week. We come weak and stained by our sin to the Divine Service, and Jesus meets us here to serve us and fill us up with His gifts.
Then He sends us back to our homes and jobs and activities with plenty of grace and forgiveness to share with others. If He never runs out of these gifts, then we won’t either, and we will continuously learn what a blessing it is to love as He has loved us.
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(picture from “The Sermon on the Mount” by Rudolf Yelin the Older, 1912)
Maundy Thursday sermon – Vicar Cody Anderson
Text: St. John 13:1-15
In Christ Jesus, who continued to teach His disciples even hours before His death, who continues to teach and provides for you, dear fellow redeemed:
My mother has a sign in her house that says, “Dust is a country collectable.” As much as we try to keep our houses clean of that country collectable, we see that it doesn’t take much for our houses to continue to be dirty. Not only can our houses be dirty, but around here our cars can get dirty. When our houses, cars, and whatever else get dirty, then usually we must take the time to attempt to clean them. This is a chore that no one really wants to do and most of the time we wait until the last minute. In our text we see the humility of our Savior. Jesus takes time from the Passover meal to wash His disciples’ feet. This humble act shows how much He loved His disciples; it also shows how much He loves us. Jesus says, “I have washed you; you are clean!
Earlier in the week on Palm Sunday, Jesus’ rode into Jerusalem. He has done His teaching of the people in the temple. He has rested and now is with His disciples for one more gathering. Jesus instructed His disciples to have a room prepared so that they might eat the Passover meal. Now during the supper, Jesus does something that would have been out of the ordinary. He takes off His outer garment, wraps His waist with a towel, and then He begins to wash His disciple’s feet. A task that would have been done by a servant or a slave. As Jesus washes their feet, in our text He explains why He does it. This explanation is applied directly to us.
Jesus said to [Peter], “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. Peter at first doesn’t want the Lord to wash him. He thinks that Jesus is degrading Himself. Jesus says if He doesn’t wash Peter’s feet then Peter can have no share with him. Jesus also points out that He knows and sees all. He says, “Not all of you are clean.” Judas currently has fallen into complete unbelief. He is only thinking about how he can betray Jesus. Jesus washed his feet and gave him bread. Jesus is giving him opportunities to come back but Judas does not take them. The devil then enters his heart. The Upper Room activity on this Maundy Thursday points out the actions of Peter and Judas and why we need to be washed. We need to be washed daily because of our sins. We have inherited our sin from our first parents. We must be washed clean because of our sins, but we are unable to do so on our own.
Jesus tells us that He wants to wash us clean. Like Peter, we can tell Jesus that we don’t want His washing. Most of the time the sins that we commit, we want to do it. Why would we want Jesus to wash something away that we enjoy doing? He wants to do it. He wants us clean. Most people want Jesus to only help them out on their terms.
There are many dangers when we stay persistent in our sins. Jesus warns us of this in the text. Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” The biggest danger is that the devil comes into our heart, and we live in unbelief. The devil’s goal is to lead people astray. This unbelief happens because of our choices to give up on God. The devil wants that separation. This is not what Jesus wants but we can give up on Him.
Our text for today reveals the amount of Jesus’ love. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” He loved His disciples to the end, and we know that He loves us until the end. As Jesus teaches the love that He has for us, we see how much love we lack at times. Jesus tells us to do for others as He has done for us. But we know how often we have failed to love as we should.
Jesus teaches and shows His disciples how they are to love each other. He washes their feet. This was the job of a servant, a slave. He washes their feet, but more importantly, He washes them completely with His blood. Jesus is bringing the gospel out with the washing of His disciple’s feet. Their sins are washed away by His power. The sins that they have committed to this point and the sins that they are going to commit. They are all washed away by Christ.
Jesus knows that He is going back to the Father. The plan is being carried out, Jesus’ great love for you. Jesus is not only washing His disciple’s feet clean, but He is also going to die for them. He told them earlier, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He loves you and He was willing to die for your sins. He knew His time on earth was up. He would have to go back to His Father. He also knew what it would take for Him to go back. Jesus knew that He would suffer and die. He did it for you. He became a servant and died for you.
Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection saves you because He could serve you perfectly. He obeyed God the Father and He knew what kind of sacrifice was needed. Jesus doesn’t lead people astray; He is the way, the truth, and the life. He washes away the sins that are easy to quit, and the sins that are hard to shake. He cleanses you with His blood. You received these gifts from Christ through your baptism. You died and rose with Christ because of this washing. This washing stays with you. Jesus then gave the Lord’s Supper. He proclaims to you that you are forgiven by His body and blood.
Jesus invites you to often go to the Lord’s Supper. He taught it to you saying that it brings you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. You are clean by faith in Him, but you will continually sin. Jesus tells you to eat and drink often in remembrance of Him. This is your medicine here on earth. He brings you comfort and strength for the days ahead.
As the sacrament provides us with comfort and strength, it also is Jesus’ last will and testament. By Christians taking the sacrament, we are proclaiming Jesus’ death and resurrection until He comes again. Knowing that our sins are forgiven, it doesn’t mean that we are perfect. We will still give in to sin. It is the Holy Spirit who works faith in our hearts to receive His forgiveness and the Holy Spirit creates fruits of faith. It is through the Holy Spirit that we serve others with a good heart, having their best interests in mind.
As you keep your Savior in front of you, knowing what He has done for you, He teaches you love for one another. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Who would have thought we could learn so much from a simple washing of feet? This is great humility that came with a price. Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many. That is the undeserved love that you receive. Jesus also gave you His medicine to remind you about this foot washing, and to give you the strength to make it through the week. His Supper is a gift that He wants you to receive often. It shows you that even those who are clean by faith continually need to be cleansed. You will give in to sin. But the Lord’s Supper gives you forgiveness. You take it for your comfort and strength. Through it you pronounce the Lord’s death and resurrection until He comes again. Amen.
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(picture from painting by Giotto di Bondone, c. 1267-1337)
Thanksgiving Eve – Pr. Faugstad homily
Text: Romans 1:18-23
In Christ Jesus, whose work is foolishness to the world but is the greatest treasure to us who are saved, dear fellow redeemed:
Mother Nature has completed her work again this year. She brought warmer weather and needed rain in the springtime, so that seeds could take root and grow. She provided the heat of summer, so that plants and crops could flourish providing food for people and animals. And she caused the crops to mature in time for the abundant harvest that has just been taken in. What a good provider Mother Nature is!
Except that it was no mother who brought us these blessings. It was a Father, our Father who art in heaven. He is our Creator, our Provider, and our Protector, as we confessed earlier. The psalmist says about the LORD: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psa. 145:15-16). When we look at the order and beauty and fruitfulness of nature, it is obvious to us that there is a God, and that He is a good God. Today’s reading tells us that the “eternal power and divine nature” of God are clearly seen in what He has made.
But there are many who ignore what their reason and all their senses tell them. They deny that there is a God. They reject that any higher power designed and produced the things we can see. They say that all this came about by chance—a big explosion, billions of years, life forming out of dead objects, and then very complex organisms forming out of very simple ones.
The apostle Paul writes that “by their unrighteousness [they] suppress the truth.” He doesn’t say that they deny the truth because the evidence is not strong enough. They deny the truth about God, because they are opposed to God. They do not fear Him. They do not love Him. They do not trust Him. So then what is it that they fear, love, and trust? They fear, love, and trust the gods of their own making.
Isn’t that a predominant spirit in our country’s Thanksgiving celebrations? We are told how important it is to give thanks, and it certainly is important. But where should our thanks be directed? To whom should we give thanks? The default position for sinners is to give thanks to ourselves. We say how thankful we are for our homes and possessions, our families and friends, our good health and success—and we do it while patting ourselves on the back. “I have worked hard for these things. I have earned my position in life. I deserve everything I have.”
That is a sort of thanksgiving, but it is not godly thanksgiving. It is like the thanksgiving of the Pharisee in the temple who gave thanks that he was not like other sinners and that he had lived such a good life (Luk. 18:11-12). He kept the glory for himself instead of giving it to God. This is the sin that Paul identifies in today’s reading. He writes that “although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him.”
When we think about our own sin, most of the time we think about sins of commission, sins we have committed. We are sorry for the bad things we have done and said and thought. But Paul is pointing out a different kind of sin—sins of omission. These are sins resulting from not doing what we should have done. It is a sin when we don’t actively give God the glory for all the blessings that we have. It is a sin when we do not give Him thanks for the gifts He has given.
This shows us how great our sinfulness is. Just think of it: how many good things have you received from God that you took the credit for, or at least took for granted? How often have you prayed for His help and received it, but then failed to thank Him for it? We expect God to make everything go well for us and come out the way we want. And when He blesses us even beyond our expectation, we quickly forget how helpless and lost we were, and we go forward as though nothing significant has been done for us.
Paul writes that those who did not honor or give thanks to God “became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” Instead of worshipping God, they turned to the worship of created things. This might be the worship of our home and possessions, the worship of money, the worship of other people, the worship of our own impressive qualities or attractiveness.
But all of these things pass away. All of them fade, including ourselves. In a few weeks, we will hear again the words of the prophet Isaiah comparing all flesh to grass and to flowers in the field. These live and die by God’s command. “The grass withers, the flower fades,” says Isaiah, “but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8). God’s Word stands when all our plans and hopes and health and riches pass away.
And it’s a good thing the Word stands, because the Word is what awakens us from our foolish thinking and the darkness of our hearts. God the Father sends the Holy Spirit through the Word to convict us of our sins, to show us how we have failed to live our lives to His glory. The Word of God’s Law shows us that we have not honored Him or thanked Him as He deserves.
But the Holy Spirit also shows us another truth. He teaches us how God sent down His only-begotten Son to address the world’s sin. In His love, God the Father sent His Son to be a Substitute for sinners. His perfect life would count for theirs, and His death would satisfy the debt of their sin. Not only did Jesus avoid all sins of commission, but He also feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things. He perfectly honored, glorified, and thanked God for His abundant mercies.
So even though you have done many wrongs and failed to do many righteous things like thank God for His blessings, He does not charge these sins to your account. They were counted against Jesus, who paid the penalty for each one. By faith in Jesus, His perfect life is credited to you, including His perfect praise of His Father and His perfect thanksgiving.
This is why your thanksgiving today is not a chore. You don’t have to worry about making your thanksgiving good enough for God. Nothing you do could ever reach that height. But you can give your thanks and praise freely, cheerfully, and confidently, knowing that God sanctifies even your imperfect efforts. He Receives Your Thanksgiving with Great Joy and continues to pour His rich blessings upon you.
All that you have is a gift from Him. The glory belongs to Him—not to Mother Nature, not to you, or anyone else. The merciful Lord is the One who made you. He is the One who loved you and redeemed you from your sin and death. He is the One who provides for all your needs here and will bring you safely to His heavenly kingdom. “Oh give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever!” (Psa. 106:1). Amen.
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The Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 25:31-46
In Christ Jesus, who chose us and appointed us that we should go and bear fruit, so that others may receive the blessings of God as we do (Joh. 15:16), dear fellow redeemed:
Jesus gives a description in today’s reading of what will happen on the last day. He says He will come in His glory. All the angels will accompany Him. He will sit on His glorious throne. The holy angels will gather before Him the people of all nations. It will be clear to everyone who the King is. It won’t matter who has power on earth at that time; the rulers of the world will be as nothing before Him. Everyone will be at His mercy, but not everyone will receive mercy. The sheep placed at His right hand will be honored, while the goats at His left hand will be cursed.
The sheep are believers in Jesus, those who are blessed by the Father, given the inheritance of eternal life in heaven through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus says that the kingdom was prepared for them “from the foundation of the world.” That means the sheep did not earn their salvation or somehow make themselves worthy of salvation. They were chosen for salvation from the very beginning of the world, before they even existed. This choosing, which the Bible also calls their “election,” was realized when they were brought to faith by the power of God’s Word.
And that is what happened to you. Your heavenly Father chose you to be His own from eternity and called you out of the darkness of your sin and death into His marvelous light. He wanted you. He rescued you. That means He has big plans for you. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God made us and redeemed us for a specific purpose, that we should live in His grace and do good while we are here on earth. He has even laid out the good works He wants us to do. We don’t have to search high and low looking for them; they are right there in front of us.
At the time of the Reformation, many people had the idea that the workers in the church had the most important work—the bishops, priests, monks, and nuns. They were seen as doing so much good, that they had enough to share—or sell—to others. Martin Luther once believed that too, but even while he served as a monk, he knew he was not as holy as others thought he was or as holy as he wanted to be.
Later he learned that good works are not done only or especially by the church workers. They are done by all whom God has called to faith. He said something to the effect that the mother caring for her children is doing more good than all the monks and nuns combined. The mother hardly thinks about all the good she is doing, while the monks and nuns are filled with pride for their works which do nothing for their neighbors.
You have important work to do, work which God has prepared for you, work which brings your Lord and Savior great joy. Jesus gives some examples of that work in today’s reading. Looking back over the lives of the sheep, He said they were busy with feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and supporting those who were in prison. “In fact,” He said, “you did all of those things for Me.” The sheep are shocked! “When did we do all those things for You?” they ask. And Jesus answers, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.”
This remarkable statement covers every good work you do with gold. It shows how precious your life of faith is to Jesus. It shows that He is not upset with you, wondering when you will shape up and do more for the kingdom. He regards your life of faith as a life filled with good. You might think of a few times in your life when you really shined, when you really did something significant, when you know you accomplished something worthwhile.
But Jesus does not look at your life the way you do. In His view, the most significant works you have done may have been ones that you don’t even remember or ones you were never aware of. Every time you prayed in His saving name, every time you listened to His Word, every time you repented of your sin, every act of service done for those around you such as supporting your family, preparing meals, cleaning the house, working hard at your studies and your job, speaking a kind word, helping the needy, and so on—all of these are wonderful, beautiful works in the eyes of your Savior. “You have done these things for Me,” He says.
This realization shapes our life of love. We help and serve and make sacrifices out of love for Him who loved us first (1Jo. 4:19). As we look at all the neighbors in need around us, Jesus wants us to see Him. This is why Christian wives are willing to submit to their imperfect husbands, and Christian husbands are willing to sacrifice for their imperfect wives. This is why Christian children obey their unreasonable parents, and Christian parents are patient with their unruly children. This is why Christian employees serve their inept bosses, and Christian bosses put up with their lazy employees. The apostle Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24).
But we know how stained by sin our service has been. Yes, we have done good things for our families, our co-workers, and the people in our community. Yet so often we have done these things begrudgingly, complaining about how much we have to do. We have worked half-heartedly, telling ourselves that they do not deserve our best. We have done more for those who seem grateful and worthy and less for those who don’t.
It’s hard to imagine that Jesus will praise these weak works of ours on the last day. They are so imperfect, so tainted by selfishness and pride. How can we be certain that we will stand among the sheep on the last day and not among the goats? The absolutely essential point, the key, is not to focus on your works. If you focus on your works, you will always be uncertain. “Have I done enough? Have my efforts been good enough? Were my works pure enough?”
You and I have not done enough. Galatians 3:10 says, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” Unless you have lived perfectly, you cannot find comfort in your works. You will never be certain of your salvation by focusing on what you do. That’s why most of our Christian friends are uncertain about their salvation. They think their salvation depends in some part on what they do.
Your salvation depends on Jesus only. That is where your focus needs to be—not on the good you do, but on the good He has done. His works are not tainted. They were never done begrudgingly, half-heartedly, or selfishly. Jesus lived His life of perfect love for you, for your benefit, to credit these works to your account.
This is the strange reality behind Jesus’ words on the last day. While He praises the good works of the sheep, they stare at Him wide-eyed, totally perplexed that the perfect King should say anything good about their life. Is He talking about their small efforts, their insignificant works, their weak attempts? What is their life compared with His?
The reason He accepts the works of believers—your works—as good is because He has cleansed every work of yours with His precious blood. He has removed all your imperfections, forgiven all your failures. You are still aware of your weaknesses, your bad behavior, your missed opportunities. But He sees you as pure, holy, and righteous by faith in Him. On the last day, Jesus will not judge you by what you managed to do or by what you did not do. He will judge you as lacking nothing, failing never, because your trust is in Him.
There is great freedom in this Gospel truth. You don’t have to spend your life trying to make up for your wrongs. You don’t have to worry about doing everything just right. You can live your life boldly, generously, sacrificially. You can share food and drink and hospitality and clothing and kindness, because your account is overflowing with God’s goodness. He has given to you in abundance, so that you can pass on the riches of His grace to others.
You know exactly What to Do When the Days Are Few. You are the servants of the King, with whom He has shared His inheritance—all the wealth of His kingdom. The work you do is not about you; it is not for you. It is about Him; it is for Him. As He comes to you through His Word and Sacraments filling you and strengthening you, He makes you ready for the work He has given you to do.
And when your time here is ended, when your work here is complete, you will hear these gracious words of your Lord and Savior, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
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(picture from “The Last Judgment” by Fra Angelico, c. 1395-1455)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, whose “go and do” was perfectly fulfilled for you by His own life of love toward God and neighbor, dear fellow redeemed:
Who are the bad guys in Jesus’ account of the Good Samaritan? There are several bad guys, but they aren’t bad for the same reasons. The robbers sinned by beating up a man, taking his things, and leaving him for dead. The priest and the Levite sinned by not helping him when they saw him on the side of the road. But who was it that sinned the most?
The robbers sinned by their actions. The priest and the Levite sinned by their inaction. In our Catechism, we classify the sin of the robbers as sins of commission. They actively sinned against the Fifth and Seventh Commandments. They committed wrongs. The sins of the temple workers were sins of omission. They did not help their neighbor as the Fifth Commandment requires. They omitted to do what they should have.
Still it seems to us that the sins committed by the robbers were worse than the sins of the temple workers. After all, the robbers went looking for trouble; the priest and the Levite just happened on the scene. Let’s put ourselves in the sandals of these passers-by for a moment. We presume that the priest and the Levite were on their way to serve in the temple in Jerusalem. This service required that they be ceremonially clean. Touching the body of a dead man would disqualify them for that important work, and it looked like this man might not make it. And besides, they weren’t doctors—what could they even do for him? It was best to hurry on their way and pray that someone else would come along to help.
Sins of omission (inaction) almost always seem less serious than sins of commission (action). It is easier to justify why we did not do something good to help our neighbor than it is to justify something we did to hurt our neighbor. This is why the lawyer speaking to Jesus felt confident in his own righteousness. He thought that he had kept the Law of God. He hadn’t killed anyone, he hadn’t cheated on his wife, he hadn’t taken someone else’s things, and so on. He had avoided sins of commission—at least in his opinion.
But refraining from bad behavior is only half of what God requires in His Law. He also requires that we show love to Him and our neighbors. So for example, honoring God’s name doesn’t just mean keeping ourselves from cursing, swearing, and lying by His name. It also means praying to Him, praising Him, and giving Him thanks. Protecting our neighbor’s life does not just mean holding back from physical harm. It also means helping him and showing kindness whenever he has a need. Protecting our neighbor’s things is more than just not stealing. It is also helping him to do better and improve what he has.
Keeping the Commandments is not just some cold exercise in avoiding wrongdoing. We might think we could accomplish that by never leaving our home or our bedroom, never speaking to or interacting with others. Then we could sit all alone with hearts full of pride thinking about how we are not as bad as all the people “out there.” But then what good have we actually done for our neighbors? This is why Martin Luther and many others renounced the monastic life—they realized that by hiding away, they were serving only themselves and not their neighbors.
But there is a problem with opening ourselves up to the needs and concerns of others: we might have to do some hard things. We might have to change the plans we had. We might have to get our hands dirty as we serve the hurting and the helpless.
I recently read a beautiful little book called Bright Valley of Love (Edna Hong). It detailed the life of a severely crippled boy who was treated little better than an animal by his parents and grandmother. They thought of him as a nobody, a nothing, who would never contribute to society in a worthwhile way. When he was six, they decided they had had enough and dropped him off at a center called Bethel, a Christian place where the physically and mentally disabled were cared for. There he learned to speak and walk and carry out numerous tasks for others in the community. It was a wonderful institution that focused on the needs of both body and soul.
Then World War II began, and Hitler gave the order that any people in Germany like the ones at this center, people who required full-time care—the mentally ill, disabled, paralyzed, infirm—that these should be “mercifully” killed. It’s terrible, isn’t it? Assigning greater value to one life than another. But we still do it—we all do it. Maybe we have something against a certain group of people because of how they look or where they come from. Maybe we wish harm on those who hold different views about culture and politics than we do. Maybe we look at a portion of the population as nothing more than a drain on our valuable resources.
Until we have nothing but love in our hearts and our minds toward our neighbors, including the ones we look down on or the ones who look down on us, we have not loved as God requires us to do. The man from Samaria spent his time, energy, and money on a man from Judea. Generally speaking, the Jews and the Samaritans despised each other. They wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help one another. But God moved the Samaritan’s heart to compassion, and friends were made out of enemies.
God calls us to make friends like the Samaritan did, by making sacrifices and serving our neighbors around us. It is not possible for us to solve all the problems in the world. We can’t help everyone who is hurting. But we can help the people we come in contact with. The same book I read made the point that the neighbor who most needs your attention is the person near you who is suffering the most. That might be your parent or sibling, your spouse or child, a co-worker, someone you hardly know, or someone you don’t know yet.
Instead of looking at others with eyes of evil and disdain like the robbers, or with eyes of distraction or disinterest like the priest and Levite, we want to look at one another with eyes of compassion. That’s how the Samaritan looked upon the man whom he assisted and cared for. That’s how Jesus looks upon us.
You see, we’re not so different from the man who was robbed and beaten up. But it isn’t our enemies that have done this work. It is the Law of God. The perfect commands of God’s Law rob us of any notion that we have lived the kind of life that He requires. The lawyer wanted to justify himself, but Jesus made it clear that he had not loved his neighbor as he loved himself, and so he had not perfectly loved God.
And the more we look in judgment upon others and turn our backs on them, the more pride we feel because of how good we are, the more the Law takes us to task and treats us roughly. Unless you have perfectly loved God with your heart, soul, strength, and mind, unless you have perfectly loved your neighbor as yourself, you have nothing to boast about. The inspired letter to the Galatians states it clearly, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (5:4).
But you, dear friends in Christ, have not fallen away from grace. Even though you have failed your neighbors by the harm you have done and by the help you have not done, Jesus has not failed you. He saw you wounded by your own sin, helpless, dying. And He came to join Himself to you and make your situation His situation.
Looking upon you with compassion, He said, “I will take the punishment of the Law that you deserve. I will be condemned and beaten in your place. I will bear your wounds. I will be forsaken by everyone who passes by. I will be robbed of My life.” And because He suffered and died for you, the filth of your sins is washed away. Your wounds are treated. You are wrapped in His righteousness. And for your ongoing spiritual health and strength, He calls you to the inn of His Church when you hear His Word of grace and kneel before Him at His altar to receive the best medicine there is—His holy body and blood “given and shed for you.”
You are not justified before God because of anything you have done, and you are not condemned because of what you have failed to do or done wrongly. You are justified—declared righteous and innocent in God’s sight—because of what Jesus has done on your behalf. Your neighbor does need your love and care and compassion. But you do not do these things to earn something from God or to receive recognition and glory from the world. You do these things because Jesus did them for you. “We love because he first loved us” (1Jo. 4:19).
With your eyes on Jesus, you know what love looks like. He has let you in on the secret and inspires it in you. He says to you just as He said to His disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” You see Jesus’ love for you in the Samaritan’s love for the dying Jewish man, and so you see how to love your neighbor. Jesus gave all He had to save you. He put you first. He suffered for you and sacrificed Himself for your eternal good. Blessed are you, and Blessed Are All Whom Jesus Justifies.
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(picture from “Parable of the Good Samaritan” by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 6:36-42
In Christ Jesus, who clearly sees our shortcomings and sins but loves us anyway, dear fellow redeemed:
It’s a hot day, the perfect day for some ice cream. You step up to the counter and order one scoop of hard ice cream in a cone. The server gets a small scoop out of the bucket, sets it gently on top of the cone, and very slowly hands it over to you. Move too fast, and the ice cream might just tip off. “That’ll be $3!” You’re not impressed. Couldn’t they push some ice cream down in the cone and make the scoop a little bigger? Couldn’t they be a little more generous?
In today’s reading, Jesus talks about using a good measure in our dealings with others. He likens a generous measurement of grain in the marketplace—“pressed down, shaken together, running over”—to the generous way we should act toward others. Be stingy with love and kindness, and you will likely get the cold shoulder. Be generous and warm toward others, and the same will likely come back your way. Jesus said, “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
But how exactly does that fit with what Jesus experienced during the time of His public work? No one ever gave a measure as generous as He did. He healed countless people of their demon-possession, diseases, and deformities, and He never charged them a dime. He patiently taught the demanding crowds and those who opposed Him. He was merciful and kind to young and old alike. He loved each and every one of His neighbors perfectly.
So shouldn’t He have received tremendous love and kindness in return? Shouldn’t the whole world have fallen down at His feet and praised this remarkable Man for His righteousness and humble service? Shouldn’t it have been obvious to them who He was—the holy Son of God in the flesh? Sometimes He was honored, by His disciples and by the crowds. But often His goodness and love were met with ugliness and hatred.
The people of His own town tried to throw Him off a cliff because He did not perform miracles for them like He had in other places. Many of the people who had followed Him left because He wasn’t interested in being the earthly king they wanted. The Jewish religious leaders accused Him of having a demon and working for the devil. They schemed to have Him arrested, condemned, and turned over to the Roman authorities to be put to death. The Roman soldiers beat Him, flogged Him, and mocked Him. He was nailed naked to a cross and made a spectacle to all who passed by.
If that is how people dealt with the best person who has ever lived, the one who never did anything wrong, it would seem there is no point in trying to be good. Why be kind to others if they’re just going to walk all over us? Why be generous if they will take advantage of our generosity? Why love if we’re just going to be hated? And Jesus knew this is what we would face. He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you…. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Joh. 15:18,20).
But even though no one was ever mistreated like Jesus was mistreated, He still went willingly to the cross. He let the injustice come. He didn’t stop the punches, the spit, and the jeering. He didn’t make the nails turn to water or dust before they could be driven through His hands and feet. He let the nails come, and He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34).
That is not how the world operates. The world says, “If someone is mean to you, give it right back!” “If they don’t respect you, don’t give them the time of day!” “If a business doesn’t treat you right, post as many bad reviews as you can!” “If you don’t get what you think you are entitled to, hire a lawyer!” Everything is about me, what I deserve. Me first. That’s what the world teaches us.
But Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” He doesn’t teach us to think about what is most advantageous to us. He doesn’t teach us to treat others as they deserve. Jesus Teaches Us to See as He Does.
Now Jesus certainly sees everyone’s sin. There is no log in His eye obscuring His vision. There isn’t even a speck. He sees what is in our hearts and minds as clear as day. Nothing is hidden from His sight. But even though He can see the whole world’s sin, He doesn’t look upon us with anger in His eyes or judgment. He didn’t come to condemn us, damn us to hell. He came to save us.
When He looks upon you and me, He looks at us with eyes full of mercy and love. He knows how far we have fallen short of the glory of God. He knows how often we have failed in love for God and our neighbors. He knows how bitter we can get when others do not treat us like we feel we deserve. He knows how quickly and easily we regret an act of kindness that was not acknowledged or returned. He sees our stubborn pridefulness.
He turns His gaze toward us, seeing us in all our ugly sin, and He says, “I forgive all these transgressions. I do not condemn you. I shed My blood for you. I redeemed you, body and soul. My good name, My righteousness, My spotless record—all of it is yours.” We have not done anything to cause Jesus to look at us in this way. He looks at us this way because that is how He is. He is gracious and merciful.
And we know He is. We know it by the faith that God the Holy Spirit has worked in our hearts. On our own, we would never believe that the Almighty God who demands perfection could ever look upon us with such kindness. But He does. He tells us so in His Word. His Word brought faith to our hearts, and His Word continues to strengthen our faith, so that it keeps bearing fruit.
This fruit is what Jesus describes in today’s Gospel. It is seeing our neighbor not as they are in their sin, but as God sees them, with eyes of mercy. It is refraining from judgment when our motive is not to warn them out of love but to condemn them out of spitefulness and self-righteousness. It is being generous in our attitude, in kindness, and in charity. It is doing to others as we would have them do to us.
The only way to have this perspective about others is to first acknowledge the vision impairment we have by nature. Jesus said that you can’t see clearly to remove a speck of sin from someone else’s eye unless you first recognize the log in your own eye. It’s a funny picture—trying to get close enough to examine someone’s eye but unable to because our eye-log keeps bumping into everything! That’s what our sinful pride and arrogance do; they obstruct our vision and make us difficult to be around.
We see as Jesus sees when we repent of our sins and recognize how much God has forgiven us. Then we are ready to humbly serve the sinners around us. Everyone was below Jesus, and yet He didn’t look at anyone that way. He turned everything upside down on its head. He taught His disciples: “[L]et the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves…. I am among you as the one who serves” (Luk. 22:26,27). St. Paul wrote in one of his letters, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phi. 2:3).
That is the Christian life, a life lived by faith in Jesus. It is a blessed life, full of purpose and love. But what are we to do when Jesus’ words don’t seem to come true—“For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you”? What if our good deeds and kind words are not rewarded with the same? What if we are attacked like Jesus was and face violent enemies who want to destroy us?
Even that does not negate Jesus’ words. Jesus does not promise that a rich measure of earthly fame and fortune will come back to us for our goodness. He does promise His never-ending grace. He does promise to give us rest from our weariness and trouble. He does promise His mercies and faithfulness which are new each morning. He does promise to take us soon from this world of trouble and sorrow to our eternal home with Him in heaven.
Whenever we do suffer here, we keep our eyes on Him. We see how He suffered—humbly, faithfully, committing everything to the care of His Father. Our job is not to obtain justice for ourselves in every area of our life on earth. We will probably never receive from others what we think is our “due.” We leave the balancing of these scales to God. We trust Him to give us our daily bread, to provide all that we need for this body and life.
His merciful care for us makes us free to have mercy and to forgive and to give with no expectation of repayment. We can dish out kindness and compassion toward others in large scoops—with generous measure. In all our dealings with others, we love and serve as Jesus loved and served. We will never be above Him, but by the continued work of the Holy Spirit through the Word, we can become more like Him.
And while we serve our neighbors imperfectly, Jesus will continue to serve us perfectly. He will keep pouring out His grace and forgiveness when we fail, and He will keep teaching us and helping us to see others as He does.
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(picture from “The Sermon on the Mount” by Carl Bloch, 1877)
The Sixth Sunday of Easter – Vicar Colin Anderson sermon
Text: St. John 16:16-23
In Jesus’ name, you have access to the Father, receiving from Him everything for your good, dear fellow redeemed:
Do we always know what is best for us? Or maybe a better question is whether or not, we ask for things that are good for us. It’s easy for us to sit back and determine what would be best for our neighbor, a family, or our children. But, when it comes to our own needs we often struggle to know what to ask for.
In our text this morning Jesus is speaking about prayer. Prayer is often hard for us to define because it’s not something that comes easy to us. We make endless excuses, struggling to find the right words, the right time and place, or the right things to ask for. We think, ‘God already knows what I need why should I have to ask Him?’ Sure, God does already know what we need, but He also commands us to pray to Him.
On one occasion the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, because like us they too struggled to find the right words. (Luke 11:1–4) So Jesus taught them how to pray and we pray those same words often in what we call the Lord’s Prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus has taught us the perfect prayer, because His prayer incorporates everything we could possibly say or ask for.
We of course on our own have no right to ask God the Father for anything. We have sinned countless times against Him and His holy Law. We have thought things and done things contrary to what He commands and what He determines is good for us. We have rebelled against Him more times then we can count.
We become lazy and forget to pray, or we flat out neglect it. He has given us a tremendous gift in which we can speak to our Creator and instead of cherishing it we take it for granted. Sometimes we become so conceited and self-centered that we think God should have to listen to us. We start bossing God around as if He somehow owes us something. We forget that He is the sovereign almighty God who poor miserable sinners should have no right to approach.
God is the giver of all things; we are the recipients of His goodness and mercy. He gives us everything for our good, but so often we take it and make it no good for us at all. The world and devil try to convince us that God doesn’t hear sinful human beings. They will use our sin as a weapon and try to show us that God has no time for us. They will point out, especially when we are suffering, that it appears God isn’t listening to us and say, ‘see I told you so.’
But that isn’t true at all. By God’s grace what once stood against us has been removed from our record. God came down to earth to rescue mankind from his sinfulness and eternal death. Jesus was the only man who was holy and righteous in God’s sight and He went to the cross to die for man’s wickedness. There, on the cross, Jesus won life eternal righteousness and salvation for all people.
So in Jesus’ name means that Christ has fulfilled all that was needed for our redemption. It is who He is and His very being and reputation. He is true God and true man and He lived perfectly for all, died innocently for all and rose from the dead declaring all people forgiven. Jesus gained access to the Father by living a perfect life under the Law of God. We now speak to the Father in prayer because His Son has opened the door of communication to all who believe in Him. In Jesus’ name you have direct access to the Father.
We can boldly approach God in prayer. We pray with complete confidence that we are justified by Christ’s blood and that through faith in Him we have peace with God, and access to the throne of grace. Jesus bore our sins on the cross and made us acceptable to our Father in heaven. He earned for us the right to pray, not because we deserved it, but because He loves us.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray He taught them to pray directly to the Father. Jesus said, “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” You believe in Jesus and therefore His Father is your Father. We pray in response to our Father’s gracious promises to us, yet, still in our weakness of the flesh, we struggle to ask for things.
When you can’t think of what to pray for or how to pray, in love God assists you. St. Paul writes, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26–27)
The Holy Spirit speaks the words you are too weak to mutter. He intercedes for you when you are in the depths of sorrow and sin and He brings your requests to the Father. The Holy Spirit helps you His saints speak a wise request when you would make a poor one. You can pray as little children do; perhaps a little foolishly, immaturely, always imperfectly, and still be encompassed by your Father’s love and mercy.
You pray to the Father, in the Son, through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word and Sacraments to strengthen your faith and enable you to pray and in the Son your requests go directly to the Father.
You are forgiven for the times you neglect prayer and try to depend on yourself. Jesus’ death paid for the times you thought God owed you something. He forgives your laziness and excuses for not praying. In Jesus’ name God is patient with you and He does not abandon you. He continues to bless you and answer your prayers even when you fail.
Jesus said, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9–11)
Jesus teaches us and shows us how our gracious Father provides for all we need for this body and life. Unlike us, who are imperfect, He provides perfectly for our every need, even when we do not know what to ask for. Jesus said, Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:23–24)
In Jesus’ name you have a genuine joy; a joy that is full and complete. You live as a redeemed child of God in a joy of sins forgiven, in a peace with God and in true fellowship with one another. God the Father knows what is best for you and always gives what is best for you. He knows what you need and He delivers on it.
You are Jesus’ brothers and sisters and thus brothers and sisters of one another. Prayer is the heartbeat of the Christian church, drawing power from the pure promises of God’s Word. We in one voice ask our Father in heaven and He is always ready to give us more than we can even ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20–21) Not because we have earned it, or that He owes it to us, but because He has promised to do so for Jesus’ sake.
You hear God’s promises in His Word and respond in prayer. You proclaim His love and trust in the promises God fulfilled through His Son. In Jesus’ name you have direct access to the Father, and your joy is always full.
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(portion of “Crucifixion, Seen from the Cross,” by James Tissot, c. 1890)
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who taught us the way of compassion and mercy by giving Himself fully for the needs of His neighbors, dear fellow redeemed:
In the summertime, parents can be a little more lenient with their kids. With no bus to catch in the morning, they might let the kids sleep in a bit. With no homework to do or school deadlines to meet, kids have more flexibility with how they spend their time. But school is back in session. That means it’s time to buckle down again.
When school starts, parents become less accepting of non-committal answers. When they see their kids lounging around and wasting time, and they ask, “Is your homework finished?” they are not looking for an “almost,” or “it won’t take me long.” What they want to know is whether the homework is “done” or “not done.” When it comes to homework, those are the only two categories!
They are the same two categories that apply to God’s holy Law. God’s Law is either done or not done. Today’s reading tells us about an expert in the Law who seemed to recognize that his keeping of the Law was not done. He asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Then at Jesus’ prompting, he summarized the Ten Commandments: You shall love God perfectly and your neighbor as yourself. “You have answered correctly,” said Jesus, “do this, and you will live.”
Then we learn that the expert in the Law thought he actually had done what was required. He thought he was holy according to God’s Commandments. But he wasn’t. He might have understood the Law intellectually, but he did not know the Law spiritually. He might have appeared to keep the Law outwardly, but he had not kept it in his heart.
How we read the Law is very important. We don’t want to misunderstand it, and we don’t want to misapply it. Jesus’ interaction with the lawyer shows how easily both things can happen. You and I have something in common with this lawyer—we know what God demands in His Law. We know the Ten Commandments. There is another thing we have in common with this man. We think we have done a fair job of keeping the Commandments. We know we have not kept them perfectly, but compared to a lot of people around us, we think we have done pretty well at living the way God wants.
But this comparison with others is where we get into trouble. It shows a misunderstanding of the Law. When we think we have done better than others, we have actually set aside the Law. Remember that God’s Law is either done or not done. If we haven’t kept it fully, then there’s no use pointing out how we are better than others. That’s like boasting about a second-to-last finish in a field of a hundred competitors. And if we misunderstand our own failure to keep the Law, we will certainly misapply it. We will read it as though it condemns the sins of others while letting us off the hook.
The Law doesn’t let anyone off the hook. St. Paul couldn’t have said it more clearly in his letter to the Romans: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:20). He wrote the same thing in his letter to the Galatians: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law” (Gal. 3:10-11).
The primary job of the Law is to smash the pride that is constantly rearing its ugly head inside us. The Law functions kind of like those robbers lurking in the shadows. We walk along, thinking we’ve got it together. We find it easy to justify our sinful actions, words, and thoughts, and we are quick to judge the weaknesses of others. We are focused on ourselves and not on the needs of those around us.
And BOOM! the Law hits us. We often don’t see it coming. Suddenly our sin catches up to us, and we realize how flawed we really are. We see how lacking we are in love. We see how we have been living for ourselves and not for God. The Law knocks us flat on our backs and strips away everything we place our trust in in this life—our works, our accomplishments, our status. Nothing is left but our sins. The Law is ruthless. It shows no mercy. It gives no hope.
Suppose the Law had done its work, and you shared your guilt with a friend, laying bare all the ugly thoughts and intentions of your sinful heart. And your well-meaning friend tries to encourage you, “You are being too hard on yourself! You are a wonderful, good, kind person! You are one of the best!” That’s like a priest or a Levite seeing the man half-dead and passing by on the other side because “he’s going to be just fine!” Fluffy compliments or rosy sentiments are no help. When your eyes are open to your sin, when the Law shows you how you really are, you don’t need someone telling you that everything is okay.
What you need is a Good Samaritan. You need someone to bind up your wounds, carry you to safety, and nurse you back to health. That’s what Jesus does. He sees you in your sin, broken by the Law, and He has compassion on you. He knows what bad shape you and all sinners are in. That’s why He took on your flesh. He came “to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:5). He came to do what you are incapable of doing. He came to fulfill the Law.
The Law didn’t catch Him by surprise. It didn’t knock Him down. The Law is His. God established the Law as a reflection of His perfect nature. He gave it to show what it means to be right with Him. And before the first man and woman sinned, they were right with Him. Their lives perfectly conformed to His holy will. But their sin ruined that Paradise. Now nothing they tried to do was perfect. Everything was tainted by sin.
Jesus came to reverse and repair all that. He lived His life in total conformity to the Law. He was tempted in every way just as we are, but He never sinned (Heb. 4:15). He perfectly loved His heavenly Father with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind, and He perfectly loved His neighbor as Himself. He lived that life of perfect love for you. He kept the Law completely for you. His holy life is yours—credited to you—by faith.
And He went to the cross to make atonement for your all sins against the holy Law. Every infraction, large and small, was counted against Him on the cross. All your arrogance, all your pride, your judgmental attitude toward others, your denial of your own sinfulness, your failure to help a neighbor in need—Jesus accepted the full wrath of God for all of it. The blood He shed cleanses you from every sin. Each and every sin is forgiven.
But you might not always feel like your sins are forgiven. You might still feel guilty for the things you have done and said and the terrible things you have imagined. This is why Jesus gives His Word and Sacraments. These are the means for your healing and strength. Through His Word of Absolution, Jesus returns you to the cleansing waters of your Baptism, where the wounds of your sins are washed clean. And through the food and drink of His Supper, He applies the medicine of His body and blood to bring you spiritual healing and strength.
Jesus sees how you struggle. He knows the countless ways you have fallen short of the Commandments. But He does not leave you for dead on the treacherous highway of this life. He has compassion on you. He has compassion because His love is not fickle like ours is. His love does not change or diminish. His love is perfect.
That perfect love counts as your keeping of the holy Law. All that He is and all that He accomplished is yours by faith. By faith in Him, the Law is done for you. It is fulfilled. That’s what Romans 10:4 tells us: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” We no longer have the pressure of trying to be righteous through our works. Perfect righteousness is ours by faith.
But while the Law is done for us before God, there is plenty for us to do for our neighbors. There are so many around us beaten and broken by their own sin and the sin of others. There are so many crushed by the Law and feeling despair. Our neighbors don’t need priests and Levites who turn up their noses at the thought of being inconvenienced or getting their hands dirty. Our neighbors don’t need Christians who talk a good game but hardly lift a finger to help.
Our neighbors need compassion. They need mercy. We give them these things when we lend a sympathetic ear or a helping hand. And we also share with them what they need the most. We give them Jesus—His healing, His promise, His grace through the message of the Gospel. Jesus tells us to go and do this. The Good Samaritan is a picture for us, not of how we can fulfill the Law and get ourselves to heaven by our works. The Good Samaritan is a picture of Jesus’ love which He has shown to us, and which He gives us the opportunity and the privilege to show to others.
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(picture from “Parable of the Good Samaritan” by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)